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. Colin

    Christianity is the ludicrous belief that a god impregnated a virgin with himself to give birth to himself, so he could sacrifice himself to himself to negate a rule he himself made concerning a couple we now all know never existed.

    How Christians believe this garbage is beyond, no beneath me.

    September 18, 2012 at 10:52 pm |
  2. seesaw sallie

    wasn't he married to THE CHURCH?

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

      Yup! All twelve men strong.

      September 18, 2012 at 10:53 pm |
  3. Gary Vey

    Jesus was especially know for his after Supper routine... Jesus said, "Take my wife, please!" ala https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KVGVJGX–o0

    September 18, 2012 at 10:50 pm |
  4. fool

    Ha ha ha... now C N N got what it wants... It gets entertained now... ha ha ha... all fools...............

    September 18, 2012 at 10:50 pm |
  5. barbarianofgor

    Really amazing how much effort to conceal, to deny, that Jesus was married, very likely had children.... Not to mention "half brothers" for also his mom didn't exactly stop with him.

    Thus there is the "Sangreal" the bloodline of and the family of Jesus. In the King Arthur times the reason Sir Galahad was able to retrieve the Grail and use it to heal the Fisher King was that he was Sangreal.

    That, IMO, is the real miracle; God in the past had not been able to truly understand mankind. He wiped out the world, but then the world created from the "Moral" survivors quickly became as vile as the one preceding it. His chosen people failed him. But knowing essentially everything is different. So he limited himself and became Jesus, living as one of his creations. His former first angel had ruled the earth by then and wished only it's destruction so he had his own chosen people engineer his brutal torturous murder. His own people willingly put the curse of blood upon themselves; "His BLOOD be upon us and our Children's Children's Children, until the END of TIME!"

    The fallen angel did not wish to usurp anymore, he wished the end of everything. The primal beings remember when they were not created, when they were part of God. The goal was to cause him so much pain and grief that he would uncreate everything and start again.

    The miracle and lesson is that God lived as a man. He endured hunger, hardship, suffering, death. Fear, pain, uncertainty. And, despite the limited texts and obvious editing in the bible also endured the hazards and disappointments of real life.

    But, instead of the world's destruction he sacrificed himself for our sins. And not just his "Chosen people" but anyone who asks him for salvation. Even his "Chosen People" now "The Accursed Race" will find salvation if they only reach out to him.

    September 18, 2012 at 10:50 pm |
  6. Shawn

    How utterly pathetic. All it takes for religious "evidence" is for someone to write it, and it later be found. I wonder if mankind goes through an Apocalypse if a found Harry Potter book will spark a new religion...

    September 18, 2012 at 10:50 pm |
  7. JohnnyYuma61

    Jesus said unto them "Take my wife please". Whatever, I am a Christian, always will be, and if you comment, I will not cut your head off, (like others).

    September 18, 2012 at 10:50 pm |
  8. Jack Sparrow

    Jesus does have a Wife its called his congregation they are like his spiritual wife and he is the head.

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

      uh huh, medication time

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


      September 18, 2012 at 10:53 pm |
    • Adrien


      September 18, 2012 at 11:22 pm |
  9. Askmehow

    So we don't need our wedding rings. We can sell the gold and diamonds and feed the hungry children.

    September 18, 2012 at 10:49 pm |
  10. Godoflunaticscreation

    You people wont be laughing and making gay jokes when JC shows up. Jesus will come again and this time it's going to be all over your faces you filthy liberal educated non believers. How do you like that. He's gonna come all over your face. Thats not gay at all.

    September 18, 2012 at 10:48 pm |
    • Say it ain't so

      So all these gay jokes huh, Are you able to sit without feeling pain?

      September 18, 2012 at 10:59 pm |
  11. jesus

    cnn still suckin muhammed

    September 18, 2012 at 10:48 pm |
  12. Jerry

    Soon enough the LGBT community will be claiming Jesus' wife's name was "Steve".......

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

      I thought he had twelve "disciples" I mean partners.

      September 18, 2012 at 10:49 pm |
  13. Your Panties in Texas

    Jesus can have my wife. How soon can he be here to take her off of my hands?

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

      Too Funny!

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

      That even made my wife laugh

      September 18, 2012 at 10:55 pm |
    • Chris


      September 18, 2012 at 10:57 pm |
  14. Colin

    So Jesus had $ex, hey? Well, good for him. To be born for the sole purpose of being grotesquely executed by your sadistic ba.stard of a father would really suck. At least he got to enjoy his incarnation a little.

    September 18, 2012 at 10:48 pm |
  15. Greta

    I'm sure "gay marriage" will some how be worked in here as well. I see Satan's hand in this all.

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

      No, thats just insanity working it's way through your rotting brain.

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

      Sounds like something Satan would say. I stand by my post.

      September 18, 2012 at 10:57 pm |
    • John Proctor


      Do you float?

      September 18, 2012 at 11:03 pm |
  16. pavelbonev

    He could have said: "My wife would / should / will be..." for example.

    September 18, 2012 at 10:47 pm |
  17. you're a hick


    September 18, 2012 at 10:47 pm |
  18. KKaman

    Actually the script is referring "Jesus the plumber " not Jesus Christ, the God the Son incarnated. Professor need to find the missing pages...

    September 18, 2012 at 10:47 pm |
  19. ScottCA


    September 18, 2012 at 10:45 pm |
  20. Rdog

    All it said was "My wife..." ?? How convenient

    September 18, 2012 at 10:45 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.