Jesus’ Wife is Really Old

Jesus’ Wife is Really Old April 10, 2014

Via Jim Davila I learned that Harvard Magazine has an article which explains why announcing the results of the scientific dating of the fragment known as the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife took so long, and what the outcome is at the end of that process. Larry Hurtado also mentioned the breaking news, with links to the Harvard Divinity School website and from there to the relevant articles in the latest issue of Harvard Theological Review.

Apparently the second attempt at carbon dating suggests that the papyrus is from around 700 CE.

Does this mean that the text is not a “forgery”? No, but it deoends what one means. But it does indicate that the scientific data is compatible with the text being an ancient “forgery” rather than a modern one.

Be sure to read Jim Davila’s comments as well as the Harvard articles linked above. UPDATE: The blogosphere and news sources have been picking up the story left, right, and center. And so I am adding links as appropriate to further thoughts by Larry HurtadoBrice Jones, Daniel Burke on CNN’s Belief Blog, Tony Burke, John Byron, Jared Calaway, Chris Skinner, Katie GrimesJames Tabor, and G. W. Schwendner (twice, albeit both briefly). See also now the cautionary remarks of Christopher Rollston, and posts by Kushana Torumekia, Bob Cargill, Michael Heiser, and Peter Konieczny.


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  • Robert Longman

    In short, it’s not a *modern* fake, but it tells us zero about Jesus
    (historically, at least). It tells us about **4th-5th century
    Christians**, showing that they, like us today, were discussing the role
    of women in the Church. (As Gomer Pyle would say, ‘Surprise,
    surprise’…. weren’t they *always* doing so, even if behind closed
    doors?) So why isn’t the press saying that? They’re still giving the
    impression that it shows Jesus had a wife.

    • If you have been confident until now that the press never sensationalizes or distorts the significance of discoveries, perhaps therein lies the problem? 🙂

    • Modern fake; old papyrus.

  • AAG

    The paper states, “The Raman spectra obtained from the recto side and from the verso side are very similar within experimental error, although the data admit the possibility that the recto and verso sides for this manuscript could be derived from different but similar batches of ink.”

    Before these results came out, I suspected that the recto and verso were composed by different ppl at different times. Namely, the verso (which is mostly illegible) is ancient and the recto is a modern forgery inspired by it (hence the fact that both sides begin with “my mother”). I wonder if it’s possible that a modern forger cut the GJW fragment (with the verso material) from a larger papyrus, which in turn provided the ink samples he used for the recto side?

  • arcseconds

    How do they tell which is recto and which is verso with such a small fragment?

    • I am not sure whether it is arbitrary, or based on something that was the standard way papyrus was woven together for use in a codex. But it is an excellent question!

  • I’ve been reading various mainstream theories on the idea of Jesus being married, and they all mention one of two almost identical sentences. The first sentence: Modern Biblical scholars agree that Jesus was married. The second sentence: Modern Biblical scholars agree that Jesus was not married.

    I’m quite aware that “modern Biblical scholars” seldom agree on nearly anything, but my question is, is there really even anything close to an overwhelming consensus on Jesus martial state? A corollary might be, is that consensus reliable?

    • I would say that there is consensus only about the fact that our earliest sources say nothing specifically about the topic. 🙂

      • Andrew Dowling

        Exactly. One cannot state anything on this topic without going off into wide speculation, although going by what’s in the Gospels, I’d venture to say it’s unlikely Jesus was married at the time of his ministry and death, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he had been a lifelong bachelor.

        • It is refreshing to hear someone else allude the possibility that Jesus could have been a widower by the time of his public ministry! It is a possibility that makes sense of the evidence far better than either positing that he was married but it was never mentioned, or that he was a lifelong bachelor but it was never mentioned. And yet this option itself is rarely mentioned!

  • JayRaskin

    This is extremely important because it adds to evidence showing two things:
    1) An earlier Jesus story had Mary as Jesus’ Wife. This opening states what the gospels of Mary and Philip and elements of the NT (e.g. John’s Gospel Mary takes Jesus’ mother to live in her house after Jesus’ death) strongly suggested.
    2) The writers of our New Testament gospels purposefully changed the earlier texts to eliminate the fact of Mary being married to Jesus. They changed scenes that were obviously between Jesus and Mary to scenes between Jesus and other apostles. For example: John supposedly laid his head on Jesus’ breast at the last supper. The original text obviously had Jesus lying his head on Mary’s breast. After his death, Jesus ask Peter, “Do you love me?” three times and tells him to feed his sheep. This scene was obviously originally Jesus saying to Mary, “Do you love me?” and asking her to feed his sheep.

    The discovery of “the Gospel of Secret Mark,” another great breakthrough text originally denounced as a forgery by idiot theologians, gives us a clue to why the New Testament writers eliminated Mary from the text. That gospel had Jesus lying naked with a male disciple/lover. This does not indicate that the writers of the New Testament thought Jesus was gay, but only that they wanted to portray him as gay.

    The obvious conclusion is that the writers of the New Testament were gay and cut out most of the earlier text showing Jesus to be a married heterosexual in love with Mary. They substituted a gay Jesus in their own image.

    There is a great irony with Christian fundamentalists being so obsessed with gays, as the writers of their most sacred texts were gay.

    • Most of your claims are presented as though there were evidence for them. But there is no evidence that most writers of Christian sacred texts were gay, no evidence that some earlier version of the Gospel of John used feminine pronouns for the Beloved Disciple, much less identified her as Mary Magdalene, and nothing in the Secret Gospel of Mark that has Jesus laying with a male disciple or lover, and no evidence that Peter was substituted for Mary in John 21.

      Making things up can be fun, but it is inadvisable to get in the habit of pretending that those things we invent reflect historical knowledge based on evidence.

      • JayRaskin

        Hi James,
        “nothing in the Secret Gospel of Mark that has Jesus laying with a male disciple or lover,”
        From Gospel of Secret Mark –
        04 his hand. Then, the man looked at him and loved him and

        05 he began to call him to his side, that he might be with him. And going from

        06 the tomb, they went to the house of the young man. For he was rich. And after

        07 six days, Jesus instructed him. And when it was late, the young man went

        08 to him. He had put a linen around his naked body, and

        09 he remained with him through that night. For Jesus taught him

        10 the mystery of the kingdom of God. After he got up from there,

        11 he turned to the region of the Jordan.” And after these
        things, this follows:

        12 “James and John go to him,” and that whole section.

        13 But the “naked man with naked man” and the other things you wrote about are

        14 not found

        The denial of “naked man with naked man” does not mean that it was not in an earlier version of the Gospel of Mark, simply that later Christians might have been taken it out. To say that it is not there and that I made it up is rather silly.

        Regarding, “But there is no evidence that most writers of Christian sacred texts were gay,”no evidence that some earlier version of the Gospel of John used
        feminine pronouns for the Beloved Disciple, much less identified her as
        Mary Magdalene,”
        You do not consider using masculine pronouns for “Beloved Disciple” a sign of being gay?

        You believe that 21:7 is not evidence of a gay writer:

        “The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
        Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?”
        He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus
        said, “Feed my sheep”.

        If you were handed an unknown text in which a man asks another man (who is not a relative) “Do you love, me?” three times, would you not say that the writer was gay?

        From the Gospel of Philip:
        ** And the
        companion of the [Savior is] Mary Magdalene. [But
        Christ loved] her more than [all] the disciples [and
        used to] kiss her [often] on her [mouth]. The rest of
        [the disciples were offended] by it [and expressed
        disapproval]. They said to him, “Why do you love her
        more than all of us?” The Savior answered and said to
        them, “Why do I not love you like her?

        Ramon Justino has put together some of the other evidence that Mary was the beloved disciple – You should know that a number of books have supported this idea, including – Brown, Raymond E. 1970. “The Gospel According to John (xiii-xxi)”. New York: Doubleday & Co. Pages 922, 955.

        Denying the evidence that Mary was Jesus’ wife in at least some early Christian communities and that some of the early writers of New Testament text were gay may be good theology, but bad history.


        Dr. Jay Raskin
        Ph.D. in Philosophy

        • I think that ignoring linguistic and cultural contextual matters and asking only what it would mean for someone in your own language, time and culture to talk about loving another man is far too superficial an approach to the Gospel of John to be taken seriously.

          That there was a homoerotic element to the specifically Carpocratian version is certainly a real possibility. But to suggest that baptism as it was practiced by the early Christians was inherently limited to gays is simply bizarre.

          • JayRaskin

            I agree about the importance of not ignoring linguistic and cultural contextual matters. I would argue that this text in John would more clearly be recognized as having a homosexual subtext in the First and Second century than it is today. The religious based suppression of homosexuality and laws against homo-erotic love simply did not exist in the First and Second centuries within the Roman empire. It was only in the 4th century under Christian emperors that most laws against homosexuality were put in place.
            I have not heard anybody suggest that Baptism was limited to gays before.

          • How would you make the case that the text in John would be more likely understood that way in the early Christian centuries? That Greek society was essentially bisexual is as common knowledge as is the fact that Jewish society was not to anything like the same extent. And so how would you make the case that, despite the fact that John does not use words denoting erotic love, and pertains to a Jewish context, he meant what you claim that he means?

          • JayRaskin

            I think that it is important to remember that Greeks, after Alexander the Great, ruled over Jewish territory for about 170 years and a certain process of Hellenization undoubtedly took place.

            Since women were considered inferior to men, the idea of men being turned into women seems to be the real problem with homosexual activity. among the Jewish priests. Thus Leviticus 20:18 denounces men lying with men as women as a capital crime (just like cursing a parent was a capital crime). There is no evidence that anybody in Jewish history was ever actually arrested, tried or killed for engaging in homosexual activity. It appears that the city of Sodom was not associated with homosexuality until the Byzantine empire.
            Philo denounces rival transvestite priests, again this seems to be a problem with men acting like women.
            We do not have any real idea if there were homosexuals in Jewish societies in the First or Second centuries or how extensive the practice was.

          • We don’t know if there were homosexuals in Jewish societies in the first century, and yet you claim to know that the writers of the New Testament were gay. Do you not see the tension between those two statements?

          • JayRaskin

            Based on certain aspects of the texts, I do not know that the writers of the New Testament were gay, but I know that the best explanation for these aspects are that certain writers were gay/bisexual

            Because of the silence of the texts of the relevant time,, we have to make suppositions. Since there is nothing in the texts to counter it, one may suppose that the homosexual practices of Jews of that specific time and place were little different than the surrounding and interpenetrating Greco-Roman society. If it had been different, one would have expected texts of the time to have noted it as they noted other differences in customs.

            Thus in reading the texts, when homosexual practices are indicated or alluded to by devices such as the term “beloved disciple” used for a man, or talk about a man lying on another man’s breast, or Jesus asking a man repeatedly “Do you love me” and statements like, “in the evening the youth comes to him, wearing a linen cloth over his naked body. And he remained with him that night,” we should realize that these text indicate that they are likely coming from a homosexual/bisexual community.

            This hypothesis also explains the odd role that Mary plays in the NT gospels. While she is a wife and disciple in other early gospel texts, her role and relationship is truncated and mystified in the NT gospel texts.

            Also, it seems to me that Paul’s supposedly anti-homosexual attitude can be traced to Philo and his anti-transvestite attitude. This, in turn, can be conceived as merely his dislike of Egyptian transvestite priests who were competitors, besides being idolators.

          • So your failure to consider that Greek idioms might have had a meaning different from the impression they give you when read in an English translation is a major part of the problem.

          • JayRaskin

            You are jumping to conclusions without providing evidence. Which Greek idiom do you have in mind?

          • JayRaskin

            Thank you, for this.
            I would suggest that Plato’s Symposium should be considered in understanding John 13:23.
            “Then Socrates did come in–
            he had lingered as long as was usual for him–when they
            were just about in the middle of dinner. Then he said that
            Agathon, who happened to be lying down at the far end alone, said, “Here, Socrates, lie down alongside me, so that by my touching you, I too may enjoy the piece of wisdom that just occurred to you while you were in the porch.”

            The homoerotic undertone of the setting is brought out later. when Alcibiades enters and speaks to Socrates:
            “you managed it so that you might lie down beside the most beautiful of those in this room.”
            And Socrates said, “Agathon, consider! Are you going to
            defend me? The love I have of this human being has proved quite bothersome. For since the time that I first loved him, it is no longer possible for me to look at or converse with even one beauty; or else in jealousy and envy of me he does amazing things, and abuses me and hardly keeps his hands off me. Take care lest he do something now, and do reconcile us; or if he tries
            to use force, defend me, since I really quake with fear at his madness and love of lovers.”

            One may dismiss it as an amazing coincidence that Socrates lies
            with his beloved disciple Agathon at table and Jesus lies with his at table.

          • So dining customs are another subject that you have not bothered to inform yourself about.

            It isn’t a coincidence, much less an amazing one.

          • JayRaskin

            Thank you.
            I assume you are busy, so am I. Vale.

          • I am indeed busy. That is why I find your assertions so frustrating. Even a little investigation would indicate how people sat, or rather reclined, at meals.

    • Andrew Dowling

      You can’t seriously believe what you’re writing . . .I smell parody.

  • Michael Wilson

    James, I agree in part with Harding that an old blank papyrus could have been written recently. I heard there is not enough material to test the ink. This raises another question I wrestle with from time to time, particularly with Secret Mark, how does one make use in research of potentially important manuscripts that are of doubted veracity. Opinions could differ widely based on based on their genuibeness which in some cases, cannot be known with certainty. How do you deal with these things, especialy when the affect results of research?

    • It’s a great question. All one can do is either ignore the evidence as too problematic to use one way or another, or otherwise adopt a stance knowing that some will not share your viewpoint.