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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. fredvw

    Read the Nag Hammadi texts and study Gnosticism........the Bible is nothing more than a short story compilation.....other meaningful "stories" were left out. Just ask yourself why?

    September 19, 2012 at 11:13 am |
    • Jim

      Also, read Lost Christianities. There were many different "versions" of the movement in the beginning, and the one we know know only became the official one through political decision.

      September 19, 2012 at 11:17 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      "In 325, the Council devised a set of sacred testaments, transparent and wise
      The truth is only ever relied on that which we agree and abide
      At the meeting of the minds
      Reading of the times
      Open the blinds
      To our complicated lives
      We all need some kind of creed to lead us to light"

      – Dr. Greg Graffin (Bad Religion)

      September 19, 2012 at 11:25 am |
    • What IF

      Jim,
      "There were many different "versions" of the movement in the beginning, and the one we know know only became the official one through political decision."

      Oddly enough, Jehovah's Witnesses are probably the most representative of the real early Christians... and we know how popular they are! The "powers that be" (were)" had to put together a doctrine with "legs".

      September 19, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
  2. James

    Despite current day bias and intolerance, I hope someone-centuries for now – find an obscure reference and concluded that I, too, was truly "married".

    September 19, 2012 at 11:11 am |
  3. Larry

    what he said was the "old ball and chain is waiting for me at home"

    September 19, 2012 at 11:11 am |
    • realbuckyball

      it's why he went willingly to crucifixion. 🙂

      September 19, 2012 at 11:17 am |
  4. TomPaine

    Pretty interesting that part of the fragment it ends just where it does...

    September 19, 2012 at 11:09 am |
  5. stoictravelor

    I hate to say it, but any reference to Jesus being normal, like his carpenter days or his marriage, would have been wiped from bible.

    September 19, 2012 at 11:08 am |
    • stoictravelor

      also, was anybody else back then named Jesus? maybe?

      September 19, 2012 at 11:09 am |
    • Jim

      if you're going to use the "multiple Jesuses" argument then who's to say that half of the gospels aren't talking about another one?

      September 19, 2012 at 11:13 am |
  6. Emanuel

    That has nothing to do with our salvation whether he was married or not. Christ's mission was to save the human race, marriage was not part of his mission," how readest thou"?

    September 19, 2012 at 11:08 am |
    • realbuckyball

      Read the gospel of Mark, (the first gospel). Jeebus says NOTHING about salvation. Paul made it up, to compete with the saviors in the Greek mystery cults.

      September 19, 2012 at 11:11 am |
    • mama kindless

      Paul made up a lot of junk. Like that whole – I am an apostle thing. I think his secretary – what was his name – Luke? Anyway – I'm sure his secretary got a good cut on that contract.

      September 19, 2012 at 11:19 am |
  7. Mage McGeeze

    Think she wore magic lingerie?

    September 19, 2012 at 11:06 am |
  8. drowlord

    It would be a big deal if there was any proof that there was a Historic Jesus to begin with.

    September 19, 2012 at 11:06 am |
    • mark

      Aint that the truth

      September 19, 2012 at 11:08 am |
    • Lance

      There is plenty of proof, like the writings of the Roman historian Tacitus. Look it up. Not to mention that Jews today say Jesus was a prophet or teacher. Not something Christians agree with, but it is an admission from non Christians that he did exist.

      September 19, 2012 at 11:09 am |
      • drowlord

        Tacitus was describing the religious beliefs of Christians a century after Christ's purported life. Hardly evidence of a historic Jesus.

        September 26, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
    • Clara Bird

      Actually, there is a ton of proof! Jesus was a real person. But whether he walked "on" water or walked "in" water- we have no idea haha

      September 19, 2012 at 11:18 am |
    • realbuckyball

      There is no proof. Tacitus talked about Christians, NOT Jesus, AND he called them "Chrestians", even after having referenced the word "Christ" in another place, correctly. Therefore Tacitus is NO proof of anything. Go back and tell WLC you want your money back.

      September 19, 2012 at 11:20 am |
    • realbuckyball

      There is not one shred of proof.

      September 19, 2012 at 11:20 am |
    • realbuckyball

      Josephus is regarded as a forgery, by most scholars.

      September 19, 2012 at 11:21 am |
    • Father Francis

      There is plenty of proof, like the writings of the Roman historian Tacitus

      That is not proof.
      Plenty has been written about Moses, and he is not real either.

      September 19, 2012 at 4:04 pm |
  9. mark

    Too bad he's not real.

    September 19, 2012 at 11:05 am |
    • John

      To bad people like you are willing to believe other famous people from centuries ago are real but not Jesus

      September 19, 2012 at 11:11 am |
    • Lance

      Look at my reply to Drowford, the one above you.

      September 19, 2012 at 11:14 am |
    • PopoGigio

      Actually, Jesus was real, there are records of his life. He's just not what everyone thinks he is.

      September 19, 2012 at 11:16 am |
    • mark

      I actually don't believe in stuff that goes back more than 1000 years. Except the vikings, cause we actually have proof other than a book.

      September 19, 2012 at 11:17 am |
    • atheists are bunch of cowards and gutless jerks

      And they don't believe even with themselves.

      September 19, 2012 at 11:55 am |
  10. Jeff

    This article is terribly written. Even the quotes are grammatically laughable. Proofreaders, CNN; hire them!

    September 19, 2012 at 11:04 am |
    • PopoGigio

      Quotes are what they are. You cannot change what people are quoted as saying, even if it's not grammatically correct. That is AP Style 101. But you're right about the rest of the article.

      September 19, 2012 at 11:19 am |
  11. Elektra

    Christians are taught that Jesus is a God in man. Why would his being married be so threatening to Christians? To me it would make him a much more relatable human and doesn't take away from his holiness. By the way- I am a Christian.

    September 19, 2012 at 11:03 am |
    • The Catholic

      Before you decide what Christians believe....you need to get your information correct

      September 19, 2012 at 11:10 am |
  12. mr.knowitall

    I am not sure what is the big deal about Jesus being married ? Will this put the Vatican out of business ? This could infact help the pope to change its plieis on priests getting married. Being unmarried is unnatural and most have bad dreams....

    September 19, 2012 at 11:03 am |
  13. BobZemko

    In the whole scheme of things, what difference does it make?

    September 19, 2012 at 11:01 am |
  14. hillbilleter

    I'm a Christian and it doesn't make a hill of beans' difference to me if Jesus was married or not. I sort of hope he was. It was the Catholic Church that decided he shouldn't have been married, so they could say that priests shouldn't be married – so they could claim all their assets and not worry about any priests' heirs popping up and claiming their worldly goods. It's all about keeping the power and money. Doesn't make any difference spiritually or change Jesus' teaching one whit if he had a wife.

    September 19, 2012 at 11:00 am |
    • Jim

      What if he had kids too?

      September 19, 2012 at 11:03 am |
    • The Catholic

      Glad your not Catholic any longer.....sounds like you weren't listening....got a bit confused

      September 19, 2012 at 11:06 am |
    • realbuckyball

      That is why the RC's insisted on celibacy, but it's not the reason the writers/editors of the gospels did not make him single. Many of the early gospels had him either married, or "attatched".

      September 19, 2012 at 11:14 am |
  15. Petercha

    Has this fragment been Carbon 14 dated? If it was written shortly after the time of Christ, like the New Testament was, then it might have some credibility. If, on the other hand, it was written hundreds of years after the time of Christ, then I would question the veracity of this fragment.

    September 19, 2012 at 10:57 am |
    • ME II

      Apparently, the article states,

      "'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 consti[]ute 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."

      "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."

      September 19, 2012 at 11:03 am |
    • Petercha

      Ooops, I guess I should have read it more closely. Usually I do, but I am kinda sleepy today.

      September 19, 2012 at 11:12 am |
    • Andy

      The article says 2nd century carbon dating, but the news story says 4th century...get it straight CNN

      September 19, 2012 at 1:29 pm |
    • ME II

      @Andy,
      Good catch! I didn't see that.

      @Maripodi,
      "Published here for the first time is a fragment of a fourth-century CE codex in
      Coptic containing a dialogue between Jesus and his disciples in which Jesus speaks of
      “my wife.”"
      (http://news.hds.harvard.edu/files/King_JesusSaidToThem_draft_0917.pdf)

      September 19, 2012 at 2:29 pm |
  16. Andy

    A 4th century Egyptian Coptic fragment of parchment was found and claims that "Jesus", in the 1st century, had a wife. That would be the same as me finding a fragment from the Jamestown colony settlement in the 1600s and claiming that "John" was not married. The name "Jesus" was the most common name of the day, just as "John" is today. Secondly, Coptic fragments frequently pop-up and somehow lead to books and complex conspiracy theories that start in the early church and unfairly end at the Vatican. Call it what you want, it is just more media hype to promote a new, imminently forthcoming book with shoddy Biblical and archaeological scholarship or historical accuracy.

    September 19, 2012 at 10:56 am |
    • Dude

      It's also the same thing as saying that anything in the bible, written hundreds of years after it happened, has any relevance to anyone.

      September 19, 2012 at 10:57 am |
    • Petercha

      Dude, that is an out-and-out lie. The latest book of the Bible was written around 90 AD by an eyewitness of Jesus' ministry.

      September 19, 2012 at 10:58 am |
    • Andy

      Anywhere from 60-90 was the last book of the Bible, Revelation, written by John the Elder...how is that a lie?

      September 19, 2012 at 11:00 am |
    • Robert

      "The latest book of the Bible was written around 90 AD by an eyewitness of Jesus' ministry."

      30 – 60 years after the fact doesn't mean it's accurate.

      September 19, 2012 at 11:01 am |
    • Eric G

      @Petercha: Please be aware that it is bad form to call someone out on a lie based on a claim for which you provide no references or evidencial support.

      September 19, 2012 at 11:01 am |
    • realbuckyball

      Petercha,
      The eyewitnesses were all dead by 90 AD. People didn't live that long then. maybe you could buy a clue.

      September 19, 2012 at 11:04 am |
    • Petercha

      Sigh... In that case, Eric G., look up carm daught org slash manuscript-evidence. I guess I get tired of calling people over and over and over again on their lies.

      September 19, 2012 at 11:08 am |
    • realbuckyball

      In the Nag Hammadi Library, found in Egypt, 1945, a number of Gnostic texts were found. The Gospel of Philip had Jeebus either married to, or intimately related to Mary Magdalene. This fits in two ways. It's from Northern Egypt, if it's not a fake, and the relationship is consistent. The Western church burned most of these texts, as they were threatened by them.
      http://www.gnosis.org/naghamm/nhl.html

      September 19, 2012 at 11:09 am |
    • ME II

      @Petercha,
      It was my understanding that the first, i..e earliest, writings were from 60-90 AD (mostly Paul's stuff, who was not a witness), but others were from a later time period, and were not written by eyewitnesses. The gospels were attributed to disciples but not written by them.

      September 19, 2012 at 11:09 am |
    • Petercha

      Real Bucky Ball, while I agree that MOST people did not live that old in those times, there were a few that lived into their 90's, I'm sure, especially if they had the support of many others, as John the Apostle surely did.

      September 19, 2012 at 11:09 am |
    • Eric G

      @Petercha: Easy with the name calling.

      In reference to your disdain for pointing out "lies", please provide verifiable evidence (with references, of course) that your god exists.

      That is my only request of any believer. Prove that your god exists first, then I will listen to your claims about it.

      I await the evidence that you must have, because it would be a lie to claim to know that a god exists if you could not prove it.

      September 19, 2012 at 11:20 am |
    • Andrew

      And very little of the book of revelation is an eyewitness account....

      September 19, 2012 at 11:23 am |
    • realbuckyball

      Petecha,
      Prove it. John of Patmos was a different person, AND John the Apostle was a Jew. The writer of the 4th gospel was not, and obviously had a Greek Gnostic education. They could not possibly have been the same person.

      September 19, 2012 at 11:30 am |
    • Father Francis

      The latest book of the Bible was written around 90 AD by an eyewitness of Jesus' ministry.

      Right.
      2000 years ago you would be lucky to see 30.

      September 19, 2012 at 4:20 pm |
  17. palintwit

    His wife was also his sister. Or his cousin. Which makes jesus a teabagger. He probably drank Everclear and watched nascar, too.

    September 19, 2012 at 10:56 am |
    • Sir Osis of Liver

      I always know I'm in for a real gem with Palintwit. Maybe you should consider changing your name to I_am_a_twit. Really unorginal and certainly not witty.

      September 19, 2012 at 11:07 am |
  18. Debbie

    Wow. Some of these comments... Just remember who's doing all the killing right now around the world. Christians are being mocked and ridiculed for their faith, and they're still turning the other cheek. That's not weakness–that's strength that only a powerful, loving God can provide. "By this shall all men know that you are My disciples–that you have love for one another." There might be a lot of phonies out there, but just as there's real and counterfeit money, there are real believers out there who have a heart of compassion for people...even the Muslims that are killing them.

    September 19, 2012 at 10:56 am |
    • Robert

      "Just remember who's doing all the killing right now around the world. "

      You do understand that when Bush lied about Iraq he told the country he was invading it because his God told him too. Over a hundred thousands innocent civilians were killed over this false war and that doesn't include our own military. So get off your high horse and start looking at the reality of your own religion.

      September 19, 2012 at 10:59 am |
    • JD

      What Robert said. x100.

      September 19, 2012 at 11:07 am |
    • Really?

      WOW. I think this is the most creative, innovative, interesting, provocative, and fastest way to throw Muslims in the mix and blame something on them! AMAZING!

      September 19, 2012 at 11:08 am |
  19. Chuck

    Has it been carbon dated yet? I'll bet it's no older than the 3rd century.

    September 19, 2012 at 10:55 am |
    • ME II

      Don't know about Carbon dating, but:
      "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."

      September 19, 2012 at 2:07 pm |
  20. SAS6907

    Jesus is married.....and His bride is being made ready by Him....THE CHURCH!
    25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, 26 so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. 28 So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; 29 for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, 30 because we are members of His body. 31 For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. 32 This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.

    September 19, 2012 at 10:55 am |
    • DR

      Finally!!!
      I'm surprised in one sense because the United States of America has been a Christian nation for over 200 years and nearly everyone of the people posting a response to this forgot about the Bride of Christ, His Church.
      Secondly, let's remember that we're only seeing a small snippet in this "Coptic Fragment" without the context... The ramblings are pretty humorous.
      But lastly, God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, are all real. If you don't think so, just ask God to show you he's real. I think then you might be surprised.

      September 19, 2012 at 11:34 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.