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 celebration of British elections
  • 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

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'