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)

images source

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