Jesus' 'Wife'? Vatican Says Papyrus Scrap Was Fake

The papyrus fragment, given to Karen King of Harvard Divinity School by a private collector. Handout/Karen L. King 2012.

It made quite a stir when it came out - a fragment of fourth-century papyrus with wording on it, in ancient Coptic, that read, "Jesus said to them, 'My wife….'" The next line said, "…she will be able to be my disciple…."

That was all. Karen L. King of Harvard Divinity School said she had the papyrus examined and concluded that while it wasn't proof Jesus had been married, the fragment was probably not a forgery.

The Vatican, though, has now weighed in, and it's not impressed. "At any rate, a fake" was the title of an editorial in L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper. It also published an article by Alberto Camplani, a Coptic scholar, questioning the fragment's authenticity and the lack of archaeological attribution upon purchase, according to the Associated Press.

The editorial criticized Harvard for contacting the media about its findings, setting off "clamorous" worldwide response.

King, a professor of early Christianity at Harvard, created the clamor by announcing the finding early last week at an international congress on Coptic studies in Rome. However, in a paper on her conclusions, King clearly states that this "does not provide evidence that the historical Jesus was married." Instead, it provided "direct evidence that claims about Jesus' marital status first arose over a century after the death of Jesus in the context of intra-Christian controversies over sexuality, marriage, and discipleship."

King's paper has been submitted to the Harvard Theological Review, a peer-reviewed journal. The journal said it would await testing on the fragment's ink to help determine its authenticity.

It has long been Christian belief that Jesus never married, and many Catholic tenets - that priests ought to be celibate, that they ought to be male like Jesus' disciples - have been based on that. Did one scrap of paper change any of that? In the Vatican's view, no.