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Experts dismiss new 'evidence' that Jesus was married

Headlines are screaming that a newly discovered piece of papyrus suggests that Jesus was married. But the experts who analyzed it didn't say that at all.

  • Michael Peppard
  • International
  • September 19, 2012
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Nothing calls to mind my latent fantasies of an Indiana Jones lifestyle more than a new fragmentary Coptic papyrus about Jesus’ “wife.” I will confess that, as a reader/teacher of Coptic and a papyrologist, this was a pretty awesome afternoon. I was giddy like a child. Please, can someone need me on a plane to Cairo immediately?  I have the hat already. And I can get the whip on the way to the airport.

The phone didn’t ring, so I settled in to assess the new papyrus. After scrutinizing the wonderfully high-resolution photograph offered in Laurie Goodstein’s New York Times piece, I would like first to commend Karen King of Harvard for the ways in which she has presented this fragment to the world. Nowhere in her quotations or the manuscript of her forthcoming article does she engage in the kind of grandstanding that would be so tempting in her situation. Does this fragment prove that Jesus was married? In King’s sober evaluation:

"No, this fragment does not provide evidence that Jesus was married. The comparatively late date of this Coptic papyrus (a fourth century CE copy of a gospel probably written in Greek in the second half of the second century) argues against its value as evidence for the life of the historical Jesus. Nor is there any reliable historical evidence to support the claim that he was not married, even though Christian tradition has long held that position. The oldest and most reliable evidence is entirely silent about Jesus’s marital status. The first claims that Jesus was not married are attested only in the late second century CE, so if the Gospel of Jesus’s Wife was also composed in the second century CE, it does provide evidence, however, that the whole question about Jesus’s marital status arose as part of the debates about sexuality and marriage that took place among early Christians at that time. From the very beginning, Christians disagreed about whether it was better to marry or to be celibate, but it was over a century after Jesus’s death before they began using Jesus’s marital status to support their different positions. Christian tradition preserved only those voices that claimed Jesus never married, but now the Gospel of Jesus’s Wife shows that some Christians claimed Jesus was married, probably already in the late second century."

Next I would like to clarify, for readers unfamiliar with the scholars cited, that a consensus analysis by Karen King (Harvard), Roger Bagnall (NYU), and AnneMarie Luijendijk (Princeton) is not likely to be incorrect. (For example, many papyrologists would say that Roger Bagnall is the most well-respected papyrologist in the world, like a living library of the collected wisdom of the field.) With the added weight of linguist Ariel Shisha-Halevy (Hebrew Univ.), the initial assessments of the fragment are on very solid ground.

Full Story: “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife…’”

Source: Commonweal

For two opposing angles on this story, see:

"The Gospel Of Jesus' Wife," New Early Christian Text, Indicates Jesus May Have Been Married

No, Jesus Wasn't Married
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