By Lisa Sylvester
(CNN) - An ancient scrap of papyrus is reviving an equally ancient debate: was Jesus married?
Experts have been gingerly examining a remnant which contains text saying that Jesus referred to "my wife."
It is a fragment, a faded piece of papyrus with the phrase "Jesus said to them, 'my wife.'" It's written in the ancient Egyptian Coptic language. Harvard Divinity School Professor Karen King did the translation.
"When I first saw this fragment, it was actually through a photograph, and I couldn't believe it. Once we finally came to the decision that it said Jesus said to them my wife it was really an astonishing moment," said King.
Her findings are being presented in a new documentary on the Smithsonian Channel, what is being called the "Gospel of Jesus' Wife."
The fragment is an intriguing element to a question that's been debated for centuries: Was Jesus in fact married? If so, was his wife Mary Magdalene? Early writings from the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John make no reference to Jesus having a wife.
What we are talking about was written on a scrap of paper no bigger than a business card and what is missing in all of this is context.
"Very few words are legible on it. 'Jesus,' disciples, wife, question arises, is this same Jesus they are talking about. There were a lot of Jesuses running around in the Middle East," said Father Tom Reese with Georgetown University.
"Although it may be authentic it is not canonical, which means it is not inspired word of God, not part of the canon, not part of the 27 books of the New Testament," said Hellen Mardaga, assistant professor of New Testament.
Where did it come from? The papyrus belongs to a private collector who wishes to remain anonymous. A preliminary examination by experts determined it looks to be consistent with the period between the second and fourth centuries, and the rest of the supposed gospel - what happened to it?
King, based on the condition, says it may have been discarded, with only this piece salvaged from a garbage heap.
The fragment, as mysterious as it is, doesn't offer a definitive conclusion, says King.
"This fragment, this new piece of papyrus evidence, does not prove that (Jesus) he was married, nor does it prove that he was not married. We have the earliest reliable historical tradition is completely silent on that. So we're in the same position we were before it was found. We don't know if he was married or not," she said.
Perhaps a phenomenal new clue, or perhaps just a scrap of ancient text.
All of this comes as the church looks at present day issues: should priests be allowed to marry? Should women be allowed to serve as priests?
There is a lot of fascination because we know so much about the teachings of Jesus and his early and later life, but there are periods in the middle that still remain a mystery.