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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.

Read this story in Arabic

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. Chris

    Whether or not Jesus was married (and it would have been considered very peculiar in that time for a man of his age to be unwed), it changes absolutely nothing about him nor his teachings. The son of God he may have been, but he too was also a man of flesh and blood. Though I do not wear my faith on my sleeve as many do and consider it something private, every day I am grateful.

    September 19, 2012 at 12:28 am |
    • Athy

      Grateful for what?

      September 19, 2012 at 12:34 am |
  2. fsmgroupie

    are there any gods who are truly gay? i need a gay god (pbuh)!!!!

    September 19, 2012 at 12:27 am |
  3. ScottCA

    Well Said Hitchens and very true in regards to the anti Islamic movie reaction
    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J7aS7m3odqI&w=640&h=360]

    September 19, 2012 at 12:26 am |
  4. Chef Sun

    "My wife" and that's it?????? No other text before or after it? What sort of shoddy reporting is CNN's standard. Do they hire reporters and editors out of elementary school?

    September 19, 2012 at 12:25 am |
    • wisdom4u2

      Exactly!!

      September 19, 2012 at 12:32 am |
    • Rod C. Venger

      I wonder if they realize, or forgot to tell us, that the letters were written by more than one person? Ooops. I suspect that while the papryus itself may be authentic, perhaps the writing on it is not. Just a guess.

      September 19, 2012 at 1:33 am |
  5. MashaSobaka

    Can we please stop acting like it matters? Religions will keep preaching whatever is convenient. Evidence does not matter to them. When enough followers of a certain religion abandon the faith because of its backwardness, THEN religion will change its ideas. It's not a matter of truth. It's a matter of survival.

    September 19, 2012 at 12:24 am |
    • wisdom4u2

      If it doesn't matter then why are you commenting?

      September 19, 2012 at 12:34 am |
    • ViperGuy

      Religion has mislead people, even the book of Revelation showed this would happen. John saw a time in the future, our time, when people would be mislead and when politics and religion would mix and be used for selfish gain. Religions don't want people to know this. That's why the Catholic religion doesn't encourage their people to read the Bible, because if they did, they would see how the Vatican has lived in shameless luxury at the expense of the people. The Pope is the epitome of this, running around in his popemobile, teaching nothing to the people, all the while spending their money as he ravishes himself with political figures of the world. Jesus never once got involved in politics and neither did his disciples. Almost all religions are to blame for this. One day the governments will realize that religion is the cause of all wars. Then, they will crush all religions and yet weep at her demise. Only then will God say enough is enough and establish his Kingdom, that Jesus preached about, right here on the earth. (Rev. 18:2-10) In the meantime, he sits patiently, as people mock him... yes mock him the way the Jews mocked his very son. People do it today, no different from before, they mock his servants and they mock him to his very face. But he is patient with you because he does not desire any to be destroyed, but his patience will soon run out.

      September 19, 2012 at 1:03 am |
  6. ScottCA

    Well said Hitch. Well said as always.
    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ykRVUk7zAFc&w=640&h=360]

    September 19, 2012 at 12:22 am |
    • Low n slow

      Relevance?

      September 19, 2012 at 12:26 am |
    • ScottCA

      Religion is the relevancy. It is all utter madness and imaginative fantasy. Just because one wishes tings to be true, does not make it so. There is no evidence to support the existence of god.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:28 am |
    • Low n slow

      Scot, I understand you have a deep and abiding hatred for religion, but this video has nothing to do with the subject.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:31 am |
    • ScottCA

      This article is about Christianity, the video is a critique of Christianity and questions its lack of morality. I believe its profoundly on the subject.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:37 am |
  7. CKing

    http://fivedoves.blogspot.com/

    September 19, 2012 at 12:22 am |
  8. Sean

    I love how I had to go searching the net to figure out how old this fragment was... It was written in the fourth-century.

    September 19, 2012 at 12:22 am |
  9. Paul

    They left something out:
    "King has been quick to add this discovered text 'does not, however, provide evidence that the historical Jesus was married...that will depend on how much the Vatican is going to pay me to say he was not.'"

    September 19, 2012 at 12:21 am |
  10. brandi

    The news.There is really not much more to say. Latest news article is – a finding of a piece of old paper written in an old Egyptian language that might say Jesus had a wife? This is what I have to say – The church is the "bride" of Christ and Christ is coming for his "bride." Prepare your self for no eye has seen, no ear has heard and no mind has conceived what God has in store for those who love him.

    September 19, 2012 at 12:21 am |
    • ViperGuy

      The Church is Babylon the Great as referenced in Revelation. The Bride are the chosen anointed ones.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:25 am |
  11. Zoten

    Who cares if he was married, if you haven't even answered the question of if he actually existed or not?

    September 19, 2012 at 12:20 am |
    • JamesH28

      lol you'd think that would be the important question. No no, let's first figure out if he was married, then we'll work on figuring out his hobbies, then maybe his style preferences and eventually we'll get to the question of whether or not he actually existed.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:32 am |
    • ViperGuy

      Too many eye witnesses to dispute whether Jesus existed or not. The fact that 99% of the Church's today are liars and crooks does not mean the Bible isn't a factual history book. Four writers saw him firsthand and wrote what they saw. Other historical findings support that he existed. Religion has mislead people, Revelation showed this would happen. John saw a time in the future, our time, when people would be mislead and when politics and religion would mix and be used for selfish gain. But not for long. (Rev. 18:2-10)

      September 19, 2012 at 12:44 am |
  12. Mohammad Asad Khan

    Jesus PBUH, Our prophet married or not is not question. Follow teachings do not discuss if he is married or not. All prophets came on earth to bring social reforms, peace and humanity. And worship one GOD.

    September 19, 2012 at 12:19 am |
    • Veritas

      He was not a prophet. He was the Son of God and was God incarnate. He was (and is) God.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:24 am |
    • ViperGuy

      Jesus was the Greatest Prophet who ever lived. But he certainly did not marry anyone. There was no mention in the Bible of him ever of him having a wife on the earth. It would have conflicted with his purpose which was to go a preach the kingdom of God, his father in Heaven. And Jesus was not God, for he clearly said on more than one occasion, the "Father is greater than I am." (John 14:28)

      September 19, 2012 at 12:31 am |
    • mythbasters

      @veritas, shut up.

      September 20, 2012 at 5:19 pm |
  13. midgick

    In ancient Israel, men referred to their female companion as their wife. This as the above stated that there is no proof he was actually married, as in Jewish law, to this woman is probably correct.. Did Jesus have a particular female companion, yes I believe so. Even though he is considered The Son of God to Christians, but he was a charismatic male and probably attracted women like rock stars do today.

    September 19, 2012 at 12:17 am |
  14. Noah Pologies

    To Rationalist63: Virtually no historical record of Jesus outside the Bible? Then you've never heard of a historian of his day, named Josephus. And since you are not well-read on the subject, I am not referring to any of the Josephs mentioned in the Bible or any writer who may have had a hand in writing anything in the Bible. If you want to appear to be "rational", you should do a little research on the subject you are opining on first.

    September 19, 2012 at 12:17 am |
    • Avery

      If you do a little research into that reference ostensibly by Josephus you will find that it doesn't support your case.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:19 am |
    • Fn0rdz

      Noah Pologies: As someone else said, if YOU would do some research into what Josephus actually said (as opposed to what someone added later or "corrected" him on), you'd see that it doesn't support your case at all.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:23 am |
  15. Skim Bob

    OK, I looked at the link someone posted about coptic and greek and hebrew. they are right. This is not ancient coptic. You can search for yourself by searching google or wiki. search ancient coptic alphabet. They have all samples. same thing in greek, same in hebrew. Someone is pulling our leg with this bogus script.

    September 19, 2012 at 12:16 am |
    • Armchair Scholar

      The script is definitely Coptic.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:35 am |
  16. magyart

    CORRECTION: Jesus said, "Take my wife, please."

    September 19, 2012 at 12:16 am |
    • Low n slow

      Between the mentally masterbatory atheists and the smug little fundies, you are a breath of fresh air. 1,000 karma points for the laugh of the day.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:29 am |
  17. Bob

    If you look into your bathroom mirror with the lights off and say Mary Magdalene three times....Jesus shows up and steals your soul......Muhahahaha!!

    Seriously people. Grow up. You are too old to believe in imaginary friends and fairy tales.

    September 19, 2012 at 12:16 am |
  18. Brian

    The "lost" books of the Bible were "lost" for a reason.

    September 19, 2012 at 12:14 am |
    • JosephPreistlyUU

      not to mention that if Jesus did have a wife, you'd think Matthew, Mark Luke or John would have mentioned it.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:17 am |
    • Rasheed

      To JosephPriestly: Interesting point. Actually, a man who claimed to be the Second Coming of Jesus, who went by the name Ahmad (hence, the name of the group he founded – Ahmadiyya Muslim Community) also claimed that Jesus had a wife. It's a very interesting theory that when Jesus replied questions of his desciples about where he was going and he said to the lost sheep, he actually went to Kashmir, India, through Afghanistan, along with his mother. An Afghan tribe is named Isa-Khel, or descendants of Jesus, and a tomb in Srinagar, Kashmir, is named Yuz Asaf, meaning Jesus, believed to be a prince of earlier times. Youtube "tomb of jesus" and you'll be watching for a while.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:43 am |
  19. Ann2323

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bride_of_Christ

    I thought that had already been referenced in the Bible that his wife was the church...? Is this really news right now?! Come on CNN...

    September 19, 2012 at 12:14 am |
  20. Reality

    Married? So what? It does not change the following:

    The Apostles' Creed 2012 (updated by yours truly based on the studies of NT historians and theologians of the past 200 years)

    Should I believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
    and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
    human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven?????

    I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
    preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
    named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
    girl named Mary. (Some say he was a mamzer.)

    Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
    the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,

    He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
    a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of
    Jerusalem.

    Said Jesus' story was embellished and "mythicized" by
    many semi-fiction writers. A bodily resurrection and
    ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
    Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
    grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
    and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
    called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.

    Amen
    (References used are available upon request.)

    September 19, 2012 at 12:11 am |
    • wisdom4u2

      LOL. I wish I could see your ignorant face when Jesus will ask you why He should let you into the pearly gates. That will be funny as hell... don't 'cha think? LOL

      September 19, 2012 at 12:21 am |
    • Reality

      JC's family and friends had it right 2000 years ago ( Mark 3: 21 "And when his friends heard of it, they went out to lay hold on him: for they said, He is beside himself.")

      Said passage is one of the few judged to be authentic by most contemporary NT scholars. e.g. See Professor Ludemann's conclusion in his book, Jesus After 2000 Years, p. 24 and p. 694.

      Actually, Jesus was a bit "touched". After all he thought he spoke to Satan, thought he changed water into wine, thought he raised Lazarus from the dead etc. In today's world, said Jesus would be declared legally insane.

      Or did P, M, M, L and J simply make him into a first century magic-man via their epistles and gospels of semi-fiction? Many contemporary NT experts after thorough analyses of all the scriptures go with the latter magic-man conclusion with J's gospel being mostly fiction.

      Obviously, today's followers of Paul et al's "magic-man" are also a bit on the odd side believing in all the Christian mumbo jumbo about bodies resurrecting, and exorcisms, and miracles, and "magic-man atonement, and infallible, old, European/Utah white men, and 24/7 body/blood sacrifices followed by consumption of said sacrifices. Yummy!!!!

      So why do we really care what a first century CE, illiterate, long-dead, preacher/magic man or his followers would do or say?

      September 19, 2012 at 8:37 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.