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A papyrus adrift

· Coptic text with the supposed allusion to “Jesus' wife” ·

“Harvard scholar's discovery suggests Jesus had a wife”. With this title Fox News continued the reporting on the conference held on Tuesday evening, 18 September, by Karen L. King during the 10th international conference on Coptic studies at the Institutum Patristicum Augustinianum, only a few metres away from Vatican City. Of similar tenor, but with variations of tone and critical understanding, as well as, the barely pertinent references to Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code , was the news buzzing around the European and Italian media in the following days. The news was quickly reported. In the course of the conference the scholar presented a fragment of a papyrus which bears phrases, translated from Coptic, of a dialogue between Jesus and his disciples about a woman, Mary, whom he describes as “his wife” ( ta-hime / ta-shime , which in Coptic corresponds to what we call “woman” or “wife”). There is nothing unusual about this for a scientific congress. However, in this case, the excessively direct link between research and journalism - that makes short shrift of the long periods required by more serious scientific discussion - had already occurred before the conference, given that the very premature news in the American press on Tuesday depended on an an interview that the Harvard academic had already given before leaving for Italy.

In spite of the drift in the media marked by tones which are quick to shock, unlike so many other items presented at the conference, the papyrus was not discovered in the process of excavation but came from an antiquarian market. Such an object demands that numerous precautions be taken to establish its reliability and exclude the possibility of forgery.

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St. Peter’s Square

Sept. 18, 2019

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