Scientists from MIT, Harvard and Columbia have concluded that a fragment of papyrus known as the “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” is very likely authentic – not a modern forgery as some scholars have insisted. 

A mere four centimeters by eight centimeters, the papyrus fragment contains Coptic text written in ink.

A portion of the text is cut off, but translated, it reads “…nor [to] me. My mother gave to me life … The disciples said to Jesus … deny. Mary is worthy of it … Jesus said to them, my wife … she will be able to be my disciple … Let wicked people swell up … As for me, I dwell with her in order to … an image …” 

The fragment first came to public awareness in September 2012, when Dr. Karen L. King, a professor at Harvard’s Divinity School who specializes in Coptic literature, presented it at the International Conference of Coptic Studies in Rome. It had been brought to her attention in 2011 by a private collector who requested to remain anonymous. 

King explained at the time that the text should not be interpreted as proof that Jesus (as a historical rather than religious figure) was married, but as potential evidence that the question was at least discussed among early Christians.

As the first known ancient script referring to Jesus having a wife, the fragment caused quite a stir in scholarly and religious circles. A number of publications, including the Vatican’s newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, asserted that is must be fake or forged in the modern era. 

However, following examinations of the papyrus and the ink, scientists at Columbia, Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have now confirmed that the fragment is in line with those from the fourth to eighth centuries. 

This is welcome news for Dr. King, who told the New York Times of her disappointment that the focus on the fragment thus far has centered forgery rather than history.

“This gospel fragment provides a reason to reconsider what we thought we knew by asking what the role claims of Jesus' marital status played historically in early Christian controversies over marriage, celibacy and family,” she said in other interviews.