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. Dez

    6. Was she hot? If Jesus was married, was he married to a hottie or nottie? Enquiring minds want to know. I want to know. lol But all kidding aside. Who cares if Bruce Springsteen was his Shidoshi. One peace of papyrus doesn't prove a thing. Most of the non-canonical gospels are thought to have been works of fiction any way. The message was always more important than the historical accuracy they contained.

    September 20, 2012 at 9:32 am |
  2. Matt

    The fact that he was a Rabbi with a congregation "a following" is proof enough that he was married. Good luck finding an orthodox rabbi that never married and yet has a congregation...you won't...He wouldn't have any credibility.

    September 20, 2012 at 9:32 am |
    • jkee

      Jesus was called Rabbi from non-followers because of his vast knowledge of the Old Testament. The is no historical account of him having a "congrgation."

      September 20, 2012 at 9:38 am |
    • realbuckyball

      he was called "Rabbi" by other Jews. That's how THEY understood him. There were no "believers"or "non-believers" in HIM, until much later. The "followers" were interested in his massage, not HIM, and he did not preach ANYTHING about ANYTHING that Paul turned the cult into later. There is not one mention of "salvation" in Mark, AND Jesus never said one thing about "dying for sins", or that believing in HIM was the requirement for eternal life. Go read what he told the young man in Matthew what he said was the way to eternal life. He did not become the content of the message or belief until much later.

      Sheesh. Why do a-theists have to teach Christians their OWN damn cult ?

      September 20, 2012 at 9:53 am |
  3. PigBodine

    And how did she feel about his twelve boyfriends?

    September 20, 2012 at 9:30 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Everybody loves a fourteen-some.

      September 20, 2012 at 9:32 am |
  4. mama kindless

    It's really best for all people including children to have an agnostic approach to god, and an atheistic approach to all religion. It keeps things simple for kids, and lets them be all that they can be. They just need to be taught that some things, like all religion, were just made up by salesmen and politicians from long ago. (Yes, charlatan folklore and spam started long before the Bible; what would make you think they hadn't?) And they need to be taught that other things, like God, we really don't know a damn thing about.

    Atheists have strong minds and don't need a religion. Many religious folk have the best intentions. But too often, religious folk run and hide their misdeeds within their religion (and by doing so, they disserve society). And too often, religious folk are easily offended when someone mocks their make-believe characters – and, as we can see they can get really CRAZY!

    Although there are many religious folk with good intentions – some selflessly helping others, religions and religious organizations are, as a whole, just big old clubs – each trying to out do each other and inspiring hate and division (often disguised as love) along the way. The problem is that people too easily buy into religion and don't realize how unfounded it all is. And when they buy into it, they buy into a lot of really old, really weird tenets that are nothing but harmful for the human species.

    Take Christianity, for instance. Just look at all the things that Christians argue about amongst themselves today – abortion, men's and women's roles in the church, celibacy, contraception, acceptance of gays, etc. Most of these issues have their roots in the conflicted, unfounded tenets of early Christianity. Non-Mormons harp on Joseph Smith these days. But we really don't have any more proof at all to believe that Paul, the self-proclaimed "apostle" was anything more than an ordinary man who needed to make up religious "sales literature" to survive and spread his own personal beliefs. And yet a good chunk of the NT is attributed to Paul and accepted by many Christians. And a lot of what he wrote about has to do with many of the issues I mentioned above that have Christians fighting amongst themselves hundreds of years later. It's way too unfounded to argue over.

    Get a good cup of tea, and sit down and collect your thoughts. If you find it helpful to pray to a god (something you know nothing about), fine. But it is really healthier for the mind to leave behind all the characters that people over the centuries have invented or given powers to, for which there is little or no foundation. Because with those invented characters and powers – that's where division and hate join the little party in your mind. That's where, in your mind, you are inheriting the division and hate from ordinary politicians, lobbyists and salesmen from long ago. My goodness.

    September 20, 2012 at 9:20 am |
    • Muslims are the real Infidels

      Great post!

      September 20, 2012 at 9:27 am |
    • Way Out There

      So, what you are saying is because you do not believe in God or religion, no one should teach their children any faith? It sounds a lot like an argument that the left accuses the right of constantly – telling people what to believe and how to live their lives. But I guess it is hard for someone to believe in something bigger than themselves when they are blinded by their own "superior" intellect.

      September 20, 2012 at 9:37 am |
    • mama kindless

      Go back and re-read what I wrote, Way Out There.

      There is a clear distinction about what I say about a deity and what I say about religion. Obviously you missed the point. The very first sentence should have given you a hint.

      September 20, 2012 at 9:44 am |
    • jkee

      It is very apparent you have not studied the historicity of Jesus. Should you study you will find there is overwhelming evidence Jesus was real. Put in your search engine "secular evidence of Jesus Christ." There is far more evidence of Jesus Christ than Alexander the Great and Caesar.

      September 20, 2012 at 9:45 am |
    • realbuckyball

      The fact that there may, (or may not), have been a historical Jesus, IN NO WAY validates or confirms even ONE claim made about him. There is NOT "overwhelming " evidence, or scholars would not still be arguing about it.

      Put up or shut up. Show us the money.

      September 20, 2012 at 9:56 am |
    • mama kindless

      I'm seeing that jkee didn't read what I wrote very carefully. I didn't say that Jesus did not exist. But I agree with realbuckyball.

      September 20, 2012 at 10:24 am |
  5. Derek

    Jesus was married, it's already in the Bible. The church is His bride.

    September 20, 2012 at 9:14 am |
    • Mohummad the Great Infidel

      There's a lot of things in the bible. It doesn't make any of it true.

      September 20, 2012 at 9:19 am |
  6. Rabbi Mohammed al keem jesus

    Catholic church doesn't allow priest to be married because they don't want to have to pay for a wife and a dozen kids for every priest. It's very expensive. Of course, the original reason was that Pope Gregory was gay.

    September 20, 2012 at 9:12 am |
  7. kleeneth

    Maybe He was married...or maybe He wasn't. Or maybe He just plain wasn't!

    September 20, 2012 at 9:08 am |
    • PigBodine

      Maybe they were just living in sin.

      September 20, 2012 at 9:40 am |
  8. CommonSense

    Was the Jesus character married to a mythical wife character? Was she then, the Daughter-in-Law of a the Mythical Invisible God character? Was Neptune really king of the sea? Alas, we don't know.
    But we do know that "Pastor" Osteen will only get wealthier laughing at all of you who waste your time debating these mythical stories.

    September 20, 2012 at 9:08 am |
    • Tom in ATL

      Why are you in such denial? What happened in your life that led you to that worldview? Did you get there by reading the Bible or just hearsay from everyone else in your circles? I suggest you give the Bible a chance. It's very clear. No mythology, no question whether Jesus actually lived (that's supported in thousands of historical writings from 2000 years ago), and a clear explanation of GOD's purpose in raising Jesus from the dead. Read the book of John. Let GOD transform your life. Eternity is at stake and you've chosen a path that's far worse than you can imagine. There's still time.

      September 20, 2012 at 9:26 am |
    • Rational Libertarian


      I assume by your att.itude that you have read the millions of pages of religious texts of every world religion for you to have come to your conclusions.

      September 20, 2012 at 9:32 am |
  9. Troy

    Christians are just so ridiculous.

    September 20, 2012 at 9:02 am |
    • LOL

      So are you.

      September 20, 2012 at 9:12 am |
  10. musings

    My first impression of this thing is to imagine Jesus as the originator of the old line "Take my wife – for God's sake, take my wife."

    But then it sinks in that later commentators working under the Latin Church's idea that priests needed to be a "second Christ" AND celibate (more about church state property issues than about God's laws) might have deliberately expunged spousal references. The Orthodox Christians, by contrast, have a married clergy. But what kind of transcribers did they have? Would they have expunged such references for other reasons? I think everyone has long suspected Jesus and Mary Magdalen of being in a "relationship" though usually Platonic. Well maybe not.

    September 20, 2012 at 8:50 am |
    • LOL

      What an original comment. I bet you were the first to say that.

      September 20, 2012 at 8:52 am |
    • tuvia suks

      @LOL. Bet you couldn't have come up with anything at all, as evidenced by your post.

      September 20, 2012 at 8:58 am |
    • LOL

      That was funny, suks, and original, too. Man, you guys are way too smart for me as evidenced by your posts.

      September 20, 2012 at 9:03 am |
    • advocatusdiaboli

      The amalgamation of myths that became Jesus and the New Testament were created in 300 AD in Constantinople by then King COnstantine as he strove to create a religion with wide appeal to unify his empire. The resurrection myth, as very early versions of the New Testament and information about Jesus in the Dead Sea Scrolls show, was not part of the original but added around 600-800 Ad during the Medieval Dark Ages. Honest historians will confirm (much to the wrath of the churches) that comprehensive evidence shows that the real Jesus was a Hebrew rebel fighting the Roman Empire and was a normal man with a family. LIke all religions before and after it, it is a fairy tale and nothing more.

      September 20, 2012 at 9:13 am |
    • LOL

      Wow, you certainly are the devil's advocate, spreading that kind of misinformation. The council of Nicea, in 325, not 300, merely ratified the already existing canonical writings that had be preserved and handed down through apostolic tradition. And the Dead sea scrolls had nothing whatsoever to do with Christianity. You would think the devil's advocate could make a more convincing case.

      September 20, 2012 at 9:20 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      The Nicene Council decided what was to be Canonical.
      The concept of the Trinity didn't become dogma until then – Christianity was divided on whether Christ was truly divine.
      Santa Claus (St. Nicholas of Myra) was one of the most vocal supporters of making Jesus a demi-god.

      September 20, 2012 at 9:25 am |
    • LOL

      Doc, I agree with you that the Nicean council ratified the existing Biblical canon that had been passed down through apostolic tradition.

      God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit being one was a concept already in the Bible. The council merely agreed on the traditional concept of the trinity.

      The council of Nicea invented nothing but merely ratified pre-existing, orthodox traditions.

      Did your Mommy and Daddy cause you trauma when they told you that they had been pretending so you could have fun as a child? Or have you discovered 1000 year old texts that support ongoing worship and martyrdom for those believing in the name of Santa Claus? You should know that Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny atheistic memes only make sense to weak minded atheists who are bitter at their parents.

      September 20, 2012 at 9:33 am |
    • Stephen

      Everything written in that post is entirely false. Whatever you may feel about the truth value of the Jesus movement and the belief that Jesus was resurrected does not change the fact that there is ample evidence of the existence of the historical Jesus in the early first century. Furthermore, the resurrection is described in the authentic Pauline epistles and the Gospels, which were written in the first and second centuries.

      September 20, 2012 at 9:33 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      What's with you and the Santa thing?
      I'm just pointing out that the Santa Claus myth as we know has a historical origin.
      As for the council – there was controversy regarding the Trinity. 17 of the 300 or so gathered clergy were Arians.
      The Council interrogated Arius using Scripture, only to find that he had a new way of interpreting every verse they brought before him. Finally, they used the argument that Arius' view had to be wrong because it was new.
      After the council, Constantine ordered the burning of the works of Arius and his sympathisers, and the exile of himself and his supporters, and followed this later in his reign by action against Christian schismatics and gnostic heretics.

      September 20, 2012 at 11:14 am |
  11. God is not real

    I find it absolutely HILARIOUS that they question these sorts of things, those of which possibly call into question how 'holy' Jesus was. But everything else involved with the Bible or their religion, they accept blindly with absolutely no question.

    September 20, 2012 at 8:49 am |
    • LOL

      Generalize much? I am a Christian and have no reason so far not to believe it is exactly what she said, a Gnostic gospel dating to the fourth century.

      September 20, 2012 at 8:51 am |
    • God is not real

      Generalizing a religion and its followers actually turns out to be quite accurate.

      September 20, 2012 at 8:52 am |
    • Which God?

      But Jeebus was hole-ly. He had them in his hands, feet and side. "He one hole-ly roller. He got toe jam football."

      September 20, 2012 at 8:56 am |
    • LOL

      Apparently not, because you missed the mark by a mile according to the first Christian to respond to your post. Sorry, some atheists tend to be much more dumb than they will ever allow themselves to realize.

      September 20, 2012 at 8:57 am |
    • God is not real

      i think the issue here is that you are overestimating the intelligence of your fellow sheep and assuming my religion is not a good start either.

      September 20, 2012 at 8:59 am |
    • Troy

      Which Bible, the original, or the rewrite?

      September 20, 2012 at 9:03 am |
    • LOL

      Let's see. God is not real, you certainly couldn't be a theist with that name, as it would make you a l.i.a.r. You couldn't be agnostic because you wouldn't be so c.o.c.k. sure. So, enlighten us, then, God is not real.

      September 20, 2012 at 9:11 am |
    • God is not real

      isn't there a bible verse telling you sheep to not judge a book by its cover? I thought you guys were good at taking directions without question.

      My name is merely to get uptight Christians like yourself all riled up and made, which it clearly worked.

      September 20, 2012 at 9:14 am |
    • Bill Deacon

      Troy can you tell us the differences between the two?

      September 20, 2012 at 9:16 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      @Bill Deacon
      Good morning Bill – I answered your question regarding differences between Bible versions from yesterday.

      September 20, 2012 at 9:19 am |
    • LOL

      I'm not in a knot, God is not real. I'm trying to help you untie yours. You didn't answer the question. Will you enlighten us as to your "religion"? Some atheists haven't quite figured out the theology behind the do not judge verses, but that's ok, because they don't tend to believe them anyway.

      September 20, 2012 at 9:23 am |
    • Bill Deacon

      God...Real, The Bible also says not to provoke one another. So, if you are trying to be mysterious about your belief, you're not

      September 20, 2012 at 9:26 am |
    • God is not real

      Itrying to help untie my knot? You can go ahead and quit trying to 'fix me' as there is nothing wrong with my life. Living it as an agnostic, I live my life more free than you could imagine having your mind, body, and entire life bound by a house full of hyprocrites (as you just admitted) that tell you what to think and when to think it, what to say and when to say it.

      I honestly feel sorry for you and all the other sheep that have been brainwashed by religion.

      September 20, 2012 at 9:26 am |
    • Bill Deacon

      Yeah Doc, I read your example but find no substance to it. Other than some nuance of definition, I find that all the versions you quote support then same guidance. Since the example you chose related to h0m0seexuality (hate the filter) I'd say you listed numerous translations that prohibit seexual congress between men. I see no disparity in the versions.

      September 20, 2012 at 9:31 am |
    • Groo22

      'isn't there a bible verse telling you sheep to not judge a book by its cover? I thought you guys were good at taking directions without question.'

      No, that's not from the Bible. That's from the book 'Murder in the Glass Room'

      September 20, 2012 at 9:37 am |
    • LOL

      Ah, thanks for clarifying, God is not real. I'm both quite happy and free. I don't let atheists bully me around, you see. By the way, if you're really agnostic, you should know that your name is a bit misleading and not representative of your views. Perhaps you could use God is probably, most likely, not real, I think, because I don't know for sure. That would keep you from being dishonest and misleading people as to your true "religion". Have a nice day.

      September 20, 2012 at 9:37 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      So to you all of these words mean the same thing:
      "Sod/omites" (straight people do it too)
      "Se.xual pe/rverts" (straight people can be per/verts)
      "Mast/urb/ators" (straight people fap)
      "Male prosti/tutes" (Jesus didn't like female pros/ti/tutes either)

      September 20, 2012 at 9:38 am |
  12. WildBill

    Hire an editor. It's provenance, not province.

    September 20, 2012 at 8:47 am |
    • musings

      Indeed. I'm amazed at how ignorant our scribes are these days. It's like the Dark Ages coming on, after the fall of Rome. Hey, maybe that's how we lost the text about Jesus's being married in the first place.

      September 20, 2012 at 8:52 am |
    • LOL

      Thank you! I thought I was the only one who noticed that. Kinda lowers the expectations for the article, if there were any..

      September 20, 2012 at 8:54 am |
  13. Ken

    Only one thing can be sure. We won't know complete truth until we have broken the time barrier. If we can dream it we can do it. That's what being human is all about.

    September 20, 2012 at 8:45 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      As in time travel? Hopefully, some day. I'd like to see dinosaurs and the Renaissance.

      September 20, 2012 at 8:52 am |
  14. nottolate

    "How do they know this isn't a fake?"

    We all know this fake. We knew the moment it was announced. You're the one who's clueless. Can't believe CNN is so stupid when it comes to religious matters that they are still pushing this. This is the merely the same gnostic nonsense we've seen throughout the ages.

    September 20, 2012 at 8:45 am |
    • Ken

      The cry of fake is a presumption of a narrow mind. You don't know if it's real or not anymore than I do.

      September 20, 2012 at 8:47 am |
    • LOL

      Fake might not have been what you intended. It can still be an authentic Coptic Gnostic gospel dating to the fourth century, like so many others found in Egypt.

      September 20, 2012 at 8:49 am |
    • nottolate


      "The cry of fake is a presumption of a narrow mind. You don't know if it's real or not anymore than I do."

      No, the cry of fake is we've seen this many times. So many times in fact that we even know the source. Don't blame me for your ignorance of these things.

      September 20, 2012 at 11:39 am |
  15. clepto

    will this change christianity?? it will reveal the coverup imposed by the catholic church as to who jesus really was. They created the idea that he wasn't married in order to support the idea that he IS god when he never made such claims.

    September 20, 2012 at 8:35 am |
    • LOL

      Can anyone say: Conspiracy theorist?

      September 20, 2012 at 8:45 am |
  16. Abberly

    Of course he was married. He was meant to be like us and experience the same things we did. I believe he was married to Mary Magdalin. But then again, I am not a follower of any religion so of curse this is all moot.

    September 20, 2012 at 8:34 am |
  17. silencedogood20

    Just so you know CNN, this discussion is technically blasphemy. According to your reports all week such discussions are irresponsible. Looks like you've changed your mind so I challenge you to have an equally open discussion about one of the widely held aspects of Islam.

    September 20, 2012 at 8:32 am |
    • Rob


      September 20, 2012 at 9:07 am |
  18. T.J.

    These comments make me sad because they constantly tear people down (Christian and non-Christian). I like to think that people are better than that.

    September 20, 2012 at 8:32 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Don't expect nothing but hatred and anger from people, regardless of their beliefs and background.

      September 20, 2012 at 8:35 am |
  19. wmd

    I always thought he was married. Who cares anyway?

    September 20, 2012 at 8:31 am |
  20. GOD

    ok seriously people get back to love, peace and understand. Follow his example not what you think he or I wanted. Ya know what also while we are on the subject, listen to John Lennon maybe some Jerry Garcia too

    September 20, 2012 at 8:25 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Lennon was a d.ouchebag.


      September 20, 2012 at 8:33 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.