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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. blessed137

    In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning...He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God-children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God. John 1:1-2,11-13

    April 11, 2014 at 9:13 am |
    • seedenbetter

      Psalm 137:9 – Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.

      April 11, 2014 at 9:19 am |
      • kermit4jc

        Yes..that passage about dashing little ones shows the anger that David had towards his enemies who did worse atrocities to his people...

        April 11, 2014 at 9:48 am |
        • revbro

          The same David who had his future wife's husband killed in battle? The same David who lost his son because of his misdeed and now he thinks killing other children is the way to go? Can you name me the things in this world that are more atrocious than killing little children to get even? I am really interested.

          April 11, 2014 at 10:08 am |
        • kermit4jc

          Yes..a man who himself was a sinner...but remember..this was one man doing it...David is referring to a whole people...not just one person

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

          I'm sorry, somewhere in your reply you forgot to mention those things so atrocious that it would cause any man of God to advocate killing little children. Maybe I missed it or maybe you are doing the standard double talk to uphold a position you know is on shaky ground? Name me the things so atrocious done to David and his people that would cause him to retaliate by killing little children.

          April 11, 2014 at 10:20 am |
        • kermit4jc

          uhh,,first of all..David was NOT saying to do such..it is a POEM.....meant to express his FEELINGS>..this was NOT a command to dash themor such..a man was pouring out his heart...sheesh

          April 11, 2014 at 2:33 pm |
        • Doc Vestibule

          @kermit
          The Bible describes King David as a "man after God's own heart".
          After all the town he razed, people he had slain and women taken as s/ex slaves, one can truly see the parallels between their methods.

          April 11, 2014 at 11:13 am |
        • revbro

          "Yes..that passage about dashing little ones shows the anger that David had towards his enemies who did worse atrocities to his people.." Is the comment you made... You didn't say... jeesh.. it is just a poem... you said it shows his anger towards his enemies... who did worse atrocities. Again, even in the form of a poem, I need for you to tell me which atrocities are worse than killing children. It is a simple question that you have skirted around until finally you just want us to believe it meant nothing.. it was just a poem.. perhaps all of Psalms should be taken from the Bible.. because it means nothing?

          April 11, 2014 at 2:53 pm |
        • kermit4jc

          you seriously telling me youdid NOT know it was poetic????

          April 11, 2014 at 2:55 pm |
        • kermit4jc

          poems DO mean something..if it didn't..people wouldn't write them....

          April 11, 2014 at 2:56 pm |
    • mk

      "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. "

      Things that make you go "hmm".

      April 11, 2014 at 9:20 am |
      • seedenbetter

        He could have boiled it down to just "The bird is the word".

        April 11, 2014 at 9:51 am |
      • Doris

        "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. "

        Congratulations, the winner of today's first award for the Fundy Method of Inquiry & Verification goes to.....

        the Word itself!!

        For those of you who don't know how the Fundy Method of Inquiry & Verification works, it's easily demonstrated by this video:

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_FoT_18fJ2k

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

      OOh, this scripture explains it all perfectly! I wonder why the scientist involved in the research of this finding didn't just read that scripture and go... well.. that proves it... end of story... this has to be fake! Maybe because... it doesn't have anything to do with what they are researching? Why do over zealous people think that by quoting a simple scripture (that many don't believe in anyway) will answer all of life questions?

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

        revbro...because they are not smart enough to want to worry about asking the intelligent questions of life....they just want to be told so they don't have to think about it. If logic and reason were to be applied to the bible, everyone would reject it. I have several religious nuts in my family that run around quoting the bible as if it were infallible. Fortunately, I am way too smart to just take anybody's word for anything....I need to investigate it thoroughly before it becomes fact to me. That is exactly why most atheists reject the bible....no facts to back up the words.

        April 11, 2014 at 10:06 am |
        • kermit4jc

          uh we also are taught not to just take anyones word for it...maybe the nuts in your family did that..but the Bible does not say such things...we are told to think on such things....

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

          Kermit...no matter how you spin it, you are taking someone's word on it. Without evidential proof, you are merely believing every word of that book based on what men wrote down.

          April 11, 2014 at 10:52 am |
        • kermit4jc

          and youre ignorant..you think I believe as I do cause of only words? sorry..but you are far from informed about MY personal beliefs and knowledge on the subject,...try again this time by asking quesiotns and not assuming how I go about the Bible ok?

          April 11, 2014 at 2:37 pm |
        • hotairace

          If you actually thought about the authenticity of the bible and the crap therein, you'd burn it.

          April 11, 2014 at 10:57 am |
        • revbro

          A now infamous quote from my hero Dr Sheldon Cooper (Big Bang Theory) "I thought about burning my books but it reminded me too much of church picnics."

          April 11, 2014 at 11:01 am |
        • gulliblenomore

          The bible as a collection of stories is nice, but hardly provable in any sense of the word. It always amazes me that people continually use the bible as proof that the bible is true. Such circular logic would never be accepted in the scientific community and is what spawns so many atheists. I'm not even sure what logic they are even telling themselves in order to convince themselves. Staggers the imagination really....

          April 11, 2014 at 11:21 am |
  2. ifhorseshadgods

    Just imagine the furor that will erupt in a few thousand years when future archeologists discover a fragment for the book "Everybody Poops"! They will be falling all over each other to "interpret" the true meaning of those words.

    Let's hope they don't find a page from Grimm's fairy tales!

    April 11, 2014 at 8:47 am |
  3. etiendelamothecassel

    This is all fine & dandy but does not prove Jesus is the son of God.

    April 11, 2014 at 8:45 am |
    • ifhorseshadgods

      This, and any, discovery about Jesus is a good thing. With every piece of factual evidence we are that much closer to showing that Jesus was just another human being like the rest of us and we can put this whole "son of a god" absurdity behind us all and move forward.

      April 11, 2014 at 9:02 am |
  4. jcottle2012

    well I suppose that's it then. Yet another article of irrefutable proof that the testament is all true, that science has been erred for centuries, that we should at long last join the ranks of those seeking Christian dominion and allow it to rule our lives and destiny.

    If there is one undeniable and consistent trait about human beings it is the fact that when they want something badly enough, they can become the coldest, most calculating animal on the face of this earth.

    April 11, 2014 at 8:09 am |
  5. hotairace

    Why does the possibility of the alleged but never proven divine jesus having a wife bother members of the dead jew zombie cannibal vampire death cult aka christianity so much?

    April 11, 2014 at 7:56 am |
    • cheesemuffin

      Christians had to have "proof" that Jesus wasn't gay. They still don't have it.

      April 11, 2014 at 8:15 am |
    • seedenbetter

      Oh, they'll reinterpret or throw out all together scripture that doesn't fit, write a new version of their holy text and go on as if nothing ever happened. Whatever it takes for them to not be wrong. That's what's so beautiful about mythology. Science has to be do damn rigid.

      April 11, 2014 at 8:48 am |
  6. myweightinwords

    Even if we accept the Bible as a factual retelling of Jesus life, it certainly doesn't tell the whole story of his life. Each of the gospels is told slightly differently, focusing on certain aspects of his life and mission. It is not inconceivable that he would have been married, given his supposed age, the culture that he lived in, etc. It is also not inconceivable that no mention of a wife survives because she wasn't an integral part of the message the gospel writers were attempting to convey.

    Add to that the centuries, the translating and refining and all that the book has gone through, and it would be fairly easy for something like a wife to slip through the cracks.

    I'm uncertain why that makes so many Christians crazy. Does it diminish from who you think he was? Was it a sin to marry? Or is it to do with the fact that if he married he'd be having intercourse? Or that they might have had children? Not every married couple had children, even then.

    April 11, 2014 at 7:52 am |
  7. jamacozo

    Look at this way - it’s now 4000 AD, and in 2700 AD, someone writes that Pope John Paul II had a wife. So of course, in 4000 AD there will be some speculation, but as we all know, living today 2014 AD – the late Pope wasn’t married.

    April 11, 2014 at 7:18 am |
    • jensgessner

      And now 'imagine' they make up a few stories about the John Paul II today. – Oh wait, come to think of it, that has already happened, as part of the late pope's 'beatification process' in 2011. Fast forward 2000 years: Will that nonsense become 'truth' over time?

      April 11, 2014 at 9:28 am |
      • jamacozo

        Thank you for your useless examples which simply sideways the whole discussion. The point, which you seem to have overlooked in your zeal to deprecate faith is that time itself leads to confusion, not to truth. Whether Jesus was married or God, we can never know - that's why they call it faith. As to your points, well, you simply recite what was already stated. Stick to the arguments and stop getting so excited.

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

      Let us also imagine that 200 people wrote 200 different accounts of this story and someone wanted to put it in a nice tidy book, and it had to be reduced in size so people only ended up reading 10 accounts and are told to discard the other 190. Now you have the Bible.

      April 11, 2014 at 9:56 am |
  8. mithrandirolorin

    I'm amazed they consider 6th-9th old enough to be a big deal. That gives them not even the antiquity of the Gnostic Gospels, or the fake Sibylline books. That's not even Pre-Constantine. They would need something from the 1st Century to remotely make me consider it, because false ideas where being inserted into Christianity before the Canonical NT even closed, as many works within it address. So being early Medieval does not impress me at all.

    Opposition to the howl DaVinciCode/RexDeu heresy is not dependent on claiming it was invented in the 2th Century, it can clear be traced before that, Joseph Smith claimed Jesus had 3 wives.

    April 11, 2014 at 4:21 am |
    • G to the T

      "because false ideas where being inserted into Christianity before the Canonical NT even closed'

      I have a different take on that. In the early centuries of the christian chruch, there were a variety of ideas about who Jesus was and what his death meant. All of these groups had sacred writings (most claiming to be written by disciples or other authoratative figures) and all believed theirs was the "true" teachings of Jesus.

      Paul's church, being based in Rome, had access to funding and resources those other church's lacked and eventually they were destroyed/absorbed into the new Roman Catholic ("universal") Church after Constantine made Paul's church the official religion of the empire.

      April 11, 2014 at 9:28 am |
  9. mygoshjosh

    It's known that the Vatican has unreleased books of the bible. It's speculated what's in those books, but Jesus being married is thought to be among them. Controlling the information is crucial. Look at all major figures that are considered "Saints". MLK, Ghandi, or whoever all have controversial aspects of their lives that aren't as well known as the focus is put solely on the good achievements that they made. With Jesus being considered the son of god, or to many, God. it's not surprising that any information that could incriminate him would be hard to come by. Not that marriage is a bad thing, but it opens up a realm of other questions and possibilities and look at the history of the Church, for the longest time they were not people who liked to be questioned.

    April 11, 2014 at 3:20 am |
  10. bozobub

    It only makes sense for Jesus to have been married, considering nearly all rabbis were, and Jesus was a well-respected rabbi. The Christian fascination for making Jesus other-than-human contradicts his own words, much less the message of the Bible itself, so it's also not surprising most Christians are quite upset by the prospect...

    April 11, 2014 at 2:42 am |
    • kermit4jc

      not upset at all..the fact is..there is NO evidence Jesus was married..one must NOT make presuppositions..go by facts given...Jesus never mentions one..in fact she isn't even present at the cross...Jesus would have had his disciples take care of her being that she would be widowed..but instead...John was told to take care of Jesus mother....

      April 11, 2014 at 2:57 am |
      • wellcomeall

        The scriptures were written well after Jesus died. In fact, they were written after the eyewitnesses had died. They only include assertions of fact and reports of speech that the authors felt supported the theology.

        April 11, 2014 at 8:43 am |
        • mk

          Not to mention that the scrolls were pieced together, translated, cherry-picked, edited, re-edited, re-translated and re-written all to suit the current needs of the churches.

          April 11, 2014 at 9:08 am |
        • kermit4jc

          actually..not so..from the evidence gathered from the ancient manuscripts to the fragments..the Bible has been shown to be virtually unchanged from the 1st century

          April 11, 2014 at 9:46 am |
        • kermit4jc

          with such early dating of the writing of the NT...the eyewitnesses certainlywould still be alive...as I said...earliest frgaments which were COPIES have been found to be dated about 68 ad...certainly many witnesses still alive

          April 11, 2014 at 9:43 am |
        • kermit4jc

          in fact..even Paul says they were in 1 Corinthians 15 he admitted some have passed away..but that there were still eyewitneses to Jesus alive

          April 11, 2014 at 9:44 am |
        • kudlak

          kermit4jc
          One example is the Gospel of Mark. The earliest copies only come from the 4th century, and they all end at verse 16:8. The modern Gospel of Mark includes 16:9-20, which stuff like sightings of the resurrected Jesus, the commissioning of the disciples to preach the gospel, and Jesus' ascension. Few scholars see this as anything other than a later addition to either support set doctrine, or to explain away criticisms that Mark didn't agree with the story painted by the other gospels and Acts.

          April 11, 2014 at 10:29 am |
        • kermit4jc

          first of all..silence on the matter does nOT in anyway say there is a disagreement..second..this is a MINOR thing..(minor when you compare how much of rest of Bible has virtually remained unchanged) look at the number of pages, verses..chapters,words in the Bible..and to see this "added" its very minor

          April 11, 2014 at 2:35 pm |
        • kudlak

          kermit4jc
          Quite a few people reported seeing Elvis after he had died too. Psychologists might say that this was just a delusion brought about by the intense love some of his fans had for him, and there's no denying that Jesus' followers probably loved him far more, right?

          April 11, 2014 at 11:04 am |
        • kermit4jc

          MAN what a terribnle analogy..first of all..its not one person seeing Jesus at a time..and it isn't just seeing..but interscting with Jesus..knowing Him personally....the sightings of elvi can hardly be used as an anology heer.comparing apples to oranges

          April 11, 2014 at 2:39 pm |
  11. dougaal

    "she will be able to be my disciple."

    That sounds like the way an Irish bricklayer talks, certainly not like any language I ever read in the bible. Will BE able to BE? Seriously?

    April 11, 2014 at 2:27 am |
  12. atheismisfree

    It's a 2014 yr old dead horse ..... let it alone CNN JESUS !!!!

    April 11, 2014 at 2:08 am |
  13. Bootyfunk

    jesus had a wife...?
    hmmm...
    long hair, great tan, six-pack abs, hung out with 12 dudes all the time...
    more like a husband.

    April 11, 2014 at 1:51 am |
    • TruthPrevails1

      SHHHHHHHH, he was in the closet...the wife was a cover-up for who he really was.

      April 11, 2014 at 7:36 am |
  14. jonasmcgreggor

    And with this new discovery, inspiration for the next couple of holy wars.
    Praise the lord, pass the ammunition!

    April 11, 2014 at 1:35 am |
  15. Wrenna The Big Smart Dyle

    For sure Jesus was married. His husband's name was Biggus Dickus.

    Now, of course, Jesus had no balls, but he gave good head. That's how Jesus got so popular. Put your mouth where the money is...always works for me.

    April 11, 2014 at 1:31 am |
  16. blackburnforkpub

    I think you would enjoy reading T.K. Thorne's post on the subject. http://tks-tales.com/2012/09/2... She is the author of Noah's Wife, which BTW was just released as an AudioBook on Audible, iTunes and Amazon.

    April 11, 2014 at 12:29 am |
  17. jbg757

    Wife: "Jesus, where the heck you been all day?"
    Jesus: "Leave me alone. I was casting the sellers out of the temple."
    Wife: "We finished the goat yesterday. Can't you get a real job that puts food on the table?"
    Jesus: "I can't stand it anymore. I'm gonna go visit Mary."

    April 11, 2014 at 12:28 am |
  18. djdeez1211

    his wife the church...smart idiots

    April 11, 2014 at 12:15 am |
  19. realbuckyball

    Big deal. The Gnostic gospels had all sorts of nutty stuff in them. Including the assertion that Jesus had an affair with Mary Magdalene, and that he was gay. Who cares ? He probably never even existed.

    April 10, 2014 at 11:40 pm |
    • kudlak

      "Nutty stuff" compared to what; the gospels and other books that did manage to make it into the Bible? "Nutty" compared to Revelation!?! Really?

      April 11, 2014 at 10:16 am |
  20. Milletin adamlari

    Reblogged this on barackobama28 and commented:
    Jesus wife was real?

    April 10, 2014 at 11:06 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.