ROME -- Is a scrap of papyrus suggesting that Jesus had a wife authentic?
Scholars yesterday questioned the discovery presented Tuesday by a Harvard professor that a fourth century fragment of papyrus provided the first evidence that some early Christians believed Jesus was married.
Experts in the illicit antiquities trade wondered about the motive of the fragment's anonymous owner, noting that its value has probably increased amid the publicity of the still-unproven find.
Karen King, a professor of early Christianity at Harvard Divinity School, announced the finding at an international congress on Coptic studies in Rome. The text, written in Coptic and probably translated from a second-century Greek text, contains a dialogue in which Jesus refers to "my wife," whom he identifies as Mary.
Christian tradition has long held that Jesus was unmarried, but there is no reliable historical evidence to support that, King said.
Stephen Emmel, a professor of coptology at the University of Muenster who was on the international advisory panel that reviewed the 2006 discovery of the Gospel of Judas, said the text accurately quotes Jesus as saying "my wife." But he questioned whether the document was authentic.
"There's something about this fragment in its appearance and also in the grammar of the Coptic that strikes me as being not completely convincing somehow," he said.
King acknowledged yesterday that questions remain about the fragment. She said she planned to subject it to ink tests to determine whether the chemical components match those used in antiquity.