The Daily Mail is reporting that the fragment, written in ancient Coptic, was obtained by Professor Karen King, Hollis professor of divinity at Harvard University. King claims to have received it from an anonymous collector who found the fragment among other ancient Greek and Coptic papyri. The fragment was accompanied by an unsigned and undated handwritten note from a translator who claimed it is the only text in Christendom that refers to Jesus as having a wife.
After studying the fragment, Professor King came to believe that it was composed in the second century AD.
However, historical experts meeting at a Coptic conference in Rome this week were dismissive of the papyrus.
For instance, Stephen Emmel, professor of Coptology at the University of Muenster, who took part in the panel that reviewed the 2006 discovery of the Gospel of Judas, said that even though the text of the papyrus clearly has Jesus saying "my wife," the verbiage is wrong.
"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," he told the Mail.
University of Hamburg papyrologist Alin Suciu was also unimpressed. "I would say it's a forgery. The script doesn't look authentic."
Wolf-Peter Funk, a Coptic linguist, warned against making assumptions about phrases written in the text because it's just a fragment and therefore contains no context.
"There are thousands of scraps of papyrus where you find crazy things. It can be anything," Funk said.
Even more suspicious is the fact that the owner of the fragment wants to sell it.
"There are all sorts of really dodgy things about this,' said David Gill, professor of archaeological heritage at University Campus Suffolk in the UK, and a man who closely follows the illicit trade in antiquities.
"This looks to me as if any sensible, responsible academic would keep their distance from it."
Professor King agrees that there are many unanswered questions about the fragment and plans to conduct ink tests to determine its authenticity. To date, she has sent photos of the fragment to AnneMarie Luijendijk of Princeton University who is an authority on Coptic papyri and sacred scriptures.
Professor Luijendijk then sent the pictures to Roger Bagnall, a renowned papyrologists who directs the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at New York University. Professor Bagnall, who is known for his conservative assessments of the authenticity of papyri, said he believes the document is genuine.
Professor King says that the most exciting thing about the fragment is that it's the first known case of Christians claiming that Jesus had a wife. While the fragment doesn't constitute real evidence of this, it does confirm that some Christians believed Jesus was married 200 years after His death.
However, she says her interpretation of the text is based on the assumption that the fragment is genuine, a question that has yet to be settled.
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