What is the meaning of Gospel of Jesus’s Wife?
Gospel of Jesus’s Wife, the small fragment of papyrus acquired by Professor Karen King of Harvard Divinity School, was classified as “ancient” (600 – 700 CE) in March of 2014. After almost two years of scientific analysis, multiple professional teams have deemed this tiny fragment “authentic.” No evidence of modern fabrication was found. Now, on to the Big Question. What or who is Jesus’s wife”? The Biblical Archaeology Society states that the meaning of this manuscript’s text remains open for debate.
“This is not, in any case, evidence that
Jesus was married.”
1. not to me. My mother gave me life*
2. The disciples said to Jesus
3. deny. Mary is not worthy of it
4. Jesus said to them, My wife
5. she is able to be my disciple
6. Let wicked people swell up
7. As for me, I am with her in order to
8. an image
(Translation as it appears on the papyrus)
*Or: “I exist with it/her”; “I dwell with it/her.”
The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife (PDF)
Coptic/English translation by Professor Karen L. King
Hollis Professor of Divinity, Harvard University
Jesus’s Wife official Harvard website:
Theological Review by Karen King
Questions and Answers
What meaning lies behind the veil of Jesus’s Wife?
Myth and legend offer accounts of Mary Magdalene’s earthly life and eventual death. But the Biblical trail of Mary of Magdala terminates abruptly after the Ascension of Jesus Christ. There is no record of her in Acts of the Apostles or other biblical texts that focus on the period following Christ’s departure from earth. Why did this particular fragment of an unknown manuscript choose to surface at this time? What is the meaning of Gospel of Jesus’s Wife?
“Jesus’s marriage in GJW might be carnal, celibate, metaphorical, and/or symbolic-paradigmatic.”
Prof. Karen L. King
Karen King puts forth two discrete possibilities. Assuming Gospel of Jesus’s Wife is of genuine theological value, we shall apply both in this article. Dr. King’s synopsis implies that “my wife” may denote a woman joined to her husband, or a person wed to a specific purpose. Because the ‘husband’ who is speaking is Christ, we must consider the meaning of wife, in Hebrew thought, is helpmate. Thus “my wife” might refer to a person of either gender who serves Christ. Although her name is not positioned as the direct subject of Jesus’s wife, Mary Magdalene seems to be an ideal candidate.
“The bride belongs to the bridegroom…For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit.”
The Marriage Problem
Then as now, Rabbis were expected to have a wife and family. By all accounts, Jesus was a practicing Rabbi (article). But the notion of a married Savior is quite problematic, especially in light of Christ’s coming Ascension. If this text indeed refers to the Magdalene, what would become of Jesus’s wife after he physically departed earth? Would Mary be left without position in society, widowed and unable to remarry under Hebrew Law? Or was the marriage followed by a legal divorce? All one can do is speculate. All anyone knows is that immediately following the Ascension, Mary Magdalene vanishes without a trace. We would expect the story of this widow of a great Rabbi who was crucified, then rose from the grave, would have been passed down in some form.
If Jesus Christ were indeed married to Mary Magdalene, the silence on this point is unusual to the highest degree. Even if all of Judea’s legal records were lost in the destruction of the temple in 70 CE, the incredible story would have survived. Instead, we hear only silence.
In her own right, Mary Magdalene was a woman of some wealth. If she left Judea or simply returned to Magdala, she might have lived a quiet, satisfying life. Is it possible that Jesus’s wife ascended with him? For more information concerning Mary and Jesus, we must turn from the Bible to other Christian texts dating to roughly the same period. Regarding the possibility that Jesus and his wife ascended to heaven together, the Gospel of Thomas suggests that something of the kind may be possible. In the context of Thomas, Christ’s term, “single unity,” suggests that those who are chosen enter and merge with God’s kingdom.
Yeshua says: I shall choose you, one from a thousand and two from ten thousand—and they shall stand, becoming a single unity.
Gospel of Thomas 23
The Non-human Companion / Metaphorical Problem
I would relish the opportunity to discuss the divine marriage of human to immortal soul. But the broken phrases and missing text in this fragment make it difficult to conclusively state whether the meaning of Gospel of Jesus’s Wife concerns a nonhuman (spiritual) companion. As we look at other relevant Christian texts, the case for applying John’s Bridegroom with the Bride seems prudent. For now, this article assumes “Mary,” and “My wife,” are used to denote a living human being.
For those who wish to explore the allegorical possibilities, examine Thomas verse 23 (above) and the following passage from Philip (verse 36). It is my belief that Gospel of Jesus’s Wife draws most of its meaning from these two texts, namely, the context of “unity.”
Phillip, named in the book of Acts as the disciple of Peter, John and James, provides the most credible information regarding Christ’s romantic relationship with Mary Magdalene. It should be noted that the term “companion,” as viewed by Jewish people of Christ’s day, almost always refers to a wife, mate, or sexual partner.
There were three Mariams who walked with the Lord at all times: his mother and his sister and the Magdalene—this one who is called his Companion. Thus his true Mother and Sister and Mate is also called ‘Mariam’.
Gospel of Phillip 36
And the companion of the Christ is Mariam the Magdalene. The Lord loved Mariam more than all the other Disciples, and he kissed her often on her mouth.
Gospel of Phillip 59
Gospel of Jesus’s Wife is one of three similar accounts present in early Christian gospels dating from 30 to 700 CE. Unlike Philip’s gospel, this scant, broken text appears conceptually more similar to Gospel of Thomas verse 114 and the Greek Gospel of Mary, chapter 9. The three manuscripts contextually agree, in that the same Disciples are named. All describe a scene in which one or more individuals take issue with Mary Magdalene, and Christ’s greater love for her. Gospel of Thomas uses the same term (“worthy”) as line #3 of Jesus’s Wife. In all cases, the issue is worthiness. In each case, Mary is ultimately pronounced “worthy.”
According to Gospel of Mary, Magdalene was clearly left behind. In the final scene (chapter 9), the Savior has departed for good. Peter asks, “Did He prefer her to us?” (past tense). Levi/Matthew suggests Christ “loved her” more than the other Disciples.
What is the most likely meaning of “Jesus’s Wife”?
Due to the amount of available information, especially the credible case made by the gospels of Thomas and Philip, it is extremely easy to believe that Mary and Jesus were romantic partners. What about the possibility of marriage? An important aspect of Jesus Christ is that he was a fully human man. To further prove solidarity, he embraced all Jewish social customs and spiritual rituals. Today, the Catholic Church credits its Sacraments to the rituals that were performed or received by Jesus Christ. One of these sacred rituals is marriage, which is also true of Hebrew culture. As previously stated, marriage was (and still is) a prerequisite for every respectable Rabbi.
The Christian Church staunchly maintains the only opinion against the possibility of a marriage of Jesus and Mary. The New Testament was translated by men who, contrary to Christ’s public teachings, believed women held no place in areas of religious leadership. Worse, admitting to a marriage in 320 CE would have brought against Rome an onslaught of false (or genuine) descendants claiming direct ties to Christ via the sacred bloodline. In order to preserve the Empire, any evidence of Jesus and Mary’s supposed love affair, if it existed, was likely scrubbed from Scripture long ago. However, there is one delightful detail that still remains in Bibles today:
His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant. One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him…Leaning back against Jesus, he(?) asked him, “Lord, who is it?”
Gospel of Jesus’s Wife — Parallels and Corollary
Compare to the Karen King translation.
1) “My mother gave to me life…”
3) “…deny. Mary is (not?) worthy of it”
Shimon Kefa (Peter) says to them: “Let Mariam depart from among us, for women are not worthy of the life.” Yeshua says: “Behold, I myself shall inspire her so that I make her male, in order that she also shall become a living spirit like you males. For every female who becomes male, shall enter the Sovereignty of the Heavens.”
(Levi says to Peter): “But if the Savior made her worthy, who are you indeed to reject her? Surely the Savior knows her very well. That is why He loved her more than us. Rather let us be ashamed and put on the perfect Man, and separate as He commanded us and preach the gospel, not laying down any other rule or other law beyond what the Savior said.”
7) “As for me, I am with her in order to…an image”
Yeshua says: “…if you establish the male with the female as a single unity so that the man will not act masculine and the woman not act feminine, when you establish eyes in the place of an eye and a hand in the place of a hand and a foot in the place of a foot and an image in the place of an image—then shall you enter the Kingdom.”
7) Alternative translations for Coptic “I am with her”
“I exist with it/her”; “I dwell with it/her.”