VATICAN CITY — The Vatican has raised doubts about a recently released fragment of a Coptic text in which Jesus alludes to having a wife, describing it as “problematic and controversial," and most likely a fake.
A sharply worded editorial published Friday in the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, said that ample evidence existed to dismiss the papyrus as an “inept forgery," implausibly interpreted through a modern reading of the figure of Christ.
“In any case, a fake," wrote the newspaper’s editor, Gian Maria Vian.
Scholarly discussion over the papyrus — which contains the phrase “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife ...’ " — has been intense since a Harvard scholar, Karen King, presented it as a fragment of a fourth-century gospel at an international conference of Coptic scholars this month in Rome.
In her paper, King did not imply that Jesus was married but suggested that the question of his celibacy and marital status was a matter of debate among early Christians. Now scholars are debating issues like the authenticity of the papyrus and King’s interpretation of the text.
King has arranged to have the chemical composition of the ink tested by the Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies at Harvard in mid-October. The testing could provide an approximate date for the ink used on the fragment.
Suspicions that the papyrus was forged grew last week after Francis Watson, a New Testament scholar at Durham University in England, posted a paper online arguing that the text was cobbled together from phrases in the Gospel of Thomas. That text was discovered in Nag Hammadi, Egypt, in 1945 among a cache of ancient manuscripts thought to have been written by early Christians known as Gnostics. However, experts say that kind of cobbling does not prove it was forged, because such amalgamations show up in authentic ancient texts as well.