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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. abc123

    How many people were named Jesus at the time this was written? Maybe it wasn't written about Jesus Christ, but some other person named Jesus. Also, I wish the article would have given the entire translation, not just one tiny snippet.

    September 19, 2012 at 1:23 am |
    • Bob

      Actually, I know of two Jesuses. One does my landscaping, and the other is my lawyer.

      September 19, 2012 at 1:27 am |
    • Athy

      And I had one that painted my house!

      September 19, 2012 at 1:28 am |
    • Armchair Scholar

      Do a google and you'll find Karen King's official Harvard paper that gives a full analysis, full Coptic transcription, and full translation. Worth a read, and nothing for Christians to be worried about, as it is yet another late, 4th century Gnostic text.

      September 19, 2012 at 1:29 am |
  2. ScottCA

    Night all. Best wishes too all, even those who have not yet escaped religious insanity. I do sympathize as the choice is to follow logic to the conclusion that god most likely does not exist, and by so doing break your heart by learning that those you love and care for have lied to you, and the other choice being turning your back on logic and choosing self delusions.

    It is truly awful what they have done to those raised since children to believe in religious lies, it is a horrific type of abuse and violation of trust. Offering truth is not meant to hurt, but to heal an earlier betrayal of your trust. Night all.
    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=12rP8ybp13s&w=640&h=360]

    September 19, 2012 at 1:22 am |
  3. Freethinksman

    This is dangerous water to swim in. There are no reliable first hand accounts of his life (or lack thereof). Any reference, whether biblical of historical has been called into doubt by serious, unbiased historians. It is unlikely that there exists conclusive proof that Jesus was not who his followers claim him to be. On the other side, there are millions of devout followers who wouldn't accept any evidence- no matter how concrete, that proves Jesus is not exactly what his followers have already decided he is. Religion is not concerned with science. And science is likely to only disprove what religious people claim. That's why science should be used in determining public policy. It can be tested, proven, disproven, and improved through rigorous testing. Religion should exists in churches where people just want to feel better about the things over which they have no control.

    September 19, 2012 at 1:20 am |
  4. Bob

    Fuuuck Jesus!

    September 19, 2012 at 1:20 am |
    • dred

      to do that, you will have to meet him. Go to heaven!

      September 19, 2012 at 1:30 am |
  5. Paige

    @ Scott and any others interested. http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=9ddXNF29goo
    I know Christ Lives. I would like to add my witness to the testimonies of the Apostles of the Lord, Jesus Christ.

    September 19, 2012 at 1:18 am |
    • Stephen

      Ugh...

      September 19, 2012 at 1:20 am |
    • End Religion

      christ lives? i thought everyone was at least familiar with the part of the myth where he gets crucified. oh, you mean zombie jesus, the one that [cue creepy organ music] came back from the dead. braaaaaaiiinnns!

      so he's alive then? what's his address so we can get a snapshot? will this be like the infamous Bigfoot where we only get a grainy amateur photo of zombie jesus or will he pose for pros? what's that? heaven? ohhhh... sounds like a big load of bigfoot poo to me!

      September 19, 2012 at 1:41 am |
  6. Rhonda

    Athiests- People who overthink way too much. Our God is a simple God. You do not have to work your way to heaven. You do not have to kill people. You do not have to give money to people. You do not have to starve yourself. You simply have to believe. To believe this earth was not made from a creator, is like saying milk doesn't come from a cow. It would be alot of less stress in peoples lives if they would just get over their pride. They do not always have to be right. Atheists tend to think they are smarter than everyone else. Science is changing everyday, but Gods word has not and will forever stay the same. He WILL return for his "bride!" Let the trumpets sound!

    September 19, 2012 at 1:17 am |
    • Ben

      Actually "God's Word" often changes as science changes. That's why most reasonable Christians now acknowledge that the earth is older than 6000 years, even though the BIble says it isn't

      September 19, 2012 at 1:20 am |
    • MK

      religion changes, just very reluctantly

      September 19, 2012 at 1:24 am |
    • Jeff

      Jesus is coming back for his "Bride." His church, and we can not wait to leave this fallen world. When the trumpets sound- I will pray for the souls of those who let their pride get in the way of eternity in heaven. I would not want anyone to go to hell. Hell is real. Let me type that again-Hell is real. I pray and I pray and I pray that even in such a dark world, people will find the light.

      September 19, 2012 at 1:26 am |
    • dred

      But then...what 'reasonable' christian has seen the blind see, the lame walk, the dumb speak or has themselves done such things as Jesus said ,"I tell you the truth , anyone who has faith in me will do the things I have been doing.."(John 14:12).
      Do not be fooled by God's FX..He who can do all things can make a 6000 year old earth look like billions of years old, just so those who refuse to love the truth will be deluded( paraphrase of Apostle Paul's words.)

      September 19, 2012 at 1:28 am |
    • Ben

      If God is just going to play head-games with me, I don't really want to worship him

      September 19, 2012 at 1:29 am |
    • JK

      Your faith is a simple faith; one that does not challenge, but accepts blindly. Atheist, Christian, Agnostic, or whoever, if you decide to believe any which way so fervently, then allow the exploration of doubt and opposition so that you can be confident in your stance because you have opened yourself to all aspects. Do not make claims of certainty for arguments you know very little about.

      September 19, 2012 at 1:30 am |
    • Athy

      Geez, Rhonda, you need help.

      September 19, 2012 at 1:31 am |
    • Stephen

      Your god cannot be proven. Pride does not interfere with my ability to worship a god or gods. What happens to us when we die is the great unknown. You believe that the soul goes on to a better place. I believe we just die. Nothing has ever been presented to me that makes me consider the existence of a god. Your Earth and cow analogy is silly. I do not think I am smarter just because I do not believe. Science is indeed changing every day – thankfully (that means we’re learning new things and that’s good.) However religion has changed greatly over the years. If you don’t like what the Catholics are saying try the Episcopalians. Don’t like them – try the Baptists. They’re not your cup of tea try someone else.

      September 19, 2012 at 1:32 am |
    • dred

      no head games...heart and soul games...don't listen to me..go, listen to Him and test Him at His word, and see for yourself.Don't worry about the çhurch, they missed the boat the moment the 11 did not go to Galilee on resurrection morning as commanded. From there on it's down hill all the way. that's why, the popular prophet , prophesied that.."Jesus, son of mary will return to save the muslims from the antichrist, and correct the church of all it's heresies.

      September 19, 2012 at 1:35 am |
    • Ben

      Whoops, Dred just came out as a nutcase. Though I guess his previous comment was also a clue

      September 19, 2012 at 1:37 am |
    • Johnothan

      Ben- Repeat after me: Hell is real, Hell is real, Hell is real, Hell is real. You are in denial. Why most athiests say there is no proof, there is so many signs of the end times that the bible talks about that have either already occurred or are currently happening as we speak.

      September 19, 2012 at 1:42 am |
    • Ben

      These same "proofs" of the end times could be found in literally any age; early christians thought christ was coming back in their lifetimes. I'm afriad you'll be left hanging just like them

      September 19, 2012 at 1:47 am |
    • Johnothan

      It might not happen in our life time. Who cares, then I will be in heaven – I do not want to be here when this all goes down, because it will be ugly. We have not made up any false dates of when this is happening. We DO NOT know. Lets go bible major- noone knows the day nor the hour. All we know is that due to the signs in the bible- it is getting close. While the persecution of Christians might not be of a problem in the U.S. -It is happening in other countries every day.

      September 19, 2012 at 1:53 am |
    • Ben

      Surely you wouldn't argue that Christians are more persecuted now then they were, say, in the first century AD?

      September 19, 2012 at 1:55 am |
    • dred

      Ben you are right ...absolute nut case..because I have seen the blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear and the dumb speak , when real disciples ( those who hold to the teachings of Jesus) lay hands on them . Jesus can send you nuts...imagine if you were one of the twelve, and He walks out to you on the water, or raises the dead in front of you, or multiplies a little boy's lunch to feed 5000.

      September 19, 2012 at 6:21 am |
  7. dred

    Why don't we just get Jesus back in the flesh and ask Him. After all , He did say he is coming back..so, all we have to do is to get his people, to finish the work that needs to be done so he can come back. Then we will all know.
    So, Çhristians", go and heal the sick, drive out demons, and finish the preaching of the gospel of the Kingdom as a testimony, so Jesus can arrive on clouds of glory and place His feet once more on the Mount of Olives.

    September 19, 2012 at 1:14 am |
  8. ScottCA

    Atheists are larger than any other religious minority. We have more sway in numbers, it is time to start exercising that in the vote.

    September 19, 2012 at 1:14 am |
    • dred

      2 billion christians, 1.3 billion muslims, 1 billion plus hindus, that's 4.3 billion god believers...not to mention satanists etc. There is only 7 billion people on the earth...even if all the rest were aethists..that is still not a majority. sorry.God wins ..again.

      September 19, 2012 at 1:23 am |
    • LOL

      Didn't you? I thought that's why we had Obama and the DNC who almost removed God from their party platform.

      September 19, 2012 at 1:25 am |
    • Care Beful

      Scott,

      Atheism is not a "religious minority". Perhaps it is a minority opinion regarding religion, but that's about it.

      September 19, 2012 at 1:27 am |
    • Care Beful

      p.s. don't undo all of the effort we have put in refuting the "atheism is a religion" contentions.

      September 19, 2012 at 1:30 am |
  9. CS Phillips

    So, if he were married, his 'standing' would be in question????? Why isn't it already? The council of Nicaea determined the contents of the bible, not God, not Jesus, not Allah...a bunch of scared and conniving politicians 'wrote' the bible. that they would leave out a 'candidate's' wife is no different than politics today.

    September 19, 2012 at 1:12 am |
  10. ScottCA

    Rationalists, You are not alone!
    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nojbb-q4Vnw&w=640&h=360]

    September 19, 2012 at 1:12 am |
  11. skytech

    "my wife,"whom he identifies as Mary! 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 1:11 am |
  12. Homer10

    Oh my! What will the Catholics do with this? Does it mean that priests can now marry, and we won't have any more of these priests molesting kids? Naah, probably not.

    September 19, 2012 at 1:10 am |
  13. joe

    provide evidence that the historical Jesus was married,"
    -----
    Funny. There was no historical Jesus. That's why no one wrote about him who was there. It's all myth written by people generations after the fact who weren't there and who personally know nothing.

    September 19, 2012 at 1:07 am |
    • S. Mae

      Then what possesses folks like you to feel so compelled to deny his existance in public on a CNN blog?

      September 19, 2012 at 1:18 am |
    • End Religion

      Because if we can pull just one little crying baby out of the burning building that is religion, it will all have been worth it.

      September 19, 2012 at 1:32 am |
  14. I call BS

    This is not Coptic script. It's pretty easy to search Google for Coptic language examples. Even if it used the name Jesus, which is seemingly does not, there is no mention by the journalist of which Jesus. I have a man named Jesus who mows my lawn.

    September 19, 2012 at 1:07 am |
    • Armchair Scholar

      You call wrong then. The script is definitely Coptic, and the Jesus is plainly visible to those who actually know what they're looking at. Jesus is written as a nomen sacrum, or holy name, in the middle of the fourth line and would look to you like IC with a line over the top of those two letters.

      September 19, 2012 at 1:12 am |
    • Bob

      I do not call wrong. Here is the Wiki link for the Coptic Alphabet. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coptic_alphabet

      September 19, 2012 at 1:14 am |
    • Armchair Scholar

      Bob, I know Coptic, and this is Coptic. You can't get what you need to know from Wikipedia. Do you see the nomen sacrum? The IC is smack dab in the center of the image at the top of the page. Of course, you could also go find the transcription and translation of the above manuscript on the Harvard website, too, we're you so inclined.

      September 19, 2012 at 1:18 am |
    • Bob

      Armchair. I printed this period Coptic example found at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:CopticLetters.svg and I printed the piece above. I looked at this for a while now. The script above seems clearly written in Greek and though Coptic borrowed some Greek symbols, it is not the same. It's like saying English and Spanish are the same because they are both Latin based. But they are distinctly different. The other thing that bothers me is that there are some symbol styles not used by the Greeks during this time, at least from what I remember from a long time ago in college. We apparently aren't going to agree on this, but the link I posted is pretty clear and it’s pretty easy to search Google for other examples. I think the author is looking to stir controversy.

      September 19, 2012 at 1:27 am |
    • Armchair Scholar

      Don't know what to tell you, Bob, but you'd look pretty funny to Coptic scholars. Look 2 letters to the left of the I of IC and you'll see the Coptic letter Genga. The Genga is part of the clearly visible Coptic word, peje, meaning, "said". To the right of IC is also certainly not Greek but The Coptic letter hoory.

      Have a better look at the following. Questioning is fine, but you'd better have a good reason for those Coptic letters and words if you think this is Greek.
      http://www.hds.harvard.edu/faculty-research/research-projects/the-gospel-of-jesuss-wife

      September 19, 2012 at 1:41 am |
  15. CS Phillips

    Brad....HA!!!! from someone who HAS been married I take it????

    September 19, 2012 at 1:07 am |
  16. Chuck

    All Christians know that when Jesus speaks of his Wife, he is speaking about "His Church"

    they need some people on the Religious page that has an education

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

      I'm pretty sure that a Harvard professor is familiar with this usage, thanks

      September 19, 2012 at 1:03 am |
    • LOL

      I has an edumacashun.

      September 19, 2012 at 1:04 am |
    • michael

      Most modern Christians may be familiar with that particular theological interpretation, Chuck – particularly given how the church has long oriented itself around a traditional vision of Jesus as celibate and unmarried... even if that vision is an unproven one.

      Like Ben, I'll defer to the opinions of those more versed than yourself.

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

      ....have an education....smh at the irony here

      September 19, 2012 at 1:12 am |
    • Homer10

      Ooooh. Now your interpreting. Isn't that bad? Well maybe not.

      September 19, 2012 at 1:13 am |
    • End Religion

      All christians "know" that a snake talked to eve. This is why we can't have nice things.

      September 19, 2012 at 1:19 am |
  17. Mike

    Why not elevate Santa Clause, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy to divine status and pray to them too? They all sound just as real...

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

      I always considered them the holy trinity.

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

      Actually I have more evidence for Santa Clause existing then I do for god existing. I had my photo taken with Santa when I was a child, and I sat on his lap.

      September 19, 2012 at 1:10 am |
    • Stephen

      May I also add that when I was a kid I believed in Santa and he gave me presents. When I was a kid I belived in god but all he did was make me go to church.

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

      *Claus

      (not Clause)

      September 19, 2012 at 1:32 am |
  18. ScottCA

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vM5n8jESUEk&w=640&h=360]

    September 19, 2012 at 1:01 am |
  19. Oskar

    Wow, Now they come with a new one. Jesus was married? Of course not. Every aspect of his life was known like an open book. From his birth until his resurrection. The whole of Jerusalem saw him die, and he was with his disciples for 40 days after his resurrection. Nobody has said that he had a wife, except those blinded by hatred and satan. He was who he said to be, and the only way for you to find out who he is, is to be close to him. You will never be the same again.

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

      "Every aspect of his life was known like an open book. From his birth until his resurrection."

      False. There is a huge gap between his birth and his ministry.

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

      "blinded by hatred and satan" Magical thinking at it's best! Was the big God head up in outer space looking down too?

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

      Really? Care to talk about age 15-28? 'Cause the Bible doesn't...

      September 19, 2012 at 1:06 am |
    • End Religion

      Stop antagonizing Oskar with facts. You're all blinded by hatred and satan and maybe by chocolate as well. Its naughty stuff I tell you!

      September 19, 2012 at 1:14 am |
    • gordon

      you seem like a total fool, as others have previously stated. the huge gap is extremely pronounced if u ever studied the bible, and using phrases like "blinded by hatred and satan" sound like u are writing from the 1500's. Copernicus was totally blinded by hatred and satan when he proposed the heliocentric theory as well correct?

      September 19, 2012 at 1:15 am |
    • End Religion

      But was Copernicus blinded by chocolate? Or even worse...
      [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1p6fTDGLHGQ&w=640&h=360]

      September 19, 2012 at 1:23 am |
  20. Brad

    The entire quote is: "My wife is a b**ch. I want a divorce".

    September 19, 2012 at 1:01 am |
    • Your Panties in Texas

      That's really cool. I Love It.

      September 19, 2012 at 1:41 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.