New study may prove authenticity of ‘Gospel of Jesus’s wife’
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New study may prove authenticity of ‘Gospel of Jesus’s wife’

Columbia University researchers say unpublished study of inks on two papyri suggest Coptic text not a forgery

September 5, 2012, file photo shows a fragment of papyrus that divinity professor Karen L. King said is the only existing ancient text that quotes Jesus explicitly referring to having a wife. (AP/Harvard University, Karen L. King, File)
September 5, 2012, file photo shows a fragment of papyrus that divinity professor Karen L. King said is the only existing ancient text that quotes Jesus explicitly referring to having a wife. (AP/Harvard University, Karen L. King, File)

A new, as yet unpublished study by researchers at Columbia University may help prove that the “Gospel of Jesus’s Wife,” a controversy-wracked Coptic papyrus, is indeed authentic and not a forgery as some scholars contend.

The papyrus has been the subject of immense controversy, with academics alternatively arguing that the document is variously a fake and authentic. The document caused a stir when it first came to light in 2012 because it specifically contains the phrase “Jesus said to them, my wife,” and alludes to a woman named Mary. Harvard’s Professor Karen King said she obtained the text in 2011 from an anonymous donor who purchased the manuscript along with several others in 1999 from a collector named Hans-Ulrich Laukamp who, in turn, had acquired it in East Germany around 1963.

King said in 2014 that the papyrus probably dates to eighth-century Egypt, based on radiocarbon dating and tests on the chemical composition of the ink used on the papyrus.

Last year a researcher at the Institute for Septuagint and Biblical Research in Wuppertal, Germany said a study of the Jesus Wife gospel and another papyrus donated to Harvard by the same donor “clearly shared the same ink, writing implement and scribal hand. The same artisan had created both essentially at the same time.” Christian Askeland pointed to those similarities as proof that the papyri were forgeries.

Columbia University researcher James Yardley said a new battery of tests, however, confirmed the two inks are different, potentially undercutting Askeland’s argument that they were written by the same hand, and therefore forgeries.

“In our first exploration, we did state that the inks used for the two documents of interest [the John papyrus and the Gospel of Jesus’s Wife] were quite different,” Yardley told Live Science. “The more recent results do confirm this observation strongly.”

The find could support the theory of the papyrus’s authenticity, but the Columbia University team declined commenting until the full report is published in a peer-reviewed journal.

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