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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. rocinante

    Early Jewish literature also suggests that there were many gods – not just Yahweh. Yahweh was the god of war and described as jealous of other gods. He insisted his worshipers only worship to him.

    Even the commandment that "Thou shalt have no gods before Me" implies that Christianity is a pantheistic religion, as it assumes there are other gods.

    September 18, 2012 at 7:53 pm |
    • Cando

      You may want to check your definition of Pantheism. You misuse the term.

      September 18, 2012 at 7:56 pm |
  2. Cando

    Where is Paul Harvey when you need him?

    September 18, 2012 at 7:53 pm |
  3. GAW

    Well I guess everything on the internet is true.

    September 18, 2012 at 7:52 pm |
    • Friggin Dave

      That's how I learned where babies come from.

      September 18, 2012 at 7:58 pm |
  4. If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

    Let the Christian spin begin!!

    September 18, 2012 at 7:51 pm |
    • joeymom

      I am sure God would speak to a horse in the way a horse would understand. What's your point?

      September 19, 2012 at 12:58 am |
  5. The Devil

    Ha haha We already knew that..

    September 18, 2012 at 7:50 pm |
  6. Dennis

    How come those evil fanatical Christians aren't burning down any buildings or setting cars on fire when the teachings of Christians are attacked?? Oh yeah, maybe the liberals don't understand that it's a huge offense to claim Jesus was married. Oh yeah, I forgot that its only ok attack Christian beliefs, not Muslim.

    September 18, 2012 at 7:49 pm |
    • Friggin Dave

      It's all about the same amount of silliness, but radical Islam is scary as shlt so yes, it's only ok to make fun of you.

      September 18, 2012 at 7:52 pm |
    • PaulC

      I believe it is the christian coptics that are making this info. and not your demonized "liberals" but don't let me interrupt a good repug rant.

      September 18, 2012 at 7:55 pm |
  7. Rich

    Wife was a misunderstanding and thus corruption of the "Bride of Christ" gospel that means in parable form, that the Christians who are called up into the "Marriage Supper" of the Lamb" (of God) are referred to as the "Bride of Christ". The "Wife" is scripturally meant to be all those Saints, past present and future who believe that Jesus is the living Son of God and that he died and rose again to save the lost.

    September 18, 2012 at 7:49 pm |
    • Preston

      Well spoken! I'm glad someone on here understands the truth!

      September 18, 2012 at 7:55 pm |
    • bf83

      While the belief of radical rightist Xians that this means the "bride of Christ, this is a different word. Open your minds.

      By the way, one of the dumbest church signs i have ever seen was in West Burlington, Iowa at the Open Bible Church that read, "Don't be so open-minded. Your brains will fall out."

      If that is the level of belief and intellect in this country we are in grave danger. Dumb, dumber, and dumbest!

      September 18, 2012 at 8:40 pm |
    • Jizalot4fun

      That's an amazing amount of words you use to say nothing. How on earth did you get all of that from a few words on a tiny scrap of paper? The religious never cease to amaze us with their mental gymnastics to make everything conform to their presuppositions. If you REALLY want to learn about your religion, read materials that offer compelling arguments AGAINST you interests and thoughtfully consider them in light of what you were TOLD as a child. Childhood indoctrination is what actually perpetuates religious ideas–NOT autonomous inquiry and discovery. Peace.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:57 am |
    • joeymom

      Except this is a Coptic text from the 2nd-4th century, and likely from the Gnostic communities there- in which case, it could be a reference to an actual wife, or a metaphorical discussion. And we have no idea which it is, since it is a scrap.

      September 19, 2012 at 1:00 am |
  8. Tom

    What absolute filth!

    September 18, 2012 at 7:48 pm |
    • old ben

      What kind of filth. Like filth of a filthyhindu? Not sure I follow.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:42 pm |
  9. Francis

    “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife …’” <— Wife = bride, That's Gods Church NOT an literal wife but the Body of Christ the Church, Why the confusion?

    September 18, 2012 at 7:48 pm |
    • Rush

      What ever let's you sleep through the night, francis.

      September 18, 2012 at 7:50 pm |
    • Preston

      @Rush You have a lack of understanding of the Gospel. Read it, then make your comments.

      September 18, 2012 at 7:56 pm |
    • joeymom

      Because the scrap dates to a period when gnosticism was prevalent? But I don't see how it makes any difference whether he was legally married or not.

      September 19, 2012 at 1:01 am |
  10. redone

    My neighbor's name is Jesus...

    September 18, 2012 at 7:48 pm |
    • 0G-No gods, ghosts, goblins or ghouls

      You sure that's not your neighbor's gardener?

      September 18, 2012 at 7:50 pm |
    • Friggin Dave

      Racist card! Bam!

      September 18, 2012 at 7:54 pm |
    • redone

      My neighbor's name really is Jesus. He is a home owner and a very nice person. He is my friend and I don't care what race he is, but apparently you do.

      My point is that we don't know which "Jesus" this peice of writing refers to. We also don't know who wrote it or when. If you beleive everything you read, watch out. The main purpose of this website is to sell space for advertizment. Shocking articles get you to keep reading and sell space for the owner of the site.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:18 pm |
  11. GAW

    I wonder what Pastor Gas has to say about this.

    September 18, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
  12. rocinante

    CNN – you guys have really got to look at your blog filter. Nearly all my comments get flagged even though I don't use bad words. Often have to rewrite several times, and trim length down to 2 or 3 sentences, just to get a comment posted.

    September 18, 2012 at 7:46 pm |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Welcome to CNN. It's ridiculous.

      September 18, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
    • MANHANDLER 2

      That because CNN censors. Even I can't say anything that doesn't fit into CNN way of life. There is no freedom of speech here.

      September 18, 2012 at 7:49 pm |
  13. k

    Jesus was never married, now go wipe your mouth with this dirty parchment

    September 18, 2012 at 7:45 pm |
    • joeymom

      Papyrus. Parchment is lambskin.

      September 19, 2012 at 1:02 am |
  14. Rational Libertarian

    Dan Brown must be getting a hard on.

    September 18, 2012 at 7:45 pm |
  15. rocinante

    Another story suggestion: God's wife Asherah, mentioned in early Jewish scrolls but edited out of the Torah during the exodus around 800 BC.

    Apparently the early Christian divinity wasn't as inhibited as the later Christian divinity.

    September 18, 2012 at 7:45 pm |
    • Rational Libertarian

      I think one story was that Asherah and El conceived Yahweh.

      September 18, 2012 at 7:46 pm |
    • Friggin Dave

      Just looked that up. Funny how you never hear that in church.

      September 18, 2012 at 7:50 pm |
  16. If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

    This just means that Priests can now marry nuns rather than diddling them in secret! Yay married Jesus!!

    September 18, 2012 at 7:44 pm |
  17. hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

    No one ever existed by the name of Jesus, hinduism, fabrication of hindu Magi's, criminal tricksters of Rom to promote hindu Mithra ism, pagan savoir ism, religion of hindu, pagan Romans to make humanity their gentile, slaves. Why this carnage, why west is persistent on hindu Judaism, criminal self center ism ? please visit http://www.limitisthetruth.com/ and click on word Choice to open file, to learn true causes of mayhem among humanity,

    September 18, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
  18. B17

    Yes, especially that long ago, gay marriages had to be kept secret. If word leaked out that Jesus and Muhammad were married the rag heads would really have had something to riot about.

    September 18, 2012 at 7:41 pm |
  19. Friggin Dave

    So finding something written down a long time ago in a historically accurate setting isn't reliable enough to say that Jesus was in fact married. Ok, so how do you figure that the Bible IS reliable by those same standards?

    September 18, 2012 at 7:41 pm |
    • If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

      Just plain obvious!! They have to tread lightly here, this will throw the entire religion industry into chaos and extreme backpeddling.

      September 18, 2012 at 7:46 pm |
    • Splishkid

      The gospels were written a couple hundred years by men who had an agenda. Religion divides
      " my god is better than your god, na na nana na". Look inside yourselves...... There you will find enlightenment.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:00 pm |
  20. truth be told

    The catholic church is replacing the easter bunny with pedobear.

    September 18, 2012 at 7:40 pm |
    • Friggin Dave

      That's my new costume idea for ComicCon. Don't steal it.

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

      Don't they already have that fat pedophile with the white beard and red suit that gets drunk and has children sit on his lap in smelly malls?... "Hey kid, want to touch my little Saint Nick? 'hicup'"...

      September 18, 2012 at 7:54 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.