Eighteen months ago, the religious and academic community was shocked as two millennia of doctrine was questioned: the celibacy of Jesus. A fragment of papyrus has been found that mentions the existence of Jesus Christ’s wife. The fragment in question was discovered by Harvard Divinity School professor Karen L. King, who presented a paper in Rome titled, “The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife.”
The fragment suggests that Jesus did indeed have a wife, which would destroy any notion that he was a celibate. Jesus may or may not have been married, but the world is reevaluating age-old questions about marriage, family and celibacy.
Religion professor Heather Martin said that she believes the papyrus is legitimate, but many accusations have dogged King since her announcement, which was recently supported by scientific testing. Martin offered as explanation that “Finding something that has Jesus refer to his wife sounds like something out of ‘Indiana Jones.’ Also, the unfortunate truth is that in the field of religious archeology we seem to have more than our share of forgeries.”
Does this mean that Jesus actually had a wife? Is this “The Da Vinci Code” come to life? Religion professor Mike Hamilton helped explain what this discovery proves. “As Professor King of Harvard noted, this papyrus does not prove or disprove that Jesus was married. Rather, it is best understood as part of a debate, several centuries after Jesus, about the relative merits of marriage and celibacy,” Hamilton wrote to the Pilot in an email. “Was it better to be unmarried so that one could serve God without other obligations? Or, was it better to marry and have children, and through that family to live the gospel?” Hamilton added, “These are questions that Christians have asked for centuries. Questions about spiritual and marital commitments are important today, too.”
Jesus’ marital status might change some people’s view on marriage and celibacy. The papyrus was carbon-dated to eighth century Egypt, as reported by the Boston Globe, which was 400 years later than King’s prediction. The papyrus may have been used as a tool to argue for the merits of marriage. As Martin explained, “the fragment is very likely reflecting arguments of the time about whether wives and mothers can follow Jesus. rather than the more esteemed virgins.” Martin concluded, “Additionally, this is such a small fragment and the only one of its kind. You cannot draw conclusions such as Jesus was in fact married without more corroborating evidence.”
Regardless of whether or not Jesus was married, the age-old questions of celibacy, marriage or both have been reinvigorated. The debate continues.