Monday, February 18, 2013

A ‘Gospel of Jesus his Wife’?‎

Last September, there was a lot of fuzz in the media concerning  a papyrus fragment that would ‎describe Jesus as having been married.  What is it about? After a papyri snippet of 8 by 4 cm ‎containing a Coptic text, turned up, the (anonymous) current owner contacted professor Karen L. ‎King of Harvard Divinity School, granting her the permission to study and publish the fragment. The ‎first lines of the fragmentary text read as follows in English translation: ‎


‎“not to me. My mother gave me li[fe”‎
The disciples said to Jesus: “[‎
deny. Maria is (not?) worth it [‎
‎…” Jesus said to them: “My wife..[‎
‎…she will be able to be my disciple ..[‎

Given the obscure origin and circumstances of this ‘finding’, one automatically questions the ‎authenticity of the text. According to Karen King, the papyrus might have originated in Egypt in the ‎‎4th century CE and might contain a copy of an earlier text from the second half of the 2nd century CE. ‎To date, this is the only ancient snippet known to us that contains a text describing Jesus as  ‎referring to his own wife. The text demonstrates a strong affinity with other apocryphal texts from ‎the same period that underscore the importance of female disciples of Jesus, as for example the ‎apocryphal ‘gospel of Mary’ does. But let it be clear, 2nd century texts of that sort make absolutely ‎no mention of whether or not the historical Jesus was married. They show us there existed a great ‎variety of Christian factions and even subfactions holding diverse views on Jesus, which might ‎possibly ‎be influenced by the discussions on the ideal way of life (whether married or unmarried) ‎that was hotly debated among Christians in 2nd and 3th century Egypt.‎

Other scholars think, however, that the text on the papyrus is a forgery. They find it not only ‎striking that the little snippet contains several lines of text which are both relatively well readable ‎and understandable. Moreover, it seems very coincidental, that, of all persons, those few lines ‎happen to mention Jesus, his mother, his disciples and his wife all together. According to Francis ‎Watson, professor of Theology and Religious Studies at Durham University, the Coptic text on the ‎papyrus fragment has been copied line by line from another Coptic gospel, viz. the gospel of ‎Thomas. According to Watson, the author of this text has taken over words and sentences from the ‎gospel of Thomas and has simply placed them in a  different order to create a new text. After this, ‎Michael Grondin, compiler of a translation of the gospel of Thomas, gave strong evidence that the ‎little papyrus is a forgery. He points to a spelling mistake in the first line of the Coptic text and puts ‎forward that the exact spelling mistake is present in the easily accessible interlinear pdf-version of ‎the gospel of Thomas (Coptic text with English translation) which he put online years ago. Did a ‎modern forger make use of this modern text that is available online? A chemical investigation of ‎the age of the ink on the papyrus might give the decisive answer. Undoubtedly to be continued…‎

Text translated by Laura Tack from Ezra 46 (16/2012)

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