In 2012, Karen L. King, professor at the Harvard Divinity School, shocked religious scholars everywhere when she presented a business-card sized papyrus fragment bearing the phrase “Jesus said to them, My wife.” But new evidence suggests that the alleged ancient document is actually a forgery.
The manuscript scrap, which King refers to as "The Gospel of Jesus' Wife," has puzzled scholars since it was revealed in 2012 at a Coptic Studies conference in Rome. King's discovery is the only artifact that ever mentions the fact that Jesus had a wife. While scientific evidence pointed to the fragment's authenticity, the Vatican called it "a clumsy fake" as the writing was riddled with grammatical errors, according to Religion News.
In June 2016, The Atlantic released an investigative report delving into the history of the papyrus' ownership. King received the fragment from an anonymous source; however, after some detective work, The Atlantic found that she received it from Walter Fritz, a Florida man who left Berlin in the late 1990s. He briefly ran multiple pornographic sites that prominently featured his own wife.
Fritz reached out to King in 2010, asking if she would like to study the document. He claimed that he bought it from Hans-Ulrich Laukamp, his business partner, in 1999. But, Laukamp's relatives told The Atlantic that Laukamp has no interest in ancient studies and that he was in Germany at that time. King herself never questioned Fritz's background and granted his request to remain as an anonymous donor.
As the evidence builds against the fragment's authenticity, King now admits that the document is likely a fraud. “It appears now that all the material Fritz gave to me concerning the provenance of the papyrus ... were fabrications,” she told the Boston Globe.
The Harvard Theological Review, which published King's paper in 2014, has yet to release a statement regarding "The Gospel of Jesus' Wife." According to the Boston Globe, Harvard Divinity School is currently reviewing the Atlantic story.
King doesn't believe that this new mountain of evidence warrants a retraction of her 2014 paper. “I don’t see anything to retract,” she said to the Boston Globe. “I have always thought of scholarship as a conversation. So you put out your best thoughts, and then people ... bring in new ideas or evidence. You go on.”
The Boston Globe reports that Brown Scholar Leo Depuydt, who has consistently been a critic of King's work, said, “I see that King is still at Harvard. Unbelievable.”