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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. thatdued

    It's pretty well known that the church is considered the "bride" or the "wife" of Jesus. There is some reference to this in quite a few, if not all, of the books in the new testament.

    I'm surprised the so called experts working on this don't already know what the "canonical" books have to say about this.

    September 18, 2012 at 8:44 pm |
    • niknak

      Maybe you should go edgeamacate them since you know so much more then they do.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:52 pm |
    • thatdued

      I shouldn't have to educate anyone on common knowledge.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:57 pm |
    • svann

      I dont think there are any quotes of Jesus himself referring to the church as his bride. That came from his disciples after he died. I could be wrong, but I dont think so.

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

      Actually Jesus did use the word bridegroom, but it was in an analogy. Yea, he used analogies.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:08 pm |
  2. 1word

    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

    My Response to this NONSENSE, if you don't study you would say stupid things.

    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 8:43 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      Who cares? The earth didn't have plants before the sun existed. If you actually had an ounce of knowledge you wouldn't get so confused. Your book has talking snakes and donkeys and zombies and a god who keeps changing his mind and killing people to get his plan back on track to get busy torturing people in his neverending fire pit.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:47 pm |
    • niknak

      All that you believe from your book of magic spells was ripped off from previous religions.
      Go look it up.
      The Egytians had a god who did everything jeebus was said to have done, a 1000 years EARLIER.
      Nothing in your book is original, or even very interesting.
      Just a bunch of goat herder fables stolen from others to try to scare children and keep woman down.
      A mind is a terrible thing to lose, to religion.........

      September 18, 2012 at 8:51 pm |
    • 1word

      Perfect response, WHO CARES! LOL I Care and God cares about you! I'll pray for the nonbelievers, that God will have mercy on their souls.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:59 pm |
  3. If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

    Jesus said to them, my wife ... didn't wash the shroud we got on our vacation to Turin and now it won't come clean!!

    September 18, 2012 at 8:43 pm |
  4. 111Dave111

    "Jesus said to them, 'My wife ..." is different than this articles interpretation "some early Christians might have believed Jesus was married." Especially if you believe what is written in the Bible.
    I really like the following: King has been quick to add this discovered text "does not, however, provide evidence that the historical Jesus was married,"
    I don't think 'King' understands science. Scientists keep an 'Open Mind'.
    But then is this 'Discovery' being handled by Scientists?

    September 18, 2012 at 8:43 pm |
    • Head Bishop

      "This fragment, this new piece of papyrus evidence, does not prove that (Jesus) was married, nor does it prove that he was not married."

      September 18, 2012 at 8:47 pm |
  5. orsino

    cough cough pure BS cough cough....

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

      Whatever orsino. Go bow to randomness.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:44 pm |
    • Earthling

      Just like the rest of religion.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:44 pm |
  6. bookgirl

    He was either married or gay. Pick one, religious nuts.

    September 18, 2012 at 8:42 pm |
    • Really?

      Really – you're either married or your gay? So, anyone that does not marry is gay? What is your educational background? Only an idiot comes up with this kind of logic. Read a book called "The Case for Christ". There's a lot of evidence this man lived and the historical evidence confirms the biblical narrative too. Don't be so quick to dismiss the bible, the Word of God.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:52 pm |
  7. sonotso

    Getting involved in debate over text or what is or is not real is worthless. Jesus, Buddha, Gandhi, etc. all preached very similar messages and if anyone followed anyone of them they would be a better person. Arguing over who is or is not right is a sure way to miss the boat and do society harm.

    September 18, 2012 at 8:42 pm |
  8. svann

    We know he partied. They partied so hard they ran out of wine and he had to make more. True story.

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

      He could turn water into wine, but I can turn wine into urine.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:43 pm |
  9. Johnny 5

    Lots of Rabbi's have wives. I'm sure he had children also but of course that's common as well. Sounds like a normal person to me ;). I hope thousands of years of bloodshed weren't in the name of a John Smith kind of guy.

    September 18, 2012 at 8:42 pm |
    • 111Dave111

      You mean bloodshed like the Crusades?

      September 18, 2012 at 8:51 pm |
  10. Anonymous Scholar

    In the bible, Jesus talks about the church as his bride. Without further context, the most straightforward interpritation of this is that the "wife" of Jesus is a reference to the church from an early sermon. There is nothing here to indicate it is anything more than that.

    September 18, 2012 at 8:41 pm |
    • Robert Brown

      Amen

      September 18, 2012 at 8:43 pm |
    • Veritas

      Well, all men have desires, and this guy, Jesus, if he ever existed, needed to get laid from time to time as well.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:43 pm |
    • Robert Brown

      He was sinless.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:44 pm |
    • zeus_z

      Yes this is correct. Our Savior Jesus Christ is the bridegroom and the Church is his bride
      [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m7PocEBA2s0&w=640&h=360]

      I behold Thy bridal chamber richly adorned, O my Savior;
      But I have no wedding garment to worthily enter.
      Make radiant the garment of my soul,
      O Giver of Light, and save me.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:45 pm |
    • july4th1776

      Right on the money – that's exactly what I was going to say.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:51 pm |
    • 111Dave111

      Maybe a 'Scholar', but not a scientist. But you knew that. All the evidence in the world, literally, wouldn't convince you evolution happened.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:54 pm |
  11. Voxman

    Many times in the new testament writings...he is referred to as Rabbi. You can not be a Rabbi and unmarried during that time. What does that tell you? Also it was common for the wife not to be mentioned in writings as she remained in the shadows of her husband. And to the guy who posted he only hung around with dudes....you showed me you never read anything therefore your opinion is no more than a failed attempt at humor. Ever hear of Mary Magdalene? She traveled everywhere with him and some scholars believe she was his wife....and the marriage of Canaan was really his own wedding...but we have no proof of any of it. ... but then again... there was a time when people believed we could harness the power of electricity but others scoffed and said there was no proof of that and it was highly unlikely. Science is always discovering what is already there..

    September 18, 2012 at 8:41 pm |
  12. ourweeklynews

    He's doing a bit: " My wife, take her,...... please"

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

      henny youngman is rolling in his grave

      September 18, 2012 at 8:43 pm |
  13. Veritas

    Jesus was probably gay

    September 18, 2012 at 8:40 pm |
  14. mikes

    His wife, Mary Magdalene, was a woman of "ill repute." Yet still, the Roman church for some reason thinks it's better to pray to her than to him. Go figger.

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

      "Praying" is for the really weakminded

      September 18, 2012 at 8:41 pm |
    • Chris33

      You have your Marys mixed up.

      Catholics pray to Mary the mother of Jesus.

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

      wrong Mary, dude

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

      Mary Magdalene, commonly known as Maggie Mae, was the subject of a song by Rod Stewart.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:47 pm |
    • mikes

      The Romans pray (prey?) to anyone except whom they claim is God. Reminds me of the whole SNL "not worthy" skit.

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

      Catholics ask Mary and the saints to pray FOR them.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:00 pm |
    • Voxman

      ok...that just showed you are misinformed....they don't pray to THAT Mary...they pray to Mary Jesus Mother...there were many Mary's in the bible. And you shouldn't be praying to any of them. That is a tradition started by the Catholics who also claim she didn't have any children when it's actually clear in the bible that she had other children including Jesus' brother James who carried on his name. Again....people too lazy to read....can be told anything. Up until only 40 years ago you could get excommunicated for reading the bible. Only a priest was allowed too..and guess what...they don't. I have a friend whose a priest and everytime I show him something in the bible he's amazed...because he NEVER read the book.

      Here are some of the Mary's...educate yourself before speaking in public...it's a good practice that will serve you well.

      Mary, the mother of Jesus;
      Mary Magdalene;
      Mary, the mother of James;
      Mary, the mother of Joses;
      Mary, the wife of Clopas;
      Mary of Bethany;
      (b) Mary Magdalene;
      (c) Mary, the mother of James;
      (d) Mary, the mother of Joses;
      (e) Mary, the wife of Clopas;
      (f) Mary of Bethany;

      September 18, 2012 at 11:12 pm |
    • Voxman

      Rich... we are supposed to pray to Jesus and ask him to intercede with the father on our behalf. That's WHAT HE SAID ...and an entire religion supposedly based on his life totally missed that...among many other things.

      September 18, 2012 at 11:21 pm |
  15. cassidy

    i think that everyone has there own beliefs and they should follow them no matter what . if you don't believe in the same thing than you don't . you should like people who they are and not for what they believe in .

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

      Cassidy – I agree, but I am sure some of the atheist and christens will want your head!

      September 18, 2012 at 8:45 pm |
    • Shawn Martin

      So Hitler had his own belief and followed it no matter what. Are you OK with that? I happen to be a Christian who sees the importance of having a moral guideline that transcends our changing, wimply, and whimsical humanity. Notice I said "our" and am not condemning any one more than I would condemn myself.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:51 pm |
    • 111Dave111

      I am an atheist who thinks @cassidy & @shawn martin are cool christians.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:05 pm |
    • Voxman

      so if someone believes in sacrificing new born children that would be ok? Sorry but there has to be some kind of rule of law on this matter. Like you can't kill someone for not believing your religion or your prophet...that would be a good start.

      September 18, 2012 at 11:13 pm |
  16. Veritas

    What's so strange about this guy, if he ever existed, having been married? Most males are. Unless you are 5 years old and believe in supernatural fairy tales this makes perfect sense.

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

      Maybe he wasn't married, but was gay. That would upset a lot of world views.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:01 pm |
  17. rue&st

    got their noses. kudos monks!

    September 18, 2012 at 8:39 pm |
  18. tony

    He was married to 12 guys who loved him.

    September 18, 2012 at 8:39 pm |
  19. Robert Brown

    The wife or bride of christ = the church.

    There are only two kinds of people, those who love God and those who hate him.

    Which are you?

    September 18, 2012 at 8:37 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      You don't get to define things according to how you WISH them to be. Plenty of people don't believe god exists (seeing as there's no proof) and those people don't love YOUR imaginary being or hate him-–since he's YOUR imaginary being.

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

      From what I've seen of christianity? I hate the jerk.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:39 pm |
    • Robert Brown

      Jesus said you are either for me or against me. No middle ground. If you deny you are against.

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

      i think. he's ok, just lazy as heck

      September 18, 2012 at 8:43 pm |
    • Jim in Georgia

      I'm not sure you understand. There are many who just don't care.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:43 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      Sure Robert, and the Invisible Pink Unicorn says that you either want to have s3x with her or you want to tongue her cl!t, so which is it?

      September 18, 2012 at 8:43 pm |
    • Robert Brown

      Jim, someday you must choose.

      momoya, nock off the profanity it is unbecoming of a lady.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:46 pm |
    • Earthling

      There are two kinds of people: those who live in a fantasy world, and those who live in the real world. Which kind are you?

      September 18, 2012 at 8:48 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      Robert, you don't get to define how the world works. You see the sense in that when I say something about how you MUST feel one way or the other about somebody elses belief system, but you just can't bring yourself to that sort of fairness when it comes to your stupid a/ssertions.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:50 pm |
    • KELLY51

      I believe that it's referring to the church as well. A church as in the Body is what Jesus was married to. It doesn't specify a who or what just "My wife.... just as he would say My body...My mind...Mysoul...My Father in Heaven. Yes I believe.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:52 pm |
    • Shawn Martin

      Hey Sean! Nice to have a name that everyone shares, eh? I'd just like to point out that your best bet on finding out what Jesus was really like is to read the Bible itself. Unfortunately, there are inconsistent Christians, just like there are inconsistent atheists.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:56 pm |
  20. Mark

    The full text was "Take my wife ... please!".

    September 18, 2012 at 8:37 pm |
    • KELLY51

      That was cute.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:55 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.