Was Jesus a married man?

2012-09-29 18:46

A small piece of 1 700-year-old papyrus about the size of a cigarette packet is causing an uproar in the Christian world.

This is because the fragment is from a previously unknown gospel in which Jesus talks to his disciples about a woman who is worthy of being a disciple. The woman involved is called Mary and in the conversation this phrase is found: “And Jesus said to them: ‘My wife ...’”

This suggests what to many Christians is unthinkable – that Jesus was married.

The existence of this scrap of ancient writing was revealed by Professor Karen King, a theology professor at Harvard, at a conference in Rome last week.

She says the fragment dates back to the 4th century and is written in the Sahidic Coptic language of ancient Egypt.

But the text could be part of a much older unknown gospel manuscript from the second century, which was probably written in Greek.

Claims that Jesus was married have been made before, but there was never any evidence to support it.

However, if the document is authentic – and the Vatican has already claimed it is a fake – this piece of papyrus could be the missing piece of the puzzle for theologians.

King says she cannot claim that this is unequivocal proof.

“It is not evidence, for us, historically, that Jesus had a wife,” she said. “It’s quite clear evidence, in fact, that some Christians, probably in the second half of the second century, thought that Jesus had a wife.”

The announcement has caused huge controversy.

Kate Cooper, professor of ancient history at the University of Manchester, says: “This papyrus text shows how a single fragment can change how we see history.”

The papyrus and its ink are yet to be tested and dated, but many scholars are already claiming that it is a forgery as King did not reveal its source or the context in which it was found.

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