Hollis professor of divinity Karen L. King of Harvard Divinity School has obtained an ancient fragment from an anonymous source. It was hand-printed on papyrus and is about the size of a business card. It says:
"Jesus said to them, 'my wife' [ ] she will be able to be my disciple."
"[ ]" refers to missing words.
It was written in the ancient Sahidic Coptic dialect that uses Greek characters. She suspects that the text was translated from a second-century CE Greek original. 1
The text appears to discuss a conversation between Jesus and his disciples. It identifies his wife's name as "Mary" a very common name in Galilee during the first and second century CE.
Professor King has said:
"This fragment suggests that some early Christians had a tradition that Jesus was married. There was, we already know, a controversy in the second century over whether Jesus was married, caught up with a debate about whether Christians should marry and have sex." 1
That debate was fueled by statements by Yeshua and Paul during the first century CE which the early Christian movement interpreted as predicting that the "second coming" would occur in their immediate future.
She also said:
"The discovery of this new gospel 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's Wife now shows that some Christians thought otherwise." 2
On 2012-SEP-18, Professor King was at a conference for academics sponsored by the International Congress of Coptic Studies in Rome. She said:
"Christian tradition has long held that Jesus was not married, even though no reliable historical evidence exists to support that claim. 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." 3
For an article in the 2013-JAN edition of the Harvard Theological Review, Professor King has written:
"The aim of this analysis is not to reconstruct the historical Jesus, that is, to argue whether the historical Jesus had a wife or was celibate. Nor do I argue that historically there is any evidence that if Jesus was married, it was to Mary Magdalene. She appears in the most reliable historical information as a prominent disciple of Jesus.
Rather, the importance of the Gospel of Jesus's Wife lies in supplying a new voice within the diverse chorus of early Christian traditions about Jesus that documents that some Christians depicted Jesus as married." 4
Professor King and Roger Bagnall, director of the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, have confirmed that the document is ancient, and not a modern forgery. Based on the style of writing, the papyrus has been dated from the fourth century CE. They believe that the text was written by Egyptian Coptic Christians.
An article by Jaweed Kaleem in the Huffington Post states:
"King notes in her research that the idea of Jesus' celibacy hasn't always existed, and that early Christians debated whether they should marry or practice celibacy. It was not until around the year 200 [CE] that Christian followers began to say Jesus was unmarried, according to a record King cites from Clement of Alexandria. In his writing, Clement -- an early theologian -- said that marriage was a fornication put in place by the devil, and that people should emulate Jesus by not marrying.
One or two decades later, Tertullian of Carthage in North Africa declared that Jesus was "entirely unmarried" and told Christians to remain single. But Tertullian did not come out against sex altogether and allowed couples to get married one time, denouncing divorce and remarriage as overindulgent. A century earlier, the First Epistle of Paul to Timothy said in the New Testament that people who forbid marriage are going by the 'doctrines of demons,' but did not include anything about Jesus being married in order to make the point.
The point of view that ultimately became dominant was that celibacy is preferred as a high sexual virtue among Christians, but that marriage is needed for the sake of reproduction." 2
Some have suggested that the papyrus may be referring to Jesus actually being "married" to the Christian Church, not to a woman. Professor King replied:
"One cannot overrule that it might be him saying 'my wife as a church,' but in the context where he's talking about 'my mother' and 'my wife' and talking about 'my disciple,' the one thing you would not say is that the church would be 'my disciple.' ... I do not think Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene. ... whether he was or was not married ... I really think the tradition is silent and we don't know." 5
The ink has not been analyzed using carbon dating because such a large percentage of the ink would have to be scraped off that it would destroy the sample. Professor King still plans to have the ink tested by spectroscopy which is a non-destructive test and should determine its approximate age.