By Dr. Craig A. Evans 

[Note from Brian LePort: Dr. Evans has been receiving a lot of inquiry regarding the so-called Gospel of Jesus’ Wife, so he put together some quick notes that he has been sharing. He sent them to me with permission to reproduce on this blog. For those interested, Harvard Divinity School has a page dedicated to the text with pictures of the front and back of the fragment, a transcription of the Coptic, and a proposed English translation here. This is the source of the pictures and translations found below.]

Papyrus fragment: front. Karen L. King 2012
Papyrus fragment: back. Karen L. King 2012

Into the hands of Karen King: 

  • In December 2011 Karen King, professor of New Testament at Harvard Divinity School, was given a small fragment of papyrus on which a few lines of Coptic were written.
  • Roger Bagnall examined the papyrus and opined that it was probably authentic.

What does it mean?

  • “Mary is worthy of it” — worthy of what?
  • “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife . . .’” Is this what the text actually says?
  • “she will be able to be my disciple”
  • “I dwell with her”

In what little context we have in this newly reported fragment, the meaning does seem to be “my wife” (presumably Mary Magdalene). If so, it is likely part of a strategy to validate her teaching. This is similar to what some Gnostic circles did with the disciple Thomas, who is identified as “Judas Thomas the twin,” that is, Jesus’ twin brother (see Mark 6:3, where Jesus is said to have a brother named Judas). As the twin brother of Jesus he may claim to possess secret teaching that had not been shared with the other disciples. The same point is made in the Gnostic Gospel of Mary, where Mary Magdalene claims to possess special revelation.

  • Line 1, “My mother gave to me life,” may prepare for what follows. If the mother of Jesus gave life to Jesus, then a woman like Mary Magdalene may well be capable of possessing life (in the Gnostic sense).
  • Line 2, “the disciples said to Jesus,” probably raises a question or lodges a complaint (as in the Gospel of Mary).
  • Line 3, “Mary is worthy of it,” that is, Mary is either worthy of life and/or worthy of special revelation.
  • Line 4, “My wife,” probably refers to Mary, who is mentioned in line 3. The context is uncertain. What the text may be saying is that because she is special, Mary may be Jesus’ wife, or because she is Jesus’ wife, she is special (or both).
  • Line 5, “she will be able to be my disciple,” is the real point: Mary is equal to the male disciples of Jesus. Therefore her teaching has validity.
  • Line 7, “I dwell with her in order to,” provides the purpose, which in this case probably has to do with Jesus’ imparting to Mary his deepest teaching.
  • Karen King’s paper will appear in Harvard Theological Review.