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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. bzcoolness

    I couldn't care less if he was married or not. I don't think it's really that important.

    September 18, 2012 at 8:24 pm |
    • Dawn

      You know why you feel that way? BECAUSE you sound like a peacful person. This Christianity thing must be a peaceful relgion. CNN building is still standing. Thank you Christians for being good stewards of your faith. Can't say the same for other faiths.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:34 pm |
      • bzcoolness

        We all do our best, of course. =)

        And members of other faiths can be good stewards of their faith and all-around nice people. I've met Muslims and Buddhists (even some atheists, though they aren't necessarily good stewards of "faith"... =P) who behave better than a lot of Christians that I meet. It's all up to who you look to. If you're looking at the guys who bomb abortion clinics or fly planes into towers, then you're not going to consider people to be "good stewards". The key is to look past all the garbage out there and look at the good.

        September 20, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
    • Veronica

      Ephesians 5:32 "This amystery is great, but I speak with regard to Christ and the church."

      Footnote:Christ and the church as one spirit (1 Cor. 6:17), typified by a husband and wife as one flesh, are the great mystery.

      September 19, 2012 at 3:50 pm |
      • bzcoolness

        Symbolically, Christ's bride is the Church, yes. But this is claiming he could possibly have been married PHYSICALLY, not just symbolically. There's always been some speculation; some claim he got married to Mary Magdeline, but there is no doctrinal mention of a physical bride. It's all up to who you talk to in the end.

        September 20, 2012 at 5:09 pm |
  2. Phil from Aztec

    Finish the sentence: "Jesus said unto them: 'My wife...'" I'm thinking: "...won't give me a break" or "is after me to rake the yard."

    September 18, 2012 at 8:24 pm |
    • Jimmy the Swartz

      Actually, the story is wrong. The actually text is: "Jesus said, 'Take my wife. Please."

      September 18, 2012 at 8:32 pm |
  3. JIMMY WALES

    FAKE as always.

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

      Anyone else find it ODD that this was released by CNN and states this was revealed by Copic Christians (Christians of middle eastern decent); you know...the person who made the youtube video about Mohammand was a Coptic Christian. Hmm..weird timing CNN.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:53 pm |
    • Brody Jacobson

      How is this fake?
      This just states that early Egyptian Christians BELIEVED in Jesus' marriage.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:10 pm |
  4. JESUS

    So? he was a guy. He became human.

    September 18, 2012 at 8:23 pm |
  5. josh rogen

    i always thought Jesus was gay, did they have gay marriage back then?

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

      From what we know of JC, I think he would have been considered the wife of the couple. Mos def a bottom/fem.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:27 pm |
    • old ben

      Well I think he was married to, you know, a Michele Bachmann type, and you know how that is – he had to have some more exciting and less reptilian on the side. And she was enough of a turn-off that he just jumped the fence it seems.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:28 pm |
    • Dawn

      I wonder if you would feel okay typing that about Mohammad? You would fear for your life I bet. Chrisanity its the only relgion people are allowed to mock. Peacful religion gets stoned most.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:36 pm |
  6. R Burns

    Just wish they had quoted the entire thing instead of a short phrase!

    September 18, 2012 at 8:22 pm |
  7. DT

    I found an old cloth in my garage written in an old language too. It says "Obi-Wan is our only hope." This proves that Star Wars is based on factual events. Lets go to war with someone

    September 18, 2012 at 8:22 pm |
  8. Rolph

    Make a deal w u
    You give up Jesus
    They give up Mohammed
    The others give up Moses and Buddah
    and we will all be better off

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

      Make a deal with you shut your mouth before you remove all doubt of your ignorance and the world will be better off.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:23 pm |
    • bf83

      Amen and however you say the same in other languages.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:25 pm |
    • Jim

      Buddah is not a God or a prophet.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:26 pm |
    • Christo

      Rolph is dead on Natiiive. Religion has just done just as much harm if not more than good throughout history. Don't go all witch hunt on us.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:26 pm |
    • The day

      Religion is bad it doesn't teach true morality, just that you shouldn't do something because you will go to hell.

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

      Hell,,,lol, what a rediculous concept. I'm sorry the entire universe is not centered around our BEHAVIOR on Earth. Right, wrong, good, bad...lol it's all different where you live and what time you lived there.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:34 pm |
    • Lisa

      Oh yes, much better off. A society where we live for nothing greater than material things.

      September 21, 2012 at 7:32 pm |
  9. manomundo

    God, could you come down for a day and just sort this all out? Lots of us are confused as to what religion is correct... that is, if even one is. Thanks. P.S. I'm trying not to be pretentious, but there are big problems here.

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

      Ancient Astronaut Theory. It's the only one that makes sense.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:30 pm |
    • Dawn

      All 3 major relgions believe in the same god.

      They are the Abrahamic relgions, just an FYI.

      It is the Messiah where the disagreement lays.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:40 pm |
    • Veronica

      Maybe cnn should read the Bible if they want to preach Jesus.
      Ephesians 5:27 That He might present the church to Himself 3glorious, not having 4spot or wrinkle or any such things, but that she would be holy and without blemish.

      In this section of exhortation the apostle presented another aspect of the church, that of the bride. This aspect reveals that the church comes out of Christ, as Eve came out of Adam (Gen. 2:21-22), that it has the same life and nature as Christ, and that it becomes one with Him as His counterpart, as Eve became one flesh with Adam (Gen. 2:24). The church as the new man is a matter of grace and reality, whereas the church as the bride of Christ is a matter of love and light. The apostle's exhortation in ch. 4 is focused on the new man, which has grace and reality as its basic elements, whereas his exhortation in this chapter is focused on the bride of Christ, which has love and light as its basic substances. In grace and reality we should walk as the new man, and in love and light we should live as the bride of Christ.

      September 19, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
  10. bspurloc

    did they find the piece where Mr Jesus told them to be bigots go forth hate on gays and other religions. and how marriage is defined as...... oh? no not yet? odd

    September 18, 2012 at 8:22 pm |
    • 1word

      It's not right to be bigots against Gays, it is right to explain what God "Jesus" Lord said concerning marriage.

      Genesis 1:26 And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

      27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

      28 And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

      Genesis 2:24
      Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.

      So basically, God laid down the foundation for marriage between 1 man and 1 woman.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:30 pm |
    • In darkness we press on

      Real Christians do not hate gays we love you the same as everyone else. Christians are never told to hate anyone, however many Christians today do not follow the teachings of the New Testament which is the real word for all Christians. We are told never to judge the world and only to judge those within the church who have gone astray, unfortunately this is not done in most churches today following a gay lifestyle is looked upon as sin within the church being gay is not.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:35 pm |
    • PY

      Do what you preach,please,because you sound as a bigot.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:40 pm |
    • Dawn

      LOL LOL LOL funny how that is mainstream Christanity to you huh. Meanwhile I bet the Holy war Muslims are just a crazy sect right? Gay men are called to Celibacy / priesthood, and life given to GOD. Read a little more please.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:50 pm |
  11. xyz

    Maybe this referred to a Spanish guy named Jesus.

    September 18, 2012 at 8:22 pm |
    • 1word

      lol

      September 18, 2012 at 8:31 pm |
  12. John

    Believe whatever you want, this is media garbage.

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

      Why is this garbage? Seemed pretty objective to me. What troubkes you about it, that there were thousands of gospels at that time and the ones uncluded in the bible were selected by men to conform to a legalistic and mostly fabricated doctrine of faith? If that makes this article garbage then it makes you a fool for ignoring historical truth.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:35 pm |
  13. Alex tapia

    No this does not prove jesus was married, the bible mentions him talking about his wife, wich is symbolical for the congregation wich he loves, symbolicaly calling it his wife in white.

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

      The bible doesn't even prove Jesus existed, let alone his wife. I wonder if he magically impregnated a teenager like his dad did but felt obligated to marry her rather than never show his face and let some poor sap raise the kid.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:30 pm |
  14. NatiiveUSA

    CNN coptics were pretty much disavowed on historical accuracy also centuries ago.............

    September 18, 2012 at 8:21 pm |
  15. ted

    I wasn't able to attend the ceremony, but I would have sent a gift...

    September 18, 2012 at 8:21 pm |
  16. jjj

    Another joke.

    September 18, 2012 at 8:21 pm |
  17. xyz

    Maybe he was playing the field.

    September 18, 2012 at 8:20 pm |
    • mbw7

      Not funny.

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

      go protest at his house..

      September 18, 2012 at 8:28 pm |
    • Dawn

      Hmmm, :THe Simpsons" "Ted" ...this article, etc, and many of them are proof. GOD bless America! "You shall know them by their fruit". The fruits of Christanity do not go out burning down CNN, Storming and killing people. Any other religion...this article would have FEAR of being written.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:31 pm |
  18. gstlab3

    What is so hard to understand about this?

    It says he mentioned his wife.

    I think anyone would agree that he was married how else would he get on in life back then???

    September 18, 2012 at 8:20 pm |
  19. OP

    Could be any Jesus, who cares.

    September 18, 2012 at 8:20 pm |
  20. Cynical Wife

    He was obviously way too involved in his career to be a good family man . . .

    September 18, 2012 at 8:20 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.