A Harvard University professor on Tuesday unveiled a fourth-century fragment of papyrus she said is the only existing ancient text quoting Jesus explicitly referring to having a wife.
Karen King, an expert in the history of Christianity, said the text contains a dialogue in which Jesus refers to “my wife,” whom he identifies as Mary. King says the fragment of Coptic script is a copy of a gospel, probably written in Greek in the second century.
King helped translate and unveiled the tiny fragment at a conference of Coptic experts in Rome. She said it doesn’t prove Jesus was married but speaks to issues of family and marriage that faced Christians.
Four words in the 1.5-by-3-inch fragment provide the first evidence that some early Christians believed Jesus had been married, King said. Those words, written in a language of ancient Egyptian Christians, translate to “Jesus said to them, my wife,” King said in a statement.
King said that in the dialogue the disciples discuss whether Mary is worthy and Jesus says “she can be my disciple.”
Christian tradition has long held that Jesus was unmarried even though there was no reliable historical evidence to support that, King said. The new gospel, she said, “tells us that the whole question only came up as part of vociferous debates about sexuality and marriage.”
“From the very beginning, Christians disagreed about whether it was better not to marry,” she said, “but it was over a century after Jesus’s death before they began appealing to Jesus’s marital status to support their positions.”
The fragment belongs to an anonymous private collector who contacted King to help translate and analyze it. Nothing is known about the circumstances of its discovery, but it had to have come from Egypt, where the dry climate allows ancient writings to survive and because it was written in a script used in ancient times there, King said.
The unclear origins of the document should encourage people to be cautious, said Bible scholar Ben Witherington III, a professor and author who teaches at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Ky. He said the document follows the pattern of Gnostic texts of the second, third and fourth centuries, using “the language of intimacy to talk about spiritual relationships.”
If it is unclear where this piece of ‘evidence’ derives-then wouldn’t it be unclear whether it is truly to be trusted? Given the context of the time period, Jesus having a wife would not be at all unorthodox. In modernity the single status is seen as normal. However, in antiguity, Jesus would have been contridicting the word that he was professing had he remained single.
Despite what the world has been taught about his marital status, what is the new found interest in the son of man’s pattern of non platonic cohabitation? Why was it necessary to demonize the woman who was thought to be his wife during the days of early aristocracy?
Who/What is driving this engine?
The debate has raged for centuries. So much in fact that most recently the Da Vinci Code written by Dan Brown has received acclaim for the premise that Jesus in fact reproduced with his wife to create modern descendants for which there was only one.
Would you behave any differently if you knew your blood was descended from Christ? Does this information shift one’s perspective?