September 2012 | Nate Pedersen

Mysterious Papyrus Hints at Jesus's Wife

papyrus.jpgA papyrus fragment with a mysterious provenance surfaced in the news on Tuesday when a Harvard scholar said its Coptic writing indicated Jesus had a wife.

The papyrus, dated to the fourth century, and written entirely in Coptic, contains the line "Jesus said to them, 'My wife...''  The discovery was made by Dr. Karen King of Harvard's Divinity School, an expert on early Coptic literature.  King revealed the papyrus fragment at a conference on Coptic studies in Rome this week.

The implications of the passage, if the fragment's authenticity is verified, are, of course, far reaching.

The provenance of the fragment, however, remains mysterious.  Dr. King received an e-mail from a private collector in 2010 who asked her to translate it.  The collector has declined to publicly reveal his name, nationality, or location.  Dr. King offered some limited details about the collector:  He collects Greek, Arabic, and Coptic papyri.  He purchased this particular fragment in a lot of papyri in 1997 from a German collector.  The papyri was accompanied by a letter in German referencing a now deceased German professor who claimed the papyrus fragment to be "the sole example" of a surviving text indicating Jesus had a wife.  The collector left the papyrus fragment with Dr. King in 2011 for translation and verification of authenticity. 

Thus far, the scholars who have seen the papyrus believe it is unlikely to be a forgery.  King, however, is eager for more scholars to weigh in.

The revelation of the papyrus resulted in a fury of news coverage, with major media outlets across the world reporting on it.  Old controversies about the historical Jesus and early Christianity shortly followed suit.

You can read more about the papyrus here, in an article from the New York Times.