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. GardenGrl

    This should cast some light on a tumultuous period in history, the early centuries of the Church was a veritable soup of new ideas in a time when Paganism was the dominent religion.

    September 18, 2012 at 10:27 pm |

    Jesus was a wonderful man....i love him.....he was a man of God...peace to him....may he come back and help stop evil...by Jews..."Christians"....and Muslims

    September 18, 2012 at 10:27 pm |
  3. G. Zeus Kreiszchte

    One thing is for sure! The Roman Catholic Cult edited out the parts that were particularly controversial, leaving modern bibles a mere fraction of the REAL STORY of this alleged "son of god" called Jeebus. Not to mention that the collective, edited and compiled works dubbed "the bible" were translated through numerous languages to get to any modern versions. BAH HUMBUG!

    All gods are make-believe. Give up your ludicrous hope in unprovable sky faeries, dolts!

    September 18, 2012 at 10:26 pm |
    • Just call me Lucifer

      Dare to be stupid.

      September 18, 2012 at 10:28 pm |
    • Eve

      Then be ready to give up your life at the edge of a sword for I am going to give up my religion.

      September 18, 2012 at 10:30 pm |
  4. Dan

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

    September 18, 2012 at 10:26 pm |
    • Peteyroo

      Damn, attacking the messenger? CNN isn't saying Jesus was married. It's only reporting what some respected scholars have said. Get a grip Damning Dan.

      September 18, 2012 at 10:32 pm |
  5. Frank

    Had a sweet lil' girl......I lose my baby, ain't that bad.....

    September 18, 2012 at 10:26 pm |
  6. Coug9

    Couple points: 1. "Wife" may mean spouse.....which is a term often used by Jesus to describe the relationship between us and God. 2. If it is indeed "Wife", why would this add credibility to the debate, this "fragment" was still written many many centuries after the life of Christ.

    September 18, 2012 at 10:26 pm |
    • Heath

      Agree, plus toss in Matt:10-12, where Christ addresses the prefence of celibacy. This article provides zero insights.

      September 18, 2012 at 10:28 pm |
    • G. Zeus Kreiszchte

      The "gospels" of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were written DECADES AFTER Jeezus died, so what's your point?

      And oh, oh, just keep making it up as you go, like a good little bible thumper. It must all be TRUE, so you just have to keep changing your story to compensate!

      September 18, 2012 at 10:29 pm |
    • LeighVA

      No doubt.

      September 18, 2012 at 10:33 pm |
  7. LeighVA

    The 'Bride' of Christ is the 'Church' ~ maybe the translation is off and someone is thinking this terminology means 'Wife', when it, in fact, means 'Bride'. Could be from the time of Paul ~ which is a time after Christ was crucified.

    September 18, 2012 at 10:24 pm |
  8. Max

    How can you distort our religion...lets protest and riot!!! We should take over the Harvard campus and remove the infidels!

    September 18, 2012 at 10:24 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      Really? The Muslims are rioting over this?

      September 18, 2012 at 10:25 pm |
    • G. Zeus Kreiszchte

      Why waste time with talk. Just grab your RPG launcher and get out there like a good little Muslim. (kidding, of course - I do not condone violence)

      September 18, 2012 at 10:31 pm |
  9. T-Pain

    what a pimp

    September 18, 2012 at 10:24 pm |
  10. Mr. T. Bag

    Jesus went on to say:

    "My wife, he likes his feet annointed with sweet frankensense...
    But I'm just too tired after a long day of fishing. He's so demanding."

    September 18, 2012 at 10:23 pm |
  11. areukiddnme

    "this isn't true or false" but let's just put it out there any way?


    September 18, 2012 at 10:23 pm |
  12. Godoflunaticscreation

    I know this guy who I think is in the closet but is having a hard time coming out. Tell me what you think. He has severe daddy issues, hangs out with twelve guys every day, I took him to a brothel and he acted like "eeeew coodies", he's got long flowing hair and wears a robe, he keeps telling me to love my fellow man and when someone whips me I should turn the other cheek (Definitely some S&M issues)..... seriously I want to help him come to terms with his s3xuality. Any opinions?

    September 18, 2012 at 10:23 pm |
    • Hadenuffyet

      Don't you have a riot to cause somewhere?

      September 18, 2012 at 10:25 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      No im not a christian.

      September 18, 2012 at 10:28 pm |
    • areukiddnme

      1 Corinthians 1:18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God

      is this you? all you have to do is answer 'yes' or 'no'.

      September 18, 2012 at 10:42 pm |
    • A Frayed Knot


      A quite old and sometimes effective tactic – declaring that those who do not believe your story are 'fools'. Nobody wants to be considered 'dumb' for not seeing the Emperor's new clothes, or a 'bas.tard' for not seeing the Sultan's new turban, or a 'cuckold' for not being able to see the Miller's gold thumb.

      Even Joseph Smith used it when he gathered his 'witnesses' to his golden plates. He told them that only those with 'true faith' would be able to 'see' them.

      The ancient, primitive Hebrews who originated those Bible stories were quite adept at manipulative mind-games, including Paul of Tarsus.

      September 18, 2012 at 11:55 pm |
  13. Jeremy

    Jesus was called "Rabbi" by his disciples and other Gentiles. During the time period only married men could be Rabbis. So can the Catholic church stop its rules against priests marrying and women being allowed to preach.

    September 18, 2012 at 10:23 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      No they like little boys better.

      September 18, 2012 at 10:24 pm |
    • Voxman

      that kind of truth and logic escapes them...they've been wrong so many years now they just can't turn around and say...wow....we bad.

      September 18, 2012 at 10:54 pm |
  14. Stacy

    Another bowl of scraps from CNN to their devout anti-Christian followers. Haven't noticed you guys taking shots at Islam...

    September 18, 2012 at 10:23 pm |
    • Askmehow

      Stacy you live under a rock then.

      September 18, 2012 at 11:51 pm |
  15. mary

    In the Bible the "wife" symbolizes the church. And Jesus used symbolism alot in his teachings.

    September 18, 2012 at 10:21 pm |
    • mary

      **when Jesus says "my wife" he was referring to the church

      September 18, 2012 at 10:22 pm |
    • YERDADDY99

      Mary..no disresect...but he was a man with a wife....deal with it...he was a great man

      September 18, 2012 at 10:31 pm |
  16. Cheech

    Personally, I would freak if my wife called out my dad's name in bed. But hey, that's just me.

    September 18, 2012 at 10:21 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      How bout if your dad r@ped your mom when she was 12?

      September 18, 2012 at 10:26 pm |
  17. The Myth

    Many of these LIBERAL religious scholars have been making claims about a lot of things. Look no further than the ridiculous Jesus Seminar freaks who claimed Jesus was removed from the cross, and then consumed by wild dogs, and his bones scattered everywhere. This as an alternative to the RESURRECTION story written in the Bible. Just another claim to get noticed and attention. Liberal religious views are just that....another form of New Age religion meant for the middle masses of people looking for an alternative to the REAL deal.

    September 18, 2012 at 10:20 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      Exactly! Bunch of weak minded individuals who cant take real life so they read 2000 year old middle eastern shepherd Manga.

      September 18, 2012 at 10:27 pm |
  18. Dan

    Down with CNN! Down with CNN!! Down with CNN!!! In the name of the Truth!!!!!!! Down with all who serve it!!!!

    September 18, 2012 at 10:20 pm |
    • Steve

      Relax you crazy bible thumper!

      September 18, 2012 at 10:29 pm |
  19. Rob

    No, dummy, you're holding it the wrong way!

    It says "Take my wife, please!"

    September 18, 2012 at 10:19 pm |
  20. YERDADDY99

    Jesus PBUH had a wife ....sue im...he loves real men...he despises so called "Christians" who hate

    September 18, 2012 at 10:18 pm |
    • YERDADDY99

      if this is true...he was human...a great man

      September 18, 2012 at 10:20 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.