Historian says piece of papyrus refers to Jesus’ wife

A historian of early Christianity at Harvard Divinity School has identified a scrap of papyrus that she says was written in Coptic in the fourth century and contains a phrase never seen in any piece of scripture: “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 finding is being made public in Rome on Tuesday at an international meeting of Coptic scholars by the historian Karen L. King, who has published several books about new Gospel discoveries and is the first woman to hold the nation’s oldest endowed chair, the Hollis professor of divinity.

The provenance of the papyrus fragment is a mystery, and its owner has asked to remain anonymous. Until Tuesday, 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.

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7 Responses to Historian says piece of papyrus refers to Jesus’ wife

  1. dan says:

    I am captivated by this story and it's possibilities. I don't think it damages Christianity if it is true and would probably make it a more expansive religion. The mystery of Christianity for me is that so much has been lost from those first 100 years of its founding. I wonder how many other little, but crucial, scraps of paper are still out there to be found.

    The end of the story notes, "King did not have the ink dated using carbon testing. She said it would require scraping off too much, destroying the relic. She still plans to have the ink tested by spectroscopy, which could roughly determine its age by its chemical composition." I wonder how long this will take? I hope it gets resolved one way or the other and doesn't become another inconclusive controversy like the Shroud of Turin.

  2. Paul Clifford says:

    There's no reason Jesus couldn't have been married. The gospels don't mention His wife, so I believe that she wasn't around during His ministry, if she existed at all.

    With that said, "Coptic in the fourth century" illuminates the piece a lot. The earliest and most reliable manuscripts would have been written in Greek in the first century.

    It would be like having a book turn up that was written around 1920 that claims that William Bradford had extra fingers. It doesn't matter to the story of the Pilgrims and the first mention of it being 300 years after the actual event makes it dubious.


  3. dan says:

    I love these historical questions regarding Christianity [rather than purely theological questions]. My understanding is that the oldest copy of the New Testament ever found is a small scrap of a Greek text dated to the second century. This article says about the new text: "Much of the context, therefore, is missing. But King was struck by phrases in the fragment like “My mother gave to me life,” and “Mary is worthy of it,” which resemble snippets from the Gospels of Thomas and Mary. Experts believe those were written in the late second century and translated into Coptic. She surmises that this fragment is also copied from a second-century Greek text." According to King, therefore, this document could have been written near the time of the original NT and was at a time [150 -200 A.D]. during which there was a debate about whether Jesus was married.

    Catholics believe that Christian teaching involves both written and oral tradition. With the lack of written tradition of whether Jesus was married, apparently oral tradition won out that he wasn't. But the interesting thing is that they debated it and one group may not have accepted that he never married, Also, the church cataloged which books to include in the NT [in approx 300 A.D.?] and they did not accept the gospels of Thomas or Mary.

  4. shawnwilson says:

    WAIT!!! Dan Brown may have been right?!?!! MY FAITH IS RUINED!!! Ok not really!! In all honesty it wouldn't matter much to me if Jesus was or wasn't married. It would be cool and make him more human but beyond that I don't think it changes anything. Some may say that it could mean that maybe Jesus wasn't really God in the flesh but even then for me it wouldn't end my belief that Jesus was amazing.

  5. tommy says:

    You will not find Forged, who wrote the bible, by Bart D. Erhman comforting..

  6. dan says:

    I've read all of Erhman's books, including "Forged" and found them very enlightening and helpful.

    It will take some time to judge the authenticity of this document and, if it is, whether it adds much weight to anything.

    King says it doesn't prove anything other than Christian groups were debating the issue very early on.

    As Tommy says, even if it could some how be proven Jesus had a wife, it shouldn't affect his teachings other than Catholics' arguments about celibacy for priests. It would certainly make Jesus a much more interesting figure.

  7. dan says:

    Sorry, I meant to refer to Shawn

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