'Jesus Wife' fragment gets more testing, delays article
A scholarly article based on the 'Jesus Wife' fragment was delayed as researchers waited on further testing.
January 3rd, 2013
02:30 PM ET

'Jesus Wife' fragment gets more testing, delays article

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Editor

(CNN) - One of the most anticipated articles in religion circles will be absent from the pages of the January edition of the Harvard Theological Review. Harvard Divinity School professor Karen King's final article on the "Jesus wife" fragment did not make the scholarly journal because further testing on the Coptic papyrus fragment has not been finished.

King announced the findings of the 1.5-by-3 inch, honey-colored fragment in September at the International Association for Coptic Studies conference in Rome. In a draft version of the article submitted for publication in the January edition, King and her co-author said the scrap had written in Coptic, a language used by Egyptian Christians, "Jesus said to them, 'My wife," but was then cut off.

King said the fragment dates to the 4th century but could be a copy of an early gospel from the 2nd century.  King and her research partners dubbed the hypothetical text "the Gospel of Jesus' Wife."

Despite King's insistence, the discovery did not prove anything definitive on the marital status of Jesus.

The announcement of the papyrus scrap exploded in the media.

"The earliest reliable historical tradition is completely silent on that. So we're in the same position we were before it was found. We don't know if [Jesus] was married or not," King told reporters in a conference call from Rome in September.

5 questions and answers about Jesus' 'wife'

A dealer took the fragment to King for analysis and translation in 2011. The dealer wishes to remain anonymous, she said.

"We're moving ahead with the testing, but it is not yet complete, and so the article will await until we have the results," King said in an email to CNN.

"The owner of the fragment has been making arrangements for further testing and analysis of the fragment, including testing by independent laboratories with the resources and specific expertise necessary to produce and interpret reliable results. This testing is still underway," Kathyrn Dodgson, director of communications for the Harvard Divinity School, said in a email to CNN.

"Harvard Theological Review is planning to publish Professor King’s paper after conclusion of all the testing so that the results may be incorporated," Dodgson said. "Until testing is complete, there is nothing more to say at this point."

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In her original article King explained how a papyrus expert had dated the fragment to the right time frame and how an expert on Coptic linguistics said the grammar seemed to fit the time period, as well.  But what was untested in the early goings was the ink used on the papyrus.

Elaine Pagels, a professor from Princeton University who is an expert on gnostic writings such as this one, noted to CNN in September "You can find boxes filled with Coptic fragments," but what makes this one significant is for the first time it explicitly has Jesus referring to "my wife."

Faking antiquities is not uncommon, which is part of the reason so many critics questioned the authenticity of a text that potentially went against nearly every other ancient text concerning Jesus. Other scholars refused to comment on the find until the full battery of testing could be completed.

“The academic community has been badly burned,” Douglas A. Campbell, an associate professor of New Testament at Duke Divinity School said in September, noting how similar discoveries have turned out to be fakes.  The provenance of the document, "the history of where it came from and how they got it,” was a great concern to Campbell and other academics.

The Vatican newspaper weighed in on the matter in late September mincing no words and calling the fragment “a fake.”

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On the day King announced the fragment, the Smithsonian channel announced it had been working with King for months on a documentary about the find and the authentication process.  It had been slated to air in early October but was pulled back.

Tom Hayden, general manager of the Smithsonian channel, said in a statement in October  the delay "will enable us to present a richer and more complete story. We will be announcing a new premiere date in the coming weeks."

No announcement has been made as to when the premier will happen.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Belief • Catholic Church • Christianity • Vatican

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