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
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(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. niki

    The authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Essenes, where an ascetic jewish religious order where marriage was a requirement. The men lived separately from the women and married couples were allowed one night a week to sleep together.
    Despite their devotion to God, the responsibility of procreation to ensure the survival of their tribe was not forgotten...it was law.
    I find it very hard to believe that Lord Jesus who was born into the jewish tradition, did not adhere to a very important tenent of the judaich law. The Gospel of Philip also has a passage that when translated into Greek refers to Mary Magdalene as his
    "kinonos" which literally means comrade but when referring to a woman 2000yrs ago, it means wife. The passage continues...." Christ loved her more than all the disciples and he kissed her more often than the other disciples". In a heavily patriarchal society this is taboo and it is quite clear that the early church fathers who wanted a religion that would unite and govern an empire would be very carefull to omit any Gospels that could incite liberative doctrines that would in turn jeapardize their authority. It is a historical fact that the compilation of the New Testament as we have it today occured roughly 300-400 yrs after the ascension of Christ. We can hardly say that it is a first hand account of what truly happened in the life of the Lord.

    September 18, 2012 at 10:01 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      He kissed her more than his twelve "Partners"? So he WAS bi.

      September 18, 2012 at 10:04 pm |
    • Jason

      The Essene were Strong advocates of CELEBACY. The spawned and were part of scores of cults of tens of thousand of people who were celibate. Jewish popualtions in Judea at this time were crashing and people were coming in from all over the middle east and adopting Judaism. read any study of demographics in the area at the time.

      September 18, 2012 at 10:06 pm |
  2. Only sheep need a shepherd

    jesus christ

    September 18, 2012 at 10:00 pm |
  3. atheist

    Oh so now you want proof. How funny. This is only stories that people tell. Jesus might not even have existed.

    September 18, 2012 at 10:00 pm |
  4. mona

    There was a big deal about Mary and a virgin birth, not Jesus the virgin. So he was probably hooking up with someone in all those years. Wonder if Christians will trash the Egyptian embassies and call for death to Egypt for this revelation.

    September 18, 2012 at 10:00 pm |
  5. Derek

    I am not a super conservative who denies science, but there is a possibility jesus could have been saying 'My Wife' referring to the church. In the bible it does say that the church is like his bride and he is the groom.

    September 18, 2012 at 10:00 pm |
    • Mark

      You are absolutely correct.

      September 18, 2012 at 10:03 pm |
    • Harrassed

      No. Jesus was referring to Mary Magdalen. We always suspected that something was going on there.

      September 18, 2012 at 10:04 pm |
  6. UD

    Ask yourself this simple question:

    Why, when you read the Bible, are you not left in awe? Why doesn't a book written by an omniscient being leave you with a sense of wonder and amazement?

    If you are reading a book written by the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving creator of the universe, wouldn't you expect to be stunned by the brilliance, the clarity and the wisdom of the author?

    Would you not expect each new page to intoxicate you with its incredible prose and its spectacular insight? Wouldn't you expect the author to tell us things that scientists have not been able to discover yet?

    Yet, when we open the Bible and actually read it, we find it is nothing like that at all. Instead of leaving us in awe, it leaves us dumbfounded by all of the nonsense and backwardness that it contains.

    If you read what the Bible actually says, you find that the Bible is ridiculous. If we are honest with ourselves, it is obvious that an "all-knowing" God had absolutely nothing to do with this book.

    The reason why the Bible contains so much nonsense is because God is imaginary.

    The Bible is a book written thousands of years ago by primitive men. A book that advocates senseless murder, slavery and the oppression of women has no place in our society today.

    September 18, 2012 at 9:59 pm |
    • Mark

      Were you a Believer, you would be in awe as you read the Bible. As a heathen, you aren't. That's the difference.

      September 18, 2012 at 10:04 pm |
  7. Ravi

    I think existence might be a more salient virtue than marital status 🙂

    September 18, 2012 at 9:59 pm |
  8. Fluffy the Gerbil of Doom

    Jesus did not exist. he was a myth. Get over it. Paul made him up.


    September 18, 2012 at 9:59 pm |
    • UD

      Stupid Squirrels.

      September 18, 2012 at 10:00 pm |
  9. Watchfuliiiii

    Science is real. Religion is a way to control the masses. Oldest scam on earth.

    September 18, 2012 at 9:58 pm |
    • k

      So all knowledge can be reduced to scientific knowledge, huh? Really? And what experiment did you run to discern that "truth"? How did you prove that scientifically? Answer: you didn't. This is your metaphysical (nonscientific) belief. So you've already violated your own rule ... that science is everything and there is no other kind of knowledge (God forbid, religious knowledge).

      September 18, 2012 at 10:04 pm |
    • Watchfuliiiii

      Religious knowledge – example please.

      September 18, 2012 at 10:15 pm |
    • The Scientist

      Science is a religion designed to control the masses. In the begging there was a big explosion because a piece of dust collided with another piece of dust and then the earth was formed. Then amoebas evolved into monkeys and a man was born. Luckily, science has been able to prove all of this......right? Oh btw, we can't reporcduce this because it would take 1million years, no wait 1 billion, no never mind 200 billion gagillion years. I have a masters degree in biology, and I work in a research laboratory. We lie about results all of the time and I must say, when I study the human body, there is no doubt someone designed it.

      September 19, 2012 at 7:40 am |
  10. diogenes23

    the Christians that argue " he must have meant his church" and such kill me lol...for centuries and centuries the vatican hunted down all the early scrolls with referances like this and burned them to be sure theirs was the ONLY version of Christs teachings to be followed, and the protestants...well, your reformation dint go near far enough, nice try tho:)

    September 18, 2012 at 9:58 pm |
    • Jason

      uhm, dont get your education from the da vinci scrolls movie.. The bible itself says the Chruch is the bride e of Christ and Paul uses the metaphor as well.

      September 18, 2012 at 10:00 pm |
    • skytech

      chrish and his people had to met in private be couse the were hunted be couse there was no chruchs

      September 18, 2012 at 10:02 pm |
  11. Ken

    Wait until they find the ancient parchment that implies Jesus had more than one wife...that will blow the roof off.

    September 18, 2012 at 9:58 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      In fact he had twelve husbands.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:59 pm |
    • Muhammad Khan

      I don't appreciate the guy in the above reply ascribing to Jesus something which is not correct. If he is an atheist, it does not give him the right to make fun of any of OUR Prophets. If he is a atheist then he is someone who should be rediculed ant pitied for believing that things came into existence on their own.

      September 18, 2012 at 10:17 pm |
  12. Fluffy the Gerbil of Doom

    Jesus did not exist. he was a myth. Get over it. Paul made him up.

    September 18, 2012 at 9:58 pm |
    • Russ

      @ Fluffy: even Bart Ehrman (notorious agnostic scholar) disagrees with you on this one.
      Check out the preface to his new book: "Did Jesus Exist?"

      September 18, 2012 at 10:01 pm |
  13. Ivanhoe

    For real insight into Jesus and the religions in the Middle East - read the ground breaking novels - king of Bat'ha by Hashim - and sequel - Tales from the East: Return of Ivanhoe by Ivanhoe. These are based on direct experiences over in the Middle East and Hindu, Islamic, and Christian views of Christ.

    September 18, 2012 at 9:58 pm |
  14. J

    To summarize: we have a tiny scrap of paper with a few words on it. Without the context, the words could mean anything and they signify nothing. Okay.

    September 18, 2012 at 9:57 pm |
  15. Randy

    For Jesus to have been married would negate the primary theme of the gospel.

    September 18, 2012 at 9:57 pm |
    • usastillgr8t

      Amen Randy!

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

      How? Do you feel that marriage is a sin? Or what?

      September 18, 2012 at 9:58 pm |
  16. hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

    Corruption!!! Why? Filthy cheating hindu extreme-ism based on poor officiating ! *** Can't have pass (ing) inter-ference with filthy tipped balls / tell jew official betting on (on??) fantasy sinful pride.

    September 18, 2012 at 9:57 pm |
  17. usastillgr8t

    This does not have any effect on me and what I believe. There is no mention of Jesus even be attracted to a woman in scripture. He was always about the Father's business.

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

      I am sure he was about some bidness alright.

      September 18, 2012 at 9:58 pm |
    • Russ

      @ usastillgr8t: while i agree with your conclusion, you might want to reconsider your theory of his attraction:
      "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with us in our weakness, but he was tempted in every way – just as we are, yet he did not sin." (Heb.4:15)

      September 18, 2012 at 9:59 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      He hung out with his twelve back door pals.

      September 18, 2012 at 10:00 pm |
    • A Frayed Knot

      "He was always about the Father's business."

      You don't know a dang thing about 95% of his life (even if he did exist). You don't know what he was *always* up to.

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

    On a related note, newly discovered evidence suggests that the Tooth Fairy, Batman, Superman, the Easter Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Mickey Mouse may be married as well. Seriously, who gives a rat's tookus?

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

      DC comics say differently. Am I supposed to believe some news story or the Batman issue 1 which contains context and meaning. I mean we found remnants of buildings that prove Gotham's existence not to mention all the literature, His word. Bruce bless you!

      September 18, 2012 at 10:02 pm |
  19. richardfcrawley

    "My wife... finally let me out of the house. Now how about some beer and buffalo wings?"

    September 18, 2012 at 9:55 pm |
  20. sohappy

    Jesus spoke of His bride the church that he laid down his life for

    September 18, 2012 at 9:55 pm |
    • Fluffy the Gerbil of Doom

      No he didn't. There was no such thing as a "church" when he was alive.

      September 18, 2012 at 10:01 pm |
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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.