Coptic Text Mentions Jesus’ Wife

Coptic Text Mentions Jesus’ Wife September 18, 2012

The New York Times, the Harvard Gazette, The Huffington Post and other media outlets are breaking the news that Karen King, a scholar well known for her work on the phenomenon usually referred to as “Gnosticism,” has come into possession of and has been studying a Coptic papyrus fragment which is likely to be authentic, dates from around the 4th century, and has Jesus mention his wife. UPDATE: King has posted online a pre-publication version of an article she has written about the text.

It is important to note that this is clear evidence only of one thing, namely that the author of this text, centuries after the time of Jesus, believed that Jesus had been married.

Anything beyond that is speculation, although there certainly do seem to be points of intersection with, or echoes of, other previously known extracanonical texts referring to Mary Magdalene.

Having made the above points, I should add that many people find the idea that Jesus was married inherently unbelievable, and there is no reason why they should. It may be that thinking of Jesus being married makes him seem too human. But that is not inappropriate, given the evidence.

See also posts by John Byron, James Tabor, Jim West, and Joel Watts.

UPDATE: Steve Caruso shared this video featuring Karen King talking about the find, its context and its significance:

UPDATED: April DeConick (twice), Michael Heiser, Brian LePort, Tim Henderson, the CNN Belief Blog, IO9, The Lead, Ken Schenck, Jared Calaway, Paul DilleyJ. K. Gayle, Larry RothfieldDeirdre Good, Henry Neufeld and Bart Ehrman (for subscribers) have also posted about this piece of news.


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  • Susan Burns

    Just as we had suspected…

  • James, I have sometimes heard it said that being _unmarried_ is such an oddball thing for an adult, 1st-century, teaching Jew, that the Gospels would likely have commented on Jesus’ single status if he were thought by the evangelists to have been unmarried. (In this view, the Gospels assume Jesus’ married status and simply have no interest in his wife.) Does that make sense, and what do you think of such an argument?

    • It was not possible to become a Rabbi without being married. You simply weren’t trusted.

      • Theodore Gebretsadik

        Jesus was not a rabbi in the pharisaic sense, thats why they asked him from what authority you are doing and teaching these things which means they was not a Pharisee or a Sadducee, So that line of arguments does not work

    • It seems logical, but so too does the argument that if Jesus had not been married, Paul or someone else would have pointed to him as an example of remaining unmarried for the sake of the kingdom.

      I wonder what the saying about eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom implies, if anything.

      It also has to be considered that Jesus could have married and been widowed by the start of his public ministry. There are more complex possibilities than just “married” and “never married.”

      • Gary

        “I wonder what the saying about eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom implies, if anything”…Perhaps Origen wondered the same thing. But perhaps, he was nuts (less).

      • Susan Burns

        Mary Magdelene anoited the body of Jesus. Only a close relative could do this.

        • Exie Duncan Doherty

          I’ve always believed, because of scripture, that the relationship btwn Jesus and Mary Magdalene was “special.”
          John 20:1-19 tells all.
          Verse 1, “When it was yet dark”, Mary Magdalene was 1st to the tomb and found it empty.
          Verse 2, She left the tomb and found Simon Peter (the chief disciple) and another disciple, telling them, They have taken away **the Lord**
          Verse 3-5, Mary returns to the tomb with Simon Peter and the other disciple.
          Verses 6-10 They see the empty tomb and left going to their homes leaving Mary Magdalene alone at the tomb.

          Verse 11 She looks into the tomb a 2nd time, she sees two angels. Vs. 13 She told them, they have taken **my Lord**.

          “They have taken away **the Lord**. . .” Verse 2
          “They have taken away **my Lord**. . .” Verse 13

          In those days wives addressed their husbands as “lord”.
          Example: Genesis 18:12
          Sarah speaks of Abraham, “. . After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?”

          Verse 14, only after the other disciples left and Mary Magdalene was ALONE in the tomb Jesus appeared to her (she not recognizing him) and he said ther name, and then she knew. That same evening he “stood in the midst of them” as the discipled gathered together in the room.

          Mary Magdalene was “special” to Christ, a wife just as
          “HE” said in this small scrap of ancient text, “MY WIFE”.

          As you pointed out, she was the first to anoint him, a loving wife.
          As a grieving wife, she was the 1st to the tomb of her husband.
          Jesus chose to apear to her first, waited until the disciples left.
          And in verse 17, she tried to embrace him, the actions of a loving wife.

      • Jackweinbender

        It also makes me wonder about John the Baptist’s similarity with, for example, the Qumran Community and Essene groups–I know some have speculated that such communities may have at times been celibate (though there is evidence to the contrary as well). If Jesus identified himself with John, that could come into play as well.

        All very speculative, of course, but something to consider.


  • Gary

    I’m more interested in the Gospel of Thomas, since I read Pagels book on it. She worked with King on one of her books, I forget which one. The reference “other previously known extracanconical texts” has a link to Thomas 114. Wonder what people think about it? Either it is the ultimate put down on Peter’s male chauvinist attitude, or maybe actually written by a woman? Or too much wine (whine) from the Thomas author. It is more curious than “Jesus mention his wife”.

  • Dr. David Tee

    Amazing, you people are taking the word of fallible, sinful, disobedient women who do not believe in God or Jesus over the Bible. The Coptic works do not replace the truth and are NOT part of the Bible, what they say must be determined by God’s criteria using what is true or false to help.

    It is also amazing to see so many people accept false teaching so willingly wand immediately reject the Biblical texts for no real reason.

    • Ian

      You really are a buffoon. Nobody is saying they believe this fragment is ‘true’ – all it shows is that, a long time ago, at least some folks thought Jesus was married, we’ve known about that belief for a long time. Honestly, if you can’t keep up with high school level reading comprehension, you really need to ask for the money you paid for your ‘degrees’ back.

      • Dr. David Tee

        It doesn’t even show that.

    • “you people are taking the word of fallible, sinful, disobedient women”

      Good Lord.

      • I am pretty sure that “Dr. David Tee” is a pseudonym for a fallible, sinful, disobedient woman with trouble spelling. Everything else he says about those he interacts with seems to be a projection of his own flaws and warped thinking, and so that leads me to take that comment as autobiographical…

        • Alex Harman

          What makes you think Dr. Troll is a woman? Fallible, sinful, and disobedient I buy (but don’t those descriptors apply to all human beings, at least according to Christian theology), as well as “perpetually indignant, willfully ignorant, and pridefully stupid,” as Fred Clark memorably describe Michelle Bachmann, but what evidence suggests the person behind that unequivocally masculine pseudonym is female?

        • Ian

          Gender insult? Even ironically… not cool.

          • Well, I thought that since he shouldn’t consider it an insult, it was OK that he might nevertheless do so…

    • Alex Harman

      I see that the “Tee” stands for “Troll;” not much more worth saying once you notice that.

  • J. R. Daniel Kirk

    Nice, sober reflection on the findings in the video.

  • How does a myth get married?

  • Dr. David Tee

    “It is important to note that this is clear evidence only of one thing,
    namely that the author of this text, centuries after the time of Jesus,
    believed that Jesus had been married.”

    No it doesn’t even come close to that as more details would be needed to draw that conclusion.What it tells you is that making false claims about Jesus is not new. For all we know the fragment is a piece of a work of fiction like Dan Brown’s work and is simply wondering what life would be like if Jesus was married.

    You people leap to such weird conclusions with so little evidence it is just amazing to see it take place. Then you make weird comments or attack others because they told the truth. She is a sinful disobedient woman, I have read her book reading Judas and she doesn’t have a clue.

  • Dr. David Tee

    P.S. Jesus wasn’t married. The Bible tells us that He was tempted in all things thus Mary M. was NOT his wife but most likely was the person used to tempt Jesus into premarital sex.

    I know you all won’t accept that but that is the best way to look at the relationship–within the parameters of the Bible.

    • “P.S. Jesus wasn’t married. The Bible tells us that He was tempted in all things.”
      If a man tells you he has been tempted sexually, do you conclude that he isn’t married? History and literature are against you on that point.

      • Dr. David Tee

        One doesn’t have to be married to commit adultery. Did you ever stop to think that Mary m may have been married but not to Jesus?

        • You miss my point. I’m asking why you think that “He was tempted in all things.” is evidence for “He was not married”.

          • Dr. David Tee

            Premarital sex.

          • David Evans

            I’m beginning to think you don’t understand the concept of evidence.

  • Cher

    If Jesus was married, then He went against most laws established in the Talmud (and many ancient interpretations) for marriage. Using just two examples, as far as we know, He 1. didn’t have a home 2. had no means to financially support a wife. Since Jesus kept the law perfectly, I don’t think He’d have fudged on this one. Until we can see the papyrus in it’s entirety, it is, I agree, mere speculation.

    • Susan Burns

      The Gospels say that Jesus was from Nazareth so at some point he had a home. It also says he was a tekton which is some kind of skill either woodworker or stonecutter. Personally, I do not think he was from Nazareth but from Capernaum or maybe Genassaret.

      • Cher

        Jesus was raised in a home in Nazareth (you’re speculating, again) and had a trade until He was 30, then became an itinerant teacher. I question whether He possessed this home after thirty since His mother appears to have traveled with Him most of the time since she was a widow and the Law is extremely specific about how to treat a widowed mother.

        And, this is all academic since the proof of this tiny piece of ancient text is not seen in it’s entirety. That’s like taking bits of Hamlet’s soliloquy and believing he is alone (which he’s not, but I hope you get the point).

  • Null

    If indeed a book written by man contained any sliver of truth it has been washed away by entropy through translation and mans inherit corruptive nature. Esoteric dogma isn’t necessary for spiritual faith, it only retards ones mind. Before you crucify me for my views… remember, as for truth in reality you and I are equally incorrect.

  • dougpierocarey

    James, in many Gnostic documents I have read, the terms male and female do not necessarily relate to biological sex at all, but to spiritual metaphors that were meaningful to the original writers and readers. I would not conclude the term “wife” has a thing in the world to do with a biological wife based upon a snippet out of a Gnostic papyrus. Nevertheless, how interesting it all is!

  • Juhani Miikala

    Discovery the fragment of papyrus derives on fourth century contains Jesus’ words “my wife,” whom Jesus identifies as Mary Magdalene. Jesus does not have a wife and was not married. The Bible overrules very clearly that Jesus was not married:

    • Would you care to say where you think the Bible says “very clearly” that Jesus was not married? That statement seems at best an exaggeration, so I am curious what specific and allegedly clear passages you have in mind.

      • Dr. David Tee

        Read here
        The biblical verses are in the second part of the article below the links.

        • Well, verses can seem to mean all sorts of things to all sorts of people when they are removed from their historical setting. There are indeed verses which most likely imply that Jesus was not married, or at least was a widower by the time of his public ministry, but you did not say that there were verses that imply this, but verses that say this clearly and explicitly, which is not the same thing.

  • Andreas Moser

    I already unveiled the story of Jesus’ wedding in February:

  • LMckay

    James 1:5 – 6
    5 If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.

    6 But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.

    I personally don’t believe that it is of significant importance whether we know if our Savior was married or not. As it stands today in our ‘claim’ to be a Christian nation most of us do not live the commandments we already have, and further knowledge would only be more condemming to us, as we are held accountable for that which we know. Having said this however, several years ago I received a witness from the Spirit when I was in a reflective discussion with friend where we were speaking on this topic. The movies on this had not come out, it was just the two of us openly and receptively sharing what we new factually and felt in our hearts as well. I had a very strong impression enter my mind and as I opened my mouth to share it, it was my voice that we both heard but the words that came out where not what I was thinking and we both were overcome with the greatest feeling of peace and assurance that not only was our Savior indeed married but He had a family. This is a personal witness. It is of no importance to my life that anyone believe me. I share it for the benefit of those who feel the same but alone in their heart felt understanding of these things. To those few I do say, you may seek to know anything of the Spirit for you own enlightenment and spiritual growth. We can know all things, but they are done or received in wisdom and in order as are all things in God’s Eternal plan.. James 1:5 and 6 tells us where to start. They will be given to you teach and uplift in special circumstances and not to be boasted of. Judge wisely who you share with as the scriptures warn us not to cast our “Pearls before swine”.