NEW YORK (CBS News/CBSNewYork) – Was Jesus married?
A 1,600-year-old document, translated for the first time, has a message that could shake up Christianity. It is the first-known statement from that era that refers to Jesus, talking about having a wife.
An American historian presented the new evidence on Tuesday. An anonymous private collector first reached out to Dr. Karen King, a professor of divinity at Harvard University, asking her to translate the document. At first, she was suspicious but after close examination she and her colleagues now say it’s real.
The tattered piece of papyrus resembling perhaps a discarded business card dates back to the 4th century. Written in an ancient dialect of Coptic language, it contains just eight broken lines in faded black ink.
Translated, the first one reads, “Jesus said to them, my wife”; the second, “she will be able to be my disciple.”
A papyrus scholar at NYU who has examined the fragment told CBS 2’s John Slattery it appears to be authentic, not a forgery. And a Coptic scholar at Fordham University agreed.
“It has the appearance of a middleman who had one papyrus, wanted money, chopped it up, chopped up to get higher value for resale,” Michael Peppard of Fordham told Slattery.
The discovery will be featured in an upcoming documentary on the Smithsonian Channel.
But does it mean that Jesus was a married man? King said the text doesn’t necessarily prove that Jesus had a wife, but it does suggest that early Christians debated the issue.
“It is the only extent piece of early Christian literature where Jesus talks about having a wife,” King said.
Fordham theologian Father Patrick Ryan finds “the wife” reference curious, but incomplete. “Well, the trouble is all there is. ‘My wife the Church’ could be the next word. We don’t have the next word. We just have ‘Jesus my wife,'” Ryan told Slattery.
It may sound like something straight out of the controversial movie “The Da Vinci Code.” But Serene Jones, president of New York City’s Union Theological Seminary, said it isn’t so. “‘The Da Vinci Code’ is interesting fiction,” she said, “but it is not historical by any means.”
However, Jones said that the finding could reinvent the way Christians think about Jesus and women – especially in the Roman Catholic Church. She explained, “The whole idea of the priesthood being male and being celibate is based on the historical assumption that Jesus was male and was celibate and single.”
When or how the document was discovered is still unknown. Experts plan to do additional testing, analyzing the chemical makeup of the ink to try to come up with more answers to a question that challenges the very foundations of Christian thinking.