(Appearance of Jesus Christ to Maria Magdalena, by Alexander Andreyevich Ivanov, 1835/Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow)

A previously unknown scrap of ancient papyrus written in ancient Egyptian Coptic includes the words “Jesus said to them, my wife,” — a discovery likely to renew a fierce debate in the Christian world over whether Jesus was married.

The existence of the fourth-century fragment — not much bigger than a business card — was revealed at a conference in Rome on Tuesday by Karen King, Hollis Professor of Divinity at Harvard Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

“Christian tradition has long held that Jesus was not married, even though no reliable historical evidence exists to support that claim,” King said in a statement released by Harvard.

“This new gospel doesn’t prove that Jesus was married, but it tells us that the whole question only came up as part of vociferous debates about sexuality and marriage.”