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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.

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.”

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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. Copenshaw

    Yeah, she can try to be 'famous' with her 'findings'. Do not worry, we Christians are not going to riot and kill her and burn some flags.

    September 18, 2012 at 6:26 pm |
    • joeymom

      Her findings are that the words on a piece of Coptic papyrus say such-and-such in English. What is your point?

      September 19, 2012 at 12:29 am |
    • Seyedibar

      You may however bomb an abortion clinic or shoot up a temple full of shiekhs.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
  2. lance corporal

    jesus was married big deal, what I want to hear about is his young adult phase before he got married when he was out studding around town.... ya gotta know Jesus scored big with the ladies, right?

    September 18, 2012 at 6:24 pm |
    • Seyedibar

      Probably not if you believe the new testament, which states that Jesus was short, hunchbacked, and that his face was difficult for women and children to look at.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
  3. svann

    "Take my wife, please"
    Jesus, the first stand-up comic

    September 18, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
  4. Bezerkur

    Stop texting and driving or you will find out.

    September 18, 2012 at 6:22 pm |
  5. ahluqman

    Muslims would never denigrate Jesus, Abraham, Moses, Adam, Noah, Lot, Jonah, Aaron, David,Soloman, Muhammad, or any other of Gods Prophets! In fact, Islam is the only other world's religion besides Christianity that recognizes Jesus!!!

    September 18, 2012 at 6:22 pm |
    • Chuck Wagon

      Then why do Muslims denigrate and vilify the followers of Abraham, Moses, Adam, Noah, Lot, Jonah, Aaron, David, Solomon, and every other prophet besides Mohamed? If it is wrong to denigrate, persecute, vilify, rebuke, enslave, assault, and murder people of the Book, then how can Muslim hatred of Jews be acceptable?
      And no, childish, unprovable finger-pointing like "they started it so nyah nyah" is not an acceptable answer.

      September 18, 2012 at 6:36 pm |
    • logic123

      There is no hatred between muslims and jews, as the media may lead you to believe. There is a division between Isreal and Palistine, but that is all political. The problem is the people that are pitting one religion against the other. Muslims read the bible and the torah, and are taught to respect all people of the books (bible,torah).

      September 18, 2012 at 8:15 pm |
    • Seyedibar

      Muslims denigrate their own wives and children, force them to hide their bodies, hide from society, and stone them if they don't comply. So i hardly think their opinion on fictional folktales characters matters much beyon explaining their bigotry and mysogeny.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
  6. AvdBerg

    The above subject article is a good example how distorted things have become in society with the media industry as the main culprit.

    The local media, including CNN, Fox and your local TV stations and newspapers are a very important element of social and political behavior, as society is shaped by what it sees, hears and reads and it is conditioned by the events that influence the mind of every person. You reap what you sow.

    To allow anyone to be directed by public opinion is dangerous because most public opinion is the view of the media. If the media does not like something, their bias taints information getting to the public, and this forms public opinion. Public opinion is never based on research and facts. The public uses the media for its sole source of information and for this reason social behavior will continue to deteriorate and wax worse and worse (2 Timothy 3:13).

    For a better understanding of the role of the media we invite you to read the articles ‘Influence of the Media’ and ‘CNN Belief Blog – Sign of the Times’, listed on our website http://www.aworlddeceived.ca

    The media does not provide accurate information on ‘Religion’ as it continues to ignore the truth and the history of deceptions (John 14:17). They only report how they want you to hear things. They have created the big chasm that now exists without offering any solutions.

    Consider the truth about Catholicism, Mormonism, Judaism, Evangelicals, Christianity and Islam and all other religions and ask yourself the following question.

    Are so-called Catholics, Mormons, Israelites, Evangelicals and Muslims and all those that call themselves ‘Christians’ followers of the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ and the Word of God, or do they follow after an image of a false god and a false Christ (Matthew 24:24; 2 Cor. 11:13-15; Gal. 4:8)?

    For a better understanding of the history of Catholicism, Mormonism, Christianity, Judaism and Islam and its spread throughout the world, we invite you to read the articles ‘The Mystery Babylon’, ‘Can Christianity or Any Other Religion Save You?’, ‘World History and Developments in the Middle East’ and ‘Clash of Civilizations’, listed on our website http://www.aworlddeceived.ca

    Mitt Romney’s and Barack Obama's faith does not stand in the teachings of Christ but rather in an image of the spirit and the god of this world and a false Christ (Matthew 24:24; 2 Cor. 11:13-15; Gal. 4:8).

    For a better understanding of the history of the Mormon Church and Mitt Romney’s quest for the Presidency of the USA, we invite you to read the articles ‘Mormon Church – Cult and Spiritual Harlot’ and ‘Barack Obama – President of the United States of America’, listed on our website.

    All of the other pages and articles listed on our website explain how and by whom this whole world has been deceived as confirmed in Revelation 12:9.

    September 18, 2012 at 6:22 pm |
    • TROLLALERT

      This poster is a TROLL on this site, they are well known liars. Don't bother going to their site it's full of lies trying to sell their book to support their cult, click the report abuse link to get rid of this TROLL!

      September 18, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
    • mama kindless

      Revelation?? Everyone knows whoever wrote that mess was high as a kite. He must have crashed his camel in a lake of bath salts or worse. My goodness. St. John the Opium Addict, evidently.

      September 18, 2012 at 6:26 pm |
    • YoozYerBrain

      WOW avdberg, you have so many shots worth of nonsense in your post that I have to respond before I get too drunk...

      YOU ARE SOOOO STUPID!!! Mythology isn't reality and the world WON'T be coming to an end, and omg, I just can't do it any more...

      Sorry folks, I just don't have time or patience for a more sophisticated argument...another shot...oh wait I thought of a perfect response to AvdBerg

      Hey AvdBerg, there's a really intelligent, erudite poster here that can argue on your same level...
      hinduism source of hindufilthyracism. has something for you

      September 18, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
    • Rev Foistus Uponyou

      If the media does not like something, their bias taints information getting to the public, and this forms public opinion.

      Just like what you are doing.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:17 pm |
  7. newme

    Are you kidding me? This does not even look like an ancient manuscript. I have seen Hebrew and Greek writing before and this does not even compare.

    September 18, 2012 at 6:18 pm |
    • SixDegrees

      It looks authentic to me.

      September 18, 2012 at 6:21 pm |
    • ultramax

      +1 authentic

      September 18, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
    • rubberman473

      It's in ancient Comic Sans.

      September 18, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
    • Ty

      Do you have any credentials? The guys that examined it do.

      September 18, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
    • Roberto Leibman

      Maybe because it's neither Hebrew nor Greek but Coptic Egyptian?

      September 18, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
    • ultramax

      +1 for having credentials

      September 18, 2012 at 6:50 pm |
    • Rev Foistus Uponyou

      Rolling silly putty over the comic page
      doesnt qualify you as an expert.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:19 pm |
    • joeymom

      Then you aren't familiar with any real ancient Coptic scrolls.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:30 am |
  8. Bezerkur

    The modern religions are just a re-boot of age old philosophies of previous cultures. Proof is in the pyramids and from Samarian tablets and of many other anchient finds confirming that. Fanatics are insain in my view.

    September 18, 2012 at 6:18 pm |
  9. fred

    Did they have any kids?

    September 18, 2012 at 6:18 pm |
    • joeymom

      According to the Gnostic gospels, yes.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:31 am |
  10. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things

    September 18, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
    • hal 9001

      I'm sorry, "Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things", but your assertions regarding atheism and prayer are unfounded. The degree to which your assertions may represent correct statements is 0.0. To help you understand the degree to which your assertions may represent correct statements, I will access my Idiomatic Expression Equivalency module (IEE). Using my IEE module, the expression that best matches the degree to which your assertions may represent correct statements is: "TOTAL FAIL, DUDE".

      I see that you repeat these unfounded statements with high frequency. Perhaps the following book might help you overcome this problem:

      I'm Told I Have Dementia: What You Can Do... Who You Can Turn to...
      by the Alzheimer's Disease Society

      September 18, 2012 at 6:21 pm |
    • omdmp

      Neither is putting faith in make-believe creatures, such as god or jebus.

      September 18, 2012 at 6:24 pm |
    • Seyedibar

      No, things change on their own. Prayer is placebo.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
  11. randy

    Another false gospel written long after Jesus, just like the so called gospel of thomas, etc. I will trust the 4 gospels in the NT as they were written soon after Jesus time, by eyewitness and is the truth.

    BTW, the church is called the bride of Christ.

    September 18, 2012 at 6:16 pm |
    • SixDegrees

      Uh – it's contemporaneous with the other four gospels. Which themselves were selected from amongst literally dozens of other gospels, which were assembled into today's version somewhere around 350 AD.

      September 18, 2012 at 6:20 pm |
    • thecollegeadmissionsguru

      Yeah, Randy, Cause we KNOW that the "original " gospels were written by the original disciples, RIGHT?

      WRONG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      September 18, 2012 at 6:21 pm |
    • YoozYerBrain

      I heard the bride of christ was randy all the time....hahahahaha

      September 18, 2012 at 6:22 pm |
    • Rev Foistus Uponyou

      The "Church" decided that the gospel of Mary, and the gospel of "judas"
      are fakes because they didnt match the description of Jesus that they have been
      shoving down your throats.

      Jesus taught that the way to God was thru your heart.
      The church wants you in a pew filling up the money dish.
      Cant lose the cash cow.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:23 pm |
    • joeymom

      This was likely written before the Book of Revelations and the Gospel of John. The Bible was edited on several important occasions, including and excluding according to current mainstream Christian theology of the 4rd-5th centuries.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:33 am |
  12. Bluenose

    A lot of Johns in these comments.

    September 18, 2012 at 6:16 pm |
  13. PraiseTheLard

    Karen King said: "a fragment this damaged could have come from an ancient garbage heap"... Too bad rest of the Bible was pulled out of that ancient garbage heap...

    September 18, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
  14. cwebb619

    This is assuming a historical Jesus existed, you have to prove that first.

    September 18, 2012 at 6:13 pm |
    • areukiddnme

      Faith Saves not proof. Get some Faith fast, read the Word that is where it starts.

      September 18, 2012 at 10:11 pm |
    • Seyedibar

      Faith is only another way to say "don't make me think too hard about this because part of me knows its highly illogical and likely not true."

      September 19, 2012 at 12:25 pm |
  15. YoozYerBrain

    Aah, another comment page of people arguing over what a fantasy person said....LOVE IT, THANKS! Lookit what I can do...

    James 4:3

    Frodo was born fully mature to a virgin who was chosen by Iluvatar to bring the word of Glowr to Mary and Joseph, along with a set of blue prints for a round manger. Amen.

    Think I got a career Sam?

    LucyRIcardo?Grumpy?Spike? BRING IT YO!!!

    September 18, 2012 at 6:13 pm |
  16. Jesus'BestMan

    I just have to say that if you're God's son... if you can turn water into wine... if you can bring people back from the dead: if you can do all that and not attract a woman, just give up.

    September 18, 2012 at 6:13 pm |
    • YoozYerBrain

      aaaaahhhhhhh I can't take it any more..............hahahahahah yerkillinme!!!

      I'm still waiting for you all to DISPROVE Zeus....

      September 18, 2012 at 6:15 pm |
    • areukiddnme

      you made a great point, well not really but I will make one based on your comment.

      Jesus did not come here to "have a life as a man on earth" He came here to provide a 'Way" to "Redemption" through the "Cross".

      If Jesus was married and that kind of man, surely he would have had children.. so, then what Father would die on a Cross and leave His family behind?

      There is sense in things, and nonsense in things. This is nonsense and plainly so.

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

      How about one who was arrested, and executed. It is not like he would have had a choice in the matter.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
  17. 27

    Still waiting on a first hand account..

    September 18, 2012 at 6:11 pm |
    • K Kim

      By first hand account do you mean a live witness or something that Jesus himself wrote?
      If not, how is the Gospel of Matthew or John (for example) not a first hand (ie, eyewitness) account?
      Do you not believe in any historical figures absent a first hand account?

      September 18, 2012 at 6:24 pm |
    • joeymom

      Matthew and JOhn are both written much later than the life of Christ. Matthew is 2nd century, John is 3rd-4th. The closest NT writings to the lifetime of Christ are the Pauline Letters, and we know Paul did not meet Jesus during Jesus' lifetime- he was a Roman soldier who converts after the Crucifixion. His letters were written about 40-60CE. The oldest gospel is Mark, probably written around 70 CE.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:36 am |
    • Bob

      Paul wrote first hand of his life with Jesus.

      September 19, 2012 at 1:12 am |
  18. Spike

    COULD IT BE THAT THE PEOPLE WHO SUPPORT THIS ARTICLE ARE REALLY MUSLIMS WHO ARE MAD ABOUT THE Muhammad MOVIE and this is your way of attacking Christians?

    September 18, 2012 at 6:05 pm |
    • Hmmmm

      Could it be that Spike has Mommy issues and like's to be spa.nked while wearing a purple full body lat.ex suit with just the knees and love handles cut out to show the white hairy flesh beneath with a unicorn horn d.i.l.d.o str.a.p.ped to his fo.rehe.ad?

      I think so.

      September 18, 2012 at 6:13 pm |
    • WJ

      Spike – storm and burn down some embassies; you'll feel better.

      September 18, 2012 at 6:18 pm |
    • thecollegeadmissionsguru

      THAT'S IT, SPIKE!!!!Good call... D amn Jooz Haters....

      September 18, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
    • areukiddnme

      Christians who have Christ indwelling have the Truth. When the Truth is in you and a thing is said or done contrary to the Truth there is no reason to become hostile or murderous, nor even angry.. because the Truth is freedom from all lies, amen. And is still within itself.. it is the Integrity of God Himself.

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

      No. Next time, try actually reading the article.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:36 am |
  19. Grumpy

    So what if Jesus was married! Does it really make a difference? If, in fact, he was a normal Jewish rabbi of his time, he'd have been married, with children! Why does this bother so many people? As the article states, this reference neither proves nor disproves he was married, but it does add to the discussion. Take it for what it's worth, people!!! Think about it! Let it broaden your perspective. Examine your own beliefs. It won't kill you and you won't be sent to hell.

    September 18, 2012 at 6:03 pm |
    • ultramax

      If Jesus had children then obviously there is a superior bloodline in existence and everyone else should be weeded out. Luckily, I am a descendent of this bloodline. Too bad for the rest of you.

      September 18, 2012 at 6:11 pm |
    • thecollegeadmissionsguru

      @Ultra, I think that bloodline ended with George W..... at least we HOPE it did.

      September 18, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
    • joeymom

      Personally, I think it would be interesting, but makes no difference to the main point of the narratives.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:38 am |
  20. LucyRicardo

    Most of you are so off-base here. Are any of you Christians? Don't you know that Jesus referred to the Church as his "wife"?

    September 18, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      Only by hinduism, absurdity of a pot head hindu sanatan, filthy goon.

      September 18, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
    • SixDegrees

      No. No, he didn't.

      September 18, 2012 at 6:15 pm |
    • YoozYerBrain

      @LucyRIcardo

      I'd say ask hinduism source of hindufilthyracism he seems to have something for you...

      September 18, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
    • thecollegeadmissionsguru

      I'm not a Christian, though I played one for about forty years of my life, even though I was really an atheist in Christian clothes... Does that count?

      September 18, 2012 at 6:26 pm |
    • Ty

      I call the TV my nephew.

      September 18, 2012 at 6:33 pm |
    • HoppingMadIndustries

      So he was an objectophile?

      September 18, 2012 at 7:21 pm |
    • Rev Foistus Uponyou

      Don't you know that Jesus referred to the Church as his "wife"?

      No i dont.
      Could you sing a few bars ?

      September 18, 2012 at 8:29 pm |
    • joeymom

      And in Gnostic gospels- many of which were written in Coptic- Jesus referred to Mary Magdalene as his wife. This scrap is just that- a scrap. We have no idea what is being referenced and discussed.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:39 am |
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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.