A piece of an ancient papyrus unveiled on Tuesday by a Harvard University professor raises questions about Jesus‘ marital status.
The piece of papyrus, measuring only 4 x 8 centimeters, contains words written in Coptic, a language of ancient Egyptian Christians. There are eight incomplete lines of writing on one side, while the other side have six, but only a few letters and three words are still visible on that side.
The text written in the papyrus contains a dialogue in which Jesus speaks of his wife, the phrase reads: ‘”Jesus said to them, ‘My wife…’”
It also includes a phrase where Jesus speaks of his mother, the third phrase seems to be a discussion whether Mary is worthy, and the fifth phrase is about a woman who “will be able to be my disciple.”
Here are the tranlations
1. “not [to] me. My mother gave to me li[fe] …’”
2. “The disciples said to Jesus, ‘…”
3. “deny. Mary is worthy of it” (Or: “deny. Mary is n[ot] worthy of it”)
4. “…’ Jesus said to them, ‘My wife…’”
5. “… she will be able to be my disciple …”
6. “Let wicked people swell up …”
7. “As for me, I dwell with her in order to …”
8. “an image”
Harvard Professor Karen King announced the existence of the gospel fragment during the 10th International Congress of Coptic Studies. She said it provides the first evidence that some early Christians believed Jesus had been married.
In a news release from Harvard Divinity School, King, who received the fourth-century fragment of papyrus from an anonymous private collector, cautioned that the fragment does not provide evidence that Jesus was married. Rather, it suggests that the whole question about Jesus’s marital status arose as part of the debates among early Christians about sexuality and marriage.
“Christian tradition has long held that Jesus was not married, even though no reliable historical evidence exists to support that claim,” King said in a news release. “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.”
They also said that the text, which they said was originally written in Greek in the second half of the second century and translated into Coptic, doesn’t provide evidence that Jesus had a wife because it was written centuries after He lived.
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. Further examination will be made by experts, especially of the chemical composition of the ink, King said.
King and colleague AnneMarie Luijendijk, an associate professor of religion at Princeton University, have named the fragment the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife for reference purposes. It is believed to have come from Egypt because it is written in Coptic.
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.
Their analysis of the fragment is scheduled for publication in the January 2013 issue of Harvard Theological Review, a peer-reviewed journal.
King and Luijendijk believe that the fragment is part of a newly discovered gospel and 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.
But, even if they suggest that the papyrus is not an evidence that Jesus had a wife, this will surely re-ignite the debate between Bible believers and Gnostic gospel believers on whether Jesus was married.
“What are the Gnostic gospels?”
According to GotQuestions.org, “Gnostic gospels such as the gospel of Thomas, the gospel of Philip, the gospel of Mary, etc. are forgeries, fraudulently attached the names of famous Christians to their writings in order to give them a legitimacy in the early church. Gnostic gospels as promoting false teachings about virtually every key Christian doctrine. The Gnostic gospels can be a good source for the study of early Christian heresies, but they should be rejected outright as not belonging in the Bible and not representing the genuine Christian faith.”