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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. Angry Christian

    How dare they say that about my Savior. !!! Please show where where to storm an Embassy !

    September 18, 2012 at 8:28 pm |
  2. longofest

    Doesnt the bible, including the gospels, say that the church is Christ's bride? "the gospel of Jesus' wife" simply means "the gospel of the church".

    Unless there is better proof to the contrary that this refers to a physical woman, why is this such a big deal?

    September 18, 2012 at 8:28 pm |
    • Unfair, plain and simple

      I will tell you why. Jesus either gets some smelly dirty butt s.e.x from some dudes, or gets some smelly hairy chick. The Muslies get 10 virgins 7 fold. How is that fair???!!

      September 18, 2012 at 8:31 pm |
  3. If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

    Sure, when Christians beleived the shroud of Turin was real they were all for it ... but this, since it disagrees with dogma, CAN'T be real !! Gods I love how that works!

    September 18, 2012 at 8:28 pm |
  4. Lizzy10

    Dear God, the Vatican will plotz!

    September 18, 2012 at 8:28 pm |
  5. Whatever

    If we found an ancient scrap of papyrus which said "Zeus then ate his wife..." would we even be discussing this as possible "proof" that Zeus ate his wife? No. We'd be talking about a newly revealed angle in the known Greek mythology. That's all this is, folks. A new twist on an old myth. Just because someone wrote down their stories, those stories don't then become true. Libraries are full of testaments to that.

    September 18, 2012 at 8:28 pm |
  6. Marco

    Yes, your work of fiction MUST BE "fake" if Jesus had a wife *rolls eyes*

    It's all fiction...who cares if he was married in one version of this tall tale or not?

    September 18, 2012 at 8:27 pm |
  7. Russell

    Jesus often referred to himself as Groom and to the church as Bride in the gospels. The text really is meaningless without context.

    September 18, 2012 at 8:27 pm |
  8. skytech

    why would hi refer refrred you a wife if it was not true.

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

      why would he referred to you a wife, if it was not true.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:30 pm |
  9. #1jesusFan

    SO what,there are countless stories that never made it to the 'bible'

    The Bible want some book that came out of the sky,it was complied over many decades

    September 18, 2012 at 8:27 pm |
  10. kenster

    I heard they corrected the translation – he says, "take my wife, please!"

    September 18, 2012 at 8:26 pm |
  11. fnks

    Jesus forever!

    September 18, 2012 at 8:26 pm |
  12. John

    Funny. FInd videos where both Obama and his wife boast about his being "The first senator born in Kenya" and nobody believes it. Find an obscure fragment that contains both the words Jesus and "my wife" and everyone wants to immediately throw out their Bibles and turn away from their faith. I'll let you in on a little secret...just because something is written on "ancient papyrus" doesn't make it the Word of God. Just ask Dan Brown.

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

      Not sure where you're seeing that "everyone wants to throw out their Bibles." That's certainly not my reaction. There are all sorts of extra-canonical writings about Jesus. Here's another one. If it says anything at all, it says more about the community of the person who wrote it than it does about Jesus.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:29 pm |
    • old ben

      Why don't you just post the video here? Yeah – I didn't think so. Tard.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:48 pm |
  13. Larry McDonald

    If Jesus is the ANSWER – The question is, what do you say when you hit your thumb with a hammer.

    September 18, 2012 at 8:26 pm |
  14. Kitty

    Good thing I hate gays.

    September 18, 2012 at 8:26 pm |
  15. truthmatter1

    Jesus is not god or son of god. So he if he was married, that is normal.

    September 18, 2012 at 8:26 pm |
    • Strategy610

      Hebrews Chapter 1:5-13, 5 For unto which of the angels said he at any time, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee? And again, I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son?

      6 And again, when he bringeth in the firstbegotten into the world, he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him.

      7 And of the angels he saith, Who maketh his angels spirits, and his ministers a flame of fire.

      8 But unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom.

      9 Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity; therefore God, even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.

      10 And, Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of thine hands:

      11 They shall perish; but thou remainest; and they all shall wax old as doth a garment;

      12 And as a vesture shalt thou fold them up, and they shall be changed: but thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail.

      13 But to which of the angels said he at any time, Sit on my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool

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

      what a better it interduce her

      September 18, 2012 at 8:39 pm |
  16. Gavin Ford

    Does the marital status of a 2000 year old dead Jew really matter today?

    September 18, 2012 at 8:26 pm |
  17. lejaune

    And the Mormons would say Jesus had many wives ...

    September 18, 2012 at 8:25 pm |
  18. El Flaco

    Three centuries after Jesus died, no one had the slightest idea what the man said or what he did. It is all legend. My family just discovered that my great-great grandfather lied about being an immigrant from Ireland. Why? We have no idea. He was born in Alabama and posed all of his life, so my mother informed me, as an Irish immigrant. That man was in his twenties in the Civil War, less than two centuries ago.

    September 18, 2012 at 8:25 pm |
  19. NatiiveUSA

    CNN I found a three inch scrap of Papyrus that says in Aramaic Obama is the name of the beast the AntiChrist no other context so it must mean the end of days or something huh?

    September 18, 2012 at 8:25 pm |
  20. ja-coffalotte

    And in other news, sorry Joseph, somebody tapped that.

    September 18, 2012 at 8:25 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.