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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.”

Guest

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

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