Ancient Coptic Fragment Has Jesus Alluding to His Wife

The New York Times published this article today about Professor Karen King’s apparent discovery of a fragment of an ancient text, likely composed a few centuries after the apostolic era, that in part reads, “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife …’” This would be the first ancient text in any language that has any reference to a wife for Jesus. The text is written in Coptic, the language in which the Gnostic Gospels from Nag Hammadi were written.

Now, to be clear, this discovery isn’t PaleoBabble — at least not yet. Karen King is a good scholar. She teaches on the history of early Christianity (which would include Gnostic sects) at Harvard. I don’t believe for a minute she’s faking anything. However, the text is unprovenanced, which is a problem. To quote the article:

The provenance of the papyrus fragment is a mystery, and its owner has asked to remain anonymous. Until Tuesday, Dr. King had shown the fragment to only a small circle of experts in papyrology and Coptic linguistics, who concluded that it is most likely not a forgery. But she and her collaborators say they are eager for more scholars to weigh in and perhaps upend their conclusions.

 

So, while authenticity seems likely, people making manuscript “drops” to scholars from the shadows or on street corners doesn’t help. I personally know people who’ve had this happen to them in some form or another and it’s gone nowhere. However, the instance I’m thinking of involved a photo and a transcription. This appears to be an actual text. Still, I hope the owner comes forward to settle that part of this issue. I should also say it’s nice to see Dr. King disclose information the right way — at a conference of peers — as opposed to the P.T. Barnum (or maybe Chuck Barris) approach of Simcha Jacobovici.

The part of all this that moves toward PaleoBabble, though, is what’s being said about it, and what will continue to be said. As Dr. King herself says, the text does not prove Jesus was married; it proves only someone (the writer of this text) thought he was married, or wanted to cast him as married. The NYT article notes:

[Dr. King] repeatedly cautioned that this fragment should not be taken as proof that Jesus, the historical person, was actually married. The text was probably written centuries after Jesus lived, and all other early, historically reliable Christian literature is silent on the question, she said.

James Tabor jumps the gun in this regard, but I guess I can give him a pass on being excited about the news. I’d agree that seeing stuff like this surface is pretty cool. But let’s not insert conclusions into the data, or cast the latter as the former. James writes:

I have written extensively on this subject on my blog, suggesting that my colleagues, from Ben Witherington to Bart Ehrman, who are so insistent that “there is not a shred of evidence that Jesus was married, reconsider the question. I have changed my own position since publishing The Jesus Dynasty in 2006 in which I too insisted the “Jesus was married” idea was long on speculation and short on evidence. The implications of the two Talpiot tombs are one factor in my own shift, but in fact I would consider that evidence secondary compared to the textual evidence, including the evidence from silence, that can be mounted.

 

James, this isn’t “textual evidence” that Jesus was actually married. It’s evidence someone thought he was married or wanted to cast him as such (assuming of course we won’t see months on wrangling over the translation, in which case, the text will join others consigned to academic limbo).

James recommends Birger Pearson’s latest essay on Mary Magdalene. I agree that it’s well worth the read. My own bottom line is that I tend to agree with James and others that the Church (read: the Catholic church and then all those Protestants who blindly followed that tradition) has manipulated the testimony of Mary Magdalene.  Words like “bogus” and “willfully ignorant” only begin to capture this hermeneutical crime. However, we’re unwise to affirm the obvious and then extrapolate to the unnecessary (or to a dream).

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  • http://ScrubbingtheBarrel Exentine

    It is most likely the longest historical debacle to get that Jesus on scandal, heresy, picking pockets, underhandedness, sneak thievery, and downright crookedness; but alas, all attempts always overturned.
    I’m surprised theres not a Gospel of Caiaphas that’s t tried to sneak its way into the limelight over the past 1800 years.

    Many thanks to Mike Heiser and all hard working Scholars for keeping things legitimate in all historical records and in their proper “places”.

  • http://www.facebook.com/sisterginny Virginia McInturff

    Jesus’ wife is his bride which has multiple members, myself hopefully being one of them. She is called the new Jerusalem, which will be united with her bridegroom at the wedding when Jesus returns to take his rightful place as king of the earth, you can read all about it in the Bible.
    Here are some verses that talk about that:

    “… Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.

    “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.

    “For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.

    “Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.

    “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it:

    “That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word.

    “That he might present it in himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.

    “So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself.

    “For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church:

    “For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.

    “For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one
    flesh.

    “This is A GREAT MYSTERY; but I speak concerning Christ and the church.

    “Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband” (Ephesians 5:21-33).

    “Having made known unto us the MYSTERY of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself:

    “That in the dispensation of the fullness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him” (Ephesians 1:9-10).

    “If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to youward:

    “How that by revelation he made known unto me THE MYSTERY; (as I wrote afore in few words,

    “Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in THE MYSTERY of Christ)

    “Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and
    prophets by the Spirit;

    “That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel” (Ephesians 3:2-6).

    “And he [Jesus Christ] is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have preeminence” (Colossians 1:18).

    “And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church,
    “Which is his body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all” (Ephesians 1:22-23).

    “… Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church.”

    [NIV: "Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you. and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ's
    afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church" (Colossians 1:24).]

    “… but the body is of Christ.

    “Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind,

    “And not holding the Head, from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increased with the increase of God.”

    NIV: “Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize. Such a person
    goes into great detail about what he has seen, and his unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions. He has lost connection with the Head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow” (Colossians 2:17-19).

    “And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful.

    “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.

    “And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.

    “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord.

    “Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them.

    “Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord.

    “Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged.

    “Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God:

    “And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men;

    “Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:15-24).