Harvard claim of Jesus’ Wife papyrus scrutinized

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He, too, doubted the authenticity, saying the form of the fragment was “suspicious.”

Ancient papyrus fragments have been frequently cut up by unscrupulous dealers seeking to make more money.

An anonymous collector brought King the fragment in December 2011, seeking her help in translating and understanding it. In March, she brought it to two papyrologists who determined it was very likely authentic.

On Tuesday, Harvard Divinity School announced the finding to great fanfare and said King’s paper would be published in January’s Harvard Theological Review. Harvard said the fragment most likely came from Egypt, and that its earliest documentation is from the early 1980s indicating that a now-deceased professor in Germany thought it evidence of a possible marriage of Jesus.

Some archaeologists were quick to question Harvard’s ethics, noting that the fragment has no known provenance, or history of where it’s been, and that its owner may have a financial interest in the publicity being generated about it.

King has said the owner wants to sell his collection to Harvard.

“There are all sorts of really dodgy things about this,” said David Gill, professor of archaeological heritage at University Campus Suffolk and author of the Looting Matters blog, which closely follows the illicit trade in antiquities. “This looks to me as if any sensible, responsible academic would keep their distance from it.”

He cited the ongoing debate in academia over publishing articles about possibly dubiously obtained antiquities, thus potentially fueling the illicit market. He questioned, for example, whether the letter from the German Egyptologist was authentic, and whether Harvard should have contacted Egyptian authorities about the find.

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Follow Nicole Winfield at www.twitter.com/nwinfield

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