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Thursday, April 10, 2014

Tests Show ‘Gospel of Jesus’s Wife’ Is Ancient

Harvard University professor Karen King says this fragment of papyrus, which she unveiled last year, is the only existing ancient text quoting Jesus explicitly referring to having a wife. (Courtesy Karen L. King)

Harvard University professor Karen King says this fragment of papyrus, which she unveiled last year, is the only existing ancient text quoting Jesus explicitly referring to having a wife. (Courtesy Karen L. King)

New tests show that the fragment of papyrus called “Gospel of Jesus’s Wife” is actually from ancient times. The results of a carbon dating test show that it probably dates to 8th-century Egypt.

The discovery of the fragment, which includes the words “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife…’ ” was announced to the world a little more than a year ago by Karen L. King, a professor of history at Harvard’s School of Divinity.

The gospel immediately sparked heated debate and drew immediate dismissals from some because the Gospel refers to Jesus being married.

King joins Here & Now’s Robin Young to discuss the implications of the latest tests. She says there should not be a debate over whether or not the historical Jesus was married, rather the role of wives, mothers and sexuality in Christianity.

Interview Highlights: Karen King

On the authenticity of the papyrus fragment

“All the tests point positively to the papyrus fragment being ancient. When we weigh evidence one way or another, we weigh not only these very important science reports of the papyrus and of the ink, you know the radio carbon dating, but we also look at handwriting and the language and its grammar — and the content. You know, there needs to be a historical context that helps us also kind of fine tune and date and place the fragments. So all of those together are consistently pointing toward antiquity.”

On what this means about whether Jesus was married

“As far as the ‘was Jesus married’ question, this fragment is in any case not evidence one way or the other about whether Jesus was married or not. This belongs not to the historical Jesus question, it belongs to the question of, what were early Christians saying about Jesus’s marital status later. I was quite fascinated when this first came up that no one had actually done the research, had written and asked the question, who was the first one, who were the first people to say that Jesus was not married? When I looked at that, it turns out to be some people who were called heretics from the later part of the second century, that is to say about 150 years or more after Jesus died. And they’re claiming that no Christian should ever have any sexual relations ever, period, because Jesus didn’t marry.”

On the fragment’s mention of Jesus’s mother

“He says ‘my mother gave me life.’ … The notion that the fall of humanity can be lodged squarely on Eve’s shoulders and that she is the representative sinner for all of humanity has weighed heavily in Christian theology. So now this notion that in fact you have a possibility to say ‘me mother is the one who gave me life, my wife,’ are possibilities to think about these situations being redemptive, exactly in the way that Christians do talk about the coming of Jesus as making it possible to overcome sin and to lead a full life of spirituality in relation to God.”


  • Karen King, professor of history at Harvard’s School of Divinity.

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  • Bill98

    I have never understood why it bothers some people so much to think of Jesus as being married. In his day, a man of his age would have been expected to be married. I think the idea of him having a family makes the Passion even more poignant.

  • dialyn

    There is something odd in religion in that it seems the people (men) in charge of religious doctrine think women contaminate the religion if they are acknowledged as having a role to play. Is it better to have pedophilic male priests in charge of a flock rather than including women, or allowing priests to marry? I understand why keeping women suppressed is good for the men but what I don’t understand is why women accept this. Men wrote the Bible. Not God. Not Jesus. Mortal men with a religious and political agenda. It’s something I’ve never understood and no religious babble will convince me that there is any good reason for it other than a male agenda.

    • kl443

      Keep in mind that “faith” demands that one believe that every word written was driven and inspired by God. Every committee over the centuries that determined policy and practices were driven and inspired by God. Every change to the text made purposefully or inadvertently by scribes was driven and inspired by God. Finally the translation from ancient languages to modern languages used the correct interpretation of original intent and meaning. Except for all the parts that most Christians choose to ignore for convenience. Apparently they know that God did not really mean those parts.

      • ELSEVAR

        “god” apparently intended all those errors and contradictions in the bible as well. Maybe showing a sense of sardonic humor. Testing to see whether any of the “faithful” would ever have the wit to see the joke. Makes you think that it might really be Loki behind the canon and not yahweh/jehovah, the Canaanite war god.

    • Stephen

      Women play a very large role in the Bible. Look at the first accounts of Jesus’ resurrection. Several women’s eye witness accounts are given. Back in that time period women were not eligible to testify in a Jewish court of law. The fact that several women’s accounts of Jesus were included in the Bible say a lot to the teachings of Jesus and early Christianity. This would not have been highly accepted at that time as real accounts of Jesus coming back from the dead yet it was included. First, it is a theological reminder that the kingdom of the Messiah turns the system of the world on its head. In this culture, Jesus radically affirmed the full dignity of women and the vital value of their witness. Second, it is a powerful apologetic reminder of the historical accuracy of the resurrection accounts. If these were “cleverly devised myths” (2 Peter 1:16, ESV), women would never have been presented as the first eye witnesses of the risen Christ. (Kostenberger &Taylor)

  • Frog

    8th century is well into the middle ages.

  • Elizabeth Downey

    I really don’t see a problem with Jesus being married…He was born a man…so why not be married…

  • Mary

    Thanks, Frog, for pointing out that 7th century is not “ancient” but medieval.
    Also, I’m not sure why Prof King says the first text saying Jesus was not married was from some gnostic-sounding 2nd century group, when the Jesus of the Gospels (1st century) is not married. It is true that emphasis on an unmarried Jesus can come from a woman-distrusting place, but it also shows Jesus’ intense focus on his mission to preach the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God…as an itinerant rabbi with no way to support a family.

    • cathyac

      Your sacred text does not say that Jesus was not married. She is saying that the first known written statement that says he was married dates from the second century. There is no contradiction.

      • Justaguy

        First, the fragment is from the 8th century. Second, the prof doesn’t say Jesus was married. “KING: Well, as far as that, was Jesus married question, this fragment is in any case not evidence one or the other about whether Jesus was married or not.”

        • cathyac

          It is not clear what your point is. Yes, the fragment she has been studying is from the 8th century. That is different from the first known text that says he was married (second century). I was responding to Mary’s statement that the gospels say Jesus was not married.

  • Frog

    Wow! The show read quite a bit into that small piece of parchment. There are much earlier writings from the early church written by people that actually knew the apostles. I would find their writing much more authoritative over a scrap from the 8th century. Anyone interested in the subject I recommend “Four Witnesses” by Rod Bennett.

  • jonathanpulliam

    There was a cottage industry of parchment novels. All this proves is that the world’s first recorded “take my wife…” gag pre-dates Henny Youngman by about 1,200 years. A serious researcher employing carbon-dating ought to be more specific about the dating time-estimate and associated margin for error. We don’t see that here. We have a figure from literature mentioned in a fragment of presumptive literature, and nothing more. The historical Jesus, as opposed to the literary verisimilitude “Jesus” left a footprint that is for all practical purposes non-existent. The timeline for a “Jesus of Nazareth” doesn’t work, as no Jews lived in Nazareth at the time during which the apostle Paul has Jesus living there. True, it is remotely possible that the Roman authorities of the 4th century might have prevailed upon early Christians to alter the gospels’ Jesus of the Nazarenes to Jesus of Nazareth, but that is mere speculation.

    • DoubtingLarry

      This whole story and theory are pure speculation.His desciples may have asked Jesus why he never married, “If I had gotten married,” jesus told them,”my wife would have become fed up walking the country and living from other’s gernerosity!’
      The little bit of parchment, Jesus told them, “my wife….”So silly to argue with so little material to work with!

  • Beverly

    I’m sorry, but I cannot believe that God would go to all the trouble to have Jesus be born of a virgin only to have Him get married to a former prostitute. Jesus was not born to enjoy His human life, but to give His life for our salvation. Karen King is either a feminist or a lesbian with the intent to incite controversy in giving women more power in religion in today’s world than they were ever given back in Jesus’ day.

    • DoubtingLarry

      Where did anyone get the idea that Jesus married a former prostitute? Certainly not documented in the New Testament! Most of the online headlines concerning this story refer tothe marriage of Jesus when the word marriage never appears in the translation. Great deal of deceit practiced here.

    • john

      why shouldn’t they have more say in religion? Why can’t religions adapt to the rest of society where women are supposed to be seen as equal to men?

    • cathyac

      It is hard to tell if this post is supposed to be funny or not. Even if it is intended to be serious, I burst out laughing when I read the last line about inciting controversy by giving women more power in religion in today’s world than they had in Jesus’s day. Does that mean people “incite controversy” when they argue against polygamy and slavery?

      Using “feminist” and “lesbian” as slurs is childish. It degrades the writer far more than the object of his or her derision.

  • Uncle George

    Perchance our new, and quite beloved, Pope will see the light and allow Catholic priests to marry. Even better, he could get the church out of the sex business entirely.

  • jimbo

    The answer is that the Wife is His Church, the New
    Jerusalem. The

    Lord is the Bridegroom and Husband of the Bride, or Wife,

    Revelations, 19:6, 21:2 and 21:9, “Come, I will show you
    the Bride,

    the Wife of the Lord”.



  • Karen Lee Fetterolf

    Jesus “disappeared from history” ages 13-late 20s because the Christian Church isn’t interested in what the Tibetan Gospels record, nor the histories of India or Turkey, nor the Gnostic Gospels. Jesus was born to royalty, directly descended through both his mother and father. He went on the equivalent of the “coming of age tour” that upper classes of the 18th & 19th centuries underwent. On his way back, he married Mary of Magdalene, Women were very influential in the sect that Jesus belonged to: his mother and his wife both wore the red veil of leadership. (The Christian Church doesn’t want you to know this, which is why Jesus’ mother is always and only to be presented wearing blue, and probably why only harlots were to wear red.) The reasons why Jesus ought not to be married have to do with CA$H and Property: unmarried priests inherit property and leave it to the Church, with no squabbling from spouses or heirs. (When in doubt about anything, follow the CA$H.) Some Pope or another in the 1200s-1300s decreed that priests must not marry so there would be no questions about inheritances. Thank GOD for Pope Francis! A lot of information will be brought forth, and a lot of “dirty laundry” will be cleansed – if – IF – he can live long enough to accomplish such things, avoiding assassination.

  • cathyac

    Attribution: cathyac


      Well said.

      • cathyac

        Thank you for the kind words. Perhaps you can start a trend of more thoughtful and compassionate communication.

  • Sal

    What is the entire translation? Given the limitations of linguistic translations, is it possable the word Bride and Wife may mean the same thing. If the word is Bride then the Church is Jesus’ Bride. That would allow for the translation to be understood better although not as sensational. Thanks,

  • Thaddeus K. Craven

    Yeshua is married, because He is The Almighty in the flesh & is married to True Israel, the Israel exalted in Him & redeemed by Him, & made up of the redeemed Jews & Gentiles, who are brothers & sisters by the bond of faith in Messiah.. There were and are other people named Jesus. Joshua of Nun is known in the New Testament as Jesus of Nun, & people today are still named this way as well. It’s dated from the 8th century. No way is this the Messiah unless it somehow relates to Him speaking about redeemed Israel or unless it’s a parable or lesson of some sort. May The Almighty bless you all!

  • Alfred Hussein Neuman

    From the WSJ today:
    Mr. Askeland found, among the online links that Harvard used as part of its publicity push(for the “wife” fragment), images of another fragment, of the Gospel of John, that turned out to share many similarities—including the handwriting, ink and writing instrument used—with the “wife” fragment. The Gospel of John text, he discovered, had been directly copied from a 1924 publication.
    Mark Goodacre, a New Testament professor and Coptic expert at Duke University, wrote on his NT Blog on April 25 about the Gospel of John discovery: “It is beyond reasonable doubt that this is a fake, and this conclusion means that the Jesus’ Wife Fragment is a fake too.” Alin Suciu, a research associate at the University of Hamburg and a Coptic manuscript specialist, wrote online on April 26: “Given that the evidence of the forgery is now overwhelming, I consider the polemic surrounding the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife papyrus over.”

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