Harvard journal refuses to retract fake 'Gospel of Jesus' Wife' papyrus story

An ancient papyrus written in ancient Egyptian Coptic is pictured in this undated handout image provided by Harvard Divinity School.Reuters

A Harvard University journal has refused to retract an article it published in 2014 about the "Gospel of Jesus' Wife" papyrus fragment despite the fact that its author has admitted that the scrap of paper is a forgery.

In 2012, Karen King, an expert in the history of Christianity and who works at Harvard Divinity School, took the world by storm when she presented a papyrus that indicated, according to her, that Jesus had a wife.

She unveiled the "Gospel of Jesus's Wife" papyrus that contained the text "Jesus said to them, 'my wife..." at a Coptic Studies congress held across the street from St. Peter's Square.

In 2014, the Harvard Theological Review published King's findings.

However, an investigative report by The Atlantic last month prompted King to say that the papyrus "tips the balance towards forgery" after the magazine published the story on its origin and ownership.

Critics said the papyrus was a forgery because it contained errors in Coptic grammar and similarities with the Gospel of Thomas, according to The Atlantic.

But the Harvard journal has refused to retract, saying, "Acceptance of an essay for publication means that it has successfully passed through the review process. It does not mean that the journal agrees with the claims of the paper," according to the website Retraction Online.

The journal said it never endorsed a position on the papyrus fragment.

"In the same issue (HTR 107:2, April 2014) in which HTR published Professor Karen King's article and the articles on the testing that were represented or misrepresented in some circles as establishing the authenticity of the fragment, it also published a substantial article by Professor Leo Depuydt arguing that it was a crude forgery. Given that HTR has never endorsed a position on the issue, it has no need to issue a response," the Harvard Theological Review added.

King told the Boston Globe that "it appears now that all the material [owner Walter] Fritz gave to me concerning the provenance of the papyrus ... were fabrications."

Harvard Divinity School (HDS) Dean David Hempton said the school's mission "is to pursue truth through scholarship, investigation, and vigorous debate."

He said the HDS is "grateful 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."