May 6th, 2014
01:52 PM ET

New Clues Cast Doubt on 'Gospel of Jesus' Wife'

It seemed real; it seemed fake; it seemed real again; now we’re back to fake.

"It” is the controversial little scrap of papyrus, written in Coptic, that seems to have Jesus referring to “my wife,” in contrast to the traditional stance that affirms Jesus’ perpetual bachelorhood.

The quick backstory: In 2012, a Harvard professor, Karen King, brought this papyrus to the attention of scholars and the public.

Both the material and the script looked authentically ancient at first glance, and though the notion of Jesus having a wife was remarkable, these “lost” Christian writings, such as the Gnostic Gospels, are full of unorthodoxies.

It was good enough for King, who is widely respected in the scholarly world.

From the beginning, there were doubts, however, beyond the unlikelihood that the tiny scrap that survived the centuries would happen to be the one that contained the reference to Jesus’ wife.

The papyrus, along with a few other ancient papyri of lesser novelty, had been passed to King by an anonymous figure.

Anonymity, in the world of antiquities, is often a bad sign, compounding the inherent uncertainty when dealing with texts that are bought and sold rather than discovered in a firm archaeological setting.

Then there were aspects of the text itself that seemed suspicious.

For a fragmented scrap of papyrus, it seemed to have an awful lot of important content on it. Not only did Jesus refer to “my wife,” he also potentially described a certain Mary – perhaps Mary Magdalene? – as “worthy” and capable of being a disciple.

It is (almost) too good to be true.

See more on story at CNN.com/Belief