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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. Tom

    And, ah, he was definitely married to a women. So wake up and get a grip folks, it's this way cause it's suppose to be this way.

    September 18, 2012 at 9:13 pm |
    • parker

      You wish the sentence isn't even completed he could be referring to what someone said theirs a thousand other things it cold be but i agree it could be possible that he was married

      September 18, 2012 at 9:37 pm |
  2. God

    Many Jesus!!

    September 18, 2012 at 9:13 pm |
  3. skytech

    the church well haft to fine a way to twist it don't you if it not in the bible it can't be true.

    September 18, 2012 at 9:13 pm |
  4. Naz

    Let's see if Christians will burn embassies and rally around the world for this insult to Jesus. It's a good timing to publish this article to show the difference between people!!

    September 18, 2012 at 9:13 pm |
  5. Steve

    Of course Jesus had a wife. He was a Jew. Jews have wives. There's nothing strange about that. What's strange is that this history has been written and rewritten for 3000 years, and people still read the new and old testament as if it was all cast in stone. It's total mind control. It's one very small step away from believing the world is flat.

    September 18, 2012 at 9:13 pm |
  6. Puzzled in Peoria

    Nonstory

    September 18, 2012 at 9:12 pm |
  7. pointless1

    The more I think about, Jesus was the Benny Hinn of his time...... slap... You're healed....

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

    If "this doesn't help us with that question (if Jesus was married)" why is CNN making it look like it does?

    September 18, 2012 at 9:12 pm |
  9. Mike

    I don't understand why the "telephone game" is considered a reliable way to pass on information. You can barely get a sentence around a circle. Why believe something passed on for hundreds of years by for the most part, illiterate people?

    September 18, 2012 at 9:12 pm |
  10. jimmy Bivins

    Morgan, you are correct

    September 18, 2012 at 9:11 pm |
  11. m1

    Anything to disparage Christians
    Good job CNN
    Obozo hack fake journalism site

    September 18, 2012 at 9:11 pm |
  12. captain obvious

    I sure hope this puts all of those gay rumors to bed.

    September 18, 2012 at 9:11 pm |
  13. Journey

    I smell the Illuminati at work.

    September 18, 2012 at 9:10 pm |
  14. 1word

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rmjx9Gxg19w&w=640&h=360]

    September 18, 2012 at 9:10 pm |
    • Just call me Lucifer

      Yep... it was me. Got me some cake too.

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

    So the Mormons are right!

    September 18, 2012 at 9:10 pm |
    • lung-butter

      Of course they are.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:29 pm |
  16. jimmy Bivins

    Jesus could have been married, however; we may or may not ever know. But, he is still our lord and savior in heaven and earth. Our faith must remain steadfast. Hey, don't be mad a CNN, their job is to report news. The facts are always late later. So, don't get so excited and look for a reason to be angry. God is still God.

    September 18, 2012 at 9:09 pm |
    • Discordia Nocturnum

      God is still imaginary.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:11 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      jesus was obviously g.ay. washboard abs, long hair, hung out with 12 dudes... i'm guessing he was a happy bottom in his h.omos.exual relationships.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:11 pm |
    • Troy

      and true believers are still true believers.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:12 pm |
  17. Saysyou

    and I believe the media now?

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

      No one expects christians to see and/or accept reality. Carry on.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:16 pm |
  18. QDV

    Did the text perhaps leave out the preceding "Take my ..."?

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

      This is blasphemy!! Down with the heathen!!

      September 18, 2012 at 9:11 pm |
  19. Joe from CT, not Lieberman

    Just a question. The Gospel of John has Jesus as a guest of honor at the Marriage at Cana. As no one knew who he was (this occured before he started preaching and his baptism by John the Baptist) why would he be the guest of honor if it wasn't his wedding? Why one of the Gospels when he was visiting Lazarus, Mary and Martha did he keep ordering Mary around? Why did Mary Magdelane come to anoint his corpse? Why did tradition hold that Joseph of Arimathea secrete Mary Magdelane and a child refered to as "Salome the Egyptian" out of Judea shortly after Jesus Ascension?

    September 18, 2012 at 9:07 pm |
  20. Morgan

    Horse hockey.
    There might have been more then one named Jesus and even if there weren't others, the church is often referred to as the "bride" which would be "his wife".

    This stuff is just amazing in its absurdity.

    September 18, 2012 at 9:07 pm |
    • Discordia Nocturnum

      Religion is absurd.

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

      have to fine a way to twist it don't you

      September 18, 2012 at 9:10 pm |
    • OneSandal

      There was no "Church" in Jesus' day, eh?

      September 18, 2012 at 9:12 pm |
    • Osman

      Jesus was a prophet he never was crusified he will come back and clearify this to mankind as it his duty to convey the truth the ones of god he will kill the Antichrist is palistine then he will marry and will finally taste death like everyone does

      September 18, 2012 at 9:13 pm |
    • Just call me Lucifer

      I met Jesus last week... he works at a tree-trimming firm. I did not know he was married though. I don't speak spanish or tongues or whatever you call it.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:19 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.