A papyrus fragment dated to the fourth century written on it in the ancient Coptic language, contains a phrase: "Jesus said to them, my wife...". This discovery reopening the debate about whether Jesus was married, as some early Christians believed.
The faded papyrus fragment is smaller than a business card, with eight lines on one side, in black ink legible under a magnifying glass. Just below the line about Jesus having a wife. Below it is a second provocative clause that reportedly says: "She will be able to be my disciple."
The words on the honey-colored fragment are the first to show Jesus referring to a wife, according to Karen King, a professor of divinity at Harvard Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who has published several books about new Gospel discoveries and is the first woman to hold the nation’s oldest endowed chair, the Hollis professor of divinity. King presented the finding on Tuesday at the International Congress of Coptic Studies in Rome. The writing in black ink is in the language of Egyptian Christians, on a fragment of about 1.5 by 3 inches (4 by 8 centimeters).
“One of the things we do know is that very rarely in ancient literature was the marital status of men discussed,” King said in a conference call with reporters. “Silence in marital status is normal.” She said in a statement that the earliest claim that Jesus did not marry is from 200 A.D. Early Christians did not always agree on whether they should marry or be celibate.
The fragment does not prove that Jesus was married or that if he was that it was to Mary Magdalene, according to the draft paper. Only women were identified in terms of family relationships, as someone’s sister, mother, or wife, King said. The question of whether Jesus married came up later when people wanted to use him as a model for their lives, she said.
The provenance of the papyrus fragment is a mystery, and its owner has asked to remain anonymous. Until Tuesday, 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.