Did Jesus have a wife? New historical discovery raises old question

Dan Brown, your phone is ringing. A newly revealed piece of papyrus offers fresh evidence that some early Christians believed … Continued

Dan Brown, your phone is ringing.

A newly revealed piece of papyrus offers fresh evidence that some early Christians believed Jesus was married, according to a Harvard Divinity School professor.

Four words written in Coptic on a fourth-century codex quote Jesus referring to “my wife,” Karen King, a scholar of early Christianity, said on Tuesday (Sept. 18). It is the only extant text in which Jesus is explicitly portrayed as betrothed, according to King.

King is calling the receipt-sized slip of paper “The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife.” She believes the fragment was originally written in Greek, and later translated into Coptic, an Egyptian language.

The fragment says, “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife…,’” according to King. The rest of the text is cut off.

“Christian tradition has long held that Jesus was not married, even though no reliable historical evidence exists to support that claim,” King said in a statement released Tuesday (Sept. 18) by Harvard. “This new gospel doesn’t prove that Jesus was married, but it tells us that the whole question only came up as part of vociferous debates about sexuality and marriage.”

Those debates continue to this day, with the Roman Catholic Church barring most priests from marrying in part to follow Jesus’ celibate example. Arguments over divorce and same-sex marriage have also roiled churches in the U.S. for generations. King said she expects her new discovery to add fuel to those quarrels.

Tuesday’s surprise announcement seemed ripped from the pages of Brown’s 2003 book, “The Da Vinci Code,” which sold millions of copies — and irked the Vatican — by suggesting that Catholic leaders had covered up Jesus’ marriage to Mary Magdalene. King said that she does not believe that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene.

But in another novelistic twist, King presented her research on Tuesday in the Vatican’s front yard, at a Coptic Studies conference held at the Catholic Church’s Institutum Patristicum Augustinianum in Rome.

The Vatican has not yet responded to her research, King said at a news conference on Tuesday.

King acknowledged in her research paper that “nothing is known about the circumstances of its original discovery or early ownership.” The earliest clue about the fragment’s history is a letter from the 1980s hinting that a German Egyptologist believed that it offered evidence that Jesus might have been married, according to King.

An anonymous collector brought the yellowed and tattered fragment to King, a respected historian of early Christianity, and asked her to help analyze and translate it in 2010.

“I didn’t believe it was authentic and told him I wasn’t interested,” King said. After cajoling, however, King relented and agreed to have the fragmented examined by scholars.

Upon examination, a papyrologist, a scholar of early Christianity at Princeton University and a Coptic expert at Hebrew University in Jerusalem all consider it likely to be authentic, according to King.

“On the basis of the age of the papyrus, the placement and absorption of the ink on the page, the type of the handwriting, and the Coptic grammar and spelling, it was concluded that it is highly probable that the fragment is an ancient text,” King writes in her research paper.

King said further tests will be made on the chemical composition of the ink. King’s research paper will be published in the January 2013 issue of Harvard Theological Review, a peer-reviewed journal.

Jesus’ reference to “my wife” in the fragment comes amid a discussion of family with his disciples, according to King. He also refers to “Mary” and “my mother.” The scholar did not rule out the possibility that Jesus was speaking metaphorically. Christian tradition, for example, calls the church “the bride of Christ.”

King said on Tuesday that a fellow scholar suggested that Jesus may have been delivering a homily. Such questions may never be definitively answered. The small fragment contains very little context, King acknowledged.

According to King, Jesus also says in the fragment “she will be able to be my disciple,” another potential provocation for contemporary Christians. The Catholic Church, for example, has barred women from the priesthood in part because tradition holds that all of Jesus’ disciples were male.

King said the the fragment shows close connections to other texts written during the second century, especially the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Mary, and the Gospel of Philip — none of which are considered part of the Christian canon of Scripture.

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  • Quaesitum

    It’s not surprising that Jesus might have been married. I see no reason why he would not be. Many if not most of the Hebrew prophets were married. And marriage features prominently in the Old Testament. Further, marriage of some sort has long been part of human history. Indeed, without marriage, or more generally, without the coming together of man and woman, humanity would have ceased to exist a long time ago. So why would Jesus, who set the example for us on so many things that are crucial to our happiness, have shunned this ancient and most natural practice? I’m all for it.

  • one nation

    What was the custom there then? What would you think of 13 guys in there late twenties or early thirties traveling about for a long period of time without females at that time and country until the lady entered the picture? When the bible was formed, did some of the gospels pulled tell things that change the current bible views? Ambrose , a leader of putting the bible together said in one case ” IF YOU HAVE THIS GOSPEL IN YOUR LIBRARY, DO NOT READ IT, BURN IT”. What was he hiding?

  • yeshu2004

    Christianity first appeared in Egypt in 42 AD in the Egyptian city of Alexandria, a city founded by Alexander. Jesus’ disciple Mark preached in Alexandria and many became Christians. If Jesus had a wife, Mark, a contemporary and disciple of Jesus, would have told the new converts, the Coptic Christians. Alexandria was a well developed, cultured city with a huge library. Rome was ruled at that time by Claudius, with a strong Christian population in Rome. There was also a theological school in Alexandria, the Catechetical School, the oldest school in the world. Founded around 190 AD by the scholar Pantanaus the school of Alexandria became an important institution of religious learning, where students were taught by scholars such as Athenagoras, Clement, Didymus, and Origen, the father of theology and who was also active in the field of commentary and comparative Biblical studies. The theological institutions of Egypt and the great Christian scholars who lived in Egypt long before this fake papyrus fragment was found, do not say anywhere that Jesus had a wife. Karen claims that this papyrus was written 400 years after the resurrection of Jesus. Who owned it all these 1612 years? Why the Coptic Church in Cairo was not aware of it? How could Karen fix the age of the papyrus to 400 years without subjecting it to carbon dating? Probably it would have been produced quite recently by using a crumpled papyrus. So there is something fishy, something shady and something malefic in the entire episode. It is evident from all accounts that the faded papyrus fragment is fabricated, manipulated and concocted with a sinister motive. If such a fake papyrus about Mohammed had been exhibited, the fate of the Dutch film maker Theo Van Gogh would have happened to the sponsor.

    Dan Brown also scandalized Jesus in his book, The Da vinci Code. Dan Brown told a lie that there was a secret code in da Vinci’s painting, The Last Supper. But the fact of the matter is da Vinci was an Italian and he lived in the 15 th century. Jesus was a Palestinian and he lived in the Ist century. Da vinci was not a contemporary of Jesus, then how could he know the secret life of Jesus? Moreover, da Vinci was a pious Christian and he would not begin his painting without praying before the statue of Jesus in the church of Milan.