TV and news services are now humming with this story. A new fragment of a second-century (probably Gnostic) Gospel has been discovered, mentioning Jesus’ “wife.”
Calling Dan Brown! Cue all the conspiracy theorists! And get set for another wild round of “what the real Jesus was like and what the Church is hiding from you” speculation.
A closer look shows that there’s not that much to get excited about.
The soberest account of this papyrus is undoubtedly the one by the scholar who brought it to light, Karen L. King of Harvard. You can read a brief summary account here as well as a draft of the actual article King has scheduled for publication in the Harvard Theological Review. (The first part about the manuscript and the paleographic evidence, etc, is rather dry, but close to the end there’s a translation of and discussion of the text).
It is well worth reading. King is very careful to point out this new Gospel does not constitute evidence in any way that the historical Jesus had a wife. In fact, she relates the work to other late second-century Gnostic works, including The Gospel of Philip and the Gospel of Thomas. She includes that for these Gnostics, the type of marriage referred to here is not an earthly or sexual union, but a spiritual initiation.
Here she is in her own words:
The text reads as follows
1 ] “not [to] me. My mother gave to me li[fe…”
2 ] The disciples said to Jesus, “.[
3 ] deny. Mary is worthy of it35
4 ]……” Jesus said to them, “My wife . .[ [
5 ]… she will be able to be my disciple . . [
6 ] Let wicked people swell up … [
7] As for me, I dwell with her in order to . [
8] an image [
Only a few words are still legible on the other side.
That’s it. No evidence of who the wife is, certainly no specific mention of Mary Magdalen, who has long been discussed as Jesus’ wife.
It’s rather astonishing that King goes ahead and titles the “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” – rather than say, “Jesus’ Mother,” who is after all, mentioned on the first line. Not so astonishing, on the other hand, when you think what part most people are going to be interested in.
It’s also astonishing that King says that this is the earliest statement attributed to Jesus that he had a wife. You would think a scholar in her area would have at least a little acquaintance with the relevant literature.
Did Jesus have a wife — the word is not did, but does!
During his earthly lifetime, Jesus was not married. But the whole New Testament is alive with the assertion that He was going to be. He spoke about it many times as did the Church after him.
Jesus identified himself as a bridegroom (Mt. 9:15). His church is His Bride, says St. Paul (2 Corinthians 11:2). The Church was born from Christ’s side on the Cross, as Eve from Adam’s side, and was baptized in the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. After being espoused to Her, Jesus returned to heaven to prepare a place for his bride to live with him. The Church strives to keep herself pure for him until he returns. We are warned to be vigilant and wait for the coming of the Bridegroom to be announced (Mt. 25:1-13). At the end of time He will return and his union with the Church will be consummated, and we will enjoy the wedding feast of the Lamb in joy without end (Mt. 24; Rev. 19:7).
An earthly wife for Jesus would have been awkward amid all that, to say the least.
Now comes the information that that some suspect it’s a forgery
We’ll have to wait and see.