Thursday, September 20, 2012

Jesus' Wife Named Mary, Ancient Fragment Says

Judaism's Second Temple Period

There has always been quiet internal debate within some sects of Christianity on whether the biblical Jesus was married; the official canon says that he was not and remained celibate until his death, aged 33. A small fragment of papyrus, written in ancient Egyptian Coptic, however, might prove otherwise. As an article in Time says:
On Tuesday, Harvard historian Karen L. King presented to the world a small papyrus fragment, which she calls The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife. It could suggest Jesus was indeed married: “Jesus said to them, my wife … she will be able to be my disciple” reads a part of the fragment of a Coptic codex dating back to the fourth century A.D. “ This is the only extant ancient text which explicitly portrays Jesus as referring to a wife,” King, who is the Hollis Professor of Divinity at Harvard’s Divinity School, wrote in a draft paper presented at a conference in Rome.
“It’s not evidence for us historically that Jesus had a wife,” King stresses in a video posted on YouTube. “It’s clear evidence that some Christians, probably in the second half of the second century, thought that Jesus had a wife.” The text is written in a dialect of the Coptic language, which today survives only in the liturgy of the Egyptian Coptic Christian church. The text should be considered part of the “vociferous debates about sexuality and marriage” among early Christians, as King was quoted as saying in a Harvard press release—debates that still persist nearly two millennia later. “Christian tradition preserved only those voices that claimed Jesus never married,” she said. “The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife now shows that some Christians thought otherwise.”
Whatever one thinks or knows about the "Christian" Jesus, and we know very little apart from what is written in the biblical texts, this finding might help to place him into a historical Jewish context. If one takes into consideration that Jesus of Nazareth was a Jew and was referred to as a rabbi ("teacher"), it would conform to the traditions of the time if he were married; and Mary Magdalene is the most likely choice. The fact that the traditional Christian canon, aided in large part by Paul of Tarsus and then confirmed by the Church Fathers centuries later, says that Jesus was celibate, flies in the face of Jewish tradition during the Second Temple Period. 

Jesus might have been exception, of course, which would explain one of the reasons why he was on the margins of Jewish society. But I have my doubts. This is the type of exciting scholarship that places giant religious figures like Jesus of Nazareth into their proper historical context—as a Jewish rabbi and possibly a Pharisee.  For most of the world's Christians, however, tradition will supersede scientific discovery, no matter what historians point out as possibly true.

You can read the rest of the article at [Time]


  1. When I say that it was Jesus who introduced the idea of eternal damnation to the world, I am often told that there is no independent confirmation of the words attributed to Jesus in the Gospels; therefore, since we can't prove Jesus spoke about Hell, we know he was merciful.
    The meaning of Jesus necessarily has to be the source of the words that he said, according to the Gospels. Those words gave the world Christianity. Whatever documents may be found are interesting as history, but they tell us nothing about the Jesus who is the source of Christian faith.

    1. You're correct that apart from the biblical narrative found in the New Testament, little is known about Jesus. And you're right to say that the words attributed to Jesus is what defines Christianity for many, if not most, of his adherents today. Even so, much of the current scholarship on "the historical Jesus" has focused on placing him in Second Temple Judaism, about which we know more. There is also some scholarship that says it was Paul of Tarsus who actually created Christianity, and not Jesus, to whom he attributed the idea of a new community of faith split off from Judaism.

  2. Perry,
    It is a privilege and a pleasure to read your blog.
    So much of the world, it seems, is busy endeavouring to suppress the truth, or the progressive ‘revelation’ of historical truth.
    Others of us seem profitably occupied - or naturally preoccupied - with searching, exploring, examining, and piecing together bits of information related to the puzzle of what is historical truth. Those with genuine integrity, like yourself, esteem, even exalt the truth by way of such endeavours.
    Still others, under many common guises, hold truth in contempt, while stifling, distorting, and fashioning it to suit their hateful egocentric aims, as they brutally intimidate, and egregiously abuse their fellow humans.
    Yet their depraved acts expose a telling corollary:
    With the welcome and open pursuit of truth human dignity and worth are preserved. May this continue to be the hallmark of your personal blog.
    Yours Truly,
    Mark O'Brien

    1. Mark,

      Thank you--your words mean much and are a great encouragement to me. I also firmly believe that truth will (eventually) win the battle.


Comment Policy:

All comments will be moderated; and bear in mind that anonymous, hostile, vulgar and off-topic comments will not be published. Thoughtful, reasonable and clear comments, bearing your real name, will be. All comments must be in English.