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

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

In Luijendijk’s judgment, the scribe’s handwriting—proficient, but not refined—suggests that this gospel was read not in a church, where more elegant calligraphy prevailed, but among early Christians who gathered in homes for private study. “Something like a Bible study group,” Luijendijk told me.

“I had to not really let myself feel much excitement because of the disappointment factor—if it turns out to be a hoax or something,” King told me. “But once we realized what it was, then you get to start talking about the ‘Oh my’ factor.”

To help bring out letters whose ink had faded, King borrowed Bagnall’s infrared camera and used Photoshop to enhance the contrasts.

The papyrus’ back side, or verso, is so badly damaged that only a few key words—“my mother” and “three”—were decipherable. But on the front side, or recto, King gleaned eight fragmentary lines:

1) “not [to] me. My mother gave to me li[fe] … ”

2) The disciples said to Jesus, “

3) deny. Mary is worthy of it

4)  ” Jesus said to them, “My wife

5) she will be able to be my disciple

6) Let wicked people swell up

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