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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.

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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. Bethel Blog

    This such a bunch of bunk. CNN obviously has no idea what they are printing. One fragment that is obscure, that no one has ever read, and written by who knows what kind of person will trump thousands of years of tradition. Spare me.

    September 18, 2012 at 8:19 pm |
    • Lilith

      The fact that you claim "tradition" trumps facts says all I need to know.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:22 pm |
    • Josh

      So were all the other books from the New Testament.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:23 pm |
    • butch

      We are still ~20 years from being able to say "thousands" of years.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:27 pm |
  2. JR Wirth

    And Jesus said to them "Take my wife....PLEASE!".....da da da.....ching.

    September 18, 2012 at 8:19 pm |
  3. Starstuff

    Oh boy! I wonder how these extreme Christians are going to spin this?

    Karen King is Jewish right? If I was Israel I would recall all my diplomatic team from the US 😉

    September 18, 2012 at 8:19 pm |
    • duke of earl

      Dream away, they would fold the next day from lack of (american) foreign aid.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:21 pm |
  4. butch

    This proves nothing. It was written a hundred years after Jesus died.

    September 18, 2012 at 8:18 pm |
    • Lilith

      Nice one Butch .. I get it.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:20 pm |
    • Josh

      So were all the other books of the New Testament.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:20 pm |
    • butch

      Josh didn't get it.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:22 pm |
    • duke of earl

      Yes, but the newspapers of that time have a photo of the wedding, and how drunk he was that night.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:22 pm |
    • butch

      No nude photos?

      September 18, 2012 at 8:24 pm |
  5. bf83

    No one was there – for any of it. At best, it is literature – to describe, after the fact, a lesson for living. The rest is conjecture, at best.

    September 18, 2012 at 8:18 pm |
    • DT

      I just heard lighting and thunder

      September 18, 2012 at 8:20 pm |
    • duke of earl

      Says you, where you there? No. So you can't say for sure, but there is still (mummifed) wedding cake that says you're wrong.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:24 pm |
  6. DT

    This is now a MAJOR election issue. The economy just went to #5 on the list.

    September 18, 2012 at 8:18 pm |
  7. Josh

    'Jesus said to them, "My wife ..." '

    ... is such a pain in the ass.

    September 18, 2012 at 8:18 pm |
  8. dscon

    wow.............
    the muslim brotherhood "is" running cnn.............

    September 18, 2012 at 8:17 pm |
  9. truth will out

    Probably referencing "his bride" the church, just like in the bible.......people are reaching with this one

    September 18, 2012 at 8:17 pm |
    • Randy

      That was my first thought too.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:19 pm |
    • bf83

      Bull****!

      September 18, 2012 at 8:23 pm |
  10. southernsugar

    Jesus was God made man. Period. He wasn't married, had no brothers and sisters..... Understand it?

    September 18, 2012 at 8:17 pm |
    • bf83

      Even the Bible mentions brothers.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:20 pm |
    • old golfer

      Come on, think a little. Possible and probable.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:21 pm |
    • bzcoolness

      "Had no brothers and sisters"

      Umm... Matthew 13:55-56: "Is not this the carpenter's son? is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas? And his sisters, are they not all with us? Whence then hath this man all these things?"

      =)

      September 18, 2012 at 8:23 pm |
    • duke of earl

      If that's the case its no wonder he was as neurotic as he was.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:27 pm |
    • Shamsher

      Yesu, You, I and the rest of the entire animal kingdom are God made period.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:37 pm |
    • Pete

      I think what you meant is that god is man made.

      September 19, 2012 at 1:13 pm |
  11. xyz

    It makes sense that he wasn't married. He did hang around with sinners a lot.

    September 18, 2012 at 8:16 pm |
  12. DT

    At least it doesn't say "my husband"

    September 18, 2012 at 8:16 pm |
    • bf83

      Could have been – or be.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:32 pm |
  13. Scott

    My name is Darwin, and I'm saying I told you so.

    September 18, 2012 at 8:16 pm |
  14. Lilith

    Married! Now it all comes into focus. He called it prayers, we call it begging.

    September 18, 2012 at 8:15 pm |
  15. duke of earl

    Mozel tov!!

    September 18, 2012 at 8:15 pm |
    • joeymom

      I think this is my favorite comment on the board. 🙂

      September 19, 2012 at 1:08 am |
  16. Moses

    "Take....my wife...please"

    September 18, 2012 at 8:15 pm |
  17. Carlin123

    Turns out the son of God had a wife a dog and 4 kids.

    September 18, 2012 at 8:15 pm |
    • Lee Iacoca

      and a mini-cartvan.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:16 pm |
    • Miss Macy

      Also a riding lawn mower and a car payment.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:37 pm |
  18. Denise

    Sure Jesus had a wife. His wife's name was Paul.

    September 18, 2012 at 8:12 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      John the beloved, surely.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:16 pm |
    • Max

      Oh! I want a like button for this.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:01 pm |
  19. mmmmmoh

    Anyone want to kill a few diplomats or burn an embassy over this...oh this has to do with the christian religion, we don"t count

    September 18, 2012 at 8:09 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      You don't even make sense. If you want to "count" in the way that the radical muslims do, then go burn some embassies and kill some diplomats. You sure you want to take that option?

      September 18, 2012 at 8:12 pm |
    • rj

      Yep, you're right. You don't count. Any other questions?

      September 18, 2012 at 8:16 pm |
    • Carlin123

      If I do that, can I get Billions of American tax dollars too.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:17 pm |
    • duke of earl

      I wouldn't mind knocking off a few ped priests and burning down the vactican.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:17 pm |
    • Tria

      No, as Christians we understand that Christ doesn't need us to defend him from humiliation. It doesn't do damage to him that men reject and mock him, they always have. He endured mocking, cruelty, and even a horrific death for the sake of others during his time here on on earth. This contrast between Christianity and Islam couldn't be more plain.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:54 pm |
  20. If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

    Looks like they're going to need another council meeting at Nicaea to rewrite it again.

    September 18, 2012 at 8:09 pm |
    • truth will out

      why? the version they have now (minus all the other books) keeps people just ignorant enough about their true spiritual nature, to control, just fine...

      September 18, 2012 at 8:15 pm |
    • duke of earl

      Then what would be running at the race tract

      September 18, 2012 at 8:19 pm |
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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.