Already many in the blogosphere have mentioned the New York Times story titled “A Faded Piece of Papyrus Refers to Jesus’ Wife” covering the announcement that Dr. Karen L. King has found a 4th century Coptic text fragment (quite small: “smaller than a business card, with eight lines on one side”) that says, “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife …’”
The article says that King, “…cautioned that this fragment should not be taken as proof that Jesus, the historical person, was actually married. The text was probably written centuries after Jesus lived, and all other early, historically reliable Christian literature is silent on the question…” Yet the author (Laurie Goodstein) notes, “Even with many questions unsettled, the discovery could reignite the debate over whether Jesus was married, whether Mary Magdalene was his wife and whether he had a female disciple.”
John Byron commented regarding this announcement that,
This is very exciting and I am happy to see that, unlike previous announcements about papyri and other artifacts related to the Bible, it is being handled responsibly. Rather than hold a press conference and spin some yarn about how this “proves” Jesus had a wife, Dr. King has proceeded in the best manner by presenting her findings to her peers in the field for analysis and inviting them to comment and criticize. This is the way scholarship is supposed to work. (from “Jesus’ ‘wife’ in Newly Discovered Papyrus Fragment”)
I agree and I hope people read the level headed announcements rather than the hype inducing ones.
James McGrath adds (from “Coptic Text Mentions Jesus’ Wife”), “It is important to note that this is clear evidence only of one thing, namely that the author of this text, centuries after the time of Jesus, believed that Jesus had been married.” He doesn’t have a problem with the idea that Jesus was married. He does have a problem with jumping to the conclusion that he was married.
Papyrologist and Coptic linguist have been examining the text and more scholars will look at it as well. It is an interesting discovery because it tells us a little about what some may have believed about Jesus in the fourth century. It doesn’t tell us much about the Jesus of the first century though.
Update: King’s forthcoming journal article for the Harvard Theological Review can be read here.