CNN - A team of scientists has concluded that a controversial scrap of papyrus that purportedly quotes Jesus referring to "my wife," is not a fake, according to the Harvard Theological Review.
"A wide range of scientific testing indicates that a papyrus fragment containing the words, 'Jesus said to them, my wife' is an ancient document, dating between the sixth to ninth centuries CE," Harvard Divinity School said in a statement.
The contents of the papyrus scrap may date even earlier - to the second through fourth centuries, Harvard added.
Scientists tested the papyrus and the carbon ink, and analyzed the handwriting and grammar, according to Harvard.
"None of the testing has produced any evidence that the fragment is a modern fabrication or forgery," the divinity school added.
Unveiled by Karen King, a Harvard Divinity School historian, in 2012, the scrap sparked a heated debate over Christian history, archaeological accuracy and modern media coverage of contested ancient history.
The fragment, which is about the size of a business card, contains just 33 words: “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife …. She will also be my disciple."
The scrap does not prove that Jesus actually had a wife, said King - just that ancient Christians wrote about the possibility.
Other Christians have suggested that Jesus may have been speaking metaphorically in the sentence fragments quoted in the papyrus. Some New Testament writers refer to the church as "the bride of Christ."
King and other scholars said they are equally intrigued by Jesus' mention of a female disciple.
"The main topic of the fragment is to affirm that women who are mothers and wives can be disciples of Jesus — a topic that was hotly debated in early Christianity as celibate virginity increasingly became highly valued," King said in a statement.
5 questions and answers about Jesus' 'wife'
The Harvard Theological Review also published a rebuttal by Leo Depuydt professor of Egyptology at Brown University.
“As a forgery, it is bad to the point of being farcical or fobbish," Depuydt told the Boston Globe. "I don’t buy the argument that this is sophisticated. I think it could be done in an afternoon by an undergraduate student.”
The Vatican's newspaper has also called the papyrus fragment a fake.
“Substantial reasons would lead us to conclude that the papyrus is actually a clumsy counterfeit,” the Vatican’s newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, said in an editorial in 2012.
Vatican newspaper calls fragment referring to Jesus' wife 'a fake'