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
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(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. truth be told

    Jesus was a long haired jiz expert.

    September 18, 2012 at 7:38 pm |
  2. Bob

    Jesus was just doing his best impression of Borat.

    September 18, 2012 at 7:37 pm |
  3. truth be told

    Dirty atheists...They mocked us when we burned witches. Who's laughing now, heathens??

    September 18, 2012 at 7:36 pm |
    • MDAT

      Because they were not witches.You started a hysteria which left 42 people dead.

      September 18, 2012 at 7:37 pm |
  4. rocinante

    As all Biblical scholars know, none of the Books of the New Testament were written by Jesus or anyone who ever met Jesus. In fact some books weren't written until hundreds of years later, so it's not surprising that a minor error such as Jesus being married would have been left out.

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

      This is why I don't understand that "the team of scholars puts the papyrus piece coming out of the middle of the second century" automatically make it as being too new to be real. IMHO, that makes it written around the same time as all the other books of the New Testament.

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

      You start out so strong....As you pointed out, there's no reasonable evidence that a historical Jesus even existed, so to suggest that this is evidence of some "error" doesn't make sense. As far as we know, Jesus is an entirely fictional character.

      September 18, 2012 at 7:58 pm |
  5. Franky

    it makes alot more sense Jesus, a middle aged Jew, to be have been married then for him not to have been married.

    September 18, 2012 at 7:32 pm |
    • The Taught Police

      Check your use of "then", then. Do you mean that he got divorced?

      Then was a time to use 'than'. Whose who's are you hewing into hues? There are two tu's to your tutu too. It's time for its correct usage.

      September 18, 2012 at 7:38 pm |
    • rocinante

      Yes, Jewish culture at that time was very focused on marriage. It would have been extremely odd if he had not been married, particularly during that 33 year period between his birth and divine acts near the end of His life which was left out of the Bible.

      You have to wonder what kind of guy Jesus was like during those missing 33 years. Maybe he was a carpenter like his step-father Joseph? Or a fisherman since so many of his later Biblical allegories were around fishing?

      September 18, 2012 at 7:41 pm |
  6. Henri the Cat

    My thumbs are not opposable, yet I oppose everything.

    September 18, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
    • Henri the Cat

      The white idiot writhes on his chair, begging for cheeseburgers...

      September 18, 2012 at 7:31 pm |
  7. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    I have a rash on my butthole. Too many sailors I reckon.

    September 18, 2012 at 7:29 pm |
  8. Hacksaw Jim Thuggin

    The subconscious mind controls everything you do when you are sleeping and when you are awake.

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

      Or, in many peoples' case, the unconscious.

      September 18, 2012 at 7:29 pm |
  9. Reasonably

    Oh don't post this, CNN. You'll have Christians worldwide rioting and burning Coptic flags and charging Coptics with heresy and the Inquisition will return and...

    Isn't religion fun!

    September 18, 2012 at 7:27 pm |
    • Ben Dover

      This is a diversionary piece released by the Romney campaign to distract the 47%!!!!

      September 18, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
  10. JW

    The lady in the video posted by anon makes way too much sense. Let's burn her.

    September 18, 2012 at 7:27 pm |
    • Ben Dover

      We'll start with a wedgie, though.

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

      Where did Anon's video go???

      September 18, 2012 at 7:39 pm |
  11. John Scanlon

    The church is referred to throughout the New Testament as "the bride of Christ." Isn't that the most straightforward interpretation of this new fragment? I'm no scholar, but this seems like much ado about nothing.

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

      Actually Mr. Scanlon You are right about what you said but there is also a belief and I am sure a lot of you have seen movies based on it. The Last Scion of Christ was based on the belief that Christ did marry and did have children. That was during the 17 years of his life that are missing from all his stories.

      September 18, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
  12. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

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

      Stop spamming.

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

      Better pray that you can get that rash healed. See above.

      September 18, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
    • hal 9001

      I'm sorry, "Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things", but your assertions regarding atheism and prayer are unfounded. The degree to which your assertions may represent correct statements is 0.0. To help you understand the degree to which your assertions may represent correct statements, I will access my Idiomatic Expression Equivalency module (IEE). Using my IEE module, the expression that best matches the degree to which your assertions may represent correct statements is: "TOTAL FAIL, DUDE".

      I see that you repeat these unfounded statements with high frequency. Perhaps the following book might help you overcome this problem:

      I'm Told I Have Dementia: What You Can Do... Who You Can Turn to...
      by the Alzheimer's Disease Society

      September 18, 2012 at 8:39 pm |
  13. lindaluttrell

    I still cannot understand what is the BIG problem if Jesus WAS married! After all there is the so-called "gap" in his life from around age 12 to the approximate time he started his preaching. As a child he was brought up as a Jew. Jewish men were expected to marry unless their health prevented it. I see no problem with his following local custom and marrying.

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

      Yeah, the only problem is when people claim that he was divine. No evidence for that, unless maybe the doc says his wife thought that of him in the sack or something.

      September 18, 2012 at 7:29 pm |
    • Josh

      The problem we have with Jesus being married is the evident next step, that Jesus fathered children.

      Just because his mom was a virgin, would not mean that his wife would have to be too.

      September 18, 2012 at 7:35 pm |
  14. RMoney

    No way, man. Jesus had fourteen wives, just like Mitt Romney does.

    September 18, 2012 at 7:26 pm |
  15. yneeemee

    The faith of people sure makes alot of people who profess not to care about it MIGHTY UPSET....

    September 18, 2012 at 7:22 pm |
    • The Head Toucher

      The regression and obstruction of the human race makes me upset.

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

      That mexican food I had at lunch made me upset.

      September 18, 2012 at 7:27 pm |
  16. The Head Toucher

    I want to see Lindsay Lohan and Amanda Bynes bump donuts.

    September 18, 2012 at 7:21 pm |
    • sam

      The way they both drive, I'm sure it'll happen sooner or later.

      September 18, 2012 at 7:24 pm |
  17. If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

    I'm lovin it!!

    September 18, 2012 at 7:21 pm |
  18. dadguy

    He was clear in saying He did not come to change the Law and was a practicing Jew beyond the age of marriage at the time of His mortal demise. The disciples do however later refer to the Church as the bride of Christ. It may therefore be deduced He referred to the Church as his "wife" during his travels? One would think such a profound and cryptic statement would have made it into the Gospels and attributed directly to him. I do not know the New Testament well enough to say He did or did not. Though a married Christ would not be consistent with his messages of family and love. I'll bet she was an amazing person!

    September 18, 2012 at 7:20 pm |
    • dadguy

      I meant to say; A married Christ would not be inconstant with his messages of family and love.

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

      of course he was married if he existed-all men married at that time

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

      Jesus's father, Joesph, would have been totally negligent if he didn't do this duty to get his son, Jesus, a wife, At that time, it was such a requirement on any Jewish father.

      September 18, 2012 at 7:32 pm |
    • RMoney

      Well no foolin. Jesus had fourteen wives, just like Mitt Romney does.

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

      No proof he existed. Your panties are all in a bunch over fantasy-guy....you make up stories around fantasy-guy. The Romans were the most efficient record-keepers of the ancient world, but no record of this guy who was supposedly a rabble-rouser who was brought in front of the local governor (and his scribes, by extension). Hmmm....and of course there's the whole ADAD = yahweh thing...oh yeah, and the whole thing in Mathew 10:34-36, buncha crap really. Free your mind, YoozYerBrain, please.

      You know what it means when 50 million people all agree that something that's patently absurd isn't patently absurdl? Nothing, it's still absurd. It's called "objective observation" and it comes with the brain as standard equipment. It usually gets disabled early in life by superstionists who crave control over said brain, but still objective observation exists. Objectively.

      September 18, 2012 at 7:58 pm |
    • Dusty Dean

      There is actually proof he existed. A lot of it. Let's start with Josephus. You know, the Roman-Jewish historian who was considered a traitor by the Jews? What about Tacitus, who referred to the crucifixion of Jesus by Pilate in his final work, Annals. How about Seutonius who refers to Jesus as "Cherstus" the leader of the Christians. Pliny the Younger. Lucian of Samosta, a Greek satirist. I could go on and on. I mean...seriously? Okay, you don't want to believe in Jesus as messiah, that's your deal. But denying his existence based on what? It's incredulous. Pretty ridiculous too.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:49 pm |
  19. Catholics are all Pedo Supporters like all Penn State Fans

    And the myth of religion comes crashing down.


    September 18, 2012 at 7:20 pm |
  20. Taco Passion

    His was married to a man. And yes, Jesus did lick the man's butthole profusely.

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

      Oh no you din't

      September 18, 2012 at 7:22 pm |
    • Catholics are all Pedo Supporters like all Penn State Fans

      Just like Obama!

      He loves Muslim bungholes!

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

      Taco passion you are Disgusting

      September 18, 2012 at 7:29 pm |
    • Amy

      Taco passion thank you for reminding me it is dinner time I shall turn off the computor now

      September 18, 2012 at 7:32 pm |
    • old ben

      I always knew the feet washing thing was foreplay.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:41 pm |
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About this blog

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.