A fragment of a Coptic (Egyptian Christian) manuscript has a sentence about Jesus saying "my wife." The story made top headlines today. And already headline writers are exaggerating its significance.
The fragment’s date? Between mid-second-century and fourth century.
The fragment’s context: It has none. It's a 1.5 by 3-inch text with writing on both sides.
What gets buried in the news: The scholar who brought forth the announcement wrote in her Harvard Theological Review article set for release in January that “this fragment, this new piece of papyrus evidence, does not prove that (Jesus) was married, nor does it prove that he was not married. The earliest reliable historical tradition is completely silent on that. So we're in the same position we were before it was found. We don't know if he was married or not.”
The Bible does not mention Jesus’ marital status; his singleness is an argument from silence. We read of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus’ siblings, but nothing of a wife. We read of women following him all over Galilee and Palestine, but nothing of a wife. Some Gnostic texts make such a claim, and people have often romanticized his relationship with Mary Magdalene. But nothing in the biblical text suggests such a relationship—an idea that Dan Brown sensationalized in The Da Vinci Code.
The Huffington Post quoted DTS’s Dr. Darrell Bock, on the subject: “One could say the text is silent on Jesus’ marital status is because there was nothing to say… ” They add, “Bock agreed with the notion that the text fragment shared similarities with those gospels, called the Gnostic Gospels, which were the writings of an early outlier sect of Christians. He said the text could be referring to a 'gnostic rite of marriage that is a picture of the church and Jesus, not a real wife…. It’s a small text with very little context. We don’t know what’s wrapped around it to know what it’s saying…. The whole text needs vetting. [The scholar involved is] doing the right thing to release it and let scholars take a look at… It’s a little bit like trying to analyze the game in the first quarter… It’s a historical curiosity but doesn’t really tell us who Jesus was. It’s one small speck of a text in a mountain of texts of about Jesus.'”
The Smithsonian Channel plans to air a special about the fragment on September 30.