Jesus had a wife? Bible scholars question Harvard finding (+video)
Karen King, a Harvard Divinity School professor, says that in the papyrus text Jesus refers to "my wife," whom he identifies as Mary. King said that in the dialogue the disciples discuss whether Mary is worthy and Jesus says "she can be my disciple."
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The fragment belongs to an anonymous private collector who contacted King to help translate and analyze it. Nothing is known about the circumstances of its discovery, but it had to have come from Egypt, where the dry climate allows ancient writings to survive and because it was written in a script used in ancient times there, King said.Skip to next paragraph
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The unclear origins of the document should encourage people to be cautious, said Bible scholar Ben Witherington III, a professor and author who teaches at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. He said the document follows the pattern of Gnostic texts of the second, third and fourth centuries, using "the language of intimacy to talk about spiritual relationships."
"What we hear from the Gnostic is this practice called the sister-wife texts, where they carried around a female believer with them who cooks for them and cleans for them and does the usual domestic chores, but they have no sexual relationship whatsoever" during the strong monastic periods of the third and fourth centuries, Witherington said. "In other words, this is no confirmation of the Da Vinci Code or even of the idea that the Gnostics thought Jesus was married in the normal sense of the word."
These kinds of doubts, King said, should not stop scholars from continuing to examine the document.
Those who conducted initial examination of the fragment include Roger Bagnall, a papyrologist who's the director of the New York-based Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, and AnneMarie Luijendijk, a scholar of the New Testament and early Christianity from Princeton University. They said their study of the papyrus, the handwriting and how the ink was chemically absorbed shows it is highly probable it's an ancient text, King said.
Another scholar, Ariel Shisha-Halevy, professor of linguistics at Hebrew University and a leading expert on Coptic language, reviewed the text's language and concluded it offered no evidence of forgery.
King and Luijendijk said they believe the fragment is part of a newly discovered gospel they named "Gospel of Jesus's Wife" for reference purposes. King said she dated the time it was written to the second half of the second century because it shows close connections to other newly discovered gospels written at that time, especially the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Mary and the Gospel of Philip.
Rodrique Ngowi can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/ngowi
Associated Press writer Nicole Winfield contributed from Rome.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.