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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.

Read this story in Arabic

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. Skyy Y.

    *Gets popcorn* I always love it when the atheist come out.

    September 19, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
    • richunix

      Yea, we make more sense than the relgious fundamentalist...far more entertaining

      September 19, 2012 at 1:14 pm |
    • Rev Foistus Uponyou

      If i was a betting man,
      i would put $10 bucks on the athiest.

      September 19, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
  2. Honey Badger Dont Care

    Matthias: Look, I don't think it should be a sin, just for drawing "Moohamed".
    [Everyone gasps]
    Islamic Official: You're only making it worse for yourself!
    Matthias: Making it worse? How can it be worse? Moohamed! Moohamed! Moohamed!
    Islamic Official: I'm warning you! If you draw " Moohamed " one more time (gets hit with rock) RIGHT! Who did that? Come on, who did it?
    Stoners: She did! She did! (suddenly speaking as men) He! He did! He!
    Islamic Official: Was it you?
    Stoner: Yes.
    Islamic Official: Right...
    Stoner: Well you did say " Moohamed. "
    [Crowd throws rocks at the stoner]
    Islamic Official: STOP IT! STOP IT! STOP IT RIGHT NOW! STOP IT! All right, no one is to stone _anyone_ until I blow this whistle. Even... and I want to make this absolutely clear... even if they do draw, " Moohamed. "
    [Crowd stones the Islamic Official to death]

    September 19, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
  3. Bill

    Jesus who? Most likely this is not the Christ, but some other Jesus. Research the name Jesus for before and around the first century and you will find it was a common name at the time.
    Marriage was a big thing back in Jesus’ day. Wedding went on for days. You would think that if Jesus got married, It would be in many ancient writings.

    September 19, 2012 at 1:09 pm |
    • donna

      You mean, you think that given that there are NO contemporary writings about any part of his alleged life that if he had been married that would have been written about?

      September 19, 2012 at 1:51 pm |
  4. steelerguin

    Uh oh I guess Harvard's Divinity School will get bombed. Oh wait, wrong religion.

    September 19, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
    • SaucyIrish1

      lol good one

      September 19, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
    • donna

      There are plenty of times in the history of christianity when they would have responded with massive torture and violence.

      September 19, 2012 at 1:52 pm |
  5. marsmotel

    Jesus hated organized religion himself. Why do you weak-minded fools worship a guy who snubbed religion?

    September 19, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
    • John Q.

      Probably has to do with the whole "weak-minded" thing they've got going on...

      September 19, 2012 at 1:14 pm |
  6. MrApplesauce

    Joseph is the true hero of the Gospels.

    Christians give him so little credit for being the person with the greatest amount of Faith in the history of all time.

    Of course, he could just be the greatest fool of all time, too.

    September 19, 2012 at 12:56 pm |
    • MrApplesauce

      .. should have said 'all of history'... the other sounds off.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:58 pm |
    • steelerguin

      Which Joseph?

      September 19, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
    • MrApplesauce

      The step father.

      September 19, 2012 at 1:05 pm |
  7. parker

    this is actually very intresting i dont know if its true or not

    September 19, 2012 at 12:56 pm |
  8. D. Mulder

    Jesus often referred in his conversations/dialogues with people as "My son", My daughter" etc. depending on who it was he was talking to. When and if he said "My wife", he was talking to a woman who was a wife.

    September 19, 2012 at 12:55 pm |
    • MrApplesauce

      or he was talking about his wife.

      Your faith is nice, calling it 'knowledge' is false.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
    • sickofit

      I will play along for your enlightenment. Without getting too anti-christian, he likely would have refered to any woman he was not related to by blood as "sister", not "wife", even if the woman was someones wife.

      Furthermore.....who cares? We should be worrying about the issues we face today not mythology from a couple thousand years ago.

      September 19, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
  9. Robert Holt

    All we need to know about Jesus is in the Bible. An important question we need to ask ourselves is, "Have I made Him my Savior?"

    September 19, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
    • realbuckyball

      Yup. Just read Mark He said nothing about salvation. That's all you need to know.
      Saul of Tarsus cook up the savior crap.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:55 pm |
    • snowboarder

      robert – we can't even verify the writers of the contradictory gospels of the supposed life of jesus, though with reasonable certainty it has been established that they were not written by anyone who had actually met the fabled man.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
    • sfsczar

      Well, that all depends on which Bible you are talking about...

      September 19, 2012 at 12:58 pm |
    • Madtown

      What if I'm born into a region in the world where christianity doesn't exist, and I'll never get a chance to read the bible or learn of Jesus? Am I screwed for all eternity? Doesn't God love me as he must love you? After all, I'm equal to you in terms of human value.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
    • MrApplesauce

      I know Jesus wanted to bring people closer to God and His message of love.

      He didn't want you to turn him (Jesus) into a god to be worshiped, too.

      September 19, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
    • steelerguin

      Snowboarder, the gospel of John is recognized as being written by an eye witness of Jesus.

      September 19, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
    • MrApplesauce

      Amen to that realbuckyball, so many Christians fail to realize they are more followers of Paul (Saul) than Jesus.

      September 19, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
    • snowboarder

      steeler – that is incorrect. the gospel of mark is believed to be the first written. John is believed to have been written around 80-95CE and not by the fabled apostle.

      September 19, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
    • steelerguin

      Snowboarder, I never said John was the first written gospel and most agree Mark was written first. I disagree wth your point about John .

      September 19, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
    • I wonder

      steelerguin,
      "Snowboarder, the gospel of John is recognized as being written by an eye witness of Jesus."

      "Although some notable New Testament scholars affirm traditional Johannine scholarship, the majority do not believe that John or one of the Apostles wrote it, and trace it instead to a "Johannine community" which traced its traditions to John; the gospel itself shows signs of having been composed in three "layers", reaching its final form about 90-100 AD." - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gospel_of_John#Authorship

      September 19, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
    • realbuckyball

      Yup. Paulianity is what they practice. They just don't know it.

      September 19, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
    • sickofit

      Yes, close your mind and open your bible.....

      September 19, 2012 at 1:14 pm |
    • sam stone

      No, a more important question is "why do folks think they need a savior"?

      September 19, 2012 at 1:18 pm |
    • 0G-No gods, ghosts, goblins or ghouls

      A couple better questions yet are "Where's the evidence for the foundations of these cults? Where's the proof for the supernatural claims?" Until these questions are answered, it's all bullsh!t.

      September 19, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
    • Rev Foistus Uponyou

      steelerguin

      Snowboarder, the gospel of John is recognized as being written by an eye witness of Jesus.

      Right.
      Like the guy who had a cousin, and his cousins sister in laws mother
      said.......

      September 19, 2012 at 6:52 pm |
  10. HugoCorv

    Jesus was not the only person named Yeshua...., foolish "historian".

    September 19, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
    • steelerguin

      No reason to let critical thinking get in the way of academic sensationalism.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:56 pm |
  11. Greg s

    Jesus was a very common name in that time, This could be anyone talking about a devoted wife. The way Languages are interpreted can mean many different things. But To prove the Bible false is to destroy it, So keep at it, Folks have been trying for 2000 years.So far it hasnt been done.

    September 19, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
    • Joseph's Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat

      People don't need to prove the bible false, it already isn't accepted as a book of fact (because it's not).

      September 19, 2012 at 12:58 pm |
  12. HugoCorv

    See? There are no priests/pastors calling for the historian to be murdered. There are no accusations of Christianityphobia. There are no mobs murdering people on the street and pillaging things.

    September 19, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
    • HugoCorv

      Is the Muslim world capable of reform?

      September 19, 2012 at 12:51 pm |
    • donna

      That's today, but there are plenty of times when christians would have responded with as much if not more violence.

      September 19, 2012 at 1:45 pm |
    • A Frayed Knot

      Islam is about where Christianity was when it was 1400 years old. Secular, civil law finally stopped their murder and mayhem. It took a while, though, and I'm not sure how we accomplish this with Islam. We'd better step up the pace, however, since we don't have a couple of hundred years' leeway this time because of the destructive capabilities of the radicals.

      September 19, 2012 at 1:52 pm |
    • Rev Foistus Uponyou

      Nope.
      Today they just want to round up gay people
      and put them in camps.
      Its all good, as they promised to feed them.

      September 19, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
  13. Ken

    Perhaps we should first prove Jesus, before we prove he had a wife.

    September 19, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
    • steelerguin

      Jesus of the bible is already proven to be a historical figure. Reference the writings of Josephus. You have to decide whether you believe he is the Son of God or not.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:58 pm |
    • Rick Shultz

      If you refer to Jesus's existance, that has already BEEN proven adequately, by evidence from reliable historians of that period,
      notably Flavius Josephus and Tacitus.

      September 19, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
    • I wonder

      Josephus and Tacitus reported on the *Christians* of the time... and what they believed and claimed. Josephus mentioned Hercules too - does that mean that he was real?

      http://www.truthbeknown.com/pliny.htm#.UFn9uFFzG80

      September 19, 2012 at 1:20 pm |
    • donna

      steelerguin, When was it proven that Jesus was a historical person? PLease give the evidence, don't just say "A lot of people believe it," that's not proof.

      September 19, 2012 at 1:46 pm |
  14. sharkfisher

    This is an Offensive statement to Christians who believe that Jesus is the son of God and was without sin. So why are we not protesting and burning coptic churches and killing coptics? First of all God said" Vengence is mine. I shall repay." Second I believe in free speech and freedom to worship as I see fit as long as I don't cause physical harm to anyone and the freedom to believe what I want to regardless of what anyone else thinks.

    September 19, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Getting married is a sin?

      September 19, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
    • Madtown

      A loving, perfect God doesn't take vengeance. Vengeance is a human concept.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
    • HAVE MUD WILL TRAVEL

      Madtown, standard Christian Doctrine:.....'Rom 12:19 Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but [rather] give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance [is] mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.'

      September 19, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
    • realbuckyball

      An eons long pis'sed off deity, who needs a human sacrifice before he can say "ok I forgive you", is not "loving".

      September 19, 2012 at 12:58 pm |
    • Yvon

      In order for Jesus to be considered a Rabbi he had to be married, scondly we know that hwe followed each of God's commandments and was without sin, in order to do so he had to be married to fulfill God's commandment to multiply and replenish the earth. Haow can any rational being beleive that he was not married? His wife Mary was protected in order to avoid being killed.

      September 19, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
    • Rev Foistus Uponyou

      According to the "Infancy Gospel Of Thomas"
      Young Jesus killed several people, including another child.
      I see why they left that one out of the bible.

      September 19, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
  15. WorldBelow

    Another scrap from a 2,000 year old comic book.

    September 19, 2012 at 12:44 pm |
    • Handsome Jack

      Actually it's not from the bible. There are countless scraps of ancient writings which are extra biblical.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
  16. Worried Christian Mother

    Interesting read but still nothing stated is substantial and should be not treated with anything other than speculation. The piece is said to come from a private collector so right off the bat everyone should consider the possibility of this being a forgery like many relics passes on to to be authenticated.

    September 19, 2012 at 12:44 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Like the Shroud of Turin, you mean?
      Peddling relics used to be a good job...
      Buy two planks from Noah's Ark and get a plenary indulgence free!

      September 19, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
    • Worried Christian Mother

      Selling SPIKES HERE! SPIKES THEY USED TO MOUNT JESUS! SPIKES HERE!

      September 19, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
  17. Stephen

    I would have an easier time of believing in this guy if he DID have a wife.

    September 19, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
  18. Cristiabella

    Jesus' actual tweet: "My wife...is gonna kill Me! But joke's on her. Heh."

    September 19, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
  19. Brett

    Did anyone ever think about the fact that "wife" can also mean "church"? "Church" is a collection of people. Someone has taken this evidence and miscontrued it as Jesus having a wife! This isn't true. In the context of this "new" evidence, it really means he is referring to all believers! Please don't try to make misrepresentations an ancient text that describers someone you shouldn't make assumptions about without truly understanding the context it was to be used in.

    September 19, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
    • MrApplesauce

      Uhm, the article said there wasn't enough context to know one way or the other. So it sounds like you are making an assumption to fit the belief you already have.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
    • Ztom

      Yes. There have been instances where church and wife were used interchangeably. My guess is the scholars who are studying this text know that.

      With the amount of info in this article, everything is speculation though. Interesting to think about, but until sufficient research is done on it, I agree with the person in the article who says "This neither proves nor disproves".

      September 19, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
    • What IF

      Brett:
      " Please don't try to make misrepresentations an ancient text that describers someone you shouldn't make assumptions about without truly understanding the context it was to be used in."

      That is *exactly* what you just did:
      " In the context of this "new" evidence, it really means he is referring to all believers!"

      September 19, 2012 at 12:54 pm |
    • Perhaps

      @Brett
      The early leaders of the church, Popes, Cardinals and Bishops used the generic term "wife" as church, collection of people or congregation because they knew they were about to screw the sheepies over not matter their gender.

      September 19, 2012 at 1:14 pm |
    • cedar rapids

      except of course if you read the draft and see the rest of the text, which says....

      Mary is worthy of it.....jesus said to them, 'my wife'....she will be able to be my disciple...let the wicked people swell up....as for me, i swell with her in order to....

      seems pretty certain he is talking about a wife and not some church.

      September 19, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
    • PraiseJesus

      BRETT: is correct, because he actually reads the Bible, and follows Jesus.

      September 19, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
  20. Joseph Grem

    ....get behind me Satan

    September 19, 2012 at 12:40 pm |
    • sam stone

      At least get him to use protection

      September 19, 2012 at 12:41 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      I've never understood that saying.
      Doesn't "get in front of me Satan" make more sense?
      At least that way you can see what the devil is doing.
      I wouldn't turn my back on a pitchfork wielding demon....

      September 19, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
    • Worried Christian Mother

      Sighhh...I wish they'd find more scripture on Satan. THe underdog and ultimate protagonist of the bible. Truly the only one standing with humanity....or so the story goes.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
    • Greg s

      Satan is the most beautiful of all the Angels, The Pitchfork wielding demon is a creation of the Catholic church. If any of you Non believers ran into him face face you would think he was the only man you ever met that you loved more then Obama.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:55 pm |
    • Greg s

      Satan is the most beautiful of all the Angels, The evil looking Pitchfork wielding demon is a creation of the Catholic church. If any of you Non believers ran into him face face you would think he was the only man you ever met that you loved more then Obama.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
    • JEFF

      1. Jesus was a common name back them, prove it was him and not another.
      2. Jesus refereed to his church as his bride. Maybe his wife is a surname for his church.

      September 19, 2012 at 1:08 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      @Greg S
      Ezekiel 10 gives a description of Satan.
      He is 18 feet tall. He ha four wings under each of which there are human hands. He has four wheels (!?) as well.
      His entire body is covered in eyes, wings included. He had four faces – cherub, a man, an eagle, and a lion.
      If he is the fairest of all the Angels, I'd hate to think what the rest of them look like!

      September 19, 2012 at 1:13 pm |
    • What IF

      Doc V,

      Ezekial – good one! 😈

      September 19, 2012 at 1:25 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.