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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. Last Day

    Jesus kept his promise and has already come back
    in the beginning of this Last and Third Day (=Millennium); John 6/40

    please, see and clearly and unmistakably witness it now with your own eyes here:

    http://www.holy-19-harvest.com
    (UNIVERSAL MAGNIFICENT MIRACLES)

    September 19, 2012 at 6:50 am |
  2. Kudu

    "Jesus said to them, 'My wife ..." has enough shoes already!

    September 19, 2012 at 6:47 am |
  3. Jeff

    OMG ... That's where Henny Youngman got that joke! "I take my wife everywhere, but she keeps finding her way home." ... he was a HACK!

    September 19, 2012 at 6:42 am |
  4. ugh

    what a funny story, this is a 4th century gnostic writing that this "scholar" is trying to tie to the 2nd century, at least 100 years after all the eye witnesses have passed away. There is no colaboration in any writings from the early church fathers. Nice try but the only ones who go with this are those who already are against Christianity and those who fail to educate themselves

    September 19, 2012 at 6:42 am |
    • Jim

      Your point is somewhat valid, but if you look at the problem historiogrpahically it is not that straight forward. At the time this was written (and early) it was very common NOT to have contemporary sources, and "only" 100 years afterwards is considered good. (at least for the period) Simply ingoring source 2nd/3rd century sources simply because it was written 100 years later is historiogrpahically unsound.

      September 19, 2012 at 6:50 am |
    • @Jim

      Jim contrary to what people think we do have writings of the eary church fathers and the do colaborate what is in the Bible, we also have the writing of the the books in the Bible which at times quote each other so they self colaborate for age and usage

      September 19, 2012 at 7:27 am |
  5. Jesse

    Doesn't a person have to actually exist before getting married?

    September 19, 2012 at 6:40 am |
    • joepub

      And yet there are writings showing his existence.

      September 19, 2012 at 6:46 am |
    • AlyssaJ

      There are not. There is no gospel purported to be written by Jesus. Mostly it's people writing about a guy named Jesus hundreds of years after Jesus supposedly died. That Jesus ever existed is quite disputable. That Jesus existed and did everything the bible says he did is pretty laughable.

      September 19, 2012 at 6:56 am |
  6. Robert Keyes

    Keep trying to make Him "Not God". Keep attacking Christianity. It's ok caue we are use to it. And when the writer of this crap dies and faces Jesus Christ – just ask Him to forgive your stupidity. And He will because He is pure love. No he wasn't "married". No He didn't have "girlfriends". No He didn't have "boyfriends". No He didn't have a "drinking problem". BUT He did/does have a "praying problem". He IS "addicted" to trying to save us ALL.

    September 19, 2012 at 6:39 am |
    • sam stone

      Free people do not need to be saved, Robert.

      September 19, 2012 at 6:49 am |
    • Really!

      @Robert
      Intresting rant; save us ALL from what, pray tell?

      September 19, 2012 at 6:52 am |
    • 2357

      Save us from the wrath of the Father. Apart from grace, he is an all-consuming fire.

      September 19, 2012 at 7:02 am |
    • HAVE MUD WILL TRAVEL

      sam stone, .......'2Cr 3:17 Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord [is], there [is] liberty.'

      September 19, 2012 at 7:29 am |
    • sam stone

      mud: quotes from a book don't mean anything to those who do not accept the authority of the book

      September 19, 2012 at 8:35 am |
    • HAVE MUD WILL TRAVEL

      sam stone, freedom in the former republic has all but slipped away. If you feel different, well, you own your own emotions.

      September 19, 2012 at 10:04 am |
  7. eamon

    Who gives a s**t if Jesus was married or not. We are in the XXI century.Can´t we forget the fairy tales that have enslaved mankind for millenia? Let´s all get a life,for Christ´s sake!

    September 19, 2012 at 6:38 am |
    • joepub

      Shhh, let the adults talk now. We'll change your diaper when we are finished.

      September 19, 2012 at 6:44 am |
  8. mb2010a

    I think that this fragment will be found to be a fake very soon...

    September 19, 2012 at 6:36 am |
    • sybaris

      Only a christian would say that.

      It's funny how they will tout a 2000 year old book written by ignorant sheep herders as the "truth" but dismiss anything else written by the same people in the same era that doesn't support their fairy tale religion.

      September 19, 2012 at 6:48 am |
    • I agree

      @sybaris
      if that piece of ancient script is BS as the christians will claim, why is the whole lot not BS? Just because the christians say so is the usual illogical answer and why are other religious tomes BS in the christians opinion? Same answer, just because they so. LOL

      September 19, 2012 at 7:14 am |
  9. dred

    if you really want to know who the wife is, find the angel of Rev 21:9, because he said to John, son of Zebedee, "Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb."
    (For those who do not know..Jesus was called the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, by his cousin, John , son of Zechariah.)

    September 19, 2012 at 6:34 am |
  10. 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...the Bible is the word of man, not the word of God...

    September 19, 2012 at 6:31 am |
    • Jim

      Your lack of knowledge of early Christianity and the history of the bible canon is obvious. The claim the books 'were purged because clerics felt they weren't "pertinent"' is factually incorrect. Most of the writings by early christians did not pass the criteria of apostolicity or were obviously **even when** they were considered orthodox or "pertinent" by the proto-orthodox church. Here I am not talking about things like the Letter of Barnabas which was originally considered and then later determined to not be apostolic. Rather, here I refering to the books that were never considered apostolic. For details on the facts, please read Bruce Metzger's "The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development, and Significance"

      Further, I seriously doubt there were 500 books ever considered for inclusion and I doubt we have references to anything close to that many for the first two centuries, and anything later was obviously not apostolic and thus not included for reasons other than no tbeing "pertinent"'. On the other hand, I am always willing and eager to learn. So, if have list of so many books that were actually considered for inclusion, please post a link.

      September 19, 2012 at 6:44 am |
  11. Faith

    Sometimes you wonder about state of minds for people who choose to write the most horrible comments about my LORD. One day every tongue shall confess that Jesus is LORD, even those whe claimd he is a Jew, even those who write all these horrible things about HIM and even those who make false claims about the WORD OF GOD. I pray for blasphemers to repent before they die because if they do not, they will wish if they were not born while they perish forever.

    September 19, 2012 at 6:25 am |
    • Mohammed ali

      We does god have a "believe or else" policy?

      September 19, 2012 at 6:29 am |
    • charles

      @Faith, you make me not want to look to religion for spirituality.

      September 19, 2012 at 6:42 am |
    • sam stone

      Faith: You empty proxy threats are laughable. Get off your knees

      September 19, 2012 at 6:52 am |
    • Spaghetti Priest

      Maybe the Flying Spaghetti Monster turns out to be the true LORD and you'll have to spend the eternity drowning in tomato sauce for worshipping a false god. You think that's ridiculous? Well, not more ridiculous than your claims and equally unprovable. To be consequent you'd either have to pray to any potential form of god or uber-being just to be sure, or none. Threatening people with punishment in some kind of unprovable realm like the afterlife is the oldest trick on earth to bully people to accept some belief. It's incedibly sad that some people still fall for that...

      September 19, 2012 at 7:00 am |
    • HAVE MUD WILL TRAVEL

      uuuummmm, ali, there is a dress code for the party.

      September 19, 2012 at 7:16 am |
  12. Sinfully Yours

    God – the figment of early man's imagination.

    September 19, 2012 at 6:24 am |
  13. HAVE MUD WILL TRAVEL

    The church is no more the bride than an assembly of super bowl fans. The bride has a proper name called Israel, the reformed clay in the potter's hands.

    September 19, 2012 at 6:22 am |
    • dred

      I thought the angel showed John, Jerusalem, when he offered to show him the Bride.Rev 21:9 – 10

      September 19, 2012 at 6:29 am |
    • HAVE MUD WILL TRAVEL

      dred, ..........'Rev 3:12 Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, [which is] new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and [I will write upon him] my new name.'

      September 19, 2012 at 7:00 am |
  14. Weels

    future of the world!!! truthmovement.blog.com

    September 19, 2012 at 6:18 am |
  15. inachu

    Many things were removed from the bible because they were deemed not spiritual enoungh or holy inspired.
    The bible states we must worship in spirit and in tru th but they just keep removing historical context because it has nothing to do with the soul of a person.

    Only. One mention of king Og when there used to be several passages about king Og in the bible.

    The same with the notion of jesus being married. It was removed because man wanted jesus to be more mysterious.

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

      I thought the bible was the word of god? No? So some MEN thought they should edit it for the super invisible Megadude?

      Its seems your deity does absolutely nothing.

      September 19, 2012 at 6:21 am |
    • So Jesus Was Bi

      @inachu
      The gospel of Simon got edited out of the final version of the bible because of the naughty bits that Simon and Jesus did in private, wonder if Simon knew Jesus' was cheating on him with some woman?

      September 19, 2012 at 6:29 am |
  16. Marc

    Throughout history it has been common for Rabbis to marry and have families of their own. It's not out of the realm of possibility for him to have been married and even having children.

    September 19, 2012 at 6:07 am |
    • truth be told

      There are many extra biblical references to Jesus, not all of them are accurate or true. Since this is a fragment there is no real substance as to what the saying was reported to be or who wrote it or why. Explaining or defining it as a true statement is ridiculous.

      September 19, 2012 at 6:11 am |
    • Grahame Rhodes

      Of course Jesus was married. He was a Jewish man with a Jewish mother who would by tradition have brought many eligible girls in to meet him and would never have stopped nagging him until he did marry. Those of you who believe Jesus never married don't know any Jewish mothers.

      September 19, 2012 at 7:00 am |
    • HAVE MUD WILL TRAVEL

      What R school did He attend to get ye olde sheepskin?

      September 19, 2012 at 7:11 am |
  17. CaptainObvious

    Over 300 prophecies in the Old Testament came true with birth of Christ

    What is really amazing are the prophecies that have not yet come to pass, though current events are setting the stage

    Watch some Chuck Missler on youtube

    September 19, 2012 at 6:03 am |
    • HAVE MUD WILL TRAVEL

      Chucky is an idiot. He thinks the premier haters of Christ are 'chosen'. Ask him about the bill of divorcement. The 'rapture' is a lie.

      September 19, 2012 at 6:10 am |
    • HAVE MUD WILL TRAVEL

      You can find the fulfilled prophecies yourself, without chucky.

      September 19, 2012 at 6:12 am |
    • Rennie

      Whats more amazing is that those prophecies came true in books that were written by people AFTER having studied the original prophecies. Hmmm I wonder... Do you think they may have coerced the New Testament text a bit to match the earlier prophecies??

      September 19, 2012 at 6:40 am |
    • HAVE MUD WILL TRAVEL

      Rennie, no what is amazing(not really) is the learned leaders who had all those Scriptures and still killed Him for a season of pleasure.

      September 19, 2012 at 7:08 am |
  18. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    September 19, 2012 at 5:55 am |
    • Mohammed ali

      Jesus is a lie.

      September 19, 2012 at 6:17 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 |
  19. Joe

    people believed in conspiracy theory are creator of Jesus marriage, which hurts the christian like me. a lot....

    September 19, 2012 at 5:54 am |
  20. james hotz

    Jesus wife was Mary Magdalene and his son was Jude. They fled to Britian. and Mohammad had many wives.

    September 19, 2012 at 5:53 am |
    • And Jude begat

      @james
      Josh, and Josh begat Jerry, and Jerry begat Joeseph, and Joeseph begat James, and James begat etc. etc, and Alfred begat John Lennon, Imagine!

      September 19, 2012 at 6:43 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.