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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. Mark

    Oh Puuulease! Why is it that "scholars" are so eager to believe that the actual writings about Jesus in the bible are lies and then so eager to believe that the ambiguous rumours long after his death are true. Or perhaps I should say the news media rather then scholars. There are millions of people claiming that George Bush and his friends plotted to take down the twin towers and this is within 12 years of the actual event. I don't see it getting any front page action on CNN but some obscure rumour about a guy who lived 2000 years ago.....

    September 18, 2012 at 10:09 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      Not even within 12 years. People knew by the 3rd week.

      September 18, 2012 at 10:11 pm |
  2. Apostle Jeshua Osei

    so sad that that today preachers cant tell the truth about Jesus . Jesus is fully divine God , and God cannot married please understand it the fool said in his heart there is no God ,so it will be difficult for the unwise to understand it but the wise will comprehend it. Jesus did not married and and it was abomination to say Jesus Yeshua hamashiak was married, it is not true,and all are false accusation,

    September 18, 2012 at 10:09 pm |
    • agathokles

      Jesus was both fully human and fully divine. That was the whole point! In his humanness, he was capable of tears and pain and hunger. There is no reason he could not have been married.

      September 18, 2012 at 10:13 pm |
  3. msaprilr

    there is a canonical gospel that refers to the church itself as Jesus' wife, so that could be what this text is referring to. That said, Jesus taught in the temple. Only married men were allowed to teach in the temple. So he either enjoyed celebrity privilege, or he was married. In any case, what difference does it make? Personally, I think it would be nice to know that Jesus did all the human rituals – birth, marriage, death – in addition to the divine resurrection. It would make him seem a little easier to relate to.

    September 18, 2012 at 10:08 pm |
  4. Dr. N. Pooding - North Carolina

    Using undiscovered evidence, I have pieced together the true story of Jesus. As it turns out, he was a ventriloquist. I know this to be true because I have faith that it is.

    September 18, 2012 at 10:08 pm |
    • Mark

      Good, I hope that faith doesn't abandon you when you die.

      September 18, 2012 at 10:12 pm |
  5. Wow

    It's going to be a busy night for Atheism is not healthy for fairy tales and religions or whatever her name is.

    September 18, 2012 at 10:08 pm |
  6. Heath

    The writing is "centuries old"; not 1,000 of years; it has no bearing on Jesus as the article states

    September 18, 2012 at 10:08 pm |
  7. Fact

    The Bible would state Christ had a wife if he did. It doesn't; so how many fools will believe a liberal Harvard Divinity School professor? That's the problem with Harvard: it fell away from God and started promoting it's own man-made version of Christianity. No thanks, I'll take the true version- the HOLY Bible which has stood the test of time.

    September 18, 2012 at 10:07 pm |
    • patrick harris

      yeah ok, and monkeys are going to fly out of my ass.... wake up you morons... there is no such thing!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      September 18, 2012 at 10:10 pm |
    • Ryan

      The Bible is a man made book

      September 18, 2012 at 10:13 pm |
    • A Frayed Knot

      @Fact,
      " it's[sic] own man-made version of Christianity."

      Look up how the Bible that you read today was put together. It's ALL man-made.

      September 18, 2012 at 10:18 pm |
    • Nah

      fact: "The Bible would state Christ had a wife if he did. It doesn't; so how many fools will believe a liberal Harvard Divinity School professor? That's the problem with Harvard: it fell away from God and started promoting it's own man-made version of Christianity. No thanks, I'll take the true version- the HOLY Bible which has stood the test of time."

      You're a troll, but I'll bite.

      Considering the Bible - regardless of its divine inspiration - was compiled by humans, how do you know they compiled all its parts correctly? How do you know this piece wasn't left out mistakenly? How do you know the parts erasing Jesus' marriage weren't added incorrectly?

      Etc.

      September 18, 2012 at 10:19 pm |
    • agathokles

      The Bible, not being a biography of Jesus, omits all sorts of things about him. Do we know his favorite foods? His precise height and hair color? There are ambiguous references to brothers. Why is it not possible for there to be the omission of a wife? The Gospels were intended to convey an important collection of truths about man's relationship to God, to one another, and about what is necessary for our salvation. Factors unrelated to that are omitted as extraneous.

      September 18, 2012 at 10:19 pm |
    • Dave

      Actually Jesus was gay and married to a man. I think either judas or possibly Peter the first pope. Prolly Peter because the obvious name.

      September 18, 2012 at 10:21 pm |
    • Just call me Lucifer

      Dallas Theological Seminary. Now thats funny.

      September 18, 2012 at 10:24 pm |
    • A Frayed Knot

      agathokles,

      Extraneous? Like the one about Jesus ordering a donkey(s) to ride into Jerusalem as a little extra bonus "proof" that he was "fulfilling" old timey "prophecies"? They jumped the shark with that one.

      September 18, 2012 at 10:27 pm |
  8. Alfredo

    Jesus was married? I will riot, burn, kill and act like a primate, – oh sorry that's the Muslim response.....No problema....

    September 18, 2012 at 10:07 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      Really? The muslims are rioting over this?

      September 18, 2012 at 10:09 pm |
  9. skytech

    So he must have a wife, chrish and his followers had to met in private becouse the were hunted. There was no church or bible back then when he was a live.

    September 18, 2012 at 10:07 pm |
    • Jason

      the bible uses the word church in three places as the bride or wife of Christ. The churches started going up BEFORE the gospels were ever written

      September 18, 2012 at 10:08 pm |
    • skytech

      thats yhe point there were no chruch when.

      September 18, 2012 at 10:10 pm |
  10. Sabrina Desiree J

    And once more one of CNN's reporters proves he is a member of the devil's minions. I love it when this happens! It reaffirms my belief in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. Praise Jesus! Demons and devil, I command you return to the hell from whence you came. In the name of Jesus I cast you out.

    September 18, 2012 at 10:06 pm |
    • Jason

      And you are the devils "bride"

      September 18, 2012 at 10:07 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      Sabrina the teenage witch is casting her spell on us! AAAAHHH she will send us to hell! Oh noze.

      September 18, 2012 at 10:08 pm |
  11. Isabel

    You idiot translators! Its BRIDE not WIFE - and Jesus referred to his believers as the "Bride of Christ" - however no one is going to burn or destroy, you, your property or anything.

    September 18, 2012 at 10:06 pm |
    • Sabrina Desiree J

      What happened to the 'like' button? I wanted to 'like' your post, :).

      September 18, 2012 at 10:07 pm |
    • Evangelical Rule of Thumb

      Evangelical Rule of Thumb:

      If a Bible verse furthers the cause, it is to be taken literally.

      If a Bible verse is detrimental to the cause, it is either: taken out of context; is allegorical or metaphorical; refers to another verse somewhere else; is an ancient cultural anomaly; is a translation or copyist's error; means something other than what it actually says; is a mystery of god or not discernible by humans; or is just plain magic.

      September 18, 2012 at 10:13 pm |
  12. UD

    Number of "Take my wife please" references in this thread: 382

    September 18, 2012 at 10:05 pm |
    • Just call me Lucifer

      Take my wife.... she said to me "I want you to take me somewhere I've never been before", so I said "try the kitchen"!

      September 18, 2012 at 10:11 pm |
  13. Mittens Wromney

    I am a direct descendent of Jesus. Joseph Smith told me.

    September 18, 2012 at 10:05 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      Can I nail you to a cross. Always wanted to crucify the little bugger.

      September 18, 2012 at 10:07 pm |
  14. Fiona

    It would be very odd if he didn't have some kind of partner in his life. I think the celibate-Jesus myth is a product of the Catholic Church, to justify their male-centered worldview.

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

      His Father in heaven and the Holy Spirit were His constant companions, not to mention administering angels.

      September 18, 2012 at 10:10 pm |
    • Just call me Lucifer

      christ was a circle-jerk.

      September 18, 2012 at 10:13 pm |
  15. Marcus

    Could this be in reference to "the bride" meaning the church? The church is referred to as "the bride" in several different passages in the Bible.

    Just a thought.

    September 18, 2012 at 10:04 pm |
  16. Jason

    I personally think Christian (and all) beleivers are deluded, but of note I do not hear the Catholic Pope, the Christian Orthodox Patriarch, the Archbishop of Canterbury or local Evangelical Christians rioting and killing people over this.
    This text came from Egypt. perhaps the new President of Egypt and the head of the Moslem Brotherhood ought to apologize?

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

      Don't muslims believe in Jesus too. I don't see them killing anyone over it.

      September 18, 2012 at 10:05 pm |
  17. Cletus14

    Give me a break CNN..

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

      Even the scholar announcing it is discounting it, but CNN finds it cover worthy... why? it's all about the ratings.

      "Nobody ever went broke underestimating American tastes." – P.T. Barnum

      September 18, 2012 at 10:05 pm |
    • John

      Yes, Cletus, because CNN just pulled all of this out of its collective behinds, right? What is it with you religious people. You're the closest thing the world has to memories of the Dark Ages.

      September 18, 2012 at 10:05 pm |
  18. mike

    "Take my wife...please"

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

    Thousands of christians take to the streets, burning flags in effigy, stoning police and raiding embassies...

    September 18, 2012 at 10:02 pm |
    • Cletus14

      lol! I was going to say something similar.. 😉

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

      No, they have nukes and fighter jets.

      September 18, 2012 at 10:06 pm |
  20. Whitney

    Jesus' bride is the church. Simple as that.

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

      You keep telling yourself that. Christians and an obtuse resistance to anything new go hand-in-hand. I wonder how long it took for your forefathers to accept that the earth was not the center of the universe or that it wasn't even flat. Years and years after irrefutable proof was presented of course.

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

      How could you possibly know the answer to this question? You have no idea.

      September 18, 2012 at 10:06 pm |
    • k

      John: Untrue. Greeks before Christ new that the earth was round. And it was commonly taught in religious universities, since the middle ages. In fact, the original university system (that spawned Newton, Leibniz, Copernicus, and a host of enlightenment minds) was religious. Gregor Mendel was an Augustinian Priest. So was Fr. George Lemaitre, the inventor of the big bang theory. The list goes on. Religion, contrary to popular belief, has served to bring forth new knowledge ... including scientific knowledge.

      September 18, 2012 at 10:11 pm |
    • Just call me Lucifer

      @k

      everyone had a religious affiliation until very recently in human history, because if you didn't you were an outcast and treated as a .... you know... INFIDEL. So you illumination is doo-doo.

      September 18, 2012 at 10:19 pm |
    • ammar

      Whitney exactly, this is a very poor and pethatic attempt, the history itself knows jesus was never married, jewish people themselves know jesus didnt get married even though they dont believe in him, as for us christians he is the god himself how can god get married? his mission was to sacrifice himself to save people, so for god to safe people and come on earth as human it would not make any sense for him to get married, so religiously speaking this is impossible, historically speaking this is completely false and no1 mentioned it throughout history, also one more thing christianty believe in something called tredations which the church followed since the begining of christianty none of that mentions anything horrible as this and none of the early fathers mentioned anything like that and no christianty when christianty started it wasnt ruled by rome or any1 else for them to have a conspiracy 100 000s of people gave their lives for chrsitianty when it started those people were not stupid to sacrifice their life for some1 who is not a god, the problem with those people is that they would love to get their hand on anything to twist the messege, that part was probably written by one of the saints back than and probably meant the church is the wife of jesus christ but its missing those words, you cant just assume something missing big chunks (evil work) and even with complete sentences you still have to ask the people with religion knowledge before you assume and publish and article.

      September 18, 2012 at 10:19 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.