Jesus of Nazareth is at the center of some of the largest religions in the world, but a Harvard professor believes he had a wife, unknown until recently.
Karen King claimed in 2012 that a fragment of ancient text reveals Jesus referring to "my wife." This set off a firestorm of controversy around the world. While some Christians embraced the idea of a more-human personality for Jesus, the Catholic Church denied the authenticity of the artifact. Still other investigators and members of the public claimed the phrase was meant as a reference to the married women and mothers among his congregation.
Recent analysis of tiny fragments from the historic artifact were performed on both the papyrus material itself, and the ink with which the text was written. The document was created using lampblack, which was a common ink at the time.
Both the papyrus and the writing were shown to be about the right age to have been created during the height of the Roman Empire. Investigators believe the documents may date from around the year AD 150. Infrared microscopic analysis of the artifact provided further evidence of the age of the material.
"The fragment is predominantly composed of oxidized cellulosic material, which is consistent with old papyrus," researchers wrote about the study announcing the November 2013 analysis in this month's issue of the Harvard Theological Review.
The ancient fragment of text measures just 3-inches wide by an inch-and-a-half high.
Christian texts have been found several times before, including the Berlin Codex, which was discovered late in the 19th century. Ancient Coptic texts were discovered in Nag Hammadi in Upper Egypt at the end of the WW II. In the early 1990s, the Tachos Codex was found, providing the oldest-known copy of the Gospel of Judas, which was once rejected as heresy.
Papyrus is extremely durable under dry desert conditions, and pieces of blank patches of the ancient writing material are easy to find. This means forgeries are common.
The fragment of Coptic text in which a wife of Jesus was mentioned was owned by a collector of papyrus artifacts. After reading King's book, "The Gospel of Mary of Magdala: Jesus and the First Woman Apostle," the man contacted the author about the object.
"I was contacted in 2010 by the owner, who didn't read Coptic." With a picture of the artifact, the collector stated his belief the text "might have something to do with Jesus being married," King wrote.
Leo Depuydt, a professor of Egyptology at Brown University, told the press the artifact contains "gross grammatical errors" that would not have been made by a native speaker.
The artifact is certain to cause controversy for years.