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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. Wes Scott

    "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."

    What this comment says is that the Wholly Babble is, itself, a lie. It is a known historical fact that the earliest of the "Four Gospels" appearing in the Wholly Babble was written by Mark some 35-42 years AFTER Jesus was supposedly crucified, and that the other "gospels" are more recent than that. Therefore, it is historically and sequentially impossible for the "Four Gospels" of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John to qualify as "gospels" according to the definition used by Biblical scholars, which is "a genre of ancient writings featuring dialogue between Jesus and his disciples."

    If the "Gospels" presented in the Wholly Babble purport to be anything other than hearsay passed down secondhand, thirdhand or later, then they are not truthful, and therefore they discredit the rest of the book upon which they serve as a basis. The problem I have with most "Biblical scholars" is that they work starting from a series of assumptions that defy history and fact, let alone logic.

    According to ancient Jewish canon (law) a priest (of which Jesus was one) was required to be at least 30 years old, married and have children BEFORE becoming a priest so that he would be able to understand the problems and conflicts of marriage and parenthood. When Christians usurped Jesus from the Jews and made him over in the image they imagined for him it was easy to dismiss the truth in favor of the dogma, and therein lies the fundamental flaw in Christianity – Jesus was a devout Jew!

    September 18, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
    • Son of the South

      Sir: I perceive that thou art an idiot and that thy words are wholly babble........

      September 18, 2012 at 7:11 pm |
    • Son of the South

      Jesus was NOT a "preist", Jesus was a "Rabbi". This word means "a teacher" not a preist.

      September 18, 2012 at 7:13 pm |
    • YoozYerBrain

      @SonOfTheSouth

      ABSOLUTELY NO historical evidence such a person existed, even and especially among contemporary spiritual writers who you'd think would have at least heard of the rabble-rousing Nazarene. Sadly, it's all a con....no records among the Romans either who were great record-keepers, and don't make me go into the whole ADAD/yahweh/abraham thing...just read history, man.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:36 pm |
    • joeymom

      I see you don't know much bout ancient literature or religion.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:46 am |
    • c.baltz

      The Bible refers to the bride of Christ, which is the church. Why don't you say that on T.V.? I will tell you why, because it complete gives you no story at all. The Bible is full of truth and you may try but you will fail to find fault in Gods Word! Jesus is Gods Word. Also what is the word you say translates to wife? Could it also mean bride? Come on, why do put propaganda on the air like that, without a truthfully explaining Gods word. See we, the followers of Christ "the bride of Christ". We won't attack anyone for missing the mark, but we will pray for you because we know that you have someone to answer to who you should fear.
      Revelation 22:17 The Spirit and the bride say, "Come!" And let him who hears say, "Come!" Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.
      matthew 12:36 But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken.

      September 19, 2012 at 10:34 am |
  2. durarat

    None of us know all of the truth. It's like the media...they present info that they want us to know....same as the Catholic church...they only allow the information out that they want out. Live a good life....be a good person....treat others fairly....and all will work out in the end. In other words. Love one another, we are all in the same boat.

    September 18, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
    • WJ

      You make too much sense. Obviously you don't belong here......

      September 18, 2012 at 8:05 pm |
    • notaposter

      Heretic! he uses logic!

      September 18, 2012 at 8:28 pm |
    • c.baltz

      [soundcloud url="http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/46901936" params="visual=true&show_artwork=true&maxwidth=500&maxheight=750" width="100%" height="400" iframe="true" /]

      September 19, 2012 at 10:43 am |
  3. Bob

    Interesting, Egypt was Christian before it was brutally conquered and forced to submit by the Muslim invaders.

    September 18, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
    • apstar

      Egypt is still about 10% Christian (mostly Coptic). Maybe the Catholic Church will finally let priests marry...

      September 18, 2012 at 7:11 pm |
    • Bob Fates from Chicago

      Is conquer only "brutal" when carried out by the Muslims?

      September 18, 2012 at 7:22 pm |
    • IgnorantBob

      First: Most peoples converted to Islam because their ruler converted. That was how things were back then, not just with Islam. It was very common practice for people took on the religion of their king or leader, so when he converted, they did too.

      Second: You think that Christianity spread in Egypt peacefully? When Christians were ruling Egypt they defaced and destroyed a lot of the temples and structures of the ancient egyptians. On top of that the Byzantine empire was occupying the Egyptians and persecuted its people, when Muslims beat Byzantium they granted religious freedom to the Christians of Alexandria.

      Just from Wikipedia:
      "In Egypt, the victorious Muslims granted religious freedom to the Christian community in Alexandria, for example, and the Alexandrians quickly recalled their exiled Monophysite patriarch to rule over them, subject only to the ultimate political authority of the conquerors. In such a fashion the city persisted as a religious community under an Arab Muslim domination more welcome and more tolerant than that of Byzantium."

      September 18, 2012 at 7:26 pm |
  4. Name*Ken

    Lord, Father, Christ Jesus...forgive us of our sins. Amen.

    September 18, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
    • Jesus

      That depends, Ken...what have you been up to lately?

      September 18, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
  5. Susan

    Its a little to neat and a little to convenient- I'm gonna reserve judgment until a couple other people verify this thing is legit.

    September 18, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
    • Words You Can't Use

      Well I'm going to pass judgment on you right now. You don't know the difference between "to" and "too". Which makes you today's "FAIL".

      Congratulashayla.

      September 18, 2012 at 7:11 pm |
  6. Martin

    A long lost preface page of The Bible has been found in the desert

    "This story is a work of fiction. Any relation to current events or people is completely coincidental"

    September 18, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
  7. shuyaib

    If Jesus was married to a mortal, will that imply that Jesus was a human?

    September 18, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
    • joeymom

      Not a Christian, I see.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:47 am |
  8. mim

    The person who wrote the passage was just kidding and hoping to get one minute of fame in 2012 on CNN.

    September 18, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
  9. Austin

    another gnostic gospel...not even close to the true Gospel found in matthew, mark, luke, and john gospels that line up with Paul, and the other apostles teachings of Jesus, those four gospels have hundreds of manuscrips not like these puny 1 time fragments dated way after apostles

    September 18, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
    • SixDegrees

      This particular fragment is contemporaneous with the earliest of the canonical gospels. And the selection process that led to those four – out of the scores of gospels in circulation at the time – is an interesting study in politics, and little else, that didn't occur until around 350 AD and kept being twiddled for another couple hundred years after that.

      September 18, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
    • Jeff

      hundreds???? there are only 5 known copies of Mark, some ahave added material to them. There are only 3 known complete Lukes, but all 3 differ in many areas, there are 18 copies of Matthew, mostly fragments though wth ont5 compete. John has the most, 33, mostly partials. There re not "hundreds" as you see. BTW I have a PHD in Koine Greek, one of the requirements for that degree is studying the texts, I have actually seen every text available

      September 18, 2012 at 7:08 pm |
    • butch

      None of the gospels were written by anyone who knew Jesus. There is absolutely no evidence from the time of Jesus' life to support that Jesus actually existed. There are no historical records from that time and there is no archeological evidence. There is not one shred of evidence of any kind that proves Jesus existed.

      September 18, 2012 at 7:10 pm |
    • oy

      Those "true" Gospels were edited and revised by the Church. There is no "true"r Gospel than something that has NOT been edited.

      September 18, 2012 at 7:19 pm |
    • joeymom

      They have 100s because effort was made to copy and preserve them, since they were declared canonical. Outlying groups were persecuted and often forced out of centers where preservation would have been easier.

      I recommend studying the history and process of the editing of the Bible- it is fascinating.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:49 am |
  10. john

    I always thought the best evidence that Jesus was, or had been, married was the Bible itself. After all, Jesus routinely preached in a location in which only married men were allowed to preach. Despite that the Jewish leaders were always trying to find fault with Him and to accuse Him, they never accused Him of being a single man preaching where single men weren't allowed to.

    September 18, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
    • Jeff

      Dang it John ya stealing my rebuttal material for the nes who say my comments are wrong lol

      September 18, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
    • GAW

      Jesus can be whatever you want him to be. Including a brother from outer space. Have at it and use your imagination.

      September 18, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
  11. Marlou Ordelt

    Religion...It's a big war starting going on for centuries debaucle.....story telling at it's worse. Sorry! Thats how I feel. Dont get me started!

    September 18, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
  12. Bob Loblaw

    Hmmm, purportedly can walk on water, turn water to wine and feed thousands with a handful of fish. If he couldn't get laid with those credentials then there is a reason the Catholic clergy is 'supposedly' celibate.

    September 18, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
  13. CaraW

    Cliffhanger!!

    September 18, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
    • GAW

      Coathanger

      September 18, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
  14. Jeff

    I have studied the idea of Jesus having a wife. In the time of Christ there was not a Jew or person alive that would listen to a man that was 32 years old and never married, he would have been avoided like the plague. The idea that some people have that Jesus was nevermarriedholds no water at all for the time period because the parents arrange for the first wife would have been taken care of when he was around 5 or 6.

    September 18, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
    • Son of the South

      Not in the case of Jesus: Joseph probably died early on, Jesus was from a very poor family which most likely excludes a pre-arranged marriage. Also, both the mother Mary and Joseph ( an earthly father-figure for Jesus) KNEW and accepted that Jesus had came to this earth for more than a normal life. People are still mistaking the Master Builder for a simple carpenter.

      September 18, 2012 at 7:25 pm |
    • robtarange

      He must NOT have been married if he was known as the Mastur....oh, Master Builder! That's a different kind of working with your wood...

      September 18, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
    • joeymom

      I'm not sure how "poor" a family of carpenters would have been in that time. It is skilled and valuable labor. More like "middle-class."

      September 19, 2012 at 12:52 am |
  15. thedeadassociates

    How about this: It doesn't matter because he never existed.

    September 18, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
    • GAW

      Whatever you say dude. Who are we to question your authority.

      September 18, 2012 at 7:00 pm |
    • Austin

      thats ignorant. your really going to deny the movment that came from him and the Writings of Joesphus, Thallus, Roman Taticus and several other historicans in the 1st century?

      September 18, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
    • A Frayed Knot

      Austin,

      All of the popular news outlets of the present day have done articles or stories on Scientologists. Does that mean that those beliefs are true, then?

      September 18, 2012 at 7:10 pm |
    • Sean Patrick

      Austin, no one is denying the movement that was created by him. But, that in no way supports the myth that he was the son of god, or even his cousin twice removed.

      September 18, 2012 at 7:18 pm |
    • Son of the South

      Austin is correct. I have read Flavius Josephus quite a lot. These people gave considerable coverage to Jesus, His words, and the fact that He existed. Not that a Christian needs these ancient witnesses. We have the Witness within us.

      September 18, 2012 at 7:22 pm |
    • robtarange

      It's like I always say about the South: They have the Witless within them...

      September 18, 2012 at 7:40 pm |
    • George Spalding

      10 BILLION Christians since the Death of Christ say DIFFERENT. Are all of us just STUPID?

      September 18, 2012 at 8:58 pm |
    • Jizalot4fun

      @George Spalding- No, it means you are the product of childhood indoctrination, or did you discover all the Christian teachings, doctrines, and miracle stories on your own? There are 1.2 billion Muslims too; are they all idiots? When it comes to outrageous beliefs, count the evidence and NOT the number of believers. Peace.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:17 am |
  16. SS

    Quite certain the actual historical Jesus was nothing as he is perceived nowadays.

    September 18, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
    • GAW

      I know. The white, family values, Republican Jesus just doesn't do it for me either.

      September 18, 2012 at 6:58 pm |
  17. Charles

    I took this from a discussion of Jesus' bloodline that is in wikipedia-
    "Differing and contradictory versions of a Jesus bloodline hypothesis have been promoted by numerous books, websites and films of non-fiction and fiction in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, which have almost all been dismissed as works of pseudohistory and conspiracy theory. According to a vast majority of professional historians and scholars from related fields, there is no historical, biblical, apocryphal, archaeological, genealogical or genetic evidence which supports this hypothesis".
    Boy the conspiratorialist are going to come out of the woodwork now. Maybe the" DaVinci Code" was true although it sucked as a movie.

    September 18, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
  18. JeffinIL

    And she asketh of him, "Dear, does this cross maketh my buttocks appear overly large?"
    Jesus wept.

    September 18, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
    • sam

      LOL

      September 18, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
    • old ben

      lmao – oh i have to remember that in case i ever get talked into going to church again

      September 18, 2012 at 8:33 pm |
  19. richajam

    The best thing about these blogs is a sense of humor will always sound out.
    Payor or Not, Believer or Doubter. If you cant show you have a thick skin to cushion scutany vs. your faith and beliefs, you are sorely in the wrong place, at the wrong time, in the wrong profession.
    Even the greatest of teachers laugh in pure delight- even at themselves.

    September 18, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
  20. GAW

    This article is troll bait

    September 18, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
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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.