Harvard professor, Karen King, presents Coptic script attempting to show Jesus had a wife
A Harvard University professor has unveiled a fourth century fragment of papyrus that she says quotes Jesus explicitly referring to having a wife.
Karen King, an expert in the history of Christianity, says the text contains a dialogue in which Jesus refers to “my wife”, whom he identified as Mary. King says the fragment of Coptic script is a copy of a gospel, probably written in Greek in the second century.
The text is being dubbed “The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife.” The part of it that’s drawing attention says, “Jesus said to them, ‘my wife’” in the Coptic language. The text, which is printed on papyrus the size of a business card, has not been scientifically tested to verify its dating, but King and other scholars have said they are confident it is a genuine artifact.
“Christian tradition has long held that Jesus was not married, even though no reliable historical evidence exists to support that claim,” King said at a conference in Rome on Tuesday. “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’ marital status to support their positions.”
King unveiled the fragment of the ‘Gospel of Jesus’s Wife’ in Rome on Tuesday. She says it doesn’t prove Jesus was married but speaks to issues of family and marriage that faced Christians.
King says on a Harvard website that the dialogue includes the disciples discussing whether Mary is worthy and Jesus talks about his mother twice and speaks once about his wife. One of them is identified as “Mary.” His disciples discuss whether Mary is worthy of being part of their community, to which Jesus replies, “she will able to be my disciple.”
The proposal of a “married Jesus” could change the perspective on men, marriage, sexuality and the role of men in the Catholic Church.
“Beyond internal Catholic Church politics, a married Jesus invites a reconsideration of orthodox teachings about gender and sex,” said journalist and author Michael D’Antonio, who writes about the Catholic Church, in a blog on The Huffington Post. “If Jesus had a wife, then there is nothing extra Christian about male privilege, nothing spiritually dangerous about the sexuality of women, and no reason for anyone to deny himself or herself a sexual identity.”
The private owner of the papyrus first approached King in 2010. King said she didn’t believe the document was authentic, but the owner persisted. She then asked the owner to bring the papyrus to Harvard, where she became convinced it was a genuine early Christian text fragment. Along with Princeton University professor Anne Marie Luijendijk and Roger Bagnall, director of the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, King claims to have confirmed the document is real. The document’s owner has not been named and King said he does not want to be identified.
The scholars believe the text is from Egyptian Christians before the year 400, as it is written in the language used at that time. Since writing appears on both sides of the fragment, scholars believe it came from a codex, a kind of book, and not a scroll. The scholars also believe the document is a translation of an earlier one that was likely written in Greek.