home
RSS
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.

Follow the CNN Belief Blog on Twitter

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.”

CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories

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. Corkpuller

    And not one Christian lost his mind and attacked anyone. Go figure.

    September 18, 2012 at 9:54 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      Please tell me that is sarcasm.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:55 pm |
  2. 13_monster

    It should be fairly acceptable that a jewish man live at the time of jesus and at the age of jesus do get married, a couple times perhaps. And since no single reference in bible or anywhere else in gospels that he is not married, I believe its fairly safe – according to the customs at that time – to assume that jesus did married. 🙂

    September 18, 2012 at 9:54 pm |
  3. John the Baptist

    Jesus condoned slavery!!!!!!

    September 18, 2012 at 9:54 pm |
    • Mark Taylor

      Nonsense.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:55 pm |
    • Mike the American

      And yet slavery still exists to this day. It's called a job.

      September 18, 2012 at 10:13 pm |
  4. Moses

    An unmarried Jewish man back in those days would be highly unusual...unless...maybe that explains all those guys.

    September 18, 2012 at 9:53 pm |
  5. Mark Taylor

    Nothing new here. The church is often referred to as the bride of Christ throughout the New Testament.

    September 18, 2012 at 9:53 pm |
    • Fluffy the Gerbil of Doom

      Name one place.

      September 18, 2012 at 10:02 pm |
  6. RP

    Jesus also called himself a "bridegroom" but his bride wasn't a woman. (Or a man).

    September 18, 2012 at 9:53 pm |
  7. skytech

    There was no church or bible back then when he was a live. So he must have a wife.

    September 18, 2012 at 9:52 pm |
  8. Dr.Watch

    That is not true agentxyz! Go to hell. Actually, I sort of don't believe in God even though I am a Protestant Christian

    September 18, 2012 at 9:52 pm |
  9. Alicia

    It actually means nothing more than his church.. his people, and that's considering it was referring to Yeshua. There were man named "Jesus" back then.

    CNN loves to be melodramatic. Sigh.

    September 18, 2012 at 9:52 pm |
  10. james

    If you read the Bible, Jesus is Talking about his church(The Bride or Wife) We the Church are his bride.

    September 18, 2012 at 9:51 pm |
    • robert

      me being Jesus' bride in the biblical sense is a little disturbing, but it does explain all those Catholic priests.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:55 pm |
    • jean

      Did Jesus say this? Or Paul? It is surprising that many attribute everything in the New Testament to Jesus, when much of it was written by Paul, a man that never met Christ. The words of Jesus would fill but a few pages, the remainder is commentary.

      September 18, 2012 at 10:11 pm |
  11. carm

    Gee, should I believe the bible, or some papyrus paper? Hmmmm, let me think about it. Not!

    September 18, 2012 at 9:51 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      Not to both? I mean the papyrus probably hasn't been edited as much as the bible.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:57 pm |
    • joeymom

      Well, since the Bible was edited through the first few centuries of the last millenium, and there were lots of papyri about, I wouldn't say that either were more reliable. However, since this is a few words on a scrap, we really don't have any info here. The quote could have gone on to say "... should I ever have one..."

      September 18, 2012 at 11:13 pm |
  12. robert

    If Jesus was married then perhaps we should think of his death on the cross as the end of his suffering.

    September 18, 2012 at 9:51 pm |
    • Jeff Stein

      That's funny as hell.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:59 pm |
  13. Kittu Pannu

    Reblogged this on The Many (Mis-)Adventures of Kittu Pannu and commented:
    No, it doesn't say that Jesus was married. The only concrete thing the scroll mentions is that Jesus says "my wife." He could be referring to a number of things (including a wife, but that's one debate that I don't want to get into until there is more evidence involved). So, friends, read this article, but don't expect anything too groundbreaking. As the co-editor Marrapodi (who wrote the article) stated, analyzing this is like analyzing a football game in the first quarter; everything is still up in the air.

    September 18, 2012 at 9:50 pm |
  14. Phil

    BREAKING NEWS! It actually says "Take my wife, Please!"

    September 18, 2012 at 9:50 pm |
    • Mark Taylor

      very good!

      September 18, 2012 at 9:54 pm |
  15. SV

    I bet his wife's name was Harold.

    September 18, 2012 at 9:50 pm |
  16. agentxyz

    The missing fragment says "is such a pain in my blessed ass."

    September 18, 2012 at 9:49 pm |
  17. Paul B. Huntington III

    i hate to tell you believers but if you have watched any exposes you would know most of these suddenly found evidence stuff for jews and xtians are very expensive fakes, that can get top dollar.

    one man conffessed after being arrested in israel to making hundreds of fakes, and him and his partners making millions of dollars selling them to the true believers

    September 18, 2012 at 9:48 pm |
    • Mike the American

      If it's your idol, I guess you'll pay a lot of money for it. Nothing new here. Derp.

      September 18, 2012 at 10:04 pm |
  18. Charles

    Does it really matter if Jesus was married, Why do Christians who are so set in their own self righteous beliefs find it impossible for Jesus to have been married? If he as God was tempted in all areas but without sin, how could he have known what temptations married couples experienced if he himself had not also experienced it, Jesus was here on earth walking among us and experiencing life as a human being. People should get over what they expect God to be and see him for who he was.

    September 18, 2012 at 9:48 pm |
    • robert

      After all Jesus' dad gave Mary a booty call so it can't be all that bad.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:53 pm |
    • Heath

      I do joke that he couldn't have been tested in all ways without having a wife, but he clearly teaches in Matthew 19:10-12 that singleness was the preferred calling if you can accept it so it would have been a little hypocritical for him to turn around and marry

      September 18, 2012 at 9:53 pm |
    • Mike the American

      Um.. I think that Christians believe that Christ is God. So, the notion of Jesus not knowing what something is like kinda flies out the window here. The whole premise to Christianity is recognizing the divinity of Jesus. Derp.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:56 pm |
    • Heath

      Jesus as fully God and fully Human is closer to the premise of Christianity just to clarify; which I believe

      September 18, 2012 at 9:59 pm |
    • Carolina Gonzalez

      Good analysis Charles; I agree with you. HE was and HE IS STILL DIVINE There is nothing wrong to portrait Jesus as a family man: wife, children. etc... That was God plans to follow Jesus' example!!!

      September 18, 2012 at 10:00 pm |
    • Mike the American

      Heath is a theology professor it appears 😉

      September 18, 2012 at 10:02 pm |
    • Mike the American

      Awwwww Carolina that's so nice and sweet. Except the part where you don't know for sure if he was married. Derp.

      September 18, 2012 at 10:03 pm |
  19. Cmikal

    Who really cares? Religious fanatics will just deny this. Those crazies..

    September 18, 2012 at 9:47 pm |
    • Mike the American

      Good point. But why is it that non-Christians want desperately to believe that Jesus was married? Kinda weird ain't it.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:57 pm |
  20. Dr. Rick Stoppe

    In the Jesus family tomb, Mary Magdalene is the only non family member. The DNA of all were taken. The father of Jesus was the father of his brothers and sisters according to the DNA evidence. It is strange that none of the spouses of Jesus' family were present. Bones of early Christians mentioned in the book of New Testament book of Acts were found in a tomb nearby–including that of Peter disproving the Vatican claim of housing his bones. The best guess is that the entire family thought the reign (kingdom) of God was at hand. Do not let this truth hurt your faith in God.

    September 18, 2012 at 9:47 pm |
    • Michael

      There is NO family tomb. No one knows where any of them were buried, "Doctor" Stoppe.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:56 pm |
    • Fluffy the Gerbil of Doom

      That is all a complete and utter lie, and YOU know it. LIAR. There was NO DNA taken. They did not know about DNA until the 20th Century. Jesus was poor. If there was a "family tomb", it was not in Jerusalem. You fraud. There were NO bones found, anywhere. There were NO "family members" found. Just as the Church Father's, (who admitted it), obviously YOU employ deception. Fake. Fake Fake. Where did you get your PhD, (did it cost $9.99, online). You are a JOKE !!!!

      September 18, 2012 at 9:56 pm |
    • ssharudin

      I thought Jesus doesn't have a father?

      September 18, 2012 at 9:57 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      Yeah and the tomb of the teenage mutant ninja turtles contains mutagen.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:58 pm |
    • Mike the American

      YEAHH Fluffy.. you tell 'em. Maybe you might want to consider putting 9.99 down on an online doctorate too. You're a little too excited here fella.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:59 pm |
    • Mike the American

      ssharudan - looks like you missed your little Sunday school class too like most of everyone else here. Jesus' earthly dad was - don't worry, we'll do this slow..... Joe... seph ... and ... his .... real ... dad ... is ...... God.

      September 18, 2012 at 10:00 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75
Advertisement
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.