The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife: Fact or Fake?

Joe Nickell

On September 18, 2012, Harvard history professor Karen L. King presented a papyrus fragment penned in ancient Coptic that is the only known such text to quote Jesus referring explicitly to having a wife. Originally a l ate–nineteenth-century notion (Polidoro 2016), the trope of Jesus’s wife had become a thesis of the book Holy Blood, Holy Grail (1996), a pseudo-historical work alleging that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene (a Galilean follower of his; see John 19:25, 20:1 and 18). The thesis had become even more widely circulated in Dan Brown’s best-seller The Da Vinci Code (2003), indeed being central to its plot. The papyrus fragment, however, which King named The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife (GJW), did not give the wife’s name.

Unveiled at an international congress on Coptic studies held in Rome, the fragment—only about four by eight centimeters (or approximately the size of a business card)—stirred controversy about its authenticity (Figure 1). While King and a few other scholars believed the scrap genuine, others raised questions. For example, Stephen Emmel, a Coptic scholar, stated, “There’s something about this fragment in its appearance and also in the grammar of the Coptic that strikes me as being not completely convincing somehow." Papyrologist Alin Suciu was more emphatic: “I would say it’s a forgery. The script doesn’t look authentic," he said, in comparison with the script of genuine fourth-century Coptic papyrus texts.

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