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.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Buttoned up: Ryan Reynolds with Helen Mirren in ‘Woman in Gold’
filmFor every box-office smash in his Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. Now he says it's time for a reboot
News
people
News
Actress Julianne Moore wins the Best Actress in a Leading Role Award for 'Still Alice' during the 87th Annual Academy Awards in Hollywood, California
people
Sport
Ross Barkley
footballPaul Scholes says it's time for the Everton playmaker to step up and seize the England No 10 shirt
News
'We will fix it': mice in the 1970s children’s programme Bagpuss
science
Life and Style
2 Karl Lagerfeld and Choupette
fashion
  • Get to the point
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

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Executive

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Retail Buyer / Ecommerce Buyer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working closely with the market...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - CAD Software Solutions Sales

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A reputable company, famed for ...

Ashdown Group: Client Accountant Team Manager - Reading

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group has been engaged by a highly resp...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

War with Isis

Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

A spring in your step?

Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
10 best compact cameras

A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

Paul Scholes column

Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?