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Documentary on papyrus fragment purporting that Jesus had wife delayed amid doubts on veracity

US Scholar Jesus Wife.jpg

Sept. 5, 2012: Divinity professor Karen L. King holds a fourth century fragment of papyrus that she says is the only existing ancient text that quotes Jesus explicitly referring to having a wife. (AP Photo/Harvard University, Rose Lincoln)

The premiere of the Smithsonian Channel's documentary on a papyrus fragment that purports to show Jesus referring to his wife has been delayed until further tests can be done amid doubts about the fragment's authenticity.

Research about the fourth-century papyrus fragment was released last month by Harvard Divinity School professor Karen King. She said it didn't prove Jesus was married, only that some early Christians believed he was.

The text, written in Coptic, contains a dialogue in which Jesus refers to "my wife," whom he identifies as Mary. He also says she can be his disciple.

King has said the fragment, which she called the Gospel of Jesus' Wife, doesn't prove Jesus was married, only that some early Christians thought he was.

Christian tradition has long held that Jesus was unmarried. Any evidence to the contrary would shake up debates about priestly celibacy and the role of women in the church.

Scholars immediately questioned the authenticity of the fragment, saying, for instance, that the grammar on it was unconvincing. They also cited its lack of known archaeological provenance.

The Smithsonian Channel promoted the fragment as "one of the most significant discoveries of all time." After scholars began questioning it, the channel initially said it had no plans to delay the broadcast. But later it decided to postpone the Sept. 30 premiere.

The channel's general manager, Tom Hayden, said the upcoming show "will take into account the upcoming tests as well as the academic response to the initial announcement."

"This will enable us to present a richer and more complete story," he said.

The new premiere date will be announced in the coming weeks, Hayden said.

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