Veritas: A Harvard Professor, a Con Man and the Gospel of Jesus’s Wife

by Ariel Sabar

Thursday, May 27 at 5pm via Zoom

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From National Book Critics Circle Award-winning author Ariel Sabar, the gripping true story of a sensational religious forgery and the scandal that shook Harvard.

In 2012, Dr. Karen King, a star professor at Harvard Divinity School, announced a blockbuster discovery at a scholarly conference just steps from the Vatican: She had found an ancient fragment of papyrus in which Jesus calls Mary Magdalene “my wife.” The tattered manuscript made international headlines. If early Christians believed Jesus was married, it would upend the 2,000-year history of the world’s predominant faith, threatening not just the celibate, all-male priesthood but sacred teachings on marriage, sex and women’s leadership. Biblical scholars were in an uproar, but King had impeccable credentials as a world-renowned authority on female figures in the lost Christian texts from Egypt known as the Gnostic gospels. “The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife”–as she provocatively titled her discovery–was both a crowning career achievement and powerful proof for her arguments that Christianity from its start embraced alternative, and far more inclusive, voices.

As debates over the manuscript’s authenticity raged, award-winning journalist Ariel Sabar set out to investigate a baffling mystery: where did this tiny scrap of papyrus come from? His search for answers is an international detective story–leading from the factory districts of Berlin to the former headquarters of the East German Stasi before winding up in rural Florida, where he discovered an internet pornographer with a prophetess wife, a fascination with the Pharaohs and a tortured relationship with the Catholic Church. 

VERITAS is a tale of fierce intellectual rivalries at the highest levels of academia, a piercing psychological portrait of a disillusioned college dropout whose life had reached a breaking point, and a tragedy about a brilliant scholar handed a piece of scripture that embodied her greatest hopes for Christianity–but forced a reckoning with fundamental questions about the nature of truth and the line between reason and faith.

– From Amazon

In 2012, a papyrus entitled “The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife” presented evidence that some early Christians believed Jesus may have been married. While academics and religious leaders quibbled over the authenticity of the document–reaching no concrete conclusions–journalist Ariel Sabar looked where no one else had: at the document’s origins. In a months long investigation, Sabar followed leads to Harvard, Germany, Florida, and more. It quickly became clear the Gospel’s owner was not the man he presented himself to be. You can read the full article, “The Unbelievable Tale of Jesus’s Wife,” on the Atlantic’s website and in the July/August issue of the magazine. – From YouTube

The front of a papyrus fragment from an early Christian codex on which is written a previously unknown gospel, the Gospel of Jesus's Wife. Photograph © 2012 Karen L. King

Ariel Sabar

Sabar’s journalism and essays have appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic Magazine, Harper’s, Smithsonian Magazine, Washington Post, Boston Globe, Christian Science Monitor, Washingtonian, and This American Life.


Walter Fritz, the alleged forger (by Lisette Poole, from The Atlantic)

News/Press Coverage

Karen King