Did Jesus have a wife?

KAREN L. KING A newly discovered fragment of Coptic writing suggests some early Christians believed Jesus was married, a Harvard … Continued

KAREN L. KING

A newly discovered fragment of Coptic writing suggests some early Christians believed Jesus was married, a Harvard scholar argued in a paper presented Tuesday.

Karen L. King, a historian at Harvard Divinity School, presented her finding Tuesday at a meeting of Coptic scholars.

In her paper, King notes that the papyrus is the “only extant ancient text which explicitly portrays Jesus as referring to a wife. It does not, however, provide evidence that the historical Jesus was married, given the late date of the fragment and the probable date of original composition only in the second half of the second century.”

At the Tenth International Congress of Coptic Studies on Tuesday, King spoke about her finding and her study of the papyrus fragment, which was provided by anonymous private collector who contacted her to analyze it.

“King and colleague AnneMarie Luijendijk, an associate professor of religion at Princeton University, believe that the fragment is part of a newly discovered gospel,” a news release from Harvard said.

King wrote in her paper: “If the second century date of composition is correct, the fragment does provide direct evidence that claims about Jesus’s marital status first arose over a century after the death of Jesus in the context of intra-Christian controversies over sexuality, marriage, and discipleship.”

As the New York Times reported Tuesday: “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.”

The Smithsonian Channel will premiere a special documentary about the papyrus and King’s research on Sept. 30.

“The fragment’s 33 words, scattered across 14 incomplete lines, leave a good deal to interpretation. But in King’s analysis, and as she argues in a forthcoming article in the Harvard Theological Review, the ‘wife’ Jesus refers to is probably Mary Magdalene, and Jesus appears to be defending her against someone, perhaps one of the male disciples,” Ariel Sabar wrote for Smithsonian Magazine

A draft of King’s paper about the fourth-century papyrus fragment is available on the divinity school Web site.

“This gospel, like others dated to the second century which make opposing claims — that Jesus was celibate, for example — are too late, historically speaking, to provide 
any
 evidence as to whether the historical Jesus was married or not, [King] says. But the fragment does suggest that 150 years or so after Jesus’s birth, Christians were already taking positions on such questions. Significantly, this new text pushes the date at which some Christians were asserting that Jesus was married back to a time contemporaneous with the earliest assertions that he was celibate,” Harvard Magazine reported.

The news reignited debate about scholarship focused on Jesus’s marital status and the veracity of early church documents.

“King isn’t an archaeologist so how did she come into possession of the piece?” asked a post on the the Zwinglius Redivivus blog, which is managed by Jim West, an adjunct professor of biblical studies at the Quartz Hill School of Theology and a Baptist pastor in Petros, Tenn. “Furthermore, a statement on a papyrus fragment isn’t proof of anything.  It’s nothing more than a statement ‘in thin air’, without substantial context.”

“I don’t believe for a minute she’s faking anything,” says a post on the PaleoBabble blog. “However, the text is unprovenanced, which is a problem. . . . I tend to agree with James [Tabor] and others that the church (read: the Catholic Church and then all those Protestants who blindly followed that tradition) has manipulated the testimony of Mary Magdalene.”

In reaction to the news, Tabor, chair of the religious studies department at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, wrote:

“I have written extensively on this subject on my blog, suggesting that my colleagues, from Ben Witherington to Bart Ehrman . . . who are so insistent that ‘there is not a shred of evidence that Jesus was married,’ reconsider the question. I have changed my own position since publishing The Jesus Dynasty in 2006 in which I too insisted the ‘Jesus was married’ idea was long on speculation and short on evidence. The implications of the two Talpiot tombs are one factor in my own shift, but in fact I would consider that evidence secondary compared to the textual evidence, including the evidence from silence, that can be mounted. Although I would not attribute or ‘blame’ Karen King, the late Jane Schaberg, Ann Graham Brock, April DeConick, or a host of others for my views, I have been greatly influenced by their work on Mary Magdalene.”


UPDATE: 11:30 a.m. Sept. 19:
.“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,” the Associated Press reported Wednesday. “That said, her paper was one of nearly 60 delivered Tuesday at the vast conference, which drew 300 academics from around the globe.

The Rev. James Martin, a popular Jesuit writer, said Wednesday his view on becoming a priest would change “very little” if somehow it could be proven that Jesus was married.

“For me, chastity is still the way that I’ve chosen to love many poeple freely and deeply. Plus I’ve made a vow to God to be chaste. It might make me think of Jesus’ life in a different light (that is, even more challenging, if it were found he had to balance the demands of marriage with his public ministry) but it wouldn’t change the fact that I believe in his life, death, and most importantly, resurrection.”

On Twitter Tuesday, the news prompted the creation of the hashtag #jesuswife, humorous takes on whether the Son of Man had a better half:

Washington Post religion reporter Michelle Boorstein contributed to this report.

  • DRJJJ

    This anti Christian propaganda calls for world wide rioting and violence! Na, we love God & love others-no worries!

  • CivilUser

    How would this information affect all of the celibate religious leaders?

  • Leslie Siegel

    The Roman Catholic Church took out many things Jesus said and did. For E.G., when Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, he leaves and people there are amazed! Suddenly he stops and says, “…But I am not King Solomon!” The Church took out the first part of what Jesus said! And that was to protect King Solomon’s rep. What Jesus said was, “…This is not the occult, this is not witchery,this is not reading of the stars, nor is my wife a pagan woman, I am not King Solomon!!!!” And whose wedding was it when Mary gets up and says to Jesus “…There is no more wine”? Only the mother of the “groom” could say that in Jewish tradition, so it was Jesus’ wedding, and he married Mary, sister or cousin to Lazarus! And there was a second woman named Eve. The first is mentioned when God says he created man and woman side by side. Then later he puts Adam to sleep and takes his rib and makes Eve. The other woman was too much like a man, not a demon, but just too much like Adam, wanting equot her own guards to guard the tomb and they say those soldiers were the ones that took Jesus’ body and hid it so Christian faith would spread, and there were Jesus look a likes all over the place. Not that Jesus wasn’t the Son of God, but they left a lot out. There was a reason they HAD to take his body, they had to convince the people in a human way, not magical. In fact, when Jesus changed water into wine, he used “herbal knowledge” not magic. His mind was 100 percent used and he learned from John the Baptist’s people and knew all herbs and how they worked, that was the miracle of Jesus, that he had all knowledge in a human way. So that is why we don’t see him, but feel his energy. Enough on this.

  • Edmond Avakian

    My people have a saying that Armenian did not need to see to believe but Assyrian had to see with his own eyes. The point is both people coming from the neighborhood Jesus was from, cannot even say it happened but they must trust those who say it did. So, did they say Jesus had wife, for that matter are we better off discovering the lie our forefathers lived. This is all indicating we have come to departure from stories of an older age and if it is not proof of discrepency then will come the harm of it to our progress. Nazi or socialist , burn books or exile, we know the root of it was Jew to the desparate dictator. But if I know it right my Assyrian took a new name from his exile to Syria after fall of Niveh and Babylon. Should I hope they put up with Romans who ignored them for a tiny nation of Hebrew? Should I think they rejoiced in the ways of a new slave master who made their world look a stooge who never learned from mistakes. I hope for our sake all, they went to cross to see it end for a new begining. Why does a woman not fit in this picture? Ask the authors.

  • Edmond Avakian

    Good enough if there is proof for his wife but we Assyrian have seen worlds crumble and new ones born. Is there proof of real god in what we saw, sufice to say we can read you and say for those who need to live the future god must be real. In the midst of billions all claiming landlords, we must survive scattered homeless in the name of human creature we are part of. Do I need my god above yours? I gave up mine long ago for your sake.

  • one nation

    If science must prove, why do not religions prove?

  • one nation

    The man made rule of celibacy of RC priests was put in by the RCC in the early 1100s to stop clergy of willing church property to their first son. The next pope by way of Vatican III will change it as well as other needed changes bearing in mind the words of the just late cardinal. The affect on the present celibate religious leaders will be ZERO but with the amount of RCs voting with their feet will bring the winds of change and blow the old fig leafs away for good.

  • ablesquire

    Guess my mind is missing something. “Jesus said to them ‘my wife’” ?
    That’s it? That leads only to a possibility that Jesus may have been married? Why does it not lead to a clamor for the entire context? ……How about: “The men asked, ‘Jesus, if you were to marry what would your wife be like?’ And, >>>Jesus said to them my wife<<< would be like the stars in the night, filling me with wonder at my Father's creations, guiding me as I walk here with you. So, should your wives inspire you. But, I am not married and this idle chatter is not getting us home any faster." Are there not countless possibilities without the entire context?

  • jsoles2001

    Jesus often refers to himself as the bridegroom and the church as the bride, so the word “wife” is not entirely out of context.

  • jsoles2001

    Because you can prove something if it only based on faith.

  • jsoles2001

    This finding, or whatever you call it, has nothing to do with celibacy, which seems to have been become church doctrine after the time of Christ.

  • jsoles2001

    Sorry, I meant to say “can’t” prove.

  • clitteigh

    In Jesus’ time, “wife” could mean a woman or a man.

    Certainly he had his pick of men, according to Mel Gibson.

  • lightenup3

    So I guess this new information is assuming that Jesus actually existed.

  • backspace1

    Tactical column?
    thank you again for the education in self rescue. However, I don’t think I’ll ever jump to those heights ever agin. non-violent actionin essence ,is a wonderful theolegion’s-debacle in self awareness.

    hereditary title- anti up-

    it’s just imaginary friends and a imaginary business we must tend to? the padded cell awaits us?
    i’ll wait for the book to get dumped in the library! before i spend a dime on it.

  • 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 h

  • 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 h

  • asmaa7123

    jews said this before that christ got married to mary elmagdalia but in our book Quran there is no thing about marriage of Jesus although we believe that Jesus is not the God but was a great prophet [ The Quran states that God sent the message through the angel Gabriel to Mary that God had honoured Mary among the women of all nations. The angel also told Mary that she will give birth to a holy son, named Jesus, who will be a great prophet, to whom God will give the Gospel. The angel further told Mary that Jesus will speak in infancy and maturity and will be a companion to the most righteous. When this news was given to Mary, she asked the angel how she could conceive and have a child when no man had touched her.[10] The reply of the angel to Mary was, “Even so: Allah createth what He willeth: When He hath decreed a plan, He but saith to it, ‘Be,’ and it is!”.[11] The Quran, therefore, states that Jesus was created from the act of God’s will. The Quran compares this miraculous creation of Jesus with the creation of Adam, where God created Adam by his act of will (kun-fa-yakun, meaning “Be and it is”).[12] According to the Quran, the same answer was given to the question of Zechariah, when he asked how his wife, Elizabeth, could conceive a baby as she was very old.[13]] this is explanation of some verses in Quran about prophet Jesus

  • Brian Price

    The only way Jesus could have had a wife, is she would have had to be supernaturally conceived like Jesus was, or she would have had to come from one of his ribs like Eve came from Adams. The reason is. Jesus was made from perfect seed, and lived a sinless life,not from the imperfect seed of Adam, if he took a wife from the imperfect seed of Adam, and became one flesh with her, he would have been defiled, and his sacrifice on the cross would have been rejected by God.

Read More Articles

SONY DSC
Dear Evangelicals, Please Reconsider Your Fight Against Gay Rights

A journalist and longtime observer of American religious culture offers some advice to his evangelical friends.

shutterstock_186090179
How Passover Makes the Impossible Possible

When we place ourselves within the story, we can imagine new realities.

This Passover, We’re Standing at an Unparted Red Sea

We need to ask ourselves: What will be the future of the State of Israel — and what will it require of us?

pews
Just As I Am

My childhood conversion to Christianity was only the first of many.

shutterstock_186364295
This God’s For You: Jesus and the Good News of Beer

How Jesus partied with a purpose.

egg.jpg
Jesus, Bunnies, and Colored Eggs: An Explanation of Holy Week and Easter

So, Easter is a one-day celebration of Jesus rising from the dead and turning into a bunny, right? Not exactly.

shutterstock_186566975
Hey Bart Ehrman, I’m Obsessed with Jesus, Too — But You’ve Got Him All Wrong

Why the debate over Jesus’ divinity matters.

shutterstock_127731035 (1)
Are Single People the Lepers of Today’s Church?

In an age of rising singlehood, many churches are still focused on being family ministry centers.

2337221655_c1671d2e5e_b
Mysterious Tremors

People like me who have mystical experiences may be encountering some unknown Other. What can we learn about what that Other is?

bible
Five Bible Verses You Need to Stop Misusing

That verse you keep quoting? It may not mean what you think it means.

csl_wall_paper
What C.S. Lewis’ Marriage Can Tell Us About the Gay Marriage Controversy

Why “welcome and wanted” is a biblical response to gay and lesbian couples in evangelical churches.

Antonio_Molinari_David_y_Abigail
How to Resolve Conflict: A Bible Lesson for Foreign Policy Leaders

The biblical story of Abigail shows how visible vulnerability can create a path toward peace.