18 September 2012

"Jesus said to them, my wife" is a forged document


A most interesting article in the Harvard Gazette today:
Four words on a previously unknown papyrus fragment provide the first evidence that some early Christians believed Jesus had been married, Harvard Professor Karen King told the 10th International Congress of Coptic Studies today.

King, the Hollis Professor of Divinity at Harvard Divinity School, announced the existence of the ancient text at the congress’ meeting, held every four years and hosted this year by the Vatican’s Institutum Patristicum Augustinianum in Rome. The four words that appear on the fragment translate to “Jesus said to them, my wife.” The words, written in Coptic, a language of Egyptian Christians, are on a papyrus fragment of about one and a half inches by three inches.

 “Christian tradition has long held that Jesus was not married, even though no reliable historical evidence exists to support that claim,” King said. “This new gospel doesn’t prove that Jesus was married, but it tells us that the whole question only came up as part of vociferous debates about sexuality and marriage. From the very beginning, Christians disagreed about whether it was better not to marry, but it was over a century after Jesus’ death before they began appealing to Jesus’ marital status to support their positions.”..

The gospel of which the fragment is but a small part, which King and Luijendijk have named the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife for reference purposes, was probably originally written in Greek, the two professors said, and only later translated into Coptic for use among congregations of Coptic-speaking Christians. King dated the time it was written to the second half of the second century because it shows close connections to other newly discovered gospels written at that time, especially the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Mary, and the Gospel of Philip...

“The discovery of this new gospel,” King said, “offers an occasion to rethink what we thought we knew by asking what role claims about Jesus’ marital status played historically in early Christian controversies over marriage, celibacy, and family. Christian tradition preserved only those voices that claimed Jesus never married. The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife now shows that some Christians thought otherwise.” 
More at the link, where there is also a video of Karen King, the Hollis Professor of Divinity at Harvard Divinity School, discussing the authenticity and interpretation of the papyrus fragment.

Update:   Additional information from 2014 suggests that the document is not a modern forgery (It could, however, still be an 8th century forgery).  Additional commentary (and a video) here.

Second update:  More evidence that the artifact is a forgery:
Having evaluated the evidence, many specialists in ancient manuscripts and Christian origins think Karen King and the Harvard Divinity School were the victims of an elaborate ruse... "Two factors immediately indicated that this was a forgery," Mr. Askeland tells me. "First, the fragment shared the same line breaks as the 1924 publication. Second, the fragment contained a peculiar dialect of Coptic called Lycopolitan, which fell out of use during or before the sixth century." Ms. King had done two radiometric tests, he noted, and "concluded that the papyrus plants used for this fragment had been harvested in the seventh to ninth centuries." In other words, the fragment that came from the same material as the "Jesus' wife" fragment was written in a dialect that didn't exist when the papyrus it appears on was made.

19 comments:

  1. Proving once again the mutability of the Christian story. How any one sect can claim that "their" interpretation of scripture is the only accurate one - and be willing to fight over such claims - is beyond me. The Christian myth is so buried in time and blurred by sectarianism and clerical meddling as to be meaningless to many today - small wonder.

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  2. This is a surprise to anyone? Well, maybe if you've never read the Bible. Of course Jesus has a wife, and she is magnificent.

    Rev 21:9-11 And there came unto me one of the seven angels which had the seven vials full of the seven last plagues, and talked with me, saying, Come hither, I will shew thee the bride, the Lamb's wife. And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and shewed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, Having the glory of God: and her light was like unto a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal...

    Although, it is kinda tough being a guy and saying that I am another man's wife. But I'll get over it.

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  3. Jesus often referred to himself as a Bridegroom in the gospels with the church as his bride. I do not understand why scholars are always so quick to pretend like such findings "overthrow" the predominant and nigh unanimous witness of the rest of Church history. It is, I suspect, for publicity.

    It is an interesting fragment, for sure. But Christianity had its fair share of forgers and nay-sayers from very early on.

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  4. Yeah, this isn't anything earth-shattering. 400AD is quite late, and coptic hints the source is quite removed from Palestine. There was plenty of variation in early Christian thought (a random set of which became "orthodox" simply by surviving.) This is just gnostic musing.

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  5. Mistranslated...
    Jesus said "Take my wife... please".

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    Replies
    1. That's exactly what came to my mind as I read the title... LOL.

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  6. Context? Relevance? There were lots of people with the name that is translated as Jesus.

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  7. "It's worth emphasizing that this item does not prove Jesus was married; it proves that some early Christians thought he was married."

    So it's exactly as reliable as saying he wasn't married. Some old paper days so.

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  8. "Christian tradition has long held that Jesus was not married, even though no reliable historical evidence exists to support that claim..."

    Dear Professor King, please take a course in logic.

    *facepalm*

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  9. How then could Jesus ask his Apostles to leave their wives, children, family behind to follow Him if He was married Himself? I don't believe He had a wife...

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    1. Anon:

      "How then could Jesus ask his Apostles to leave their wives, children, family behind to follow Him if He was married Himself?"

      Actually, the question is "How could Jesus ask his Apostles to leave their families if He Himself was NOT married, and so was asking them to make a sacrifice that he himself was not making". Given the culture of that time, and what-not, it would be more surprising to me if Jesus was NOT married, since almost everyone ended up in arranged marriages.

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    2. DeBris. You are right. Forgive my dyslexia :) I guess the point I was trying to make is that there is no way He could have been married, as it would have been hypocritical for Him to do so. He preached against hypocrisy…

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  10. People do say the most baffling things.

    "Christian tradition has long held that Jesus was not married, even though no reliable historical evidence exists to support that claim"

    There's no 'reliable historical evidence' of anything in the gospels. No New Testament writings are contemporaneous, the earliest texts are up to hundreds of years later. Next we'll be having people trying to compute exactly how high the Tower of Babel was....

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    1. "The earliest texts are up to hundreds of years later..."

      Not true. There are over 5,800 Greek Manuscripts and fragments, some of them dating to as early as the first century, and more are found every few years. If you compare that to Iliad,you will find only 457 such manuscripts. Christians have a wealth of evidence for the veracity of what they believe was taught from the inception of the faith, and if Christianity is to be critiqued, it will have to be done on the wealth of information those sources provide, not the lack of them or the contradictions within them.

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    2. Sorry, I should say 2nd Century. I think the oldest is a fragment of John's gospel that is from 125 AD. That's within 30-40 years of the original being penned.

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  11. I suggest anyone curious about the veracity of the New Testament check out the books of Bart Ehrman.

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    1. I agree. I reviewed one of them three years ago...

      http://tywkiwdbi.blogspot.com/2009/07/misquoting-jesus.html

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    2. And anyone curious about the veracity of Bart Ehrman's writings, have a read of Dr. Richard Bauckham, Dr. Daniel Wallace, Prof. Gary Habermas, Dr. Craig Blomberg, etc. Their research may be less sensational (and hence less well known) than Ehrman's, but no less worthy of study.

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    3. I agree with Rob. Bart Ehrman exaggerates the flaws and minimizes the agreement. Christians and Jews have been studying these texts quite thoroughly for a few thousand years, none of his objections are new, and all of them have been accounted for.

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