Mrs. Jesus

The Grey Lady has a report on a recently released scrap of papyrus:

A historian of early Christianity at Harvard Divinity School has identified a scrap of papyrus that she says was written in Coptic in the fourth century and contains a phrase never seen in any piece of Scripture: “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife …’ ”

The faded papyrus fragment is smaller than a business card, with eight lines on one side, in black ink legible under a magnifying glass. Just below the line about Jesus having a wife, the papyrus includes a second provocative clause that purportedly says, “she will be able to be my disciple.”

The finding was made public in Rome on Tuesday at an international meeting of Coptic scholars by Karen L. King, a historian who has published several books about new Gospel discoveries and is the first woman to hold the nation’s oldest endowed chair, the Hollis professor of divinity.

No clue what to make of this. Karen King is a fairly big name, but I don’t know what her reputation is among New Testament scholars. In her favor, she’s being careful to make clear that this is fourth century document and it probably tells us nothing about the historical Jesus.

  • UrsaMinor

    Correct me if I’m getting my historical details wrong, but why is the idea that Jesus might have been married even controversial? As I understand the culture of 1st-century Judaism, it would have been highly unusual for a 33-year-old Jewish man not to be married. And as I understand the Bible, it does not make a point anywhere of stating that Jesus had broken with the culture and mores of his time by not marrying at the usual age.

    The absence of Jesus’ wife, if she existed, from the New Testament narrative seems perfectly understandable in light of the social status of women of the period, and the sheer ordinariness of marriage. Why mention a detail of everyday contemporary life that everyone would know or assume?

    I suppose if you’re a conspiracy theorist, you might argue that any mention of Jesus’ wife was expunged during the image-polishing period when the Jesus mythology that we recognize today was agreed upon and standardized. If that is the case, then surely we will run across occasional hints and traces of earlier mentions. But in the end, I don’t think it’s an important question. A married Jesus works just as well (or just as badly) as an unmarried Jesus.

    • mikespeir

      It might imply that Jesus had sex, and we all know how awful sex is!

    • trj

      Marriage complicates things. A married but celibate Jesus would not fit into the purpose of marriage that many Christians, Catholics in particular, subscribe to: procreation.

      And if Jesus did have sex in marriage, there’s really no question this would lead to offspring (a divine being like Jesus wouldn’t be firing blanks). Which would lead to all kinds of theological headaches (how can a pure, divine being possibly engage in consummate sex with a wretched sinful mother?). Though I’m sure the Catholic Church could once again pull some invention á la immaculate conception out of their ass – they are after all experts at making up dogma that has no biblical support.

      No, Jesus works best as an icon, without all the mundane complications of real life. Family ties and demigod-heirs would distract from the main message, ergo Jesus can’t be allowed to have been married.

      • Len

        Immaculate contraception?

        • Len

          Mind you, if they’re pulling it out of their ass, then they probably don’t need it after all.

  • busterggi

    Well there is that unnamed “beloved disciple” in the canonical gospels who keeps turning up naked & spends nights with Jesus being taught his ‘secrets’ but nah, that couldn’e be a woman – much better if its one of the guys.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    There is no way that Jesus H. Christ was married. His lover, Steve, would have been very jealous about that.

    • trj

      Exactly. It’s Adam and Steve, not Jesus and Steve!

  • Reginald Selkirk

    I just recently read Lost Christianities by Bart Ehrman, in which he discusses some of the Gnostic literature. He makes the point that there was not one authoritative message which was corrupted by occasional heretics. Rather, early Christians believed a wide variety of things, and the message that eventually came to be considered orthodox is just the one that won.

  • vasaroti

    OK, I’m going to recommend a very expensive, pointy-headed book about the political and religious tumult at the end of the 4th century:
    Barbarians and Politics at the Court of Arcadius, by Alan Cameron.
    Wild stuff one never hears about in discussions of early Christianity, like the slaughter of thousands of Goths who were Arian Christians. I suggest inter-library loan.

  • Bart Mitchell

    If he had a wife, can you imagine how nervous she must have felt when the inlaw came over for dinner? Especially when you think of some of the smells he found ‘pleasing’.

  • RickRay1

    I’m waiting for them to discover on papyrus, somewhere, that Jesus had a baby with Mary Magdalene and they called him/her ……… to come forth and screw up the gospels even more.

  • Keulan

    While this find tells us some previously unknown things about some early Christians, keep in mind that it is from the fourth century, not the first. There is still no evidence that a historical Jesus existed at all.

    • Bart Mitchell

      Hrm. I’d take umbrage at the comment that ‘no evidence’ exists. The bible certainly does exist, and some of its books date back to 50+/- years after his supposed execution. That is historical evidence that someone under the name/title Yeshua was doing some sort of preaching/anti-government activity at the time. While I find the magical son of god, doing miracles, part of Jesus to be unbelievable, I think the idea of making up a character like him from whole cloth seems unrealistic. Most myths and fables are based on some real world events, and I don’t see why the Jesus story should be any different.
      Jesus was probably some crazy street preacher with 12 dirty hippies that followed him around. He got too lippy with a couple of Romans (one might have been his dad, I heard his mother claimed she was conceived as a virgin) and got himself killed. Add a half century of embellishment, and Viola! You’ve got yourself the son of god.

      • Bart Mitchell

        I just had a funny thought. What if Pontious Pilate was really Jesus’ father, and he was just trying to get out of paying for him.