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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. Seriously?

    If we said that Mohammad was a warmonger who said to spread the faith by the sword, we would be murdered. Just letting you know how great that First Amendment right is....

    September 18, 2012 at 8:37 pm |
    • Dr. M. Gooding - Maryland

      Why pray tell, what is so great about the first ammendment?

      September 18, 2012 at 8:40 pm |
    • Seriously?

      I don't agree with what you have to say but I will defend to the death your right to say it. (Also, I might not agree with your religion, or your way of life, or the people with whom you associate, but still, you have the right to do that) I have the right not to like it, but common decency (Oh, Common Decency, where have you gone?) would suggest that I do so in a reasonable manner, not devolving into name calling and other forms of bullying

      September 18, 2012 at 8:44 pm |
    • Yes Seriously!

      "Some early Christians MIGHT have THOUGHT that Jesus was married.!"

      Get a grip!. How old are you freaks?

      September 18, 2012 at 8:45 pm |
  2. malik

    So what if he was married? He was a man, and a man's got to do what a man's got to do. It's better if he were married, otherwise he could have spent his entire life masturbating.

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

      He was without sin...So he wasn't like you, You don' get that, do you?

      September 18, 2012 at 8:50 pm |
    • larryb

      well there was always john

      September 18, 2012 at 9:07 pm |
  3. Dr. M. Gooding - Maryland

    Friends if this is authentic I will eat my hat. And I will tell you this too, the Bible is a hoax. The soviet government is behind this and many other hoaxes and forgeries, including the Koran, the Talmud, the book of Mormon and Julia Child's Joy of Cooking. Look it up!

    September 18, 2012 at 8:36 pm |
  4. J wallace

    And Jesus said "MY WIFE IS ..............ALWAYS RIGHT"

    September 18, 2012 at 8:36 pm |
  5. Stephen Boyd

    Wow.. someone discovered a fictional character had a fictional wife and it's a newsworthy event. Go figure at the idiocy in the world.

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

      This is a lie being told by satan's minions. The devil, aka the serpent, will say anything to make the Christians upset and spilling their drinks. I know you atheists to be fools.

      Amen.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:38 pm |
  6. Loathstheright

    Jesus was an awesome dude, he was not at all how the American Christians have perverted his teachings to be....he was most likely black, married, a socialist, non-violent and knew that god did not really exist.

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

      uh – nope

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

      why would he be black? jews and palestinians aren't

      September 18, 2012 at 8:56 pm |
  7. Gryla2

    You can say he was married or not if you wish, just as you can say that Superman, Darth Vader or any pretend character is married. The good thing about pretend characters is that you can even change it later and say it was a time warp or the work of another pretend character like Doctor Doom or Satan.

    Pretend characters sure are convenient!

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

      it's even more fun for know-nothings to go on and on about stuff they know nothing about

      September 18, 2012 at 8:42 pm |
    • funny

      Jesus is a pretend character, just like Ceaser, George Washington, Homer, Galileo, Alexander the Great, ...the list could go on and on, all these make believe characters people dream up!

      September 18, 2012 at 8:51 pm |
    • larryb

      funny...it is time for you to lay off the bag of glue

      September 18, 2012 at 9:10 pm |
  8. sheila

    the wife of Christ is His bride(The Church) of God Hey it is you christians that love God Almighty in Heaven Jesus Christ the Son of God, and are full of the Holy Ghost, loven and liven for Jesus Christ with ALL your hearts soul and mind(might) The true beleavers of God that obey His word, stay repentive before The Father to Jesus Christ, God seeks a Holy Nation and people, that love Him with all that they have and are. Those that are call His children! It is the Bride of Christ!

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

      they ! We born again beleavers ! We Christians! are the Church of God the Bride of Christ!

      September 18, 2012 at 8:38 pm |
  9. john catao

    Jesus and Mohammed were both Gay and they had a torrid s.e.x.u.a.l love affair!

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

      Well, now we know you are.

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

      of course they were about 700 years apart from each other so that might prove a little difficult to prove

      September 18, 2012 at 8:43 pm |
  10. Jason

    Most Itinerant Jewish men at the time woudl not have been married. Polygamy was still common, there was actually less war than ever to kill males during the roman occupation, and Roman solders, of whcih there were tens of thousands based in the area, while not allowed to officially marry were allowed to cohabitant, and did so with local women. Jesus' teachings were also VERY close to Essene tradition and the Essenes were celibate.
    Also there are already some Ancient Coptic scholars casting doubt on the claimed definativeness of the single phrase which is cut off, and presented with no context, it is not unambiguous.

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

      Actually marriage among the Jews of Jesus' day was considered the norm, in fact, there is no word for a 'batchelor' in the Hebrew-Aramaic language that was used at the time. When Jesus championed being unmarried for the sake of being single-minded for spiritual/Kingdom interests...that was radical thinking at the time.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:49 pm |
    • Jason

      @ ohsnap. No. There are quite a few histories of the Judea at this time with attention to demographics. Most Jewish males were not married, and among Jewish males at this time that did marry there was a LOT of exogamy. And there was a word for bachelor! BTW the literacy rate was 3%, the lowest in the Mediterranean region. go to google scholar and search "demographics in first centruy Judea"

      September 18, 2012 at 9:30 pm |
  11. Rich Dix

    Of course he could be married. He wasn't a priest, he was a Rabbi.

    September 18, 2012 at 8:34 pm |
  12. Steven Brown

    So maybe the practice of celibacy by priests for more than 20 centuries was totally unnecessary.

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

      you are off by like six or so centuries. the celibacy thing happened later.

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

      There has not been a requirement for celibacy for 20 centuries. Priests were allowed to marry in most places for the first 10 centuries or so.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:40 pm |
  13. paulm5545

    How dare you post such an article! You disrespect and malign the holy name of Jesus. Death to you. God is Great! I'm grabbing my RPG and automatic weapons and heading for the nearest embassy. We shall destroy you blasphemers!! There shall be no peace until you respect all that is holy. Infidels!!

    September 18, 2012 at 8:34 pm |
    • paulm5545

      Dear FBI & Homeland Security – That was tongue-in-cheek, by the way...

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

      funny, that was

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

      Good save.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:50 pm |
  14. BurnNotice

    If there ever was such a person, he's rolling over in his grave.

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

      if there was such a person then he rose from his grave after three days so there won't be any rolling

      September 18, 2012 at 9:17 pm |
  15. Timothy

    SERIOUSLY? Even if the text DID say "My wife...", JESUS REFERS NUMEROUS TIMES TO HIS BRIDE in the New Testament, and that is the children of God, the true christians are the Bride of Christ, I am part of this group.

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

      amen brother. me too 🙂

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

      Amen Timothy that is what i posted the Bride is the church the born again

      September 18, 2012 at 8:45 pm |
  16. nowayjesus212

    Don't kid yourself. Of course, he was married. The dude was an ancient cult leader. You know those guys always have girls. What makes you think Jesus was different? Because he lived at home with his mom until he was 30? He's no different than any other man.

    September 18, 2012 at 8:34 pm |
  17. GiveItUp

    well, don't that make Dan Brown's eyes blue...

    September 18, 2012 at 8:34 pm |
  18. Jesus cheate us..

    Finally the truth is unfolding. Jesus was a family man but he betrayed his wife.. those days having many wives was common practice.

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

      Jesus never betrade anyone! He is comming for His Bride(The Church) those that are loving and serving Him now know that for sure

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

      sheila...seek help

      September 18, 2012 at 9:19 pm |
  19. Whatever

    does anyone else find it to be a strange coincidence that the Allah bashing film that was apparently worth murdering people over was made my a COPTIC; and this text is in COPTIC? First Allah, then Jesus? Buddah better watch his a$$.

    Conspiracy? First two signs of Coptic Apocalypse?

    Can Coptics be repelled with garlic? Anyone?

    September 18, 2012 at 8:34 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      Your comment just proves your ignorance of what the term "coptic" means. good for you

      September 18, 2012 at 8:42 pm |
  20. Pragmatic

    I am quite comfortable if Jesus was married than otherwise. That would separate the myth from the man.

    September 18, 2012 at 8:33 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.