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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. Royce

    So let me get this straight.........Jesus is coming back to life, from the dead, on clouds, with a bunch of angels, to rescue the christians, kill all the rest of us with torture, and then end the world.......is that accurate? Of course this is NOT accurate. The simple truth is that Jesus is NEVER coming back if he died previously. This is the one thing in life I can actually prove, it's scientific, unlike religion. I don't care if you don't like the message. You'll be happier with out that ball & chain of denial & guilt around your neck. It is a great evil to presume that pious hope is the same as wisdom. Any faith that requires torture and death for completion is wicked, including the Jesus myth. The entire Christian Bible can be summarized in one sentence: "A book promising eternal torture for those who dare to question God's unending love."

    September 18, 2012 at 11:46 pm |
    • Anon

      And yet it's something that Christians are completely oblivious about.

      September 18, 2012 at 11:50 pm |
  2. ScottCA

    religion summarized in 12 seconds.
    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6axdZAxyt2g&w=640&h=360]

    September 18, 2012 at 11:46 pm |
  3. John6:54

    Well, this quick article is devoid of full biblical scholarship. There are many ancient apocryphal writings which claim many things about Jesus, which are not be true as when compared with other scriptures or writings of the time. Also, for any good "Bible believing Christian", we all know that there is a strong symbolism of Christ as the bridegroom and the church as the bride. So "my wife" could simply be a reference to that very relationship......of course for non-believers, haters will be haters and try to twist this into what it is not. Oh yeah, for my Protestant brothers and sisters who claim Mary wasn't perpetually a virgin and had other kids....the reference to those who are not actual siblings as "brother" and "sister" was quite common in the times of Jesus & you can quickly find many passages which refute this common usage – which means the few verses Protestant claim to show Jesus had real siblings.....well not so fast there!

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

      Just amazing, John, thank you for that. Now I will be able to not care even more about such nonsense. Really, thank you.

      September 18, 2012 at 11:52 pm |
  4. CSX

    They already crucified him, Yet he lives.

    If the lost can prove he was married, then Jesus was a liar. And we are all doomed.

    September 18, 2012 at 11:45 pm |
  5. Chris

    I'm going to sleep now... all I want to say is FUUUUUCK all non-Christians!!!!!!!!

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

      Your mom gives hand jobs to amputees at the 7 11

      September 18, 2012 at 11:47 pm |
    • Anon

      How about a FUUUUUCK all Christards to you too.

      September 18, 2012 at 11:47 pm |
  6. Carole Clarke

    In the end it doesn't matter, only his ideas matter. He preached a radical philosphy of non-violence "turn the other cheek" and outwitted all but the last trap the Romans set for him "render unto Caesar". He willingly went to the cross to fulfill the sacrifice and it was the church founded in his name that took over the Roman Empire and exists there today. The man was unimportant next to his teachings.

    September 18, 2012 at 11:45 pm |
  7. Chris

    Wow I feel bad for many people here not ending up in kingdom of heaven and paradise....

    September 18, 2012 at 11:43 pm |
    • gerrfty

      You mean fantasy land, like Disney?

      September 18, 2012 at 11:44 pm |
    • larryb

      I feel bad that when you die I will never have the joy of seeing you realize there is no heaven...because you will be dead and nothing but dead

      September 18, 2012 at 11:47 pm |
    • NoTheism

      Chris, you shouldn't, actually... I feel bad that you think that there are such things. In fact, now I am slightly concerned about your mental welfare.

      September 18, 2012 at 11:48 pm |
  8. Professor Neil Thurman, UC Berkeley

    I am an ancient language expert. It says no such thing. This is a hoax (poorly executed at that) and does not even mention anyone's name and marriage. I'm always interested in theology finds, but CNN sinks to a new low with this.

    September 18, 2012 at 11:42 pm |
    • DC1973

      Odds that this thing is real are approximately 0 in infinity, true. But why don't you tell us what it does say, oh wise one?

      September 18, 2012 at 11:44 pm |
    • Jim Waltham

      Neil, I agree with you. We looked at this all afternoon. Clearly written recently and even a Freshman should have caught this.

      September 18, 2012 at 11:45 pm |
    • Jim Waltham

      DC1973, it is Hebrew and Greek. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greek_alphabet It's not "Coptic" or early Hebrew. You can clearly see ancient coptic here. Somone didn't do their homework. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coptic_alphabet

      September 18, 2012 at 11:49 pm |
    • 808dude

      Dr. Thurman, there is no evidence that i can find for your existence at UC Berkeley. Please provide your faculty link and cv so we know you are a real person. i call BS and will happily retract upon being proved wrong.

      September 18, 2012 at 11:54 pm |
    • Ben

      You sure about that Dr Neil? Your web page says you work in London:

      Department of Journalism
      City University
      Northampton Square
      London

      Google says you visited UC Berkeley 2009-2010

      September 18, 2012 at 11:59 pm |
  9. GOD BLESS CHRISTIANS

    CNN is insulting Christians every single day... unbelieable!

    September 18, 2012 at 11:42 pm |
    • NoTheism

      oh, do you not appreciate the fact that CNN tries to inform people about things that happen around the world and about what other people think?
      You think that what people think, when they don't agree with you, is insulting?
      Do you not like freedom of speech?

      September 18, 2012 at 11:44 pm |
  10. rich

    The evidence that Jesus existed as an historical figure is questionable at best. Everything about the dude is after the fact revisionist interpretations of who he may have been. Remember there were guys like Augustus, Nero and a host of other characters that were alive around that time for whom we have irrefutable testimonies in real-time.

    Paul was a master marketer who created a cult around sociological ideology rebutting Roman and Jewish clerical rule. That's it. He sold it, and a whole lot of people set reason aside and bought into it for what it offered – a nice fuzzy feeling inside. Ever since, it's been out of control.

    rich

    September 18, 2012 at 11:42 pm |
    • End Religion

      If we can't help the deluded who fall for Scientology, or the deluded who fall for that Mormon scam, then there's no hope to help the deluded that fall for christianity's lie. I guess all we can do is keep pulling them out of their burning building one at a time.

      September 18, 2012 at 11:47 pm |
    • z

      really, did you know he was named Saul of Tarsus? He went out to persecute Christians, he considered them as a cult. He originated from the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a high Pharisee. He was responsible for the death of the first Christian, Stephen. But on his way to persecute and execute other Christian, the risen Jesus met him on the road, and blinded him, and ask him why is he persecuting him? Read more and find out why he was named Paul.

      September 18, 2012 at 11:47 pm |
    • Royce

      Rich.......that was perfect! Have you ever wondered why all of the apostles betray and abandon Christ on the eve of his death? Here are 12 men who watched the God-Man perform hundreds, perhaps thousands, of miracles. Big miracles too! Miracles like...oh....walking on water, calming the elements with your voice, and raising the dead. Yet, we are to believe the very first time they are threatened, every last one says, "I never even knew the guy!!!!" This never happened because it is not human nature. Or it happened but the apostles never saw what we're told they saw (i.e; Miracles). How can we know this? Because you could not find 12 men who after seeing a man raise the dead even a single time, would ever renounce him. Nineteen year old soldiers die all the time. They never saw a miracle, but they stay on the gun, hold their positions, and often die doing so. Therefore you can't give us the old, "You don't know how scared you'd be!" That's correct but you don't know how brave I'd be either(men have endured extreme tortures for lesser reasons), and I assure you if I saw my leader raise the dead I wouldn't recant or back down. They could come to skin me alive and I'd stick to my story. The other argument is that they had to deny Christ because he foretold it....his prophesy was actually a command. This idea doesn't work either because it negates free will in man's heart. It would be the only time in the entire bible that mankind wanted to do righteousness but was made to do evil instead (by God) to enact God's will. The only time in history God robbed us of free will. That won't wotk....therefore this event of the apostles denying Jesus simply never occurred. Think it out.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:17 am |
  11. z

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BXif7BYMA3w&w=640&h=360]

    September 18, 2012 at 11:41 pm |
    • End Religion

      A likable fellow. The opening segment is basically one big circular argument based on "the more strongly you disregard fact and simply believe in what can't be factually proven, the better christian you are." He actually has the bal.ls to tell people who think they've lost their beliefs that they instead never really believed strongly enough to begin with.

      There was a 10-minute episode where the speaker basically explained away all of religion's misdeeds by telling the audience they need to say "i'm sorry" more often. Speaking of those naughty bits, he ended this segment with, "Don't confuse some of what happened with that history with the reality of what it means to know christ." This is the heart of religious moderation. Those naughty bits he speaks of were christians doing EXACTLY what their god told them to do, such as killing non-believers. To gloss over all that is an effort to moderate beliefs simply so the scam can continue in a secular world of laws where murder for religious reason is just as wrong as murder for no reason. While that is considerate, it simply doesn't jibe with a god that has given his word and expects you to follow it. Ignoring or moderating his word is simply to have convinced yourself its OK not to listen to your god or to cherry pick the parts of his word that are suitable to you.

      In the next segment he helpfully explains why god is a loving god even though the bible makes him seem barbaric. As it turns out, god is special and being barbaric is the only way for him to truly show he's merciful, and therefore loves you. LOL... W.T.F? It's funny that he begins this segment saying its a tough argument that every atheist makes, that their "loving god" is really barbaric. Of course his "explanation" isn't one.

      And to close he let's you know that if you've viewed p0rn for more than a year you have a problem.

      September 19, 2012 at 1:02 am |
  12. Woody

    If they discover the rest of the text, it may read something like "(My wife) is a real bi-tch. She never stops ragging on me. Sometimes I think I think I should go out and get myself crucified. It would probably be a lot less painful than to be married to her. I was going to turn her into a pillar of salt, but that's just so old school".

    September 18, 2012 at 11:41 pm |
    • Royce

      Pillar of salt!...........I'm dying over here of laughter. That was a good one.....

      September 19, 2012 at 12:27 am |
  13. MikeB59

    Jesus said to them, "My wife, take her please."

    September 18, 2012 at 11:41 pm |
    • DC1973

      Because his real last name was Dangerfield. 😀

      September 18, 2012 at 11:45 pm |
  14. Frankie

    I prefer the guy that just hung out and partied with a bunch of dudes.

    September 18, 2012 at 11:41 pm |
  15. Dan

    2,000 year old National Enquirer. I guess in two thousand years advanced people will think aliens abducted us on a regular basis.

    September 18, 2012 at 11:40 pm |
  16. Andre Williams

    Interesting wow this article makes front page. If you were to read the headline, you might think this was actually true. But of course, if you read in entire you get a completely different perspective, the perspective of the expert. This is a very subtle attack on Christianity.

    September 18, 2012 at 11:40 pm |
    • Barb

      How is suggesting that Jesus had a wife an attack on Christianity? It's been a popular debate, even among many religious people, for quite some time. I think it would be better to hear he was married than it would be to be told he had a lover.

      September 18, 2012 at 11:44 pm |
    • Andre Williams

      Because it goes against all reliable historical accounts of Jesus and his claims.

      September 18, 2012 at 11:47 pm |
    • End Religion

      The existence of Jesus goes against all reliable historical accounts.

      September 19, 2012 at 1:03 am |
  17. Super Jesus

    Jesus had a super baby that has wings and tentacles.

    September 18, 2012 at 11:39 pm |
  18. C

    It's great to see a bunch of people arguing over what has been brainwashed into them with absolutely no proof of life after death, miracles, prophets or any notion of what the "true" religion is. There isn't any proof of who God is, if he exists, if Jesus, Mohammad, Abraham, etc...actually ever even existed. The Bible, Koran, Torah were written, by men, and edited, and fully capable of being edited for their own purposes. Organized religion today is the source of war, division and abuse. If Jesus was a real man, and lived today, and saw how the churches have exploited his moral teachings to their own agendas, he would be distraught.

    September 18, 2012 at 11:39 pm |
    • Andre Williams

      yet you are posting here as well 🙂

      September 18, 2012 at 11:41 pm |
    • gerrfty

      Well put

      September 18, 2012 at 11:43 pm |
    • Hachee

      well put

      September 18, 2012 at 11:45 pm |
  19. Daniel

    I thought Jesus gay?

    September 18, 2012 at 11:39 pm |
    • End Religion

      He probably was, but with a dad like that he had to stay deep in the closet. Jesus is that effeminate guy at the party with his ugly wife in tow. She's so ugly she's glad to have anyone as a husband. "He wouldn't have married me if he was gay." And Jesus flits around the party, appearing to be the only one who doesn't know he's gay. But he knows. It's just that daddy can be cruel. He already crucified him for no good reason. What do you think he'll do when he finds out junior is a rump ranger?

      September 19, 2012 at 1:10 am |
  20. Jew

    Who cares if he was married or not? Why is this in first page?!

    September 18, 2012 at 11:38 pm |
    • diddy done it

      Because, God.

      September 18, 2012 at 11:38 pm |
    • diddy done it

      And therefore Jesus, its in the bible.

      September 18, 2012 at 11:39 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.