Jesus' Wife Papyrus Might Be Just Some 'Crazy Thing'

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Dan Brown's theories aren't the only ones coming under fire in the wake of a discovery of an early Christian text in which Jesus uses the words  "my wife" — now the woman who made that finding is getting some raised eyebrows. Nicole Winfield of the Associated Press reports that Harvard Divinity School professor Karen King's discovery of a scrap of papyrus with the words "Jesus said to them, 'My wife ...'" in the Coptic language has some scholars questioning just how notable the finding, which makes for one snappy headline, really is. Winfield finds scholars doubting just how authentic the document really is. One "noted Coptic linguist," Wolf-Peter Funk, explained that there are "thousands of scraps of papyrus where you find crazy things." 

As Laurie Goodstein reported in the New York Times, the owner of the fragment remains anonymous and its provenance is unknown. Jeannine Hunter of the Washington Post pointed out that some in the blogosphere have taken issue with the lack of background. At Zwinglius Redivivus a blogger wrote

Ah, so it’s provenance is a mystery. That means, so far as real historians and biblical scholars are concerned, it’s rubbish. No provenance, no usefulness. The only people who accept unprovenanced artifacts are people who do shows for the Discovery Channel. 

Wait, what? Da Vinci's Lost Code isn't settled historical fact? For another take on the issue, University of Chicago professor Larry Rothfield has a post on his blog titled "The Provenance of the Jesus' Wife Papyrus Doesn't Pass the Smell Test."

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King has warned against literalism when evaluating her discovery.  "It's not evidence for us historically that Jesus had a wife," King said, according to a Today show segment. "It's quite clear evidence, in fact, that some Christians probably in the second half of the second century — that's between about 150 and 200 AD thought that Jesus had a wife." Just the word "wife" used in connection to Jesus isn't that outlandish though, Eleanor Barkhorn points out over at The Atlantic. She explains that "the Bible itself refers to Jesus' wife, repeatedly. Only that wife is not Mary Magdalene or any other earthly woman. It's the church." 

Vatican media, however, according to Rodrique Ngowi of the Associated Press, remained mum on the subject.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.