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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. Anisah

    hehehe its so funny! I mean you Christians are still confused about if jesus was married or not , at least Muslims have the peace that their book Holy Quran is same all over the world since 1400 years no matter from where you pick the sample every word, every line will be same, how can such a confusing religion be true? lol

    September 24, 2012 at 6:20 pm |
    • thecollegeadmissionsguru

      While we are fairly certain that Muhamed lived, the Koran isn't any more reliable or truthful than the Christian/Jewish bible. Sorry, there are HOLES in every religion.. all you have to do is look...

      September 24, 2012 at 6:30 pm |
    • Anisah

      ok so you "think" Quran is not reliable and truthful but at least its consistent ,
      I will repeat your words to you "you just have to look" the mere fact that Quran has not changed, not even a single letter since the day it was revealed is enough of a miracle and the proof for it to be true, for those who believe and are willing to open their hearts and minds for the truth.

      September 25, 2012 at 2:44 pm |
  2. Gesher Le Olam

    Do you want to know who the real Jews are visit http://www.gesherleolam.com toda raba

    September 24, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
  3. Gesher Le Olam

    We need to go to the foundation, I invite you to visit http://www.gesherleolam.com Toda raba

    September 24, 2012 at 5:28 pm |
  4. Portland tony

    No one knows for sure what Jesus said or did. Nothing was written about him until 30 years after his death and certainly nothing he ever wrote has been identified. And to complicate matters the writers wrote in various languages which were duplicated by scribes and monks who made copies of text they could not understand.

    September 24, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
    • Anisah

      this means that the Christians beliefs raise a question , so no one knows if jesus said he was son of god or not! there is a good chance, this is all made up!

      September 24, 2012 at 6:22 pm |
    • thecollegeadmissionsguru

      Agreed, tony.. IF people would simply open their eyes and do a little research they would see things that would shake their core beliefs, of course they don't want that. The very fact that, a) Jesus left NOTHING behind, no writings, no physical evidence, nothing written by any first century historian, and b) there were no less than 12 deities prior to Jesus throughout the world who were born of a virgin, taught at the temple when young, preached, healed, fed the hungry, were killed and rose from the dead. Pretty compelling stuff actually.

      September 24, 2012 at 6:28 pm |
  5. Becky13

    To all you skeptics, if Jesus wasn't married to Mary Magdalene, then I'm married to the Pope! You people seem to forget that even though Jesus was the "SON OF GOD"....he was still a man! If you have read the bible (KING JAMES VERSION), you would clearly see that Mary Magdalene was held in hire regard by Jesus himself and his followers!!! Not only did she stay by her husbands side (Jesus) everywhere he went, but she was also present at his crucifixion and she also was the one he came to first after his resurrection! If you read the Gospels of Mary it is very clear that Jesus loved her more than any WOMAN or MAN. Peter an Andrew made that very clear!!! Does it take a rocket scientist to put 2 an 2 together to get 4??? I want to know why is it so hard to except that Jesus was a married man? Didn't God put him on this earth to preach his word? Did God not create Eve for Adam? Did God not say "Be Fruitful An Multiply"??? So why would Jesus not LIVE by the words of his Father? That doesn't make him a sinner or unholy, that only means he lived his life as OUR Father has said for every man an woman to live...by God's laws.....The Ten Commandments......you know, the one that says don't commit adultery! Now tell me, why would Jesus go around preaching the word of his father if he didn't live by his own fathers laws???? Ain't that like the pot calling the kettle black??? Just Saying!

    September 24, 2012 at 4:08 pm |
  6. My Wife, My Church

    Sorry all but this is sure to be in relation to biblical scriptures saying "My Wife is my Church As My Church is to My Wife. Treat them as ONE IN THE SAME. lol Jesus Had a Church...Silly He wasnt married... The same Script says For Women to treat their husbands like they would treat Jesus So read betwen the lines here PTL

    September 24, 2012 at 3:14 pm |
  7. No Proof

    Why is the concept of Jesus being married so offensive? If he was, great, if not, who cares? How does that change your beliefs?

    September 24, 2012 at 2:54 pm |
  8. cnnsukz

    To all of you disrespectful and non believers....how funny how you abouse christians and defend muslims. yet, I dare you to do this type of sillinessin a islamic republic. you won't because you won't survive.

    September 24, 2012 at 1:47 pm |
    • sam stone

      awww, little fella, feeling a bit put upon?

      there have been lots of stories on islam on cnn which produced thousands of critical comments

      try to read a bit before you bloviate

      September 25, 2012 at 10:02 am |
    • sam stone

      also, d-bag, who is defending muslims?

      September 25, 2012 at 10:03 am |
  9. Lennan

    I dont care what evidence they found, jesus does not have a wife

    September 24, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
    • hateyourlife

      Hey there was twenty years between in this guys supposed life there is no history for so yeah there's all kinds of possibilities so what if he had ten wives and 50 kids that's his business as the bible states let him deal with it heck he could have chilling in the roman bath houses that's were he learned to walk on water... And you know what happens in roman bath houses don't you there lennon

      September 24, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
  10. pastor nick

    If i remember well, the Church is called the bride of Christ, so hence therefore etc.., when Christ speaks about his wife it is nothing disturbing or new, but as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so then any man will interpret according to the thoughts that are already in his heart, for out of it are the issues of life

    September 24, 2012 at 11:05 am |
    • My Wife, My Church

      lol i just posted something similar than seen your comment. Lovely how media blows relics way out of proportion.

      September 24, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
  11. peter sameh aziz

    How would jesus marry and he said he is the son of god (and as the christian faith he is the god ) ???

    September 24, 2012 at 10:55 am |
  12. eliudthorn

    Man cannot server God and hate, but man cannot serve God and not hate evil.

    If your point is that Christians should love Muslims, I'm not sure your point required so many words. If your point is that Christian opposition to the tenets of Islam is somehow equivalent to the violent reaction of some offended Muslims, then not enough words exist to make sense of that.

    September 24, 2012 at 10:23 am |
  13. Rudiger

    Why wouldn't he be married, unless he was gay>

    September 24, 2012 at 10:22 am |
    • eliudthorn

      Why would he be married, unless he wanted to procreate?

      September 24, 2012 at 10:25 am |
    • Dustin Goldsen

      Generally you marry because you want create a life with the person you love. That's why, for example, elderly people some times marry even though there is no chance they will procreate.

      September 24, 2012 at 6:04 pm |
  14. Barbara

    Jesus meant his wife not literally his "HUMAN WIFE" one you married to and have intimacy, but "WIFE" symbolizing his 144,000 chosen who will reign with him in heaven, this are chosen ones who he knows them so close to him. As a wife is close to her husband. OKAY people get a grip! The Devil will blind us, and will do everything in his power, to even divert the chosen ones themselves to believe what he wants us to believe, hear, and want. TO discredit the SON OF GOD is a blasfemy and disrespectful. That is what he wants, and there will be many as the grains of sand that will follow!

    September 24, 2012 at 10:16 am |
    • Vincent

      That's a crock of shìt.

      The whole premise that the church is his "wife" was made up long after his reported death.

      September 24, 2012 at 12:32 pm |
    • Becky13

      Sorry Barbara, but that is NOT what Jesus meant! All through out the bible he "referred" to his followers as his "Brothers an Sisters or his Children" NOT his WIVES! Not once in the bible does it say "My Wives I Say Unto You........."

      September 24, 2012 at 4:21 pm |
  15. Al Yoder

    What the writer of this article must be ignorant of is this truth. There were many people called Jesus during the time the Bible was written and there are many people in our day that are given that name. So, nobody knows who that Jesus may have been in the story. There are many people with the name Jesus with a wife. Jesus Christ, the Son of God only has one wife...and that is the Church he established with his apostles. God would never contradict himself.

    September 24, 2012 at 8:27 am |
    • Vincent

      "God" didn't write the new testament...humans did. Corrupt, lying and agenda filled humans. Just like you....just like every other human on the planet.

      September 24, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
    • hateyourlife

      Jesus sure swims good and roofs and gardens and cooks and oh wait wrong guy but yeah your boy Christ would have been a wierdo if in his manhood which he was man first wouldn't have enjoyed himself a lady even in the book you profice is the word of god he didn't know of his "godly" or as I like to say adulterous origin till late in life thirties wasn't it why wouldn't he want to try to be mortal man and live that life Christians are so silly and blind thanks for the laughs

      September 24, 2012 at 1:15 pm |
  16. jon

    ... raw stuff for Mr. D. Brown.

    September 24, 2012 at 8:08 am |
  17. OMG

    Have you noticed it says the letters CNN on the script. You are the annointed ones.

    September 24, 2012 at 6:34 am |
  18. charles obryan

    the proper translation is "my wife???? what wife????"

    September 24, 2012 at 4:15 am |
    • Ari's Dad

      Yeah, I can hear it now.
      "Jesus, where are you going?"
      "I'm gonna meet my disciples, let the Romans arrest me and crucify me to save mankind."
      "Always off with those strange friends of yours. That Judas is just weird. Well, don't bloody forget to paint the bathroom before you leave. I've been after you for weeks about that."
      "OK, honey, I'll take care of it."

      September 24, 2012 at 9:28 am |
  19. @EarlHigh

    She is sitting to his right at the Last Supper so duh!

    September 24, 2012 at 3:13 am |
    • Magnimus

      That's a painting made centuries later by someone who was not there. How is that historical evidence?

      September 24, 2012 at 6:14 am |
  20. okhan

    Want to know all about the Holly Prophet Jesus(Peace be upon Him)
    visit: http://www.alislam.org/topics/jesus/
    watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yiy5uY3Iw2s

    September 24, 2012 at 3:11 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.