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Harvard Theological Review won’t retract ‘Jesus’s Wife’ paper

Karen L. King, Hollis Professor of Divinity at Harvard University, in her office with the papyrus fragment in question.Bill Greene/Globe Staff/File

The Harvard Theological Review said Monday that it does not plan to print a retraction of Harvard professor Karen L. King’s 2014 paper on the so-called “Gospel of Jesus’s Wife,” now that King said she believes the papyrus fragment she wrote about was probably a forgery.

King was persuaded the scrap of papyrus was probably a fake after the Atlantic magazine published an extensive investigative piece last week profiling the owner, a Florida man named Walter Fritz, whose identity King kept confidential.

Most of King’s colleagues had already dismissed as a fraud the fragment, which mentioned a married Jesus. But King remained open to the possibility of authenticity until she read the Atlantic’s story, which detailed evidence of forgery in documents that Fritz gave to King, and questioned claims that the papyrus had been examined by Egyptologists in Germany in the 1980s.


Jon D. Levenson and Kevin J. Madigan, editors of the Harvard Theological Review, said in a statement Monday that their journal “has scrupulously and consistently avoided committing itself on the issue of the authenticity of the papyrus fragment.”

The editors say King’s article and the articles on scientific tests King commissioned on the fragment “were represented or misrepresented in some circles as establishing the authenticity of the fragment.”

Harvard Divinity School’s own press release announcing the publication of the paper and the completion of the tests in 2014, however, was titled, “Testing Indicates ‘Gospel of Jesus’s Wife’ Papyrus Fragment to be Ancient.”

Levenson and Madigan noted in their statement that the peer-reviewed journal also published an article by Leo Depuydt, a Brown University professor, arguing that the papyrus was a crude forgery.

“Given that HTR has never endorsed a position on the issue, it has no need to issue a response,” the editors wrote.

The Harvard Divinity School also updated its website on the “Gospel of Jesus’s Wife” to include King’s comments to the Atlantic following the publication of the article.


King said the magazine’s reporting “tips the balance towards forgery.”

In an interview with the Globe on Friday, King said “it appears now that all the material Fritz gave to me concerning the provenance of the papyrus . . . were fabrications.”

King, a distinguished scholar of early Christianity who holds the oldest endowed academic chair in the country, had previously declined to rule out the possibility the papyrus might be a forgery, but her recent statements point more directly in that direction

David N. Hempton, dean of the Harvard Divinity School, said in a statement on the school’s website that the school’s mission is to “pursue truth through scholarship, investigation, and vigorous debate.”

“HDS is therefore grateful,” he said, “to the many scholars, scientists, technicians, and journalists who have devoted their expertise to understanding the background and meaning of the papyrus fragment. HDS welcomes these contributions and will continue to treat the questions raised by them with all the seriousness they deserve.”

Lisa Wangsness can be reached at lisa.wangsness@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @wangsness.