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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. The 666

    jesus is false. christianity is a mental disease.

    September 18, 2012 at 8:33 pm |
    • 1word

      This coming from someone who use a screen name as The 666 lol.

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

      Obviously a religious nut trying to scare religious people from listening to logic with threats of eternal damnation in a nonexistent hell. It is nothing much imagination it exists only in your minds.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:52 pm |
  2. Jack

    Are there any ancient writings that specifically say Jesus was *never* married?

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

    i see why a lot of people think jesus a magician, but everyone of you and everyone of you who arent quite sure NEED to think of him as a wiseMAN

    September 18, 2012 at 8:32 pm |
  4. KalifUni

    This could be the opportunity for Romney and for that campaign to finally take the gloves off and take the fear off and just start explaining conservatism. Start explaining liberty to people and what it means, and explain that they don't have to be in that 47%. There's no reason for them, for everybody, to essentially have given up on their future in this country. There's no reason for it. This is, to me, such an opportunity to espouse conservatism and to explain to people. Now that people are focused on this, now that people are paying attention to it, this is a golden opportunity, and we know Romney's got it in him because of what he said to these people.

    September 18, 2012 at 8:32 pm |
  5. Machiavelli

    Jesus was married ??? And he said nothing about his mother-in-law,........ no there is a miracle !

    September 18, 2012 at 8:32 pm |
  6. ENR

    LOL A centuries old papyrus? It looks like it was printed yesterday with a Sharpie.

    September 18, 2012 at 8:32 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      CNN usually uses stock photos for stuff like this, but even so, you're basing your decision on what it "looks like?" lol

      September 18, 2012 at 8:36 pm |
    • ENR

      My dear little Mopy One: So, what's your point?

      September 18, 2012 at 8:41 pm |
    • agathokles

      Gee. Let's see.... should I believe some anonymous dude who posts on the internet from viewing a picture.... or should I believe the experts in ancient papyrii who examined it in detail. Tough choice! NOT.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:45 pm |
    • ENR

      @Aggie: I have lived long enough to know that many of the so-called "experts" have an agenda. Not only that, many "experts" and "researchers" invent phoney data in order to continue receiving government grant money. And yes, when I read an article like this, I am just as likely to believe some "dude" posting on the internet as a so-called "expert".

      September 18, 2012 at 8:56 pm |
    • Pete

      Well I guess that is why you fall for the BS in the bible.

      September 19, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
  7. ridiculous

    The new testament clearly refers to the church as the bride (or wife) and Jesus as the bridegroom This is nothing more than an attempt to distort and pervert the word of God.

    September 18, 2012 at 8:32 pm |
    • Just call me Lucifer

      Like "the word" of your god is actually true.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:39 pm |
    • ScottCA

      I know what you mean people are always miss quoting Ares.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:55 pm |
  8. Saddened

    So sad that there are so many people that hate Chritians out there, people who just spew hatred and ill will. How sad. At the end of your time, ignorance will not be an excuse.

    September 18, 2012 at 8:32 pm |
    • Just call me Lucifer

      Man, I'm so scared that your all powerful all knowing loving god won't let me in to the Great Disneyland in the sky because I didn't kiss his anus with enough love and devotion. You cowering zealots make me sick.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:46 pm |
  9. JAG

    Let me know if the next three words are "...is a man."

    September 18, 2012 at 8:32 pm |
  10. frank thomas

    according to the mormon cult,this jesus god was riding dinosaurs in Missouri, hiding golden tablets for bringham young,who found the tablets and they myisteriously disappeared when the price of gold went up, now this bishop of the jesus god in his magic underwear , or is that a man girdle,good luck gop

    September 18, 2012 at 8:31 pm |
    • First knight

      Joseph Smith found the golden tablets ,or so they believe, and he was also the founder of their cult... I mean religion. Just wanted to make sure you got your history right. Brigham Young pretty much took over the Mormons after Joseph Smith was killed. You don't have to make crap up to find this religion crazy. Just research what they believe.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:40 pm |
  11. 1word

    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 8:31 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      Yes, right after he made plants before the sun and made talking snakes and zombies and introduced a plan whereby he exploited a loophole in order to sacrifice himself to himself to appease himself so that he only has to torture some people forever and ever in a never ending pit of fire that he doesn't want but can't stop. Yeah, right

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

      The Heli-coptics used to fly around the holy land

      September 18, 2012 at 8:37 pm |
    • 1word

      Moby, you need to read up a little bit before talking nonsense. God created the Light before he created the plants. The Light comes from what? I'll give you until tomorrow to answer this.

      Genesis 1:
      1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

      2 And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

      3 And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

      4 And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.

      5 And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:38 pm |
    • 1word

      Moby, if you try to understand God you will. It takes someone to be attentive to someone speaking to understand what they are trying to say. Seek him and he will be found!

      September 18, 2012 at 8:40 pm |
    • Just call me Lucifer

      I found GOD! He was between the cushions on the couch, right next to 7 (magic christian number) stale cheez-its
      that god hid there so I may one day eat them and fully know the glory that is god. After finding him, he told me I should kill
      all those that aren't buying his made-up BS, because he is a forgiving and loving god, so I shoved him into a bottle, put a cork in it and tossed him into the Altantic.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:56 pm |
  12. donna

    There is no reason to think that ANY story about the magical character Jesus, is anything but fiction. There was never anything written about a historical Jesus- he was magical from the first story we've got. And magical character is not evidence of a historical figure.

    Why does it matter that someone wrote a story about a fictional character having a wife? It's fiction. He could have a wife in one story and not in another- so what?

    September 18, 2012 at 8:31 pm |
    • ScottCA

      So you mean the story of the medusa is not real either? Poseidon help us all.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:33 pm |
    • Dusty Dean

      To believe that Jesus wasn't 100% man and God is one thing, but to say that Jesus didn't exist at all is pretty silly. There are lots of second hand historical accounts that prove that Jesus existed. History pretty much wipes out the idea that he didn't.

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

      On a side note the funniest name for a cat I ever heard was "'Puss'eidons Adventure.", true story that really was the cats name.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:35 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      @ Dean

      No, there is no secondary sources for the existence of Jesus. They're either hoaxes, or texts that also referred to Hercules or both.

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

      Donna. You might want to check your facts there. Even those who doubt he was anything more than a normal man (Jews, Muslims) still acknowledge he existed. That's never beenr anyone's argument. Not sure where you come off saying that

      September 18, 2012 at 8:39 pm |
    • Freddy

      I hate to break the news to you but Jesus did exist. There are many Jewish historians that make that claim. These men have no business writing about what they thought was a lunatic and worse someone made up. Hey wrote the truth. Society accepts it as truth. Just like you read your history books and believe that here was a george Washington. We were not there but we choose to accept as truth, since it's written

      September 18, 2012 at 8:41 pm |
    • ScottCA

      The writings about Jesus might have been based on a real person but he also likely married a prost-itute and had kids. Jesus died and did not come back from the dead, zombie Jesus is pure fiction.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:46 pm |
    • Thy Kingdom come Lord!

      donna don't disrespect my LORD by calling HIS teachings fiction. The devil is speaking through you! One day you will
      regret those words.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:54 pm |
    • Just call me Lucifer

      @Freddy.

      The difference between your jesus and George Washington is this... Washington was the first American President, and jesus is a myth. If you have any proof at all about your god-boy other than you "just know it" perhaps you could share it with the world. Tick...tick...tick...tick.....

      September 18, 2012 at 9:06 pm |
    • donna

      Dusty Dean, second hand accounts of a magical person written decades after he supposedly died, is not historical evidence of a non magical person.

      Button, What fact do I have wrong? I never claimed anything about what other people think. What do you mean "Where do you come off..." You're being emotionally defensive about my questioning a common belief based on EVIDENCE.

      September 18, 2012 at 10:06 pm |
    • donna

      This might be a double post, but I lost the other one....

      Freddy, There are masses of first hand accounts of Washington's life and ZERO of Jesus'. And the fact that people "accept" it means nothing about the evidence.

      ScottCA, Why would you think it's even plausible that a magical hero that different stories are written about over hundreds of years and across multiple cultures would be based on a single person?

      September 18, 2012 at 10:26 pm |
  13. Joan

    AAA. everyone knows that Jesus wife is the church It is even written in the apocalypsis

    September 18, 2012 at 8:30 pm |
  14. Usher73

    I say unto you "Hoax"

    September 18, 2012 at 8:30 pm |
  15. Thomas Murray

    Classic ad absurdum argument. It goes something like this : "CNN reports that the rumors that the elephant was pink are completely unfounded." And reader asks "what elephant?" Another example of CNN making news from obscure sources.

    September 18, 2012 at 8:30 pm |
  16. Ran

    What's the chance he faked his own death? ......Had his buddy Judas come back two days later and get him out of the cave? Holy crap! It all makes sense now.......Jesus was the greatest magician that ever lived!!!!!

    September 18, 2012 at 8:29 pm |
    • yeah

      [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ESJh-AqMJaA&w=640&h=360]

      September 18, 2012 at 8:40 pm |
  17. Harvey

    The Catholic Church will either ignore or claim the fragment is not part of the Holy Scripture. After all if Jesus was married then priests and nuns should be allowed to marry. The only logical reason why the church law does not allow them to marry is the church want to inherit everything when the clergy passes on. They do not want offspring getting in the way of all that money.

    September 18, 2012 at 8:29 pm |
    • Lou

      I believe the Pope already responded with exactly that!

      September 18, 2012 at 8:31 pm |
    • Thomas Murray

      Priests and nuns have no money, chucklehead. They all take vows of charity for the rest of their lives. Most priests and nuns have little more than their own clothes when they retire.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:32 pm |
    • agathokles

      The Church's view of married priests would have nothing to do with whether or not Jesus was married. The more relevant data? Were his apostle's married. Today's priests are viewed as the successors of the apostles, not the successors of Jesus. And yes, most of the apostles were married. In the early centuries of the Church, priests were allowed to marry. None of that prevented later prohibitions against it.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:33 pm |
    • agathokles

      @Thomas Murray: Not true. Only priests in (some) religious orders take vows of poverty. Diocesan priests can (and many do) have significant wealth.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:35 pm |
  18. masterchief2819

    Reblogged this on Mjölnir.

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

      Write more, thats all I have to say. Literally, it seems as though you releid on the video to make your point. You definitely know what youre talking about, why waste your intelligence on just posting videos to your site when you could be giving us something enlightening to read?

      November 8, 2012 at 11:09 pm |
  19. Debbie

    I don't know if Jesus was married or not. It would be logical since Jesus was God in the flesh on earth to set an example to all how to live and how to understand the law. It was to be viewed through the eyes of God which is love.

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

      ....'which is love'?......God killed thousands....hundreds of thousands of people in Noah's flood.....that's not love.....

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

      God, so is he one of three or all three in one. This is confusing. Maybe its time to change. Good luck,

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

      Aug30Brad Great job on this issue, very biblical and cnncioving. I was just telling Eddie I wanted to do a sermon series on Partying like Jesus. This stuff was exactly where I was planning to go. I know that it will be hard for some to hear but really we can't allow ourselves to place things in the sin category that God himself doesn't. Well done. Not sure I'm ready to have beer with you yet (I can't until we change the rules at my place of employment) but I'm willing to challenge anything that may potentially place unnecessary barriers between us and non-believers. We've got to be with them to influence them!

      November 8, 2012 at 11:15 am |
  20. niknak

    Many people suspect jeebus did not have a wife because he was gay.
    He did seem to only hang around dudes all the time.
    But I suspect it was not the case.
    I bet he did have a wife whom he had to support.
    The whole carpentry thing did not work out as all the jobs got shipped to Mesopetamia (republicans have always been around doing this) as the Menonites would work really cheap.
    He had bills and taxes to pay, plus the wife and most likely kids, so he turned to storefront preaching.
    I guees he figured that he had the whole wise men thing going, so why not play that up?
    It went viral, literealy, and he started packing them in. But the fairy tale would not fit a wife, so she and the youngins were ommitted.
    I heard she was banging Judas, which is why he ratted ol' jeebus out. Can't get any better getting rid of your romantic rival then having his azz crucified.

    September 18, 2012 at 8:28 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.