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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. WhyCNNWhy

    Why is there a link in the middle of this article to read it in Arabic? I've never, ever seen an invitation to read any other article I've read on cnn.com in Arabic, so why this one? What sort of statement are you unsuccessfully attempting to make? And why can't you just report news without those kinds of manipulative distractions?

    September 20, 2012 at 11:57 am |
  2. Jeff

    Actually, it's the earliest known version of the Henny Youngman joke. The end phrase, "take her, please" is just missing.

    September 20, 2012 at 11:52 am |
  3. HAVE MUD WILL TRAVEL

    For the Christians:If you don't have the name of the bride correct, how are you so sure that you have the name of the groom correct? What's her name? Scripture and verse, please.

    September 20, 2012 at 10:27 am |
  4. Barry Gray

    Jesus!!!! We need the teaching of JESUS no matter what on love at this crazy stage of the worlds history. Love and acceptance of all.

    September 20, 2012 at 10:21 am |
  5. A Christian

    As a child I was taught that Jesus was wholly divinIe and wholly HUMAN. Many human men marry. IF He had a wife, it doesn't matter to me as a Christian.

    September 20, 2012 at 10:15 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      As a child I was told that a jolly fat man travelled the world in one night to deliver presents to all the world's children.

      September 20, 2012 at 10:18 am |
  6. us_1776

    Jesus was a fictional person made up in order to tell morality stories.

    .

    September 20, 2012 at 10:06 am |
  7. gliese42

    I hope the Pope will consider that the clergy has the right of marriage. No adultery and no sins

    September 20, 2012 at 10:01 am |
    • kobby

      This is a clever plot to give more weight to some people's agenda...

      September 20, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
  8. old ben

    I think it's fairly clear now to say that Jesus most likely kept a wife that he didn't talk about much and probably didn't care for much – probably a Michele Bachmann type – you know, very reptilian. And so he kept her for appearances, but it's obvious his affection was mostly for "the disciple that Jesus loved". Maybe this disciple was a man, but maybe it was a woman. Maybe John was a woman. Maybe John was a hermaphrodite.

    September 20, 2012 at 10:00 am |
    • Really?

      How can you escape the obvious truth of this argument? Bravo. You have answered the mystery. Be Blessed and Loved!!

      September 20, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
  9. Emmanuel

    Could it had been a secret if Jesus was married? I don't think so. His father, mother, apostles, disciples, friends...., are no secret, so why would his wife be a secret? The text said "Jesus said to them, "my wife..." The term "wife" could have be a reference to the church.

    September 20, 2012 at 9:46 am |
    • Captain Obvious

      Or it could be a reference to his boyfriend.

      Both statements have the same amount of facts supporting them.

      September 20, 2012 at 9:48 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      It would have been suppressed to hide the fact that he had children, which would severely diminish his status as god's only son if there were millions of baby Yahwehs.

      September 20, 2012 at 9:57 am |
    • Nikki

      Catholicism has greatly edited and controls what passes for the bible today. They would not allow any woman to be seen in a position of power – any type of power. All those generations of breeding up Cesars in Rome certainly would not allow a woman to rule them in any way. Too egotistical. That explains their hatred of women that exists to today.

      September 20, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      Yeas the Catholics have such a tradition of denigrating women, let's name a few

      Mary,
      Teresa of Avila
      Theresa of Liseaux
      Teresa of Calcutta
      HIldegard of Bingen
      Marie Curie
      Ava Gardner

      Oh you look them up the list is endless

      September 20, 2012 at 2:38 pm |
  10. DJones

    Does it occur to anyone that our translation of the scrap of paper in an ancient dialect is likely a little off. The Bible speaks plainly of the bride of Christ, which is the church, and states that the church is to be his disciples. Seems a little too close to just be a coincidence.

    September 20, 2012 at 9:30 am |
    • Captain Obvious

      You know those ancient scraps of paper that you are questioning?

      Your precious Bible is made up of those same scraps. let me guess, you'll plug your ears and scream "LA LA LA LA LA" rather than hear the truth.

      Stupid sheep.

      September 20, 2012 at 9:34 am |
  11. ROMNEY2012

    I'd rather vote for Hitler than Obama. At least Hitler wasn't a monkey's uncle

    September 20, 2012 at 9:10 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      It makes sense that a racist would vote for a Mormon.

      September 20, 2012 at 9:21 am |
    • josie

      I don't think Hitler would want your vote.

      He probably would have tossed mormon's into the gas chambers if he was given the chance.

      September 20, 2012 at 9:27 am |
    • The Monkey

      Please do not refer to Obama as a Monkey's Uncle, that's highly offensive to us Monkeys.

      Thank you!

      *flings poo*

      September 20, 2012 at 9:31 am |
    • sam stone

      hitler is dead, and wasn't a citizen

      September 20, 2012 at 9:49 am |
    • mpouxesas

      Obama 2012. Romney 1040.

      September 20, 2012 at 10:50 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Onama never. Romney never.

      September 20, 2012 at 11:21 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Obama never. Romney never.

      September 20, 2012 at 11:22 am |
  12. Daniel Sebold

    Why waste our time with this if no weight is going to be given by "the experts"? There is no corroborative proof to the original Bible either. Perhaps it's time to move on.

    September 20, 2012 at 8:53 am |
  13. Daniel Sebold

    Why waste our time with this if no weight is going to be given to it?

    September 20, 2012 at 8:42 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      What, Christianity?

      September 20, 2012 at 8:49 am |
  14. guy

    its a good thing were not like Muslims, otherwise we would be protesting in the streets and asking for those reponsible for this storey be KILLED

    September 20, 2012 at 8:22 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Or pre Reformation.

      September 20, 2012 at 8:31 am |
    • sam stone

      wow....putting it in caps makes it much more effective

      September 20, 2012 at 9:50 am |
  15. Reality

    An extension of the marriage issue:

    In Rabbi Jesus: An Intimate Biography (2000), Chilton develops the idea of Jesus as a mamzer; someone whose irregular birth circ-umstances result in their exclusion from full participation in the life of the community. He argues for the natural pa-ternity of Joseph and finds no need for a miraculous co-nception. In his subsequent reconstruction of Jesus' life, Chilton suggests that this sustained personal experience of exclusion played a major role in Jesus' self-identi-ty, his concept of God and his spiritual quest. "

    Again the problem is in the history. Did this simple preacher man, an illiterate rabbi at best, establish a church? No, based on the lack of historical proof e.g. "Thou art Peter" (Matt 16: 18-19) passage only appears in one gospel." Matthew, whomever he was and therefore historically inauthentic. Matthew was therefore a part founder/"necessary accessory" of the Catholic Church, as was Mark, Luke, John, Paul, James his brother, Mary Magdelene, Mary, Joseph and another father if you believe the mamzer stories, the Apostles and Pilate. It was a team effort with Pilate being the strangest "necessary accessory".

    September 20, 2012 at 7:39 am |
  16. jeff

    It was Roman law at the time of Christ that no man could remain unmarried beyond the age of 30. That law was not done away with until at least a few centuries later after Christianity had gain popularity and the concept that a man could remain chased and in service to God was widely accepted.

    September 20, 2012 at 7:31 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      I've never heard of that law. What's your source?

      September 20, 2012 at 7:48 am |
  17. Richard

    For me (a married man), a married Jesus is reason more to worship him as Son of God. In my view this is something that is refreshingly humanizing about Christ, if it is true. Part of me wants it to be true.

    September 20, 2012 at 7:02 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      What about all those millions of baby Yahwehs running around today? Wouldn't that dilute Jesus' god juice?

      September 20, 2012 at 7:12 am |
  18. telson77

    Discovery the fragment of papyrus derives on fourth century contains Jesus’ words “my wife,” whom Jesus identifies as Mary Magdalene. Jesus does not have a wife and was not married. The Bible overrules very clearly that Jesus was not married: http://koti.phnet.fi/petripaavola/marymagdalene.html

    September 20, 2012 at 6:46 am |
    • csg

      The Christian faith always refers to "the church" as the wife of Jesus. The Church is referred to as a feminine thing – she, her...

      September 20, 2012 at 7:57 am |
  19. Ronny

    Jesus is king now.

    September 20, 2012 at 6:15 am |
    • James

      Yeah, a king, like Elvis.

      September 20, 2012 at 9:28 am |
  20. Ronny

    The "carrington event 1859" and psalm;18 Samuel 2;22, and Haile selassie.

    September 20, 2012 at 6:01 am |
    • sam stone

      ....and haile unlikely

      September 20, 2012 at 9:52 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.