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“Jesus’ Wife” Coptic Papyrus — Is it Credible?

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Recently an article authored by  Karen King (with contributions by AnneMarie Luijendijk) and said to be “forthcoming” in the Harvard Theological Review and entitled “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife…'” a New Coptic Gospel Papyrus, proposed that this fragment may be evidence that some Christians in the third and fourth centuries A.D. believed and taught that Jesus was married. In their view this fragment documents “a second century controversy over Jesus’s [sic] martial status, tied directly to questions about whether Christians should marry….”(2012). What are we to make of such claims?

1. Prof. King admits that we have no idea of the context wherein this fragment was found. Presumably the provenance is Egypt and after the first century A.D., if it is genuine. Usually scholars treat artefacts whose precise origin cannot be determined with considerable skepticism.

2. Considerable doubt exists as to whether or not this papyrus fragment is a forgery. Francis Watson in a September 2012 article writes that “The text has been constructed out of small pieces – words or phrases – culled from the Coptic Gospel of Thomas (GTh), especially Sayings 30, 45, 101 and 114, and set in new contexts” (“The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife: How a fake Gospel-Fragment was composed”). He adds that “The impression of modernity is reinforced by the case in line 1 of dependence on the line-division of the one surviving Coptic manuscript, easily accessible in modern printed editions.” As well he indicates that the Coptic grammar is rather bad.

3. If Francis Watson is correct and this fragment is a collage (whether ancient or modern) from earlier Coptic materials, particularly the Gospel of Thomas, then there is no sense postulating dependence upon a Greek original.

4. Even if it should prove to be genuine and written in the 4th century A.D., it demonstrations nothing with respect to Jesus’ marital status.

This material and the claims based upon it need to be treated with considerable skepticism until such time as clarity emerges regarding the authenticity of the text. Evidence at this point suggests strongly that it is a forgery. That such things occur is not new, as the exposure of  the hoax perpetrated by Morton Smith’s fictitious “Secret Gospel of Mark” which deceived many in the scholarly world.

The New Testament Gospels give no indication that Jesus was married.

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