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

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

A fourth-century codex in Coptic quotes 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 papyrus “The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife.” She believes it was originally written in Greek, and later translated into Coptic, an Egyptian language.

Read it all and another article is there.


Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, Christology, Church History, Egypt, History, Marriage & Family, Middle East, Religion & Culture, Theology

22 comments on “(RNS) Did Jesus have a wife? New historical discovery raises old question

  1. Br. Michael says:

    This is just so much nonsense. But it is proof of a poor and dishonest scholar. To call a scrap of papyrus with a few words on it a “Gospel” is simply dishonest. And for the press to hype this is further dishonesty.

  2. Kendall Harmon says:

    Karen L. King “repeatedly cautioned that this fragment should not be taken as proof that Jesus, the historical person, was actually married” is a very important quote in the NY Times article.

  3. C. Wingate says:

    Here’s a HUffington Post article which at least manages to get the key word in, which is of course “Gnosticism”. I have yet to find any popular article on this thing, though, which admits that there is a whole separate Gnostic tradition in which this sort of thing is said all the time. For my part the minute I saw the words “Jesus’ wife” and “Coptic” together my immediate reaction was “it’s Gnostic,” and I’d be willing to bet that Dr. King would say, “well, yes, of course” if any of the reporters knew to ask her that.

  4. Adam 12 says:

    Everyone knows that Jesus has a wife. She is, of course, the Church!

  5. Br. Michael says:

    Of course NPR is constantly playing sound bites of her saying that this fragment will cause us to question whether Jesus was celebrate or had a wife. Her cautionary statements are not mentioned and in the context of the reports this fragment is assumed to have the same authority as the canonical Gospels and writings. Indeed the constant teasers repeat that this fragment will cause us to re-visit whether Jesus was single and whether the Catholic Church can maintain the discipline of clerical celibacy.

    Now this may tell us more about the press than Dr. King. To be playing up this fragment of an unknown Gnostic heretic written 300 years after the fact is in any way authoritative is bunkum.

  6. Archer_of_the_Forest says:

    Okay, I read a bit of Coptic and it could just as easily (and I think more correctly) be translated as ‘Jesus said, ‘My bride…’ In the context of the Church being the Bride of Christ, this makes complete sense. If you take into account the 3rd and 4th Century arguments over which faction of the Church was the true Bride of Christ (Coptic Church, the Pelagians, etc.), this makes perfect sense as to why this “gospel” (assuming that is even what it is) would be quoting Jesus as saying who is correctly his bride.

  7. Bill Cavanaugh says:

    Thank you Archer for that comment. It makes the whole fragment make more sense.

  8. A Senior Priest says:

    Yes, Archer thank you! I’ll use that in my sermon this Sunday, mentioning the article as an aside. But in any case, whether or not Our Lord was married isn’t such a big deal. Marriage was essentially mandatory for anyone over 30, according to Jewish law, and one certainly couldn’t be a Rabbi then or now (I’m assuming Jesus was observant). Marriage is the fulfillment of God’s intention in creation, according to Judaism. And, He was like us in every way, but for sin. If Our Lord was married in accordance with His incarnate human nature and the expectations of His religion, that’s fine with me. If He wasn’t, that’s fine with me. Neither is a point on which our salvation hangs.

  9. Eugene says:

    Suppose Jesus was married. So what? What theological problem would that cause?

  10. maxg says:

    In every interview given by Professor King, she makes it quite clear that this is not a case of new information about the historical Jesus, but rather a window into important debates in the early Church. We should welcome the opportunity to learn more about that early history, not shoot it down because (some corners of) the press turns it into a Dan Brown-esque story. And, dare I say, I suspect the experts involved speak more than a bit of Coptic. Nobody’s theology is being attacked by this research!

  11. driver8 says:

    Professor King has generously made her forthcoming article on this fragment available [url=http://www.hds.harvard.edu/sites/hds.harvard.edu/files/attachments/faculty-research/research-projects/the-gospel-of-jesuss-wife/29813/King_JesusSaidToThem_draft_0917.pdf]here[/url].

    It addresses several of the questions raised on this thread. The context for the fragment is probably, she argues, Egyptian gnosticism of the second half of the fourth century AD. The papyrus tells us nothing about the Jesus of the first century.

  12. driver8 says:

    One final point: as the article mentions, there remains the serious possibility that the fragment is a fake. Tests are going to be done (eg on the composition of the ink) and experts will need to come to their decisions.

    So, even you fourth century Egyptian gnostic specialists who read T19, don’t get too excited yet…

  13. driver8 says:

    He, he – not quite final! It turns out coptic specialists (coptic being the language of the fragment) are meeting in Rome for a conference. and the papyrus has been presented. Here’s an interesting take on some folk’s initial reaction – fourth fifths were extremely skeptical about its authenticity, one fifth were fairly convinced it was a fake. http://evangelicaltextualcriticism.blogspot.com/2012/09/gospel-of-jesuss-wife.html

  14. Pb says:

    They are not reporting that similar texts state the Jesus killed a child, made clay birds fly and lengthened a board in his father’s shop. But then Dan Brown did not report these “facts.”

  15. Ross says:

    One of my seminary professors (who is also a Roman Catholic priest) was called on a couple of times to give talks on The Da Vinci Code. He disliked doing it, but when he did, his talk was essentially the following:

    (1) The Da Vinci Code is fiction, and poorly researched fiction at that.

    (2) Is there any historical evidence whatsoever to suggest that Jesus was, in fact, married — to Mary Magdalene or to anyone else? No. Really, no, there is not.

    (3) But, supposing for the sake of argument that he had been — what exactly would be so shocking or horrifying about that? It’s not as though someone is suggesting that Jesus committed a sin; just that he was married, and had marital relations with his wife. If that were the case, what about the Gospels would be any different than it now is?

  16. NewTrollObserver says:

    I doubt this is true. No woman would marry a man who was always right.

  17. Anchorite says:

    [i] NewTrollObserver [/i] –I can finally respond after laughing myself silly for five minutes. Thank you!
    On a more serious note, it would seem [i] Archer_of_the_Forest [/i] may well be closer to the truth…the Church as the “Bride of Christ”. If only the present day Church would behave as if she believed that.

  18. Firinnteine says:

    As I understand it, the Church has always insisted that Jesus was single and celibate precisely because He is the Bridegroom, and the Church is His Bride. He’s a one-woman Man… and the Church is it!

  19. Pageantmaster Ù† says:

    [blockquote]The collector acquired it in a batch of papyri in 1997 from the previous owner, a German.[/blockquote]
    Along with the Hitler diaries?

    There were a lot of [reasonably good] forgeries coming out of East Germany before the Berlin Wall came down designed to undermine or debunk.

    I suppose that what concerns me is not only the reference to a ‘wife’ but also a reference to a female disciple – surely in such a small section of text too much of an embarrassment of riches?

  20. Uh Clint says:

    I’m using this with permission from a post on Midwest Conservative Journal:

    What do you suppose the reaction would be if this fragment said:

    “Then Jesus, gathering the eleven disciples around him on the hilltop, said to them, ‘I will establish my church through your efforts, you who are the witnesses to my ministry, and I do consecrate and ordain you as bishops, chief shepherds of my flock. You will select, train and ordain others from among the faithful, good and holy men to be priests and deacons.’”

    “‘I now ascend to my Father. As you guide my church in the coming years, remember that God cannot go against God’s word. In cases where individuals [prophets] say that they have received a message from the Holy Spirit, contact the elders in the many churches throught the several continents, and ask if their prophets have heard any messages from the Holy Spirit. If the prophets from the several churches do not agree in their prophecy, then it is false, and should be treated as heresy.’”

    “‘Be sure to look after the women who have been so vital to my ministry. Martha, Mary, Mary Magdalene, the mothers of many of the disciples and also quite a few of the widows of Jerusalem. They have helped spread my word, and are truly fruitful vines. Since many of them are without family, let them be cared for as the widows are.’”

    “‘And most of all, please support John, and treat him as a true son of Mary, my Mother. When I am gone, she will have neither son or daughter-in-law to care for her, and she is still young. John is young as well, and is impetuous and sometimes inclined to trouble as are many young men. Watch over them all, as I would if I were here with you.’”

    Do you suppose that a new discovery which provided absolute confirmation of an all-male clergy, revealed a significant women’s role within the early church (but one which was not of a clerical nature), and eliminated all speculation as to Jesus being married would receive any significant coverage from the mainstream media? Such a find would be contrary to the narrative which post-modernism has sought to promote, and would likely be consigned to a minor note on page E-127 as part of a note on “minor scholastic theories”.

  21. Emerson Champion says:

    The questioning has already begun:

    [url=”http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/scholars-question-authenticity-and-significance-behind-harvards-jesus-wife-papyrus/2012/09/19/dc69a358-0250-11e2-9132-f2750cd65f97_story.html”]Is it a fraud? Scholars question authenticity of Harvard’s ‘Jesus’ Wife’ papyrus[/url]

  22. Pageantmaster Ù† says:

    This does seem a bit premature. Compared to the rigorous way in which provenance and technical consistency is analysed in the art and museum world before any attribution of authenticity is made, I am always surprised at the excitability and lack of rigour of biblical scholars.

    Is that the sound of John Harvard turning in his grave?