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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.

Read this story in Arabic

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. lotus_notes

    Was not Jesus called Rabbi? I could be wrong, but I believe in order to be a Rabbi one needs to be married. The other thought is how can we trust that every word in the bible was translated with integrity? I do not believe every book was found and every word or book complete in the Holy Bible. That said I still believe Jesus to be the Savior of the world whether we believe that or not and this little article is not going to change that.

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

      I believe I will have a sandwhich.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:25 pm |
    • jbmar1312

      I agree

      September 18, 2012 at 9:28 pm |
    • jbmar1312

      I should say that I agree with lotus-notes

      September 18, 2012 at 9:29 pm |
  2. Dr. M. Gooding - Maryland

    The Bible is Errant Internally

    I believe that the Bible is errant in several ways. I consider many passages claimed to narrate historical events to contradict each other such as the resurrection narratives, the infancy narratives, when the fig tree was cursed, when Jesus was anointed by the woman, how the Field of Blood got its name, how exactly did Peter deny Jesus after his arrest, etc. These discrepancies, I believe are not limited to the New Testament. I believe that the creation accounts conflict in Genesis as well as the Flood accounts. I believe that the Hebrew Bible conflicts over when the name of Yahweh was known to the Hebrew patriarchs, whether or not God approved of sacrifices when he called the Hebrews out of Egypt, as well as others.

    I also believe that the Bible contains failed prophecies. I believe that the land promise failed in the books of Joshua and Judges. I believe that the prophecy of an eternal kingdom for David failed. I believe that the prophecy of Ezekiel against Tyre failed as well.

    I also believe that Jesus made several mistakes, assuming that the passages in question are authentically attributable to Jesus. I believe that Jesus erred in Mark chapter two, not only by saying that it was in the days of Abiathar that David went to the high priest but also in suggesting that David had men present with him. I believe that Jesus erred in suggesting that Jericho's daughter was asleep and not dead. There are other examples I could cite and most likely will.

    The Bible is Errant Externally

    I believe that the Bible teaches a flat-earth, geocentric cosmology and that this has been invalidated by modern cosmology. In fact, I believe that a chief reason that Christianity survives today is because of Galileo. It was Galileo, I believe, who suggested that the Bible be understood as having a "language of appearance". I believe that Martin Luther was justified in condemning heliocentricism on biblical grounds.

    I also believe that creationism and deluge theology have been refuted by modern science. I believe that the case for evolution and an old-earth are overwhelming. I believe that the case for evolution has been well-doc.u.mented by scientists. I believe that deluge theology has been refuted and that it was originally Christian geologists such as William Buckland and Adam Sedgewick who constructed the geological column and applied the principles of stratiography to geology, in effect refuting the contextually-demanding interpretation of the flood as a universal deluge. Like Galileo, it was their attempts at compromise that have helped Christianity to survive.

    Lastly, there is the starlight problem. How can light from stars travel in such a great distance if the cosmos is, indeed, young? I have seen almost every solution proposed to date from Barry Setterfield's hypothesis to D. Russel Humphrey's "relativistic cosmology". What is wrong with all of these hypotheses, is that they are all "after-the-fact". Who would conclude purely on secular grounds that the speed of light was decreasing all these years and therefore the earth is young and radioactive decay rates were much higher in the past or that billions of years of stellar evolution took place while the flow of time on earth was much slower, making the cosmos young? Who would ever propose such schemes unless they were looking for a way out of a tight-spot? The solutions are way too late! Why would God wait until almost a century after the problem arose, for the solution to be discovered? What that means is that no one was justified believing that the Bible and science were complementary and in harmony over the starlight problem until creationists like Setterfield and Humphreys were on the scene. If Humphrey's solution, involving relativistic time dilation is right, then what that means is that no one was justified in believing that the Bible and science were harmonizable on this point until after Einstein proposed his theories of relativity and the implications of it were worked out over the next few decades with Humphreys realizing the implications of it for the starlight problem!

    The nonexistence of God

    Finally, a reason I believe that the Christian God does not exist is because I believe that such a Being cannot exist. I believe that some of the biblically-based and theologically-defined attributes of God contradict each other. I believe, for instance, that the attributes of volition and omniscience contradict each other. It's the same with the attributes of volition and moral perfection. I believe that other attributes contradict each other, showing that the Christian God cannot exist because of a contradiction of the attributes, making the Christian God logically incoherent. Now don't get me wrong here: I believe that some contrary-attribute arguments might indeed be flawed but there are some that I am quite convinced, do work.

    My Conclusion

    The errancy of the Bible, both internally and externally, as well as the theological incoherency of the Christian God, are the chief reasons I believe that the Christian faith is indeed flawed and are the reasons I disbelieve that the Christian God exists. In my next article series, I plan to examine the doctrine of inerrancy in detail and show why it is flawed with examples of contradictions, errors, and failed prophecies as well as attempts by Christian apologists to resolve them.

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

      Troll

      September 18, 2012 at 9:33 pm |
  3. ScottCA

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IyrtcF9afNk&w=640&h=360]

    September 18, 2012 at 9:23 pm |
  4. john selden

    mary magdalene?

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

      Nope, it is just me.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:24 pm |
  5. skytech

    the church well haft to fine a way to twist it, if it not in the bible it can't be true. and that was no bible back then so why do they Keep trying to referred it it.

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

      Untrue. Catholic teaching has always held that the written tradition (the bible) and the oral tradition (what is referred to as sacred tradition) are both relevant and valid. The bible may be silent on the matter. But tradition has always held that he was unmarried.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:27 pm |
  6. NatiiveUSA

    CNN I found a centuries old piece of three inch paper that says Democrats and CNN are sons of Satan........wow must be true.

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

      You sure it wasn't the GOP?

      September 18, 2012 at 9:23 pm |
  7. ScottCA

    Religion summed up perfectly.in 12 seconds.
    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6axdZAxyt2g&w=640&h=360]

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

      I have a cartoon that kind of says the same thing about liberals must be true like a three inch piece of really paper I found that says everyone named scott is a servant of satan must be true.............

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

      Because this is about political beliefs and everything. Conservative should just be replaced by Christian, as it seems to appear you have to be religious to have conservative beliefs. How do you know this guy isn't conservative in the fiscal sense? There are tons of religious democrats believe it or not, hardly any non religious conservatives. Sure, there's a few, but most of them are socially liberal because well...what's the point of dictating other peoples lives because some ancient book says so? Ugh, now I'm rambling and completely digressing. Whatever.

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

      Where the mohammand clip? Oh yeah, this conversation could never be had if that was the case. Thank you alll for having opinions and allowing them. You shall know them by their fruits.....:)

      September 18, 2012 at 9:44 pm |
  8. UD

    Where do they get all of these dead virgins? By my calculations that would be roughly 576 million virgins a year to cover the male population of yearly deaths in Islam.
    So around 1500 years multiplied by 576 millions virgins....conservative estimate, paradise has gone through about 864

    The Muslim world, like the Christian world, is manipulated by religious leaders in order to profit like any other business. It is easy if you have an audience that wants to hand you power, either because of promises or threats. In each case, the self-fulfilling prophecies of the "holy" books make the task simple.
    This is not dissimilar to the Republican cult...the worship of cash. Once one tastes the greed, they will hand power to those that would keep the money flowing in...

    September 18, 2012 at 9:21 pm |
  9. paultherobot

    Missing from the story? The fact that there is no actual historical evidence for Jesus actually existing. Believe it or not I'm not trolling, just tired of the assumption that he was even a real person in light of the total lack of contemporary writings or evidence.

    September 18, 2012 at 9:20 pm |
    • Dr. M. Gooding - Maryland

      Troll

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

      Are you kidding? Jesus is alive and well I assure you. Who else would mow my lawn once a week for minimum wage. Watch out Jesus or I will call la migra.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:23 pm |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      Jesus is a hindu fabricate personality in the shadow of son of blessed Mary, named Easu, anointed one. Why this carnage, why west is persistent on hindu Judaism, criminal self center ism ? please visit http://www.limitisthetruth.com/ and click on word Choice to open file, to learn true causes of mayhem among humanity,

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

      What??? No historical evidence??? What do you call THE BIBLE??? The Gospels are actual eyewitness testimonies written by the men who actually saw, touched, and walked with Jesus. It also contains actual testimony that at least 120 people witnessed Jesus' resurrected body and witnessed His ascension into Heaven. The Old Testament contains over 600 prophecies speaking about those events...all of which came true. Evidence??? A woman finds one old fragment which may be speaking erroneously about Jesus' wife and you think it is true and that it debunks Christ. While we have hundreds of eyewitness accounts written over centuries yet you refuse to believe. Why do you think that is? Does that not sound a little strange to you? [As a matter of fact, the very fact that you refuse to believe is also spoken about in the Bible...and it is a historical fact as well).

      September 18, 2012 at 9:30 pm |
    • telecomjunkie

      Jesse – the gospels are not actual eye witness accounts. That is well established historically.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:37 pm |
  10. Jason

    So, the world is in crisis and the economy is falling apart and how much do we pay these people to decipher and study this fictional character? And before you all start throwing stones and cursing me, I want someone to explain to me if there is a "God", then why does he let the poor innocent children get molested, abused, and murdered? And please dont say "it his way" or garbage like that. I want a real answer as to why i read everyday about kids being starved and beaten to death. Little, innocent children who have done no wrong to anyone.

    September 18, 2012 at 9:20 pm |
    • Robert Brown

      SIN

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

      Sin.

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

      Because sir. You don't stop them that is why. Stop blaming anyone but yourself. If you spent less time being critical you may actually be able to prevent one of these wrongs from happening. Stop whining and make the world better through your actions. Man atheists are all sissys aren't they. Waa I don't like the christians. Waaa I don't like that evil things happen. Waaaa... Those religious people you continually mock seem to at least be trying to do something good. What did you do today? Besides complain?

      September 18, 2012 at 9:25 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      God wants the children close to him so he can molest them.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:27 pm |
    • One man among others

      The answer to your question lies in two words "free will". If God (taking the assumption He exists for argument sake) had not given us free will then He would dictate our every move, good or bad, thus we would essentially be robots. He gave us free will which means we are free to choose our path in life, right or wrong. We can't have good without evil existing as well. As a teenager often cannot comprehend why their parents will not allow them to do certain things because their brain is not completely wired for the process yet, I believe we as humans are the same with God such that our brains are not wired to comprehend why He does or does not do certain things. I also believe we would never be able to comprehend God in the first place as to what He truly is. Also for arguments sake, take for instance, if God does exist then Satan exists as well. Since Satan is a fallen angel cast from Heaven God gave Satan complete rule over our world until God's return, whenever it may be. Some people do bad things to innocent people. It would be incomprehensible why God does or does not intervene. This is the best argument I can make at this time. In my own opinion I have no idea why God does what He does or doesn't. Some believe He is a fairy tale and others like myself believe He exists. To each his own. I am simply attempting (probably feeble at that) to give you some kind of answer. I believe mine will fall on much ridicule as those people will have nothing intelligent to add. I invite those with intelligent remarks to respond in an objective fashion. You get nowhere badmouthing people.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:36 pm |
    • One man among others

      Mike, I see your point but why must you be so nasty about it?

      September 18, 2012 at 9:37 pm |
    • Tony

      Mike:
      Would you care to explain HOW Jason (or anyone else for that matter) could "prevent one of these wrongs from happening"? Unlike "god", humans are not "all seeing" and "all knowing". We are not omnipotent. We cannot stop these events unless we are made aware of them. And then, I'm sure, most people WOULD make an effort to stop them. Why didn't YOU, Mike, stop Jerry Sandusky? Or the Aurora theater shooter? Or 9/11 for that matter? Is it because YOU, like Jason and myself are mere humans?

      Atheists complain about your god's lack of intervention because, according to the myth, he, unlike us, can forsee future events, is all seeing, all knowing, is everywhere and all powerful. HE ALONE has the capability to prevent such atrocities, yet does not. He, supposedly, loves each of us, yet there is absolutely no evidence to support this. Humans are far more caring than this character called "god", but we have limitations he does not.

      It simply amazes us that, despite millennia of evidence that "god" really doesn't care about us because of all the suffering that he allows to happen, that there are millions of people in this world that just can't see that. How can two supposedly intelligent people see the exact same thing and come away with two entirely different accounts?

      If you, Mike, have ANY evidence that this character called "god" exists, please present it. People have been trying to prove this since the myth began, and, so far, no one has succeeded. So, please, the world is waiting. Present your evidence.

      "I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours." ~~~ Stephen Roberts

      September 18, 2012 at 9:52 pm |
  11. Paulie

    Jesus built my hotrod.

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

      This "centuries old" writing does not need to be defended against as it sheds zero light on the events of 2,000 years ago beyond what scripture and early church fathers provide clarity on. I'm not sure how something a few100 years old is suppose to be news about Jesus 2,000 years ago?

      September 18, 2012 at 9:24 pm |
    • Discordia Nocturnum

      True ministry

      September 18, 2012 at 9:24 pm |
  12. aida

    jesus was refering to the church!! He refers to the church as his bride (wife)

    September 18, 2012 at 9:20 pm |
  13. Heath

    The Gospels are not silent on Jesus martial status. Jesus tells his disciples that it is better to be single, but few can accept this. And another place he says some choose singleness (eunch) 'for the sake of the Kingdom'. The clear inference in both cases is that Jesus had chosen singleness, though more difficult, for the sake of the Kingdom of God. These so called scholars need to start by reading the Bible.

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

      Lol

      September 18, 2012 at 9:29 pm |
    • Heath

      I missed the joke telecomjunkie, please tell

      September 18, 2012 at 9:33 pm |
    • telecomjunkie

      The gospels were not written by eye witnesses. That is historical fact.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:43 pm |
  14. Faithbased

    Jesus was married - great. Jesus was not married - great.

    Jesus was left-handed - great. jesus was right-handed - great.

    Jesus was 6 feet tall - great. Jesus was 5 foot 10 - great.

    September 18, 2012 at 9:19 pm |
    • EnergyBeing11:11

      Good one. Totally AGREE

      September 18, 2012 at 9:21 pm |
  15. jbmar1312

    Joe from CT, you mis-quote the scripture. John 2:1 – 10 states Jesus and his desciples were called to the marriage. Mary, his mother was mentioned first as a guest. In this instance it is quite clear that Jesus is a guest and there is no mention of him being the guest of honor. That would be the governor of the feast who called for the groom and made note that he had save the best wine for last.

    September 18, 2012 at 9:19 pm |
  16. vancouverron

    I think the inscription reads "Jesus says take my wife...please!"

    September 18, 2012 at 9:19 pm |
  17. ScottCA

    Stan's message for all religious delusionals.
    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jsWgNOAByFk&w=640&h=360]

    September 18, 2012 at 9:19 pm |
  18. Tomk777

    So the third paragraph said it all, this scrap of parchment doesn't say the Jesus was married or not married. Then why does that not jive with the headline that linked us to the article? Could it be that someone wanted to get some attention? Bogus BS at its finest.

    September 18, 2012 at 9:19 pm |
  19. ekerry

    Has anyone bothered to check his facebook relationship status to find out for sure?

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

      A way to tell for sure. ROFLOL...

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

      He Tweeted something big was gonna happen

      September 18, 2012 at 9:25 pm |
    • Michael

      Thank you for the laugh, much appreciated....

      September 18, 2012 at 9:49 pm |
  20. Michael Chapel Hill

    During Obama administration many reavealing thing may happen around the world>

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

      Revealing of what?

      September 18, 2012 at 9:31 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.