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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. Charlie

    Yeah-? There might be an old piece of paper claiming that I had a wife too.

    September 18, 2012 at 9:32 pm |
  2. Charles

    Actually the text says..."Now take my wife...please"

    September 18, 2012 at 9:31 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      Hayoooo!

      September 18, 2012 at 9:32 pm |
  3. Miss Macy

    The article says and proves absolutely nothing. Why is everybody getting so hysterical about this?

    September 18, 2012 at 9:31 pm |
    • 2357

      Its just a piece of meat for the dogs to tear at. Relish it, dog spirit.

      September 19, 2012 at 6:40 am |
  4. Heath

    And 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 9:31 pm |
    • Jo Ann

      I believe when you write about the "better to be single" reference, you are thinking of Paul's first letter to the Corinthinans, not a conversation between Jesus and his disciples.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:40 pm |
    • Heath

      Matt 19 is where he says it; but Paul also says it in Corinthians

      September 18, 2012 at 9:41 pm |
    • Jo Ann

      In Matthew, it is the disciples (not Jesus) who say it is better to be single, and then Jesus talks about eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom. It is not two separate references, as you originally stated.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:55 pm |
  5. KEVIN

    This is fascinating because we know so little about the dark ages

    September 18, 2012 at 9:31 pm |
  6. Seyedibar

    There are hundreds of tales about Jesus. His story is about as concrete as Batman's. One shouldn't take any tale of magic or sorcery as truth.

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

      This is the first rational post I've read. This is all indeed as fascinating as someone in some post-apocolyptic future finding product fragments and bits of paper with Eli Manning on them from some Giants fan's treasure – one might well assume that "The Manning" was indeed an ancient god among humans. We're talking about ignorant men from a brutish time selling their brand – artifacts stating anything supernatural from this time should be taken with a sea's worth of salt...

      September 18, 2012 at 9:39 pm |
  7. Texas Pete

    Hmmm... a 30 year old jew that was not married? When most were married 14/15 y/o. Ho

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

      Virgin Mary was only twelve when god took her as his concubine.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:31 pm |
  8. Marywhomever

    Sure enough that paper could have been the then publication of TMZ or Onion.Did anybody examine to see where the is 3 inch"code "came from.First go research the Papyrus where it came from .Maybe flew from then Anti christians Diary .After 2000 + years if some one found a piece paper of any kind of books of this time, or even a one of the comments from this section if available in print form.Guess what will be our sad image.Did they even decode the rest or just stopped at "My Wife"... where is the rest ..

    September 18, 2012 at 9:30 pm |
  9. s~

    He may have been gay.
    He may have had "relationship" with a women named Mary.
    Now, he may have been married.
    What's next? Let's make another unfounded assumption.

    September 18, 2012 at 9:29 pm |
  10. k

    The author of this article fails to mention that Jesus was a rather common name in that time. As such, one must be particularly careful when you find anything from that time period describing "Jesus". It's like the name John now ... this parchment could be referring to any number of different Jesus'.

    September 18, 2012 at 9:29 pm |
  11. smitty77

    Don't gay people somethimes refer to their "partners" as "wife" or "husband"? He did seem to hang with a lot of guys!

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

      he had a lot women followers too. the apostles were mentioned more probably because of the male superiority mentality that ruled the writers of those days. Jesus would be thought of as weak and not credible if he didn't attract a predominantly male audience so the women were not mentioned as often as the apostle.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:41 pm |
  12. Discordia Nocturnum

    Religion is retarded on so many levels its laughable. You people are funny. Your faith is a joke!

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

      and you are a disrespectful idiot who give us real atheist a bad name. grow up.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:42 pm |
  13. 2357

    Since when is coptic a valid source of gospel manuscript anyway? I smell theological..baloney.

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

      And it is only a "centuries old"; what 200 or 300 years? This is no point of reference for Christ 2,000 years ago.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:30 pm |
    • david esmay

      Anything that smells of theology, also smells of baloney, they are one and the same. Fiction.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:30 pm |
    • 2357

      Fiction.
      Without God there would be no stories. Without God there would be no statements. Without God there would be no idea.

      September 19, 2012 at 6:35 am |
  14. hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

    The truth of filthy nasty las vegas-ism ? escorts is to seperate you when you turn west. The strip east? which one has best of hotel in hot and sin for the christian filth and lucrative depiction of the sacred eve in horrible hebrew lies?

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

      Anti-Semite.Go somewhere else.

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

      What??

      September 18, 2012 at 9:37 pm |
  15. 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.

    September 18, 2012 at 9:27 pm |
  16. sam

    So how many wives does it say Jesus had? Will there be a you tube video coming out on this?

    September 18, 2012 at 9:27 pm |
  17. TrueBeliever

    Nope. Jesus wasn't married because it's not in the bible. and we can't trust it. God wrote the bible with a knife on a sheet of stone. Jesus walked on water and did cool tricks to impress us. The cool tricks should make everyone a believer, but some people are just stupid and don't believe in Jesus.

    September 18, 2012 at 9:25 pm |
    • Discordia Nocturnum

      I believe in rough buttsecks with your dad while I force your mom to watch.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:26 pm |
    • MDAT

      We have our own beliefs.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:26 pm |
    • Muhammad

      @Discordia Nocturnum

      Haven't you heard? I will fuk your mother will you watch and cry like a little whiny bi.tch.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:30 pm |
  18. Jason B

    Just remember, those other gospels are only considered non-canonical because someone several hundred years ago said so. They actually may be perfectly canonical, but the "lets keep doing it the same way cause we say so" Church leadership wouldn't bother to ever change anything anyway.

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

      @ Jason B: that's simply inaccurate.
      the word "canon" means 'measuring stick' or reed. point being, it can't be "canonical" as you say if it fails the test of the canon.

      the three reasons the early church agreed a book was canonical:
      1) could it be traced to one of the apostles (who walked with Jesus)?
      2) could it be connected with a church one of the apostles founded?
      3) did the theology match what Jesus was known to have taught?

      notice the theme: getting back to the source.

      the reason Dr.King is pointing out this doesn't help is because all of these "Dan Brown" controversial, alternative "gospels" date much later than the eyewitness accounts. it was clear that these Gnostics (considered heretics, not just "outliers" by the early Church) were writing alternative Gospels that changed the historical account to match their own teachings.

      as the Reformers themselves said: the goal here is to get "to the sources!"

      September 18, 2012 at 9:37 pm |
  19. Solitairedog

    I don't understand why the possibility of Jesus being married is an attack on Christianity. Is marriage a sin? If he was married, then will you turn from him with your arms across your chest? Does a man have to be a virgin to carry the spirit of the lord?

    September 18, 2012 at 9:25 pm |
  20. jbmar1312

    Believer, I do not "believe" for a second you are a christian. You are a devil stirring hatred and lies. I hope you turn to th Lord for forgiveness at some point in your life before you die. I tryuely pray all of this bitterness is replaced by His grace and forgiveness some day.

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

      Phuck god, and all you xtians too.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:30 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.