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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. areukiddnme

    Let's not all forget that Anderson Cooper is gay too. Satan, Satan, Satan!!

    September 18, 2012 at 10:17 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      LOL...Mental patients with computers are funny.

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

      I feel completely certain that if the community did not appreciate Jesus' hard care g.a.y lifestyle, he probalby killed himself.

      September 18, 2012 at 10:18 pm |
  2. sgm

    wow i didnt think he had a wife!

    September 18, 2012 at 10:17 pm |
  3. Left Coast Agnostic

    And Jesus said "Take my wife....PLEASE!!!"

    September 18, 2012 at 10:17 pm |
    • Dr. N. Pooding - North Carolina

      386

      September 18, 2012 at 10:17 pm |
    • wooty

      ROFL! Jesus was like "It's just an amazing way to start a sentence!"

      September 18, 2012 at 10:21 pm |
  4. Independent & not brain washed

    The liberals at C N N must have wanted to take some heat off Muhammad. All the gnostic stuff that came out of Egypt is much older then the gospels and has very little merit into knowing Jesus.

    September 18, 2012 at 10:17 pm |
  5. Tim Tebow

    That is NOT my writing...

    September 18, 2012 at 10:16 pm |
  6. Dazlinn

    The church is the bride and Jesus is the bridegroom.

    September 18, 2012 at 10:16 pm |
  7. Einstein

    In the First Century, Jews were expected to marry and have children early. A celibate 33 year-old Jesus, who was, as the New Testament says, an observant Jew, would have been seen as violating religious norms. It is therefore more probable than exceptional that Jesus did have a wife. This papyrus was from the Second Century, but the Canonical Gospel were also written long after Jesus died.

    September 18, 2012 at 10:16 pm |
    • Heath

      The new testament letters and books were written down at the latest 90 AD (less than 60 years after Christ); and more likely the Gospels were within a realively short period. And in Matt 19:10-12 Jesus states the case for celibacy.

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

      @ Einstein: the Gospels were written within a generation of Jesus' death. Paul was even writing within 20 years of Jesus' death in 1 Cor.15 when he points out that the risen Jesus appeared to over 500 people at once.

      On the other hand, the Gnostic Gospels were written over a century AFTER the eyewitness accounts.

      here's a little help for you:
      http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justintaylor/2012/03/21/an-interview-with-daniel-b-wallace-on-the-new-testament-manuscripts/

      September 18, 2012 at 10:20 pm |
    • Say it ain't so

      "he would've been seen as violating religious norms"? he said he was the son of man (God). I don't think you can be seen as violating religion norms any more than by making that statement. Alhough i know he was telling the truth the jews didn't see it that way & had him arrested & crucified. The fact that he resurrected proves they were wrong.

      September 18, 2012 at 10:25 pm |
  8. areukiddnme

    Satan has always been the Writer of lies and the media has always worshipped satan who gave them all big paying jobs. And they will do what satan says to do. They are bought and have sold their souls for their jobs and the money they get paid for them gives them this wonderful life in their flesh.. so sad because they will all perish. But, we all make choices.. and we all make our bed with regard to the afterlife.

    But just make sure you can discern who is who and what is being done, by who.. so as not to be confused..

    September 18, 2012 at 10:16 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      Satan is your god not mine.

      September 18, 2012 at 10:17 pm |
  9. Dan

    Down with CNN! Down with CNN!! Down with CNN!!! In the name of the Truth!!!!!!!

    September 18, 2012 at 10:15 pm |
  10. Siara Delyn

    Fascinating. I think the Coptics have a more direct lineage to the original faith than the people (including me) whose beliefs spend hundreds of years being manipulated by the Roman Empire and Saint Paul.

    September 18, 2012 at 10:15 pm |
  11. Godoflunaticscreation

    When Jesus whipped the money lenders it was really an S&M party. The papyrus has spoken!

    September 18, 2012 at 10:15 pm |
  12. Frank

    If one were to spend 1 hour on the net with open eyes they would see how silly belief in god is. 96% of Phd scientists who devote their lives science and facts agree that religion is nonsense. The information age will eventually bring down religion.

    September 18, 2012 at 10:14 pm |
    • Heath

      Time will tell

      September 18, 2012 at 10:16 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      Heath, it already has been. Im sure you aren't praying your comments to us.

      September 18, 2012 at 10:17 pm |
    • John MacNamara

      Frank, interesting facts you are putting forward. As a Phd myself, I would be interested in how you arrived at the 96% figure. It would amaze me if that was accurate since, as you know, there are many areas that you can attain a Phd in so with such diversity of academic backgrounds, for such a overwhelming majority to actually agree on one this point would be...well...just unbelievable. You may want to consider not getting caught up in your own limited opinion and just speak for yourself.

      September 18, 2012 at 10:23 pm |
    • Mike Garman

      I think they made that same prediction about 2000 years ago. Just know God believes in you!

      September 18, 2012 at 10:24 pm |
  13. OkayMan

    I came by God the magical way, by living life and so will you, trust me. Having said all that, why is it such a stretch to believe the "man" was married. He was a living breathing man. Who is the first person he came to see after he made his ascension? Who?

    September 18, 2012 at 10:14 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      About as real as Bruce Wayne.

      September 18, 2012 at 10:16 pm |
  14. Robert

    The church is referred to as the bride of Christ. He referred to the church with verbage like that. This is typical taking things out of context. What a shocker.

    September 18, 2012 at 10:14 pm |
    • LeighVA

      Don't let it rattle you too much. We know who is large and in charge! 🙂

      September 18, 2012 at 10:37 pm |
  15. Saul

    Not news! Scripture clearly states Jesus is married to the church.

    September 18, 2012 at 10:13 pm |
    • Dr. N. Pooding - North Carolina

      Here is some news Saul. Jesus was actually and excellent singer/songwriter. How do I know? Doesn't matter, I have faith that it is true.

      September 18, 2012 at 10:14 pm |
  16. Dr. N. Pooding - North Carolina

    You will be interested to note the there were acutally only 10 disciples. 2 died from anal rot. They did not bathe very often. I know this to be true because I have applied unscientific methods to prove I believe it.

    September 18, 2012 at 10:13 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      Really? I thought Jesus cleaned out their pipes every day.

      September 18, 2012 at 10:14 pm |
    • Dr. N. Pooding - North Carolina

      @Godoflunaticscreation

      They may be true but you will to prove to me that you believe before I can have that you believe it is true.

      September 18, 2012 at 10:16 pm |
  17. JPC

    Jesus was straight?

    September 18, 2012 at 10:12 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      I know. I was surprised as well.

      September 18, 2012 at 10:13 pm |
    • Adevilson

      Obviously had a three-way marriage!!!

      September 18, 2012 at 10:15 pm |
  18. Kevin

    So, let me get this straight: CNN published an article that makes you think that Jesus had a wife, but in actuality the finding doesn't get us any further beyond what is already known about Jesus. Gnostic Gospels are already known and are dated around the middle of the second century and have always been rejected by the orthodox Church. Hmm...

    September 18, 2012 at 10:12 pm |
  19. Heath

    Matthew chapter 19, verse 10 "Jesus’ disciples then said to him, “If this is the case, it is better not to marry!” “Not everyone can accept this statement,” Jesus said. “Only those whom God helps. Some are born as eunuchs, some have been made eunuchs by others, and some choose not to marry[e] for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.”

    September 18, 2012 at 10:11 pm |
  20. riabm60

    Oh well ,he was married......every man needs a woman.

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

      Wrong! Jesus had his twelve "partners".

      September 18, 2012 at 10:12 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.