Historian decodes ancient papyrus that says Jesus had a wife

A fourth century papyrus fragment mentions Jesus and his wife in Coptic writing

Published September 18, 2012 10:57PM (EDT)

      (Fulcanelli / Shutterstock.com)
(Fulcanelli / Shutterstock.com)

Harvard historian and professor of divinity Karen L. King says that a 4 by 8 centimeter scrap of papyrus--which experts and linguists so far feel is authentic--mentions Jesus and his wife in Coptic. The New York Times reports:

A historian of early Christianity at Harvard Divinity School has identified a scrap of papyrus that she says was written in Coptic in the fourth century and contains a phrase never seen in any piece of Scripture: “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife …'”

"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, the papyrus includes a second provocative clause that purportedly says, “she will be able to be my disciple.

Though scholars may have just rehashed the intense debate about whether or not Jesus had a wife, Twitter reactions are mixed between amazed--author Anne Rice tweeted, "A tiny fragment of a coptic papyrus indicates Jesus had a wife!"--and amused. What does this discovery mean in the context of 2012?:

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Before everyone gets riled up, King says that although this may be the first source from humanity's distant past to mention Jesus having a wife, the text was most likely written long after Jesus had lived. Though exciting, the document is not proof that Jesus had a wife.

By Prachi Gupta

Prachi Gupta is an Assistant News Editor for Salon, focusing on pop culture. Follow her on Twitter at @prachigu or email her at pgupta@salon.com.

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Christianity Harvard Jesus Marriage Religion