Is small scrap of faded papyrus first evidence that Jesus had a wife? (UPDATE: Doubts)

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 was made public in Rome on Tuesday at an international meeting of Coptic scholars by Karen L. King, a historian 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.

Tip: Steve Liberace, @StuartJRitchie and @UKSkeptics via Twitter

Scholars are saying is not likely a forgery, but what exactly does it mean? The provenance is a mystery. This piece of evidence will fire up the debate about whether Jesus was married, whether Mary Magdalene was his wife and whether he had a female disciple. It is the first known ancient reference to Jesus having a wife even though it was likely centuries after his death.

Carbon testing would destroy the piece but other methods are being considered. Regardless, let the debates on this begin…

Karen L. King/Harvard University

UPDATE (19-Sept-2012) And here we go

Scholars on Wednesday questioned the much-publicized discovery by a Harvard scholar that a 4th century fragment of papyrus provided the first evidence that some early Christians believed Jesus was married.

And experts in the illicit antiquities trade also wondered about the motive of the fragment’s anonymous owner, noting that the document’s value has likely increased amid the publicity of the still-unproven find.

Wolf-Peter Funk, a noted Coptic linguist, said there was no way to evaluate the significance of the fragment because it has no context. It’s a partial text and tiny, measuring 4 centimeters by 8 centimeters (1.5 inches by 3 inches), about the size of a small cellphone.

“There are thousands of scraps of papyrus where you find crazy things,” said Funk, co-director of a project editing the Nag Hammadi Coptic library at Laval University in Quebec. “It can be anything.”

He, too, doubted the authenticity, saying the form of the fragment was “suspicious.”

Ancient papyrus fragments have been frequently cut up by unscrupulous antiquities dealers seeking to make more money.

  13 comments for “Is small scrap of faded papyrus first evidence that Jesus had a wife? (UPDATE: Doubts)

  1. Gary
    September 18, 2012 at 8:28 PM

    A more accurate translation is, “Take my wife as a disciple. Please.” That one killed at the ancient Sanhedrin roasts.

  2. Vinny Giardina
    September 18, 2012 at 8:57 PM

    Couldn’t be just some guy named Jesus?

  3. September 18, 2012 at 9:21 PM

    Since it was written in the 4th century, it’s a good bet that it is was written in the tradition of the Gospel of Thomas, the Secret Book of James, the Gospel of Mary, and so on. No Christian church considers them to be authentic.

    But I’m sure people will get all excited over it for a while.

  4. September 18, 2012 at 9:28 PM

    Well there is the unnamed ‘beloved disciple’ in the canonical gospels who had a habit of spending nights with Jesus naked and learning his secrets.

  5. Jim
    September 18, 2012 at 10:28 PM

    You seem to have extracted an awful lot of information from such a brief excerpt. Perhaps you should contact the researchers involved and lend them your expertise.

  6. September 18, 2012 at 10:57 PM

    I think they know that. I read another article on the subject earlier.

  7. Moose McNuggets
    September 19, 2012 at 3:31 AM

    Oh man, that was good. Looks like that line is still killin’ ’em 2000 years later.

  8. One Eyed Jack
    September 19, 2012 at 8:54 AM

    Well, that’s a load off my shoulders. I’m still struggling with when it’s OK to beat my slaves and whether I kill my son for disobedience. I don’t think I could with yet another book of conflicting, misogynistic, petty, cruel, and arbitrary rules.

  9. One Eyed Jack
    September 19, 2012 at 9:27 AM

    “He’s not the Messiah. He’s a very naughty boy!”

    -The Life of Brian, 1979

  10. Chris s
    September 19, 2012 at 10:36 AM

    Does it matter what this says? There is little historical accuracy in the Bible to begin with. And this was written 400 years ago. And the defense of marriage people will be up in arms. Apparently, you can’t get married if you are either a homosexual or Jesus.

  11. Eve
    September 25, 2012 at 2:25 PM

    I’ve read King’s draft article for the Harvard Theological Review. She does connect the fragment to Gnostic works like the Gospels of Thomas and Mary. It should be emphasized that she does NOT claim the fragment is evidence that Jesus was married, only that it is evidence that some early Christians believed that he was.

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