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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. jqent

    Considering that Jesus was an orthodox Jew, he would have been expected– even required– to marry and begin rearing children while in his 20s. Perhaps the reason he suddenly got inspired to go wandering and preaching was due to an eruption in his home life. (Hey, if Biblical scholars and speculate endlessly, why can't I?)

    September 18, 2012 at 9:18 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      Maybe he was too scared to come out of the closet and so he made up this whole son of god thing to explain why he never married.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:21 pm |
  2. ScottCA

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

    September 18, 2012 at 9:18 pm |
  3. Joe

    So they're not saying he was married, and they're not saying he wasn't married. The phone book on the shelf in my closet doesn't say Jesus was married, nor does it say he wasn't married. Same deal for the taco wrapper in my waste basket. Maybe CNN would like to run articles on them as well since they shed as much light on Jesus life as the scrap about which this article was written.

    September 18, 2012 at 9:18 pm |
  4. believer

    To all you religion haters: I'm a believer, a Christian; you don't like that, don't believe what I do......good for you, go F%$CK yourself.

    I couldn't give a SH%T about your rants and beliefs. Seriously, they mean nothing to me, you're wasting your time, you're pathetic. Get over yourself and quit raming your pointless drivel down everyones throats, we care about as much as you do when you hear religious pontifications.

    BTW. You're going to hell.

    September 18, 2012 at 9:17 pm |
    • Eliza

      I could have danced all night, I could have danced all night, and still have begged for more!

      September 18, 2012 at 9:19 pm |
    • xeno

      I think you are too!

      September 18, 2012 at 9:20 pm |
    • Satan

      Whoa! I knew you would understand see ya know burn baby burn!

      September 18, 2012 at 9:22 pm |
    • WMesser58

      @believer you only prove the point about religion. Intolerant, self-righteous and inane. Not to mention boring and obviously an eight year old

      September 18, 2012 at 9:22 pm |
    • Veritas

      I see the words of your saviour have made a big impact on you then.
      BTW we'll all rot in the same place.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:23 pm |
    • larryb

      you religious people are the drivel rammers

      September 18, 2012 at 9:24 pm |
    • Krisco

      Really believer, your a christain. Act like it.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:28 pm |
    • Krisco

      Really people, believer probably not a christain so don't generalize about christains as whole after seeing a stupid comment like 'believers'. You smarter than that.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:30 pm |
  5. Andrew Harris

    I am very well persuaded that Jesus never married, but it would not surprise me one bit if more information about his life was found. And Morgan is right, the church is referred to as His bride time and time again. There were a few Jesus, but only one messiah crucified for our transgressions and resurrecting on the third day. He will be back soon. Jesus said that it would be more wise never to take a wife. There are verses that say to only marry if you have such passion for a wife that it can't be contained. It doesn't make a person who remains celibate their entire lives more holy than someone who marries, but it is very admirable for someone to remain that way for their entire lives. I think He took His own advice.

    September 18, 2012 at 9:17 pm |
    • Bob

      That was actually Paul that said those things. I'm not even a Christian and I know that.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:19 pm |
  6. WMesser58

    New Ideas for Old views that people are idiots and will fall for anything.

    September 18, 2012 at 9:17 pm |
    • EnergyBeing11:11

      AGREED * eyeroll * ... makes ZERO difference in my life or anyone else's life.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:20 pm |
  7. KJV

    I'm amazed at all the atheists who post here. Isn't that a waste of time posting about something you don't believe in?

    September 18, 2012 at 9:17 pm |
    • Veritas

      I doubt that you are a murderer but I suspect you have opinions about murder and murderers.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:25 pm |
  8. joe a

    Whether he was married or not... the objective of his message is LOVE in its pure form... why focus on trivial issues?

    September 18, 2012 at 9:17 pm |
  9. kenv

    Of course Jesus was married. How else would he know true suffering? 😉

    September 18, 2012 at 9:16 pm |
  10. Paulie

    Jesus said "My wife better look like Carmen Electra, be awesome in bed and in the kitchen and have no gag reflex."

    September 18, 2012 at 9:16 pm |
    • Discordia Nocturnum

      Electra is beat. She looks like sh•t these days.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:17 pm |
    • Paulie

      OK Mila Kunis then. She would be a suitable wife for our savior.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:18 pm |
  11. Patricia Williams

    If we can all agree that Jesus was in fact a Rabbi, the odds that he wasn't married is almost nil.

    September 18, 2012 at 9:16 pm |
  12. GrampaSez

    Yawn. Standard CNN attack on Christianity – totally without a clue of the meaning of CHURCH as "BRIDE OF CHRIST".

    September 18, 2012 at 9:15 pm |
    • Patricia Williams

      There was no church at that time. Jesus was a practicing Jew.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:16 pm |
  13. toadie

    My parents bore so many children they could not care for them all. Me, being older took care of one esp. colicky
    kid named Paul. I sat him on my hip, rocked and prayed aloud to a picture of Jesus ( blond curvy hair,chiseled in chin, a heart in his right hand) when the crying got really bad. After all those years praying, nothing changed. In the end, Paul grew up. He never knew us. That's when I also lost Jesus.. Gees! I think he, like Paul, never even like me. Heck, I found a toad.. he became my god.... much simpler. One day, one Jesus came in to my class. I asked the student ' Did you bring in your homework today? ' He shook his head. ' I will bring it in tomorrow, I promise'.

    September 18, 2012 at 9:15 pm |
  14. ScottCA

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6X5z4n6cQTY&w=640&h=360]

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

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mqn4Zn3pyNc&w=640&h=360]

    September 18, 2012 at 9:15 pm |
  16. db

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

    Great, so why is this newsworthy?

    September 18, 2012 at 9:14 pm |
  17. skytech

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

    September 18, 2012 at 9:14 pm |
  18. ScottCA

    Well the only believable part of the Jesus story is that he digged Prost-itutes, man did he ever like them.

    September 18, 2012 at 9:14 pm |
    • Robert Brown

      His love, go and sin no more.

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

      He will C U M again. lol

      September 18, 2012 at 9:20 pm |
  19. George

    Nope, nope, nope, nope, nope! A walking god is not allowed to marry or reproduce .... unless they're Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Pagan ect.....

    September 18, 2012 at 9:14 pm |
    • mmmiller85@hotmail.com

      not allowed??? Where'd you get that?

      September 18, 2012 at 9:18 pm |
  20. McDuck Quackerton

    Considering there is no god, and the only people named jesus are random hispanic dudes, this doesn't matter.

    September 18, 2012 at 9:13 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.