The Unbelievable Tale of Jesus’s Wife, an article by Ariel Sabar published about 7 months ago in the July/August Issue of The Atlantic is a Da Vinci Code-like adventure following the trail of a ‘hotly contested, supposedly ancient manuscript’. Though I didn’t find this article recently, I went back and re-read it online since it’s probably my favorite written piece on the historical mysteries of early Christianity. The journey starts with “a 1,300 year old scrap of papyrus that bore the phrase ‘Jesus said to them, My wife’” (Sabar). This fragment was first presented at a conference in Rome during September of 2012 by Karen L. King, a Harvard historian for early Christianity. Critics and skeptics fell in line after the finding was made public, noting different reasons as to why this scrap was a forgery, the most notable of them being a bizarre typographical error within the Coptic grammar on the papyrus. The piece underwent countless lab tests (almost more than any other papyrus in history) and passed them all.
The story really starts when Sabar writes “[w]ith King and her critics at loggerheads, each insisting on the primacy of their evidence, I wondered why no one had conducted a different sort of test: a thorough vetting of the papyrus’s chain of ownership” (Sabar). Sabar takes this task on himself and leads us through a whirlwind journey through Florida, East Germany, and more, collecting data and insight on the people whose paths intersected this piece of papyrus. I see somewhat of a connection between the diligence of data collection of both King and the authors we’ve been reading this semester (McGuire, Chaves). The mentality King has throughout this story comes off as very systematic and fact-based, relying only on her findings and not what she wants to see within the search for legitimacy. Though it’s a bit of a longer read, I truly recommend giving it a try whether interested in the topic or not. It is a fascinating read with an ‘answer’ to one of the most remarkable scholarly mysteries in recent decades.