Is the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife a Fake?

Coptic papyrus mentioning Jesus’ wife is a forgery, according to Coptic manuscripts experts

This Bible History Daily feature was originally published in 2015.—Ed.


The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife, a Coptic papyrus fragment introduced to the world by Karen L. King, is about the size of a business card. Despite the ambiguity of scientific tests, Coptic scholars Leo Depuydt and Christian Askeland claim it is a forgery “beyond doubt.” Photo: Karen King.

On September 18, 2012, the world was introduced to two women: Jesus’ wife and Karen L. King. The first woman, from antiquity, has been much speculated about; the second woman, from modernity, has already been venerated by the academy. Karen King, the Hollis Professor of Divinity at Harvard Divinity School, at the 10th International Congress on Coptic Studies, presented to her colleagues—leading Coptic scholars from around the globe—a small fragment of Coptic papyrus in which Jesus mentions his “wife.” The text is now referred to as the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife.

Hoopla ensued.

Before her presentation, Karen King, ever the diligent scholar, had the Coptic papyrus reviewed by esteemed Coptic scholars Roger Bagnall and AnneMarie Luijendijk, whose academic credentials and reputations are above reproach, and neither found reason to find it fraudulent. The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife is approximately 1.5 x 3 inches. The inscription side contains eight lines of “unpracticed, messy” Sahidic Coptic. The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife was scheduled to be published in the prestigious Harvard Theological Review (HTR) in 2012. However, due to the questions surrounding the papyrus fragment’s authenticity, the journal delayed the article until more testing could be completed. Many of these questions originated from Brown University professor of Egyptology and Assyriology Leo Depuydt, who claimed “It stinks!” only moments after viewing a photograph of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife. HTR finally published a revised copy of Karen King’s paper, along with several articles on the Coptic papyrus in the April 2014 issue—including an article from Leo Depuydt claiming that the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife is a fake.

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Less than a week after the publication of the papyrus fragment in HTR and the release of other fragments from the collection, Christian Askeland, assistant research professor of Christian Origins at Indiana Wesleyan University and the central region director and distinguished scholar of Coptic manuscripts for Green Scholars Initiative, revealed something remarkable: He demonstrated that a Gnostic Gospel of John fragment—from the same collection as the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife—was a forgery.

How does Christian Askeland do this and what does it have to do with the authenticity of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife? Find out by reading the full article “The Saga of ‘The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife’” by Hershel Shanks in the May/June 2015 issue of BAR.


BAS Library Members: Read the full article “The Saga of ‘The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife’” by Hershel Shanks in the May/June 2015 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

Not a BAS Library member yet? Join the BAS Library today.

Was Mary Magdalene a prostitute? Was Mary Magdalene wife of Jesus? These are the questions that concern author Birger A. Pearson in his Bible Review article “From Saint to Sinner,” available to read in full in Bible History Daily >>


More on the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife in Bible History Daily:

“Down the Rabbit Hole”: Owner of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife Papyrus Unmasked

Timeline of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife Saga

The “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” Papyrus Revisited

Is the Harvard Theological Review a Coward or Did Dr. Karen King Do Something Wrong? by Hershel Shanks

What Is Coptic and Who Were the Copts in Ancient Egypt?

This Bible History Daily feature was originally published on April 27, 2015.


Posted in News, Inscriptions, New Testament.

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  • Thressa says

    Jesus was the son of God but born of a mortal woman. Thus he would want and need an earthly wife. What’s the big deal? Most women in the bible were well thought of. Making Mary Magdalene a prostitute probly was born of woman hating theologians . Christ knew thirst hunger and pain. He was in a mortal body. He did not marginize women at all. Do your research.

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