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Ancient Papyrus Refers to Wife of Jesus

Does the scrap of papyrus pictured above reveal that Jesus was married? Discovered by Karen L. King, a historian of early Christianity at Harvard Divinity School, the fragment of Coptic writing features a phrase never seen before: “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife …’”

The faded papyrus fragment is smaller than a business card, with eight lines on one side, in black ink legible under a magnifying glass. Just below the line about Jesus having a wife, the papyrus includes a second provocative clause that purportedly says, “she will be able to be my disciple.”

… The provenance of the papyrus fragment is a mystery, and its owner has asked to remain anonymous. Until Tuesday, Dr. King had shown the fragment to only a small circle of experts in papyrology and Coptic linguistics, who concluded that it is most likely not a forgery. But she and her collaborators say they are eager for more scholars to weigh in and perhaps upend their conclusions.

Even with many questions unsettled, the discovery could reignite the debate over whether Jesus was married, whether Mary Magdalene was his wife and whether he had a female disciple. These debates date to the early centuries of Christianity, scholars say. But they are relevant today, when global Christianity is roiling over the place of women in ministry and the boundaries of marriage.

While this news will no doubt re-ignite the debate whether Jesus had a wife, King has no desire for her discovery to be lumped in the Da Vinci Code basket: “At least, don’t say this proves Dan Brown was right.” She also cautioned that the text should not be taken as proof that Jesus was actually married, given it was probably written a number of centuries after his time. The text was probably written centuries after Jesus lived, and all other early, historically reliable Christian literature is silent on the question, she said. According to King though, it does appear to show that there was at least an early Christian tradition that Jesus was married.

Other scholars have urged caution, including New Testament scholar Ben Witherington, who noted that the importance of the news might depend on your perspective:

[King] does have a dog in this hunt… She’s an advocate for the Gospel of Mary and the Gospel of Judas, telling us of early Christian experiences of various kinds, particularly of the Gnostic kind… In view of the largely ascetic character of Gnosticism, it is likely that we are dealing with the ‘sister-wife’ phenomenon, and the reference is to a strictly spiritual relationship, which is close but does not involve sexual intimacy,

Me, I’m just waiting for the conspiracy theories, and hopefully a Twitter hashtag of “#JesusSaid to them, ‘My wife…'”, to fill us in on the rest of the sentence.

Link to download the paper.

  1. Meh….
    I have never understood the whole “run in circles, scream and shout” mentality that surfaces whenever the subject of Jesus’ marriage comes into question.

    His being married, even siring children, would have zero impact on the core beliefs of Christianity.

    But as to the Gospels and other sources remaining quiet on the subject, why would they even mention it, except perhaps in passing?

    Those books, hell… even modern letters from soldiers to their families up through Vietnam were usually silent on the mundane. People wrote about the exceptional things they witnessed, or partook in, and NOT the day to day drudgery of their lives.

    Jesus was a Rabbi, and would thus have been expected to marry, even to have children. It was just the way life was. No one commented on the daily routine, what people wore, how they went about their business, what color houses were painted, how people cooked their meals, etc. It was only when something was out of the ordinary, was worthy of comment, that it found it’s way into the written record.

    Thus it is with Jesus’ marriage. I believe it would have been remarked upon, and that quite often, had he NOT been married, had he NOT had children. People would have questioned why he didn’t marry, and certainly wonder if his wife was barren had he not sired offspring.

    So that’s my take on it. YMMV, of course, but that’s how I see things.

  2. The Wife Thing
    “His being married, even siring children, would have zero impact on the core beliefs of Christianity.”

    As a nominal Protestant, or perhaps an ex-Protestant (it’s hard to know what the hell I am most days) I can agree with this from the perspective of my old worldview…

    BUT… as someone who has worked in Catholic institutions, I can tell you it would have a huge impact on Catholicism. If Jesus married and had kids, then priests should marry and have kids. I think that would be one of the big issues. I’m sure there are others that just aren’t coming to mind right now.

    1. If Jesus married and had kids…

      If Jesus married and had kids, then priests should marry and have kids.

      Nah. Many of his apostles were married. Celibacy arose as a financial tool, to safeguard the assets of the church.

      To a Catholic it’s the idea that, being the son of God, it would have been improper if he had married and sired a descendancy. There would then be a lineage of semi-divine beings above the rest of humanity.

      It’s all just a way to keep God further apart from Man, high above in the sky, with the Pope having the only access to His/Her Twitter account 😉

      1. Jesus must be laughing in his
        Jesus must be laughing in his grave at this “controversy.” You can damn well bet that Jesus liked to look at the women. That is the real question – did Jesus like to get him some sometimes? You bet.

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