'Gospel of Jesus's Wife:' Doubts Raised About Text

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The authenticity of the "Gospel of Jesus's Wife" has been debated since the papyrus was revealed in 2012. Now, new information uncovered by Live Science raises doubts about the origins of the scrap of papyrus.

The gospel, written in the ancient Egyptian language Coptic, has made headlines ever since Harvard University professor Karen King announced its discovery. The business-card-size fragment contains the translated line "Jesus said to them, 'My wife …'" and also refers to a "Mary," possibly Mary Magdalene. If authentic, the papyrus suggests that some people believed in ancient times that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married.

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At the time of the discovery, King tentatively dated the papyrus to the fourth century A.D., saying it may be a copy of a gospel written in the second century in Greek. [Read Translation of Papyrus]

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Recently, several scientific tests published in the journal Harvard Theological Review have suggested the papyrus is authentic, but a number of scholars, including Brown University professor Leo Depuydt, dispute the papyrus's authenticity.

The document's current owner has insisted on remaining anonymous, and King has not disclosed the person's identity. However, in a recent Harvard Theological Review article, King published a contract provided by the current anonymous owner that King said indicates it was purchased, along with five other Coptic papyrus fragments, from a man named Hans-Ulrich Laukamp in November 1999 and that Laukamp had obtained it in 1963 from Potsdam in then-East Germany.

Provenance of a papyrus

In an effort to confirm the origins of the papyrus and discover its history, Live Science went searching for more information about Laukamp and his descendents, business partners or friends.

Our findings indicate that Laukamp was a co-owner of the now-defunct ACMB-American Corporation for Milling and Boreworks in Venice, Fla. Documents filed in Sarasota County, Fla., show that Laukamp was based in Germany at the time of his death in 2002 and that a man named René Ernest was named as the representative of his estate in Sarasota County. [Proof of Jesus Christ? 7 Pieces of Evidence Debated]

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In an exchange of emails in German, Ernest said that Laukamp did not collect antiquities, did not own this papyrus and, in fact, was living in West Berlin in 1963, so he couldn't have crossed the Berlin Wall into Potsdam. Laukamp, he said, was a toolmaker and had no interest in old things. In fact, Ernest was astonished to hear that Laukamp's name had been linked to this papyrus.

While the documents name him as the representative of Laukamp's estate in Sarasota County, the two men are not related, and Ernest did not receive an inheritance, Ernest said, adding that, as far as he knows, Laukamp had no children and has no living relatives.

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