A small scrap of papyrus said to be written in Coptic in the 4th century has come to light, and it includes an eyebrow-raising phrase unparalleled in Scripture: “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife ...’”
There is also this tantalizing reference: “She will be able to be my disciple.”
As The New York Times reported, a historian of early Christianity at Harvard Divinity School, Karen L. King, announced the finding at an international meeting of Coptic scholars in Rome. You can bet the sherry flowed freely in the hospitality suite after that theological blockbuster.
This is not the first suggestion offered that Jesus was married. What is it about people that they want to believe such a thing? Wasn’t it enough that he was executed by the Romans?
Didn’t he suffer enough without being married?
Yet the myth endures with the help of such works as “The Da Vinci Code,” which suggests Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene.
Yet even King doesn’t go so far as to take this papyrus fragment as proof that Jesus was a married man; it just indicates that people in ancient times were discussing the possibility. And if your Coptic is as rusty as mine, you might not take this as gospel either.
But we tend to forget that a number of gospels didn’t make it into Christianity’s standard canon. Some say that the Gospel of Thomas had a serious claim to be included, although most agree that the Gospel of Bob was rightly left out, ditto the Gospel of Ralph.
My initial uneducated but intuitive view was that The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife fell into the same dubious category. But then I received my own scrap of ancient writing from an anonymous source that stirred the historical pot some more.
Conveniently, it arrived already translated. Here are excerpts, purportedly written by Mrs. Jesus herself.
* Yes, it was nice of you to turn the water into wine, but what do you think this will achieve in the long run? We will now get invited to every wedding this side of Galilee and you will have to perform your parlor trick at all of them. And how long will it be before the wine merchants descend on us, shaking their fists for spoiling their business?
Besides, the bride’s parents are just moochers. What sort of wedding is it that they run out of decent wine? They are part of the 47 percent that King Herod has warned us about. They think they are entitled to people bailing them out when they don’t take responsibility for their own wedding.
And if you are going to turn water into wine, how about doing it around here? As it is, I have to walk a long way to the state wine store with a clay vessel on my head. The well is closer, Mr. Messiah.
* You are doing what? You are leaving your good job as a carpenter to become an itinerant preacher? Now that takes the unleavened bread.
What has gotten into you? What about your father who taught you your trade? What about me, who never gets to go out except in the company of goats?
Do you feel that just because you were born in a stable you have to prove yourself over and over in outlandish ways? It’s just like when you were a boy, and you ran off in Jerusalem and preached in the temple.
* Your mother (remember her?) tells me that you dunked John the Baptist into the River Jordan. Well, he’s a notoriously unwashed character and the water might have done him some good. Why don’t you take Peter and the rest of your friends and give them a bath in the interests of personal hygiene. Disciples! Huh! Every last one smells of fish.
* You have made the blind see and the beggars walk. Do you think you could come home now and help me with the chores?
* They brought me the news. I am devastated. I told you not to get on the wrong side of those Pharisees and their Roman friends. Oh, dear gentle darling, you were the best. I love you always. I am sorry I was not more supportive, but I never thought it would end like this. You did not deserve this. Three days you have been gone, and I cannot stop weeping.
Someone is at the door, perhaps they bring news. Wait ...
There the fragment ends. There the mystery begins.
Reg Henry writes for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.