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  • Gospel of Jesus's Wife

    HDS Scholar Announces Existence of a New Early Christian Gospel from Egypt

    B. D. Colen, Harvard News Office

    Pdf Download

    Papyrus fragment:
    front. Karen L King 2012
    Four words on a previously unknown papyrus fragment provide the first evidence that some early Christians believed Jesus had been married, Harvard Professor Karen King told the 10th International Congress of Coptic Studies today.

    King, the Hollis Professor of Divinity at Harvard Divinity School, announced the existence of the ancient text at the Congress's meeting, held every four years and hosted this year by the Vatican's Institutum Patristicum Augustinianum in Rome. The four words that appear on the fragment translate to, "Jesus said to them, my wife." The words, written in Coptic, a language of ancient Egyptian Christians, are on a papyrus fragment of about one and a half inches by three inches.

    "Christian tradition has long held that Jesus was not married, even though no reliable historical evidence exists to support that claim," King said. "This new gospel doesn't prove that Jesus was married, but it 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, but it was over a century after Jesus's death before they began appealing to Jesus's marital status to support their positions."

    Roger Bagnall, director of the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World in New York, believes the fragment to be authentic based on examination of the papyrus and the handwriting, and Ariel Shisha-Halevy, a Coptic expert at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, considers it likely to be authentic on the basis of language and grammar, King said. Final judgment on the fragment, King said, depends on further examination by colleagues and further testing, especially of the chemical composition of the ink.

    One side of the fragment contains eight incomplete lines of handwriting, while the other side is badly damaged and the ink so faded that only three words and a few individual letters are still visible, even with infrared photography and computer photo enhancement. Despite its tiny size and poor condition, King said, the fragment provides tantalizing glimpses into issues about family, discipleship, and marriage that concerned ancient Christians.

    King and colleague AnneMarie Luijendijk, an associate professor of religion at Princeton University, believe that the fragment is part of a newly discovered gospel. Their analysis of the fragment is scheduled for publication in the January 2013 issue of Harvard Theological Review, a peer-reviewed journal.

    King has posted a draft of the paper, an extensive question-and-answer on the fragment and its meaning, and images of it, on a page on the Divinity School website.

    The brownish-yellow, tattered fragment belongs to an anonymous private collector who contacted King to help translate and analyze it. The collector provided King with a letter from the early 1980s indicating that Professor Gerhard Fecht from the faculty of Egyptology at the Free University in Berlin believed it to be evidence for a possible marriage of Jesus.

    King said that when the owner first contacted her about the papyrus, in 2010, "I didn't believe it was authentic and told him I wasn't interested." But the owner was persistent, so in December 2011, King invited him to bring it to her at Harvard. After examining it, in March 2012 King carried the fragment to New York and, together with Luijendijk, took it to Bagnall to be authenticated. When Bagnall's examination of the handwriting, ways that the ink had penetrated and interacted with the papyrus, and other factors, confirmed its likely authenticity, work on the analysis and interpretation of the fragment began in earnest, King said.

    Little is known about the discovery of the fragment, but it is believed to have come from Egypt because it is written in Coptic, the form of the Egyptian language used by Christians there during the Roman imperial period. Luijendijk suggested that "a fragment this damaged probably came from an ancient garbage heap like all of the earliest scraps of the New Testament." Since there is writing on both sides of the fragment, it clearly belongs to an ancient book, or codex, not a scroll, she said.

    The gospel of which the fragment is but a small part, which King and Luijendijk have named the Gospel of Jesus's Wife for reference purposes, was probably originally written in Greek, the two professors said, and only later translated into Coptic for use among congregations of Coptic-speaking Christians. King dated the time it was written to the second half of the second century because it shows close connections to other newly discovered gospels written at that time, especially the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Mary, and the Gospel of Philip.

    Like those gospels, it was probably ascribed to one or more of Jesus's closest followers, but the actual author would have remained unknown even if more of it had survived. As it stands, the remaining piece is too small to tell us anything more about who may have composed, read, or circulated the new gospel, King said.

    The main topic of the dialogue between Jesus and his disciples is one that deeply concerned early Christians, who were asked to put loyalty to Jesus before their natal families, as the New Testament gospels show. Christians were talking about themselves as a family, with God the father, his son Jesus, and members as brothers and sisters. Twice in the tiny fragment, Jesus speaks of his mother and once of his wife—one of whom is identified as "Mary." The disciples discuss whether Mary is worthy, and Jesus states that "she can be my disciple." Although less clear, it may be that by portraying Jesus as married, the Gospel of Jesus's Wife conveys a positive theological message about marriage and sexuality, perhaps similar to the Gospel of Philip's view that pure marriage can be an image of divine unity and creativity.

    From the very beginning, Christians disagreed about whether they should marry or be celibate. But, King notes, it was not until around 200 that there is the earliest extant claim that Jesus did not marry, recorded by Clement of Alexandria. He wrote of Christians who claimed that marriage is fornication instituted by the devil, and says people should emulate Jesus in not marrying, King said. A decade or two later, she said, Tertullian of Carthage in North Africa declared that Jesus was "entirely unmarried," and Christians should aim for a similar condition. Yet Tertullian did not condemn sexual relations altogether, allowing for one marriage, although he denounced not only divorce, but even remarriage for widows and widowers as overindulgence. Nearly a century earlier, the New Testament letter of 1 Timothy had warned that people who forbid marriage are following the "doctrines of demons," although it didn't claim Jesus was married to support that point.

    In the end, the view that dominated would claim celibacy as the highest form of Christian sexual virtue, while conceding marriage for the sake of reproduction alone. The Gospel of Jesus's Wife, if it was originally written in the late second century, suggests that the whole question of Jesus's marital status only came up over a century after Jesus died as part of vociferous debates about sexuality and marriage, King said. King noted that contemporary debates over celibate clergy, the roles of women, sexuality, and marriage demonstrate that the issues are far from resolved.

    "The discovery of this new gospel," King said, "offers an occasion to rethink what we thought we knew by asking what role claims about Jesus's marital status played historically in early Christian controversies over marriage, celibacy, and family. Christian tradition preserved only those voices that claimed Jesus never married. The Gospel of Jesus's Wife now shows that some Christians thought otherwise."


    Jesus se geliefde dissipel

  • #2
    Re: Gospel of Jesus's Wife

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    • #3
      Re: Gospel of Jesus's Wife

      Gospel of Jesus' Wife

      The fragment reads very much like a paraphrase of sayings of Jesus found in the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Philip. In the Gospel of Thomas 101, Jesus says that his true mother (probably a reference to the Spirit) gave him life, while his birth mother gave him death. At the end of the Gospel of Thomas 114, there is a saying that indicates conflict between Jesus and Peter over Mary, whether women are worth to have life. Jesus says yes that he will guide Mary so that she can become a living spirit. In the Gospel of Philip, Mary Magdalene is referenced as Jesus' wife in the context of a discussion about discipleship which is what we seem to have here too in this gospel fragment. But here marriage is referenced rather than singlehood or maleness.

      So what is the fragment about? Jesus is talking to his disciples about discipleship and life. Jesus connects life with his mother, who he says gave it to him. If other texts can help us, the disciples are probably responding, how can this be? Women don't have life or aren't worthy of life. Then Jesus tells them that Mary is worthy, and that his wife (probably Mary) will be able to be his disciple. He says that he is with her because of something (text is fragmented). If the reference in the next line (8) to "an image" is connected to the "because of" clause in line 7 (which I think is highly likely), then we might have evidence of a Valentinian Gnostic worldview where Jesus and Mary's earthly marriage is an image of their future aeonic marriage.

      I would translate line 7 thusly: "I am with her because..." and the because has something to do with an "image".

      I am thinking that the fragment is from a Valentinian text, like the Gospel of Philip, whose author is aware of the alternative sayings traditions that we find also embedded in Gospel of Thomas. It makes perfect sense in this context and is consistent with what we already know about ideology in early Valentinian Gnostic Christianity.

      My initial translation based on the photograph published on King's Harvard website is: " mother gave me li[fe...] The disciples said to Jesus [...] deny. Mary is worthy of it [...] Jesus said to them, "My wife [and...] Let men who are wicked [...] I am with her because [...] an image [...]"

      April DeConick


      • #4
        Re: Gospel of Jesus's Wife

        A Faded Piece of Papyrus Refers to Jesus’ Wife

        Published: September 18, 2012

        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.

        The discussion is particularly animated in the Roman Catholic Church, where despite calls for change, the Vatican has reiterated the teaching that the priesthood cannot be opened to women and married men because of the model set by Jesus.

        Dr. King gave an interview and showed the papyrus fragment, encased in glass, to reporters from The New York Times, The Boston Globe and Harvard Magazine in her garret office in the tower at Harvard Divinity School last Thursday.

        She repeatedly cautioned that this fragment should not be taken as proof that Jesus, the historical person, was actually married. The text was probably written centuries after Jesus lived, and all other early, historically reliable Christian literature is silent on the question, she said.

        But the discovery is exciting, Dr. King said, because it is the first known statement from antiquity that refers to Jesus speaking of a wife. It provides further evidence that there was an active discussion among early Christians about whether Jesus was celibate or married, and which path his followers should choose.

        “This fragment suggests that some early Christians had a tradition that Jesus was married,” she said. “There was, we already know, a controversy in the second century over whether Jesus was married, caught up with a debate about whether Christians should marry and have sex.”

        Dr. King first learned about what she calls “The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife” when she received an e-mail in 2010 from a private collector who asked her to translate it. Dr. King, 58, specializes in Coptic literature, and has written books on the Gospel of Judas, the Gospel of Mary of Magdala, Gnosticism and women in antiquity.

        The owner, who has a collection of Greek, Coptic and Arabic papyri, is not willing to be identified by name, nationality or location, because, Dr. King said, “He doesn’t want to be hounded by people who want to buy this.”

        When, where or how the fragment was discovered is unknown. The collector acquired it in a batch of papyri in 1997 from the previous owner, a German. It came with a handwritten note in German that names a professor of Egyptology in Berlin, now deceased, and cited him calling the fragment “the sole example” of a text in which Jesus claims a wife.

        The owner took the fragment to the Divinity School in December 2011 and left it with Dr. King. In March, she carried the fragment in her red handbag to New York to show it to two papyrologists: Roger Bagnall, director of the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, at New York University, and AnneMarie Luijendijk, an associate professor of religion at Princeton University.

        They examined the scrap under sharp magnification. It was very small — only 4 by 8 centimeters. The lettering was splotchy and uneven, the hand of an amateur, but not unusual for the time period, when many Christians were poor and persecuted.

        It was written in Coptic, an Egyptian language that uses Greek characters — and more precisely, in Sahidic Coptic, a dialect from southern Egypt, Dr. Luijendijk said in an interview.

        What convinced them it was probably genuine was the fading of the ink on the papyrus fibers, and traces of ink adhered to the bent fibers at the torn edges. The back side is so faint that only five words are visible, one only partly: “my moth[er],” “three,” “forth which.”

        “It would be impossible to forge,” said Dr. Luijendijk, who contributed to Dr. King’s paper.

        Dr. Bagnall reasoned that a forger would have had to be expert in Coptic grammar, handwriting and ideas. Most forgeries he has seen were nothing more than gibberish. And if it were a forgery intended to cause a sensation or make someone rich, why would it have lain in obscurity for so many years?

        “It’s hard to construct a scenario that is at all plausible in which somebody fakes something like this. The world is not really crawling with crooked papyrologists,” Dr. Bagnall said.

        The piece is torn into a rough rectangle, so that the document is missing its adjoining text on the left, right, top and bottom — most likely the work of a dealer who divided up a larger piece to maximize his profit, Dr. Bagnall said.

        Much of the context, therefore, is missing. But Dr. 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.

        The meaning of the words, “my wife,” is beyond question, Dr. King said. “These words can mean nothing else.” The text beyond “my wife” is cut off.

        Dr. 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.

        Dr. King submitted her paper to The Harvard Theological Review, which asked three scholars to review it. Two questioned its authenticity, but they had seen only low-resolution photographs of the fragment and were unaware that expert papyrologists had seen the actual item and judged it to be genuine, Dr. King said. One of the two questioned the grammar, translation and interpretation.

        Ariel Shisha-Halevy, an eminent Coptic linguist at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, was consulted, and said in an e-mail in September, “I believe — on the basis of language and grammar — the text is authentic.”

        Major doubts allayed, The Review plans to publish Dr. King’s article in its January issue.

        Dr. King said she would push the owner to come forward, in part to avoid stoking conspiracy theories.

        The notion that Jesus had a wife was the central conceit of the best seller and movie “The Da Vinci Code.” But Dr. King said she wants nothing to do with the code or its author: “At least, don’t say this proves Dan Brown was right.”

        A version of this article appeared in print on September 19, 2012, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: A Faded Piece of Papyrus Refers to Jesus’ Wife.


        • #5
          Re: Gospel of Jesus's Wife

          The Gospel of Jesus's Wife: A New Coptic Gospel Papyrus

          When this small scrap of papyrus surfaced at the International Congress of Coptic Studies on September 18, 2012 in Rome, it caused a media sensation and almost immediately gained avid supporters and critics. Almost straightaway the Vatican denounced the text as a forgery. This is unsurprising given the Catholic Church’s stance on clergy, Jesus included, being celibate.

          It is the fourth line of text which reads “Jesus said to them, ‘my wife’…” that is the cause of so much contention. The idea that Jesus of Nazareth was married is a staple of many conspiracy theories. The bestselling books The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail (1982) and The Da Vinci Code (2003) can be attributed for the modern interest in the bloodline theory. However, these claims are not based on scripture, unless you consider the non-canonical Gospel of Philip , or historical evidence, and thus generally regarded as pseudohistorical works. Most sources and scholars, both secular and theological, agree that Jesus was celibate, which was not out of the ordinary and even expected of a 1st century Rabbi.

          Resources about the fourth-century papyrus fragment available are images of the fragment and a translation of the text; and a draft of Karen L. King's article about the gospel papyrus.

          Images and Translation



          [1 ] “not [to] me. My mother gave to me li[fe...”
          [2 ] .” The disciples said to Jesus, “.
          [3 ] deny. Mary is (not?) worthy of it
          [4 ]...” Jesus said to them, “My wife . .
          [ 5 ]... she is able to be my disciple . .
          [6 ] . Let wicked people swell up ...
          [7] . As for me, I am with her1in order to .
          [8 ] . an image ... [