An early Christian text on a scrap of Egyptian papyrus may contain the first mention of Jesus’ wife, according to Harvard professor Karen L. King. The scrap, which dates back to the fourth century, has been preliminarily authenticated but must undergo further testing.
The text refers to a woman — whom King believes is his wife and whom the author most likely believed to be Mary Magdalene — as his legitimate disciple. The scrap contains only eight lines, one of which reads, “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife…'” The next line reads, “…she will be able to be my disciple.” King is calling the fragment, The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife, but she and other scholars are not confident about its authenticity. Speaking about her discovery in Rome Tuesday, King 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 sexuality and marriage.”
King believes the text may be a translation of a second century Greek text and would have been composed more than a century after Jesus’ death. She also says that the fragment shows that some early Christians believed Jesus was married, even though the most reliable sources about him do not mention his marital status.
Dr. Roger Bagnall, director of the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, said:
“It helps to remind us that practically everything that later generations told about Jesus was put together and edited by somebody well after his death, and represents the view of Jesus that they were trying to get across.”
Bagnall, who helped King authenticate the scrap, also said the discovery is “not going to change history in a dramatic way” but that it lends insight into a piece of Christianity that hasn’t been seen before.
King says if the text is in fact proof that Jesus had a wife, it most likely was not Mary Magdalene. She says women at that time were almost always identified by their relationship to a man, but, since Mary was always referred to as “Mary of Magdala,” it is unlikely the authors would have left out the fact that she was Jesus’ wife.
What do you think of King’s discovery? Is it proof that Jesus was married? Does it matter?
[Photo credit: Karen L. King]