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The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife: Another New Development

In earlier posts I talked about the “discovery” of the tiny credit-card sized fragment of a Coptic Gospel, with several lines of text on it, in one of which Jesus is recorded as speaking the words “my wife.” The text has been named “The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife.” As I mentioned in a previous blog, there are heated discussions of the fragment’s authenticity, with a large number of experts contending that it is a modern forgery. We will probably not know for certain until the tests on the ink have been conducted and published. But in the meantime there is one interesting development.

In my last post on the topic I discussed an article by Francis Watson of the University of Durham, England, and author of Text and Truth, and Gospel Writing, who argues that every word and phrase of this fragment could easily have been lifted from the Coptic Gospel of Thomas – with one exception: the very phrase that everyone is interested in, “My wife.” Watson’s argument is that someone (recently) who is not an expert in Coptic, but who had a basic knowledge of the language and a copy of Coptic Thomas (readily available) simply spliced together words and phrases from here and there in the Gospel of Thomas as a forum in which to present the spectacular line that has Dan Brown fans salivating.

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Serendipity 3: The Apocryphal Gospels Volume
Peter, The Smoked Tuna, and the Flying Heretic



  1. Avatar
    Manjir  October 13, 2012

    “And as it turns out, the mistake that no one who knew Coptic well would make in the Gospels of Judas’s Wife (the supralinear line)…”
    Hi, Professor – Is there a Gospel of Judas’ wife or is that another typo? Just wondering – sounds intriguing.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  October 14, 2012

      Woops! Unless there’s yet *another* Gospel fragment — it’s yet another typo! (or a scribal alteration of the text…)

  2. Avatar
    mjardeen  October 14, 2012

    I expect that it will be a forgery, but wouldn’t it be funny if it turned out that it was in fact that old, and the person writing it was simply not that good at it. What if the typo was simply an ancient typo? I think that would be the more amusing conclusion.

  3. Avatar
    Christian  October 14, 2012

    I found fascinating your relation of the controversy about the alleged Secret Gospel of Mark, and I understand that you count yourself amongst the sceptics (I read that you recently explained your doubts in a conference. What is suspicious about mixed salt, by the way? I didn’t catch that.). Generally speaking, how often have modern forgeries been identified as such? To date, how many documents are disputed? Do we see an increase of authenticity claims for forged texts, or a decrease? If the latter, would you explain the decline to better palaeography and Biblical scholarship or to better physical sciences for dating? (I ask this because I read that there seems to be a great reluctance to use datation methods that destroy even a tiny piece of the material.) If history is any guide, in the case of this new fragment, what could be the motives of a forger?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  October 14, 2012

      Mixed salt: apparently they didn’t have the technology in antiquity to make pourable salt that could be mixed with other ingredients. The technology, according to Stephen Carlson, was developed by the MORTON (!) salt company.

      Numbers of disputed documents: good question! I deal with about forty in my forthcoming book Forgery and Counterforgery, from the first four hundred years of early Christianity. I know of a few more that were not relevant to the topic of the book.

      Motive: as I understand it (I may be wrong, but a famous archaeologist told me this), the person who gave the fragment to Prof. Karen King has an entire collection of papyri that he wants to sell to the Harvard Library. Something spectacular like this would seriously increase the asking price!

      • Avatar
        donmax  October 15, 2012

        I found Carlson’s arguments contrived in many respects. And what he said about Iodized “Morton” Salt was nothing short of ridiculous. Is he pretending that ancients didn’t know how to grind slabs of salt into finer grains for everyday use? Or heat it or re-grind it when it caked?

        Salt was an early and long lasting form of widely traded currency, at times more valuable than gold or jewels.
        Like all currencies it was subject to manipulation. In earlier times men discovered how to cut salt with other white powders for personal gain. To cut it so much that it lost its flavor attests directly to that practice. And, yes, it could be sprinkled or poured!


        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  October 16, 2012

          Yes, well, Carlson disagrees with you! He does cite the evidence in his book (hwich it sounds like you read?).

          • Avatar
            donmax  October 17, 2012

            Yup. And rebutted fairly well, I think.

  4. Avatar
    hwl  October 14, 2012

    Surely carbon dating of the material would prove conclusively one way or the other?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  October 14, 2012

      Yes, but the papyrus could be ancient and purchased in Egypt and then written on; and to carbon test the ink requires destroying it, and no one wants to do that!

      • Avatar
        Attu  October 15, 2012

        Why not? It has already been declared a forgery.

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  October 16, 2012

          Being “declared” a forgery and being “demonstrated” as a forgery are two different things. And if everyone knew it was a forgery,there would be no *reason* to test the ink!

  5. Avatar
    JordanDay  October 14, 2012

    This is why I have lost nearly all faith in palaeographers. As you said, Roger Bagnall (arguably the TOP paleographer in the world) thought this was a real piece. I know his specialty is Greek and Latin, but this never should have slipped by. And we are supposed to believe Wallace about this 1st century Mark fragment that has been looked at by ONE paleographer? Heck, it was probably Bagnall!

  6. Avatar
    Attu  October 14, 2012

    Another scholar has stated that he does not find the missing direct object marker odd. Also, Halevy did not think it was of tantamount importance. What would be very important is the text on the verso. I see people asking this question on blogs but they are ignored. The technology exists for this faded text to be read. Why is the verso ignored?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  October 14, 2012

      Because there’s only a few letters on it and it can’t be construed very easily, as I understand it.

  7. Avatar
    Pat Ferguson  October 14, 2012

    I, too, have been closely following news related to this fragment. I’m particularly interested, since the Vatican has already declared it to be a fake, what the ink test results show.

    Go Heels! 🙂

    • Avatar
      mjardeen  October 15, 2012

      The Vatican declaring it a fake is not surprising, though if it is authenticated then they will simply declare it Gnostic and heretical.

      A long time friend of mine who leads an Evangelical Jewish community told me that as a Jew he would be more surprised if Jesus had not had a wife. At his age being single would have been unusual for that period and region.

      30,000+ sects of Christianity with so much time on their hands.

      • Bart Ehrman
        Bart Ehrman  October 16, 2012

        Yes, I don’t agree with your friend. There were lots of Jewish men without wives. Had to be. So many women died in childbirth that there were far more men than women available.

        • Avatar
          donmax  October 17, 2012

          Unlike most folks I happen to think Jesus lived at least into his late thirties if not longer. The average lifespan was in the neighborhood of the late twenties. Men died at high rates, too — rich and poor alike! But the injunction to “multiply” was taken very seriously. Even Jesus’ brother, James, who was the leader of the Nazarenes and an ascetic, did not practice celibacy. He engaged in sex for procreation according to Yahweh’s commandment. Surely, his brother would have felt the same.

  8. Avatar
    donmax  October 15, 2012

    I root for the authenticity of the fragment in question, but either way it still leaves open whether or not Jesus was married, whether had a normal sex life and whether he fathered children.

    The following excerpt is taken from Jesus The Jew No One Knows. It’s entitled “What About His Wedding?”

    According to the Bible Yahweh’s original commandment, “Be fruitful and multiply!” was given to “every living creature” on the fifth day of creation (Gen. 1: 22), and then to Adam and Eve on the sixth (Gen. 1:28). It was a command they took to heart and something their descendants responded to as an admonition intended to promote the family, the clan, the tribe and the Jewish nation.

    Ultimately, this injunction led to more formalized arrangements involving marriage contracts and weddings both of which were more elaborate and protracted than most of the rituals and ceremonies of today. Feasting might go on for days and usually included breakfasts as well as dinners followed by processional dancing, music and singing (Ps. 45:15; 1Macc. 9:39; Mt. 25: 1-10). Guests were expected to comport themselves in specific ways, and it would have been an insult either to decline a wedding invitation or to fail to dress appropriately for the occasion (Mt. 22:7, 11-12). The same was true for hosts who had the added burden of supplying food and libations.

    Everyone understood the importance of marriage and the requirements of procreation. For this reason, and because Yeshua was a Nazarene rabbi, his views on divorce were more severe than most (Mk. 10:9).

    Given his age, his standing in the community and strict adherence to Mosaic Law, Yeshu may well have been the one getting married, as the wedding celebration in Cana strongly suggests (Jn. 2: 1-12). Why else would he have done something required of a host? Would his mother have come to him otherwise when she discovered the wine was about to run out? Indeed, how could she expect her son to take charge of the servants in another man’s house if he were merely one of many guests?

    And toward the end of the evening, would it not be reasonable to find Yeshu listening to the master of ceremonies as he praised our unnamed “bridegroom,” saying, “Every man serves the good wine first; and when men have drunk freely, then the poor wine; but you have kept the good wine until now” (2:10)?

    If he were not married, it would have been the exception rather than the rule. Moreover, as an unmarried man without children he would have lost credibility with the masses for violating Yahweh’s first commandant.

    If I were a betting man I’d say the answer to whether or not he had a wife is at least 3 to 1 in the the affirmative.

  9. Avatar
    Javalos  April 10, 2014

    Well… the verdict is in. (apparently)


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