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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. Jim

    Coptics are stirring up a lot of trouble lately. I predict rioting by Catholic priests when they realize they didn't really need to stay unmarried all these centuries.

    September 20, 2012 at 6:52 pm |
    • sam stone

      yeah, when they find out that "celebrate" was mistranslated into "celibate"

      September 20, 2012 at 9:16 pm |
  2. Dasher

    Behold the single evergrowing proof that Adam and Eve are not the first humans to exist:

    Asians.

    September 20, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
  3. mythbasters

    veritas,stop it

    September 20, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
  4. John

    There isn't even any real evidence Jesus was an actual historic figure.

    September 20, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
    • Saby

      Neither can you prove that he did not exist so what's the point?

      September 20, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
    • FYI

      Saby,

      You can't prove that Zeus doesn't exist... so he 'must' exist, right?

      The burden of proof falls upon the one making the claim. That's the way it is.

      September 20, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
    • JDog

      So....let me get this straight.....100's of people are persecuted by the Roman Empire for proclaiming themselves as Christians (this is an undisputed historical fact) and you're going to say that Jesus didn't exist? Do share what else would have made made such a large group of people openly and peacefully flaunt the will of the most powerful social influence in their life.

      September 20, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
    • Saby

      FYI,
      I'm agnostic about Zeus. You cannot prove a negative so. . .tough luck for you.

      September 20, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
    • A Frayed Knot

      Saby,

      When something cannot be proved one way or the other, the default stance is to withhold belief.

      You can call withholding belief 'agnostic' or 'atheistic' if you wish; but 'agnostic' connotes no knowledge, and 'atheistic' connotes no belief.

      September 20, 2012 at 6:03 pm |
    • Saby

      A Frayed
      Does the term "mumbo jumbo" ring a bell?

      September 20, 2012 at 6:05 pm |
    • Todd

      John,

      What is the standard of "real evidence"?

      September 22, 2012 at 7:38 am |
    • truth be told

      There is more evidence for the person of Jesus than there is for you.

      September 22, 2012 at 7:41 am |
    • Todd

      John,
      What is the standard for “real evidence”? Do you accept the writings attributed to Aristotle and Plato? If so, why? Do you use the same standard of “real evidence” for their existence as you do for the existence of Jesus of Nazareth? If not, why not?
      Of the writings attributed to Aristotle and Plato who lived 384-322 BC, and 427-347 BC respectively – the earliest copies of manuscripts for their writings are 1100 AD, and 900 AD. Which is some 1100-1400 years after their times (and of which there are 49 copies of Aristotle and 7 copies of Plato) – so if that is reliable – according to that same standard – then so would the reliability of the copies of manuscripts of the New Testament (of which there are 5600 copies – and of those 336 of them at latest are dated at 1500-1600 years after the time of the New Testament).
      Now you may say if that then is allowed as evidence – Jesus did not write anything or at least nothing of his writings are preserved and therefore he is fictional. To which I would say, by that standard, Socrates was a fictional character because he is only mentioned in the writings that are attributed to Plato.
      So again, what is the standard of “real evidence”? And do you use the same standard for all writings of antiquity?

      September 22, 2012 at 7:52 am |
    • Todd

      Huebert,

      There is another alternative – no one has the type of faith. Which I believe is the point that Jesus is making in the passage. And if that is what the point is then, it would follow that it is accurate. (And of course since I believe Jesus to be God and truth itself, I think you know where I land on this 🙂

      October 18, 2012 at 10:49 am |
  5. SixDegrees

    It was ripped up because the full text began "My wife, Paul..."

    September 20, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
    • Saby

      You should be beyond calling people gay by now. Or are you still in middle school?

      September 20, 2012 at 6:03 pm |
    • SixDegrees

      Is there something wrong with being gay?

      September 20, 2012 at 6:07 pm |
    • Saby

      Thanks. You answered my question.

      September 20, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
    • pervert alert

      If you have to ask you won't like the answer. Qu eers the people that gave the world AIDS

      September 22, 2012 at 7:43 am |
    • midwest rail

      Always a good day when get to be entertained by the delusional ramblings of the pervert.

      September 22, 2012 at 7:45 am |
    • truth be told

      Delusional ramblings? What planet are you on?

      September 22, 2012 at 7:48 am |
    • midwest rail

      Earth – where all of your delusional ramblings have been shown to be false – repeatedly.

      September 22, 2012 at 7:53 am |
  6. Scuromondo

    I certainly hope no one unearths some of the sticky notes I've read (not to mention emails) and, 2000 years ago, interpret everything said about Obama and Romey's private lives to be authoritative rather than opinion.

    September 20, 2012 at 4:44 pm |
  7. John Meacham

    This little piece of paper sure has folks stired up. Could there be a message for Christians today in these words?

    September 20, 2012 at 4:30 pm |
    • Athy

      If there isn't a message, I'm sure the bible babblers will make one up.

      September 20, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
  8. EnjaySea

    Wow, so you're telling me that one of the men living in first-century Judea might have been married? What are the chances of that happening?!

    September 20, 2012 at 4:04 pm |
  9. palintwit

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

    September 20, 2012 at 3:35 pm |
    • Robert

      You are a pleasant fella

      September 20, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
  10. P Nelson

    I think we are jumping the gun on the papyrus, wait till the experts examine it and publish their reports. Besides I can't see why Jesus could not have been married because in those days most men of that age were, the parents of the brides were anxious to get them married off and if the guys were offered a good dowary of course they married thereby increasing their own status in the community. Patty

    September 20, 2012 at 3:34 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      I'm not sure there is much upward mobility to be had from "savior of the world"

      September 21, 2012 at 9:28 am |
  11. Don Jones

    There is nothing to prove Jesus ever produced any writing even that he was literate. Every thing we have is at least second hand. and when a story gets told and retold it changes.

    September 20, 2012 at 3:11 pm |
    • donna

      There is nothing to suggest that there was any real, living, non magical person who these stories were based on who could be literate or illiterate.

      September 20, 2012 at 3:44 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      More books written about Him
      More music written for Him
      More colleges named for Him
      More hospitals named for Him

      Pretty impressive for an imaginary being

      September 21, 2012 at 9:30 am |
    • truth be told

      There are no fewer than 30 extra biblical, 1st century texts referring to the person of Jesus. Some entire books written in opposition to Christianity. Not to mention multiple theories developed to explain the empty tomb.

      September 22, 2012 at 7:46 am |
    • truth be told

      There are no fewer than 30 extra biblical, 1st century texts referring to the person of Jesus. Some entire books written in opposition to Christianity. Not to mention multiple theories developed to explain the empty tomb.

      September 22, 2012 at 7:46 am |
  12. gregorydalbey

    Many people don't know this fact, but the actual context of this papyrus relates back to Jesus' lost comedic writings and stand-up routines where he was working out what was then the very new 'take my wife, please!' bit that, of course, was later stolen by Henny Youngman, which is the oldest known case of plagiarism known to man ..

    September 20, 2012 at 3:09 pm |
    • Grand Ole Party of Christian Taliban

      lol

      September 20, 2012 at 3:13 pm |
    • Mister Howdy

      Dang it! I was going to say that! LOL!

      September 20, 2012 at 6:05 pm |
  13. justme

    The Bride of Christ is his congregation, nothing new here. pay attention to Jehovah's Witnesses and you can learn what the bible really teaches. go to watchtower.org or jw.org and learn all you can about the word of God.

    September 20, 2012 at 2:50 pm |
    • Grand Ole Party of Christian Taliban

      Jovy's are like co c kroaches.....you spray and it keeps them away for a month or 2 then they reappear at your door.

      September 20, 2012 at 3:48 pm |
    • Tom

      I thought the 'Watchtower' was a Jimmy Hendrix song!

      September 20, 2012 at 4:14 pm |
    • SixDegrees

      Shouldn't you be out depriving small children of needed medical care?

      September 20, 2012 at 5:06 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      Dylan

      September 21, 2012 at 9:31 am |
    • justme

      looks like we need to cover the territory more often since you really have learned nothing about what the bible really teaches or what we know.

      September 22, 2012 at 8:32 am |
  14. AirQuoteJunkie

    This discovery is riding across country on the irony wagon as I watch the "interpretation" fans lining up right next to the creationist imagineer's as they try to come up with anything and everything they can to dismiss it.

    September 20, 2012 at 2:49 pm |
  15. Dan

    It is an authentic MAN-MADE papyrus. It's time to put down the fairy tales and grow up.

    September 20, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
    • WowCNNbadjob

      Ur the only one having fairy tales here young man. Read the article.

      September 20, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
    • donna

      Seriously. They're just stories about a fictional magical hero.

      September 20, 2012 at 3:40 pm |
  16. backslider

    The best part about ancient partial out of context text in dead languages with the authors long dead is it can be made to mean a wide rage of sometimes contradicting meanings.

    If Jesus did have a wife, I wonder if Mary constantly made her to feel unworthy of her son? "I come to visit and you don't even use the GOOD BOWL to wash my feet. but don't worry about me, I'm just the mother of Christ."

    September 20, 2012 at 1:35 pm |
  17. George

    The papyrus fragment "my wife..." may have been followed by any number of words or phrases. Keeping in mind that the bible often speaks metaphorically, this reference could lead to almost anything. For example, when Jesus refers to Himself in the bible as 'the bridegroom", etc. he means "His wife" is his church.

    September 20, 2012 at 1:16 pm |
    • believe

      Yes! It almost certainly means the church is his bride, just as many other bride/bridegroom references in the Bible.

      September 20, 2012 at 3:03 pm |
    • SixDegrees

      The next word is "Paul".

      September 20, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      Except Paul didn't know Jesus until after the encounter on the road to Damascus, at which time his name was Saul. So if you are going to be profane, at least be accurate.

      September 21, 2012 at 9:34 am |
  18. max3333444555

    makes no sense that a prominent rabbi managed to not be married.

    September 20, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
    • Amen!

      I agree whole heartedly! Why do people think that during that time he would NOT have been married, he was Jewish , he was a Rabbi,and based upon his age and being a male, how could he not be married. Come on people think, Jesus was not a Christian, he was Jewish!!

      September 20, 2012 at 2:55 pm |
  19. stewartiii

    NewsBusters: Media Hypes Scrap of Papyrus Claiming Jesus Had a Wife
    http://newsbusters.org/blogs/paul-wilson/2012/09/20/media-hypes-scrap-papyrus-claiming-jesus-had-wife

    September 20, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
  20. kobby

    I seriously doubt the authenticity of this papyrus.

    September 20, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
    • Veritas

      Why?

      September 20, 2012 at 3:54 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.