Lifestyle‎ > ‎

Was Jesus married? New papyrus fragment fuels debate

posted 19 Sept 2012, 12:13 by Mpelembe   [ updated 19 Sept 2012, 12:15 ]

A Harvard scholar who unveilled an ancient Coptic papyrus in which Jesus refers to "my wife" has said the discovery provides no definitive answer but it was "the first unequivocal statement" to claim that he was married.

CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS, UNITED STATES  (HARVARD DIVINITY SCHOOL) - A Harvard scholar who unveilled an ancient Coptic papyrus in which Jesus refers to "my wife" said on Wednesday (September 19) that while the landmark discovery provides no definitive answer, it was "the first unequivocal statement" to claim that he was married.

"I think the fragment itself is discussing issues about disciple-ship and family. But certainly the fact that this is the first unequivocal statement we have that claims Jesus had a wife, is of great interest" Karen King, Hollis Professor of Divinity at Harvard Divinity School, told Reuters.

"I want to be very clear that this fragment does not give us any evidence that Jesus was married or not married," said King, who presented her findings at an congress of Coptic Studies in a Vatican-run university across the street from St Peter's Square.

But King, who refers to the discovery as "the Gospel of Jesus' Wife," said she hopes it will help Christians and theologians deal with complex issues of sexuality and the role of women that were discussed in the early Church and are still being discussed today.

"I think what I would recommend for Christians, in the tradition, is to be able to understand that we don't know if Jesus was married or not. That questions about sexuality and marriage were being asked in the early church and they are still being asked today" she said.

The fragment, which measures 8 cm by 4 cm includes words in ancient Coptic in which a scribe writes: "Jesus said to them, my wife ...".

Another section of the fragment, also contains another phrase, which says: "she will be my disciple".

Christian tradition has long held that Jesus was not married and the Catholic Church, by far the largest in Christendom, says women cannot become priests because Christ chose only men as his disciples.

King and other scholars believe the fragment is authentic and is believed to have been written in the fourth century.

"To the best of my knowledge I have come to the conclusion that this was indeed an authentic, ancient text, written by a scribe in antiquity," said AnneMarie Luijendijk, associate professor of religion at Princeton University.

"We can see that by the way the ink is preserved on the papyrus and also the way the papyrus has faded and also the way the papyrus has become very fragmentary, which is actually in line with alot of other papyri's we have also from the New Testament," Luijendijk told Reuters at the congress in Rome.

The idea that Jesus was married resurfaces regularly in popular culture, notably with the 2003 publication of Dan Brown's best-seller "The Da Vinci Code," which angered the Vatican because it was based on the idea that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene and had children.

The Vatican had no immediate comment on the discovery, which was, ironically announced, at a Catholic institute of higher learning.

The tiny fragment is owned by an anonymous private collector who contacted King to help translate and analyse it, and is thought to have been discovered in Egypt or perhaps Syria.

"This text, this fragment, probably was found on an ancient garbage heap, because it is so small and we have very many other texts that are so small that we know were found on garbage heaps from antiquity" Luijendijk said. "The fact that it was found on the garbage heap doesn't mean that it was valued or not, it means that at one point when it was not in use anymore, people threw it out" she said.

King said she is expecting much scholarly and public debate about the issue.