Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Papyrus Fragment Refers to Jesus' Wife

Pic from Boston Globe
My colleague here at Ashland Seminary, Dr. Mitzi Smith, alerted me to this article.

The New York Times is reporting that a fragment of papyrus has been discovered in which Jesus is said to refer to “my wife.” Karen King of Harvard University made the announcement today in Rome. Here is some of what the New York Times is reporting thus far.

A historian of early Christianity at Harvard Divinity School has identified a scrap of papyrus that she says was written in Coptic in the fourth century and contains a phrase never seen in any piece of Scripture: “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife …'”

The faded papyrus fragment is smaller than a business card, with eight lines on one side, in black ink legible under a magnifying glass. Just below the line about Jesus having a wife, the papyrus includes a second provocative clause that purportedly says, “she will be able to be my disciple.”

The finding is being made public in Rome on Tuesday at an international meeting of Coptic scholars by the historian Karen L. King, who has published several books about new Gospel discoveries and is the first woman to hold the nation’s oldest endowed chair, the Hollis professor of divinity.

The provenance of the papyrus fragment is a mystery, and its owner has asked to remain anonymous. Until Tuesday, Dr. King had shown the fragment to only a small circle of experts in papyrology and Coptic linguistics, who concluded that it is most likely not a forgery. But she and her collaborators say they are eager for more scholars to weigh in and perhaps upend their conclusions.

Dr. King gave an interview and showed the papyrus fragment, encased in glass, to reporters from The New York Times, The Boston Globe and Harvard Magazine in her garret office in the tower at Harvard Divinity School last Thursday. She left the next day for Rome to deliver her paper on the find on Tuesday at the International Congress of Coptic Studies.

She repeatedly cautioned that this fragment should not be taken as proof that Jesus, the historical person, was actually married. The text was probably written centuries after Jesus lived, and all other early, historically reliable Christian literature is silent on the question, she said.

But the discovery is exciting, Dr. King said, because it is the first known statement from antiquity that refers to Jesus speaking of a wife. It provides further evidence that there was an active discussion among early Christians about whether Jesus was celibate or married, and which path his followers should choose.

This is very exciting and I am happy to see that, unlike previous announcements about papyri and other artifacts related to the Bible, it is being handled responsibly. Rather than hold a press conference and spin some yarn about how this "proves" Jesus had a wife, Dr. King has proceeded in the best manner by presenting her findings to her peers in the field for analysis and inviting them to comment and criticize. This is the way scholarship is supposed to work.

Of course, in spite of all of Dr. King’s efforts to do things correctly there will be no end of those who attack her findings. There will be some who suggest that she trying to undermine the Bible and there will be those who suggest she is not pushing her findings far enough. In the mean time, I look forward to following her work on this fragment and hearing what others have to say as well.

To see King's translation go here.

Here is a link to her upcoming article in Harvard Theological Review.

Do go to the New York Times site. They have a picture of the fragment that you can zoom in on.

Here is a helpful video in which Dr King talks about the fragment.

To read what I think about whether it matters if Jesus had a wife go here.

1 comment:

  1. The term "wife" has a separate meaning--Myriam was a disciple, a former leper from Magdala where the Lord's mother,Marianna, washed her with the bath water of Yesus and she was cured--they were inseparable and she was the second blessed disciple that Yesus loved so much.