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
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(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. choo

    Everything written about Jesus was written at least several decades after his death. Saying that he had a wife would be hearsay, and thus – not reliable.

    September 19, 2012 at 1:00 am |
    • Ben

      Then the New Testament is hearsay as well

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

      You could say the same about his resurrection too.

      September 19, 2012 at 1:02 am |
  2. Getoverit

    CNN rules!

    September 19, 2012 at 1:00 am |
  3. Jokster

    More CNN trying to discredit Christianity. Making this a front page story is just pure campaigning misinformation.

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

      nope you just don't like the truth he could of had a wife

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

      And the prize goes to...wait for it...no one.

      Just what if this is a real gnostic text? In other words, it's both authentic and meaningless to Orthodox Christianity.

      September 19, 2012 at 1:07 am |
    • Webster


      What the heck does "could of" mean?

      Do you mean "could've", short for "could have"?

      September 19, 2012 at 1:19 am |
    • ozmodcon

      CNN discrediting the bible? That had to be tough for them... what did they have to do, open a book?

      Seriously, the reason people are sick and tired of this gnostic garbage, is that your faith and ghost stories are effecting the lives of others. If you feel like praying to the one you call Jesus, go to it.

      Heck, I'll make you a deal. We'll stop calling you out on your ghost stories, and you keep them to yourselves and stop trying to make us all live by your rules. In return, because of your anti-abortion stance, we won't make you have abortions.

      Unbelievable, with all we know about the world around us, that the religious still think that some barely known dude in the middle east 2000 years ago somehow has any legitimate sway.

      Also, if there was a Jesus, he wasn't white. I know, a lot of red neck minds just exploded on that one...

      September 19, 2012 at 1:28 am |
  4. ScottCA

    Religious indoctrination of children is child abuse.

    September 19, 2012 at 12:57 am |
  5. Saint_John

    Well, at least he didn't say, "My wives" like Mitt's grandfather often did. FUUUUUK religion.

    September 19, 2012 at 12:57 am |
  6. The Ghostwriters

    This is indoctrination, CNN. You believe what you want, we believe what we want. My God Lives. Jesus Christ is REAL. And your efforts to cheapen Christianity into marketing is - to me - ignorant. Try praying sometime. Scripture, after all, says You will find God when you seek with all of your heart. Too busy to do that? Fine. But don't criticize what you don't understand.

    September 19, 2012 at 12:56 am |
    • Ben

      This is indoctrination, its just the announcement of the discovery of a new ancient text. Why is that so threatening? There are already plenty of ancient texts out there read by early christians that contradict modern Christian dogma

      September 19, 2012 at 12:58 am |
    • Ben

      *isn't indoctrination

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

      The Ghostwriters – You may have just won the dumbest post contest!

      September 19, 2012 at 1:00 am |
    • Ekusa

      yup, he lives... where?

      oh right, in the air now because jesus has been dead for quite some time.

      September 19, 2012 at 1:08 am |
    • End Religion

      @ghosty: "This is indoctrination, CNN."

      As opposed to say, forcing kids into religious schools and Sunday schools and all that jazz?

      "You believe what you want, we believe what we want."

      No, see, that is just plain wrong. You believe. We know.
      We live in the rational world of fact, reason and logic. You live in a world of magic, where anything is possible just because you say so.

      "My God Lives."

      What's his address? Can we snap a grainy Bigfoot-style photo of him or is he too shy?

      "Jesus Christ is REAL."

      There was very likely no such person. If there was he didn't perform a single miracle. He was just a smooth talker who palled around with a hook.er and 12 dudes who worshipped him. He and Mary probably snickered at them when they weren't within ear shot.

      "And your efforts to cheapen Christianity into marketing is – to me – ignorant."

      christianity's reputation could hardly get much cheaper. It is the last bastion for felons, the easy disguise for fraudsters, a clearing house for the ignorant, and the home of the se.xual pred.ator

      "Try praying sometime."

      You mean try begging god to change his mind? Why would any religious person be so arrogant? If you're goign to be so presumptuous to ask god for anything you should only be asking that his will be done, and then really, why the need to keep saying that over and over?

      "Scripture, after all, says You will find God when you seek with all of your heart. Too busy to do that? Fine. But don't criticize what you don't understand."

      Scripture says lots of mumbo jumbo I don't see you doing. Why would we listen to this one phrase when you ignore so many others? We are criticizing your religion because we do understand it.

      September 19, 2012 at 2:26 am |
  7. buffalo

    This reminds me of the scene in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" where they're trying to read the inscription on the cave wall. "And Jesus said...my knife?...my life?...is that an L or an I?. In the end, who cares?

    September 19, 2012 at 12:55 am |
  8. ScottCA


    September 19, 2012 at 12:54 am |
  9. Joe B-b-b-b-bob

    No big news here, hear? Jefferson Airplane sang about the "Son Of Jesus" in the early 70s. This just helps - even if in just a tiny way - corroborate the theorem.

    September 19, 2012 at 12:54 am |
  10. gospyro

    Hate to break the bad news to everyone out there... but there is a LOT of evidence that Christ was married. And I am not talking about this little scape of text. Just do your homework on Judaic Law (Christ was after all, a Jew) specifically what would be required for him to teach in a synagog and many other things.
    It doesn't take away ANYTHING that he was in fact married, except it contradicts 100's of years of teachings... which are teachings of MEN, and interpretations of MEN. Christ being married has NO effect on his being the Son of God, or his being The Savior. In fact... even without the evidence (HISTORICAL, FACTUAL evidence... not just 1000 year old texts that have been re-written a dozen times. It just makes more sense that Christ was married. It actually makes NO sense that he never married, especially if, as I said, people would stop following the dogma of modern 'Christainity' and look at the whole picture.

    And as I have said, this take NOTHING away from Christ's role in the Salvation of Mankind... in fact, it enhances it.

    I know nothing I say here will change any minds.... but I would like to think that at least a person or two people would take the time to study Judaic Law and realize that Christ would have followed that law, prior to bringing the 'New Law'. btw I am not Jewish, so I have no 'agenda' here, other then to try and get people to see that just because they are told something by someone at a Church... does not MAKE it true. And once again, just to make this VERY clear.... I am NOT attacking Christianity, or Christ... if anything, I am broadening Christ's role in our world.

    September 19, 2012 at 12:54 am |
  11. AvdBerg

    The above subject article is a good example how distorted things have become in society with the media industry as the main culprit.

    The local media, including CNN, Fox and your local TV stations and newspapers are a very important element of social and political behavior, as society is shaped by what it sees, hears and reads and it is conditioned by the events that influence the mind of every person. You reap what you sow.

    To allow anyone to be directed by public opinion is dangerous because most public opinion is the view of the media. If the media does not like something, their bias taints information getting to the public, and this forms public opinion. Public opinion is never based on research and facts. The public uses the media for its sole source of information and for this reason social behavior will continue to deteriorate and wax worse and worse (2 Timothy 3:13).

    For a better understanding of the role of the media we invite you to read the articles ‘Influence of the Media’ and ‘CNN Belief Blog – Sign of the Times’, listed on our website http://www.aworlddeceived.ca

    The media does not provide accurate information on ‘Religion’ as it continues to ignore the truth and the history of deceptions (John 14:17). They only report how they want you to hear things. They have created the big chasm that now exists without offering any solutions.

    Consider the truth about Catholicism, Islam, Mormonism, Judaism, Evangelicals and Christianity and all other religions and ask yourself the following question.

    Are so-called Catholics, Muslims, Mormons, Israelites and Evangelicals and all those that call themselves ‘Christians’ followers of the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ and the Word of God, or do they follow after an image of a false god and a false Christ (Matthew 24:24; 2 Cor. 11:13-15; Gal. 4:8)?

    For a better understanding of the history of Catholicism, Islam, Mormonism, Christianity, and Judaism and its spread throughout the world, we invite you to read the articles ‘The Mystery Babylon’, ‘Can Christianity or Any Other Religion Save You?’, ‘World History and Developments in the Middle East’ and ‘Clash of Civilizations’, listed on our website http://www.aworlddeceived.ca

    Mitt Romney’s faith does not stand in the teachings of Christ but rather in an image of the spirit and the god of this world and a false Christ (Matthew 24:24; 2 Cor. 11:13-15; Gal. 4:8).

    For a better understanding of the history of the Mormon Church and Mitt Romney’s quest for the Presidency of the USA, we invite you to read the articles ‘Mormon Church – Cult and Spiritual Harlot’ and ‘Barack Obama – President of the United States of America’, listed on our website.

    All of the other pages and articles listed on our website explain how and by whom this whole world has been deceived as confirmed in Revelation 12:9.

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

      Yes, please explain to us why the writings of previous cults are false, while all of yours are true

      September 19, 2012 at 12:57 am |
    • jon

      You're right, Berg. Sadly, you're so right.

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

      …though, I have to admit, the older I get the more I'm attracted to Catholicism. The more it's criticized, the more it seems to stand up. I keep knocking it down in my mind but it keeps compelling me.

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

    We don't have the original texts of any of the gospels . The earliest COPY of any gospel is from the middle of the second century. In other words , please listen , we have nothing original . We have copies of copies , the earliest COPY was written a century after Jesus was on planet Earth. Stories get changed over time. People become gods.

    September 19, 2012 at 12:54 am |
  13. JamesH28

    Did anyone here actually know Jesus? Like...personally? Imagine someone out there who doesn't know you, read about you in a book, and then goes around telling everyone they know everything about you. You'd be like 'what the hell? I've never even met this guy and he's pretending to know everything about me because he read it in a book?' Sounds silly eh? Well that's what everyone's doing. If Jesus actually existed, then who knows what he was actually like. You can't pretend you know anything about him just because you read about him in a two thousand year old book. If he never existed, then you're arguing over a fictional character. Either way, it's a pointless argument. Have a beer and relax.

    September 19, 2012 at 12:53 am |
  14. netanyahu


    September 19, 2012 at 12:53 am |
    • LOL

      Is he, like, dancing and rapping? That's funny.

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

      I invite you to Islam dear brother in mankind...

      please don't worship a creation rather the Creator... also don't repeat what jews did right after crossing the nile river with Moses which was made a cow and started worshiping the cow and so on...

      please study the quran which is from the Lord of Jesus, Moses and all....


      September 19, 2012 at 7:11 am |
  15. 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. think what thier kids would look like.

    September 19, 2012 at 12:53 am |
  16. Ed G.

    Of course Jesus was married. To fully suffer for our sins, he'd have to be hitched.

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

      It would certainly complete his suffering.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:53 am |
  17. AGeek

    It's a mis-translation. It actually reads; "Jesus said to them, 'My husband ..."

    September 19, 2012 at 12:49 am |
    • Greg


      September 19, 2012 at 12:58 am |
  18. get it right

    Someone's a bonehead, either the article's author or Bock. The Gnostic Gospels are the canonical gospels of Mark, Luke and Matthew.

    So is anything in the article worth our attention?

    September 19, 2012 at 12:47 am |
    • Ben

      No, the gnostic gospels refer to others not included in the new testament, such as the gospel of thomas

      September 19, 2012 at 12:49 am |
    • Ceri

      What you are thinking of are the "Synoptic Gospels," not the Gnostic Gospels.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:55 am |
    • justathought55

      Yeah, that's it. Karen King is a bonehead. It must be all those years she spent at Harvard Divinity School as their most respected scholar. All of that study, getting those books published, leading the entire department and heading up all those global studies into ancient writings day after day, year after year, decade after decade...geez, what a loser! Why is anyone listening to HER?

      September 19, 2012 at 1:05 am |
  19. ScottCA


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


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

      He proves the point for atheism. There is no evidence for the existence of god.

      The null hypothesis is that there is no god. Since there is no evidence to support the existence of god, the null hypothesis holds as the logical position. To depart from this position without evidence is to delve into fantasy and insanity.
      Just as it is insanity to believe in the 6ft tall green monster in my closet without evidence of its existence, so is it insanity to believe in god without evidence.

      September 19, 2012 at 1:05 am |
    • ScottCA


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

      Islam is a moon god cult.

      September 19, 2012 at 1:56 am |
  20. edward

    perfect timing, after the video shows that islam is crap they throw out this. Good thing we have separation of church and state in this counrty..It was written by man,.. Yet there will be lots of people that speak up cause of this.

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

      they allready have been, humman can't except thing even if it show to them

      September 19, 2012 at 12:50 am |
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About this blog

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.