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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. Dan586

    Mitt Romney being a Mormon believes he is going to be a God some day. Just think the U.S. could have its first God as a President. We already had the first African Amerian President and now this.

    September 19, 2012 at 12:11 am |
  2. Mike

    @POPE JOHN
    *Facepalm* White House will not take it down. You are mad because they found something to justify Jesus's existence.

    September 19, 2012 at 12:10 am |
  3. biglifter

    Cool

    September 19, 2012 at 12:09 am |
  4. Joe

    Jesus said to them, "My wife is a figment of your imagination – I am not married."

    September 19, 2012 at 12:08 am |
  5. ScottCA

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M6edqRgDYg0&w=640&h=360]

    Quite funny, too bad Colbert might actually be religious, in which case we all are laughing at him and not with him.

    September 19, 2012 at 12:08 am |
  6. Chull

    What it might really turn out to say is "Take my wife, please."

    September 19, 2012 at 12:08 am |
  7. Galaxy Prime

    Somebody scribbles on a piece of toilet paper that suggests jesus had a wife – great, now there are going to be thousands of religious crackpots claiming to be descendants of jesus. Articles like this is what make the religious nutjobs in the world not face the reality that there isn't, never was, and never will be a god sitting around in the clouds running the universe.

    September 19, 2012 at 12:06 am |
    • axolotl

      You miss the point that Jesus – the one we're talking about, as opposed to say ten thousand others of the same name at the time – may have and very probably did have a wife, which has nothing to do with him being a god. The two concepts are mutually exclusive.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:09 am |
    • Jeremiah Diehl

      He's not sitting in clouds, He's sitting on His throne!

      September 19, 2012 at 12:10 am |
  8. wmd

    He was married to Mary Magdalin.

    September 19, 2012 at 12:05 am |
    • klang

      I thought she was his mom

      September 19, 2012 at 12:09 am |
  9. Dan586

    Dam now we have to rewrite the Bible all over again.. You think someone as powerful has God would know these things.

    September 19, 2012 at 12:05 am |
  10. Joe

    What's written on the other side?

    September 19, 2012 at 12:05 am |
    • mike johnson

      .... I think it was a shopping list .. milk, eggs, ice cream .. etc...

      September 19, 2012 at 12:08 am |
  11. a slozomby

    and jesus sayeth "My wife is so fat!"
    and the crowd doth replied "how fat was she?"
    and all was good. amen.

    September 19, 2012 at 12:05 am |
  12. Haha Religion... What a joke

    And still... In the 21st century... People still believe in God... and Jesus Christ... And that he's our savior. Wow. Clearly our brain capacity to think outside what we were told growing up hasn't evolved. I don't live my life based on what a book written by morons said over two thousand years ago.

    September 19, 2012 at 12:05 am |
    • Jeremiah Diehl

      Seriously though, don't be surprised if Jesus quotes your own words to you on the day of Judgement. I know men have done alot of terrible things in the name of religion, but don't write off the claims of Jesus based on that. He died for everyone, including you! Just give it some serious thought. or even pray about it! Click on my name, check out my blog. If you have questions I'd be happy to help you with them. I don't want to see anyone perish.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:08 am |
    • axolotl

      If Jesus died for our sins (what sins, by the way? other than the ridiculous notion of "original sin") he didn't do a good job of it, did he? Or do you claim that the sins – so-called by people like yourself – of the 21st century are of less importance that whatever was considered sinful 2000 years ago?

      September 19, 2012 at 12:12 am |
  13. Humanist11

    Can you say BS?

    September 19, 2012 at 12:04 am |
  14. Martin

    The next paragraph quotes Jesus as saying "take my wife, please..."

    September 19, 2012 at 12:04 am |
  15. ScottCA

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

    September 19, 2012 at 12:04 am |
    • zeyn2010

      Talking snake was His first mistake :)) Anyway, what if there was a god(s) and they meant well and created us, gave us instructions on how to live, but couldn't stay with us, or were mortal... what if mankind distorted their message for benefit?? I feel as if we let them down, it makes me sad to see where humanity s going...

      September 19, 2012 at 12:14 am |
  16. mason

    We are in the last days, nothing has to surprise Christians. Pretty soon someone will come telling all that he is Jesus.So it is better to get prepared for that day.

    September 19, 2012 at 12:02 am |
    • bananaspy

      Quite a few men have tried to claim they are Jesus. The next one that comes along will be locked away in a looney bin with the rest, or have his own 2:00 A.M. telethon scheme.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:04 am |
  17. rationalist63

    The greatest man in human history arrives on earth. He cures the sick and raises dead men from their graves. He cures the blind and the lame. He is crucified and then rises from the dead! Yet outside of the bible there is virtually no historical record of the man! Seems a little hard to believe. 

    September 19, 2012 at 12:00 am |
    • Mars

      There were many historical records of Jesus life. They were so important that men of his time gathered them( at a time when many people didn't know how to write) and compiled them together into one large volume, and "published" it.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:59 am |
  18. wisdom4u2

    LOL!! What a pointless article. Don't 'cha think if Jesus had a wife it wouldn't take over 2000 years to prove it? I mean .... GEEZ .... the way people like to gossip. I know Jesus and His Daddy is cracking up over this bogus crap.

    September 19, 2012 at 12:00 am |
  19. emack06

    If anyone knows anything about the bible, Jesus Christ in particular, know that "My Wife" is an analogy for the Church.

    September 19, 2012 at 12:00 am |
    • axolotl

      There was no "church" when Jesus was alive. Jesus was Jewish, for one thing; the "church" you refer to didn't come along until later, when Saul (aka Paul) hijacked the early movement started by Jesus' brother James. Everyone knows that, of course, except for people who only get their religion from the bible.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:07 am |
    • Humanist11

      Your argument is paper thin and quite easily seen through. It is really entertaining listening to Christians come up with reasons why science seems to contradict the bible or how they twist biblical meaning to fit whatever story they are trying to sell. In all cases it comes down to a giant leap of faith required for the believer.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:13 am |
    • jean

      The church did not exist yet during Christ's lifetime. Perhaps you are referring to Paul's analogy? I think that many people believe the New Testament to be entirely attributable to Christ, not realizing that the words most likely spoken by Christ would fill but a few pages, and the rest is commentary.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:17 am |
  20. don

    if jesus was married.it should be in the bible already..theres no reason for the early church fathers to keep it as a secret , because it doesnt contradict anything in the OT if he was married..he wasnt thats the fact..his purpose was not to have wife and kids but to have a family thats far beyond human imagination and he did it perfectly.theres no body who ever changed the course of the world as jesus did.everything revolve and evolve on him..many are called, few are chosen..

    September 19, 2012 at 12:00 am |
    • Benjamin

      It contradicts a lot in the church actually. Bear in mind that the entire church structure currently is based around lots of powerful men at the top and a massive ban on both marriage and women having any part in that structure besides at low levels. Jesus having a wife would undo and toss out at least 1800 years of Catholic ways of handling the church. So they'd have every reason to want to hide it.

      Not saying that is or isn't the case, but it would be understandable.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:09 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.