* Harvard scholar studied "gospel" fragment mentioning
* Karen King hopes it will stir debate among theologians
* Experts believe tiny fragment is authentic
ROME, Sept 19 (Reuters) - An ancient Coptic papyrus whose
scribe quotes Jesus referring to "my wife" is the first clear
recorded statement of a claim that he was married, the Harvard
scholar who unveiled the 1,700-year-old fragment said on
But Karen King, Professor at Harvard Divinity School, said
the landmark discovery of the fragment still provided no
definitive historical answer to the question of whether Jesus
had a spouse.
"This is no silver bullet regarding that question," King
told Reuters in an interview in Rome, where she presented her
The fragment, which measures 8 cm by 4 cm (3.1 by 1.6
inches) includes words in ancient Coptic in which a scribe
writes: "Jesus said to them, my wife ...".
Another section of the fragment, contains the phrase "she
will be able to be my disciple".
"I think the fragment itself is discussing issues about
discipleship and family. But certainly the fact that this is the
first unequivocal statement we have that claims Jesus had a
wife, is of great interest," she said.
King presented her findings at an congress of Coptic Studies
in a Vatican-run university across the street from St Peter's
Square after they were first announced by Harvard on Tuesday.
The fragment, which was given to King by a private owner for
study, is believed to have been written in the fourth century in
a dialect of the Coptic language used in northern Egypt.
"I want to be very clear that this fragment does not give us
any evidence that Jesus was married, or not married," she said
in the interview during a break in the congress.
But King, who refers to the discovery as "the Gospel of
Jesus' Wife", said she hopes it will help Christians and
theologians deal with complex issues of sexuality and the role
of women that were discussed in the early Church and are still
being discussed today.
Christian tradition has long held that Jesus was not married
and the Catholic Church, by far the largest in Christendom, says
women cannot become priests because Christ chose only men as his
"This will be of very important interest for the history of
early Christianity and therefore for theologians who draw on
history," she said.
The idea that Jesus was married resurfaces regularly in
popular culture, notably with the 2003 publication of Dan
Brown's best-seller "The Da Vinci Code," which angered the
Vatican because it was based on the idea that Jesus was married
to Mary Magdalene and had children.
The Vatican had no immediate comment on the discovery.
GIVEN BY ANONYMOUS PRIVATE COLLECTOR
Leading scholars have attested to the authenticity of the
tiny fragment, which is owned by an anonymous private collector
who contacted King to help translate and analyse it and is
thought to have been discovered in Egypt or perhaps Syria.
"I have come to the conclusion that this was indeed an
authentic, ancient text, written by a scribe in antiquity," said
AnneMarie Luijendijk, associate professor of religion at
"We can see that by the way the ink is preserved on the
papyrus and also the way the papyrus has faded and also the way
the papyrus has become very fragmentary, which is actually in
line with a lot of other papyri we have also from the New
Testament," Luijendijk told Reuters at the congress in Rome.
Roger Bagnall, director of the Institute for the Study of
the Ancient World in New York, also said he believed the
fragment was authentic.
King said she welcomes scholarly and public debate about the
"We can ask the question 'when did Christians first start
talking about whether Jesus was married or not?' 'Who was the
first person, for example, to say that Jesus was not married?'"
"I think what I would recommend for Christians, in the
tradition, is to be able to understand that we don't know if
Jesus was married or not, that questions about sexuality and
marriage were being asked in the early Church and they are still
being asked today," King said.
"I am hoping that these new voices will provide the kind of
complex resources that are needed to address the complex
questions of our own day."
King's analysis of the fragment is slated for publication in
the Harvard Theological Review in January 2013. She has posted a
draft of the paper, and images of the fragment, on the Harvard
Divinity School website:
(Additional reporting by Ros Krasny in Boston, Editing by Mark