Reality Check: The “Jesus’ Wife” Coptic Fragment

By Daniel Wallace

There has been an unbelievable torrent of hoopla over a newly discovered—or rather, recently announced—Coptic fragment that speaks of Jesus as being married. The news of this small, business-card-sized fragment has gone mainstream, so much so that even David Letterman got into the act. On Thursday evening (20 September), just a couple of days after the story broke in the New York Times, he had a telephone interview with the most important guest he’s ever had: Jesus Christ. This ‘Jesus’ was married and his wife was nagging him in the background. Anything for a laugh, it seems.

But when the circus leaves town, what have we got? Below are some facts, some probabilities, and some possibilities.

The Facts: 1. Professor Karen King of Harvard Divinity School presented a paper at the International Association of Coptic Studies in Rome on Tuesday, September 18, making public a fragment of papyrus that explicitly claimed that Jesus had a wife. She gained access to this fragment via an anonymous owner who has permitted her to publish the text. 2. The fragment is written in Sahidic Coptic, an ancient language that has roots in the third century CE. Sahidic is the oldest dialect of the Coptic language.

3. Papyrus was used as a medium for writing until the seventh century CE, so if genuine, this fragment must be dated between the third and seventh century CE.

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