Gospel of Jesus's Wife Likely a Fake, Bizarre Backstory Suggests
A papyrus holding text that suggests Jesus Christ was married and whose authenticity has been a matter of intense debate since it was unveiled in 2012 is almost certainly a fake.
Karen King, the Harvard professor who discovered the Gospel of Jesus's Wife and has defended its authenticity, has now conceded that the papyrus is likely a forgery and that its owner lied to her about the provenance and his own background.
The concession comes after Walter Fritz, a resident of North Port, Florida, revealed that he is the owner of the papyrus that claims Jesus had a wife. Fritz said this to Ariel Sabar, a journalist for The Atlantic who wrote an exposé published June 15.
Less than a day after that article was published, more documents came out revealing a fake Greek manuscript the owner had posted on his website and a blog in which the owner’s wife talks of restoring a second century Christian gospel, a project that apparently left part of the manuscript in fragments.
Then on the evening of June 16, King conceded that the papyrus is likely a forgery. The new evidence "tips the balance toward forgery," King told Sabar. [6 Archaeological Forgeries That Could Have Changed History]
The Gospel of Jesus's Wife contains the words "Jesus said to them, 'My wife...,'" suggesting that some people, in ancient times, believed that Jesus had a wife. King announced its discovery in September 2012.
A number of scholars suspected that Fritz was the owner; Live Science's prior investigations also revealed that he might have been the owner. With Fritz's ownership confirmed, new documents related to the Gospel of Jesus's Wife were published on the blog of Christian Askeland, a research associate with the Institute for Septuagint and Biblical Research in Wuppertal, Germany.
Additionally, Live Science had obtained several documents that were being withheld until Fritz was confirmed as the owner of the papyrus. These documents can now be published.
The papyrus received extensive media coverage after it was first revealed in 2012. Scientific tests published in April 2014 in the journal Harvard Theological Review supported the authenticity of the papyrus. However, another series of studies published in the journal New Testament Studies in July 2015 suggested it was a forgery, having been copied, in part, from an online translation of the Gospel of Thomas published in 2002.
Fritz claims to have purchased the Gospel of Jesus's Wife, along with other papyri, in 1999 from a man named Hans-Ulrich Laukamp, the owner of ACMB-American Corporation for Milling and Boreworks in Venice, Florida. The two men worked together at the company, with Fritz becoming president of its U.S. operations.
In 2014, Live Science interviewed Laukamp's stepson, René Ernest, who said that Laukamp did not own the papyrus and had no interest in antiquities. Axel Herzsprung, a friend and business partner of Laukamp, also told Live Science that Laukamp did not collect papyri.
Sabar, of The Atlantic, also interviewed Ernest and Herzsprung for his article. Again, the two denied Fritz's claims, saying that Laukamp did not own the papyrus. Ernest told Sabar that Laukamp was a kind-hearted individual with minimal education who drank a lot and had no interest in antiquities.
Herzsprung described Fritz as a smooth talker who suckered Laukamp into giving him an executive position at ACMB. Fritz "was very eloquent," Herzsprung told Sabar, adding that "Laukamp was easily influenced — he didn't have a very high IQ — and Fritz was successful in talking his way in."
"Herzsprung made no effort to hide his hatred of Fritz," Sabar wrote. "I was so angry at him that I thought it was better we never meet in the dark somewhere," Herzsprung told Sabar.