The Inside Story of a Controversial New Text About Jesus

According to a top religion scholar, this 1,600-year-old text fragment suggests some early Christians believed Jesus was married—possibly to Mary Magdalene

Karen L. King, the Hollis professor of divinity, believes that the fragment's 33 words refers to Jesus having a wife (© Karen L. King)

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The scholars agreed with the reviewer’s suggestion that a noninvasive test—such as a spectrum analysis—be run to make sure the ink’s chemistry was compatible with inks from antiquity. But they were confident enough for her to go public in Rome, with the proviso that the results of the chemical analysis be added to her article before final publication.

She conceded to me the possibility that the ink tests could yet expose the piece as a forgery. More likely, she said, it “will be the cherry on the cake.”

King makes no secret of her approach to Christian history. “You’re talking to someone who’s trying to integrate a whole set of ‘heretical’ literature into the standard history,” she told me in our first phone conversation, noting later that “heretical” was a term she does not accept.

But what was she after, exactly? I asked. Was her goal to make Christianity a bigger tent? Was it to make clergy more tolerant of difference?

That wasn’t it. “I’m less interested in proselytizing or a bigger tent for its own sake than in issues of human flourishing,” she said. “What are the best conditions in which people live and flourish? It’s more the, How do we get along? What does it mean for living now?”

What role did history play? I asked. “What history can do is show that people have to take responsibility for what they activate out of their tradition. It’s not just a given thing one slavishly follows. You have to be accountable.”

As for “the Gospel of Jesus’s Wife,” “it will be big for different groups in different ways,” she said. “It will start a conversation. My thought is that that will be the longest real impact.”


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