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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. postedbygeo

    chriss-islm-judsm all are offshoots of Egyptology. Learn the history and you will see the mythology. Religion is for sheep. Life, Liberty and Happiness is for people.

    September 18, 2012 at 9:40 pm |
    • New Religion

      Glad to see others think like I do. Now let's get rid of the religious nuts and have a happy planet!

      September 18, 2012 at 9:42 pm |
    • Jason

      Egyptology is an academic study of the ruins of Egypt. Please learn English. Sure yes, Christianity is a fusion of Greek Philosophy and Judaic beliefs/myths, and Judaism itself is a fusion of many things, more accurately a religion that has gone through complete changes as it has been influenced by other cultures. It did start as an interpretation of Egyptian cult, but added Arabian peninsula inventions (Yahway) and the pre existing legend of Abraham. Later on it was changed into something very different by Zoroastrianism. Later it adopted sacrificial cult temple views as it took up and adopted the Ba'al cults in Caanan. Modern Synagogue/rabbinical Judaism iis very different than the earlier Judaism, and an offshoot of a religion that is now deeply Greek (making Hanukkah ironic) in its discourse and outlook

      September 18, 2012 at 9:48 pm |
  2. Observer

    Like Phil Plait says, you can't reason someone out of a position they didn't reason themselves into.

    September 18, 2012 at 9:39 pm |
  3. New Religion

    All you people who follow along blindly like sheep are the reason we have religious wars. Religion is evil. All it teaches is hate for anything and anyone different from your own narrow-minded false reality.

    September 18, 2012 at 9:39 pm |
    • >Lyn

      So you hate all the religions. You mean your new religion is religion haters! You think all religions are wrong except you. Then any difference?

      September 18, 2012 at 9:45 pm |
    • truewords

      As long as there is nopain in your heart, GOD will judge you on your self. I will pray for you brother.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:50 pm |
  4. FreThinker

    What difference does it make if Jesus was married? I say none, but my friend who is a real bible-thumper says it makes a huge difference, and would upend the faith. If the faith can that easily be upended, then no faith exists (just like Jesus probably was a fabrication).

    September 18, 2012 at 9:39 pm |
  5. B. A.

    What a bunch of hooey.

    September 18, 2012 at 9:39 pm |
  6. Jason

    By the third century BC (before and at the time this text) texts were referring to the rudimentary church as the wife or Bride of Jesus. Indeed the New Testament itself does this in Ephesians 5:22-33.
    There are already many scholars disputing the Harvard researchers interpretation, including secular experts, is claim and noting that in ancient Coptic there is no different word for bride and wife.
    Marriage among itinerant non landing holding Jewish males was already rare, and among Essene derived groups almost nil. There were tens and tens of thousands of Essene and mystic cults among Jews of the day almost all strongly celibate as a core belief.

    September 18, 2012 at 9:39 pm |
    • skytech

      there were no church back then when he was a live

      September 18, 2012 at 9:43 pm |
    • Jason

      skytech, if you dont know there was a church by the third century (before this text was written) you are lost. there certainly was –with bishops, the classic narthax and alter and communion ritual (liturgy), then you are lost. And what I said was the metaphor from Ephesians was widely viewed as meaning the church by Christianities founders, No churches and liturgy - no Christianity

      September 18, 2012 at 9:52 pm |
  7. chaz8181

    Some theologians will do anything to get recognized. Religion is faith and not proof.

    September 18, 2012 at 9:38 pm |
  8. llsutton

    If, indeed it was there, it probably referred to "My Bride", which any student of the Bible knows that means the Church! Why is everyone trying to make Jesus out to be liar! You people are blasphemous!

    September 18, 2012 at 9:38 pm |
    • New Religion

      You have no clue what Jesus said or did, except through heresay, which wouldn't be admissible in a court of law. So shutup.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:42 pm |
    • Jason

      I am an athiest blasphemer, but I also knwo the history of the near east and its religions and fully agree that "bride" and "wife" of Christ consistently referred to the church/faithful in the Bible and as a continuing metaphor for hundreds of years.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:42 pm |
  9. hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

    I have seen the (heart?) of the samurai-ism filthy dodg–er pitch_ing/ism staff. Hindu injuries back back 8 games but filthy evil gians winning it all again.....step back wild-isms will play offf bound in the battle over evil filthy non dodger(s)

    September 18, 2012 at 9:38 pm |
  10. 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 to it.

    September 18, 2012 at 9:37 pm |
  11. robert

    King has been quick to add this discovered text "does not, however, provide evidence that the historical Jesus was married," or existed for that matter. In fact the evidence suggests that even if Jesus did exist the stories about him are fabrications that tried to fit him to Jewish prophecy and earlier pagan god myths.

    September 18, 2012 at 9:37 pm |
  12. ryan

    This may have been written by Jesus, but from the holy spirit. As of using Mary to consieve.

    September 18, 2012 at 9:37 pm |
  13. Richard Lewis

    Opportunity for the world to see how Christians repond when their central character is blasphemed...and compare this with the violent response of Muslims worldwide.

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

      Says the guy with nukes and who start holy wars in third world countries.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:38 pm |
  14. Jim Weix

    Of course Jesus was most likely married. I'm assuming that he was not gay, so a man of Jesus's age would most likely be married. Why do some religions feel Jusus could not have ever been married?

    September 18, 2012 at 9:36 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      Because they know he was gay.

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

      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 inference in both cases is that Jesus had chosen singleness, though more difficult, for the sake of the Kingdom of God. Psalms also makes possible inference.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:39 pm |
    • WASP

      @jim: what i was taught as a baptist in my early years was marriage involves sins of the flesh and seeing jesus was god and perfect he wouldn't have given into sin at all. thus jesus didn't marry because he didn't have s e x.

      lmfao going to love to see how baptists will explain this one.
      nevermind i know how they will explain it................"it's the work of the devil to trick us." ROFLMFAO

      September 18, 2012 at 9:41 pm |
    • robert

      Jesus wan't gay, though he he spent a great deal of time with the boys quire and on the weekends the boy scouts. Hense the song, "Jesus loved the little Children."

      September 18, 2012 at 9:44 pm |
    • Jason

      Because most Jewish itinerant males at the time were not married.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:52 pm |
  15. lolz

    lol No atheists here. Thought you all compared him to the spaghetti monster??? Doesn't seem very fairy-tale like to me....Im going to church .

    September 18, 2012 at 9:36 pm |
  16. Godoflunaticscreation

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SnyS2fiHm20&w=640&h=360]

    September 18, 2012 at 9:36 pm |
  17. Constance

    Jesus has a wife. She is spoken of in Revelations, the one the theologians mistakingly call "the church" and the one the Muslims call "Bird" but mistakingly assume is a man. Bird is the wife of Moses, and this wife of Jesus is a descendent of Moses and David. She is a real wife that comes to revolutionize the world to its final stage before the kingdom emerges. He would have referred to her and speaking of her life to come in referring to "my wife".

    September 18, 2012 at 9:35 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      She must have been quite the fatty to be mistaken for a church.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:36 pm |
  18. Curious Joe

    What's the rest? My wife... what? Believers are referred to as the bride of Christ in the Bible. Could that be what this is in relation to?

    September 18, 2012 at 9:34 pm |
    • robert

      Actually the text says, "Take my wife..." the missing part says "please". It is part of Jesus' sermon from the Nightclub.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:40 pm |
  19. hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

    !

    ****

    All need to heed the sacred – ed warning of the referees – ism? What blown call if nfl seeks to be restorative in it's own premis of war and bloodshed. Evil line **** backers. Hindu can't sack but stat-isms find that total for the face of god. filthy defiler.

    September 18, 2012 at 9:34 pm |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      hinduism stupidity of a hindu ID thief.

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

    Dr. M gooding – If there were time and room on this blog I would be more than happy to take you to task on the laundry list you haver written out. Sense we do not I recommend to any interested to take your list and research teh bible and comentaries. I have no dought that you are a very learned and intelligent person, just mis-informed on these things.

    September 18, 2012 at 9:33 pm |
    • Dr. M. Gooding - Maryland

      @jbmar1312

      Misinfomed? Pray tell, how am I misinformed??

      September 18, 2012 at 9:36 pm |
    • D Vinson

      I have no DOUBT that you are uneducated

      September 18, 2012 at 9:44 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.