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
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(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. Rationalized

    How do you know we are talking about the same Jesus? We know that Bible has some other Jesus mentioned like Baar-Jesus. Who knows which Jesus this is from.We don't see any contemporary literature mentioning about Jesus' marriage. Current society has very corrupt mind, they can never think beyond s-x. If two good friends hold hands, they will be dubbed as g-y.

    September 18, 2012 at 9:07 pm |
  2. Journey

    This discovery is a fraud and is part of a left-wing Illuminati conspiracy contracted out to the Obama Administration.

    September 18, 2012 at 9:07 pm |
    • turner1988

      Second favorite comment!

      September 18, 2012 at 9:15 pm |
  3. John P. Tarver

    When Mary anoints Christ King of the Jews, she is in the shoes of Samuel. The alternative notion that Mary is a wife anointing her groom is unsatisfying, in that there is no other anointment of Christ. Even though most Christians miss the signifigance of the anointment due to Judas complaining. Without that "King of the Jews" (3 times) sign at the top of Christ's Cross, the Prophesy of Ezekiel chapter 37 is not fullfilled and it is just anpther Roman T.

    September 18, 2012 at 9:07 pm |
    • Timmy

      Since the gospels were written decades after Jesus died they could add whatever they wanted to in order to make it look like prophecies were being filled. Or my favorite idea, that Jesus knew what was in the Old Testament as far as prophecies go and decided to pull a fast one, and people are still falling for it.

      September 19, 2012 at 3:30 pm |
  4. jbmar1312

    What I really find interesting is that so many of you get so upset over what you believe is a myth. Why be so emotional over something you don't believe is real or relevant.

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

      Very disingenuous question. Your myths have been very harmful. That is why some of us sometimes invest emotion into news that challenges the veracity of your mean fairy tales. You are culturally only an inch away from the animals who just killed our ambassador. Don't pretend that you have no idea why we have issues with you.

      September 21, 2012 at 2:02 am |
  5. Chosin

    A-well-a everybody's heard about the bird
    B-b-b-bird, bird, bird, b-bird's the word
    A-well-a bird, bird, bird, the bird is the word
    A-well-a bird, bird, bird, well the bird is the word
    A-well-a bird, bird, bird, b-bird's the word
    A-well-a bird, bird, bird, well the bird is the word
    A-well-a bird, bird, b-bird's the word
    A-well-a bird, bird, bird, b-bird's the word
    A-well-a bird, bird, bird, well the bird is the word
    A-well-a bird, bird, b-bird's the word
    A-well-a don't you know about the bird?
    Well, everybody knows that the bird is the word!
    A-well-a bird, bird, b-bird's the word

    September 18, 2012 at 9:06 pm |
  6. Harun

    Always in the 3rd person...He said unto them...etc etc. Fabrications...interpolations...

    September 18, 2012 at 9:05 pm |
  7. JSB

    As a life-long scholar of the Coptic language, after careful examination I can attest that the wording on the fragment actually reads, "Jesus said to them, 'Take my wife– please." Thus pre-dating Henny Youngman's delivery by 2,000 years.

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

      you mean the comedian that died in 1998?

      September 18, 2012 at 9:09 pm |
    • turner1988

      Favorite comment!

      September 18, 2012 at 9:12 pm |
  8. Utah_Mtn_Man

    C'mon people. What does it matter? Even if you do or don't subscribe to the religious aspect of all this, Jesus was a human being and most have had spouses over the centuries. Why the shock and questions? Get over it.

    September 18, 2012 at 9:04 pm |
  9. zACH

    Is that a 'Made in China" label at the bottom?

    September 18, 2012 at 9:04 pm |
  10. Orso

    What a predicament, what do we do with this new discovery?

    Start a new religion?

    Modify the bible?

    Allow priests to marry?

    Abolish religion until we find the rest of the papyrus?

    September 18, 2012 at 9:04 pm |
  11. cyg

    It says pretty clearly on the Scroll – Voting for Mitt will land you in hell. Hmmm, Jesus knew that back then?

    September 18, 2012 at 9:03 pm |
  12. Reason

    You Christians are hilarious in your denial – those of you commenting on how you arent going to "kill people over this news", comparing yourselves to all the "big bad muslims".
    You act like Christians haven't killed for many things in the present, and the past.
    Christians have killed simply because some claimed to not believe in their fairy tale.

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

      Christians are sinners that have been forgiven...Jesus came to save us because He loves you!

      September 18, 2012 at 9:15 pm |
    • Dawn

      Reason if you are a white person, should I condem you for slavery of the USA? Why not? Because it was before you were an American right? Oh I see. Thank you.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:32 pm |
    • Timmy

      The only reason I'm a sinner is because god is a jerk and is holding me responsible for something someone else did.

      September 19, 2012 at 3:32 pm |
  13. G

    who cares, religion is for retards

    September 18, 2012 at 9:02 pm |
    • albert

      You are proving your ignorance by taking articles like this at face value. I doubt you have ever read and studied the Bible. The Bible for example indicates that the world is round. It does not mention Christmas Easter, or the Rapture. These are pagan traditions and Greek mythology based. Don't confuse so called "Christian" religion with the Bible. Two entirely different teachings.

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

      If that's the case you should be first in line.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:09 pm |
    • Dawn

      "people cling to GOD and relgion" ...Sasha, Maylia...time for church! LOL

      September 18, 2012 at 9:35 pm |
  14. jbmar1312

    The church is referred too several times as the bride and Jesus as the groom. It does not appear that this article or the author cared to mention that. So this is most like likely a reference to the church as his bride or wife. I have never seriously considered this before but with all of the known writings of the bible mentioning his mother and brothers only lends us to believe Jesus was not married. I do not believe it changes anything if we were to come up with proof that he was married since the Bible puts so much importance on family and uses so many examples of family when talking about our relationship with god.

    September 18, 2012 at 9:01 pm |
    • Robert Brown

      That is right.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:03 pm |
  15. skytech

    if it a from that time then it must be true and no christian will like it.

    September 18, 2012 at 9:00 pm |
  16. billy inmon

    That refrence could have meant anything and they don't know who wrote it or when. Lol. It means nothing. I wrote a poem the other day about Obama being a Muslim aithiest half black guy who was a socialist and they aren't printing that

    September 18, 2012 at 9:00 pm |
    • Drink my Kool-aid

      If it was printed it would be a bunch of lies, just like Jesus' story.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:07 pm |
    • Jon

      Not to undermine your stupid little rant, but you can't be an atheist and a muslim.

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

      They just did...Cause I read it.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:08 pm |

    Really????? All of you bible thumpers rejoice!!!!!!!!! All of us normal people say "who cares"!!!!!!!!!!

    September 18, 2012 at 9:00 pm |
  18. FA

    I am sure Mitt Romney happy now, I am sure he will say if you look closely you will read "My Wives"

    September 18, 2012 at 8:59 pm |
  19. lou

    As i felt about him all along....just a man

    September 18, 2012 at 8:59 pm |
    • Robert Brown

      All man and all God.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:02 pm |
  20. Revelations

    Jesus, peace be upon him, did not have a wife during his initial prophet hood. After he descends in the future and destroys the Antichrist or ad-Dajjal, Jesus will marry for the very first time. Under the guidance of Jesus, there will be tranquility and piety among all nations during a certain number of years. Jesus will later die for the first time as all must eventually before the horn sounds and resurrection arrives for us all.

    September 18, 2012 at 8:59 pm |
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About this blog

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.