The Associated Press

Harvard Scholar: Jesus Talks Of Wife In Ancient Script

(Courtesy Karen L. King)

(Courtesy Karen L. King)

BOSTON — A Harvard University professor on Tuesday unveiled a fourth-century fragment of papyrus she said is the only existing ancient text quoting Jesus explicitly referring to having a wife.

Karen King, an expert in the history of Christianity, said the text contains a dialogue in which Jesus refers to “my wife,” whom he identifies as Mary. King says the fragment of Coptic script is a copy of a gospel, probably written in Greek in the second century.

King helped translate and unveiled the tiny fragment at a conference of Coptic experts in Rome. She said it doesn’t prove Jesus was married but speaks to issues of family and marriage that faced Christians.

Four words in the 1.5-by-3-inch fragment provide the first evidence that some early Christians believed Jesus had been married, King said. Those words, written in a language of ancient Egyptian Christians, translate to “Jesus said to them, my wife,” King said in a statement.

King said that in the dialogue the disciples discuss whether Mary is worthy and Jesus says “she can be my disciple.”

Christian tradition has long held that Jesus was unmarried even though there was no reliable historical evidence to support that, King said. The new gospel, she said, “tells us that the whole question only came up as part of vociferous debates about sexuality and marriage.”

“From the very beginning, Christians disagreed about whether it was better not to marry,” she said, “but it was over a century after Jesus’s death before they began appealing to Jesus’s marital status to support their positions.”

King presented the document at a six-day conference being held at Rome’s La Sapienza University and at the Augustinianum institute of the Pontifical Lateran University. While the Vatican newspaper and Vatican Radio frequently cover such academic conferences, there was no mention of King’s discovery in any Vatican media on Tuesday. That said, her paper was one of nearly 60 delivered Tuesday at the vast conference, which drew 300 academics from around the globe.

The fragment belongs to an anonymous private collector who contacted King to help translate and analyze it. Nothing is known about the circumstances of its discovery, but it had to have come from Egypt, where the dry climate allows ancient writings to survive and because it was written in a script used in ancient times there, King said.

The unclear origins of the document should encourage people to be cautious, said Bible scholar Ben Witherington III, a professor and author who teaches at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Ky. He said the document follows the pattern of Gnostic texts of the second, third and fourth centuries, using “the language of intimacy to talk about spiritual relationships.”

“What we hear from the Gnostic is this practice called the sister-wife texts, where they carried around a female believer with them who cooks for them and cleans for them and does the usual domestic chores, but they have no sexual relationship whatsoever” during the strong monastic periods of the third and fourth centuries, Witherington said. “In other words, this is no confirmation of the Da Vinci Code or even of the idea that the Gnostics thought Jesus was married in the normal sense of the word.”

These kinds of doubts, King said, should not stop scholars from continuing to examine the document.

Those who conducted initial examination of the fragment include Roger Bagnall, a papyrologist who’s the director of the New York-based Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, and AnneMarie Luijendijk, a scholar of the New Testament and early Christianity from Princeton University. They said their study of the papyrus, the handwriting and how the ink was chemically absorbed shows it is highly probable it’s an ancient text, King said.

Another scholar, Ariel Shisha-Halevy, professor of linguistics at Hebrew University and a leading expert on Coptic language, reviewed the text’s language and concluded it offered no evidence of forgery.

King and Luijendijk said they believe the fragment is part of a newly discovered gospel they named “Gospel of Jesus’s Wife” for reference purposes. King said she dated the time it was written to the second half of the second century because it shows close connections to other newly discovered gospels written at that time, especially the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Mary and the Gospel of Philip.

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on wbur.org.
  • Doug Lowe

    If Jesus did in face have a wife; perhaps they had
    children…such a revelation would shake the very foundations of the Roman
    Catholic faith. This would be a secret that the Holy See would want to bury in
    a tomb! Growing up Catholic, I know that change is one thing that most
    organized Churches avoid whenever possible. I feel saddened at this revelation
    on another hand; because it exposes another thought–that Jesus was potentially
    tempted by the flesh.

     

     

    Christ was like man in all ways like man, but not with sin,
    so he would not be tempted by the need of a woman, and therefore such a
    reference isn’t a logical extension of his ministry. However–nuns are
    “brides of Christ” without actually being “consummated” in
    the carnal sense.

     

     

    However, this does open a rather substantial dialoged!

     

     

    If in the end, the result is that people talk about Him, and
    ask that big question, “Who is Jesus?” then perhaps He will reveal
    Himself to more people–one at a time.

     

     

    Please be good to each other, regardless of your faith, or even
    if you don’t believe at all…we are all human beings who deserve to live, and
    love, and be treated with dignity, and worth.

     

     

    God Bless and Keep you.

    • Linnie

      Why does everyone always assume that the statement  that he was in all ways like a man, yet not tempted by sin  imply sexual relations?  If one looks at the 40 days in the desert, the temptations were of power, and greed, and the like – nothing mentioned that sex was sinful, at least within the context of marriage – sex makes us comfortable – I get that.  So did the actuality of bishops’ sons back in the 12th century or so, hence the western RC ban on married priests (know known as priestly celibacy….) -  perhaps Jesus’ marital state is just not relevant to being a Christian, but is certainly interesting to discuss

    • Linnie

      Why does everyone always assume that the statement  that he was in all ways like a man, yet not tempted by sin  imply sexual relations?  If one looks at the 40 days in the desert, the temptations were of power, and greed, and the like – nothing mentioned that sex was sinful, at least within the context of marriage – sex makes us comfortable – I get that.  So did the actuality of bishops’ sons back in the 12th century or so, hence the western RC ban on married priests (know known as priestly celibacy….) -  perhaps Jesus’ marital state is just not relevant to being a Christian, but is certainly interesting to discuss

      • Linnie

        typo – sex makes us UN comfortable, at least in the context I was discussing

  • J__o__h__n

    Don’t forget that Jesus was Jewish and was an ancestor to Borsch belt comedy.  Maybe the text is of him telling the parable of take my wife please. 

  • Joealbiani

    The fact that Jesus was married, and to Mary Magdeline has been spoken about for several years by John who is channeled and has been a cohost on a radioshow/podcast 
    every Saturday at noon Out of The Ordinary show.com. I know this sounds crazy but if you read the last paragraph of John’s gospel you will see that Jesus said that John was to stay behind until his return.
    This manifestation of him is one of many throughout the centuries. Mary Magdeline was not only his wife but was one of his greatest disciples, something the Catholic tradition will not want understood.

  • gb

    The new testament is full of references to Christ’s Bride:  The Church!  Mary Magdelane was a faithful disciple (as were several other women mentioned in the Gospels and the Book of Acts).  http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2012/09/the-bible-refers-to-jesus-wife-too/262545/

    • Joealbiani

      You are referring to the church as a symbol of his wife. That is not what is being talked about at all. He actually did marry Mary Magdeline.

      • gb

         What part of this remnant actually says that Jesus was married? “My wife” could also in this context symbolize the church.  In the NYT piece, the author of the paper emphasizes that this doesn’t prove anything about Jesus’ marital status.

  • EAB123

    Being married and thus having sex within the bounds of marriage (husband & wife) as set by God is not a sin. And is in fact the greatest relationship He has given to us humans–it is there to point us to Jesus and show us the love we are to have and to show to all and to hold on to the promise of eternal life.  So, if Jesus was married, so what? He is still without sin. If he was and it was ‘hidden’ or kept secret, it is more to the  misunderstanding that humans may have of Jesus’ teaching and the Word, but does not in any way discount any part of true Biblical wisdom or being a true disciple of Jesus.

  • J__o__h__n

    The bible was written years after his death and there is barely any historical evidence of his life.  It is most likely all fiction. 

  • jane Jones

    hog wash

Most Popular