VATICAN CITY - The theory that Christ could have been married is seen with great skepticism in the Vatican and by historians.
Contacted by Agence France-Presse, Vatican spokesperson Federico Lombardi refused to call into question the competence as a historian of professor Karen King, who teaches at Harvard Divinity School, but said "we do not really know where this little scrap of parchment came from."
"This does not change anything in the position of the Church, which rests on an enormous tradition, which is very clear and unanimous" that Jesus Christ was not married, he said.
"This changes nothing in the portrayal of Christ and the gospels. This is not an event that has any influence on Catholic doctrine," he said.
'Wife does not mean spouse'
A professor at Protestant Faculty of Theology in Paris, Jacques-Noel Peres, pointed out that the text was from a relatively late period.
"I have never read texts from any preceding period that spoke about the veracity of Jesus being married," Peres said.
The professor added that in the language of the time, "wife does not necessarily mean spouse."
He quoted the famous phrase from the Bible in which Jesus spoke to his mother at the marriage at Cana saying: "Woman, why turn to me?" underlining that the reference could come from this passage.
Some historians said the script could come from Gnosticism-a doctrine that was popular in the second century-which was very marginal and in disagreement with the Church and whose texts were exaggerated.
The editor of the Vatican's official daily, Osservatore Romano, professor Giovanni Maria Vian, also a specialist in the history of the early Church, said he doubted the authenticity of the fragment, which could be a fake sold as a genuine article to get a higher price since "the theme raises popular interest."
"There is a business in fakes in the Middle East," Vian said, adding that in the United States, there had been "an attempt to create a buzz around this case."
Citing expert observations, he said the writing on the papyrus was "personal writing" whereas a codex would have been written in a "very rigid" way resembling a printed text.
"Church tradition has no mention of a wife of Jesus. All the historical indications are that Jesus was unmarried. It is clearly said that St. Peter was married. So why hide this for Jesus?" Vian said.
Vian said that if the text were indeed from that period, it could be a fragment from an apocryphal gospel inspired by gnosticism translated into the Coptic language.
The apocryphal gospels, which were presented as coming from the entourage of Jesus Christ, flourished in the early centuries of Christianity.