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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. OOO

    "This fragment, this new piece of papyrus evidence, does not prove that (Jesus) was married, nor does it prove that he was not married."

    Look folks... it doesn't even proove he existed.

    September 18, 2012 at 11:24 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      You just summed up this entire article in those few phrases. CNN should hire you.

      September 18, 2012 at 11:26 pm |
    • larryb

      and neither does the bible

      September 18, 2012 at 11:33 pm |
  2. C

    Boy, CN3 is on a rampage today against Republicans and Christians. Wondering how long they plan on keeping the 15 Romney articles all saying the same thing and this story side by side. It is really sad how bias CN3 is against us.

    September 18, 2012 at 11:24 pm |
    • bugmetoo

      So sad. To CNN there is no other news.

      September 18, 2012 at 11:30 pm |
  3. norman johnson

    He is His Job to save you from hell . good thing He did not tell us about what His wife 's name is. whew . i am happy that He has wife and no children . She knew that He teaches people about God's words , healed people 's sick , blind , deaf ,crippled etc to heal and walked on sea ,,,, more reasons for His goal to save you from hell. He told her that He ll have death sentence therefore He and His wife did not want to have children ..
    hell is no party ... Fact lucifer and devils have no horn on their head . they knew they ll go hell for sure they want you to go hell with them Be careful and better stop worship them but there is many false prophets on our sin earth . Watch out better pray before go bed .. Good luck to all from norman AMEN

    September 18, 2012 at 11:24 pm |
    • Athy

      Wow, Normy. You write like a typical retarded bible babbler. Get some help from grownups, man.

      September 18, 2012 at 11:39 pm |
  4. Bishop Hairy Palms

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MtX_R-V5Cws&w=640&h=360]

    September 18, 2012 at 11:23 pm |
    • ScottCA

      This video is one of my favorites thanks for posting it.

      September 18, 2012 at 11:27 pm |
  5. Reality Promised

    Jesus, peace be upon him, did not have a wife during his initial prophet hood. After he descends in the future and destroys the Antichrist or ad-Dajjal, Jesus will marry for the very first time. Under the guidance of Jesus, there will be tranquility and piety among all nations during a certain number of years. Jesus will later die for the first time as all must eventually before the horn sounds and resurrection arrives for us all. No one remembers life in the womb, so death will literally reveal the truth of what one ignored. This is God's ultimate justice for each soul.

    September 18, 2012 at 11:23 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      Thats not what the All Father said.

      September 18, 2012 at 11:25 pm |
    • Just Me

      Aren't you full of lies! The bride of Jesus Christ is the church and has NOTHING to do with a woman.

      September 18, 2012 at 11:25 pm |
    • Anon

      No wonder priests have to emulate an imaginary forever alone zombie jew.

      September 18, 2012 at 11:29 pm |
    • ScottCA

      Jesus sure did like the wh0res, he had it bad for Prost itutes.

      September 18, 2012 at 11:42 pm |
  6. 23TE

    I never cease to be amazed that so called "intellectuals" continue to cite horrible deeds done in the name of Christianity as an argument against its truth. If I murder someone as I'm screaming, "Jesus is Lord", does that say anything about Jesus. No. Of course everything he did and taught was counter to it. So irrational. By the way, this silly argument just about sums up Sam Harris' whole body of work

    September 18, 2012 at 11:21 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      Those horrible things are condoned in the bible so quit using that bs excuse.

      September 18, 2012 at 11:23 pm |
    • joeymom

      Really? in the New Testament? Where?

      September 18, 2012 at 11:44 pm |
  7. Just Me

    Wow, Jesus said, "My wife"......that's evidence that he was married. (eyes rolling)

    September 18, 2012 at 11:20 pm |
    • ScottCA

      You believe in the existence of an all powerful telepathic psychopathic genocidal, infanticidal murderous, rapist, god with no evidence at all to prove its existence. And now suddenly you are asking for evidence to prove someone was simply married?

      September 18, 2012 at 11:26 pm |
    • Ken

      Well, it's more evidence than what his opinion about gays was, and look at how people just "know" what that opinion was anyway.

      September 18, 2012 at 11:28 pm |
    • Just Me

      Hahaha, wow, what a true stupid and foolish atheist!!!! So you accuse God of this and there is no God to you??

      HOW MORE STUPID CAN YOU GET?

      September 18, 2012 at 11:28 pm |
    • Just Me

      Ken – Christ clearly gave his opinion about gay people. He said, from the beginning it is so.God created them both male and female and what God has put together, let no man asunder.

      September 18, 2012 at 11:31 pm |
  8. thebeast

    How bout' the church was his ball and chain...or just like he was married to the church...I mean cmon' he was God so he has to have the same sense of humor that we do now...

    September 18, 2012 at 11:19 pm |
    • Just Me

      LOL, RICHARD DAWKINS DESTROYS THE 10 COMMENTS???

      THAT IS THE FUNNIEST THING I HAVE SEEN OR HEAR, THANKS FOR THE LAUGH!

      September 18, 2012 at 11:21 pm |
  9. ScottCA

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qoNqSrA7Mos&w=640&h=360]

    September 18, 2012 at 11:17 pm |
  10. netanyahu

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=quTXwTjgfc0&w=640&h=360]

    September 18, 2012 at 11:17 pm |
  11. Ryan

    At some point I'm sure they'll find another "scroll" stating that Jesus was gay and married to another guy.

    September 18, 2012 at 11:17 pm |
    • Eric

      Right, that's about as likely as your being an expert on ancient scrolls from the middle east.

      September 18, 2012 at 11:25 pm |
  12. joeymom

    Folks, we have NO IDEA what this text says! We have a few words on a scrap. The next words could be almost ANYTHING... my wife... "... should I ever have one..."? And if it is a Gnostic text, it is pretty well known that those circle believed he was married to the Magdalene, so that would not be anything new, either.

    September 18, 2012 at 11:16 pm |
    • Ken

      The Gnostics put words in Jesus' mouth based on what THEY believed... just like all the other gospel writers, right?

      September 18, 2012 at 11:19 pm |
    • joeymom

      Yes. They did. Your point?

      September 18, 2012 at 11:47 pm |
  13. netanyahu

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4aLTi8gveTY&w=640&h=360]

    September 18, 2012 at 11:15 pm |
  14. Robert

    This is just more CNN bull trying to muddy the waters about Jesus. They will give a huge headline to something that has virtually no credibility and then ignore the things that are credible, as long as it serves their purpose of practicle athiesm (i.e., pushing the blessed creator of the universe to the outskirts of the universe that he himself created. And why? Because the editors of CNN are absolute wretches.

    September 18, 2012 at 11:14 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      Oh ya, CNN will muddy the waters. Not the hundreds of other revisions your bible rag has been through, by the elite and corrupt.

      September 18, 2012 at 11:15 pm |
    • Thugvon

      You are correct...everybody know jesus was a gay man always hanging around dudes.

      September 18, 2012 at 11:18 pm |
    • joeymom

      What are you talking about? A piece of papyrus was found and translated. CNN reported that it was found and translated. The scholar who worked on it even warns everyone not to get in a twist about it, it is a few words on a scrap, we don't have enough to even know what is going on or being discussed. It is likely to be a Gnostic text, anyway. Did you actually read the article? Nothing there about skewing.

      September 18, 2012 at 11:19 pm |
    • Ken

      Robert
      It's news, out there for all to report. There is no CNN conspiracy to make up stories like this. Here is Fox News coverage of it if you prefer.

      http://www.foxnews.com/science/2012/09/18/harvard-scholar-discovery-suggests-jesus-had-wife/

      September 18, 2012 at 11:24 pm |
    • Geoff Hamer

      Come on, give CNN break. They are just reporting on a piece of text that (barely) suggests that Jesus might have been married.

      It's not like they are suggesting he was capable of performing MAGIC TRICKS, or anything silly like that.

      September 18, 2012 at 11:30 pm |
  15. netanyahu

    Jesus was a completed jew. Practicing jews after jesus are anti-christ in nature and belief.

    September 18, 2012 at 11:14 pm |
    • sbp

      Is that why they have horns?

      September 18, 2012 at 11:18 pm |
    • ScottCA

      And yet the Jewish people very likely the most intelligent people on the planet, there is quite some evidence of a higher than average intellect amongst Anasazi Jews.

      There is no evidence of any god existing, no evidence whatsoever.

      September 18, 2012 at 11:38 pm |
  16. ScottCA

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HDT03RjHxbg&w=640&h=360]

    September 18, 2012 at 11:13 pm |
  17. Aculeius 13

    I'm a little confused as to why this isn't considered "evidence" that Jesus was married. Of course it's "evidence." Anything tending to show that a fact is more or less likely than it would otherwise appear is "evidence." It's not proof by any means; what the text actually says and the context in which it's said isn't clear. It could indeed be some sort of metaphor for the church, or a parable referring to a hypothetical wife. And even if it's meant literally, the fact that someone writing a century or more later described Jesus as having a wife doesn't mean he had one. But this fragment certainly makes it appear more likely that Jesus was married than it would if it said, 'Jesus said, "if I had a wife, which I don't"...' So it's clearly "evidence."

    But this raises an interesting question which came up a few years ago, when they unearthed a tomb that might have belonged to Jesus' family, containing an ossuary with his name on it. For some people, there couldn't be any question of an actual tomb of Jesus with his remains. Some people, including those who don't necessarily insist that every word in the Bible is to be interpreted literally, nonetheless felt that it somehow would destroy their faith if Jesus left mortal remains.

    So the question I would pose is, why should it affect anyone's faith? If one truly is a disciple of Jesus, and believes in his teachings, then what does it matter if he left a body, or a widow, or a child? None of those things had anything to do with what he's supposed to have said or done. None of those would affect the validity of his faith or his message to humanity. If one is only willing to believe in peace, love, and brotherhood, if Jesus was insubstantial and had no earthly relations, wife, or children, and unwilling to follow those teachings if he lived as a mortal man subject to the desires of mankind, then what kind of faith is it?

    Surely those teachings are equally valid no matter who originated them, whether he be god, man, or any combination of the two. I wonder whether someone who follows these teachings only because he believes them to be God's will truly believes in the teachings, or is merely being hypocritical and following them out of fear or blind obedience. That would be an exceptionally weak faith, compared to that of someone who believes in peace, love, and brotherhood for their own sake, whether or not they represent the words of man or God.

    September 18, 2012 at 11:12 pm |
    • joeymom

      As a scholar, we do not have enough of the text to consider it "evidence." The next words could just as well have been "... is a figment of your imagination" or "is the Community, and you are all brothers and sisters within it." Hence, it is not considered to be scholarly evidence of marriage. We need more information to consider it as evidence one way or the other.

      September 18, 2012 at 11:22 pm |
    • Tom

      It is evidence that is relevant only towards the probability that some early Christians in the mid-second century believed Jesus had a wife. If it was dated closer to the early first century, then it would be more relevant to whether or not Jesus had a wife.

      September 18, 2012 at 11:28 pm |
    • Laurie

      So very well and wonderfully stated. I couldn't agree more.
      Thank you!

      September 18, 2012 at 11:38 pm |
    • Aculeius 13

      But that's the thing; the best reason for early Christians to believe that Jesus was married would have been if he was; and if he followed Jewish tradition of the time then he probably would have been. If early Christians believed that he was married, but later Christians did not, what changed? Were there new discoveries that have since been forgotten? Or was the fact simply ignored because it was deemed irrelevant, unimportant, or perhaps inconsistent with a particular image that the Church fathers sought to portray?

      Of course it's impossible to answer those questions. But the only natural inference one can draw the words "my wife" spoken by anyone, with no other context, is that the person speaking them was married. It's certainly not the only reason one can imagine for speaking those words; for instance we've said them hundreds of times in this discussion without any intention of referring to our own spouses. But it's much more likely that a reference to "my wife" means the speaker's actual wife than a metaphorical reference to someone else.

      Of course we have to bear in mind that the speaker in question was known for speaking in parables... and of course we don't know that these are actually Jesus' words. After all, it was common in the past to invent speeches for historical figures based on what they "ought" to have said or "probably" did say. An author other than one of Jesus' actual disciples might have invented the detail for nothing more than dramatic effect.

      But just because it's possible that the words "my wife" didn't refer to an actual woman doesn't mean that it's likely. The best explanation is still either that Jesus was married or that he was thought to have been married (and the best reason for people thinking that would be that he was). So while there could be many explanations for these words, the fact that they're attributed to him in what really is a very early text is still "evidence." The fact that he either said them or that they were attributed to him at a very early date makes it appear more probable that he was married than it would seem if the passage did not exist. That's really all that it takes to be "evidence."

      September 18, 2012 at 11:45 pm |
    • John

      Thank you for leaving a reply without a hateful or sarcastic tone to it. Seriously, thank you. You took exactly what I was thinking and put it into words.

      September 18, 2012 at 11:59 pm |
  18. ScottCA

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

    September 18, 2012 at 11:11 pm |
    • Anon

      This one also explains the idiocy known as faith.
      [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qp4WUFXvCFQ&w=640&h=360]

      September 18, 2012 at 11:14 pm |
    • ScottCA

      Thanks Anon I hadn't seen that one yet. Good presentation.

      September 18, 2012 at 11:20 pm |
    • ScottCA

      Anon, this one is short but also good one on faith and how it can tell us nothing about morality.
      [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LdBJL1c7xUI&w=640&h=360]

      September 18, 2012 at 11:22 pm |
  19. YERDADDY99

    Chrisians are arrogant....if he had a wife....so what...he was a greaat man and Gods messenger.....love him and realize that we are all humans.......love- a Muslim who revers Issa PBUH.....Jews and atheists are the ones who hate him

    September 18, 2012 at 11:11 pm |
    • Anon

      The imaginary motherfu*ker didn't even exist. Get that though your religious skull.

      September 18, 2012 at 11:13 pm |
    • Kuba

      I feel your pain , man -Chrisians are terrible , not any better than Christians. Anyway, I'm all ready with that cross burning shlt tonight.We just finished all the beer and watch all episodes of here comes honey boo boo.Where is you ?

      September 18, 2012 at 11:21 pm |
  20. "He's Dead Jim."

    Sure. I guess the other 5000 god's of this world had wives too.

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

      Usually they did, as male and female together is common metaphor for being complete.

      September 18, 2012 at 11:23 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.