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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. HAVE MUD WILL TRAVEL

    '2Ti 3:4 Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God;'

    September 19, 2012 at 5:48 am |
  2. HAVE MUD WILL TRAVEL

    '2Ti 3:3 Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good,'

    September 19, 2012 at 5:45 am |
  3. Shantel

    From the article:
    "This fragment, this new piece of papyrus evidence, does not prove that (Jesus) was married, nor does it prove that he was not married":
    In other words, the fact that the bible contains information does not prove that (Jesus) was real, nor does it prove that any of the content is true.

    September 19, 2012 at 5:45 am |
  4. HAVE MUD WILL TRAVEL

    Americult is on it's last legs. CHECK OUT the drone purchases for just-ice surveillance. HA!....'2Ti 3:2 For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy,'

    September 19, 2012 at 5:43 am |
  5. Marney_5

    This also proves that Jesus wasn't gay and maybe persuade the priest hood to be able to marry and maybe keep their hands off little boys.

    September 19, 2012 at 5:34 am |
    • just sayin

      You are assuming that the fragment represents an unspecified Truth. The Bible is proven Truth, this fragment is not the Bible. There are multiple accounts from the first century referencing Jesus, very few are Truth. God bless

      September 19, 2012 at 5:41 am |
    • Marney_5

      How is the bible true?

      September 19, 2012 at 5:46 am |
    • just sayin

      The Bible is the Word of God. God bless

      September 19, 2012 at 5:50 am |
    • Marney_5

      The bible was written by man, so again, how is it true?

      September 19, 2012 at 6:13 am |
  6. kathy drew

    all Christians know who the bride of Christ is.

    September 19, 2012 at 5:34 am |
    • dred

      who is the bride of Christ?

      September 19, 2012 at 5:44 am |
    • sam stone

      the w-h-o-r-e of rome?

      September 19, 2012 at 6:09 am |
    • Just call me Lucifer

      Lindsay Lohan?

      September 19, 2012 at 6:27 am |
  7. Jim J.

    If God isn't real, how did he create man in his own image? Checkmate, atheists!

    September 19, 2012 at 5:23 am |
    • greg

      I think you will find that the reality is that man created god in his own image. Try reading some non-fiction.

      September 19, 2012 at 5:27 am |
    • Milton

      If unicorns aren't real, how do you explain the fact that they make rainbows? See, your "logic" works on everything imaginary.

      September 19, 2012 at 5:31 am |
    • dred

      i have never seen an image of gods on temples that look like a man...usually, there are a one eyed thing( see us dollar bill), a human body with an elephant head,eagle head, dog head, a bull, a cat, a crocodile, a bear, a buffalo...never one that is actually a "God'and is in the image of man..even the Hebrews made a golden calf, and not a golden man after they left Egypt. the closest I can think of is in India, but he is blue..and there are no blue humans.
      no, i think man is made in God's image...how else can 500,000 electric switches work perfectly in my body to allow me to type? chance? or design..if design, then God is the Great Omnipotent Designer..that's all, and he can do whatever he please, even hide so aethists will think he does not exist until they are dead.

      September 19, 2012 at 5:40 am |
  8. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    September 19, 2012 at 5:17 am |
    • Milton

      My cat is probably going to hell then since he never goes to church. Come to think of it, he doesn't pray either.

      September 19, 2012 at 5:33 am |
    • just sayin

      Nor does it leave its natural estate. It is a cat keeping the natural estate God placed it in. Man is the transgressor, the only creature that denies God. God bless

      September 19, 2012 at 6:00 am |
    • just sayin

      Nor does it leave its natural estate. It is a cat keeping the natural estate God placed it in. Man is the transgressor, the only creature that denies God. God bless .

      September 19, 2012 at 6:03 am |
    • One one

      The believer is the only creature that denies reality.

      September 19, 2012 at 6:11 am |
    • Jesus

      Prayer does not; you are such a LIAR. You have NO proof it changes anything! A great example of prayer proven not to work is the Christians in jail because prayer didn't work and their children died. For example: Susan Grady, who relied on prayer to heal her son. Nine-year-old Aaron Grady died and Susan Grady was arrested.

      An article in the Journal of Pediatrics examined the deaths of 172 children from families who relied upon faith healing from 1975 to 1995. They concluded that four out of five ill children, who died under the care of faith healers or being left to prayer only, would most likely have survived if they had received medical care.

      The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs! ,

      September 19, 2012 at 10:37 am |
  9. Pete

    At least Jesus wasn't dating Fred, CNN would just kill to report something like that. Mabey in another 5 years CNN could fabricate some lie saying that he actually did

    September 19, 2012 at 5:00 am |
    • midwest rail

      Another frustrated ex-Fox poster. Good grief.

      September 19, 2012 at 5:03 am |
    • Pete

      Who said anything about Ex-Fox?

      September 19, 2012 at 5:06 am |
  10. TarnishedAngels

    Of course Jesus had a wife. How can people think otherwise?

    Even the Pharisees called Jesus 'Rabbi'. Legally, to be a Rabbi in that age ad that part of the world, a man HAD to be married with at least one child.

    If you believe in the bible, you have to accept that Jesus was not only married, but had a child.

    September 19, 2012 at 4:58 am |
  11. Scott

    Heck, for all we know, that fragment went on to say..."My wife would have to be a very understanding woman..." It tells us nothing. Seriously, nothing. Which means it doesn't threaten anyone's beliefs, so chill out, everyone. 🙂

    September 19, 2012 at 4:56 am |
    • RCadag

      True, true. 🙂

      September 19, 2012 at 5:17 am |
  12. Maccabeus24

    Couldn't be referring to the Church now, could it? (Ephesians 5:22-33) No, let's insult Christians with more nonsense. Please...

    September 19, 2012 at 4:56 am |
  13. Adam

    It makes no sense to doubt everything in the Bible except the parts that seem to suggest Jesus isn't the Son of God.

    September 19, 2012 at 4:30 am |
    • OTOH

      I feel more like I do now than I did when I first got here.

      September 19, 2012 at 4:49 am |
  14. Richard

    The saddest thing in the World is an atheist with a low I.Q., like so many here.

    September 19, 2012 at 4:21 am |
    • Gaunt

      ironic, considering the well established and evidenced inverse correlation between religiosity and edeucation.

      September 19, 2012 at 4:44 am |
  15. jjoonnyy

    Very coincidental that a Coptic script comes out in the news after a Coptic christian made a video that ticked off the Muslims. LOL. Religion is such a joke!

    September 19, 2012 at 4:15 am |
  16. Nonie

    So what, if He's married? He guided human civilization for 2,000 years and today He is still our Guiding Light! Does the existence of that papyrus make Him less than a God? Bear in mind that He is the perfect version of a human being.

    September 19, 2012 at 4:15 am |
  17. Kris

    I though jesus was a gay white male with blue eyes who coddled and protected child molesters from the law by shifting them from church to church.

    September 19, 2012 at 4:01 am |
    • Lord Wharfin

      Hey, everyone invents their own version of Jesus anyway, so if that's what you want, go for it.

      September 19, 2012 at 4:09 am |
    • bedev

      Hey, was Jesus not invented too.....by men?

      September 19, 2012 at 5:41 am |
  18. amenable

    Why does it matter? Half of the Bible is written by hermits who went into caves decades after Jesus' death. The other half is Editing & Re-editing done by Emperor Constantine and Others. Why do you think that the most important parts of the Bible have been deliberately & mysteriously removed? I'm talking about the 13 years of his 33 year Life he went to live in India. Why do they Not want you to know about it? Don't just blame Emperor Constantine, he may have been the biggest miscreant & transgressor, but I would say he's not by far the only one that had their hand in the cookie jar over the years...not by a long shot!!!

    September 19, 2012 at 4:00 am |
    • mb2010a

      There are over 500 books of the Bible that were purged because clerics felt they weren't "pertinent". The Catholic Bible has several books that are not in the Protestant Bible. Google "Missing books of the Bible" for a better picture...

      September 19, 2012 at 6:28 am |
  19. And now for something completely different

    Since this is a dead dull topic, it's time to change gears.

    Did you know that George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Rumsfeld all have animals named after them? Agathidium bushi, Agathidium cheneyi, and Agathidiu. rumsfeldi are beetles, named by Republican bug-hugger fanboys who did not think about the fact these beetles eat slime mold. A propos, though an insult to beetles, if you ask me.

    If you don't believe me, google it.

    p.s. Romney pounded the final nail into the coffin that is his campaign this week. It's all over.

    September 19, 2012 at 3:58 am |
    • Mitt Romney

      It's not that my campaign is doomed so much as . . . as . . . okay, I'm really counting on Moroni to pull me out of this disaster.

      September 19, 2012 at 4:15 am |
    • Milton

      If these beetles do primarily feed on slime mold, I'd say the taxonomist that named them really did think about the etymology of the binomen before naming them. I wouldn't say they are a fan boy. Taxonomists are famous for the backhanded compliment when they name stuff. A friend of mine found a new species of harvestmen with a penis that makes up about 50% of its body mass. I think it should be called romneyii

      September 19, 2012 at 5:40 am |
  20. The_Mick

    The new testament is not "silent" if you're aware of the laws in Jerusalem 2000 years ago. There were so many cases where a person's death was prematurely assumed, that there was a law that a family member had to check the tomb three days after burial to make sure the person was really dead. Which "family member" does the new testament say went to check the tomb: Mary Magdalene! And there was a religious law that said only married rabbis could work with children. Yet the new testament says Jesus said, "Suffer (Allow) the children to come unto me."

    Of course, I'm amazed people are so upset when someone doesn't take the gospels literally despite the fact that they contradict each other in terms of facts, the order of events, etc. and despite the fact there never was a Jesus, Mary, etc. Their names were Yeshua (as was Moses sidekick "Joshua"), Miriam, etc. Wouldn't you want to get the names right?

    September 19, 2012 at 3:42 am |
    • Totally simple to understand

      Actually, there are four different accounts of the "going to the tomb" thing, and they totally agree non-contradictrally that it was 1/2/3/many women who came and found the tomb closed/open, and find a young man in white inside/an earthquake and an angel/an empty tomb and two guys/nothing but an empty tomb. Then they run away and tell no one/joyfully go off to tell the disciples the good news/tell the disciples, who don't believe them, then find but do not recognize Jesus/tells Peter and a disciple, then see angels and Jesus, who she doesn't recognize.

      And it's all true. It happened exactly like that.

      September 19, 2012 at 4:06 am |
    • jayman419

      So glad you cleared that up for everyone. I can't believe how complicated some people try to make it!

      September 19, 2012 at 4:39 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.