|Karen King, a professor at Harvard Divinity School, is
interviewed outside the Augustinianum institute where an international
congress on Coptic studies is held in Rome, Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2012.
Scholars are questioning the authenticity and significance of a
much-publicized discovery by a Harvard scholar who reported that a 4th
Century fragment of papyrus has provided the first evidence that some
early Christians believed Jesus was married. Karen King announced the
finding Tuesday at an intern
novelist Dan Brown, a Harvard professor revealed an ancient scrap of
papyrus on Tuesday (Sept. 18) that purports to refer to Jesus’ wife.
The so-called “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” presents a dialogue between
Jesus and his disciples, said Karen King, a well-respected historian of
early Christianity at Harvard Divinity School.
The fourth-century fragment says, “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife
…,'” according to King. The rest of the sentence is cut off. The
fragment also says “she will be able to be my disciple,” according to
The discovery that some ancient Christians thought Jesus had a wife
could shake up centuries-old Christian traditions, King suggested.
But even King acknowledged that questions remain about the
receipt-sized scrap, which contains just 33 words and incomplete
sentences. Here are five of the biggest questions.
1. Where did the papyrus come from?
We don’t know. King says that “nothing is known about the
circumstances of its discovery,” an admission that has raised red flags
for other scholars.
speculates that the fragment may have been tossed in an ancient garbage
heap by someone who objected to the idea of Jesus being married.
Christians fiercely debated celibacy and marriage in the first centuries
after Christ’s death.
The papyrus now belongs to an anonymous collector who asked King to
analyze it. King says three scholars have determined that the fragment
is not a forgery, but that further tests will be conducted on the ink.
The scholar also says that she will press the fragment’s anonymous owner
to come forward.
No. King says the fragment is a fourth-century translation of a
second-century Greek text. It’s not quite old enough to prove that Jesus
was married, King says — only that early Christians discussed it.
“The earliest and most historically reliable evidence is entirely silent about Jesus’s marital status,” King says.
King also acknowledged that Jesus might have been speaking
figuratively when he referred to “my wife.” After all, the fragment is
just 33 words long, with incomplete sentences and very little context.
3. What do other ancient texts say about Jesus being married?
The Bible, of course, says nothing about Jesus marrying, though New
Testament writers occasionally used the metaphor of the church and God’s
people as the “bride of Christ.”
Some of the Gnostic gospels — ancient texts unearthed in the 20th
century that are not included in the Christian canon — suggest that
Jesus had an intimate relationship with Mary Magdalene. The apocryphal
Gospel of Philip, for example, says that Jesus kissed Mary, and loved
her more than the apostles.
But the Gnostics were often intimate in nonsexual ways. In the Gospel
of Philip, for instance, Christians greet each other with kisses to
convey the sense that they are a spiritual family, according to
4. Will this change contemporary Christianity?
King said her discovery could cause believers to rethink their
assumptions about early Christian debates over marriage, celibacy and
family. Those early arguments led to contemporary practices like the
Roman Catholic Church’s all-male, mostly unmarried priesthood.
Perhaps King is correct — nearly everything is open for debate in
Christianity these days. After all, Christians are still arguing over
homosexuality, the role of women in ministry and whether priests should
But how many overhyped archaeological discoveries have proven less than world-changing under careful examination?
Remember the Gospel of Judas? He didn’t betray Jesus! Or did he? “The
Gospel of Judas was so packed with opaque Gnostic metaphor that
scholars are still debating whether it portrays Judas as a hero or a
villain,” said Gary Manning, an associate professor of New Testament
studies at Biola University in La Mirada, Calif.
The so-called James ossuary then? As Roland Meynet, a biblical
scholar at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, said Wednesday,
“that made a lot of noise on newspapers, but was then revealed as a
Even if the new papyrus “were proved true, it would mean that there
is a new apocryphal text from that time, as there are many,” Meynet
said. “It won’t reopen the debate and, anyway, we must wait for
verification and be very cautious until we know the origin of the
5. How will the Vatican respond?
If the Vatican’s new communications team is as good as they say it is, Rome will stay silent.
The Vatican and its media-savvy friends in Opus Dei said all they
needed or wanted to say about Jesus’ marital status during the whole “Da
Vinci Code” saga a few years ago. They will likely let scholarly
surrogates debate this one, while the hierarchy sits on the sidelines.
The Vatican insists that there’s nothing new to debate about the
gender and celibacy requirements for its priesthood. It’s unlikely that a
business card-sized scrap of papyrus of dubious origin is going to
Or perhaps Pope Benedict XVI, himself a renowned scholar, will
indirectly enter the fray over the fragment. He just finished his third
and final installment on the historical Jesus. It will be published
around Christmas, and will likely be as well received as the previous
two, and sell as strongly.
(Alessandro Speciale contributed to this report from Rome.)
Source: HUFF POST – Religion
”The truth might be hard to say, painful to bear or even drastic for the truth sayer but still needed to be said”. ALISON.