Is it real or forged? That's the debate currently raging over a scrap of papyrus that supposedly provides the first evidence that Jesus was married. Karen King, a professor of early Christianity at Harvard Divinity School in Cambridge, obtained what is being touted as a 4th century fragment of text containing dialogue in which Jesus refers to “his wife,” whom he says is “Mary.”
Up to this point, a major foundation of belief has been the idea that Jesus was unmarried – it's been such a crucial point that a major denomination like the Catholic church has based its entire rule of celibate, unmarried priests on the assumption. If it were to be proven that Jesus was married, what would Rome say? Would the Vatican's steadfast resistance to ordaining married priests finally come crashing down?
At this point, no one knows whether the papyrus scrap is authentic or not. But it certainly is generating headlines around the world. Some speculate that since the papyrus was furnished to Harvard by an anonymous collector, who could stand to profit from all the publicity, that it might just be a clever forgery. Some doubts have been raised about the appearance of the papyrus, as well as the wording or grammar.
Alin Suciu, a papyrologist at the University of Hamburg, comes right out and calls it a “forgery,” explaining that it doesn't look authentic when compared to other samples of script from the 4th century.
Harvard Divinity School made its announcement of the find on Tuesday, amidst comments from archeologists, scholars, and other specialists that the school may have jumped the gun, since there is no history of where the fragment has been (except that it may have come from Egypt), and there is a possibility that all the fanfare may help the anonymous collector profit on the illicit antiquities market, by upping the price.
Egyptian authorities have not been contacted by Harvard Divinity School, so there is no word yet of their take on it. Given the volatile Mideast situation right now, who knows where this will lead. Could the situation be used to discredit U.S. Christians, their affiliated seminaries, and historical experts, especially on the heels of the anti-Muslim film presently provoking protests in Islamic countries? Is this simply a distraction...or perhaps a strategy to embarrass the western world by playing on our gullibility?
What about the impact on our faith?
Now, that's where it gets interesting. If the papyrus is proven authentic, how will this affect people's long-held belief systems? How would a “married Jesus” change our perceptions of the Son of God? Would we think of him differently? Would he instantly gain more credibility among married people and families, since he really could say, “been there, done that,” and we'd know he was speaking from experience, not giving us ivory tower theories?
And if Jesus was married, were there any offspring?