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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. md22mdrx

    I don't understand all the hubbub about a 2000 year old game of telephone ....
    It's not like the story hasn't been changed a hundred times over .... whole gospels added, deleted, altered, etc depending on the politics of the time .... Sheesh people!!!!

    September 18, 2012 at 8:07 pm |
    • TheThinker

      Please provide a link supporting the notion that the New Testament has been revised "a hundred times".

      September 18, 2012 at 8:15 pm |
    • md22mdrx

      http://www.maplenet.net/~trowbridge/NT_Hist.htm
      http://bible.org/article/significance-scribal-corruptions-new-testament-text

      September 18, 2012 at 8:23 pm |
    • md22mdrx

      Secondly, stop being ignorant and THINK about it ....
      The story wasn't written down for HUNDREDS of years after his death. It probably changed a hundred times in a SINGLE year, let alone over a period of a couple hundred.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:38 pm |
  2. T-Roy

    For a religion based entirely on Literature. Why is it so unthinkable that we now believe Jesus was married? It was written down, just like other dogma.

    The difference? This coptic writing was not written and approved by the Romans like the New Testament was in the 3rd and 4th century.

    September 18, 2012 at 8:07 pm |
  3. Ting

    If he had a wife, then he probably had kIds. So what does that make them?

    September 18, 2012 at 8:07 pm |
    • Friggin Dave

      Thor, son of Odin?

      September 18, 2012 at 8:13 pm |
    • joeymom

      Long dead?

      September 19, 2012 at 1:03 am |
  4. Patrick49

    As Jesus was dying on the cross he addressed both his mother Mary and John his apostle by saying "Mother behold your son" referring to John and "John behold your mother" referring to Mary. He made no mention of a wife, Mary Magdalene was there also.
    It is inconceivable that had there been a wife he would not have asked his mother or John or both to look after his her. .

    September 18, 2012 at 8:07 pm |
    • Kevin

      And I thought he said, "Get these **** thorns off my head."

      Fact: no one knows what Jesus said on the cross because the earliest writings about his murder were written decades later. Also Fact: It doesn't matter one iota whether he was married or not. He was great because of what he did, not because of who he was or wasn't.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:10 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      You're talking about a book with Zombies and talking snakes and donkeys, so....

      September 18, 2012 at 8:10 pm |
    • TheThinker

      @ Kevin: your logic is perfect and well spoken.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:14 pm |
    • T-Roy

      Your comment made me think. The only logical explanation would be that he did not die on the cross and married his wife after the crucifixion.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:49 am |
    • joeymom

      Good one, T-Roy. I've been forgetting to mention that little treasure about the Gnostic beliefs of the time.

      September 19, 2012 at 1:05 am |
  5. If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

    One more step toward the inevitable human conclusion .. Atheism.

    September 18, 2012 at 8:06 pm |
    • TheThinker

      Charleton Heston has never appeared in an atheist-themed movie, therefore your assertion is invalid!
      😉

      September 18, 2012 at 8:12 pm |
    • EMcK

      TheThinker – sure he did. Planet of the Apes has to be atheist themed, too much evolution going on there for it to be anything else :).

      September 18, 2012 at 8:31 pm |
  6. Fred Bean

    Let's keep in mind, there's no way this is from the biblical period. Jesus' real name was Joshua. That's the name his mother and father gave him. The Greeks called him Jesus AFTER he was killed by the Romans. He never heard the name Jesus during his lifetime..

    September 18, 2012 at 8:05 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      I think you mean "Yeshua," similar to "Yoshua" or "Hosea" Research. And I'm pretty sure that they would have looked into that along with the date of the fragment in question and other details.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:07 pm |
    • Ting

      I'm sure they didn't do any serious investigating. You should let them know they are completely wrong.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:13 pm |
  7. Steward

    First off Jesus was an extremely common name in the days of Christ, it could've been anyone named Jesus referring to his wife. If it was Jesus Christ than there's plenty of scripture indicating that the bride or "wife" of Christ refers to the Church.

    September 18, 2012 at 8:04 pm |
  8. paul

    in the day,s that jesus our lord was on the earth ( jesus) there was many people named jesus , just as among hispanic and central american peoples, it was a common popular name of many people,
    if you want to prove to your self that jesus was not married , look up what the apostle said, " i saw standing upon mount zion with the lamb 144,000, these are they that have washed thier robes and were not defilled with women, for they are virgins,
    jesus emphasised in parts the need and values of a husband and wife in a home,
    the two mary,s and the women that followed him and ministered unto him tells us the great importance of women, and women in the home, he wanted all married men to have thier own wife,
    in those days of so many years ago there was false prophets, storytellers, wild imaginations, he told us not to believe them,
    whether you are catholic, christian, islamic or any other, we can all take pride in the fact what the prohets, jesus and the apostles told us all fits jointly to gether, they were a work of love,
    to understand the christian bible correctly, islamic people are not rejected, but rather they are a equal, the angel told hagar to return to her mistress, he also told her he would make ishmael a blessing and his seed a great nation, regards

    September 18, 2012 at 8:04 pm |
  9. tfbuckfutter

    You know what would be great?

    If his wife was a dude.

    September 18, 2012 at 8:03 pm |
    • Friggin Dave

      I would laugh myself to death.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:05 pm |
  10. Wildone

    He was married. He wasn't. He was. He wasn't. He was the Son of God. He wasn't...add infinitum. God Almighty, I am sick to death of all this speculation about a MAN who lived over 2000 years ago! If and when he comes back I'll be a believer, but until then PLEASE FOR THE SAKE OF GOD STOP KILLING EACH OTHER OVER A FREAKING STORY!!!

    September 18, 2012 at 8:02 pm |
  11. Dr. M. Gooding - Maryland

    I can tell you right now this is a forgery. Look at the hatch pattern in the fabric. It is backwards. They would never have written on the bottom side like that. Not convincing in the least, and I think we all know from scripture that Jesus was h.o.m.o.s.e.xual.

    September 18, 2012 at 8:02 pm |
  12. The Truth

    "centuries-old papyrus fragment suggests that some early Christians might have believed Jesus was married."

    So to sum up, any posters thinking this is in anyway contemporary with 'early' Christians, meaning those who lived within a century or two of Christ, are sadly misled. This is a few hundred years old at best and as pointed out "Because both sides of the fragment have writing on them, King said it could have come out of a book rather than a scroll." And for those who are bad at math, Christ suppoesdly died nearly 2000 years ago, not a few "centuries" as this page seems to represent.

    So more than a thousand years after Christ may or may not have lived, a sect of Christians wrote some shlt down that may or may not be percieved to claim that Jesus was married.

    Why is anyone discussing this again? Why does ANYONE but a coptic Christian care what coptic Christians believe?

    September 18, 2012 at 8:02 pm |
    • Friggin Dave

      Whatever bro, you still believe in magical fairy-tales.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:08 pm |
    • Pete

      Actually it is dated to around the same time as the gospels in the bible.

      September 19, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
    • The Truth

      "Actually it is dated to around the same time as the gospels in the bible."

      And where did you learn this since it wasn't in the article and has yet to even be confirmed as authentic let alone from 1st century christian time periods.

      September 19, 2012 at 1:22 pm |
  13. Rational Libertarian

    If we're all god's children, what makes Jesus so special?

    September 18, 2012 at 8:00 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      Method of ma st er bation

      September 18, 2012 at 8:05 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      @Rational Libertarian

      I refuse to believe you are asking that question in good faith putz fool. God's Son was Jesus who is the Chosen One as He was given to us by The Lord. Raid is more effective than Lady Speedstick. Jesus died for your sins and loves you.

      Amen.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:06 pm |
  14. CinnamonHearts

    Why do people who know NOTHING about the Bible always feel compelled to speak about it? His "wife" is the church! It is referres to many times in the Bible. The "Bride of Christ" is the body of saved people he will present to God as holy on the last day.

    September 18, 2012 at 7:59 pm |
    • Lilith

      Proof that anything can be spun to make the evidence fit what someone wants the answer to be.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:01 pm |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Jesus f.ucked a church? That dude was freaky deaky.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:01 pm |
  15. Jack

    Some people will follow anything blindly. The bible is a bunch of books decided by man what people should read. People need to read, everything... Not just what a few narrow minded men set up for everyone to read.

    September 18, 2012 at 7:58 pm |
  16. Palter Mongoose

    JESUS WAS A CARPENTER IN A LAND WITH NO TREES!

    No wonder he tried out the messiah business.

    September 18, 2012 at 7:56 pm |
    • truth be told

      What became of all the cedars of Lebanon?

      September 18, 2012 at 7:58 pm |
    • old ben

      "What became of all the cedars of Lebanon?"

      Well Romney has a lot of closets.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:44 pm |
  17. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

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

      Apparently prayer got Jesus laid!!

      September 18, 2012 at 7:59 pm |
    • md22mdrx

      Actually, lying to your child about an imaginary friend in the sky is worse than saying there isn't one.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:04 pm |
    • Ran

      Prayer has actually been scientifically proven not to work—or at least any more effective than not praying. You've just been schooled.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:05 pm |
    • Dover

      Prayer got ALL of us laid.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:05 pm |
    • Tony

      PRAYER is not healthy for children and other living things BECAUSE prayer changes nothing. Billions of people pray for various things every day, and have done so every day for millennia. NOT ONCE in all of that has a single prayer ever been answered! When will society wake up, and GROW up, and realize this?

      September 18, 2012 at 8:08 pm |
  18. Shawn Irwin

    He was either married, gay, a pedophile, or he liked Rosy Palm and her five fingers . . . take your pick. Those who say "celebate" are just plain naive.

    September 18, 2012 at 7:55 pm |
    • Rational Libertarian

      I'd say all four.

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

      @shawn ...
      nope

      September 18, 2012 at 7:59 pm |
    • CinnamonHearts

      I di ot.

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

    The Gnostics have had multiple false teachings, many of which survive to this day. None are scripture as gnosticism is a perversion of Christianity.

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

      Or it could mean the gospels are garbage and the original true story was with the Gnostics. We will never know because the Catholic church made sure they were destroyed . Oh but then those are the ones who wanted male only clergy so they could bugger young boys.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:10 pm |
    • Tony

      Gnosticism is closer to reality than canonical scripture. Just because certain texts were omitted from the bible doesn't mean they are not true, it simply means their message was not in line with the agenda of the assemblers of the bible.

      September 18, 2012 at 8:12 pm |
    • joeymom

      It is not a "perversion", it is simply not the orthodox thread. Also, gnosticism is not unique to Christianity- the idea of "hidden knowledge", founded in Greek mystery-cult, attached itself to many religious communities of the time.

      September 19, 2012 at 1:07 am |
    • Pete

      Yeah it is garbage because Christians decided it is so. It is just as likely true as anything in the bible.

      September 19, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
  20. George Spalding

    Dan Brown just sold another MILLION copies of his book "The Da Vinci Code".

    September 18, 2012 at 7:53 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.