As I ate breakfast one morning at the coffee shop I work at, a co-worker came up to me and told me he heard Jesus had a wife. At first I thought he was referring to another Dan Brown book and dismissed his suggestion, but then the explained that he'd heard an ancient papyrus was discovered that proved Jesus at least referred to a woman as his wife. The document at the heart of this debate
is what some refer to as "The Gospel of Jesus' Wife," a fragment of 4th Century papyrus on which, in the Coptic language, is written:
"Jesus said to them, "My wife..."
Professor Karen King, a historian at Harvard Divinity School, was the one to announce this finding at the Tenth International Congress of Coptic Studies. What I think is most important about her presentation, though, is that she stressed the importance of understanding that this ancient text in no way proves
that Jesus had a wife.
But of course when something so surprising and counter to everything we've been taught as Christians comes to light, much like the debate that surrounded the Da Vinci Code many years ago, people make some pretty declarative statements. Just like the co-worker who asked me if I knew Jesus had a wife. It's a declarative statement based on a fragment -- and mind you, it's a tiny fragment -- for which the context will never be known.
That doesn't mean it's something we should disregard, though. What this fragment of ancient writing does suggest is that there was possibly a group of Christians in the 4th Century who were familiar with or comfortable with the notion that Jesus may have referred to someone as his wife. And while that may not change the face of Christianity as it is today, it's certainly something to consider that there were early Christians who believed in a Jesus who valued women enough to take one as his wife or at least his disciple. The text on the papyrus goes on to say:
"... she will be able to be my disciple..."
In the end, it's unlikely we will ever know more about this fragment of ancient papyrus than what it says, but it's likely that people will still draw conclusions based on it. I personally think it's an interesting finding, but at the end of the day, it doesn't really change the way I feel about the Jesus of scripture. What do you think about the "Jesus' Wife" papyrus? Do you think it can be understood? Would it change your beliefs if you knew Jesus was married? Why or why not?