September 19th, 2012
06:05 PM ET

5 questions and answers about Jesus' 'wife'

By Eric Marrapodi, Co-Editor CNN's Belief Blog
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(CNN) - Since the news broke Tuesday about a scrap of papyrus containing the line in Coptic, "Jesus said, 'My wife..' " questions have rocketed across the world about what this means.

We put many of the big questions to leading scholars, pastors and people in the pews to find the answers.

1. Why is this just surfacing now?

The papyrus fragment is thought by Harvard Divinity School Professor Karen King to be from the 4th century but could be a copy of an early gospel from the 2nd century. King said a dealer, who wishes to remain anonymous, brought the fragment to her to be translated and analyzed in 2011. The New York Times reported the dealer hopes to give the fragment to Harvard if they buy a large portion of his collection.

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On Tuesday, King presented her findings on the fragment to a conference on Coptic texts held in Rome once every four years.

In some ways, texts like this are not uncommon.

Elaine Pagels, a professor from Princeton University who is an expert on gnostic writings such as this one, noted to CNN, "You can find boxes filled with Coptic fragments." But what makes this one significant is for the first time, it explicitly has Jesus referring to "my wife."

King posits it may have come from a complete gospel she and her research partners have dubbed "the Gospel of Jesus' Wife." If that were true, Pagels said "that could make the fragment much more valuable if it were part of a gospel, but we don’t know that.”

2. How do they know this isn't a fake?

Authenticating documents is equal parts art and science. What researchers are trying to rule out is if this is a modern forgery. To do that, they look at a variety of aspects, including the age of the paper, the chemical composition of the ink and text itself. The authentication won't confirm whether the text is true but only whether the physical item is true to the time frame researchers think it is.

The document was examined by 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, he confirmed to CNN. Ariel Shisha-Halevy, professor of linguistics at Hebrew University, Jerusalem, was asked to examine the authenticity, according to King. Shisha-Halevy said that based on the language and grammar, it was authentic.

Chemical tests on the ink are pending, King noted in a draft of her work set to be published in January in a peer reviewed journal.

Some experts in the field, including Pagels, suggest the fragment contains too little to be faked, suggesting that a forger would have included much more in the document to try and raise the value.

“We have to have more information about the fragment," said Douglas A. Campbell, an associate professor of New Testament at Duke Divinity School. He points to recent history when discoveries turned out to be fakes. “The academic community has been badly burned,” he said, adding that there is still much to be learned about the provenance of the document, "the history of where it came from and how they got it.”

“The anonymous donor thing is very problematic,” he said.

3. Does this prove Jesus was really married?

Short answer: No.

King herself was quick to point out in interviews that this piece of papyrus does not prove that Jesus was married. "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.

The early consensus of other scholars we spoke to about this agree this document does not prove Jesus was married.

"Let's not neglect the fact this was written 300 years after Jesus' death," Hellen Mardaga, an assistant professor of New Testament at The Catholic University of America, told CNN. Mardaga says "the text may be real and not a forgery, but that doesn’t mean it belongs in with the Gospels.”

There is nothing in the Gospel accounts in the Bible and the earliest Christian tradition that speaks to Jesus being married.

"This is an aberration; this is something totally outside of any biblical tradition," said Jerry Pattengale, the executive director of the Green Scholars Initiative, which helps oversee one of the largest private collections of biblical antiquities.

"We know that tradition, or anything passed down, has a huge story to tell and there is a lot that can be learned from tradition that is linked to history. There is just no solid tradition for Jesus being married, so this is certainly an aberration and an important find," he said.

4. Would Jesus being married change Christianity?

Yes. Probably. But we'll never know for sure (see above).

Without getting too into the weeds theologically, it raises lots of interesting questions about how Jesus lived on Earth and what is not known about his life. For married couples, it also adds a healthy doses of mirth to the idea of being married to someone fully human and fully God, as the Christian creeds say Jesus was.

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"Had Jesus had a wife, I have no doubt he would would have treated her with the same dignity, respect and affection with which he treated his female disciples like Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany and Martha," Christian author Rachel Held Evans said when we asked her about this.

"Though I confess I think it would be a little unfair for a woman to be married to God incarnate. Kinda makes it tough to win an argument," she joked. "On the plus side, he turns water into wine ... which would be nice!"

5. So can Catholic priests get married now ?

This discovery brought the issue of Catholic clergy and celibacy to the forefront and got a lot of people wondering whether this would prompt the church to shift on this issue.

“At the time this (fragment) was written, we had a married clergy," pointed out Rev. Tom Reese, a senior fellow at Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University.

Reese said this discovery won't change Catholic teaching on the marital status of Catholic clergy.
"It has nothing to do with whether we have a married clergy or not. For the first thousand years, we had a married clergy. For the last thousand years, we’ve had a celibate clergy."

The celibacy requirement is based on church law, not doctrine, which is the core, unchanging beliefs of the faith. "The church can change this rule whenever it decides to change the law," he said.

For Reese, the Coptic papyrus fragment does not hold great weight for the future of the Catholic clergy.

"This is a nice academic footnote, but beyond that, it is not going to be all that important," he said.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Belief • Christianity • Jesus

soundoff (1,438 Responses)
  1. DrinkinKoolAide

    So let me get this straight: if this article enraged me so much that I went out and killed a bunch of people because I felt that my faith had been insulted, then it's the article's/writer's/editor's/CNN's fault that I did those things, right?

    September 20, 2012 at 11:01 am |
    • Huebert

      Your a big Faux news fan aren't you?

      September 20, 2012 at 11:02 am |
    • Shardik

      No but nice strawman.

      September 20, 2012 at 11:08 am |
  2. mecatfish

    Its a fake. Most recent translation it says my biach.

    September 20, 2012 at 10:58 am |
  3. Rm

    Lets just say that Jesus was married and had children. That he was a prophet and preached about being a good person and forgiveness. Among all of the other prophets and self serving messages throughout the ages, isn't it neet that his was the story that most of the world embraced. His message of social justice and forgiveness may have been misused and ignored by some but it is what built modern civilization. Kinda Darwinian : )

    September 20, 2012 at 10:52 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Sorry, but his basic message was already preached by Confucius.

      Also, there's nothing Darwinian about forgiveness and social justice.

      September 20, 2012 at 10:57 am |
    • Veritas

      It's a reasonable message but civilization would have been built without christianity (as in China) or without any religion.

      September 20, 2012 at 10:58 am |
    • Bill Deacon

      Nice conjecture Veritas and you make it sound so plausible. In fact, in reality, there is no reason to believe that civilization would have advanced to it's present point without Christian contributions. Any of several alternative structures might have arisen. The fact is that, good or bad, however you view it, the western world is hugely, systemically, inextricably influenced by faith.

      September 20, 2012 at 11:19 am |
    • Veritas

      It's not all conjecture and it is plausible – China's civilization was much more advanced than the West gives credit for. There is no reason to believe that civilization would not have advanced to its present point without christian contributions. Yes the Western world is hugely, systemically, inextricably influenced by faith, but there's no reason to believe that faith was necessary or that christianity specifically was necessary.

      September 20, 2012 at 11:55 am |
    • Rynomite

      "Sorry, but his basic message was already preached by Confucius."

      And Bhudda.

      "ignored by some but it is what built modern civilization"

      Buzz. Wrong. Modern Western Civilization is modeled after the Pagan Roman Republic. Xtianity took us through a little thing called the "Dark Ages".

      September 20, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
  4. Carlin123

    6. Was she a blond, brunette or red-head?
    7. Did she make him take out the trash?

    September 20, 2012 at 10:45 am |
    • bobpitt

      No one mentioned she was human, may she was his pet goat..

      September 20, 2012 at 11:07 am |
  5. Primewonk

    Again, where did Jesus get an Y chromosome? And did his Y chromosome have the same ERV's as a human? Was his chromosome 2 also a fusion of simian chromosomes 2a and 2b?

    September 20, 2012 at 10:44 am |
    • bobpitt

      I think his wife Pythagoras had the following Chromosomes.. 2a²+2b²=2c²

      September 20, 2012 at 10:57 am |
  6. luilee

    This fragment is Gnostic and is fourth century A. D.. The Gnostics were condemned as heretics. The fragment, typical of Gnostic writings, is not a first century autograph manuscript of the authors of the New Testament.

    September 20, 2012 at 10:42 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      The Gnostics were deemed heretical because they challenged orthodoxy and posed serious philosophical questions.

      September 20, 2012 at 10:54 am |
    • nadinesh

      Nonsense. I think it's amusing that you state this as though you knew what you were talking about, which you don't.

      September 20, 2012 at 11:06 am |
    • IrishinToronto

      so, you don't agree with it, so it can't be true...

      September 21, 2012 at 2:50 am |
  7. Joseph Grem

    Jesus was to have been without sin......what man bering married has not sinned one time or another.
    Nah, He wasn't married. Me, I am married......

    September 20, 2012 at 10:35 am |
    • bobpitt

      Yeah... sucks to be you...

      September 20, 2012 at 10:58 am |
  8. buckshot

    I sort of thought he was gay, him hanging out with all those guys all the time and never going with girls.

    September 20, 2012 at 10:31 am |
    • sam stone

      ....not to mention all that sand on his knees

      September 20, 2012 at 10:32 am |
  9. buckshot

    Shoots the h**l out of the god stuff and him being some mythical gods son.

    September 20, 2012 at 10:30 am |
    • Chance

      Actually the article clearly states the new found text does not verify Jesus had a wife. Any insinuation of Jesus being married is sensationalism, there is no evidence Jesus was married.

      September 20, 2012 at 10:36 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      There's far more evidence for him being married than there is for him being a deity.

      September 20, 2012 at 10:41 am |
    • Chance

      Actually if you look at the biblical text, as mentioned in the article by the biblical scholar there is no evidence of Jesus having a wife. Again Jesus being married is sensationalism.

      September 20, 2012 at 10:46 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      The Bible is just a small collection of books which make up the Jesus story. Also, the mere fact that he was a Rabbi/preacher in that era points to the likelihood of his being married, whereas no evidence ever has pointed to him being a deity.

      September 20, 2012 at 10:50 am |
    • Terry

      This was written 300 years after Jesus lived and probably written by some non-believing crazy like you.

      September 20, 2012 at 10:56 am |
    • Steve

      I love how all the religious gloss over the fact that, in the Bible, Jesus disappears for 17 or 18 years, then just shows back up. Not one Christian will ever ponder or question what Jesus did for all that time he was missing.

      September 20, 2012 at 11:07 am |
    • nadinesh

      I think you need to be educated about the history of the Gospels, son. They ALL date from 200-400 years after the fact and they were very much edited, changed and cut to suit the current doctrines of their time. None of the texts were codified until the mid-fourth century. Not a single one of the gospels dates from the period, btw–they all probably rely on an ur-text (most like Matthew) which itself was written 100 years later. So, get some of those mothballs outta your head.

      September 20, 2012 at 11:10 am |
    • nadinesh

      Terry: as for being "sensationalism", that's nonsense. It is what it is. No one is claiming it's definitive, but no one's claiming it' a fake either. The sad fact is, we knew next to nothing about the historical Jesus and all our information comes from texts written centuries after his time. It's true that there is no married Jesus in the current tradition, but bear in mind that this tradition is the result of very serious censorship in the mid-fourth century, which is why those "heretical" manuscripts (like Nag Hammadi and the Dead Sea Scrolls) were hidden in jars in secret caves.

      September 20, 2012 at 11:14 am |
    • Chance

      The premise remains that there is nothing that ties Jesus to being married other than speculation due to the lack of a flat out denial in the scripture of marriage.

      September 20, 2012 at 11:25 am |
    • nadinesh

      @Rational Libertarian - I'd also point out that yes, he was referred to as "rabbi" (Teacher, not preacher) by disciples, but that doesn't make him a "rabbi" as we understand the word today, since rabbinical Judaism did not exist until after the destruction of the Temple and the dispersion of the Jews from their homeland.

      September 20, 2012 at 11:28 am |
    • Chance

      Sensationalism is the correct word to use on the idea of marriage and Jesus. If you say the text was edited and play off speculation you end up with sensationalism. Also if the text was edited why did so many traits of human weakness portrayed by Jesus make the text? Wouldn't the writers want to show Jesus differently? To play the edited card and go off of speculation leads us no where.

      September 20, 2012 at 11:34 am |
  10. Ron

    It's a MAN's world and the catholic church will do everything necessary to keep it that way!!!!!!!!!

    September 20, 2012 at 10:29 am |
    • Bill Deacon

      But it wouldn't be nuthin without a woman or a girl.

      Rev James Brown

      September 20, 2012 at 11:22 am |
  11. Captain Obvious



    September 20, 2012 at 10:21 am |
    • bobpitt

      Use your imagination!!.. She slept with donkeys and goats, did not shave her legs nor her armpits, she didn’t bush her teeth not her hair, never took a bath or a shower, probably her teeth were rotten, and her breath could compared to you dog after been eating poo in the back yard..
      Still think she would look hot to you?

      September 20, 2012 at 11:18 am |
  12. weezer

    Sure he was married...had a bunch of kids too. A a matter of fact my wife is descended from Jesus, because she's always right, and I have to pray for s3x.

    September 20, 2012 at 10:17 am |
    • john

      Harvard should stay with their secular subjects.... they have drove away from God and Christianity, what integrity do they have now to come up with this kind of statement...... they are trying to take away the public's attention from the cheating scandal they just had a couple of weeks ago....

      September 20, 2012 at 10:26 am |
    • sam stone

      "drove away"?

      September 20, 2012 at 10:33 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      You can't leave religious studies up to the religious.

      September 20, 2012 at 10:34 am |
    • nadinesh

      you sure can't! Not unsupervised, anyway. 🙂

      September 20, 2012 at 11:17 am |
    • Rynomite

      Weezer – LOL. I think your wife and mine must be related!

      September 20, 2012 at 11:22 am |
  13. Dave

    Jesus wife was named Miriamne Mara, she was an apostle and a teacher. Most refer to her as Mary of Magdala (sister to Martha). When the tomb of Jesus and his family was discovered in 1982 at Talpiot, ossuaries were found for Jesus, his Mother mary, his brothers Yose and James, his young son Judah, and his wife Miriamne Mara. The chances that this is NOT Jesus and his family is 1 in 175,000. So yes, we can say "they found the body".

    September 20, 2012 at 10:15 am |
    • Zappa

      Hi, I'm Dave. I'm from mars. You wouldn't have known that, because I live under ground with Jesus ancestors. You see, my people, the Martians, saved him from the cross and brought him to live with us. His descendants are doing quite well, thank you. Come visit his tomb when you build a spaceship capable of bringing yourselves here.

      September 20, 2012 at 10:20 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Hi Dan. Your prose is poor and and simplistic, but you really bring your readers on a thrilling page-turner.

      September 20, 2012 at 10:21 am |
    • ME II

      You mean this tomb? http://www.badarchaeology.com/?page_id=913#

      September 20, 2012 at 10:32 am |
    • sam stone

      How did you calculate those odds?

      September 20, 2012 at 10:37 am |
    • LinSea

      Oh please, those were all EXTREMELY common names–and still are.

      September 20, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
  14. TexDoc

    I've studied the text carefully, actually it's a very old joke, "Take my wife.....please."

    September 20, 2012 at 10:12 am |
    • LOL

      sigh. That was funny the first 1000 times. Now? Not so much.

      September 20, 2012 at 10:16 am |
  15. John Blackadder

    The Real Question....Did He have kids?

    September 20, 2012 at 10:09 am |
  16. Rational Libertarian

    Christians basically worship these guys.


    September 20, 2012 at 10:05 am |
    • LOL

      And atheists worship themselves. I am A God. Hear me roar.

      September 20, 2012 at 10:12 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Well, at least I exist.

      And if there is a god, it is inside us. It's not some fantastical supreme being that controls the universe and cares whether a bunch of moderately advanced apes believe in it.

      September 20, 2012 at 10:15 am |
    • Len

      No, we don't worship anything. Worshipping is what you do to gods, and you do know what the word "atheist" means, don't you?

      September 20, 2012 at 10:15 am |
    • LOL

      I know atheists redefine the meaning of atheism constantly so as not to ge tanned down to a particular belief. I know that in spite of claiming that atheism technically means lack of belief in God(s), a majority still make claims that God does not exist, so they don't practice what they preach. I know that many atheists are completely full of themselves, think they're smarter than theists, and worship either themselves or their faulty human intellect.

      September 20, 2012 at 10:41 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Weak atheism: The rejection of belief in deities.
      Strong ateism: The positive assertion that there are no gods.

      Nobody here is redefining anything.

      Also, I'm perfectly aware of my faulty intellect, whereas Christians aren't. I'm happy saying I don't know, whereas religionists fill the gaps in our knowledge with fairy tales.

      September 20, 2012 at 10:47 am |
    • mama kindless

      As an agnostic atheist, I don't believe any religion that exists today is valid. But I do show humbleness towards mother nature if you will. So although I don't worship a deity nor mother nature, I respect her. And I reserve respect for other things that we may learn in the future – both about nature and any deity that may present itself. It's silly though to put the cart before the horses so to speak about things we know nothing about.

      September 20, 2012 at 10:48 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      The prefix "A" = lack of
      Theism = belief in Gods.
      Atheism = lack of belief in gods.
      Atheism is a negative statement that says only what one does NOT believe.
      It does not imply any behaviours, morals, or characteristics whatsoever.
      Self worship would be Autotheism (or perhaps solipsism)
      However – In the end, the definition of Christian is to live your life in the image of Jesus Christ. Faith in miracles, divinity, resurrections, and other fantastical flourishes isn't required to live a life of pacifism, charity and humility.

      September 20, 2012 at 10:51 am |
    • Rynomite

      "think they're smarter than theists"

      That's self evident. It's also born out by basic demographics.

      The interesting thing to me is that Pew Studies finds that ye old average atheist has far greater knowledge of Christianity than those who are purportedly Xtians.

      September 20, 2012 at 11:29 am |
  17. God is not real

    Religion < Stale Cereal

    September 20, 2012 at 10:04 am |
  18. Dick Izinya

    LOL, Cancel Easter! They found the body!

    September 20, 2012 at 10:02 am |
    • reasonablebe

      actually, there are some claims from a few years ago that a body (or remains thereof) of the right time frame and with an identification with all the correct family names was found below an apartment house in Jerusalem. There were some photos and clips, but the Israeli government was advised, told the archeological crew there was no permit to look and sealed the only access.....

      September 20, 2012 at 11:07 am |
  19. old ben

    I think it's fairly clear now to say that Jesus most likely kept a wife that he didn't talk about much and probably didn't care for much – probably a Michele Bachmann type – you know, very reptilian. And so he kept her for appearances, but it's obvious his affection was mostly for "the disciple that Jesus loved". Maybe this disciple was a man, but maybe it was a woman. Maybe John was a woman. Maybe John was a hermaphrodite.

    September 20, 2012 at 10:02 am |
  20. NJGuest

    Jesus grew-up in an orthodox jewish community. It is highly unlikely that he was still a bachelor at 30+ age. Bible was not put together several centuries after Jesus time. It is very much possible that information about his wife was intentionally left out in the male dominated culture prevalent at the time

    September 20, 2012 at 10:01 am |
    • Cq

      Not if you mean the Galilee, which was heavily influenced by foreign culture and religious practices. Herod Antipas made it quite cosmopolitan, and the building Sepphoris and Tiberias was likely the construction that employed Jesus' family, making them better off financially than the subsistence farmers further south. Thousands of people moved from the hinterland into these modern cities during the time of Jesus, coming into close contact with foreign people there for trade and leisure. It was hardly the center of Jewish orthodox piety.

      September 20, 2012 at 10:13 am |
    • John Blackadder

      A wife and kids would really mess with the 'Jesus as God' theory. That may account for why his wife was expunged by the Church Fathers.
      Also, Jesus sounds like a Rabbi, which means the probability of being married goes up a lot. And, If his wife wasn't the 'beloved apostle', Jesus was either two-timing her or he was gay!
      I can feel Dan Brown getting his pens sharpened.

      September 20, 2012 at 10:15 am |
    • nadinesh

      @Cq - so puzzled by your response. Where do I begin? Do you mean that Jesus was NOT a pious Jew? How can you possibly say that? That he was a product of Herod's Hellenization? Impossible that the man who was crucified for overturning the tables of the moneylenders in the Temple could possible have been that. Certainly 30-year old Jewish men were almost always married. But that's doesn't mean Jesus was. The Essene community was very much into celibacy, and he might have been influenced by that. All this is possible. But we just don't know. It's as easy to believe he was married as it is to believe he wasn't. And you can't rely too heavily on scriptural evidence. But we don't know.

      September 20, 2012 at 11:24 am |
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About this blog

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.