"Jesus said to them, 'My wife,'" begins a passage written on a tattered piece of papyrus that scientists say is probably not a recent forgery, but in fact a centuries-old document. The fragment caused a theological uproar when the Harvard Divinity School unveiled it in 2012. Harvard, Columbia, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology professors have since examined the document and concluded it is not the work of some modern prankster, according to research published Thursday in the Harvard Theological Review.
That said, the tests did not show that the document dates back to the first century BCE, but rather that it was most likely written somewhere around the eighth century. And though it was probably based on an earlier text, that document probably wasn't written until at least "the second half of the second century" — or well after Jesus' death — according to the Harvard Divinity School.
Further, the text does not prove that Jesus had a literal wife; one interpretation holds that the reference is to the church.
Still, the research is significant because it pushes back against skeptics who claimed the papyrus was clearly a forgery intended to undermine the church. And really, it's not every day scientists stumble across ancient biblical texts.
"When you have all the evidence pointing in one direction, it doesn't make it 100 percent," Karen L. King, the Harvard historian who has studied the papyrus, told The New York Times, "but history is not a place where 100 percent is a common thing."