The "Gospel of Jesus's Wife," a papyrus written in Coptic and containing text that refers to Jesus being married, is looking more and more like it is not authentic, research is revealing.
A growing number of scholars have denounced the business card-sized papyrus as a fake, with recent op-eds appearing in The Wall Street Journal and on CNN. Meanwhile, Harvard University, which announced the papyrus' discovery, has fallen silent on the artifact, not responding to requests for comment on new developments suggesting the find is a forgery.
The discovery of the Gospel of Jesus's Wife was first announced by Karen King, of Harvard University, in September 2012. Its owner, who reportedly gave the papyrus to King, has insisted on remaining anonymous, and King has not disclosed the person's identity. (Read Translation of Gospel of Jesus's Wife Papyrus)
The fragment contains the translated line, "Jesus said to them, 'My wife ...'" and also refers to a "Mary," possibly Mary Magdalene. If authentic, the papyrus suggests some people in ancient times believed that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married.
At the time of the discovery, King tentatively dated the papyrus to the fourth century A.D., saying it may be a copy of a gospel written in the second century in Greek. Recent radiocarbon dating suggests that the papyrus may date to between the sixth and ninth centuries A.D.
Documents provided by the anonymous owner published in an essay by King recently in Harvard Theological Review say that the Gospel of Jesus's Wife was purchased from Hans-Ulrich Laukamp in 1999 and he, in turn, obtained it in Potsdam, in what was East Germany, in 1963.
A Live Science investigation published last week revealed that Laukamp was co-owner of ACMB-American Corporation for Milling and Boreworks in Venice, Florida. The man listed as representative of Laukamp's estate in Sarasota County, Florida, Rene Ernest, said that Laukamp didn't own this papyrus, didn't collect antiquities, didn't have an interest in old things and was living in West Berlin in 1963 - as such, Laukamp couldn't have reached Potsdam across the Berlin Wall to purchase this papyrus. Laukamp died in 2002.
Axel Herzsprung, who was another co-owner of ACMB-American Corporation for Milling and Boreworks, also said Laukamp didn't own this papyrus and didn't collect antiquities.
Additionally, since the investigation was published, Live Science has been in contact with an agency in Berlin that issues permits for the exportation of antiquities. Representatives of that agency said they could find no record that a papyrus like this had been exported from their office. It's possible that the Gospel of Jesus's Wife papyrus was exported from elsewhere in Germany or from the European Union.
Just recently, Christian Askeland, a research associate with the Institut für Septuaginta-und biblische Textforschung in Wuppertal Germany, revealed new information that casts further doubt on the papyrus' authenticity. His work is set to be published in the journal Tyndale Bulletin and is currently posted on a blog.
Askeland analyzed a second papyrus that, according to documents published in the Harvard Theological Review, was also purchased by the anonymous owner from Laukamp. It was presented to Harvard as a papyrus believed to be genuine.
This second papyrus, which has writing on two sides, includes text from the Gospel of John - and is a fake, writes Askeland, its lines being copied from a papyrus published in 1924. In addition, the researcher notes this papyrus has similar handwriting and ink to the Gospel of Jesus's Wife, making it likely that the Jesus's wife papyrus is also fake. (Proof of Jesus Christ? 7 Pieces of Evidence Debated)
This second papyrus, which was carbon dated to between the seventh and ninth centuries A.D., is very similar to a Gospel of John papyrus, written and published by Egyptologist Sir Herbert Thompson in 1924, Askeland noted. In fact, the line breaks (the places where the text begins) are identical to those from Thompson's text. This is illustrated in an image of one side of the papyrus alongside Thompson's 1924 text posted by Mark Goodacre of Duke University on his blog and republished on Live Science.