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The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife

The new Gospel “discovery,” the fragment of the so-called “Gospel of Jesus’s Wife”: I’m afraid I don’t have anything much to add to the conversations going on among experts and available to you by a simple Internet search. If you’re really interested, read around on the net. But I should say a few things, perhaps, from where I sit.

First and most important for this post.  The big initial question is whether or not it is authentic.  I am not a Coptic palaeographer or a papyrologist, and so I cannot render an independent judgment.  A palaeographer is an expert in ancient handwriting, and is the kind of scholar who can look at a manuscript or a fragment of a manuscript (very carefully, magnified, from various angles!) and determine whether it is authentic or forged and if authentic when it probably dates from.   A papyrologist is an expert in ancient papyrus, especially papyrus manuscripts, who also can make judgments – based on the physical specimen rather than on the handwriting – about authenticity.   The initial appraisal of the fragment was by Karen King, who is an expert in Gnostic Gospels, but who admits that she is not a palaeographer or a papyrologist.   She did show the piece to two papyrologists, Roger Bagnall and Anne-Marie Luijendijk.  They are both very good.  Bagnall is one of the top (arguably THE top) papyrologists in the world (although he works mainly with Greek manuscripts; I don’t know off hand if he has done much with Coptic), Luijendijk is a rising star (she does both Greek and Coptic).   They both apparently think the piece is authentic.

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Is the New Gospel Fragment a Modern Forgery?
BREAKING NEWS! A Significant New Non-Canonical Gospel Fragment



  1. dallaswolf  September 20, 2012

    Interesting stuff, Bart.

  2. Dennis Steenbergen  September 20, 2012

    Why do we think its about a debate on marriage and not a really early debate on sexual equality?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  September 20, 2012

      It may have been a debate about both.

  3. hwl  September 20, 2012

    Was it highly unusual to find a bachelor in his 30s living in 1st century Palestine?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  September 20, 2012

      There are other examples, especially among apocalyptically minded Jews who thought the end was near. The Essenes, for example, and possibly the apostle Paul.

  4. Adam  September 20, 2012

    I’m not an expert or scholar and have no problem with the possiblity of Jesus having a wife (though this is ultra unlikely based on the literary and historical evidence!). However, while it is indeed possibly authentic (based on what some experts are saying), I find it is too much of a coincidence that this tiny fragment of just a few incomplete lines just happens to refer to Jesus having a wife…on this basis alone I doubt. Anything is possible but if I were trying to get attention and media coverage on the issue this is something perfect to forge…

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  September 20, 2012

      Yes, that is causing other people to wonder as well….

  5. timber84  September 21, 2012

    If the fragment is written in Coptic and there are no Greek copies, how would you know the original was written in Greek?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  September 21, 2012

      There are linguistic differences between languages that sometimes give hints that a text is a translation from another, rather than an original composition.

  6. Eric  September 21, 2012

    Would Jewish law allow Mary to travel with Jesus and the others,without being married to one of them?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  September 21, 2012

      Unfortunately, we don’t know enough about Jewish culture at the time. But there were no “laws” (except those in Scripture) that every Jew felt obliged follow. (That came later)

  7. Pat Ferguson  September 21, 2012

    Personally, I’m not impressed by a purported Gnostic “gospel” fragment that seems to indicate that Jesus might have had a “wife”. When properly authenticated and translated, this noncanonical fragment will likely have no more impact on Judeo-Christian belief and practice than does any other Gnostic text; e.g., the Secret Book of John, which assigns a human name to a host of supernatural authorities (kings, rulers, powers, and the like), human body parts, natural elements, demons, and angels.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  September 21, 2012

      True, it would not have that kind of impact. But for historians of early Christianity interested in the varieties of Christian thought, it would be a terrific discovery!

  8. CalifiorniaPuma  September 25, 2012

    Hello Professor Ehrman,
    We certainly are hearing more about all things Coptic lately. My wife was raised in a Coptic family. She came to the US as a young girl, and she describes memories of 4-hour long liturgical services, rendered mostly in the “ancient Coptic language” in their very conservative Coptic church here in the US. She never understood any of it—only the Coptic Priests did. But the language itself was somehow considered more “holy.” My question is, do all Coptic manuscripts, including this newly revealed fragment, originate from Alexandria, Egypt, home of the Coptic Church? Also, do Coptic scholars/researchers, working in the field there, ever run into difficulties with (Muslim) authorities?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  September 25, 2012

      Coptic was once the language of (almost?) all of Egypt, so Coptic texts originated in different locations, not just or even primarily Alexandria (which, I believe, was largely Greek-speaking in antiquity). I have never heard of any problems with Muslim authorities. Whenever I’ve been there the authorities have been extremely gracious and welcoming.

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