CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — A Harvard professor who made headlines in 2012 when she unveiled a papyrus scrap that she touted as potential evidence that Jesus was married, now believes that the inscription on the papyrus is likely fake.
“If you ask me today which direction am I leaning more toward—ancient text or a modern forgery—based on this new evidence, I’m leaning toward modern forgery,” Karen King told the Associated Press this week.
King was referring to allegations that Walter Fritz, the Florida man who owns the papyrus fragment, hadn’t been honest with her about the origins of the piece.
“It appears now that all the material Fritz gave to me concerning the provenance of the papyrus … were fabrications,” King explained to the Boston Globe.
The papyrus at issue features a Coptic message that reads, “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife…'” The rest of the sentence is missing from the piece, which also reads, “As for me, I dwell with her in order to…”
King had been approached in 2010 by Fritz to study the fragment and have it translated. She originally resisted out of disbelief in its authenticity, but eventually agreed to participate.
In 2012, King asserted in the Harvard Theological Review that the papyrus, estimated to be 1,300 years old, was authentic.
“On the basis of the age of the papyrus, the placement and absorption of the ink on the page, the type of the handwriting, and the Coptic grammar and spelling, it was concluded that it is highly probable that the fragment is an ancient text,” she wrote.
“Christian tradition has long held that Jesus was not married, even though no reliable historical evidence exists to support that claim,” King also remarked in a statement released by Harvard. “This new gospel doesn’t prove that Jesus was married, but it tells us that the whole question only came up as part of vociferous debates about sexuality and marriage.”
But the ink on the papyrus had not yet been tested, and the origins of the piece were unknown. Some consequently expressed skepticism over the matter, including Brown University’s Leo Depuydt and Jewish journalist Ariel Sabar of the Atlantic.
Sabar traced the papyrus back to Fritz, who found historical errors in the accompanying documents provided by Fritz. He also discovered that Fritz had studied Coptic linguistics, had been enrolled at Free University’s Egyptology institute, and that his wife had made other questionable claims, such as hearing the voices of angels.
On Monday, Harvard Divinity School published a press release noting that King had been quoted in the media as now being doubtful about the authenticity of what she had initially believed was a historical artifact.
“The mission of Harvard Divinity School, its faculty, and higher education more generally is to pursue truth through scholarship, investigation, and vigorous debate,” Dean David Hempton wrote in a statement. “HDS is therefore grateful to the many scholars, scientists, technicians, and journalists who have devoted their expertise to understanding the background and meaning of the papyrus fragment. HDS welcomes these contributions and will continue to treat the questions raised by them with all the seriousness they deserve.”
Fritz has denied forging the text on the papyrus. Further testing will be conducted on the ink to determine if the inscription is authentic or fake.