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April 10th, 2014
10:04 AM ET

Study: 'Jesus' wife' fragment not a fake

By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

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(CNN) - A team of scientists has concluded that a controversial scrap of papyrus that purportedly quotes Jesus referring to "my wife," is not a fake, according to the Harvard Theological Review.

"A wide range of scientific testing indicates that a papyrus fragment containing the words, 'Jesus said to them, my wife' is an ancient document, dating between the sixth to ninth centuries CE," Harvard Divinity School said in a statement.

Scientists tested the papyrus and the carbon ink, and analyzed the handwriting and grammar, according to Harvard.

Radiocarbon tests conducted at Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology produced an origination date for the papyrus of 659-859 CE, according to Harvard. MIT also studied the chemical composition of the papyrus and patterns of oxidation.

Other scholars studied the carbon character of the ink and found that it matched samples of papyri from the first to eight century CE, according to Harvard.

"None of the testing has produced any evidence that the fragment is a modern fabrication or forgery," the divinity school said.

At least one scholar sharply disagrees, however, calling the papyrus scrap "patently fake."

Unveiled by Karen King, a Harvard Divinity School historian, in 2012, the scrap has sparked a heated debate over Christian history, archaeological accuracy and the role of women in the church.

The fragment, which is about the size of a business card, contains just 33 words, including: “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife …" and "she will be able to be my disciple." 

Though she dubbed the fragment, "The Gospel of Jesus' Wife," King said that the papyrus does not prove that Jesus was actually married - just that ancient Christians discussed the possibility.

"This gospel fragment provides a reason to reconsider what we thought we knew by asking what the role claims of Jesus's marital status played historically in early Christian controversies over marriage, celibacy, and family," King said.

Other Christians have suggested that Jesus may have been speaking metaphorically in the sentence fragments quoted in the papyrus. Some New Testament writers refer to the church as "the bride of Christ."

King and other scholars said they are equally intrigued by Jesus' mention of a female disciple.

"The main topic of the fragment is to affirm that women who are mothers and wives can be disciples of Jesus—a topic that was hotly debated in early Christianity as celibate virginity increasingly became highly valued," King said.

5 questions and answers about Jesus' 'wife'

The Harvard Theological Review also published on Thursday a sharp-worded rebuttal to King's hypothesis by Leo Depuydt, a professor of Egyptology at Brown University.

"I personally—and I am not sure whether I share this feeling with anyone—experience a certain incredulity pertaining to how something that is at first sight so patently fake could be so totally blown out of proportion," Depuydt writes.

Depuydt's criticism centers on the fact that the papyrus scrap contains a grammatical error in Coptic - one that mirrors a similar miscue in the non-canonical Gospel of Thomas.

The chances that two ancient works would have the same mistake are minuscule, the scholar said, strongly suggesting that the author of the"Jesus' wife" scrap copied from the Gospel of Thomas.

“As a forgery, it is bad to the point of being farcical or fobbish," Depuydt told the Boston Globe. "I don’t buy the argument that this is sophisticated. I think it could be done in an afternoon by an undergraduate student.”

The Vatican's newspaper has also called the papyrus fragment a fake. “Substantial reasons would lead us to conclude that the papyrus is actually a clumsy counterfeit," L'Osservatore Romano, said in an editorial in 2012. 

Vatican newspaper calls fragment referring to Jesus' wife 'a fake'

King and Harvard acknowledge that "nothing is known about the discovery of the fragment." King has said it was given to her by an unnamed donor. 

"All the known data about its origin and circulation need to be publicly disclosed and thus made available for scholarly discussionas is the norm in the handling of manuscripts. Is there some reason we cannot just be told?" Depuydt said.

- CNN Religion Editor

Filed under: Belief • Bible • Christianity • Church • History • Jesus

soundoff (2,539 Responses)
  1. frankbeattys

    So what? So you found that some unknown person wrote something down a long time ago? Paul even talked about wrong ideas being said about Jesus.

    " For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough. . . . For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light."

    April 10, 2014 at 11:32 am |
    • revbro

      Yes, let's use Paul as the one we lean on for advice. The very man who claimed to have been blinded by the light, never had a single encounter with Jesus, and proclaimed himself an Apostle. Just the same way that Joseph Smith did latter on in history. Paul is nothing but a false prophet himself, one who often times fought with those who knew Jesus best.. so by all mean, let's use the words from Paul to calm peoples nerves. In my opinion listening to Paul tell me to be careful of false prophets is like hearing one used car salesman to be careful about the other used car salesman across the road.

      April 10, 2014 at 11:44 am |
      • frankbeattys

        Christianity is almost completely defined by Paul. Anyone disagreeing with Paul is not a Christian.

        April 10, 2014 at 11:50 am |
        • revbro

          The fact that a group of old men decided Paul's words more appealing does not mean that he defines Christianity. If you actually believe this then you need to call yourself a Paulite.. and not a Christian.. because you are following the wrong teachings. Christianity means you are a follower of Christ, not Paul,.. the self proclaimed Apostle who had a reputation of duping and cheating people.

          April 10, 2014 at 11:56 am |
        • G to the T

          Then wouldn't it be fairer to call what you believe "Paulianism" rather than Christianity?

          April 10, 2014 at 12:33 pm |
        • end3r

          If that's true than Christianity is about as legitimate as Mormonism...

          April 10, 2014 at 1:21 pm |
      • kermit4jc

        uh..Paul never had differences with the apostles over the teaching of the Gospels...go actually read the Bible....in fact the apostles gave him the right hand of fellowship, knowing he was preaching what they preachesd

        April 11, 2014 at 4:34 am |
        • revbro

          Acts 15:36-41

          Paul was overbearing and chose who he felt was good enough to be with him. Barnabus is the one who welcomed him into the fold and introduced him... extending the right hand of fellowship... even after that Paul and him have a falling out.. I suggest you read the Bible.

          April 11, 2014 at 9:29 am |
        • kermit4jc

          I suggest YOU read my posts bnetter..youshown nothing in regards to differences in THEOLOGY and such.....about the Scriptures....it was differences over who was better traveling companion to get the job done

          April 11, 2014 at 9:50 am |
        • revbro

          I suggest you read my original post and find out I said he fought with people who knew Jesus, then I backed up the claim with scripture, which seems to upset you. It isn't known why Paul decided he didn't want John Mark to travel with him, but for those who want to defend Paul, it is always best to say.. he just didn't like traveling with him, it wasn't any doctrinal dispute. It makes it much tidier... it makes you sleep better.. how dare anyone believe that anyone who spent time with Jesus would dispute Paul? My goodness, I guess my graduating with a masters in theology and my 15 years behind the pulpit make me just some dumb hick off the streets.

          April 11, 2014 at 12:35 pm |
    • jonathanlk

      And by the same token all that has to be accepted on faith with no corroborating hard evidence to support what he said. One thing I can say for certain though is that being married to a good wife is far better than being single.

      April 10, 2014 at 11:47 am |
      • frankbeattys

        God has "hard evidence" you broke at least 1 of 10 commandments.

        April 10, 2014 at 11:52 am |
  2. Doc Vestibule

    As any Creationist can tell you, carbon dating is a total exercise in futility.
    Were you there 2,000 years ago? How do you know whether radioactive isotopes decayed at the same rate back then?

    All those scientificians doing their experiments can't prove that the parchment wasn't actually made last week by a disgruntled seminary student with a Bic pen.
    (end sarcasm)

    April 10, 2014 at 11:29 am |
  3. gent49

    Even if it was from the time of Christ, which is highly unkiley, the name "Jesus" was very common. These people who are using this trash to raise questions have an agenda, and it's not truth.

    April 10, 2014 at 11:25 am |
    • alwaysamuzed

      This scientifically VERIFIED fragment is NO LESS reliable than ANY OTHER book of the New Testament!
      NONE of the NT books were wriiten by eyewitness account! All were written MANY years after the fact!
      There is not a single solitary eyewitness account of ANYTHING, ANYWHERE in the entire Holy Bible!
      DUH!

      April 10, 2014 at 11:31 am |
      • southerncelt

        Eyewitness accounts? Like the ones written by the Apostles who were there (Granted, Luke's infancy account of His Life came from His Mother) and saw everything? Why do you trust today's "scientific" proof instead of the proof your parents, grandparents, and ancestors trusted? What makes the past unbelievable? To date, there has been no proof that Jesus didn't exist, died horribly for our sins iike a sacrifical lamb, rose again and acended into heaven (so says our ancient Creed). All witnessed by the Apostles and hundreds of others.

        April 10, 2014 at 11:42 am |
        • doobzz

          Did they find the original papyri signed by MML&J? I must have missed the news that day.

          April 10, 2014 at 11:44 am |
        • TruthPrevails1

          Stories are hand down and embellished. The author's of the bible are not known and the bible has been translated so many times over. Why do you trust a book that hasn't been updated in over 2000 years over the very things that keep you alive (science/medicine)? If jesus existed, he was merely a man, nothing more!

          April 10, 2014 at 11:46 am |
        • southerncelt

          It's called the Latin Vulgate, written by St. Jerome between 380 and 420 AD. He had acess to the original letters written in Greek, Aramaic, and Hebrew,handed down from theoriginal authors. They no longerexist ("paper" disintegrates after a few centuries just like CD's) today.The Latin Vulgate has been preserved throughout the Dark Ages. All Bibles today are based on it. It is in the Vatican Archives today.

          April 10, 2014 at 12:02 pm |
        • doobzz

          LMAO. The Latin Vulgate. I'm sure that Pope Damascus I didn't have any ulterior motives in commissioning that one.

          You have no idea who wrote what.

          April 10, 2014 at 12:30 pm |
        • bobaboohee

          Um, you do realize that the so called "eyewitness accounts" you mention were written anywhere from several decades to up to around 100 years after Jesus supposedly was on the planet? It never ceases to amaze me about how little self proclaimed so called "Christians" know about Christianity. Stunning actually.

          April 10, 2014 at 12:33 pm |
        • end3r

          The first book of the NT was written between 60-70AD and all subsequent works were written after that. The stories of the Apostles were not written by them. Many of these men were illiterate. These stories were passed down and written quite some time after their deaths. There's not one single eyewitness account in the bible that wasn't first passed on verbally to someone else who later dictated it into writing. In fact there were many more legitimate gospels written but were removed by a council during Constantine's rule so there are quite a few more works that would be held at the same regard as the books we traditionally read in the NT. I'm not trying to draw any conclusions from that, I'm just trying to tell you what actually happened.

          April 10, 2014 at 1:26 pm |
        • kermit4jc

          @doobz..is that what you need...the papyri signed by those who wrote them? If so...do you believe Homer existed..wrote the Illiad and other pieces of work?

          April 11, 2014 at 4:36 am |
  4. magicpanties

    My invisible pink unicorn has a wife too.
    Just wow.

    April 10, 2014 at 11:24 am |
    • theemptyone1

      "Her name is "Incontinentia."

      April 10, 2014 at 11:31 am |
      • Doc Vestibule

        I've had enough of this wowdy webel sniggewing behavior.
        Silence!

        April 10, 2014 at 11:38 am |
  5. AJ

    If it's from the 6th-9th century rather than the 2nd, as previously claimed, then it may not be fake, but it is fairly irrelevant...at least for the purposes of the conspiracy theory.

    April 10, 2014 at 11:23 am |
    • ccalving2014

      "Its contents may originally have been composed as early as the second to fourth centuries."

      April 10, 2014 at 11:34 am |
  6. fweioff

    The fact that it was verified to have come from a certain time period proves nothing. Everything else about it could be fake.

    April 10, 2014 at 11:23 am |
    • alwaysamuzed

      The exact same thing could be said of the ENTIRE Holy Bible!
      EVERY BIT of BOTH the Old and New Testaments were written MANY years after the fact, from myths and legends unrealiably passed down by word of mouth!
      DUH!

      April 10, 2014 at 11:35 am |
  7. Doc Vestibule

    "Taketh mine wife, please!"
    So sayeth The LORD.

    April 10, 2014 at 11:23 am |
  8. ausphor

    Of course if it said "my wife, Simon". then what?

    April 10, 2014 at 11:19 am |
  9. larper2

    Over 200 years after Jesus there is a parchment about Jesus. Whose to say it not another man named Jesus. Barabbas was named Jesus Barabbas. Don't forget Jesus ben Ananias or Jesus ben Ananias

    April 10, 2014 at 11:13 am |
    • kginsbo

      You're aware that all of the stuff written about him was written way after his death, right? Don't fear, you guys will work hard to make sure it somehow fits in with your cute fairy tale.

      April 10, 2014 at 11:21 am |
      • AJ

        We actually manuscripts that date from the 2nd century and fragment that go as far back as the first century...also you're left having to explain why history has recorded that Rome killed so many people because of their belief in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and even John. If you want to be fair, then you're forced to admit that the gospel accounts of Jesus were written very soon after the events when compared with other ancient biographies. But this is only if you want to be fair.

        April 10, 2014 at 11:27 am |
      • MarylandBill

        You do realize that it is pretty generally accepted that at least some of Paul's epistles were actually written by (wait for it...) Paul, and therefore within 20-30 years of the death of Jesus (being Paul is believed to have been executed in 64 AD). Also, a fairly strong case can be made for the the Acts of the Apostles being written before 64 AD as well (since including the death of Paul would have been a more logical stopping point for the text). And since Acts was written as a sequel to the Gospel of Luke by the same author, a fairly strong case can be made for an Early date of that Gospel as well. By extension, taking the common claim that Luke's gospel was based on Mark's.... So are you sure you want to claim that everything about Jesus was written long after the fact?

        The basic argument that stuff was written long after the death of Jesus is based on when we start seeing surviving manuscripts of either the writings or containing quotes of those writings. However, when one considers that Christians were experiencing at least some persecution in the 1st century, it should not be surprising that there are few manuscripts from that time period when the Church was still small and underground.

        April 10, 2014 at 11:38 am |
        • alwaysamuzed

          That notion is HIGHLY speculative and is NOT suppported by ANY evidence whatsoever!

          April 10, 2014 at 11:42 am |
        • otoh2

          It seems as if the Egyptian gods were better at preserving their stuff - they had it set in stone* - and we still have lots of it. This Judeo/Christian god chose the **worst** way of transmission and preservation - hearsay, copying and deteriorating paper-like materials.

          *the "Ooops, we lost 'em" 10 Commandment stone tablets notwithstanding!

          April 10, 2014 at 11:59 am |
    • theemptyone1

      Maybe you ought to read the article closer or read up on the huge theological debate over these questions. You ought to find theologists book, "Misquoting Jesus" or find some of his lectures on Youtube. You'll learn a lot.

      April 10, 2014 at 11:30 am |
    • alwaysamuzed

      That is precisely the "problem" with EVERY SINGLE ONE of the books in the New Testament! NONE of them were written anytime CLOSE to the life of Jesus! They were ALL wriiten MANY, MANY years after Jesus and all of the Apostles died!
      They are nothing more than recorded "legends and myths" !

      April 10, 2014 at 11:39 am |
    • dave32264

      Jesus was a very common name at that time in Judea. Also the fact that he was a Jewish Rabbi , it would make perfect sense that he would be married.

      April 10, 2014 at 2:09 pm |
  10. Suzanne VanRandywk

    So they've proven that it's really, really old and what the text is. Now...can they prove that the person writing was telling the truth or not? Same goes for ALL of the world's Holy books. We all believer that "our" Holy book is the one compiled of the texts written by people who didn't lie.

    April 10, 2014 at 10:59 am |
    • Suzanne VanRandywk

      Agh...can't type today. Sorry about the mistakes in my post.

      April 10, 2014 at 11:00 am |
    • theemptyone1

      The problem with that is that it is well known among scholars, including Christian theologists, that the New Testament was written by people who did lie. They produced proven forgeries and the NT itself was written long after the events it depicts. The Gospel of St. Mark is the earliest, written down 20 years after the events – at the earliest. No one knows who Mark, John, Luke and Mathew were. In between we have the epic of the War of the Jewish Uprising to confuse memories and distort issues politically. Paul never knew Jesus and talked about "lying" and "stealing" to bring "the truth." The early church father often spoke openly about the need to lie in order to bring faith. You ought to read up on this. There are some really good books out there, Bart Ehrman's "Misquoting Jesus," among them. Also, translations throughout the centuries produced many opportunities for distortions and misunderstandings. So an original text that competes with other texts of the early period is significant. In the NT itself there are hints that Jesus could have been married, notably the Wedding at Cana where he was treated like the groom. Then, there's those lines from the Gospel of Phillip (rejected text at the Council of Nicea) but part of the Gnostic Gospels. Those lines say that Jesus often kissed Mary Magdalene "often on the ###" and favored her over his other followers. If this was a "holy kiss" – a routine greeting among Christians there would be no need to mention it, would there? The fact is that Christianity is more of about lies piled on lies than any other religion on earth.

      April 10, 2014 at 11:28 am |
  11. Doc Vestibule

    If Jesus was indeed married, does that mean we ignore Paul's teachings about how it's better to be celibate?

    April 10, 2014 at 10:59 am |
    • bluebyyou666

      Very few of you are celibate...

      April 10, 2014 at 11:04 am |
      • doobzz

        What does that have to do with Doc's question?

        April 10, 2014 at 12:36 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      It would set a precedent though, wouldn't it?
      To me, it should cause a re-evaluation of what bits of Christian theology are Pauline and which are actually Christian(ie: from Christ).

      April 10, 2014 at 11:10 am |
  12. Keith

    Of course he had a wife, he was called rabbi by his followers, you can't be a rabbi without a wife.

    April 10, 2014 at 10:57 am |
    • larper2

      Rabbi means teacher of the Torah.

      April 10, 2014 at 11:05 am |
      • Doc Vestibule

        The Talmud repeatedly praises marriage and poo-poohs celibacy.
        (TB 29 b; TB Yev. 62b, 63a)

        April 10, 2014 at 11:13 am |
      • alwaysamuzed

        And as such a teacher, he would certainly have had a wife!

        April 10, 2014 at 11:25 am |
      • Keith

        I know what it means, what is your point?

        April 10, 2014 at 4:08 pm |
  13. jvburrows

    So we are going to listen to a hard core liberal anti-Christian university that gave us the anti-Christian administration running this country? Also, ANYTHING can be written on a piece of paper not in the period of the person written about, doesn't mean it is true to that period. If we took what our government and courts write about Christianity in this period we live in and see how someone thousands of years later thinks if they find it in the ground, well I cant even imagine how far off base they would be.

    April 10, 2014 at 10:54 am |
    • lewcypher

      Please provide evidence of what the present administration has written about Christianity

      April 10, 2014 at 11:06 am |
    • igaftr

      Stop trying to push christianity into our laws, and there will be far less written by the people in gevernment about your religion.

      April 10, 2014 at 11:09 am |
    • mornelithe

      "Also, ANYTHING can be written on a piece of paper not in the period of the person written about, doesn't mean it is true to that period."

      Funny you should say that. You know the first book of the new Testament was written 60-70 years after Jesus died, right? If you're going to take words written about a guy that long after his death, you should have no problems with these.

      April 10, 2014 at 11:11 am |
    • brijsmith

      "ANYTHING" can be written, doesn't make it true. Well said, this is how so many of us feel about the bible.

      April 10, 2014 at 11:16 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Anti Christian?
      You do know that Harvard has a School of Divinity, right?
      Maybe you should take a look at Kelly Monroe's book "Finding God at Harvard".

      April 10, 2014 at 11:19 am |
    • alwaysamuzed

      You DO realize that NOT a single book of the New Testament was wriiten while ANY of the people mentioned in those books were still alive! ALL of the NT books were written anywhere from 150 to 300 years after Jesus died!

      This fragment is NO LESS reliable nor any less believable than any of the other NT writings!

      April 10, 2014 at 11:23 am |
      • southerncelt

        No, I don't realize (or believe) that. If you aren't willing to do serious research then you aren't worth listenting to.

        April 10, 2014 at 11:48 am |
        • joey3467

          There is not a single thing written about Jesus while he was alive which makes everything ever written about him questionable. You can believe it or not, but it is true.

          April 10, 2014 at 12:36 pm |
    • revbro

      It is arguments like yours that make atheist smile. How is it that you can believe all parts of scripture except that which says all governments are ordained by God? When you call out your government as being evil, you tell everyone that God made a bad choice. I know, it means you have to believe that God ordained North Korea, Russia, Cuba..... all those governments.. but if you believe scripture to be pure and right, you have to accept the government God ordained for you. You can continue to blame God if it makes you feel better.

      April 10, 2014 at 12:13 pm |
  14. oldbear60

    Another scrap of parchment from the "past" proposing another version of a view of a person. Must be a slow day in the archeology digs.

    April 10, 2014 at 10:51 am |
  15. Sniperhunter2012

    Interesting

    April 10, 2014 at 10:49 am |
  16. Sniperhunter2012

    Reblogged this on And Then the Darkness Fell and commented:
    hmmm...

    April 10, 2014 at 10:46 am |
  17. doobzz

    Shall we speculate?

    "Jesus said to them, my wife has been a thorn in my side for what seems like eternity."

    April 10, 2014 at 10:40 am |
    • bostontola

      "Jesus said to them, my wife had a headache last night, thank Dad for Mary Magdalene."

      April 10, 2014 at 10:53 am |
      • doobzz

        "Jesus said to them, my wife is pregnant again. Dad, will you PLEASE stop doing that!"

        April 10, 2014 at 10:57 am |
    • lewcypher

      "Jesus said to them, my wife, my wife..........I hope my father doesn't come knock up my wife like he did Josephs wife. He can't even keep his own commandments!"

      April 10, 2014 at 11:11 am |
  18. joey3467

    Since we are examining evidence far removed from the time period

    That would be pretty much everything ever written about Jesus.

    April 10, 2014 at 10:39 am |
    • ddeevviinn

      You do realize that the literature of the New Testament was produced in the first century ?

      April 10, 2014 at 11:14 am |
    • ddeevviinn

      You do realize that the New Testament literature was produced in the first century?

      April 10, 2014 at 11:16 am |
    • joey3467

      Yes the first books maybe 30 years after Jesus died, which to me is a fairly long time.

      April 10, 2014 at 11:23 am |
      • alwaysamuzed

        The very first book was written anywhere from 70 to 150 years after Jesus died!

        April 10, 2014 at 11:27 am |
  19. Tim

    There are references in the Bible to Christ as the Bridegroom, who has sacrificially and lovingly chosen the church to be His bride (Ephesians 5:25-27).

    April 10, 2014 at 10:25 am |
    • Keith

      There was no church in Christ's day, and much of his ministry was anti organized religion.

      April 10, 2014 at 10:59 am |
    • Tim

      If in fact Jesus was married, the Bible would have mentioned that.

      No extant doc.ument written within 150 years of Jesus’ death and resurrection depicts or even implies that He was married.

      In fact, all these writings about Jesus being married was written centuries later.

      What’s more, none of the writings of those who immediately followed the New Testament writers—writers such as Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, and Irenaeus of Lyons—refer to Jesus as having been married.

      April 10, 2014 at 1:14 pm |
    • Tim

      Also, the reference to the church being the "bride of Christ" is a metaphorical reference.

      April 10, 2014 at 1:16 pm |
  20. ddeevviinn

    " all indicate that the existing material fragment dates to between the sixth to 9th centuries."

    And this morning, in the 21st century, I saw an image of Jesus surrounded by angels in my sunny side up egg I had for breakfast. Since we are examining evidence far removed from the time period.

    April 10, 2014 at 10:25 am |
    • archtopopotamus

      You mean like the bible which was written many years to centuries after the time Jesus was allegedly alive?.

      April 10, 2014 at 11:45 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.