Another Case of All Flash and No Fire

Four words in a tiny fragment of parchment suggest early Christians believed Jesus had been married written in a language spoken by ancient Egyptian Christians, it translates to “Jesus said to them, my wife.” The document was presented at a six-day conference in Rome. Biblical scholars urge caution, questioning the interpretation.

Stephen Emmel, a professor of Coptology at the University of Muenster who was on the international advisory panel that reviewed the 2006 discovery of the Gospel of Judas, said the text accurately quotes Jesus as saying “my wife.” But he questioned whether the document was authentic.

“There’s something about this fragment in its appearance and also in the grammar of the Coptic that strikes me as being not completely convincing somehow,” he said in an interview on the sidelines of the conference.

Another participant at the congress, Alin Suciu, a papyrologist at the University of Hamburg, was more blunt.

“I would say it’s a forgery. The script doesn’t look authentic” when compared to other samples of Coptic papyrus script dated to the 4th century, he said.

King acknowledged Wednesday that questions remain about the fragment, and she welcomed the feedback from her colleagues. She said she planned to subject the document to ink tests to determine if the chemical components match those used in antiquity.

She stressed that the text, assuming it’s authentic, doesn’t provide any historical evidence that Jesus was actually married, only that some two centuries after he died, some early Christians believed he had a wife.

Wolf-Peter Funk, a noted Coptic linguist, said there was no way to evaluate the significance of the fragment because it has no context. It’s a partial text and tiny, measuring 4 centimeters by 8 centimeters (1.5 inches by 3 inches), about the size of a small cellphone.

“There are thousands of scraps of papyrus where you find crazy things,” said Funk, co-director of a project editing the Nag Hammadi Coptic library at Laval University in Quebec. “It can be anything.”

He, too, doubted the authenticity, saying the form of the fragment was “suspicious.”

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I think it is sad that Harvard choose to go public when there was so much more work to do. This smacks of a publicity stunt. When the lead presenter says, “she planned to subject the document to ink tests” it becomes very obvious that thorough research was not a priority but instead that proclaiming a controversial, non-traditional message was more important because of the attention it would provide. Honestly, I hope it backfires on Harvard so that their future research findings are dismissed or at least rejected until the proper research is done first. – Pastor Shawn Hazel


A Response from Paul Maier (Added 10/19/2012)




As for the so-called “Wife of Jesus Gospel” (so-named by its  discoverer, Harvard professor Karen King), while the document is interesting, it is only another of the long string of Gnostic writings that have been surfacing ever since 1947.  Like all the others, it is of little or no use as authentic source material on Jesus.  All Gnostic writings are late, derivative from the true Gospels, and regularly offer information that runs counter to the mass of reliable evidence on Jesus.

The circumstances of this find and the provenance are quite murky.  The papyrus with the inscription in Coptic was not discovered archaeologically, but arrived from an unnamed source for Professor King’s inspection.  She translated the relevant material as follows:

1 ] “not [to] me. My mother gave to me li[fe…”
2 ] The disciples said to Jesus, “.[
3 ] deny. Mary is worthy of it[
4 ]……” Jesus said to them, “My wife . .[
5 ]… she will be able to be my disciple . . [
6 ] Let wicked people swell up … [
7] As for me, I dwell with her in order to . [
8] an image [

While Professor King is careful not to make claims beyond the evidence, one wonders why she announced her find before any authenticity tests were conducted on the document.  With forgery strongly suspected, such tests are taking place now, and have delayed the much-touted Smithsonian television program regarding the papyrus, which was to have aired September 30.  The text has grammatical errors that seem to be introduced by a forger copying  a typo in the Coptic Gospel of Thomas, which would , of course, discredit the entire document.

One also wonders why King gave the document so “sensational” a title.  Might it be significant, too,  that some in the  faculty at Harvard Divinity School are known proponents of  the Gnostic writings as reliable sources for the life of Jesus?  King herself wonders if the traditional information on Jesus was not a “mastery story” that forcibly excluded  contrary views, such as those in the Gnostic gospels.

This notion of a married Jesus – even if , as seems unlikely, the text proves authentic —  has no value whatever, other than to show how aberrant were some of the views among heretical quasi-Christians  in the second, third, and fourth centuries after Christ.  This zero-value as authentic history is typical of all such Gnostic writings that recently have received far more attention than they deserve by those who promote sensation rather than scholarship. The early church had a big problem dealing with heretical groups hat tried to pervert the image of Jesus, and the modern church is now encountering the same.

It is high time that any thralldom to the Gnostic writings  be abandoned.  Most of that material is  late. hydra-headed, esoteric, derivative, visionary, apocalyptic, mostly incomprehensible, and riddled with impossibilities.  Let one example suffice:  the Gospel of Thomas, which is universally regarded as the most cogent and important of the Gnostic literature, ends with a claim that totally dooms its reliability:  Jesus supposedly says that he will turn Mary Magdalene into a man so that she may attain to the kingdom of God, because the disciples think that women are unworthy of it.  Such a ridiculous statement is now paralleled with the claim that Mary was Jesus’ wife – evidently before he turned her into a man!


— Paul L. Maier


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