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Posted by on Apr 10, 2014 in _NakedBible, _Paleobabble, Ancient Texts & Manuscripts, Apocryphal Literature, Jesus | 16 comments

The Wife of Jesus Coptic Fragment: Another Update

The New York Times online science page published a short article today wherein scientists who have examined the Coptic fragment that has Jesus referring to his wife (“my wife”) is more likely authentic than not.


The issue isn’t really if the papyrus is ancient. The issue is whether the content is contrived. Am I the only person who remembers Irving Wallace’s thriller, The Word? (The novel was about how a forger used ancient materials to forge a phony gospel).

As I blogged back in 2012, Coptic specialists have reason to believe the text is phony — a clever splicing of lines and words from existing Coptic texts forged into this “new” text. Here’s a short (six page) essay by Francis Watson, a Coptic specialist who described how he thinks it was done. Here’s another longer explanation by a different specialist in early gospels who works in Coptic. If either of these explanations are correct (and they are coherent), then the age of the payprus is meaningless to the issue of authenticity. (See the footnote below for the latest information on the forgery argument.)

At best, if the text itself (the content) is genuine, we don’t have proof that Jesus was actually married. We’d have evidence someone thought he was married or wanted to cast him as such. As Coptic scholar Christian Askeland notes: “Karen King´s initial argument that this fragment demonstrates a fourth century literary manuscript of the ‘the Gospel of Jesus Wife’ is now officially dead, by her own admission. We are left with a deflated seventh to ninth century semi-literary scrap … or a fraud.”1

Personally, it wouldn’t matter if Jesus was married, theologically or historically. The gospels never claim to be an exhaustive repository of everything Jesus did or the entirety of his life. They are by nature and intent selective. They deliver a theological message.

[Addendum: Francis Watson, the Coptologist who proposed the text was faked back in 2012, has put forth a preliminary response to the latest testing on the fragment. In a word, he still ain’t buying it. MSH]

  1. The source for this quotation is the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog. The post is recommended, since it has more information on Leo Depuydt’s view that the text was forged. Depuydt is a well known Egyptologist and Coptic scholar.

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  • David Pena

    Agreed, but if he was married 1st time around, then wouldn’t it have some theological import? Marriage of the Lamb, ‘Church as Bride’ (although this is never explicitly stated and posited as such), etc?

    • derrek hopper

      Agreed. I heard dr. King on npr discussing this today and I think she was also implying that the idea of jesus not being married didn’t become popular until the second century when sex was deemed as “sinful” in any context. I think you hit the nail on the head though. Jesus wasnt married because like any good husband-to-be he is saving himself for His bride (church).

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    • MSH

      yep; thanks!

    • MSH

      Old (at least the papyrus), but nowhere near as old as King presumed originally.

  • David Pena

    …whom He has already purchased with his blood, and makes clean, and for whom He has went away to prepare a place for in His Father’s mansion. Etc.

  • Keith R. Starkey

    Listen, let’s all just admit it: the only reason Jesus wasn’t married was because if he were, she would have driven him to sin like no one’s business. “Darn you, woman, haven’t I told you, for the umpteenth time, not to throw your dirty clothes just any ‘ol place, and to cook the blasted T-Bone on lower heat? I mean, look at this piece of charred example of why the Father didn’t allow us to eat meat in the beginning!…dog-gone it, darn it, and every other word I can think of without sinning, even though I’ve already jumped completely out of the Spirit and into the Flesh…dog-gone it, blast it…woman!”

    See, that’s the deal. That’s the only reason why Jesus didn’t get married. You want to talk about theological disruption, well, there you go!

    I mean, Adam and Eve, looking on from the other side would have been heard having this conversation while watching Jesus sink to the epitome of cursing a peice of charred T-Bone: “Wow, Eve, was I that bad?” to which she would have answered, “Yes, you dog-gone, blasted man, who couldn’t figure out what a T-Bone was, and, thus, causing us all to miss out on some seriously good eats, because you thought rump roast, which has to be cooked to death before it can even be of use for anything, was better…blast you!” And, well, there we would be with sin running rampent, this time in heaven…Adam and Eve at it again!

    No, Jesus did not, and could not, marry. Period! So let’s just put the manuscript down and back away slowly. Nobody gets hurt.

  • Let me state clearly, up-front, that I don’t buy this fragment is genuine. It stinks like last week’s laundry. For all the reasons that have been mentioned, it almost certainly must be a forgery.

    That said, I’m perplexed by the fierce outrage it has generated. Scholars … who ought by nature to be curious … have been quoted as saying they don’t care even to have it tested. People all over the place have been angrily dismissive of it, sight-unseen and even before all the test results are in.

    The reason this is perplexing is because we already know of other ancient documents showing what are, to modern eyes, rather strange ideas about Jesus. If it turns out that this fragment is genuine (and again, to be clear, I am extremely skeptical that can be the case), so what? Seriously: So what? How is anyone harmed by knowing that some classical-era Coptic Christians thought Jesus was married?

    Look, we already have documents like the Gospel of Judas, which AFAIK is genuinely of classical origin, and depicts Judas as a hero rather than a villain. We have the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, which also AFAIK is genuine, that among other things claims young Jesus cursed people, killing them or blinding them instantly.

    Heresies rocked the early Church from its inception; there were Montanists, Patripassianists, Adoptionists, Docetists, Gnostics of many kinds, Monothelites … the list goes on and on. This, again, should not be news to anyone, nor should anyone be astonished if a fragment that aligns with one of these heresies should be discovered.

    These are alternative notions about Jesus which we know some classical Christians believed, yet the existence of none of those has generated the fierce, sanctimonious vitriol that followed the release of GJW. I seriously, honestly, don’t get it. I have to ask again: So what if it turns out that some classical Christians thought Jesus was married?

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  • Scary to think that hundreds of years in the future, someone may look back on every obvious false accusation about our lives and try to portray them as fact.

  • Without a doubt the text is a crude forgery which was carried out on a fragment of ancient papyrus and with ink made from the same ancient components; something very easy to play, because there is a lot of information posted on the components of carbon inks used from the early centuries of Christianity up to the Byzantine times. But the paleographic and grammatical analysis shows, beyond any reasonable doubt possible, that it is a forgery and the more grotesque.

    Here’s the first palaeographic report just a few days since the news came out to the media in 2012:

    Kind regards,

    • MSH

      Thanks for the link!

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  • Jim

    MSH: “At best, if the text itself (the content) is genuine, we don’t have proof that Jesus was actually married. We’d have evidence someone thought he was married or wanted to cast him as such.”

    Similarly, even if the NT texts are genuine, we don’t have proof that Jesus actually rose from the dead. We have evidence that someone thought he rose from the dead or wanted to cast him as such.

    • MSH

      On the balance the two sets of evidence are NOT equal. First century materials that all agree on the point (i.e., the gospels) are better than one 7th century text (now the date) that has no correlate.

      • Susan Burns

        It is much more likely that Jesus was married than he rose from the dead. Marriage is a possibility but reversing rigor mortis is impossible.

        • MSH

          If there is a God, resurrection is no less possible. You’re skipping the theism part.

          • Susan

            You are skipping the historic part. The fragment and Jesus are historic. Theism is just another form of magical thinking and so should have no baring on a historical mystery.

            • MSH

              Theism is a philosophical approach to a range of questions, one that materialism has not supplanted in centuries of trying (in the academy and at the lay level).

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