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Newly revealed Coptic fragment has Jesus making reference to 'my wife'
September 18th, 2012
03:28 PM ET

Newly revealed Coptic fragment has Jesus making reference to 'my wife'

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

(CNN) - A newly revealed, centuries-old papyrus fragment suggests that some early Christians might have believed Jesus was married. The fragment, written in Coptic, a language used by Egyptian Christians, says in part, "Jesus said to them, 'My wife ..."

Harvard Divinity School Professor Karen King announced the findings of the 1 1/2- by 3-inch honey-colored fragment on Tuesday in Rome at the International Association for Coptic Studies.

King has been quick to add this discovered text "does not, however, provide evidence that the historical Jesus was married," she wrote in a draft of her analysis of the fragment set to appear in the January edition of Harvard Theological Review. The divinity school has posted a draft of King's article to which AnneMarie Luijendijk, an associate professor of religion at Princeton University, contributed.

"This fragment, this new piece of papyrus evidence, does not prove that (Jesus) was married, nor does it prove that he was not married. 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," King said in a conference call with reporters.

"What I'm really quick to say is to cut off people who would say this is proof that Jesus was married because historically speaking, it's much too late to constitute historical evidence," she continued. "I'm not saying he was, I'm not saying he wasn't. I'm saying this doesn't help us with that question," she continued.

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In the accounts of Jesus' life in the Bible, there is no mention of his marital status, while the accounts do mention Jesus' mother, father and siblings. The four Gospels - Matthew, Mark, Luke and John - tell the story of Jesus' birth and early childhood then skip to his short, three-year ministry before detailing his death and resurrection.

The idea that Jesus was married is not a new one.

In other writings about the life of Jesus from antiquity suggest Jesus may have been married to Mary Magdalene, a disciple who was close to Jesus. Author Dan Brown also used the idea of Jesus being married as a jumping off point for the fictional novel "The Da Vinci Code." King dismissed that notion in her call with reporters.

“There’s no indication we have that Jesus was married,” said Darrell Bock, a senior research professor of New Testament studies at Dallas Theological Seminary. “One could say the text is silent on Jesus’ marital status is because there was nothing to say.”

Initial dating for the honey-colored fragment by the team of scholars puts the papyrus piece coming out of the middle of the second century.

King is referring to the fragment as the "The Gospel of Jesus' Wife" or "GosJesWife" as a short hand for reference, and noting that the abbreviation does not mean this scrap has the same historical weight as the canonical Gospels.

Biblical scholars often use the term gospel to refer to a genre of ancient writings featuring dialogue between Jesus and his disciples, King notes in her paper. The Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Mary and the Gospel of Judas are just a few of the ancient accounts about the life of Jesus that Christians do not consider canonical.

Read this story in Arabic

At the conference, King said another professor suggested the fragment could have come from the text of a homily, or sermon, where the writer was using this phrase as a literary device. She told reporters that while she will consider that as a possibility, the fragment is “probably a gospel. Probably from the second century and most close to the Gospels of Mary, Thomas and Philip.”

Bock agreed with the notion that the text fragment shared similarities with those gospels, called the Gnostic Gospels, which were the writings of an early outlier sect of Christians. He said the text could be referring to a "gnostic rite of marriage that is a picture of the church and Jesus, not a real wife."

But he added, "it’s a small text with very little context. We don’t know what’s wrapped around it to know what it’s saying.”

Bock said it’s likely to be a gnostic text if it proves to be authentic. “The whole text needs vetting. She’s doing the right thing to release it and let scholars take a look at,” he said, adding “it’s a little bit like trying to analyze the game in the first quarter.”

“It’s a historical curiosity but doesn’t really tell us who Jesus was,” Bock said. “It’s one small speck of a text in a mountain of texts of about Jesus.”

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The owner of the fragment has been identified by King as a private collector who has asked to stay anonymous. The owner brought the fragment to Harvard have King examine it in December 2011.

King then brought it to the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at New York University. Roger Bagnall, the institute's director and an expert on papyrus, examined it and determined it to be authentic, Bangall confirmed to CNN.

Ariel Shisha-Halevy, professor of linguistics at Hebrew University, Jerusalem, who was asked to examine the authenticity, according to the draft of the article, told King via e-mail, “I believe - on the basis of language and grammar - the text is authentic. That is to say, all its grammatical ‘noteworthy’ features, separately or conjointly, do not warrant condemning it as forgery.”

Little is known about the origin of the text. Because both sides of the fragment have writing on them, King said it could have come out of a book rather than a scroll.

"Just like most of the earliest papyri of the New Testament and other literary and documentary papyri, a fragment this damaged could have come from an ancient garbage heap," the King says building on prior research by Luijendijk.

King writes "the importance of the 'Gospel of Jesus’ Wife' lies in supplying a new voice within the diverse chorus of early Christian traditions about Jesus that documents that some Christians depicted Jesus as married."

The Smithsonian Channel also announced Monday that it will air a special on King's findings on September 30.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Bible • Christianity • Jesus

soundoff (4,539 Responses)
  1. Heath

    Scripture is not silent on this: Matthew chapter 19 starting with verse 10 "Jesus’ disciples then said to him, “If this is the case, it is better not to marry!” “Not everyone can accept this statement,” Jesus said. “Only those whom God helps. Some are born as eunuchs, some have been made eunuchs by others, and some choose not to marry[e] for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.”

    September 18, 2012 at 9:46 pm |
  2. mary

    Religion is "evil" and blah blah blah..
    I am so sick of people using that ot provoke people into anger.. So they can point and say "see" religion is bad..
    Tell you what , get off people's backs about what they believe ,stop sneering and ridiculing and doing your best to provoke anger.
    No one said a religious person is perfect.. The do have the same failings as any other human.
    Stop trying to incite hostility..

    September 18, 2012 at 9:46 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      Im sorry. Are my human rights stinging your underfoot as you trample them?

      September 18, 2012 at 9:51 pm |
    • mary

      Godoflunaticscreation

      How the he.. does what I believe trample your rights..?
      If mine get in your way, Then the yours must also get in mine..

      September 19, 2012 at 2:59 am |
  3. SRC

    The church is the bride of Christ.

    September 18, 2012 at 9:46 pm |
    • skytech

      there iwas no church back when he was a live. lier

      September 18, 2012 at 9:47 pm |
  4. areukiddnme

    So, then this message is trying to say that Jesus' Wedding was left out of all the gospels? Tell me, how is that possible? So, then Jesus was married and what about children? Jesus would die on a cross but no mention of His wife or children at His crucifixion? Jesus would voluntarily die on a cross and leave behind His wife and children? You see this is why God and Savior Jesus Christ did not marry or have children. He did not come here for that, but to die and leave us the gospel and the Good News of the New Testament.

    All you have to do is think about these things in a very simple 'common sense' way. What Father lives the life Jesus lived speaking of things that were always edifying and performing miracles.. but this same One had a wife and children at home?

    All any one has to do is think about that. Then, you will know that this is a false relic.

    September 18, 2012 at 9:45 pm |
    • Caz in BOS

      You just have to think about this clearly and simply to realize that this Jesus guy is a complete fabrication. He was not married because he never lived.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:48 pm |
    • huh?

      thinking about it in a "common sense" way would show that it is all probably made up. This would be why there are many different versions around the same time.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:53 pm |
    • WASP

      @areuk: i doubt anyone would volenteer to be cruxified when you truly think about the power of the roman empire during the "time of jesus" the emperor was all powerful, what he said was law.
      so i imagine your jesus was crying begging for his life as he was being tortured. funny thing you wear his torture device as a symbol of your faith.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:55 pm |
    • revmlo

      Well stated. I have always felt that Christ came to die for all mankind. To be married, would he not somehow compromise this position by loving his wife more than the rest of mankind? Keep standing firm and believe. How sweet to have a personal relationship with the Son of God!

      September 18, 2012 at 10:21 pm |
  5. hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

    Tom (?) Brady is a hindu fabricate personality in the shadow of son of blessed Mary, named Dan/the man*** in filthy Jew miami, the, anointed one. Why this carnage, why west is persistent on the jet (J.E.T.S. ists cults, criminal self center ism ? please visit http://www.miamidolphins.com/ and click on word raiders, to learn true causes of mayhem among humanity,

    September 18, 2012 at 9:45 pm |
  6. FreThinker

    Remember, Christianity is a religion, and no, you do not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Even if we assume he existed, you have never met him. You do not have personal relationships with those you have never met in any way. You have only read about him. Saying you have a personal relationship with him is like saying you have one with Harry Potter. To think that, your're either a child, delusional, or insane.

    September 18, 2012 at 9:45 pm |
    • Heath

      Your so certain

      September 18, 2012 at 9:48 pm |
    • FreThinker

      @Heath. Yep, absolutely.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:49 pm |
    • FreThinker

      @Heath. (Oh, and by the way, it's you're, not your. Learn to spell if you're going to post your troll comments).

      September 18, 2012 at 9:50 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      Heath, if your argument could be used to support someone who speaks with Harry Potter then you are a laugh riot.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:50 pm |
    • Heath

      I noticed the you're after I hit post; you got me, you must be right about all things

      September 18, 2012 at 9:56 pm |
    • FreThinker

      Sure you did. Uh huh.

      I'm not right about all things (like you christian trolls think you are). I'm right about one thing, though...you are delusional. Go troll somewhere else. I'm sure there is a page somewhere that has a sandbox that's just right for you.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:58 pm |
    • Heath

      Now that's a start; not right about all things

      September 18, 2012 at 10:01 pm |
    • FreThinker

      New math:

      Troll=Heath, Heath=Troll.

      September 18, 2012 at 10:03 pm |
  7. GreatPope

    Does that mean the Pope can get married now? He's been holding out for no reason for way too long!

    September 18, 2012 at 9:45 pm |
  8. cpc65

    The word for "wife" can also be loosely translated as "ball and chain".

    September 18, 2012 at 9:44 pm |
  9. ernest descartes

    whatever you crazy fools say, I'll take my JESUS any time, any day, any where than any of you, regardless of what he is, what he had done, what he has become.

    September 18, 2012 at 9:44 pm |
    • Watchfuliiiii

      and what about if he was just a nice guy. Nice Jewish boy. Good head on his shoulders. Just a human.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:47 pm |
    • Tommy

      So, you have your own version of jesus? Regardless if he was married or not i don't think that really changes his message. i think what it would do if true would be to change centuries of catholic dogmatic law. which if you think about it , is not a bad thing at all.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:57 pm |
    • Lovesweetlove

      Jesus is beautiful in all moments. In all perceptions. In all ways. Jesus melts my heart continuously.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:58 pm |
    • FreThinker

      Remember, Christianity is a religion, and no, you do not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Even if we assume he existed, you have never met him. You do not have personal relationships with those you have never met in any way. You have only read about him. Saying you have a personal relationship with him is like saying you have one with Harry Potter. To think that, you're either a child, delusional, or insane.

      (Reposted in case you missed it the first time.)

      September 18, 2012 at 10:00 pm |
  10. Dyslexic doG

    Why not add one more chapter to the Jesus myth? It's all a story book anyway.

    September 18, 2012 at 9:43 pm |
  11. Jose Castillo lll

    Jesus was never married because he came to save the world

    September 18, 2012 at 9:43 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      Yeah, if he got married his wife would have broke his spirit. Could you imagine? "Jesus, get in here and stop playing son of god with your twelve pals! You always leave your sandals lying on the floor and oooooh you can turn water to wine but you can't even wipe the table after you eat!"

      September 18, 2012 at 9:49 pm |
  12. ScottCA

    Carl Sagan saying some of the most important words any human being has ever spoken.
    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hLkC7ralR30&w=640&h=390]

    September 18, 2012 at 9:43 pm |
    • Russ

      @ ScottCA: "meaningful"? what meaning? according to his view of the universe, we are just a random succession of events, heading toward the eventual heat death of the universe. who talks about "meaning" if there is no greater objective reality?

      Sagan can't have it both ways. either there's a greater meaning or we are utterly insignificant.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:53 pm |
    • revmlo

      With all of the enlightenment that people have received from philosophies like this, wouldn't you think there would be some indication that progress was being made and the world was getting better? I don't see any examples that the skeptics concerning Christ's divinity are shining any light on things. I do however see this world becoming a darker place, verifying what the Bible states will occur in the last days. Of course, some will see it, others will not.

      September 18, 2012 at 10:07 pm |
    • ScottCA

      Russ, wishing the universe was something other than it is, doesn't make it so.
      this video on freewill inside a material brain will help you understand a bit better what your conscious limitations are and the extents to which you have choice within the constraints of your physical brain. We are limited, but the brain is far more complex then you give it credit for.
      [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VQxJi0COTBo&w=640&h=390]

      September 18, 2012 at 10:36 pm |
  13. Morgan

    People claim the bible is a fairy tale but look at all the geographical references and the time lines of the predicted empires of Babylon, Persia, Greece, and the Romans.

    All graphically depicted hundreds of years before they came to power. No mortal could have vision like that.

    How do you explain that Daniel knew hundreds of years ahead of time what empires would follow and the very symbols they would use to represent their kingdoms?

    You can't, except to falsely claim he wrote it after it occurred.

    September 18, 2012 at 9:42 pm |
    • WASP

      @MORGAN: it's not a fortune cookie, the bible was written during the time of constantine the pagan emperor of rome. he paid priest to assemble all the different factions into one book.
      so yeah it was written after the fall of most empires written in the bible, not before they rose to power.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:45 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      The Bible has plenty of known forgeries and later additions not to mention all the things that are obiously false.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:47 pm |
    • Caz in BOS

      How come it never mentioned China? or America?

      September 18, 2012 at 9:50 pm |
    • PFUI

      No USA? No Australia? No South America? No men traveling to the moon and back? Daniel was a sluggard - PFUI on him...

      September 18, 2012 at 9:53 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      Predicted empires? Greece,Persia, and the Romans were empires before your myth man appeared in his manga.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:53 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      Usually predictions come before the event actually occurs not the other way around.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:54 pm |
    • revmlo

      Remember Morgan that you are dealing with individuals who miss the fact that you were referring to an Old Testament reference with Daniel. His predictions were well before the time of Christ. You are correct with the exception of Babylon. Another interesting fact is that scholars believe the Gospel of John dates back to just 80 years after the resurrection of Christ. Therefore it is looked upon as extremely accurate as compared to other biographies written centuries after the lives of so many which are taken at face value.

      September 18, 2012 at 10:13 pm |
  14. dane

    If this was about Islam, the riots world have started.

    September 18, 2012 at 9:42 pm |
  15. John

    and his name is Moses.... ha ha... shocker!!!!!

    September 18, 2012 at 9:42 pm |
    • Junk Guy

      love it! I heard he was gay. What will Republicans do now to the marriage act?

      September 18, 2012 at 9:45 pm |
  16. Joe

    JUST WHEN YOU THINK YOU'VE SEEN IT ALL, HERE COMES THE LATEST RELIGIOUS HOAX!!!! DID THEY FIND IT NEXT TO NOAH'S ARK??????

    I've been to the middle east many many times, any clown with a 100 dollars can buy ancient artifacts papyrus or other on any street in the entire region.

    This smells like a cheap cheap cheap hoax, but thank you to the donor for being such a good citizen and public clown

    September 18, 2012 at 9:42 pm |
  17. Joe

    I've been to the middle east many many times, any clown with a 100 dollars can buy ancient artifacts papyrus or other on any street in the entire region.

    This smells like a cheap cheap cheap hoax, but thank you to the donor for being such a good citizen and public clown

    September 18, 2012 at 9:41 pm |
  18. smk

    In Quran God speaks to the whole humanity ....

    “Proclaim, He is the One and only GOD. The Absolute GOD. Never did He beget. Nor was He begotten. None equals Him." [112:1]

    “They even attribute to Him sons and daughters, without any knowledge. Be He glorified. He is the Most High, far above their claims.” Quran [6:100]

    “The example of Jesus, as far as GOD is concerned, is the same as that of Adam; He created him from dust, then said to him, "Be," and he was.” Quran [3:59]

    “No soul can carry the sins of another soul. If a soul that is loaded with sins implores another to bear part of its load, no other soul can carry any part of it, even if they were related. ... [35:18]

    It does not befit God that He begets a son, be He glorified. To have anything done, He simply says to it, "Be," and it is. [19:35]

    God will say, "O Jesus, son of Mary did you say to the people, `Make me and my mother idols beside God?' " He will say, "Be You glorified. I could not utter what was not right. Had I said it, You already would have known it. You know my thoughts, and I do not know Your thoughts. You know all the secrets.[5:116]

    The Messiah, son of Mary is no more than a messenger like the messengers before him, and his mother was a saint. Both of them used to eat the food. Note how we explain the revelations for them, and note how they still deviate! [5:75]

    Thanks for taking time to read my post. Please take a moment to clear your misconception by going to whyIslam org website.

    September 18, 2012 at 9:41 pm |
    • Russ

      @ SMK: the Quran was written 600 years AFTER Jesus.
      The reason this papyrus fragment is historically irrelevant (as Dr.King points out) is because it's over *150 years after* Christ and clearly amending the earlier historical accounts.
      If 150 years invalidates the historicity, what does *600* do?

      September 18, 2012 at 9:45 pm |
    • Eric R.

      You are very mistaken. Jesus was much more than a messenger. Jesus raised the dead, cured the sick, made the blind to see, predicted the future, had wisdom well beyond his years, and walked out of a tome 3 days after being killed. No offense, but none of us or Muhammad is even in the same league as Jesus. There has never been a man to walk this planet like Jesus...and never will be again until his return......and mark. my. words. .....he will return.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:56 pm |
    • Ocie

      Matthew 3:17 "And see a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased."

      When Jesus was baptized by John, even after the Holy Prophet John insisted in Matthew 3:14, "...saying, I have need to be baptized of you, and come you to me?" to which Jesus replied, "And Jesus answering said to him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becomes us to fulfill all righteousness. Then he suffered him."

      This was recorded in the Holy Bible's Matthew 3:15. These verses, among many others, prove Jesus Christ is indeed the Son of God.

      I personally have prayed to Jesus in the name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit and my prayers have been answered.

      I do not deny others the right to their worship but I know that Jesus IS the Son of God and that God did find it BEFITTING to beget him and that he was greatly pleased with Jesus.

      Matthew 3:16 explicitly states, "And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, see, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the SPIRIT OF GOD descending like a dove, and lighting on him:"

      To recap, Matthew 3:17 goes on to state, "And see a voice from heaven, saying, This is MY BELOVED SON, in whom I AM WELL PLEASED.

      You can see for yourself for free with the King James Version of the bible on-line at KJV dot us/matthew/3 dot htm

      September 18, 2012 at 10:44 pm |
  19. kabalista

    Reblogged this on Kabbalah Astrology and commented:
    What role did the feminine have in the life and teachings of Jesus? Prepare for more and more secrets to be revealed!

    September 18, 2012 at 9:40 pm |
  20. jtucker4

    "This fragment, this new piece of papyrus evidence, does not prove that (Jesus) was married, nor does it prove that he was not married."

    This is proof enough that he was married. Now find something that states he was not and we have a debate. What do you want a picture?

    September 18, 2012 at 9:40 pm |
    • Joe

      I've got a note in my pocket that say's your gay! DOES THAT MAKE IT TRUE?

      September 18, 2012 at 9:45 pm |
    • Joe

      On the basis of your assertions....

      I've got a note in my pocket that say's your gay! DOES THAT MAKE IT TRUE?

      September 18, 2012 at 9:45 pm |
    • *

      *you're

      September 18, 2012 at 9:55 pm |
    • Uneducated Joe

      Joe, the contraction for 'you are' is 'you're', not 'your'. Guess you missed that day in fourth grade class...if you made it that far...

      September 18, 2012 at 10:08 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.