Here we Go Again— Karen King Unveils ‘Jesus’ Wife’

I enjoy fairy tales as much as the next person (see the picture on the right), and some of the best fictional early Christian stories from the late second through the early fourth century are Gnostic fairy tales. It would appear that someone has found a fragment of such a tale and handed it to Harvard Professor Karen King. Here is the link to the NY times article—– My caution would be as long as the document is unprovenanced we cannot be absolutely sure of its authenticity or origins. But perhaps in due course we will learn more of where it came from. I would put my money on southern Egypt, since it is in Sahidic.

Professor King is cautious to make clear that she is not making any claims about the historical Jesus being married. But she is adamant that we have a clear reference to a ‘wife’ in this tiny scrap of papyrus. It maybe be a genuine ancient Sahidic Coptic text (Greek characters, Sahidic language). Roger Bagnall may be correct about that, though the document is yet to be properly carbon dated. It’s so tiny, it is probably precarious to do so anyway. What is suspicious as some scholars have now noted is: 1) the shape of the document, and 2) the fact that it appears to have been cut off at the top in modernity. Richard Bauckham has told me he thinks it is likely to be a forgery and this is the clear opinion of many of those who were at the Coptic conference in Rome where King unveiled this manuscript. Here is a link to some of the discussion—-

Here is a picture of the document–

Here is a rendering of what the document actually says….

1 ] “not [to] me. My mother gave to me li[fe…”
2 ] The disciples said to Jesus, “.[
3 ] deny. Mary is 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 [BACK:
1 ] my moth[er
2 ] three [
3 ] … [
4 ] forth which … [
5 ] (illegible ink traces)

What is not said in the N.Y. Times article, but should be said is that in view of the largely ascetic character of Gnosticism, if this is genuine it is likely that we are dealing with the ‘sister-wife’ phenomena, and the reference is to a strictly spiritual relationship which is close, but does not involve sexual intimacy.

You can already see the evidence of this in other Gnostic texts which talk about kissing, but the chaste kissing in question refers to a Gnostic belief in which, through a kiss, esoteric knowledge is conveyed from the kisser to the kissee. In other words, this is no confirmation of the Da Vinci Code or even of the idea that the Gnostics thought Jesus was married in the normal sense of the word. Probably not.

In any case, a Gnostic fragment from the fourth century A.D. cannot be taken seriously if the question is— Is it making an actual claim about the historical Jesus based on some hitherto unknown historical evidence? The answer to that question must be no, not least because the Gnostics were not really interested in the Jesus of history, the pre-Easter Jesus. Their writings again and again focus on the exalted Jesus, the post-Easter Jesus and his esoteric teachings post-mortem. Furthermore, there were no Gnostics in the first century A.D. and no Gnostic movement as far as we can tell, that early. Gnosticism arose out of a Gentile ethos, not a Jewish one and indeed many Gnostic texts are profoundly anti-Semitic, not to mention anti the God of the OT and the whole theology of creation found in the OT (see my book The Gospel Code).

Here are some of Larry Hurtado’s recent cautionary reflections on this find….

The Coptic of line 4 of the text appears to have Jesus referring to “my wife/woman”, but it is actually not explicit that this refers to the “Mary” mentioned in the preceding line as “worthy”. The two phrases might refer to the same person, or might not. Confident claims that Mary is the “wife/woman” in line 4 are inferences.
Calling the putative larger writing from which this fragment may derive “The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” is a bit over the top. If all we had were a fragment of the Gospel of John where Jesus heals the blind man, would we refer to “The Gospel of the Blind Man”? Probably not. It’s a fascinating fragment and we should all be grateful for Prof. King making it so public. But it’s a huge leap to take two Coptic words in line 4 (“my wife/woman”) as indicative of the focus and larger contents of whatever writing from which the fragment derives.
It’s also a bit of a leap to propose that the text reflects some supposed larger sexual-political standpoint in early Christianity. We simply don’t know this. Prof. King has a strong scholarly investment in the idea, and I respect that. But let’s avoid suspending moutains from this thread.
There is nothing particularly shocking about saying that Jesus has a wife. In fact there are several references in the New Testament that come to mind: In Ephesians 5:22-33, the relationship and duties of husbands to their wives are likened to the relationship of Jesus and the church, and the author here takes the Genesis 2:24 phrasing about “a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and the two will become one flesh,” as “a great mystery” which he applies “to Christ and the church”. Still more explicitly, in Revelation 21:9-14, the seer is shown a vision of “the bride, the wife of the Lamb” (“the Lamb” in Revelation a recurrent image for Jesus).
These are obviously metaphorical, you will say, and rightly so. But the point is that the fragment doesn’t actually say clearly either who the “wife/woman” is or the nature of the marriage relationship in question. It’s going waaay beyond the text to read into it uncritically some sort of romantic relationship between Jesus and a “wife/woman” in any real sense. Maybe . . . maybe not. It is entirely possible that the fragment is part of a writing of a more esoteric nature (other examples include texts often referred to as “gnostic”, such as Gospel of Philip), and in these texts words often don’t carry their usual meaning. That’s a large part of being esoteric!
So, let’s (1) be grateful for what looks like a fragment of some hitherto unknown early Christian text, and (2) hope that scholarly analysis will continue on all relevant questions, and (3) take along generous quantities of salt as we read the over-excited (and somewhat tendentious) reporting about the fragment in the news media.

Thus while this fragment is interesting if your baileywick is the history of the heretical sect called Gnosticism, if on the other hand you are interested in the Jesus of history, this is much ado about not very much.

  • Eric John Sawyer

    Perhaps it’s a case of “Here’s what I ain’t sure of, but you better watch out for what’s up my sleeve” ?

    Thanks for the details, Ben. I’ll be sure to send it reverberating through the Matrix. ;)

  • Gerald Collins

    If perhaps the scholars would return to the Old Testament starting with Isa 50 where the speaker is asking for the bill of divorcement he gave the mother of the children to whom he was speaking. The next ten verse tells you that it is Jesus who abused by the gentiles in Jerusalem be fore he died willingly for the right to remarry his wife that he had divorced in Jer 3. The New Testament is all about the wife. Matthew 1:26 said he was coming to save HIS people from their sins. Go back and read Isa 34. Jesus was married to two sisters and when he became an Adam in the flesh he assumed the responiblities he had before he came to earth to buy back the wife from the one who owned her. He said he came only for the lost sheep of the house of Israel, No gentiles included here. Look in your interlinear at Matthew 29:18 Jesus sent the disciples to the ethnee. Not a word in the Latinized Greek but a proper noun defined as the people of God who was the people of God but became not the people of God but once more are the people of God see I Peter 1-2
    The christian theology is wrong from its concept in the dark ages and it has only gotten worse with time for Jesus came only for the Hebrews. Salvation is by race for only one race through grace by the faith of the Lord Jesus Christ saving his people out from among the hated rejected gentiles of this world. No gentile has ever been saved no matter how you translate the greek text otherwise. Jesus didnot die for the sins of the whole world but for the right to remarry his divorce wife. The church is the church of the gentiles for the purpose of deceiving the gentiles who await the wrath of God. They are just a bag of bones waiting to fall down for they are dead already read the book of Matthew 1-23. Not once did Jesus offer the Jew, Priest, Elders, Sadducees and Pharisees a chance to be converted to a Hebrew, he finally said you are of your father the devil. There is a difference between a JEW and a JUDAHITE. Jesus was not a Jew for they are self proclaimed Judahites who are rejected gentiles until this day.
    I know this is long but it takes time to show the errors of the christian theology.
    See My web page for much more details
    Jerry Collins

  • Bart

    Professor Hurtado wrote, “Let’s (1) be grateful for what looks like a fragment of some hitherto unknown early Christian text, and (2) hope that scholarly analysis will continue on all relevant questions,….”

    Why should we be grateful for something that looks like a fragment from an authentic 4th century papyrus? If the fragment is indeed a forgery, what good would come from “scholarly analysis” of the words and text? There are few, if any details of the fragment’s provenience or even its provenance, and given its later appearance and unique and unprecedented wording it’s very difficult for dispassionate observers (those without a stake in its authenticity) to accept it as a genuine antiquity.

    This situation reminds me of the story of the guy who finds a rock on the snow and upon analysis proclaims that it is identical in morphology and mineralogy to what we know about rocks on Mars and, given that rocks don’t generally appear on top of the snow, the rock must have landed on earth after having been blasted from the surface of Mars. Very little attention is paid to this discovery because (1) it’s highly speculative in nature and (2) it’s a singular data point that provides nothing that we don’t already think we know about Mars. Later, further analysis reveals microscopic features in the rock that look like fossilized remains of bacteria. Thus emerges the claim that the existence of life on Mars has been confirmed, and this confirmation begats a long scholarly discussion on the nature of life on Mars. But if the rock can never be demonstrated to be from Mars with reasonable certainty (e.g., by finding an identical rock on the Martian surface, preferably near an impact crater), what value is there in deriving information from the rock about life on Mars? All scholarly findings from analysis of the rock would be highly – if not wholly – speculative.

    After my cat has caught all the mice in the barn, there is nothing but bugs left to hunt. The problem for some Biblical scholars is that the appearances of new authentic manuscripts are few and far between and – like my cat – they can only pounce on the bugs that appear from time to time.

  • Josiah

    Hey Jerry,
    I must admit the only thing I read on your webpage was, “Webmaster for this site is GR Collins,” So as far as being an internet troll, you’re a very thorough one indeed! But if you’re trying to start a cult this isn’t the best place to gain recruits!

    I cannot imagine there would be any readers of this blog who could take seriously a religion which asserts that, “Jesus was married to two sisters and when he became an Adam in the flesh he assumed the responsibilities he had before he came to earth to buy back the wife from the one who owned her.”

    Besides, Revelation 5:9 states that the crowd before the throne consist of, “every tribe and language and people and nation.” The fourfold emphasis is symbolic of ‘the world’, hence references to the ‘four winds’ and ‘four corners of the world’. It’s about total inclusivity of all who believe. So you are very much mistaken.

  • Gerald Collins

    Greetings Josiah
    It appears that your knowledge of the Old Testament is linited as to what God said about the two sisters Aholah and Aholabar which is Jerusalem and samaria. that he was married to them. In Isaiah 50 the Lord is asking where is the bill of divorcement that I gave your mother. The next ten verse looking back we can see that it was Jesus as he discribed himself and what was going to happen to him on Golgatha and it the trials before he was beaten by the Father for what he had done. He was going to have to die to nullify the vows of the marriage so that he could once more be married to his divorce wife. Deut 24. Jesus was the price paid to buy back the children of the wife that had been divorced. He died for the right to be rejoined to his wife. Ephesian 5:27 Paul writes that he is going to present her glorious to himself being the ones invited out from among the hated rejected gentiles. (The English is wrong)
    When he once more marries his wife she will no longer call him my Lord but My husband. Jesus came only for the Hebrews. He came to save HIS people. He said I came only for the lost sheep of the House of Israel who are only Hebrews. No where in the text has a gentile dog been converted to a sheep of the Hebrew fold. Christianity is all based on one word that has never been translated in the Greek letter text.
    Salvation is by race and for one race only Hebrews no gentiles allowed. The new covenant is not yet given but when it is in Heb 8:8 it is given only to the house of Judah and the house of Israel no gentiles listed. Belief or believing pays no part for Jesus came to redeem his people for their sin of Idol worship for 360 years before they were divorce and became not the people of God but after being purchased they are once more the people of God confirmed by Peter and by his stripes they are healed. Revelations 2:26 says that the ethnee the righteous gentiles who had been cast off will be ruling over the ethnoon the unrighteous gentiles which God has hated from the foundation of the earth with a rod of iron and will break them as ceramic pottery. God loves only the Hebrews is the whole story of the Old and New Testament.
    regardless of how the English text reads.
    Jerry Collins

  • Gerald Collins

    Good Morning Josiah
    you quoted Rev 5:9 therefore lets see if what you said is correct for you said “of” every ttribe… but the text says “out” of every tribe. further examination reveals that the word redeemed is “buy to the God us” in the interlinear. From the verse just before the context is that the redeemer of Israel has done this for us. The gentiles are never referred to as saints. Only the house of Israel was scattered according to the Old testament and had need of being bought back. The redeem word is a catholic latin word which carries another meaning. But to the Hebrews it was necessary to be purchased from the one who owned them. The context of the book of Revelations is only the ethnee being the ones invited out from among the gentiles where they had been scattered by the Father and no gentiles are included for whom would they have been invited out of to be one of the included ones?

    Jerry Collins