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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. militant catholic

    i doubt he was married. he didn't show any interest in any of his other writings.

    September 19, 2012 at 1:56 am |
    • realbuckyball

      He didn't write anything.

      September 19, 2012 at 1:58 am |
    • flakko

      LOL realbuckyball. You win the internet today.

      September 19, 2012 at 2:03 am |
    • Grandma Jordan

      Catholics have always known that the bride of Christ is His Church of which any believers are an integral part.

      September 19, 2012 at 2:09 am |
    • realbuckyball

      Ya but, what granny doesn't know, is that Yahweh had a wife, (Ashera, or Ashura), and the feminine god was all over the Ancient Near East, and THAT's where the Catholics got the "bride" of Jeebus stuff.
      Also, the Isis cult in Rome in 200 CE was where the worship of Mary began, (Mother of god, Star of the Sea etc etc). http://www.bibliotecapleyades.net/biblia...ovah02.htm .
      Statues of Ashera were found in the temples of Yahweh in Jerusalem, Beth-el, and Samaria, and Dan.

      September 19, 2012 at 2:19 am |
  2. 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 1:51 am |
    • Groo22

      interesting thing here, Islam came from the same roots as Christianity, Christians believe in an Antichrist that will bring peace on Earth before a war is started with God. Muslims believe in one as well called the Dajjal. They also believe in a 12th Imam coming to make peace on Earth, and many Muslims think that will be Jesus returning to make war with Christians and destroy Christianity. In a nutshell if any of this comes true, we're screwed. lol.

      September 19, 2012 at 2:01 am |
    • SirToYe

      Keep up the fantasy.

      September 19, 2012 at 2:05 am |
    • realbuckyball

      Ya ya ya. That's what you people have been saying for two thousand years, including Jeebus, who said HIS generation would not pass until all things came to an end. Give it up, already.

      September 19, 2012 at 2:28 am |
  3. mach30

    If Muslims can raise Hell across the world over a perceived insult to Mohammed, why shouldn't Christians start tearing down uuniversities and schools of divinity over this non-traditional depiction of Jesus? Can you guess what the difference is?

    September 19, 2012 at 1:49 am |
    • Stephen

      Yes. You both belive in an imaginary being only yours is currently more peaceful.

      September 19, 2012 at 1:52 am |
    • joey.s

      Those Muslim countries that did that have a very high illiteracy rate and uneducated unlike Christian countries. These guys have nothing better to do but focus on Mohammad and Allah 24/7.

      September 19, 2012 at 1:55 am |
    • Groo22

      Jesus is also regarded as a prophet to Muslims, so...

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

      Because this "non-traditional depiction" was written many centuries ago. There is no one around to blame anymore

      September 19, 2012 at 2:03 am |
    • mach30

      Does that mean we are now in for a new wave of violence?

      September 19, 2012 at 2:03 am |
    • flakko

      Stephen wins

      September 19, 2012 at 2:04 am |
    • Groo22

      I doubt it Mach30. This is a discovery not somebody trying to mock anyone. If it had been mockery, who knows what could happen.

      September 19, 2012 at 2:05 am |
    • mach30

      Stephen, I am not a Christian, or a Muslim.

      September 19, 2012 at 2:08 am |
    • Randy Johnson

      Ok – well this really pushes me over the edge – I am going to personally rent a B-52 bomber and nuke all the Isalmics in the world. How dare they print this cartoon about Jesus for christ sakes!!! F*** !!!!! Bwhahahahaha – and you all think I am joking. If I can't rent the B-52 I will use my death star and tractor beam to zero in on all those indifels.

      September 19, 2012 at 2:12 am |
  4. Paolo

    Who was Jesus's wife?

    September 19, 2012 at 1:49 am |
    • Ding Dong

      a kardashian

      September 19, 2012 at 2:08 am |
    • BurstBubble

      I heard he was referred to as Rabbi, which would imply he was married. I heard it was the woman he appeared to first after he was dead. I believe her name was Mary. However, I am not sure of any of this now that I read another book that said he moved away from Jerusalem and moved to Southern France with his wife, Mary, and they had a family. That Jesus never died on the cross, but that he faked his death. It was an interesting tale........... I don't really know??

      September 19, 2012 at 2:12 am |
  5. realbuckyball

    Actually this is nothing new. In the Nag Hammadi Library, which was found in Northern Egypt, in 1945 North Of Luxor, South of Cairo, a number of suppressed Gnostic gospels were found. One of them was the Gnostic Gospel of Philip. In this text, Jeebus' "companion" is Mary Magdalene, and some say the intent was to say they were married, and if not certainly he kissed her a lot, and she was the leader of his followers, (much as she originally was in the Jerusalem community, before they intentionally turned her into a wh'ore, in order to marginalize her powerful position). So, the fact that this find is a Coptic text fits nicely with other North Egypt stuff, if indeed it is authenticated, and not just another fake. These texts were intentionally mostly burned, as they presented a more, human, even laughing Jesus, and were seen as a threat. Somebody must have thought otherwise, and hid copies of some of them.

    September 19, 2012 at 1:47 am |
  6. trollol

    I always thought this jesus character was a fruit cake considering the bible only talks about sausage fests involving twelve apostles. Oh what the hell, it isn't like it will make any real difference in the world. The religion has always been divided, this will just become another thing for them to squabble over.

    September 19, 2012 at 1:44 am |
    • Bob

      You sir are a scoundrel and a troll, but I like the cut of your jib. Keep up the nonsense.

      September 19, 2012 at 1:46 am |
  7. No-doubt

    Yes, I think this may be in reference to when Jesus will be back on earth and will kill Anti-Christ and to get married and will have Kids and will live on earth for about 19 years before he died. That would be a proof of him human being and not a Son of GOD and messenger (Prophet) of Allah like other Prophets Abraham, Moses and Muhammad.

    September 19, 2012 at 1:42 am |
  8. joe

    My wife- Jesus Christ she's annoying.

    September 19, 2012 at 1:40 am |
    • Blinded by the light

      Dont quit your day job.

      September 19, 2012 at 2:10 am |
  9. Chris

    Wouldn't have it been more newsworthy had the scripture read: "Jesus said to them, 'My husband ..."?

    September 19, 2012 at 1:39 am |
    • Michael J.

      You're a moron.

      September 19, 2012 at 1:43 am |
    • Murphy

      : )

      September 19, 2012 at 1:51 am |
  10. bigwords

    ROFL another wonderful 100% serious article from the LEADER in liberal/anti christian news....Cant wait to see what they do next 🙂

    September 19, 2012 at 1:39 am |
    • Ben

      Don't blame CNN, blame the ancient man who wrote the text

      September 19, 2012 at 1:41 am |
    • Armchair Scholar

      She is a member of the infamous Jesus Seminar. Although I think this is being sensationalized, and I think she knows it, there's nothing all that unique about this late, 4th century gnostic gospel.

      September 19, 2012 at 1:44 am |
    • seancarey88

      How is this anti-christian?

      September 19, 2012 at 2:00 am |
    • sam stone

      feeling a bit put upon, bigwords?

      September 19, 2012 at 6:17 am |
  11. Jack

    What if Jesus was saying "my life is" instead of "my wife is" and the writer simply made s spelling mistake. This revelation is so suspect that it should never be a top story.

    If Jesus was really married, then it would have been in the New Testament. God has nothing against the marriage of one man and one woman.

    September 19, 2012 at 1:39 am |
    • Michael J.

      You know nothing.

      September 19, 2012 at 1:44 am |
    • Ben

      so many problems with this post...

      September 19, 2012 at 1:45 am |
    • Jack

      What if means what if sweetie!

      September 19, 2012 at 1:48 am |
    • Ben

      Well first of all, you seem to assume that the text was written in English, so that the change of one letter could render "life" as "wife." The text was written in Coptic

      September 19, 2012 at 1:56 am |
    • Iso

      umm I hope you realize that unlike in English and maybe a few other Germanic languages, "wife" and "life" are two totally different and non-rhyming words...

      September 19, 2012 at 2:09 am |
  12. tysonallredk27

    well. The LDS church doctrine wouldn't be affected by this.

    September 19, 2012 at 1:32 am |
  13. Joe Smith's #4 Wife

    Yeah, priests can get married now, right?

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

      No; there are plenty of other gnostic texts that contradict mainstream christian belief, and another wont change anything

      September 19, 2012 at 1:35 am |
  14. ItsMe

    From a historical standpoint it would be a interesting development if Jesus did turn out to be a husband, but spiritually speaking it wouldn't make any difference.

    September 19, 2012 at 1:30 am |
    • inphinity9@yahoo.com

      I agree with you. And, in fact, it would be very likely that Jesus would or did marry as marriage was an important part of the culture he grew up in.

      September 19, 2012 at 1:42 am |
    • End Religion

      I wonder if he had his disciples take out the trash for him so the wifey wouldn't get on his case.

      September 19, 2012 at 1:53 am |
  15. Bob

    To 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 1:28 am |
    • Ben

      The script pictured above isn't the fragment being discussed, which is described as "1 1/2- by 3-inch honey-colored fragment"

      September 19, 2012 at 1:30 am |
    • Armchair Scholar

      Please see my response on the previous page, and yes, the picture above is the manuscript spoken of in this article.

      September 19, 2012 at 1:46 am |
    • Bob

      The script above is a RECIPIE. After a hour I deciphered most of the bottom line: ανυχτ υ δοιτ μαγε which loosly translates to: anyway u do it cooking or "however you choose to cook it".

      September 19, 2012 at 1:47 am |
    • Armchair Scholar

      Oh seriously, Bob.... ROTFL

      http://www.hds.harvard.edu/faculty-research/research-projects/the-gospel-of-jesuss-wife

      September 19, 2012 at 1:50 am |
    • Bob

      Armchair, laugh it off if you wish but I see several have taken my advice and gone to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coptic_alphabet and have seen it is not Coptic but Greek.

      One poster has already gone to Google Translator as I did. http://translate.google.com/

      Sorry Armchair, it is a recipie. I'm hitting the sack. I wasted too much time here.

      September 19, 2012 at 1:53 am |
    • Michael J.

      Wikipedia: The poor man, lazy man's research tool.

      September 19, 2012 at 1:57 am |
    • Armchair Scholar

      Sorry, Bob, aside from being a rather comical transcription and translation of gibberish, you completely missed the Coptic letter shy.

      September 19, 2012 at 2:04 am |
  16. Bob

    Jesus was a sandni gger.

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

      Sacrilidge. Shame on u. Yeshua NZR Messiah lives...2 billion strong. He is the bridegroom, the church is the bride of Messiah, and Hashem is God.

      September 19, 2012 at 1:34 am |
    • Ben

      It isn't sacrilege, just an incredibly offensive term. Historically speaking Jesus was certainly middle-easter; he wasn't caucasian

      September 19, 2012 at 1:44 am |
  17. netanyahu

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OlT3ARuUSGc&w=640&h=360]

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

      1:59 you can hear satanic tongues!

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

    Well the Bible ends with a wedding in the book of Revelations.

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

      You are a Bible reader and you don't even know the correct name of that book?

      (look again)

      September 19, 2012 at 1:39 am |
  19. 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. nice

    September 19, 2012 at 1:27 am |
  20. Chris Waddell

    What does the rest of the parchment say??? By the looks of the photo of this piece of parchment looks like there's a lot more words there than just "Jesus said to them, 'My wife ..." Come on, throw us a frikin bone here!!

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

      I don't think the picture is the actual parchment, as the parchment is described as being very small, a "1 1/2- by 3-inch honey-colored fragment" to be exact

      September 19, 2012 at 1:27 am |
    • Just call me Lucifer

      It says "My Wife Bruce".

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

      cnn is not telling the how story they leave out "my wife, "whom he identifies as Mary

      September 19, 2012 at 1:30 am |
    • Armchair Scholar

      Read it for yourself.

      http://www.hds.harvard.edu/faculty-research/research-projects/the-gospel-of-jesuss-wife

      September 19, 2012 at 1:47 am |
    • End Religion

      it says Judas was a pretty good guy but that John was a real bore, always railing against some sin or another.

      September 19, 2012 at 1:48 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.