Jesus had a wife, say scientists, as ancient papyrus scroll verified

The fragment is almost certainly a product of early Christians

The papyrus is small, barely three inches wide, and covered in dense, incomplete lines of crudely written Coptic text.

Suffering from significant damage, it could easily have been dismissed as another academically interesting, but not hugely important, fragment of an ancient scroll.

But written on the papyrus are words that experts now believe are a record of a conversation between Jesus and his disciples that may become as important as documents that form the basis of the accepted New Testament.

“The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife”, as it has become known since its discovery two years ago, refers to Jesus saying the words “my wife” and was this week confirmed by scientists not to be a modern forgery, but an ancient document dating from between the sixth and ninth centuries AD, or possibly earlier. 

While there is considerable disagreement about its implications for the Church, professor Hal Taussig, a New Testament scholar who worked on the extensive examination of the fragment, said its meaning was “breathtaking” and could support the notion that Mary Magdalene was “a major leader in the early Jesus movement”.

This week, the Harvard Theological Review included a number of results from the two-year study of the papyrus. Karen King, the Hollis Professor of Divinity at Harvard Divinity School, who announced the discovery of the text in 2012, said that while the scroll did not prove that Jesus was married, it could shed light on early Christian debate about whether “the ideal mode” of life was a celibate one.

“The main topic of the fragment is to affirm that women who are mothers and wives can be disciples of Jesus – a topic that was hotly debated in early Christianity as celibate virginity increasingly became highly valued,” she explained. “This gospel fragment provides a reason to reconsider what we thought we knew by asking what the role claims of Jesus’s marital status played historically in early Christian controversies over marriage, celibacy, and family.”

None of the testing carried out on the privately owned fragment has produced evidence that it is a “modern fabrication or forgery”, scientists announced this week.

Harvard Divinity School said: “After all the research was complete, King weighed all the evidence of the age and characteristics of the papyrus and ink, handwriting, language and historical context to conclude the fragment is almost certainly a product of early Christians, not a modern forger.”

To even consider the notion of a non-celibate, married Jesus would be a “huge shift” for some, Prof Taussig told The Washington Post. “This is where people will take the most offence. But for many married people, this might make Jesus feel closer.”

It is not known who wrote the fragment, measuring 1.8 by 3.1 inches, in which Jesus speaks of his mother, his wife and a female disciple called “Mary”. It is assumed to have come from Egypt because it is written in Coptic – the form of Egyptian language used by Christians in the Roman period.

Prof Taussig said he believed the document was ancient and ostensibly as important as documents that make up the accepted New Testament. “Everything we have is a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy. We have no original documents,” he added. “What you have are traditions of writing.”

But Reverend James Martin, the editor of America, the national Catholic magazine, said there remained considerable evidence that Jesus was unmarried.

“It is incredible that the four Gospel writers wouldn’t have mentioned Jesus’s wife if he had one,” he argued. “They mentioned everyone else in his family.”

News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
News
i100
News
people
Sport
Colombia's James Rodriguez celebrates one of his goals during the FIFA World Cup 2014 round of 16 match between Colombia and Uruguay at the Estadio do Maracana in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
Antoine Griezmann has started two of France’s four games so far
sport
Life and Style
techYahoo Japan launches service to delete your files and email your relatives when you die
Life and Style
Child's play: letting young people roam outdoors directly contradicts the current climate
lifeHow much independence should children have?
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book
booksFind out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>
filmRobert Downey Jr named Hollywood's highest paid actor for second year running
Life and Style
Dale Bolinger arranged to meet the girl via a fetish website
life
Property
Sign here, please: Magna Carta Island
propertyYours for a cool £4m
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sustainability Manager

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Scheme Manager (BREEAM)...

Graduate Sustainability Professional

Flexible, depending on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: T...

Business Project Manager

£350 - £400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Project Manager job vaca...

Business Analyst (Agile, SDLC, software)

£45000 - £50000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Day In a Page

Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

20 best days out for the summer holidays

From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

All the wood’s a stage

Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

Self-preservation society

Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor