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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. jamessavik

    Jesus could not have been married. Can you imagine any wife that would allow him to hang out with 12 guys, all of them unemployed, wandering the country-side talking to strangers?

    WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN FOR 3 DAYS MISTER?

    I WAS DEAD!

    September 22, 2012 at 11:22 am |
  2. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    September 22, 2012 at 7:49 am |
    • jamessavik

      Yeah, sure- talking to yourself works wonders.

      September 22, 2012 at 11:23 am |
    • 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".

      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 22, 2012 at 1:39 pm |
  3. Millennium3

    Jesus was married, or single does NOT matter here;
    What matters is
    Jesus was a true Prophet of a real GOD who created His book of Universe and His book of Religion
    based on same 19 coded "Mathematical and Symmetrical Superb Language"
    as Jesus prophesied it 2000 years ago! (John 6/27, 40)
    Here is the proof; so please, open your eyes now and clearly witness it in the beginning of this
    most critical Third and Last Day (=Millennium; John 6/40)

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

    September 22, 2012 at 4:09 am |
  4. Giao Hoan

    where is it written that Yeshuah was against taken a wife ?

    September 22, 2012 at 12:33 am |
  5. patricia kronquist

    Here, let me try this again. I see I made some mistakes and I have additional information.

    M A V I S
    O T A S Y, APOSTASY
    R H T L M, GOVERNMENT- RIGHT, LEFT, MIDDLE
    M E I A B, NUCLEAR ENERGY
    O I C M O, GITMO
    N S A L, NO SALE
    T N S, TIN OR TAN, SILVER

    M E C C A
    I U O H N, 1 JOHN (LOOK AT THIS CHAPTER IN THE BIBLE)
    N N N O U, NUMBERS (COMPARE TO 1 JOHN)
    E U S R L, ISRAEL, ENGLAND AND UNITED STATES, ROYALS
    R C U A L, RITUALS, RECEIVAL
    S H M N S, SATANIC HYMNS, SCHEMES

    There that is easier to understand. We were also taught the (SS) Stockholders and Shareholders codes, which include the names of the organizations included in the "company".

    September 21, 2012 at 10:24 pm |
    • LadyRanicorn

      How did u do that dude?

      September 22, 2012 at 8:51 am |
  6. patricia kronquist

    MAVIS
    OTASY, APOSTACY
    RHTLM, GOVERNMENT
    MEIAB, NUCLEAR
    OICMO, GITMO
    NSA L, NO SALE
    TN S, TIN OR TAN

    MECCA
    IOUHN, 1 JOHN
    NNNOU,NUMBERS
    EUSRL, ISRAEL
    RCUAL, RITUALS
    SHMNS, SCHEMES

    This is some of the secret codes that I was taught, by my bible school teacher. This is how we knew that these were the wrong religions. It also does make reference to Jesus's Wife, and wives in general. I think that the message is that jesus' wife, would be of the faith of his loyal followers. She would remain monogamous to him and the importance of lifelong committment would be shared by both. Marriage is sacred, in that it is mature enough to withstand temptations, and the bond shared is unbreakable. Jesus allows for only one wife.

    September 21, 2012 at 9:45 pm |
  7. pjmelian

    Had I been his wife I would have said: NO !
    It's hard enough to raise a family of one's own. Do as Goethe used to say: " Let everyone clean oneself and the whole world will be clean. "
    pjmelian

    September 21, 2012 at 8:34 pm |
  8. blade1975

    Jesus was describe to be a rabbi in his later life. To be a rabbi YOU HAVE TO BE MARRIED.

    Sounds like age old fear of letting the females have something to do with history. Which means yeah he slept with her. Deal with it, he was still a man....and not having whoopie don't make you some saint. if so why isn't every ulgy man who couldn't get laided the son of god?

    September 21, 2012 at 8:33 pm |
  9. Jim Beam

    As a result of this heresy all Christians should be out acting like animals and rioting just like certain other religions...

    September 21, 2012 at 6:38 pm |
    • Arvoasitis

      Who's bringing the beer?

      September 21, 2012 at 6:55 pm |
  10. Bill Deacon

    It's genius, pure genius

    September 21, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
  11. Bill Deacon

    Here is my evil plan – Create a fictional character, have him born into poverty in a part of the world full of strife with no recorded history, cast some doubts on his conception (that will keep them guessing), leave a decade or so gap in his life story, re-introduce him in the middle of nowhere and tell everyone he has all these amazing powers, he confounds and confuses all his followers and tells them not to tell anyone about what he does or where he is going and Oh yeah, they are all prostiitutes and tax cheats and lepers and the really lowlifes of society, deny them the chance to follow him, set him at odds with both the government and the church powers of his time, cast doubts on his seexuality and intelligence, make it so he refuses anyone to come to his aid and kill him in the most horrible way imaginable, then hide his body, make it so nothing he does can be historically proven.

    Voila, in 2000 years I will rule the world!

    MUAHAHAHAHAHA!

    September 21, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
    • Lisa

      Gosh, you are so smart!

      September 21, 2012 at 7:20 pm |
  12. samsjmail

    I wonder if Jesus and the little missus ever did it doggy style?

    September 21, 2012 at 2:09 pm |
    • Lisa

      Disrespectful

      September 21, 2012 at 7:20 pm |
    • 0G-No gods, ghosts, goblins or ghouls

      Lisa, do you have a problem with doggy style? We're not talking anal here, ar we?

      September 22, 2012 at 12:40 am |
  13. IO

    Jesus was God in the body of a human. It seems unrealistic that he would have married while here on Earth. Wouldn't their marriage be eternal after that?

    September 21, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
    • Dyllis

      Well, it's all fiction, so you might as well speculate as to whether Dumbledore and Snape got physically intimate, considering what else they did for each other.

      September 21, 2012 at 7:26 pm |
  14. Disciple

    How many people with the name Jesus were in the area? All we know is that "Jesus" said "My wife..." He could have said anything. It doesn't really prove anything, just leads us back to discussing whether He could have married.

    September 21, 2012 at 1:49 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      Or it could have been from Ali saying "I was talking to Jesus about my wife and he told me three times that she was going to be a disciple."

      September 21, 2012 at 2:50 pm |
  15. correctlycenter

    The gospels never mentioned Jesus having a wife. His purpose was not to marry, but to educate, heal, free people from the grasp of satan and to die on the cross for our sin debt...

    September 21, 2012 at 1:47 pm |
    • Peteyroo

      CorruptedCenter, Jesus did not die for me. Don't include me in your delusions.

      September 21, 2012 at 1:51 pm |
    • Me

      Said the brainwashed man. (Hint: He was murdered for daring to claim to be a son of God. His death had nothing to do with the sins of those who lived before him, or after him.

      September 21, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      When asked by Pilate, He didn't claim to be the Son of God. He only refused to answer.

      September 21, 2012 at 2:51 pm |
    • myreply

      Yes, I know that's right! The Bible doesn't support that false teaching of Jesus being married.

      September 21, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
    • timmuh

      @Me, Interesting that the punishment for blasphemy, which he was accused of, is stoning, whereas crucifixion is the sentence for political crimes against the state. If he was an historical figure, which I lean towards, it would imply that his crime was causing political unrest and not for claiming to be a god.

      September 21, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
  16. Karin L.Swanson for President, U.S. Election 2012

    Our lord Jesus having been married will not be embraced by most Christian churches worldwide. But proof of him as a man and as a husband will set archaeologists off on further hunts, fueling biblical sciences in every major U.S. university. This find could be as foundational as the Dead Sea Scrolls, which turned anthropologists and the like from disproving the Holy Bible to using it as a map that lead them to other finds such as John the Baptist's cave dug by Dr. James Tabor, Dir. of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina and Dr. Shimon Gibson, Dir. of the Mount Zion excavations. -KLS

    September 21, 2012 at 1:21 pm |
    • Beth

      I'd vote for your opponent.

      September 21, 2012 at 1:24 pm |
    • Peteyroo

      I'm not voting for you.

      September 21, 2012 at 1:45 pm |
  17. richajam

    The best thing about free will is you have a choice to beieve what you may- because in the end, you are responsible for your own soul as is everyone else. If you want to beieve he had a wife, good for you! If you want to believe he died on the cross, then good for you! – Even if you do not believe in him, then that is good too! But dont belittlle anyone elses beliefes- know that there is definitly an end just as three was a begining at some point and the only conciousness you have to face and answer to is your own. So how miserable and regretful do you want to be in life? As long as you believe, have faith in and make peace with yourself -and your fellow man follows suit, what do you ever have to be fearful of in life or thereafter?

    September 21, 2012 at 1:15 pm |
    • Fallacy Spotting 101

      Post by 'richajam' is a form of the flawed argument known as Pascal's Wager.

      http://www.fallacyfiles.org/glossary.html

      September 21, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
    • Peteyroo

      RichCram, you're so wrong. I hate to see you so confused. There is no God, and Jesus is a myth. Believe what you want but know we're watching you.

      September 21, 2012 at 1:47 pm |
  18. Gryla2

    Did Jesus have a wife? Well Darth Vader and Superman both had wives so why not invent one for the other fictional character, Jesus Christ?

    You can also invent a black version of this fairy tale if you like or maybe "black son of Jesus, bringin' it to da' ghetto!" if that suits you better.

    The best part is that if you change your mind or want to revamp the character for modern audiences you can always go back and retcon it to something else! Comic books do this all the time (although to be fair, comic books have much better writers than the Bible did), and all you have to do is blame it on a time warp or another fictional character like Doctor Doom or Satan.

    Fictional characters sure are convenient!

    September 21, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
    • Me

      It is not the Jesus is a fictional character, it is only the descriptions of how he was conceived, and what he did when he was alive, and after he was murdered that are fictional.

      September 21, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
  19. Josie Revisited

    I hope he had a wife. I hope to all the gods in all the worlds that he was able to find some happiness on this earth before the horrible things we put him through. If anyone ever deserved to be loved and cared for, it was certainly Jesus Christ.

    September 21, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
  20. paul alexander

    Breaking News: Christian Right Struggles To Dispel Evidence That Jesus Was Gay.

    September 21, 2012 at 11:51 am |
    • Lisa

      You're no better than the Christian right for saying that type of stuff.

      September 21, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
    • Giao Hoan

      No one can be better than Xtian Righties. They are holier than thou 🙂

      September 22, 2012 at 12:34 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.