Friday, April 11, 2014

Facts Continue to Undermine Religious Claims

Jesus Wife papyrus
Pope Francis, resting in his apartment near the Vatican, must have sat up wide-eyed and upset this morning.  An international team of scientists has finished studying a scrap of ancient papyrus that claims Jesus had a wife. The scrap was introduced in 2012 and contains just a few words, including “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife …’" and "’she will be able to be my disciple.’" 

 Vatican has claimed that the small fragment is a fraud.  “Substantial reasons would lead us to conclude that the papyrus is actually a clumsy counterfeit," L'Osservatore Romano, said in an editorial in 2012. 

Of course, the same Vatican has refused to admit the Shroud of Turin is a fake even after exhaustive scientific tests dated the so-called burial cloth of Jesus to the 13th century.  The Church’s credibility isn’t very high in these matters.  It’s wrong on this papyrus fragment, too.

Research announced today (April 11) shows clearly that the writing is genuine.

Historian Karen King
"A wide range of scientific testing indicates that a papyrus fragment is an ancient document," reported Harvard Divinity School.  Historian Karen King, who works at the Divinity School, first introduced the scrap two years ago.  Scholars looked at everything from the composition of the papyrus, oxidation and the carbon ink to the handwriting and grammar.The papyrus was dated using carbon 14 testing, which found that it was produced from 659-859 CE.

Of course, those few words don’t prove anything.  They certainly don’t prove Jesus was married, only that some writer in that time period thought he was.

The Vatican is likely to dismiss it on those grounds.

However, to claim that’s it’s just some unknown author’s thoughts is a two-edged sword that also cuts right through the Gospels.  The beloved, sanctified and loudly proclaimed words in the New Testament are nothing more than the writings of unknown writers – the names Mark, Matthew, Luke and John were added long after the books were written -- who were expressing their thoughts decades after the death of Jesus.

The evangelical words are no different than the few words on the papyrus.  The New Testament is just older.

The Vatican has already conceded that the Gospels are not history, but contain the “beliefs” of the authors.

So does this new fragment.

However, it flies in the face of several important Catholic ideas, such as priestly celibacy.  The thinking is that Jesus didn’t marry, so priests shouldn’t.    Oops.  The second Church tenet that’s been crushed is that men run the church, not women, because there are no women disciples.  A second oops.

Expect the Church to fulminate further that the fragment is a fake.  Expect conservative Christians to complain about the testing.  They don’t respect science anyway.  Some Christian conservative in Pennsylvania, for example said he’s running for Congress because “evolution made his daughter cry.”  She should be bawling about her father’s ignorance.

Facts are facts.  The little piece of papyrus came from an ancient document.  That’s just the way it is.
Someone more than 1,800 years ago thought Jesus was married and had a woman disciple.  If one person thought that way, others did, too.  That’s history.  No amount of denials is going to change that.  Pope Francis is due for a few more restless nights as science continues to dismantle cherished Church concepts.

How about the claim Jesus died for our sins?  Oh, wait.  That’s been shown to be wrong.  Evolution proved Adam and Eve never existed so there was no Original Sin.  Or that God created the universe?  Darn, the Big Bang Theory exploded that concept.

What’s left?

Probably just more meaningless objections from a sleepless pope.

Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history.  He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida.  You can reach him at  He is the author of the famed Unauthorized Biography of Nostradamus; The Last Testament of Simon Peter; The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information; Noel: The Lore and Tradition of Christmas Carols; and Dummies Guide to Comparative Religion.  His books are available on, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers.  He can also be followed on Twitter.

You can enroll in his on-line class, Comparative Religion for Dummies, at

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