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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. Peteyroo

    Not only did they find this piece of paper, but they found a black and white photo of Jesus riding a unicorn. It appears to be authentic. Jesus is sporting a goatee and has a leprechaun on his shoulders.

    September 21, 2012 at 10:21 am |
  2. Realist

    I fail to understand why, after 2000 years of ridiculousness, people still believe in the Bible.. that Jesus was a real person.. that god exists.. and that somehow .. it's relevant or interesting that this mythical person had a wife. W T F? Get a job, people. If you have a job, donate your spare time to charitable causes or do something useful.

    September 21, 2012 at 8:56 am |
    • Southern Celt

      Maybe you haven't read enough books. Humans are generally rational (for the most part 🙂 ), beings that live and make decisions based on a moral code. The fact that billions of people choose the moral code described by the Bible should come as no surprise unless you have an axe to grind against The Church.

      September 21, 2012 at 9:17 am |
    • Peteyroo

      SouthernBelt, the issue isn't the good thoughts and moral codes found in the Bible. The issue is believing that the protagonist is magic, superhuman, still around talking to folks, answering prayers, etc. The Old Testament is history while the New Testament is about living in peace and harmony with the world. God is not real. Jesus is not real. They are not magic. If you hear their voices and/or talk to them, you are certifiably crazy–out of your mind.

      September 21, 2012 at 9:59 am |
    • paulronco

      I find your intolerance of others' beliefs just as obnoxious and intolerable as the intolerance of religious zealots'

      September 21, 2012 at 11:06 am |
  3. Anonymous

    Eh it wasn't a real woman. According to Christina dogma, they "wife" is supposedly the collection of the faithful or some such. Specifically those in heaven. Weird I know. People die, go to heaven, become one giant woman. Then the prophecy says some such along the lines that, after marriage, Jesus comes back to **** up the rest of the world...because he loves us....riiiiight

    September 21, 2012 at 8:50 am |
  4. SixDegrees

    The next word in the passage in question is "Paul".

    September 21, 2012 at 8:36 am |
    • Bill Deacon

      It wouldn't have been "Paul", it might have been "Saul". But never let ignorance stand in the way of sacrilege.

      September 21, 2012 at 9:37 am |
  5. Anders Behring Breivik (King of the Island)

    Jesus and his BF love me!

    September 21, 2012 at 8:14 am |
  6. JOHNJOHN

    Yes he had a wife. God is also a woman. As women control more and more of our society these things will come to light... They will be "DISCOVERED" by a woman.

    September 21, 2012 at 7:58 am |
  7. isolotus

    Magdalene got squelched out of the historical record (by men of course).

    September 21, 2012 at 7:44 am |
    • Southern Celt

      Not Mary Magdalene. After the Resurection she and Lazarus (yeah, that one) moved to Provence, France. Lazarus preached at the base of a mountain, Mary spent her time at the top of the mountain, physically closer to the last place she saw Jesus, praying. For events/history prior to the Protestant Reformation you really have to read the Catholic records.

      September 21, 2012 at 9:29 am |
      • isolotus

        The Provence legend is imaginary crap created by bored monks almost a thousand years later. I was referring to pre-"resurrection" of course and the fact that virtually nothing is said about her in the canonical gospels concerning her relationship with Jesus and his disciples before Golgotha. Incidentally, all information about Jesus, Magdalene, or Lazarus for that matter is unverifiable since there are no contemporary written records AT ALL to support their existence. Likely the Messiah was illiterate as were most of his followers. Don't get all know-it-all-y on my ass bud.

        September 25, 2012 at 12:16 am |
  8. Millennium3

    The Son of Man has already come back with the Clouds of Heaven
    as Jesus clearly
    prophesied here Mark 13/26-27,
    please, see it here with your own eyes now:

    http://www.holy-19-harvest.com
    UNIVERSAL MAGNIFICENT MIRACLES

    September 21, 2012 at 7:36 am |
    • Peteyroo

      You're such a moron. Do you and Tinker Bell sit around dreaming up this stuff? You and the Tooth Fairy? Santa Claus?

      September 21, 2012 at 7:42 am |
  9. 9/11/12

    The murder was pre-empted and well-planed. The film has nothing to do with it but used as an alibi.

    September 21, 2012 at 7:12 am |
    • Wrenn_NYC

      'pre-empted' I don't think that word means what you think it means. Pre-empt – subborn, supplant, take over ahead of time.

      No. It doesn't.

      September 21, 2012 at 9:29 am |
    • Peteyroo

      Well-planned or well-planed? This magical Jesus was a carpenter after all.

      September 21, 2012 at 10:03 am |
  10. Andreas Moser

    I had already unveiled the story of Jesus' wedding in February: http://andreasmoser.wordpress.com/2012/02/21/my-big-fat-gay-wedding/

    September 21, 2012 at 4:27 am |
    • Peteyroo

      AndyMoonshine, what else have you unveiled? And I hope not the presence of little kids.

      September 21, 2012 at 10:08 am |
  11. Disciple

    It's not a sin to be married and have children. Jesus could have married and still been without sin. It seems unlikely that Jesus was married since the Word says, "For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many," Mark 10:45.

    September 21, 2012 at 2:32 am |
    • Wrenn_NYC

      Yet, by jewish custom, for him to be a rabbi, he'd likely have to have been married.

      September 21, 2012 at 9:30 am |
    • Disciple

      Why would Jesus marry a woman while He's teaching that He'll be leaving soon? The Apostles and Disciples had a hard time accepting Jesus sacrificing Himself, imagine how His wife would have taken that?

      As for Jewish customs, we know how Jesus felt about some of those.

      For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do.
      Mark 7:8

      As a tradition of men, He could have married, but He wouldn't have married if it meant laying aside any commandments from God. I don't see how He could have had time for His wife and do everything He did.

      Could a Rabbi marry if he didn't have a place to live? He'd have no way to support her.

      And Jesus saith unto him, The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.
      Matthew 8:20

      And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen.
      John 21:25

      Does that sound like He had time for a wife? Or maybe being married is one of the many other things which Jesus did.

      September 21, 2012 at 1:42 pm |
    • Disciple1

      Why would Jesus marry a woman while He's teaching that He'll be leaving soon? The Apostles and Disciples had a hard time accepting Jesus sacrificing Himself, imagine how His wife would have taken that?

      As for Jewish customs, we know how Jesus felt about some of those.

      For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do.
      Mark 7:8

      As a tradition of men, He could have married, but He wouldn't have married if it meant laying aside any commandments from God. I don't see how He could have had time for His wife and do everything He did.

      Could a Rabbi marry if he didn't have a place to live? He'd have no way to support her.

      And Jesus saith unto him, The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.
      Matthew 8:20

      And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen.
      John 21:25

      Does that sound like He had time for a wife? Or maybe being married is one of the many other things which Jesus did.

      September 21, 2012 at 1:45 pm |
  12. Ishaku

    Yes, Jesus has a Bride. Her name is "The Church", She is alive and active. What matters to us Chritians is, Jesus is the saviour of the world.

    September 21, 2012 at 2:24 am |
    • Peteyroo

      Jesus isn't the saviour of anything. He is a mythological figure along with Odin, Zeus, etc. If you want something real, believe in unicorns and the leprechauns who take care of them.

      September 21, 2012 at 7:40 am |
    • Southern Celt

      Peteyroo, He may not be your Saviour but He is definitely mine.

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

      SouthernBelt, then you are crazy. The only things Jesus saves are baseball cards. Is Jesus a saviour or a hoarder?

      September 21, 2012 at 10:05 am |
    • Bill Deacon

      I too am also saved by Christ. Manifestly, observably, continually, eternally, saved by the grace of the Risen Lord Jesus.

      September 21, 2012 at 11:25 am |
  13. london

    Just because it says, 'my wife' and also says 'would be my disciple'..... does not mean he was married. It could mean that if he was to be married, his wife would become his disciple. We may never know. The only thing we know for sure is that this one man who was so hated then and ridiculed today, became so loved around the world for his beliefs and his non violent forgiving way of life. I am not the Christian right but believe we must respect all religions and beliefs even if that means atheist view points. We are now in our culture however encouraged to be disrespectful to those who believe, no matter what their faith and encouraged to make fun of any religious faith. So those who make fun of believers of any kind are like the rest of us in one area, we will only know if there is a God when we die. And not one of us gets out alive.

    September 21, 2012 at 12:50 am |
    • thecollegeadmissionsguru

      Ummm, you DO know that Jesus was a mythical character, comprised mostly of much Older Deities. I mean, come on, the whole GOD thing is pretty lame to begin with, but Christianity has stolen EVERYTHING they believe from other religions.

      September 21, 2012 at 1:05 am |
    • Ginger

      Amen to that

      September 21, 2012 at 9:57 am |
  14. Stephen

    Jesus has a bride. It is made up of those believers who trust in Him as their Savior. This is known as the spiritual bride of Christ. "As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name." John 1:12 You need to invite Him into your life if you have not already done so. Then you will know the peace of God and forgiveness of sins. PTL

    September 20, 2012 at 10:31 pm |
    • Peteyroo

      Stevie, accepting God & Jesus is absurd. They don't exist and never have. If you are desperate to accept something, I suggest acceprting the fact that unicorns and leprechauns roam the earth.

      September 21, 2012 at 7:37 am |
  15. nk

    He probably had 50 wives and a huge beard.

    September 20, 2012 at 10:29 pm |
  16. netanyahu

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GxiwBpbGmoU&w=640&h=360]

    September 20, 2012 at 9:11 pm |
  17. no-more-religion

    Religion......oldest scam in history!

    September 20, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
    • G-MAN

      Religion - the cause of more deaths and war than any other single event

      Save some lives, get over your religious hang-ups!!

      September 21, 2012 at 9:23 am |
  18. Chijioke

    Imagin what would have happened around the world if such comments were made about Muslim's Mohammed

    September 20, 2012 at 7:08 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      What's your point?

      September 20, 2012 at 7:24 pm |
    • ILREDNK

      The point is if Christians reacted the same way Muslims do, we would all be uniting in a huge riot to string up and kill the writer of this story, along with anyone associated with them, or any one that shares a view point different than Christianity. We would have the stance that this obvious slur on our God is unacceptable and repercussions must be dealt for such blasphemy!

      September 20, 2012 at 9:10 pm |
    • John

      Atually its alot different. This article only suggest that Jesus was married, it did not suggest that Jesus was vile, arrogant, superficial, violent, racist, a pedophile, a scam artist, or any other horrible things, THERES A HUGE DIFFERENCE between this article and what the low budget short youtube video clip about prophet Muhammad was

      September 20, 2012 at 9:37 pm |
  19. Praise Elohim!

    Second Coming Christ already came with a New Name (Rev 3:11) – Christ Ahnsahnghong! And He appeared with His bride.

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TLwNWqsxLac&w=640&h=390]

    God bless you
    http://english.watv.org
    http://uccspace.net

    September 20, 2012 at 7:00 pm |
    • Peteyroo

      PraiseNonsense, get a grip my feeble-minded, bed-wetting friend.

      September 21, 2012 at 10:16 am |
  20. Chijioke

    Imagin what would have happened around the world if comments like this were made about Muslim's Mohamed.

    September 20, 2012 at 6:59 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.