Then Jesus said, “My Wife”?

Did Jesus marry? At least one historian is claiming a definite maybe.

From today’s NYT:

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — 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 …’ ”
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Evan McGlinn for The New York Times
Professor Karen L. King, in her office at The Harvard Divinity School, held a fragment of papyrus that she says was written in Coptic in the fourth century and contains a reference to Jesus’ 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 was made public in Rome on Tuesday at an international meeting of Coptic scholars by Karen L. King, a historian 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.

While this certainly does not come from a source that the hierarchy considers to be canonical, it indeed is quite a find and should presume that we certainly don’t know everything there is to know about the historical Jesus. Only what those who learned from the four major evangelists tell us.

The question, therefore, would remain: Why do the canonical Gospels not speak of a wife at all? Ironically, it could be because women were not considered reliable witnesses and after Mary Magdalene sees Jesus the men have to come running to confirm this “crazy women’s” story. Essentially, women didn’t count for much. so why mention them at all?

This will bring up much controversy in the media because clerical celibacy has been on the books because traditionally it’s been taught that Jesus also did not marry. But perhaps a more useful thought on the subject would be one based on commitment. Could a parish priest really be committed to a family AND a parish? Wouldn’t one predominate over the other?

I don’t pretend to know the answer to that. I do know plenty of doctors who are on call often and somehow juggle the demands of family along with the job and plenty of Protestant Ministers as well. However, I would also say I know a good deal of people in careers that are high on the commitment scale that have gotten divorced as well.

And that might be the larger reason why clerical celibacy still exists. Simply put, the church doesn’t want a clergy that seeks divorce and the danger in that is that pastoral care of a parish is a demanding job. I somehow manage to do this with my ministry but, we also don’t have children. I can imagine that being quite challenging as I see my colleagues who are parents doing quite the juggling act.

Regardless, it’s a cool find for Harvard. I’m sure we’ll here more but one thing is for certain.

This does not mean that Dan Brown is right and that the DaVinci Code was onto something. What it means is that there may be more to the historical Jesus’ life that has remained hidden.

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One Comment

  1. Interesting piece. I would make an argument not about priestly Celibacy, but about Jesus’ condition. The mission of Jesus was to spread his Gospel for 3 years, and then to die an undignified death, that led to his suffering death and Resurrection. Scripture says that Jesus knew that this was his destiny, that this was his mission. Now God is Love, and Jesus is a person of the Trinity. How could he knowingly take a wife, and perhaps have children, then leave them, and speak out in such a way that would make him a pariah and a target of the hatred of the rulers of the day. Could you imagine a man of such love taking a wife and leaving her to that? It was hard enough for the Blessed Mother to watch her son die. Imagine a woman in that time period being left by herself with no man to speak for her? She would go from being the wife of the Second person of the Trinity to someone who was considered worthless and without a voice in that Society. I am a Catholic Seminarian, and if someone were to tell me that this was the case, I am almost pretty sure I would have to leave Seminary, and perhaps the faith if this were true, because I am almost sure it cannot be. It would be such a contradiction.

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