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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. John

    and it went on to say.... and furthermore, I am married to Moses and proud!

    September 18, 2012 at 8:53 pm |
  2. Another Human

    Note to: Robert Brown
    "Those who love God or those who really know better". Can't hate something that does not exists.

    September 18, 2012 at 8:53 pm |
  3. Neutrogena

    Does he means the frog that got laid by Joseph Smith?

    September 18, 2012 at 8:53 pm |
  4. Orygun Duck

    Jesus who worked as a carpenter started his life as a regular guy and most likely the normal thing to do was to get married as a teen-ager.

    September 18, 2012 at 8:52 pm |
  5. JohnnyYuma61

    Christians everywhere should revolt! Just like the Muslims.

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

      Not gonna happen cause most Christians are past the luncy of that kinda belief...they know on a deep even intellectual level that there is no god but they are holding out hope that they might live forever...that is all it is at this point

      September 18, 2012 at 9:11 pm |
  6. Pnm9pnm

    Is bull s.pnm.

    September 18, 2012 at 8:51 pm |
  7. Ed M.

    Rabbis traditionally married.

    The gnostic Gospels have similar hints.

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

      Most of the Gnostics disdained se xual pleasure since the flesh was viewed as evil.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:52 pm |
  8. detopguy

    oh boy, more fairy tales from 2000 years ago....what difference does it make if you believe one fairy tale about a mythical, fictional character being single or believing another fairy tale that your mythical fictional character was married ? NONE. It's like believing Republicans care about the poor and middle class or they care about the poor, middle class and sick. It doesnt matter, becuase neither are true !

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

      Whether one choses to believe Jesus was the son of God or not is a question of faith.
      Whether the man Jesus really existed however is not.
      His actual existance is estabolished by secular historians of the period, including non christian sources such as Josephas

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

      Dave why do you make the "G" in god capital?...faith is nonsense...meaningless...you can have faith in anything...any garbage you want to come up w/ you can have faith in it...but that doesn't make it so...its what you can prove...and when it comes to this god nonsense..that is just about nothing

      September 18, 2012 at 9:08 pm |
    • dave

      because I wrote ... God... not a god ... we call that english. Read a book.

      September 18, 2012 at 10:29 pm |
    • A Frayed Knot

      dave,

      Josephus reported that "Christians" existed (and what *they* believed and 'claimed). Nothing more.

      September 18, 2012 at 10:33 pm |
    • dave

      Josephas actually speaks of "James, the brother of Jesus"
      Satanluv... for someone who denies god ... you sure seem angry at him.. a bit odd.

      September 18, 2012 at 10:35 pm |
    • dave

      your thinking of Tacitus who wrote
      "... called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin ...."

      September 18, 2012 at 10:40 pm |
    • A Frayed Knot

      dave,

      Josephus was a Jew. He died as a Jew. Don't you think that if he thought that Jesus was really the Messiah, he would have run right over and joined that new cult?

      September 18, 2012 at 10:45 pm |
    • dave

      read carefully ... Im not here promoting Jesus as the Messiah
      Josephus believed in the actual man... not messiah
      thats what is undeniable ... the man existed.

      September 23, 2012 at 8:16 am |
  9. GandTDrinker

    So....this has been in the trustworthy hands of the Catholic Church. The same organization that for centuries distributed fake artifacts to impress peasants across Europe. I believe them now though.

    September 18, 2012 at 8:48 pm |
    • Mark

      Nope. It's been in the hands of a private collector. Says that rather clearly in the article. Which you clearly did not read. Here, let me help you with that,

      :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."

      September 18, 2012 at 8:54 pm |
  10. Argle Bargle

    No, no, no...it's a mistranslation. It says: "And Jesus said, 'Take my wife...please!"

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

      ,More proof that Jesus was just a regular guy...he probably had some charisma and a new message that turned people on (politically, socially)..otherwise, he was just a man...and the nutty Roman Catholic Church made up a bunch of nonsense about him 100, 1000 years after he was dead, that a child could see through...that is a child that isn't desperate for their piddly conscious to live on forever

      September 18, 2012 at 8:55 pm |
    • Satanluv

      oh man that was not supposed to be a response to you...i just wanted to mark my approval of your humor

      September 18, 2012 at 8:56 pm |
  11. Dr. M. Gooding - Maryland

    I think we, as patriotic Americans, should take a long hard look at the First Ammendment. Is freedom of expension really a good thing? Really?

    Think about this; Bill O'Reilly, Charles Barkley and Martin Luther King. Absurdities.

    September 18, 2012 at 8:47 pm |
  12. Corkpuller

    Take my Wife................. Please
    JC

    September 18, 2012 at 8:47 pm |
  13. Jason

    WHAT?! WHAT COUNTRY WAS THIS IN!? WE MUST ASSAULT ALL EMBASIES ASSOCIATED WITH THIS COUNTRY TO EXACT VENGENANCE FOR SUCH BLASPHEMES THINGS!!! THEY MUST ALL BE KILLED!

    MAN! I wish I could react like Muslims and not be considered insane/ go to prison

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

      Don't forget to jack up gas prices too.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:51 pm |
    • Shawn Martin

      Question from a Christian: what are you Jason, as your words definitely do not sound Christian?

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

      I guess Shawn can't detect sarcasm.

      I am in fact Catholic. But notice how my reaction to something that is being said that I don't agree. It doesn't involve me calling for the head of Ted Turner for publishing this. It doesn't have me on the prowl, looking to behead the author, unlike some other particular religion that claims to be 'peaceful'.

      Notice how ALL Christians will read this and go on with their lives? Yes, some will comment on the forums to say this is blasphemes and all that razzle dazzle, but I can almost bet everything I own and ever will own, that not a single drop of blood will be shed due directly to this article.

      Can my Muslim friends make the same claim if you were to CTRL + F and replace "Jesus" with "Mohammed" throughout this entire article? I think not

      September 18, 2012 at 9:13 pm |
  14. GAW

    "Jesus said to them, 'My wife ..." Wow in Gnostic language that could mean just about anything. Plus the Gnostics in general were not very keen on marriage and encouraged celibacy since the flesh and physical world were viewed as evil.

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

      what a better way to interduce his wife

      September 18, 2012 at 8:54 pm |
  15. bored already

    No, no, no. It clearly says, "Take my wife, please." Obviously Jesus was the great great great great granfather of Henny Youngman.

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

      maybe henny was the returned christ all along and we missed it.... he was in goodfellas after all

      September 18, 2012 at 8:58 pm |
  16. Jessie

    It might be a bit offensive but I doubt you are going to see anyone burning embassys or threating death because of this. Yes, I don't believe he had a wife, other than the church is the bride of Christ, but I also am not wanting to kill anyone who thinks this. Go ahead and insult him, he can take it, and his followers can too.

    September 18, 2012 at 8:46 pm |
  17. Just released breaking news

    You mean coptic like that Sam Becile guy.

    September 18, 2012 at 8:46 pm |
  18. jean

    Merely because a wife isn't mentioned in Matthew, Mark, Luke or John, doesn't mean she didn't exist. The gospels were written after the fact, and each was directed toward a specific audience and each had a specific purpose. I would suspect that a wife wouldn't fit with the story if one were trying to convince people that Jesus were divine. Hence, even if she existed, she had to be forgotten.

    September 18, 2012 at 8:46 pm |
  19. 2357

    The hippie Jesus is an imposter, an antichrist demon. You don't entertain demons, if you care about your soul.

    September 18, 2012 at 8:45 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      Souls don't exist.

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

      Souls...please.... what are you 3 years old...grow up...you are an ape...your ancestors developed on the plains of Africa 3 million years ago...coming out of the trees to live on the savannas and getting progressivlyy more intelligent in order to survive and deal w/ the challenges presented by their new environment...when exactly did this "soul" jump in??? You sound like a 5 year old taliking about Santa Claus...

      September 18, 2012 at 9:03 pm |
    • 2357

      Your soul is the only part of you that actually exists. No need to persuade, you'll find out soon enough.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:06 pm |
  20. cm

    Cool!

    September 18, 2012 at 8:44 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.