A most interesting article in the Harvard Gazette today:
Four words on a previously unknown papyrus fragment provide the first evidence that some early Christians believed Jesus had been married, Harvard Professor Karen King told the 10th International Congress of Coptic Studies today.More at the link, where there is also a video of Karen King, the Hollis Professor of Divinity at Harvard Divinity School, discussing the authenticity and interpretation of the papyrus fragment.
King, the Hollis Professor of Divinity at Harvard Divinity School, announced the existence of the ancient text at the congress’ meeting, held every four years and hosted this year by the Vatican’s Institutum Patristicum Augustinianum in Rome. The four words that appear on the fragment translate to “Jesus said to them, my wife.” The words, written in Coptic, a language of Egyptian Christians, are on a papyrus fragment of about one and a half inches by three inches.
“Christian tradition has long held that Jesus was not married, even though no reliable historical evidence exists to support that claim,” King said. “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’ death before they began appealing to Jesus’ marital status to support their positions.”..
The gospel of which the fragment is but a small part, which King and Luijendijk have named the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife for reference purposes, was probably originally written in Greek, the two professors said, and only later translated into Coptic for use among congregations of Coptic-speaking Christians. King dated the time it was written to the second half of the second century because it shows close connections to other newly discovered gospels written at that time, especially the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Mary, and the Gospel of Philip...
“The discovery of this new gospel,” King said, “offers an occasion to rethink what we thought we knew by asking what role claims about Jesus’ marital status played historically in early Christian controversies over marriage, celibacy, and family. Christian tradition preserved only those voices that claimed Jesus never married. The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife now shows that some Christians thought otherwise.”
Update: Additional information from 2014 suggests that the document is not a modern forgery (It could, however, still be an 8th century forgery). Additional commentary (and a video) here.
Second update: More evidence that the artifact is a forgery:
Having evaluated the evidence, many specialists in ancient manuscripts and Christian origins think Karen King and the Harvard Divinity School were the victims of an elaborate ruse... "Two factors immediately indicated that this was a forgery," Mr. Askeland tells me. "First, the fragment shared the same line breaks as the 1924 publication. Second, the fragment contained a peculiar dialect of Coptic called Lycopolitan, which fell out of use during or before the sixth century." Ms. King had done two radiometric tests, he noted, and "concluded that the papyrus plants used for this fragment had been harvested in the seventh to ninth centuries." In other words, the fragment that came from the same material as the "Jesus' wife" fragment was written in a dialect that didn't exist when the papyrus it appears on was made.Third update:
The December 2014 issue of The Atlantic contains a well-written article on The Curious Case of Jesus's Wife (concluding that it's probably a forgery.)