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'Jesus Wife' fragment gets more testing, delays article
A scholarly article based on the 'Jesus Wife' fragment was delayed as researchers waited on further testing.
January 3rd, 2013
02:30 PM ET

'Jesus Wife' fragment gets more testing, delays article

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Editor

(CNN) - One of the most anticipated articles in religion circles will be absent from the pages of the January edition of the Harvard Theological Review. Harvard Divinity School professor Karen King's final article on the "Jesus wife" fragment did not make the scholarly journal because further testing on the Coptic papyrus fragment has not been finished.

King announced the findings of the 1.5-by-3 inch, honey-colored fragment in September at the International Association for Coptic Studies conference in Rome. In a draft version of the article submitted for publication in the January edition, King and her co-author said the scrap had written in Coptic, a language used by Egyptian Christians, "Jesus said to them, 'My wife," but was then cut off.

King said the fragment dates to the 4th century but could be a copy of an early gospel from the 2nd century.  King and her research partners dubbed the hypothetical text "the Gospel of Jesus' Wife."

Despite King's insistence, the discovery did not prove anything definitive on the marital status of Jesus.

The announcement of the papyrus scrap exploded in the media.

"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 [Jesus] was married or not," King told reporters in a conference call from Rome in September.

5 questions and answers about Jesus' 'wife'

A dealer took the fragment to King for analysis and translation in 2011. The dealer wishes to remain anonymous, she said.

"We're moving ahead with the testing, but it is not yet complete, and so the article will await until we have the results," King said in an email to CNN.

"The owner of the fragment has been making arrangements for further testing and analysis of the fragment, including testing by independent laboratories with the resources and specific expertise necessary to produce and interpret reliable results. This testing is still underway," Kathyrn Dodgson, director of communications for the Harvard Divinity School, said in a email to CNN.

"Harvard Theological Review is planning to publish Professor King’s paper after conclusion of all the testing so that the results may be incorporated," Dodgson said. "Until testing is complete, there is nothing more to say at this point."

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In her original article King explained how a papyrus expert had dated the fragment to the right time frame and how an expert on Coptic linguistics said the grammar seemed to fit the time period, as well.  But what was untested in the early goings was the ink used on the papyrus.

Elaine Pagels, a professor from Princeton University who is an expert on gnostic writings such as this one, noted to CNN in September "You can find boxes filled with Coptic fragments," but what makes this one significant is for the first time it explicitly has Jesus referring to "my wife."

Faking antiquities is not uncommon, which is part of the reason so many critics questioned the authenticity of a text that potentially went against nearly every other ancient text concerning Jesus. Other scholars refused to comment on the find until the full battery of testing could be completed.

“The academic community has been badly burned,” Douglas A. Campbell, an associate professor of New Testament at Duke Divinity School said in September, noting how similar discoveries have turned out to be fakes.  The provenance of the document, "the history of where it came from and how they got it,” was a great concern to Campbell and other academics.

The Vatican newspaper weighed in on the matter in late September mincing no words and calling the fragment “a fake.”

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On the day King announced the fragment, the Smithsonian channel announced it had been working with King for months on a documentary about the find and the authentication process.  It had been slated to air in early October but was pulled back.

Tom Hayden, general manager of the Smithsonian channel, said in a statement in October  the delay "will enable us to present a richer and more complete story. We will be announcing a new premiere date in the coming weeks."

No announcement has been made as to when the premier will happen.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Belief • Catholic Church • Christianity • Vatican

soundoff (1,768 Responses)
  1. Reality

    “John Hick, a noted British philosopher of religion, estimates that 95 percent of the people of the world owe their religious affiliation to an accident (the randomness) of birth. The faith of the vast majority of believers depends upon where they were born and when. Those born in Saudi Arabia will almost certainly be Moslems, and those born and raised in India will for the most part be Hindus. Nevertheless, the religion of millions of people can sometimes change abruptly in the face of major political and social upheavals. In the middle of the sixth century ce, virtually all the people of the Near East and Northern Africa, including Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Egypt were Christian. By the end of the following century, the people in these lands were largely Moslem, as a result of the militant spread of Islam.

    The Situation Today
    Barring military conquest, conversion to a faith other than that of one’s birth is rare. Some Jews, Moslems, and Hindus do convert to Christianity, but not often. Similarly, it is not common for Christians to become Moslems or Jews. Most people are satisfied that their own faith is the true one or at least good enough to satisfy their religious and emotional needs. Had St. Augustine or St. Thomas Aquinas been born in Mecca at the start of the present century, the chances are that they would not have been Christians but loyal followers of the prophet Mohammed. “ J. Somerville

    It is very disturbing that religious narrow- mindedness, intolerance, violence and hatred continues unabated due to randomness of birth. Maybe, just maybe if this fact would be published on the first page of every newspaper every day, that we would finally realize the significant stupidity of all religions.
    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    January 5, 2013 at 12:23 am |
    • sybaris

      It's just another uncomfortable truth that the faithful won't recognize. Seriously, to question the origins of your faith requires some critical thinking. If the faithful exercised ANY critical thinking there'd be no more faithful.

      Here's another one that they won't recognize, they were all born ignorant of any god or religion.

      January 5, 2013 at 12:37 am |
    • JJ

      All humans are born atheists and then indoctrinated into their parent's cult unless they are fortunate enough to have parents who are not in a cult. I raised my children to be skeptical of all claims of the supernatural and always ask questions. Naturally they are atheists to this day.

      January 5, 2013 at 8:45 am |
  2. SJM

    I believe it to be early stand-up comedy. The full Coptic text clearly stated "Jesus said to them, 'My wife, take her please"

    January 5, 2013 at 12:18 am |
  3. GlendaK

    Jenny
    Josephus and Tacitus both thought that Emperor Vespasian as the actual Jewish messiah, and Josephus thought that Hercules was an actual, historical figure. Perhaps they're not your best outside sources for Jesus' historicity.

    January 5, 2013 at 12:01 am |
  4. Stephen

    Actually GAW you areYou're an imbecile!China and its people believ in a God Just not the one we call by name!Theirs has another name!But they do believe in a devine being!!

    January 4, 2013 at 11:53 pm |
    • GAW

      What in God's name are you blathering about? Drinking and posting on the internet don't mix.

      January 4, 2013 at 11:58 pm |
    • Athy

      Sadly, I think Stephen writes this way even when sober.

      January 5, 2013 at 12:41 am |
  5. Cindy

    Opinions on its being real or fake should wait until all the testing is completed. Even the Vatican is jumping to conclusions. What is important is the message Jesus gave the world, not his marital status!

    January 4, 2013 at 11:46 pm |
    • GlendaK

      If his "message" was that he was only on earth to sacrifice himself to save mankind then his being married would suggest that this mission wasn't so all-comsuming and ultimately important to him, right?

      January 5, 2013 at 12:08 am |
  6. Stephen

    well Kieth !There is a reason Jesus spoke alot in parables!That way those who would not or chose to be ignorant would not understand his points he was making and would consider his words as folly!They would go on with their meaningless lifes believeing them selves supieor and fail to see that tehy missed out on a chance to learn something from God himself trying to teach man !

    January 4, 2013 at 11:46 pm |
    • Val

      Either that, or he was into giving cryptic clues, like the Riddler, or something?

      January 5, 2013 at 12:11 am |
    • Bet

      So god loves us and wants to communicate with us via this old book, but then he talks in riddles to that the people who don't yet believe in him won't understand his message?

      I'm sure that sounded better in your head.

      January 5, 2013 at 12:34 am |
    • Bet

      so that, not to that

      January 5, 2013 at 12:35 am |
  7. Koolgrl

    First, Jesus being referred to as the "bridegroom" with the church as his wife is a Christian created saying. Jesus wasn't Christian. He was Jewish. Christianity was created after Jesus died by his desciples. Joseph and Mary would have raised Jesus in the Jewish faith. It would have been Joseph's responsibility to educate Jesus in the Jewish faith and references in the Bible point to the fact that Joseph did those things. One of those things is marriage. It is highly likely Jesus was married and had brothers and sisters. His likely wife, of course, was Mary Magadeline. This should not be a surprise to anyone.

    January 4, 2013 at 11:29 pm |
    • Kev

      Is that assumed because Mary Magdeline was the first person the resurrected Jesus appeared to?

      January 5, 2013 at 12:06 am |
    • Kev

      Also, how does the parable of the ten Virgins come into play here?

      January 5, 2013 at 12:19 am |
  8. LookAndSEE

    500 years ago,having a Bible could cost you your life.
    Now they are collecting dust on everybody's coffee table while mainstream media waters down your brain.

    January 4, 2013 at 11:17 pm |
    • End Religion

      Hopefully in another 500 no one will own one but a library.

      January 5, 2013 at 6:49 am |
  9. Ralph

    I cannot imagine why anyone would care, one way or the other. My perception of the culture of that time period, considered a wife more as property of the husband, than as an equal partner.

    January 4, 2013 at 11:05 pm |
  10. Robert N.

    Experts are convinced that Honey Boo Boo is a direct decendent of Jesus Christ, and his wife Rosie.

    January 4, 2013 at 10:53 pm |
  11. Robert N.

    The experts now believe that Honey Boo Boo may be a direct decendent of Jesus Christ, and his wife.

    January 4, 2013 at 10:50 pm |
  12. Mario D

    Jesus' wife = the church. It is frequently stated in the Bible that Jesus was the "bridegroom" and the church his "bride"....and this lady is some sort of "Professor" of religious studies....wow that is amazing that she would be unaware of this analogy and symbolism that is really well understood by us who are Christian....shock value...LOL

    January 4, 2013 at 10:46 pm |
    • Maybe

      Mario D...

      Maybe because it's a silly analogy... like a lot of the other ones in that book.

      January 4, 2013 at 11:10 pm |
  13. Keith

    Not sure why this would be a surprise to anyone. Even God had a wife...actually two. It's in the Christmas hymn "Joy to the Workd" – "He rules the world with Truth and Grace...." :)

    January 4, 2013 at 10:40 pm |
    • Val

      Asherah, the powerful fertility goddess, was YHWH's wife. She is most likely the "Queen of Heaven" mentioned in Jeremiah.

      January 5, 2013 at 12:28 am |
  14. illuminati

    It is good to know that Jesus was not gay after all...

    January 4, 2013 at 10:39 pm |
  15. Meki60

    boy, how anyone can believe this is beyond me.

    January 4, 2013 at 10:22 pm |
    • illuminati

      At least we know he can have 6 !

      January 4, 2013 at 10:40 pm |
    • Val

      People believe the Bible, don't they? If you can swallow that, something like this ought to be easy to believe.

      January 5, 2013 at 12:30 am |
  16. GAW

    This is an example of premature publication. Too many times so-called finds and artifacts are deemed to be frauds by the experts only after the media get's it hands on the story. It can be embarrassing.

    January 4, 2013 at 10:19 pm |
    • Al

      Speaking of premature, how do you think Jesus was in the sack? Did he perform miracles?

      January 4, 2013 at 10:46 pm |
    • aaron

      The worst was the intentional hype over Geraldo Rivera opening Al Capone's vault. That was alot of premature excitement over a few old bottles, with bottle collectors the only winners for real excitement in the end.

      January 4, 2013 at 11:07 pm |
    • GlendaK

      However, had this been an artifact supporting belief it would be obviously authentic, I suppose?

      January 5, 2013 at 12:36 am |
  17. that guy

    Forget about Jebus having a wife, I'm impressed the author of the script was able to fit so many legible characters onto such a small piece of paper.

    January 4, 2013 at 9:49 pm |
    • GAW

      I want to see the 1700 year old sharpie that the scribe used.

      January 4, 2013 at 10:20 pm |
  18. heliocracy

    The son of the mighty Flying Spaghetti Monster was married to turnip.

    January 4, 2013 at 9:48 pm |
    • GlendaK

      It was a rutabaga, you heretic! :-)

      January 5, 2013 at 12:38 am |
  19. Salvatore

    Boy do I feel sorry for the Atheist

    January 4, 2013 at 9:48 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Which atheist? And why?

      January 4, 2013 at 9:50 pm |
    • AndyMax71

      All 3% of the them in the global population.

      January 4, 2013 at 9:57 pm |
    • MC

      3%? Hilarious. You're an imbecile. China is nearly all atheists.

      January 4, 2013 at 10:03 pm |
    • GAW

      Just feel sorry for the one cooped up in his mother's basement and who trolls on news sites and forums all day and night.

      January 4, 2013 at 10:25 pm |
    • Lisa

      Yes, surrounded by superst_itious fools like you, it must be a trial!

      January 5, 2013 at 12:41 am |
    • Hairy Johnson

      "The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God." Psalm 14:1

      January 5, 2013 at 1:40 am |
    • End Religion

      Please learn to walk in the many footsteps of Bilbo. In His name I pray...

      "In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty wet hole, filled with the ends of earth worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole, with nothing to sit down on or to eat; it was a hobbit hole, and that means comfort."

      January 5, 2013 at 6:53 am |
    • JJ

      "All 3% of the them in the global population" Mississippi is not the global population. You might try leaving the state and actually travel sometime.

      January 5, 2013 at 8:47 am |
  20. Who cares

    Elvis was a god and he was married.

    January 4, 2013 at 9:47 pm |
    • Mr. Black

      Yeah, and we can prove he's real!

      January 4, 2013 at 9:53 pm |
    • Believer

      @ Mr. Black The only way to prove Elvis lived is by personal testimony. Even the video we have of him would only be accepted by someone testifying that that image was Elvis. The Bible is such a testimony about God and Jesus!

      January 6, 2013 at 1:45 am |
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About this blog

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.