LAST WEEK A HARVARD BIBLE SCHOLAR, Dr. Karen King, announced the discovery of a tiny shred of an ancient book that contains this jarring line:
“Jesus said to them, ‘My wife’…”
The book—apparently part of a previously lost Gospel about Jesus—reads like books from the AD 300s. If that dating proves correct, after spectrometry and other planned analysis, that would make this clipping one of the oldest known writings about Jesus.
It’s written in Coptic, a language popular in ancient Egypt, where many Christian and Jewish scholars lived at the time.
Who’s the wife?
The book hints of Mary Magdalene, one of the women who followed Jesus and his disciples. Excerpts from the shred that seem to point to Mary:
- “…she will be my disciple.”
- “Mary is worthy of it.”
Should we place a bet that Mary Magdalene—or anyone else, for that matter—was Mrs. Jesus?
I don’t think many Bible scholars would place that bet. Several reasons.
There were lots of stories written about Jesus during those early centuries. Some made bizarre claims about him. One says that as a child he killed other children and their parents: imagine Superboy as a bully.
Gospels like that and this newly discovered Coptic writing didn’t make the cut into the New Testament for at least one of several reasons.
Gospels that made the cut did so because:
- They were believed written by one of Jesus’ original disciples or by someone who got their information from one of the disciples.
- They were widely read in worship services throughout the world—and considered sacred by most Christians.
- Their message tracked with traditional Christian beliefs.
The first known list of New Testament books showed up in an Easter letter that a Roman bishop wrote to the churches under his supervision. After listing every book we have in the New Testament, the bishop wrote this:
“These are the fountains of salvation, and they who thirst may be satisfied with the living words they contain” (Athanasius, AD 367).
The earliest surviving claim that Jesus was not married was recorded by a Christian theologian in Egypt, Clement of Alexandra around AD 200.
Jesus: “My wife” video
Karen L. King describes her new find in a 2 1/2-minute video posted on Harvard’s YouTube page.