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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. Jesu

    Of course he was married (all rabbis were) and even described his wedding at Cana.

    September 18, 2012 at 7:15 pm |
    • agathokles

      It wasn't Jesus' wedding that the NT describes in Cana.

      September 18, 2012 at 7:26 pm |
    • robtarange

      Isn't Jesus's wife the source of the phrase "Holy Mackerel"?

      September 18, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
  2. Wondering

    It would make sense that the original gospels don't refer to Jesus being married. If you admit he was married, wouldn't there be children? If there were children, wouldn't Jesus' enemies go after his bloodline?

    September 18, 2012 at 7:15 pm |
    • agathokles

      Perhaps the Gospels don't mention his marriage because it is irrelevant. Other irrelevant things about him: His height; his coloring; the sound of his voice; etc. The Gospels are not "biography." The are inspired truths about humans' relationship with God and to one another. They're not history. They're truth, not fact.

      September 18, 2012 at 7:28 pm |
    • Wondering

      Isn't truth based on fact? Appreciate your response

      September 18, 2012 at 7:41 pm |
    • agathokles

      We often use "truth" and "fact" interchangeably, but philosophically speaking, "truth" is a grander concept. The Bible (like many other writings) uses stories that are not necessarily fact-based to convey greater, universal truths. Fables often do the same thing - illustrating some moral principle. My point was that people who search for the site of a manger in Bethlehem or the site of the Wedding at Cana are missing the whole point. The stories of the Bible are meant to instruct, inspire. If the reader is not asking "what inspired truth is being conveyed here?" then the reader is missing the point.

      September 18, 2012 at 7:58 pm |
  3. Mathias Bremel

    It would be all well and good if this papyrus was written in Coptic, however the above is written in Septuagint.

    September 18, 2012 at 7:15 pm |
    • agathokles

      Septuagint is not a language. Did you perhaps mean Koine Greek?

      September 18, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
    • agathokles

      Also, early Coptic language was written using Greek letters.

      September 18, 2012 at 7:33 pm |
  4. SG

    If God could create a man from the rib of a woman than he could easy make a son with a virgin!! The wife was from a movie and she did not exist people the bible says so.. You people need to read the bible! Pray more you too might smile more too with HIS word..

    September 18, 2012 at 7:15 pm |
    • butch

      I'm smiling uncontrollably at YOUR words.

      September 18, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
    • truth be trolled

      "Pray more you too might smile more too with HIS word.."

      hmm... I smell a disgruntled ex Evangelical Fortune Cookie Co. "writer".

      September 18, 2012 at 8:36 pm |
  5. Descantabauchi

    The article leaves out a tiny little detail: how old is the papyrus? Could the text be one gnostic text from centuries after jesus' life that got nothing to do (like most gnostic stuff) with the actual Jesus, and is just recycled Platonic philosophy?

    September 18, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
    • agathokles

      The article says it was "2nd-century," although another report I saw said "4th century." In any event, it's not contemporary with Jesus. Therefore - at most - it reflects the opinions of someone who lived long after Jesus. it doesn't prove anything about Jesus' marital status.

      September 18, 2012 at 7:17 pm |
    • RobertN

      "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."

      You have to read all the words.

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

      In the 10th paragraph down, it says that the fragment has been dated to the middle of the 2nd century.

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

      According to the article, it dates about teh same time as the bulk of the New Testament- 2nd-4th century CE.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:54 am |
  6. Ralph

    I can read Coptic. It says

    And Jesus said unto him "Take my wife, please".

    September 18, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
  7. Anon

    I rather listen to this lady since she really knows her stuff. Evidence for Jesus? None whatsoever.
    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rsaRQDxmLqY&w=640&h=360]

    September 18, 2012 at 7:12 pm |
    • b4bigbang

      I think she'd command more respect if she'd be chomping down on a big fat cigar whilst lecturing....

      September 18, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
    • CGAW

      If this is your big evidence to support your argument then you are really stupid.

      September 18, 2012 at 7:34 pm |
  8. NC_mke

    Jesus Christ! He had a wife! Blasphemy! Protest in the streets!

    September 18, 2012 at 7:12 pm |
    • sam

      I'm going to go knock over a mailbox!

      September 18, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
  9. Vic

    You don't know if Jesus was married or not-because you know nothing about Jesus-all these sayings and the bible itself are made up stories.

    For so much supposedly written regarding Jesus and nothing about his wife or no wife etc etc etc. If all those disciples can talk about Jesus's preaching and what he is supposed to have said-they would have known everything about his relations-because nothing could be hidden from the public eye.

    So-to say that it is not confirmed if he was married or not-means that everything written about him is a make belief.

    September 18, 2012 at 7:11 pm |
    • agathokles

      The Bible is not - and was never intended to be - "history." It's about what is needed for one's salvation. The New Testament is not a biography. It's "truth" not "fact." When a parable tells the story of workers in a vineyard who complain about those hired later in the day receiving the same day's wage as they..... the question that the reader is supposed to ask himself is "What inspired truth is intended by this story? What does it tell me about my proper relationship to God and to others?" The wrong question to ask is "Where exactly was that vineyard?"

      September 18, 2012 at 7:23 pm |
  10. AF

    Hi everyone! Jim here. Great to be in the atheist forums where I can bash religion from behind a computer where I am not afraid to speak my mind. Who and what can we hate on next?

    September 18, 2012 at 7:11 pm |
    • MDAT

      I am only here to smash hate filled comments about us.Also just untruths.

      September 18, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
    • AF

      I am damn witty. My sarcasm just burned all your asses.

      September 18, 2012 at 7:17 pm |
    • Scott

      "behind a computer where I am not afraid to speak my mind"

      Yes, because Christians have had a nasty habit of burning alive, the people who did "speak their mind"

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

      Hi AF James here-
      Watch the above video to see someone actually using their brain. She describes you towards the end of the video...THERE NEVER WAS A JESUS HE WAS ALL MADE UP AND YOU HAVE BEEN DUPED! The HISTORICAL evidence of your dupedness IS there...

      It's ok, you're not the only one. It started with abraham the priest of ADAD the SUMERIAN GOD OF THUNDER who is 3rd in the Sumerian pantheon after AN and Enlil which is why abe (moses, whatever, they're all priests protecting their right to bugger people) promulgated the first commandment... YOU my friend are a polytheistic pagan worshipping a made-up fairy tale with roots in the Sumerian political priesthood. Look it up! The research has been done and you can read all about it. Dang, history hurts don't it? But don't take it personally as an insult, instead NOW you have a chance to engage your brain and become truly human and truly divine. YoozYerBrain- it may hurt at first, but that will go away with practice...

      September 18, 2012 at 8:26 pm |
  11. 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 ever existed.

    September 18, 2012 at 7:11 pm |
    • Descantabauchi

      Try by starting to read Suetonius.

      September 18, 2012 at 7:18 pm |
    • agathokles

      Or Josephus.

      September 18, 2012 at 7:24 pm |
    • Pete

      Exatcly he said from the time Jesus lived, not some 40 years after he died. So Thanks for proving his point.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:51 pm |
  12. GOD

    Nothing like spending your entire career studying something entirely pointless. I'm an expert in the mating rituals of Saturn unicorns, building codes for each level of Mormon heaven, and Scientology thetans, as described to me by Xenu.

    September 18, 2012 at 7:10 pm |
  13. stevie68a

    If "jesus" answered your prayer, you get convinced of his existence. Next time, pray to the lamppost or a fire hydrant on
    your street, and you'll get the same result!
    Sometimes things turn out, and sometimes they don't. It has nothing to do with prayer.
    Religion is a mass delusion with some good mixed in. This "good" is what keeps people from seeing how absurd religion
    really is. We are in a New Age, and religion is part of the old.

    September 18, 2012 at 7:10 pm |
    • THE prophet muhammad

      amen brother

      September 18, 2012 at 11:12 pm |
  14. Martin

    I wonder what will the religious wackos believe in the future... and the mighty prophet Tom Cruise climbed to the highest tower and defeated the evil Tethans that were holding his virgin wife Kate the tall one and his reign lasted for a hundred years as recorded in the fragments of the magic blue disks written by Sony the inscriber... or ... Frodo the saviour.. or Harry Potter the creator of worlds peace be upon him...

    September 18, 2012 at 7:09 pm |
    • stevie68a

      Thanks, Martin. You hit the nail on the head.

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

      Martin (pbuh) has the holy sandal

      September 18, 2012 at 8:29 pm |
    • Io

      hahaha, then someone finds a lost copy of "top gun" and the debate of that generation would be if prophet cruise was a pilot.

      "we found a video of him flying a plane, he must have been a pilot"
      "nooo he wasn't flying a plane he is not a pilot, blasphemy"

      September 18, 2012 at 8:42 pm |
    • joeymom

      I;m voting for the Giant Chipmunk. Would make excellent metaphorical narrative.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:56 am |
  15. dina

    So what. It is more possible if there was a person named Jesus and he was Jewish,he was married as that is tradition for a Jewish man to take a wife and not live alone.What is wrong with his being married? Why does that change any myth about this person anyway. What is wrong with marriage? It's all myth anyway.

    September 18, 2012 at 7:08 pm |
  16. Doorman

    Well... This calls for a riot. Probably going to have to tear down the Egyptian embassy after this clear defamation of Christianity by Egypt.

    At least that's what the incidents of this past week would have me believe the appropriate response to be.

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

      It's too far to the embassy, tho. Can't we settle for a convenience store?

      September 18, 2012 at 7:10 pm |
  17. Primal 4 Life

    Why wouldn't he have been, he was human.

    September 18, 2012 at 7:07 pm |
  18. SG

    God is not pleased at these comments...

    September 18, 2012 at 7:07 pm |
    • robtarange

      That's okay; MY imaginary friend thinks they're hilarious!

      September 18, 2012 at 7:25 pm |
  19. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    September 18, 2012 at 7:07 pm |
    • MDAT

      What?Stop spamming.

      September 18, 2012 at 7:10 pm |
    • truth be told

      Truth is never spam.

      September 18, 2012 at 7:35 pm |
    • MDAT

      It is not the truth.Prayer does not work.It has been proven by science.

      September 18, 2012 at 7:36 pm |
  20. Doesn't prove he even existed!

    There is absolutely no independent proof that Jesus ever existed.

    NONE.

    In fact, there are more credible sightings of Santa Claus there are of Jesus. We even have photos of Bigfoot – but not one scrap of evidence proves a man named Jesus born of Mary, impregnated by God through some mysterious angel (boy, that Joseph must have been one hell of a credulous mark), who worked as a carpenter and rabble-rouser, who traveled the countryside with a bunch of other rabble-rousers and who got in trouble, was crucified, and then arose physically before being carted off to heaven in a celestial Red Ryder wagon EVER EXISTED AT ALL.

    Oh, did I forget to mention there also is no evidence he turned Sky-Zombie and wanted people to eat and drink him like a gigantic slushy?

    Seriously – as bad as the SyFy channel has gotten with it's made-for-tv-crap-uh-I-mean-movies – they still have a better plot-line than the horse-crap idiocy that Christians have come up with.

    September 18, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
    • AF

      Hold up everyone – we have a new version of history froma reliable source – let's listen up! Disregard all the real hisotrians and pay attention to this guy!

      September 18, 2012 at 7:09 pm |
    • truth be told

      No serious authority on antiquities denies the existence of Jesus. There are over 30 extra biblical writings concerning Jesus discovered so far, some debating Christs claims to divinity and others arguing various opinions as regards the empty tomb.

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

      Jesus flavored slushy is gross.

      September 18, 2012 at 7:11 pm |
    • robtarange

      Be fair; there may not be photos, but what about the grilled-cheese sandwich?

      September 18, 2012 at 7:27 pm |
    • YoozYerBrain

      Sky-Zombie??? Gigantic Slushie? I think we have a new drinking game! hahahahahahahaha i just about broke a rib laughing!

      Touche` way to Yooz it!!!

      September 18, 2012 at 8:32 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.