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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. William Poole, Buffalo, NY

    Many Historians lived during the Life of Jesus, and they never recorded anything about Jesus or his Existence. The Roman Empire never recorded anything about Jesus, they never even recorded him being existence. So why is it that, only thing we have is in the Bible, and not actually recorded by the Historians or the Roman Empire who lived in Jesus's days? You know why? Because Jesus never existed, it was a way to keep man kind from doing evil. There isn't any GOD, maybe Aliens, but not no GOD, NO JESUS. No man has died and came back to life, 6 months later. I used to believe in GOD, if there is a GOD, lets clone Jesus from the "Shroud of Turin" which still has DNA. If we can CLONE a woolly mammoth from a Few Million Years ago, surely we can clone Jesus christ right? I'll bet the Government has a couple thousand Jesus Christ already cloned deep under ground somewhere, maybe to make human believe there's the Anti-Christ? Cloning Hilter and Jesus mixed together and Sadam would be a great Anti-Christ.

    September 19, 2012 at 3:28 am |
    • DanielD

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

      September 19, 2012 at 3:39 am |
  2. kranti

    It is useless to argue about religions; it is very obvious why we worship these heroes from the past. They were no gods, they were humans with different characters and personalities, but both claimed spiritual powers, however they must have been good speakers. Jesus apparently took the path of humanity, love and sacrifice, and was a peaceful man. Mohammed had a different life-style. He was a successful diplomat, politician, and a fighter. It is easy and obvious that he was a womanizer, having had multiple wives, including girl children, slaves, maybe camels and goats. His cruelty is obvious in his methods of punishment to people, such as mutilations, stoning to death, raping women, etc. The reason behind his success is that he set up a male-dominated society, all benefits to men and subjugating and brainwashing women. From today's perspective, he is in plain words an evil, sick man, however, for the kind of people in the medieval civilization, he must have been a hero.

    September 19, 2012 at 3:13 am |
    • Abo Haitham

      The papyrus is about Jesus, the subject is about Jesus, So why don't you talk about Jesus or shut up ? FYI, Joseph married Mary when she was between 7 and 9 years old. BUMMER.

      September 19, 2012 at 4:12 am |
  3. SWAVE

    SO ARE THERE CHRISTIANS VIOLENTLY PROTESTING ABOUT THIS CLIP??

    September 19, 2012 at 3:12 am |
    • Ronald McReagan

      They are busy at their Klan meeting.

      September 19, 2012 at 3:24 am |
    • Imminent

      Doesn't look like any rioting. Imagine that...as for this McReagan clown who fails horribly at being funny may want to find a day job. Just fail.

      September 19, 2012 at 3:31 am |
    • dred

      absolutely...but our protests are in secret just as our fasting and prayer times are done in secret, before the Father who sees what is done is secret as per Jesus's commands (Mathew 6: 1 – 18)

      September 19, 2012 at 5:52 am |
  4. krantiveer

    It is useless to argue about religions; it is very obvious why we worship these heroes from the past. They were no gods, they were humans with different characters and personalities, but both claimed spiritual powers, however they must have been good speakers. Jesus apparently took the path of humanity, love and sacrifice, and was a peaceful man. Mohammed had a different life-style. He was a successful diplomat, politician, and a fighter. It is easy and obvious that he was a womanizer, having had multiple wives, including girl children, slaves, maybe camels and goats. His cruelty is obvious in his methods of punishment to people, such as mutilations, stoning to death, raping women, etc. The reason behind his success is that he set up a male-dominated society, all benefits to men and subjugating and brainwashing women. From today's perspective, he is in plain words an evil, sick man, however, for the kind of people in the medieval civilization, he must have been a hero.

    September 19, 2012 at 3:11 am |
  5. LMH2

    This article spends an awful lot of time backing down from the idea of Jesus having a wife. Who are they afraid of offending? I mean, does it change who Jesus was if he had a wife? How about the mention of him having brothers that's already in the gospels? Would having brothers or a wife make him NOT divine? I mean, how weak is your god if he couldn't handle that?

    September 19, 2012 at 3:10 am |
  6. gdaym8

    Of course he was married! His wife is on "The Real Housewives of Jerusalem"! All the other wives are real jealous of her! You know, because her husband can turn water into wine! ....... They throw the BEST parties!

    September 19, 2012 at 3:03 am |
  7. Butters

    Well who cares if some guy that lived 2000 yrs ago was married or not ?
    Christianity the divinity of Jesus or Yeshua was all voted on .
    The bible needs to be outlawed . But noooo the Catholic church would have a fit .

    September 19, 2012 at 2:57 am |
  8. gdaym8

    No! No, no, no, no, no. They're talking about "HEY-ZUES", NOT "JEEZ-US"! Two completely different people!

    September 19, 2012 at 2:51 am |
  9. adam

    well time to burn an embassy I guess...

    Or I could go play some torchlight till I simmer down.

    September 19, 2012 at 2:47 am |
    • Flint Fredstone

      So sad there weren't embassies back when Christians did this sort of stuff. They feel so left out now.

      September 19, 2012 at 2:57 am |
  10. OregonTom

    mmmm honey colored fragment...

    September 19, 2012 at 2:46 am |
  11. realbuckyball

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bbX38cUD4D4&w=640&h=360]

    September 19, 2012 at 2:40 am |
  12. smdahl@gmail.com

    This Harvard Divinity School student, who would not be able to pass a high school English class, has been duped by one in a long line of Israeli criminals who make these for a living and who all prefer to remain "anonymous".

    September 19, 2012 at 2:23 am |
    • realbuckyball

      Prove it. You think that's not the first thing they thought of ?

      September 19, 2012 at 2:30 am |
  13. The Angry Mob

    If CNN doesn't take this story down this instant, we'll come burn down the headquarters building.

    September 19, 2012 at 2:18 am |
  14. Hammer Time

    Well "Bob" if you are still there, you were very close with your translation regarding a recipie and I give you credit for trying. "ανυχτ υ δο ιτ μαγε" which indeed is part of the text actually translates to: A structured IT anycht cooking. I have never come across the word Anycht in Greek but used in this context, I believe it is a poorly written reference to a boat (Yacht). So the translation therefore reads: This is a vessel of an IT creation. Meaning, I believe someone clever has "concocted" this manuscript. Thank you for shedding light on what appears to be a hoax.

    September 19, 2012 at 2:16 am |
    • Irony Bob

      Nonsense. It says "For a good time, call Jesus."

      September 19, 2012 at 2:28 am |
    • Rafael

      Thought I was the only geek. The character after AN bottom left, definetly suspect. Not Coptic, not Greek. That's what's throwing you off. Looks like someone went for a Coptic W, changed mind, ended up with a mess. This isn't classic Greek either, but this researcher should know this is from the 7th century or later even if it was authentic, which I doubt.

      September 19, 2012 at 2:49 am |
    • Armchair Scholar

      Morning, Bob. Nice to see you supporting your own theories under a different name. Is thre a reason you are so averse to this manuscript? Atheists will just dismiss it, and a late Gnostic text means nothing to a Christian. Please listen to reason and stop thinking you know Greek, because you're embarrassing yourself.

      September 19, 2012 at 7:51 am |
  15. Tami

    where's my comment!

    September 19, 2012 at 2:16 am |
    • realbuckyball

      You know about the naughty word filter ?

      September 19, 2012 at 2:23 am |
    • Irony Bob

      Yeah, you can't say tit, like in Constitution, or cum, like in circumstance

      September 19, 2012 at 2:27 am |
    • realbuckyball

      Unless you know the magic divine holy incantations. Fuck fuck fuck. 👿

      September 19, 2012 at 2:34 am |
    • Zool

      You have to do that special prayer to the one and only real God: Sniffy Bob The Yodelling Dik-Dik. If you are in a state of Sniffy Bob grace and destined for his Heaven Of Unusually Large Televisions And Tasty Pizza, then you will be able to say things like "shitfucker".

      Tasty pizza and cool tele is eternally mine, for I chose the correct god and you didn't. My scripture book confirms it. It says "Verily, only you are right, the others are nincompoops, and if they mock you, it is even more proof you are right, and any evidence emerges that this is total bullshit, it is the nefarious deceptions of Bippy The Dark One Who Hath Recently Become The Darkest Dark One And Has A Pretty Slammin' Rave Party On Fridays DownOn The Bayou."

      So there.

      September 19, 2012 at 3:21 am |
  16. sterling

    Jesus was telling what we know today as a "henny youngman joke"... Take my wife—please.

    September 19, 2012 at 2:14 am |
  17. Redstick Rep

    I think very few people are genuinely upset by the idea of Jesus having a wife. If anything, it makes his life story more real.

    September 19, 2012 at 2:12 am |
    • bobcat

      As an Atheist, yes it does make his story more believable and real.

      September 19, 2012 at 2:17 am |
    • And finally . . .

      More real, less supernatural.

      Eventually people will realize that he was just a guy, and all the rest was just legend, the same kind of legend that turns a forest robber into Robin Hood, the same kind of legend that turns a trivial Briton warlord into King Arthur, the same kind of legend that creates Allah and Moroni and Zeus.

      September 19, 2012 at 2:23 am |
  18. 0rangeW3dge

    OK,,,Get over it,,
    Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, and they even had a son.... AND there is a Gospel of Mary.
    BUT, the Romans don't want you to know those things, so the destroyed the original texts.
    but don't take my word for it, go read some other books by people that have researched this stuff,,,OR, wait until you hear about it on CNN some 1,900 years after the fact

    September 19, 2012 at 2:11 am |
    • callnews

      . . . or just believe the next piece of garbage somebody digs up from some gnostic heap instead of the 500 people who testified that Jesus rose from the dead. But if you don't take their word for it (though it's as much primary historical evidence as any other thing we take as fact) there are so many thousands of indisputable miracles being performed through the name of Jesus today, that you'd have to be blind not to know it. Yes, it is important that Jesus was not physically married upon this earth. This was not apart of the purpose of His coming. But go ahead, make up your mind why He came, and have done with it; because He's coming the second time in judgement of who you're going to believe. There's no question that He said He was God, and that He came to save us from our sins and death. If you think that you have some other way to save yourself from those two things, you're mistaken.

      September 19, 2012 at 2:36 am |
    • Chris

      http://www.gotquestions.org/was-Jesus-married.html

      September 19, 2012 at 2:39 am |
    • End Religion

      That's rich. Always love to see two loving, non-judgmental christians fighting over who's holier. Classic. Callnews, are you sure you're not catholic? That's some wicked guilt trip you're wielding on the Wedge-ster.

      September 19, 2012 at 2:41 am |
  19. exeod

    Easter: Jesus rose from the dead and walked outside of the tomb and saw his shadow and went back inside for another six weeks of winter.

    September 19, 2012 at 2:07 am |
    • 0rangeW3dge

      rude

      September 19, 2012 at 2:12 am |
    • dmwhipp

      Thanks! I needed a laugh today 🙂

      September 19, 2012 at 2:21 am |
    • wobbles

      if we were muslim, we'd be burning your house down for that. Still think Christans and Muslims are the same?

      September 19, 2012 at 2:24 am |
    • The truth is revealed

      You mean . . . you mean . . . Punxsutawney Phil is a zombie too?

      September 19, 2012 at 2:25 am |
    • End Religion

      Mary liked guys with prominent upper teeth.

      September 19, 2012 at 2:37 am |
  20. Gryla2

    The important question is; 'did Jesus' wife do azz-to-mouth?'

    September 19, 2012 at 2:05 am |
    • End Religion

      Mrs Christ was likely one in a long procession of holy ATMs. Jesus did hang around with 12 dudes who worshiped him...

      September 19, 2012 at 2:31 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.