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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. Rosie Perera

    This is nothing new. Even the Bible says Jesus had a bride - the Church. How do we know this newly discovered fragment, assuming it is authentic, isn't using "wife" in that same metaphoric sense that the word "bride" is used throughout the New Testament?

    September 18, 2012 at 10:43 pm |
    • Voxman

      wow that was catholic...where in the BIBLE does it say Jesus was married to a church....sorry ...that was a FAIL

      More Catholics need to read the actual bible and not from the selected works of the priests and realize they have been lied to since their church was started by Constantine (sorry Peter did not start the Catholic church...another lie you were told)

      September 18, 2012 at 10:48 pm |
    • LeighVA

      Yep. I said the same thing in an earlier. And FYI, I'm not Catholic, Vox.

      September 18, 2012 at 10:56 pm |
  2. Jim

    Christians have many enemies: Democratics, gays, Muslims, Jews, atheist and CNN.

    September 18, 2012 at 10:43 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      You left out education.

      September 18, 2012 at 10:45 pm |
    • Mort Sahl

      you have issues

      September 18, 2012 at 10:45 pm |
    • YERDADDY99

      Muslims revere him...Jews and aheiss are your true enemy you P O S

      September 18, 2012 at 10:50 pm |
    • A Frayed Knot

      Jim,

      You left out reality.

      September 18, 2012 at 10:50 pm |
    • You_Forgot

      Hey, you forgot to mention the Republicans. They try to hide it, but the are the biggest enemies of all.

      September 18, 2012 at 10:50 pm |
    • redzoa

      Don't forget the most insidious of all enemies: other so-called "Christians" who have strayed from the one, true faith of the "true Christians."

      Romans 16:17-18
      Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.

      September 18, 2012 at 10:56 pm |
  3. YERDADDY99

    Jews hate Jesus..Muslims revere him..period.....stop supporting them

    September 18, 2012 at 10:43 pm |
  4. Mickey

    Earth is my wife.

    September 18, 2012 at 10:43 pm |
  5. ScottCA

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9E4M39FRIGc&w=640&h=360]

    September 18, 2012 at 10:42 pm |
  6. RichardSRussell

    Remember that this isn't about Jesus, it's what somebody SAID about Jesus 200 years later.

    September 18, 2012 at 10:42 pm |
    • scott

      Very good point. and this article like any other should be taken with a grain of salt.

      September 18, 2012 at 10:52 pm |
  7. YERDADDY99

    I am a Muslim...and i am offended how you are disrespecting Jesus with your posts....Jews and atheists suck.....if Jesus PBUH had a wife ...so be it....why make a mockery with your Jew hate?

    September 18, 2012 at 10:41 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      You aren't fooling anyone. Your a good little christian terrorist i mean soldier. Christian soldier. Yeah thats the ticket.

      September 18, 2012 at 10:43 pm |
    • G. Zeus Kreiszchte

      Awwww, why don't you just storm an embassy or something, like a good little devout Muzlim? (j/k I do not support violence or religious stupidity)

      September 18, 2012 at 10:43 pm |
  8. judahfreuler

    Jesus called the church His "Bride."

    September 18, 2012 at 10:41 pm |
  9. tingle007

    Gnosticism was very prevelent in Egypt. If the seond century epistle of Barnabus is correct it came via Simon Magus after the death of Mark the gospel writer and founder of the Coptic church in Alexandria. Cnn is blatently grabbing for ratings here.

    September 18, 2012 at 10:40 pm |
    • G. Zeus Kreiszchte

      Ewe arr blatently unabel two spel.

      September 18, 2012 at 10:42 pm |
  10. ScottCA

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m5QqEmBi8iw&w=640&h=360]

    September 18, 2012 at 10:40 pm |
  11. Bruno B

    Just to let you all know, when Jesus says my wife or refers to something similar, he means the church He founded

    September 18, 2012 at 10:40 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      "My wife is as big as a church!" The papyrus has spoken!!!!

      September 18, 2012 at 10:40 pm |
    • j

      wow this is an insult let all christians rise up and punish the infidels, lol

      September 18, 2012 at 10:55 pm |
  12. ScottCA

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m5QqEmBi8iw&w=640&h=360]

    September 18, 2012 at 10:39 pm |
  13. Semper Cogitatus

    Well, this should irritate a few people. Wonder if that's why they wrote it?

    September 18, 2012 at 10:39 pm |
  14. saywaaat

    i was pretty sure he was gay .

    September 18, 2012 at 10:38 pm |
  15. YERDADDY99

    Blame the Jews...they are always starting stuff...no really...Christians....blame the Jews

    September 18, 2012 at 10:38 pm |
    • you're a hick

      good talk man, how's that working out for you

      September 18, 2012 at 10:43 pm |
  16. POPE JOHN

    I AM CATHOLIC AND CNN SHOULD NOT BE ALLOWED TO REPORT THIS HERESY. I DON'T PLAN ON DEMONSTRATING AT THEIR HEADQUARTERS, BUT INSULTING JESUS SHOULD BE AN INTERNATIONAL CRIME SUBJECT TO PUBLIC EXECUTION. I AM GOING TO ASK THE OBAMA WHITE HOUSE TO ORDER CNN TO TAKE DOWN THIS OFFENSIVE POST. I HOPE THE WHITE HOUSE SUPPORTS MY DEMANDS WITH THE SAME SPIRIT THAT THEY APPROACHED GOOGLE TO CENSOR YOU TUBE FOR THE MUSLIMS..

    September 18, 2012 at 10:38 pm |
    • G. Zeus Kreiszchte

      If that fails, just get a bazooka and blow something up like a devout Muzlim. (j/k of course, I do not condone violence or religious stupidity)

      September 18, 2012 at 10:39 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      You wont riot but you demand public execution? You christian terrorists are a riot. No pun intended.

      September 18, 2012 at 10:40 pm |
    • Semper Cogitatus

      CNN should not be allowed to report things you disagree with?

      September 18, 2012 at 10:40 pm |
    • Lynn

      I support this... very strongly! This is a must! We must do something! Where is the respect for the dignity of our Religion? Campaign now, please. We all Christians must get involved in this cause to give due respect to us as C N N gives the same to others like muslims and gays...

      September 18, 2012 at 10:43 pm |
    • Liz the First

      How is Jesus being married an insult to Him??? he was a man. he was a rabbi. and back in biblical days an unmarried man could not be a rabbi. if he had been unmarried and a rabbi, that would have been a big deal. this is not new information. this has been around for decades and it's no big deal. people, especially fundamentalist Christians, have a totally distorted image of Jesus. a bit of reality about him is refreshing, and does nothing to diminish his teachings, which lately seem to be more and more ignored by those who claim to follow him!

      September 18, 2012 at 10:44 pm |
    • talon

      Curious...whats the big deal about the possibility of jesus being married anyway? How is it a heresy or blasphemy or whatever? As far as i know, marriage was an honorable thing to do in their culture and even spoken of in high regards in the old testament by various prophets and even the mouth of god. What makes the possible marriage of the savior of such consequence?

      September 18, 2012 at 10:46 pm |
    • Voxman

      wow dude.....funny.... lol.... actually it not being funny was funny. FAIL

      September 18, 2012 at 10:51 pm |
    • redSun

      I get a kick out of this... if the scrolls say something to challenge your dogma, it's an abomination, it's an effort to subvert the religion, it's an attack etc... Maybe... just MAYBE... you had it wrong. Is this how you reacted to the dead sea scrolls?

      September 18, 2012 at 10:54 pm |
    • carl

      relax what if jesus was married? big deal? would that not make him jesus anymore?! no i dont think so.. people take religion so serious and take small things so offensive.. the truth of the matter is jesus wants everyone to be happy not mad and angry so listen to things and be more humble and open minded to peoples thoughts and beliefs.. jesus dosnt judge anyone and you shouldnt either.. follow the TRUE way of the lord my brother!

      September 18, 2012 at 10:57 pm |
  17. Dustin

    Jesus had herpes.

    September 18, 2012 at 10:37 pm |
  18. gg

    All good God fearing Christians should be outraged by CNN's propogating of this implied lie and go out and riot in the streets, burn down some CNN offices and go after some of their reporters with suicide vests.

    September 18, 2012 at 10:37 pm |
    • POPE JOHN

      WE HAVE TO PICKET THE WHITE HOUSE AND DEMAND OBAMA TO ORDER THAT CNN TO NOT EXERCISE FREE SPEECH.

      September 18, 2012 at 10:39 pm |
    • LeighVA

      Our deity can take care of Himself. He doesn't need us going out and doing things like that to prove He's all Powerful.

      September 18, 2012 at 10:42 pm |
    • redSun

      Gandhi – "I like your Christ... I don't like your christians... your christians are so unlike your Christ"

      September 18, 2012 at 10:57 pm |
    • Askmehow

      Oh you radical christian!

      September 18, 2012 at 11:55 pm |
  19. Moby Schtick

    Jesus said to them, "My wife... is down for a thirteen-way, but only me and John get to go in the 'backdoor'," and then verily, he nudged the disciple he loved with a wink and a nod..

    September 18, 2012 at 10:36 pm |
  20. simon

    Jesus was a sailor when walked across the water.........

    September 18, 2012 at 10:36 pm |
    • Dr. Leo Marvin

      "I'm sailing! I'm sailing! I sail ! I'm a sailor ! I sail !" - Bob Wiley

      September 18, 2012 at 10:40 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.