Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Wife of Jesus

Somehow I managed not to hear anything about this yesterday, but this morning my Google Reader was brimming with posts about the recent discovery by Karen King (prof. at Harvard Divinity School) of a (possibly) 4th-century Coptic fragment wherein Jesus mentions "my wife".

On the fragment itself, Mark Goodacre has a typically excellent post, with links to pictures of the fragment and much more information. One of the links he includes is to the Harvard Divinity press release, which includes an advance copy of the scholarly paper by Prof. King to be published in Harvard Theological Review. The site also has a transcription and translation of the fragment.

You can get a lot of the story from Jim Davila's post, where he excerpts the Boston Globe's coverage and provides comments. Prov. Davila is "skeptical" of the authenticity of the fragment, though he does not rule out its authenticity and hopes that it is genuine. Of course, he and others know that this fragment can provide no reliable information on the actual marital status of the historical Jesus, it can only tell us how this was viewed by some Christians in later (2nd century? 4th century?) tradition.

As for the question of whether Jesus was married or not, Jim Davila again provides some helpful comments in a post from a few years ago responding to this theme in The DaVinci Code. Here's an excerpt from that older post.
So Jesus' marital status is a mystery. We would expect, a priori, that he would have been married, but the tradition tells us nothing about his wife, if he had one, and I can think of no good reason the Gospel writers would have wanted to hide the fact if he was married. But it would have been unusual, although not unprecedented for a Jewish man of that period to be celibate. Like the Essenes, he may have renounced marriage for the sake of his ministry. Most people assume that this is the case.
UPDATE (20 Sept. 2012): Jim Davila expresses more reservations about the authenticity of the fragment here.  Also, Christian Askeland reports the general impression at the International Association of Coptic Studies conference, now on-going, and outlines several peculiarities about the fragment that may indicate that it is a fake.

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