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Jesus Was Married, Ancient Papyrus Suggests
A snippet of ancient papyrus studied by a Harvard professor suggests early Christians believed Jesus really was a married man.
Karen King†says the fourth century fragment of papyrus is the only existing ancient text that quotes Jesus explicitly referring to having a wife.
She has helped to translate the six words on a three-inch fragment.
The words, written in the Coptic language of ancient Egyptian Christians, translate to: "Jesus said to them, my wife."
In the dialogue, the disciples discuss whether Mary is worthy and Jesus says "she can be my disciple", Ms King said.
The text contains a dialogue in which Jesus identifies Mary, explained Professor King, who added that the fragment is a copy of a gospel, probably written in Greek in the second century.
Christian tradition has long held that Jesus was unmarried even though there was no reliable historical evidence to support that.
But the new gospel, prof King pointed out, tells us "that the whole question only came up as part of vociferous debates about sexuality and marriage".
She said: "From the very beginning, Christians disagreed about whether it was better not to marry but it was over a century after Jesus' death before they began appealing to Jesus' marital status to support their positions."
Ms King presented the document at a six-day conference being held in Rome. To date, the discovery has gone unmentioned by the Vatican.
The fragment belongs to an anonymous private collector who contacted professor King to help translate and analyse it. Nothing is known about the circumstances of its discovery, but it is believed it came from Egypt, where the dry climate allows ancient writings to survive and because it was written in a script used in ancient times there.
However, another expert has urged caution.
Bible scholar Ben Witherington III, a professor and author who teaches at a college in Kentucky, said the document follows the pattern of Gnostic (early Christian) of the second, third and fourth centuries, using "the language of intimacy to talk about spiritual relationships".