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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. Mike

    One could also say the text is silent on Jesus' marital status because to state that he was would portray him to be a normal human being and just another one of many preachers that existed during that time instead of the "Son of God". To admit that Jesus was married to Mary Magdelene and she was elevated to deciple status would also have caused conflict within the male dominated world of Christianity and the Catholic church. Do we really believe it to be coincidence that the authors of the Bible made it a point to include the story of his birth, family and childhood and then skip to the last 3 years of his life with no mention of the years in between?

    Given all that science has proven about the universe, are we still to believe that God created everything in seven days? How is the intelligence of the human race suppose to evolve and progress when so much of it insists on believing the fairy tales written by MEN centuries ago and still forced upon us to this day?

    At what point do we understand and admit that many of the greatest atocities in the history of the world have taken place in the name of religion and God. At what point do we understand and admit that we, ourselves and not some divine power are in control of our own destiny?

    September 19, 2012 at 12:43 am |
    • Timothy

      I'm no preacher, but even I know the passage chapter says a "Day" is not a 24 hour period but an age. You should took a long time to write of that bs

      September 19, 2012 at 12:47 am |
    • Low n slow

      Again with the "worste atrocities" silliness. Have you ever taken a serious history course, or do you just believe anything that reenforces your belief system?

      September 19, 2012 at 12:50 am |
    • genesiscode

      You may wanna watch the Genesis Code movie. A little bit boring and complicated, but it does make sense that 6 days = 16 billions years.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:57 am |
  2. Low n slow

    Religion is the cause for most wars and violence, if you subtract all the wars that were caused by greed, nationalism or ideology. Atheists only believe what is proven.

    September 19, 2012 at 12:42 am |
    • ScottCA

      Atheists only believe to the degree that evidence makes it likely, we never believe anything to 100% that would be idiocy.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:44 am |
    • Low n slow

      So all atheists think as one in your mind? I've heard many claim tha religion has been the cause of most wars and violence, when even a high school level of history education proves this to be patently false. Yet it get recycled over and over.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:46 am |
    • JT

      Religions don't start wars. People do.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:48 am |
    • myway

      If something is proven you don't need to believe it. It's self evident. Wars are not caused by religions. Religions are often used to define ethnical differences or interests. Religions can be used to claim territories. Jerusalem is claimed by jews, muslims and christians as holy ground. If 3 factions claim the same piece of land, that's grounds for war with or without religion. Leaders cleverly use religion motivating their subjects to wage war on their behalf. See muslim extremists.

      September 19, 2012 at 1:43 am |
  3. ScottCA

    religious indoctrination is child abuse.
    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4zZytbe1a9s&w=640&h=360]

    September 19, 2012 at 12:42 am |
    • Mcquire

      That's a Jewish kid, Oh Vey

      September 19, 2012 at 12:58 am |
  4. Francisco

    People are so ignorant the way they interpret things. Jesus always named his church as in a wife manner. Jesus in a few places of the scriptures describes the church as his wife. Plain and simple. It is considered in many places as "the Bride of Christ". There is even a parable called "the Ten Virgins" that makes this true. Read Matthew 25:1-13.

    If you guys notice the church is always in a female sense. In apocalypse the name Church is symbolized as Woman.

    SO NO, JESUS WAS NOT MARRIED. If Jesus was married in some way, don't you think we would at least get a hint in all of the gospels? In any of the books in the New Testament? Jesus did not have a WIFE. THE CHURCH IS THE BRIDE OF CHRIST. Jesus Christ is MARRIED to the church. It's symbolic.

    People can try all they want to put Jesus and the truth down. But the bible always explains itself. And there is an answer for every idiotic interpretations like this.

    September 19, 2012 at 12:40 am |
    • Ben

      He always called the church his "bride," never his "wife." That's why this discovery is notable

      September 19, 2012 at 12:41 am |
    • darbydog

      Well said, Amen

      September 19, 2012 at 12:43 am |
    • Stephen

      The bible was written by men. They decided what would and would not be included in it. They did this to suit their needs at the time. The bible explains and proves nothing.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:43 am |
    • Low n slow

      Ben, I very much doubt he ever used the word wife or bride, as he didn't sleek English.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:44 am |
    • David

      Revelation 21:9 – Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and spoke with me, saying, “Come here, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb."

      September 19, 2012 at 12:45 am |
    • Ben

      Well of course I'm referring to the equivalent Aramaic/Greek terms. Admittedly I'm not nearly educated enough to know these

      September 19, 2012 at 12:46 am |
    • Low n slow

      Ben, neither am I. The article is giving us a translation. We. Have no idea which it even says.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:48 am |
    • Joe B-b-b-b-bob

      Thank you, Francisco, for your expert, indeed, unassailable, pronouncement on the matter. It's like God is speaking through you (or at least you think He is).

      September 19, 2012 at 12:48 am |
    • Ben

      True low and slow, but the scholars with the appropriate knowledge say that this is the first reference to Jeus' "wife"

      September 19, 2012 at 12:50 am |
    • Francisco

      Ben I am sorry. But bride and wife mean the same thing. Also The book was written in different old language.

      I looked at Bride in the dictionary and WIFE, is a synonym. Are you really gonna say that just because it says bride and not wife it is not true? Seriously. It is as if you are TRYING not to believe it.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:55 am |
    • Ben

      I'm just saying that these very educated scholars say it is the only reference to a "wife" of Jesus, so I assume they have some way of distinguishing this word from the one used to convey "bride" in the new testament.

      September 19, 2012 at 1:01 am |
    • myway

      I'm assuming when you refer to the bible in this context you actually refer to the New Testament. This would be a good argument if the gospels were written by Jesus' comtemporaries. They weren't. The original gospel texts were selected and re-written on order by a roman caesar, Constantine. His scribes re-edited the texts to suit roman sensibilities of the time. Women who played a much bigger role in early Christianity were pretty much excluded from the hirarchy of the roman christian church. Therefore, Jesus was declared a bachelor. After all, the roman empire was a man's world. They couldn't imagine worshipping the son of God who is being told by his wife to take out the garbage. Totally unroman.

      September 19, 2012 at 1:02 am |
  5. myway

    Since it seems nearly certain the gospels included in the New Testament are re-writes of much earlier texts, we don't even have a shred of reliable evidence that Jesus ever lived. He may be a composite figure of several messiah type preachers who lived during the same period merged with some popular legends that resonated with Jesus' contemporaries. For example, Christians assume that a halo is a Christian symbol. It isn't. It was a commonly used symbol in Roman-Greco art to indicate that the people depicted in mosaics and other visual art forms are important members of society. In other words, most of us know precious little about the origins of Christianity. Generally, we only were tought what was handed down by the Romans subsequent to Constantine. If it wasn't for efficient Roman intervention in Christianity for their own political purposes, who knows if we would have ever heard of Jesus and his desciples.

    September 19, 2012 at 12:40 am |
    • Francisco

      God sent a baby that would be born in bethlehem from a virgin that would be our savior. That is said in the OLD testament. Micah 5:1-2, Psalms 2:7, Proverbs 30:4, Deuteronomy 18:15, Deuteronomy 18:18, 2 Samuel 7:12-13, Micah 5:2... Dude and so many more... Numbers 24:17 is a really good one.

      So there is ONLY ONE JESUS. ONE AND ONLY.Psalms 22:18 even talks about the soldiers that gambled for Jesus clothes when he was put on the cross. Confirm in Luke 23:34

      God Bless, I hope you have learned a thing or two or three.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:52 am |
    • Ellen

      Not true. Flavius Josephus, Pliny the Younger, dozens of other non-Christians and even Jews themselves who blaspheme him in the Talmud. You might try studying history instead of inventing it.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:54 am |
    • Francisco

      By the way myway, Catholicism has nothing to do with this. You are bringing religion in. I am bringing in what the BIBLE says. Not what the catholic church belief, law, or constantine. They are not in the bible and have nothing to do with the bible or this.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:59 am |
    • myway

      Where's the evidence? Josephus referred to a person that could have been our Jesus, but he never mentioned he was the son of God or anything more than a self declared messiah, if even that. There were hundreds of "messiahs" touring Judea and neighboring provinces at that time. Why? Because the messiah was supposed to free the jewish people from roman rule and taxation. Besides it was a prophecy of earlier Israelite texts. So, who knows who the real Jusus was? No one. Constantine ordered emmisaries to travel the middle east to determine when Jesus was born, where he lived and died. They came up empty. That was 300 AD. If the romans couldn't find evidence in their own archives, which were exceptional for their period, how would we ever have a chance to find real evidence about the historical Jesus? Besides, Jesus was a very common name at that time. Just because Jesus is mentioned in some texts doesn't mean it's about the same Jesus of our churches.

      September 19, 2012 at 1:20 am |
  6. Mary E

    I can't believe this got past the ombudsman. Several people on this post including me now, have gone to Wiki and found that this is a hoax. Stupid CNN wonders why everyone laughs at it

    September 19, 2012 at 12:39 am |
    • Joe B-b-b-b-bob

      Is like the ombudsman the man smoking buds and going "Om" all the time? Anything can get past that dude.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:50 am |
    • Armchair Scholar

      It is not a hoax, and there is nothing to the contrary on Wikipedia.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:54 am |
    • Francisco

      What would we do without the ol' ombudsman. The church is Christ's bride. Jesus did not have a wife.

      September 19, 2012 at 1:02 am |
    • OTOH

      Mary E

      That's not what this wiki page says (re:hoax):

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gospel_of_Jesus%27_wife

      Are you sure you are talking about the same thing?

      September 19, 2012 at 1:06 am |
    • OTOH

      "The existence of the 4th century text was revealed at the International Congress of Coptic Studies in Rome on 18 September 2012 by Karen L. King, Hollis Professor of Divinity at Harvard Divinity School.[5][6]

      The gospel is from a privately-owned collection and was reportedly discovered in 1997 in a collection of papyri acquired from a previous owner, who was German."

      Interesting, though, that they've had it since 1997 and are just now trotting it out!

      September 19, 2012 at 1:11 am |
  7. Gopherit

    This is far from the first time that there have been suggestions that Jesus was married. But in view of the New Testament Gospels which have been included in at least Western Bible versions and his lifestyle and ministry, which for women in general and even his mother were unacceptable, it is highly unlikely that he was married and the vast majority of Christian churches assert that he was unmarried.

    September 19, 2012 at 12:39 am |
  8. Drbebus

    Who is this Jesus person everyone keeps yapping about? Is he a Kardashian or something?

    September 19, 2012 at 12:39 am |
  9. kebcarerra

    The middle of the second century. The earliest greek text of the gospel of Mark was also in the middle of the second century. Can you imagine how a story could change with a century. You might make a wonderful human into a god.

    September 19, 2012 at 12:38 am |
    • Stephen

      Great point.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:40 am |
  10. John Smith

    Who cares, the whole religion belief is laughable. Faith is believing in something without any evidence. But what am I saying, most Christians don't get their "knowledge" from a dictionary anyway.

    September 19, 2012 at 12:37 am |
  11. Low n slow

    I hate the way religious people try to push their beliefs on everyone. That is why I spend hours on CNN chat rooms pushing my atheist beliefs and insulting anyone not smart enough to agree with me.

    September 19, 2012 at 12:36 am |
    • IslandAtheist

      Good job, keep up the good work.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:39 am |
  12. Roscoe Chait

    Of course Jesus was married. He had a son named Brian.

    September 19, 2012 at 12:36 am |
    • Low n slow

      Nah, Brian was the neighbor kid, from the manger two stalls down.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:37 am |
    • Stephen

      Always look on the bright side of life...

      September 19, 2012 at 12:47 am |
  13. leer

    This fragment has a lot of English letters in it from what I can tell. If English was good enough for people then – it should be good enough now !! Yet another religious hoax, just like the bones of Joan of Arc – and the multiple severed skulls of John the baptist etc.,

    September 19, 2012 at 12:35 am |
    • Mary E

      You are correct. Can't believe this got past the ombudsman. Several people including me now, have gone to Wiki and found that this is a hoax. Stupid CNN wonders why everyone laughs at it

      September 19, 2012 at 12:38 am |
    • Armchair Scholar

      That's because Coptic is very close to Greek, and some of the Greek alphabet resembles English letters.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:38 am |
  14. Joel

    Yes, the Bible (New Testament) often symbolizes the Church (group of believers) as the bride of Jesus, where symbolically He is the groom.

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

      True, but I believe that the word "bride" is usually used in this context, rather than "wife." This is the first explicit reference to a wife

      September 19, 2012 at 12:35 am |
    • Deb

      And there's a bedroom with a heart-shaped bed and a mirror on the ceiling. Oooh Jesus please be gentle!

      September 19, 2012 at 12:36 am |
    • skytech

      "my wife," whom he identifies as Mary

      September 19, 2012 at 12:39 am |
  15. David

    Haha, how's that for tolerance. Why don't you get Brian McLaren to write a blog post on how disrespectful this article is to Christians. You were calling for tolerance and understanding on your homepage just yesterday and now you take delight in rolling out this phony/wannabe papyrus that is intended to insult Christians. Let's see if Susan Rice hits the talk shows tomorrow deploring this as reprehensible. Now we know why the Left and the Democratic party left "God" out of their platform.

    September 19, 2012 at 12:33 am |
    • Stephen

      I do not see how this article can be seen as an insult.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:35 am |
    • Ben

      Only an ignorant hick would be so threatened by a new discovery

      September 19, 2012 at 12:36 am |
    • David

      Yes, the new discovery is called God. Maybe you should make that discovery.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:42 am |
    • Ben

      What's to say I haven't already?

      September 19, 2012 at 12:43 am |
    • Stephen

      Huh...

      September 19, 2012 at 12:45 am |
  16. Christian B

    5 line down says "CNN"

    September 19, 2012 at 12:32 am |
  17. jean

    Would it challenge a person's faith to discover that Christ was married? I suspect that many would have difficulty accepting the possibility, based on some of the comments. Why would discovering that he was married change anything for them?

    September 19, 2012 at 12:30 am |
    • Ben

      Because just like the lower animals, change upsets them. You know how dogs act strange when you change the furniture in your house? Same thing.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:32 am |
  18. Bootyfunk

    here's jesus telling slaves to obey their masters:

    Luke 12:37-38
    37 "Blessed are those slaves whom the master will find on the alert when he comes; truly I say to you, that he will gird himself to serve, and have them recline at the table, and will come up and wait on them.
    38 "Whether he comes in the second watch, or even in the third, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.”

    uh oh, not so much love and compassion there... perhaps he should have told masters to release their slaves, that it is wrong to own another human being. seems odd the son of god would miss that one...

    September 19, 2012 at 12:28 am |
    • D42

      Except it was a metaphor for the faithful to continually be prepared for God's arrival and had nothing to do with slaves/servants

      September 19, 2012 at 12:38 am |
    • Bootyfunk

      that's an excuse. it is a metaphor - and jesus is saying, just as slaves should obey their masters, so should christians obey their god. that doesn't make it any better. it still means jesus supported slavery. as the son of an omniscient god, he should have know slavery is evil. don't make excuses and sugar coat it.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:45 am |
  19. Richard Russell

    The bible was compiled in the 4th century AD at the 1st council of Nicea. This was convened by the Roman emperor Constantine and attended by Christian bishops. Any writings that were contradictory or detrimental to the power of the church or state were discarded. But either way, we should respect the worldviews of any religion as it provides a very effective coping mechanism for them to deal with death. Undermining this, would be harmful to their whole psychological being and their understanding of the world. This can only be met with anger and hate. It will take time, progress and education, before people can wake up and stop killing others in the name of religion.

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

      "we should respect the worldviews of any religion as it provides a very effective coping mechanism for them to deal with death. Undermining this, would be harmful to their whole psychological being and their understanding of the world."
      sorry, i don't agree. you're justifying not telling them the truth. the truth is always better. it meant a lot more to me to find out my mom was working hard to get me the few xmas presents she could afford instead of a made up fat guy in a red suit at the north pole. atheists/agnostics know how to cope with death just as well as christians.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:32 am |
    • Humanist11

      Quite possibly the best post I've ever read on CNN! You have a gift for communication. Keep up the awesome work.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:36 am |
    • Skim Bob

      I'm sorry to correct you, but the dead sea scrolls which collaborated the writings of the Bible were found just 60 years ago. Nice try though.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:36 am |
    • Ben

      Bob: Yes, they collaborate that the writings existed individually, but not that the bible existed as a canon. The New Testament didn't exist until the council of Nicea

      September 19, 2012 at 12:38 am |
    • Webster

      Hey guys,

      collaborate = to cooperate

      corroborate = confirm or support

      September 19, 2012 at 12:52 am |
    • Athy

      It's "corroborate" not "collaborate".

      September 19, 2012 at 12:55 am |
  20. skytech

    A Harvard University professor on Tuesday unveiled a fourth-century fragment of papyrus she said is the only existing ancient text quoting Jesus explicitly referring to having a wife.

    Karen King, an expert in the history of Christianity, said the text contains a dialogue in which Jesus refers to "my wife," whom he identifies as Mary. King says the fragment of Coptic script is a copy of a gospel, probably written in Greek in the second century.

    September 19, 2012 at 12:28 am |
    • Humanist11

      Someday, centuries from now, someone will find the records of this comment string and declare it gospel and we will all be prophets.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:41 am |
    • Armchair Scholar

      I noticed King give two dates in her Harvard video. She made an initial claim about the tex dating to the 2nd century, but she later says that it is a 4th century manuscript. I suspect she is saying that her belief is that the text in this 4th century manuscript must have originated in the 2nd century.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:43 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.