A Fragment of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife? Part Two

Photo by jbtaylor on flickr

The previous post discussed the current state of affairs with regard to the finding of the fragment of papyrus in which Jesus seems to refer to his wife. The papyrus has been shown to date from the fourth century, the ink is still undergoing testing. Before the definitive results are published, however, polemics have already begun. Numerous web reactions on various grounds claim that the fragment is a forgery.

Francis Watson, from Durham University, argues that the text in the fragment is a collage of phrases culled mostly from the Gospel of Thomas (sayings 101 and 114). Stephen Emmel (University of Muenster) points to appearance and grammar as evidence of it being a forgery. Wolf-Peter Funk (Université Laval) argues that the small size of the fragment and especially its lack of context should prevent us from attaching too much value to our hypotheses (see here for an overview of the critical reactions).

The most sensational aspect of the text is without doubt Jesus’ referring to Mary as “my wife”. Due to the penurious condition of the papyrus fragment it is not possible to identify with certainty the Mary Jesus is referring to. However, the existence of early Christian traditions which echo a close relationship between Jesus and Mary of Magdala (Gospel of Mary; Dialogue of the Savior, Gospel of Philip) and other traditions in which her worthiness as a disciple is put into question (Gospel of Thomas; Gospel of Mary), seem to point to Mary Magdalene as the most likely interpretation.

Did Jesus ever marry and have the life of a “normal” man with wife (and kids)? Of course there is no way of proving that he did, even though there is no evidence that he did not either. Until now we tended to think that this question was a modern preoccupation. In Kazantzakis’s book Jesus’s dream of having a normal man’s life was indeed Satan’s most modern (and perverse) move to tempt Jesus – which the latter, by the way, was strong enough to resist. In Scorsese’s film, even if based on Kazantzakis’s book, we see a much too human Jesus: his indulging in erotic dreams with Mary –which offended many at the end of the eighties– apparently reduces his humanity to our most basic instincts. However, this representation echoes Giovanni Papini’s twentieth-century-aesthetic view that Jesus’s love for the beauty of creation could not but have included women as well. More in line with the modern appeal of “conspiranoia” or conspiracy theories, Dan Brown’s Davinci Code has approached Jesus and his alleged relationship with Mary from the perspective of the implications this could have for writing of an alternative history Christianity (the numerous wrong views and assertions regarding early Christianity in the Davinci Code have been discussed at length by professor G.P. Luttikhuizen).

However, if genuine, the text might provide evidence that this question was not as modern as we tended to think and that it concerned already early Christians. If genuine, the text should in any case be placed in the long line of interpretations of Jesus and his life in the light of positions and beliefs alien to him but important for his interpreters beginning immediately after Jesus’s death. Nevertheless, even if ink chemical analysis prove the text to be authentic I think W.P. Funk is right when he asserts that without its immediate context it will be difficult if not impossible to provide a sound interpretation of a text, let alone jump to conclusions regarding the value of the fragment for the history and development of Christianity, early Christian views on celibacy, marriage, and the role of female disciples in Early Christianity and the implications thereof for the place and function of women in the early Church.

Keep updated: Paleo Judaica

Questions and Answers on the website of the Harvard Divinity School

The reaction of the Vatican


J.L. Borges, “Three Versions of Judas”, in Ficciones, 1944.

N. Kazantzakis, The Last Temptation of Christ, 1955.

G. Papini, The Story of Christ, 1921.

Lautaro Roig Lanzillota is an expert on new testament and early Christianity at the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies of Groningen University


7 Replies to “A Fragment of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife? Part Two”

  1. I have been browsing online more than three
    hours these days, yet I by no means found any fascinating article like yours.
    It is pretty worth sufficient for me. In my opinion, if all webmasters and
    bloggers made excellent content as you did, the internet might be a lot more helpful than ever before.

  2. Hi there, I discovered your web site by the use of Google even as looking for a similar topic,
    your web site got here up, it appears to be like great.
    I’ve bookmarked it in my google bookmarks.
    Hi there, just turned into aware of your weblog thru Google, and found that it is truly informative.
    I am going to watch out for brussels. I will appreciate if you proceed this in future.
    Many other people will probably be benefited out of your writing.


  3. I feel this is one of the most vital info for me. And
    i’m happy reading your article. But wanna observation on few normal issues, The website style is great, the
    articles is actually excellent : D. Excellent task, cheers

  4. Hey there! I could have sworn I’ve been to this website before but after reading through
    some of the post I realized it’s new to me. Anyways, I’m definitely happy I found it and I’ll be book-marking and checking back frequently!

  5. Hi! Someone in my Facebook group shared this website with us so I came to take a look.

    I’m definitely loving the information. I’m bookmarking and will be tweeting this to my
    followers! Wonderful blog and brilliant design and style.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s