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was Jesus married?

Gospel of Jesus' wifeOn Tuesday, at an international meeting of Coptic scholars in Rome, Professor Karen L. King presented information about a 4cm by 8cm (1 1/2- by 3-inch) fragment of papyrus that in Coptic mentions Jesus’ wife. (Professor King holds USA’s oldest endowed chair, the Hollis professor of divinity at Harvard Divinity School). The fragment appears to be fourth century. The fuller papyrus may have been a Coptic copy of an earlier (possibly second half of the second century) “gospel” in Greek.

Unsurprisingly, but in many ways unnecessarily, the fragment’s publication has resulted in a flurry of debating.

Karen L. King & Coptic fragmentOne side of the fragment has eight lines. Only parts of sentences are there (the papyrus fragment has been cut out of a larger work):

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 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

The other side is pretty indecipherable, but includes: my moth[er]…three…forth which…

Let’s be crystal clear: This fourth century papyrus, presuming it is authentic, is of no value whatsoever in providing new information about the historical Jesus.

The earliest and most trustworthy documents about Jesus say nothing about Jesus’ marital status. They have no interest in this. The first reference we have to Jesus being unmarried is late second century in Clement of Alexandria, picked up a couple of decades later by Tertullian of Carthage. What can be said is that Clement is possibly/probably entering some early discussion and that this points to some people saying, at Clement’s time, that Jesus was married. This newly-discovered fragment is now our earliest explicit reference to such a belief, amongst some at the time of the early church, that Jesus was married.

IMO it makes not one iota of difference whether Jesus was married or not. I am no fan of conspiracy theories, but if Jesus did have children, I hold to the orthodox position that Jesus is fully human, he has 46 fully human chromosomes, and any children would be 100% fully, normally human also. Jesus being “Son of God” and “God the Son” are not biological statements. And I hold to the orthodox position that Christ’s divine and human natures are present without mingling, without confusion.

Was the historical Jesus married? We don’t know for certain either way.
Does it matter? Not really – unless you see Christian celibacy as highly dependent on mimicking the historical Jesus.

For further reading off this site:
The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife: A New Coptic Gospel Papyrus (Harvard Divinity School)
The Inside Story of a Controversial New Text About Jesus (Smithsonian.com)

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16 Responses to was Jesus married?

  1. Very sensible comment, Bosco. Jesus’ being married or unmarried is interesting to speculate about, but makes no difference to the foundations of Christian faith.

    • Totally agree Julianne!!! just stirring the journalistic pot however, unlike the usual controversial stories it did NOT appear on Christmas Day or Easter Sunday so I’ll give them that!! ;-)

  2. I think there is a fundamental problem with the question and the inferences being bruited abroad these days – my reader is flooded with them. You have provided some crystal clear evidence of a completely different interpretation with these lines :
    5) she will be able to be my disciple

    Jesus ‘wife’ is us – his sister bride (Song of Songs). We are the bride of Christ – and we are able to be disciples. This is the gnosis being referred to in this text. Nothing whatsoever to do with pre-ascension marital status.

    It is a simple analogical statement – a speech by ‘the bridegroom’ (a term by which HJ was known). [Do the disciples fast when the bridegroom is with them?] Of interest to us should be other bridegroom images that were very costly in the ancient texts, e.g. Moses (Exodus 4:25).

    HJ folks are just like fundamentalists – assuming they can put every statement into a Cartesian sieve.

    • That is certainly one idea bantered about, but it doesn’t make a lot of sense in a fragment that is also speaking about his biological mother to jump to speaking about a metaphorical wife.

      • I think the biological mother can be interpreted as metaphorical also – what about Paul in Galatians on mothers – Sarah and Hagar, not to mention the doctrines of Mary prevalent today.

        We, the wife, enabled, are to be merciful as he is merciful, and holy as he is holy. Our situation is incompatible with holiness – Psalm 6 touches a nerve, whether read individually or as a collective ‘I’. But all is not lost – for the rebuke of the Most High is filled with mercy and presence.

        Broken gnosis – broken knowledge – broken relationships – I think can be healed today also. I regret that the options suggested by scholarship seem to preclude the faith expressed in our liturgies.

  3. I don’t see how this is anything new: the Nag Hammadi ‘Gospel of Philip’ re-discovered in 1945 ( and predating this fragment ) makes the same reference.

    Interesting that the ‘owner’ of this fragment declines to be identified, wonder where it came from?

  4. namaste

    yes jesus was married and he had two children-Esanan,and Yoshakiel.
    this was reveled to me in my DHYANA SAMADHI.

    mangalam bhavanthu.

  5. I’m no Harvard scholar, but looking at this fragment compared with the CGII Codex, it looks different? Perhaps the scholars will carbon -date it.

    The Philip gospel is damaged where Jesus and Mary Magdalene’s relationship is described. Here is a good translation http://gnosis.org/naghamm/gop.html

    The spiritual significance of the Nag Hammadi library to me was when it was unearthed: winter 1945. More people must have prayed that fall than ever before, atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August that year, with previously unimagined devastation, the atrocities against the Jews and Roma and Chinese were by now revealed, and over 60 million people died in the war…

    But the people who found the codices sold or destroyed it in pieces: a powerful metaphor for the world, instead of turning the mind to intellectual and spiritual matters when the universe offers them up!

    • Thanks, Bob. Certainly the debate around this fragment is wide and deep. There is also an “introduction and summary” PDF that goes with this. Comments on Prof. Francis Watson (Department of Theology and Religion at Durham University), author of these two articles, can be found here and here. This is outside my expertise, but echoes work many of us will have done on the synoptic problem. I am not yet willing to join those yelling “fake”. There are many online places writing about this. Mark Goodacre is a reliable starting place – I use him each year in my teaching. Blessings.

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Rev. Bosco Peters Welcome to this ecumenical website of resources and reflections on liturgy, spirituality, and worship for individuals and communities. It is run by Rev. Bosco Peters.