A historian of early Christianity at Harvard Divinity School has identified a papyrus fragment, written in Coptic in the fourth century, containing the first known explicit statement that Jesus was married and further refers to a female disciple.
The faded papyrus fragment is just a few inches wide, with eight ink lines, written in Coptic, on one side. The text is only legible under a magnifying glass and translates as:
Jesus said to them, ‘My wife …’
The fragment of papyrus also includes another provocative clause that saying:
…she will be able to be my disciple.
The finding was made public Tuesday, in Rome, at an international meeting of Coptic scholars by the historian Karen L. King. King has published several books about new Gospel discoveries and is the first woman to hold the nation’s oldest endowed chair, the Hollis professor of divinity.
While certainly an exciting discovery, many will undoubtedly question its authenticity.
[King] repeatedly cautioned that this fragment should not be taken as proof that Jesus, the historical person, was actually married. The text was probably written centuries after Jesus lived, and all other early, historically reliable Christian literature is silent on the question, she said.
Christianity continues to discuss the place of women in ministry and the boundaries of marriage even today, but scholars tell us these debates go back to earliest years of the faith. With many questions yet unresolved, the discovery could reignite debates over Jesus’ marital status; whether his wife was Mary Magdalene, and whether he may have had a female disciple.