I’ve enjoyed reading about a recently discovered document scholars have dubbed “The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife.” It’s just a scrap of papyrus that dates to around 150-200 AD, but it is causing a bit of a stir. Dr. Karen King of Harvard University has recently translated the document and it contains the line, “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife…’”, but we have absolutely no context about what he was saying because it is just a scrap. The papyrus is written in Coptic, the same language that the Gospel of Judas was written in.
Now King cautions that a century after the death of Christ, this document gives no proof that Jesus was married, only that there were groups that may have supported the idea that Jesus was married. NBC News has noted that Mormons would have no problem with the idea that Jesus was married.
The Unification Church, however, does believe that Jesus was supposed to get married, and some of the early teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints stated Jesus was married and even fathered children, although that belief is not widespread today.
The Mormon and the Unification Church’s beliefs, however, have more to do with their own theology of marriage rather than with scripture, Ben Witherington III, a New Testament professor at the Asbury Theological Seminary, told NBC News.
However, other Christian groups would have a big problem with that. The title of the article is “‘Too holy’ for sex? The problem of a married Jesus.”
“If Jesus is a normal human being and he’s sexual, that’s the real fear,” James Tabor, a biblical scholar at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and the co-author of books about Jesus and his family, told NBC News. “You can’t think of Jesus like that because he’s too holy.”
“I would say that the more conservative groups might be more inclined to be bothered by the idea of a married Jesus, and especially that he might have had a child, god forbid, since that would really raise questions about his ‘divinity,’ since they see him as fully human and fully God,” Tabor subsequently explained in an email.
“Can God sleep with a woman and have a child? It just doesn’t fit the concept they want for Jesus,” he said.
Substantial reasons would lead one to conclude that the papyrus is indeed a clumsy forgery,” the Vatican’s newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, said in an editorial by its editor, Gian Maria Vian. “In any case, it’s a fake.”
The NBC News article goes on to state some reasons why scholars are skeptical.
“It’s really pretty unlikely that it’s authentic,” University of Durham Professor Francis Watson told Reuters after he published a paper arguing the words on the fragment were a rearrangement of phrases from a well known Coptic text.
Watson, who has previously worked on identifying forged gospels, said it was likely to be an ancient blank fragment that was written over in the 20th or 21st century by a forger seeking to make money.
Watson argues that the words on the fragment do not fit grammatically into a larger text.
“It’s possible to get hold of an old bit of unwritten-on papyrus and write some new stuff on it,” Watson said. “There is a market for fake antiquities throughout the Middle East … I would guess that in this case the motivation might have been a financial one.”
But not everyone questions the authenticity.
AnneMarie Luijendijk, associate professor of religion at Princeton University, said she concluded that the fragment was indeed an authentic, ancient text, written by a scribe in antiquity.
“We can see that by the way the ink is preserved on the papyrus and also the way the papyrus has faded and also the way the papyrus has become very fragmentary, which is actually in line with a lot of other papyri we have also from the New Testament,” Luijendijk told Reuters during the conference.
I’ve also talked about speculation that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene. What are your feelings regarding a possible marriage of Jesus?