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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. Henry

    How these a-s-s-h-o-l-e-s really know that it is Jesus speaking? They don’t, they just love the attention!
    And those p-e-r-v-e-r-t-e-d r-e-t-a-r-d-s claiming they don’t care, in reality they are a bunch of cowards hiding under the skirts of the printed media.

    September 19, 2012 at 8:09 am |
    • sam stone

      How does anyone know that it was Jesus speaking anything that was attributed to him?

      September 19, 2012 at 8:11 am |
    • Honey Badger Dont Care

      It's just an anchient fairy tale. Dont get so bent out of shape.

      September 19, 2012 at 8:15 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      Maybe they’ve been ‘inspired by god’. Isn’t that the cope out Xtians usually give?

      September 19, 2012 at 8:30 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      cop*

      Thank you auto correct.

      September 19, 2012 at 8:31 am |
    • ToEachHisOwn

      We'd all be a lot better off if you worried about yourself. "Ancient fairy tale". The irony is you feign apathy but you make condemning statements like that. Why? If you are so sure and don't care, why bother? I am certain there is something that you believe in religious or otherwise that most would find ridiculous or a waste of time. But, that's your choice. That's the cool thing about it – what you think means absolutely nothing.

      September 19, 2012 at 8:32 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      @ ToEachHisOwn
      You’re not very bright are you?

      September 19, 2012 at 8:37 am |
  2. mike

    said onto them ...my wife..... doesn't mean that he was married the way people said things back then is different ... just want this to be kept in mind next time people dig up some stuff and said that they think it means by today standards

    September 19, 2012 at 8:07 am |
    • richunix

      yes it does....of course of true...then this marve is going to send the Christian mytho's in to a tail-spin.... the plot thickens.....

      September 19, 2012 at 8:11 am |
    • Eric G

      So, any interpretation that does not agree with your interpretation is wrong?
      PERSONAL FOUL, ARGUMENT FROM AS-SUMPTION. 15 YARDS FROM THE SPOT OF THE FOUL. REPEAT 1ST DOWN.

      Please try harder.

      September 19, 2012 at 8:12 am |
  3. Dolphy

    Why do they base the authenticity on grammar, why not on the age of the material where the "my wife" is written?
    Any intelligent man who wants to destroy the sacred image of Jesus can make a very good grammar and concoct damaging stories about Jesus.
    Sorry to say, our Christian group doesn't base our belief on grammar but on the fulfilment of the words that Jesus said when He was still on earth.

    September 19, 2012 at 8:02 am |
    • Eric G

      Ok, I will play along......

      Please provide any verifiable evidence supporting your claim that you have an accurate description of anything that Jesus ever said.

      September 19, 2012 at 8:08 am |
    • Josh

      It's funny that you consider Jesus being married as a damaging story.

      September 19, 2012 at 8:10 am |
    • richunix

      Dude, neither Jesus nor his disciple write anything… most of them were illiterate, hence Greek scribes wrote the Gospel as told to them by others. WE DO NOT (BAR-NONE) have any original letters written by the men in question, only copies of copies of the oral reports.

      Stephen F Roberts: “I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.”

      September 19, 2012 at 8:16 am |
    • sam stone

      "Any intelligent man who wants to destroy the sacred image of Jesus can make a very good grammar"

      And the sycophants don't need to "make a very good grammar" at all

      September 19, 2012 at 8:17 am |
    • Eric G

      @Jim: Thank you for your civil response. It is refreshing to have a believer engage in dialog.

      Your point is taken, however there is a fundamental difference between your referenced points. The writings that make claims as to the words of Socrates do not do so for the sake of authority.

      September 19, 2012 at 8:30 am |
    • Scott

      You didn't read the article very well, he was the second person to authenticate it. the first one found out how old it was. he made sure that the words were written in the language of the time and if there would have been a jelly stain on it they would have had an expert on ancient fruit look at it too. They are doing what is not normally done with biblical things, they are verifying things not just believing.

      September 19, 2012 at 8:36 am |
  4. Moon

    I also wonder why christians are so offended by the very idea that jesus was a normal man & for his time period he was probably married. Hercules was married. Of course his family was brutally murdered and thats when he began his fabled heroic quests. But whatever. Most religions are stolen from other religions then twisted to become a new one anyway. Funny how the more one delves into the old religions the more one finds similarities in each old & new religion.

    September 19, 2012 at 8:02 am |
    • LOL

      I believe you would be called a conspiracy theorist.

      September 19, 2012 at 8:03 am |
    • JP

      Uh... slight problem.... Hercules was not a real person.

      FYI, Jesus Christ was both man and God - he came to earth to die for the sin of Man, and become resurrected to save us from sin. No mere man can do that.....

      September 19, 2012 at 9:13 am |
  5. Ben

    Where is this non spiritual practical discussion of Mohamed? Apparently only on youtube...

    September 19, 2012 at 8:01 am |
    • sam stone

      No, Christians are fun to abuse because

      1. They are the overwhelming majority in the United States
      2. A potential candidate for the highest office in the SECULAR nation cannot get elected unless he or she kisses the collective a$$es of the Christian faithful
      2. They are pompous

      September 19, 2012 at 8:22 am |
    • LOL

      And, I suppose you're not pompous, Sam?

      September 19, 2012 at 8:29 am |
  6. JP

    The reference to "bride" in Revelation 19 is referring to the church of Christian followers, not an actual bride....

    September 19, 2012 at 8:01 am |
  7. Evenstar13

    "Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints. And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he saith unto me, These are the true sayings of God." Revelation 19:7-9

    September 19, 2012 at 7:59 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Sooo... Jesus f.ucked baby sheep?

      September 19, 2012 at 8:01 am |
    • Eric G

      "And nine, nine Rings were gifted to the race of Men, who above all else, desire power. For within these Rings was bound the strength and will to govern each race. But they were all of them deceived, for another Ring was made. In the land of Mordor, in the fires of Mount Doom, The Dark Lord Sauron forged in secret a Master Ring, to control all others. And into this Ring, he poured his cruelty, his malice and his will to dominate all life. One Ring to rule them all."

      September 19, 2012 at 8:02 am |
    • Evenstar13

      Lambs, before Jesus, were used in sacrifice to atone for sin. Sin can only be washed away with blood. Jesus came to save mankind, to be that sacrifice. It is his blood that washes away the sin of mankind, hence the phrase "The Lamb of God". Read the bible, all of it, and you just might find some understanding!

      September 19, 2012 at 8:05 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      @Evenstar13
      On December 25th, long long ago, a child was born unto a virgin.
      Following a star shining in the east, 3 great kings of far off lands came to adorn the child with gifts to recognize his holiness.
      By the age of 12, the child was teaching learned men valuable lessons.
      By the age of 30, He had 12 disciples with whom he travelled the land performing miracles and spread the word of His ministry.
      Alas, He was betreayed by one of his disciples to his enemies and crucified.
      Upon His death, he was buried for three days – but miraculously rose from the dead!The child was known by many names, including The Truth, The Light, The Lamb and God's Shephard.

      His name was Horus.

      September 19, 2012 at 8:41 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      Pretty good Doc, but Horus' conception involved some sort of artificial penis. The "virgin" bit is doubtful. Same might be said of Jesus, of course.

      September 19, 2012 at 8:44 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      @Tom Tom
      Isn't a ghost penis artificial?

      September 19, 2012 at 8:55 am |
  8. Korey

    Will we ever get over a 2000 year old dead man...MOVE ON PEOPLE!

    September 19, 2012 at 7:52 am |
    • The Power

      @Korey
      and the Glory. The vicar of christ on earth has a very oppulent lifestyle and always needs more money, actually they are doing quite well but greed is greed; I can't come up with a new testament verse to prove the point but see George Carlin as a reference.

      September 19, 2012 at 8:04 am |
    • Dr Simieon

      GET OVER IT? hmmm not likely, why would anyone want to get over the risen messiah, the son of God. Forever and ever Amen.

      September 19, 2012 at 8:05 am |
    • Tired of Godless Self Reliant Idiots

      He is cooler than you will ever be...I doubt someone would even write a paragraph about you.

      September 19, 2012 at 8:28 am |
  9. Akilez

    Jesus Christ was always married a lot of Religious scientist from the Mormon to the Catholics priests had concluded that he was married. Da Vinci code might be true. The descendants of Jesus Christ is with us today.

    September 19, 2012 at 7:47 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      I am Christ. Obey me!!

      September 19, 2012 at 7:50 am |
    • the difference

      Interestingly, there will be no rioting, no embassies burnt, no killings. This is very offensive to a true Christian but when offended a true Christian chooses love and note hate.

      September 19, 2012 at 8:00 am |
  10. JB

    Christ is indeed married...to the church. He is the bridegroom and the church is His bride.

    September 19, 2012 at 7:46 am |
    • G

      See you at the wedding supper!

      September 19, 2012 at 7:47 am |
    • A

      Why do we try to interpret one word without reading the whole book?? Read people read.

      September 19, 2012 at 8:10 am |
  11. G

    LOL, why does CNN have a blog on "Belief"? After reading through the comments, the overwhelming belief here is that God doesn't exist. Kill this blog... Us intolerant Christians are saddened by the foolish responses.

    September 19, 2012 at 7:44 am |
    • Pinewalker

      CNN has already said in other articles that 60% of their commentors consider themselves atheists.

      September 19, 2012 at 8:14 am |
    • sam stone

      Yet you took time to comment on it

      September 19, 2012 at 8:25 am |
    • ohsotired

      @G – you almost got me troll! "us intolerant Christians"? You think CNN shoulld kill this blog?

      September 19, 2012 at 10:27 am |
  12. Obsie

    He was referring to the church. At many places , "my wife" actually means "my church"...the church that I have founded.

    September 19, 2012 at 7:39 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Oh, so you knew Jesus personally 2,000 years ago and have a complete semantic understanding of everything he said?

      September 19, 2012 at 7:42 am |
    • HAVE MUD WILL TRAVEL

      The proper name is Israel, reformed clay by the potter. Gentile BELIEVERS have been grafted into the tree. There always has been a remnant of believers......'Mat 15:24 But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.'

      September 19, 2012 at 7:45 am |
    • HAVE MUD WILL TRAVEL

      That reformed clay includes a bill of divorcement. He can't remarry an adulterous wife. UNLAWFUL!

      September 19, 2012 at 7:48 am |
    • HAVE MUD WILL TRAVEL

      Once an individual becomes the bride, distinctives are of no importance........'Gal 3:28-29 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye [be] Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.'

      September 19, 2012 at 8:10 am |
  13. John

    .....and Jesus is still paying all of us child support.

    September 19, 2012 at 7:38 am |
  14. nonamevot3r

    Sounds like the beginning of a Jewish joke, My Wife,.. take my Wife, ...Please take my Wife.

    September 19, 2012 at 7:38 am |
  15. Eric G

    Irrelevant. Please provide verifiable evidence that your God exists. Without this evidence, any other claims regarding the abilities, actions or desires of that god are invalid.

    Burden of proof is the responsibility of those making the claim of their god's existence.

    September 19, 2012 at 7:36 am |
    • Awesome Boy

      This is true that anyone who make claim have the burden of proof. However, what most of people like you don't realize is that when you declare God do not exist, the burden of proof is on you. Prove to me that God does not exist.

      September 19, 2012 at 7:43 am |
    • lol

      This article is funny – how many times does she talk about proof. How many of us just thought, "When has religion ever needed proof?"

      September 19, 2012 at 7:45 am |
    • lol

      LoL on 'awesome' boy. If you make an argument about logic, please don't use a logic fallacy when doing so.

      September 19, 2012 at 7:50 am |
    • Eric G

      @Boy: I make no claim that god does not exist. I cannot make that claim because you have not provided any proof that your claim is fact. You have made a claim and have not satisfied your burden of proof with verifiable supporting evidence. What you seem to not understand is that to make a claim without supporting evidence and then attempt to shift the burden of proof is intellectually dishonest.

      Please provide your evidence for verification.

      September 19, 2012 at 7:53 am |
    • richunix

      @AWESOMEBOY
      Stop using the fallacy of “Ad Hominem”. One does not need to prove that a your deity does not exist when neither existed in the first place. Your argument leads one to say Unicorns also exist.

      Stephen F Roberts: “I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.”

      September 19, 2012 at 8:02 am |
    • Cadiz

      To Eric G, Awesome Boy does not owe you any proof. He has said his belief. If you propose any differently the burden of proof is yours.

      September 19, 2012 at 8:07 am |
    • Dolphy

      You speak legalistically.
      Spiritual realms are based on faith most of the time.
      When Jesus comes back to take the saved with Him to His kingdom, THAT would be the evidence that what we are proclaiming about Jesus is very true.
      There is no coercion to believe in Jesus or else that cannot be called FAITH anymore.
      The bottom line, your and our beliefs are directly opposite, there's no need to prove our point as Christians.
      Ultimately, Jesus will judge us because of our deeds, words, and thoughts......and FAITHFULNESS and FAITHLESSNESS.

      September 19, 2012 at 8:19 am |
    • sam stone

      Awesome Boy: You cannot prove a negative. If you feel you can, prove to us that leprechauns don't exist

      September 19, 2012 at 8:27 am |
  16. Melanie

    I do not understand why Christians are so offended by the idea that Jesus may have been married. If he were, it wouldn't diminish the good works he did nor make him less Godly. Can someone explain this to me, please?

    September 19, 2012 at 7:36 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      It would imply that he had children, who's descendants now would number in millions, meaning there are millions of little Yahwehs running about today.

      September 19, 2012 at 7:41 am |
    • G

      As a Christian, this story doesn't offend, it just further reinforces the notiion that I'm a lamb amongst wolves. Christ said that because the world hates Him, I too will be hated. Please read some of the responses... much hate... and Christians are intolerant.

      September 19, 2012 at 8:06 am |
    • seriously?

      Why would his marital status have any bearing on the number of kids he had running around? Contraception was non existant in the primative times 2000 years ago and he was certainly into women – Mary tor one – He was no son of any God, but he was a charismatic, inflluential guy and was certainly doing well with the ladies. . .

      September 19, 2012 at 8:09 am |
  17. Reggie

    How can anyone trust something written or filmed by a Coptic Egyptian?

    September 19, 2012 at 7:30 am |
    • Greg

      I thought about starting a religion based around the stories of the Headless Horseman. Who's in?

      September 19, 2012 at 7:38 am |
    • Eric G

      @Greg: How about Jason Voorhees? I can't even count how many times he has been resurected. We wouldnt even need to change the slogan......WWJasonD?

      September 19, 2012 at 7:41 am |
    • Bad choice

      @Reggie
      you would lose a lot of people right from the start that get off on head including Atheist Steve/Hunter!!!

      September 19, 2012 at 7:57 am |
  18. bexter

    Politics of religion aside, that looks oddly enough like someone went to town on a piece of burlap with a Sharpie?!

    September 19, 2012 at 7:29 am |
    • abe

      Man, i'm crying laughing right now, need some comic relief this morning..thanks!

      September 19, 2012 at 7:33 am |
  19. Bootyfunk

    all this fuss over whether a mythological figure was married? why not debate whether Hercules was married?

    September 19, 2012 at 7:24 am |
    • Bryan

      Jesus has been proved over and over again he was real and did walk this earth, but the bible stuff well we all have our own views on that.

      September 19, 2012 at 7:31 am |
    • Bootyfunk

      what proof are you referring to? seriously, what evidence shows jesus existed in the really real world?

      protip: can't use the bible as 'proof'

      September 19, 2012 at 7:35 am |
    • madgoat

      There's no doubt that the "Man" existed... It's the godly status of this man that is very much a fantasy.

      September 19, 2012 at 7:44 am |
    • lol

      No Doubt? There is every doubt about it. Christian scholars have never found proof he was born, do you know his birthday? It for sure isn't Dec. 25, the day of the Pagan sun holiday usurped by Christianity. So you don't know, neither does anyone else. I'm sick of the academic dishonesty of people justifying their beliefs with outright lies, zero proof, hearsay, and myth – be them religious people or otherwise. It's just in church you get rewarded for this, in normal life with a job you are fired.

      September 19, 2012 at 8:01 am |
    • The Real LOL

      Jesus Mythers are the equivalent of conspiracy theorists and UFOlogists.

      September 19, 2012 at 8:32 am |
    • Big Joe

      Ah, the old "what was Jesus' birthday" argument. Tell me, what month, day and year was Socrates born? Plato? Aristotle? Can't find it? That's because birth records weren't kept the way they are today. Sure, historians can approximate a year, but even then they don't agree. That we celebrate Jesus' birth on a specific day of the year does not mean that we think that was the actual day He was born. Please try again.

      September 19, 2012 at 8:52 am |
  20. Atheist Hunter

    King has been quick to add this discovered text "does not, however, provide evidence that the historical Jesus was married."

    EXACTLY!

    September 19, 2012 at 7:17 am |
    • Bootyfunk

      should have said "this doesn't prove there was a historical jesus."

      September 19, 2012 at 7:25 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      He was either married, gay or just a made up character who was probably an amalgamation of various 'holy men' around at the time.

      September 19, 2012 at 7:29 am |
    • Bootyfunk

      pretty much. look up Osiris/Horus, Mitra, and many others. there is ZERO proof for the existence of jesus. as much as there is for hercules (incidentally also the half-divine son of a sky god). jesus' story was told before. so even if there was a jesus, he just got made up stories attributed to him. he never did anything "magic". grow up. at best, he was a cult leader.

      September 19, 2012 at 7:33 am |
    • Dionysus

      @Athiest Hunter
      Where were you when I was on top of the heap? I could of used a fanatic like you to keep the sheepies in line and I might have been the god that they built all those nice temples for, O Well. Just to let you know, "historical" jesus was based on a lot of previous god myths including mine, I had been their and done that long before your jesus came along. BTW, even his old man came to the opinion that the kid was a total fvck up, love thy neighbour crap is working out so well for the last 2000 years.

      September 19, 2012 at 7:34 am |
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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.