The Unbelievable Tale of Jesus' s Wife

Everyone here probably remembers the story about this famous papyrus fragment supposedly mentioning the wife of Jesus. But the real story behind it is truly bizarre! Journalist Arial Sabar tracks down the provenance of this fragment.

The Unbelievable Tale of Jesus’s Wife

It was only after the above story was published that Harvard scholar Karen King admitted that the fragment might be a fraud! What is it with these people?

Karen King Responds to The Unbelievable Tale of Jesus’s Wife



There is one complexity concerning marriage customs that is very rarely connected to the situation of Jesus. In fact, it would seem this particular Church Father discussion is so alien to the modern mindset the average reader misses the point all together.

Below is chapter 23, of Book IX of Refutation of All Heresies (Book IX)
by Hippolytus

Chapter 23. Another Sect of the Esseni: the Pharisees.

There is then another order of the Essenes who use the same customs and prescribed method of living with the foregoing sects, but make an alteration from these in one respect, viz., marriage.

. . . they maintain that those who have abrogated matrimony commit some terrible offense, which is for the destruction of life, and that they ought not to cut off the succession of children; for, that if all entertained this opinion, the entire race of men would easily be exterminated.

However, they make a trial of their betrothed women for a period of three years; and when they have been three times purified, with a view of proving their ability of bringing forth children, so then they wed.

[^^^The above text is key - - men and women have three years to prove that they are fertile with each other BEFORE they marry! Otherwise, if they marry and find that there are no children … divorce, highly frowned upon if not outright prohibited amongst themselves would be the only solution!]

“They do not, however, cohabit with pregnant women, evincing that they marry not from sensual motives, but from the advantage of children. And the women likewise undergo ablution in a similar manner (with their husbands), and are themselves also arrayed in a linen garment, after the mode in which the men are with their girdles. These things, then, are the statements which I have to make respecting the Esseni.”


If, in fact, Jesus was betrothed to Mary in an Essene tradition, Jesus may well have died before they could be officially married.


@beaglelady Really enjoyed that article. Thanks for sharing!

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The comments on various blogs seem to alternate between “She should be drummed out of the Academy” (usually from not academics) and “Anyone can make an honest mistake” (largely academics thinking “There but for the grace of God” and a few others who have bought into to the “orthodoxy is a misogynous 3rd century conspiracy” which seems to have been Dr King’s starting assumption.)

To me there seem at least two lessons for “interested onlookers” - the first is that it is eminently possible for even leading academics to lack objectivity in their espousal of a world view. King believed what she wanted to believe about the fragment, which made her a great “mark” for a hoaxer. That means it’s always legitimate to ask “Where is this scholar coming from here?” rather than just “He/she is the world’s expert on this, so must be right.”

Secondly that it’s possible for an entire discipline to operate on deeply flawed methodology. King seems to have simply followed “usual practice” in asking no questions whatsoever about provenance. One reason given is that most ancient papyri have been looted by locals and sold on the black market, so that provenance is ultimately hard to prove. But due diligence would surely at least mean checking out the immediate source before blowing your “Chistianity busting” trumpet on the Vatican steps - especially in view of quite recent controversy over Morton Smith’s “Secret Mark” hoax - which was another “Jesus and secret sex” story.

Related to that, it’s been interesting to read the blogs of scholars in the field since the “find”. Although the whole story was intrinsically suspect (and that even if true it would hardly be news that some gnostic sect might make up fables about Jesus a few centuries later), the buzz of interest was all around; “Hey, this sounds really genuine - and won’t it be a poke in the eye for traditionalists if it is!” I don’t recall anyone saying, “King makes the whole thing doubtful by her sloppy approach to provenance.”

So my one word answer to Beaglelady’s “What is it with these people?” would be “Groupthink.” But you can bet you’ll keep hearing that “They’ve proved Jesus was married” in the pub for years to come. In that sense, Karen King’s failings will have done her ideological cause no harm whatsoever.

There was only one Jewish sect in New Testament times where not being married was not considered strange.

Yeah, but it was pretty unusual in all the Judaisms to claim Messiahship, eschew violence and get oneself crucified for the sins of the nation. Even more so to rise from the dead. So I guess we’d expect the unexpected from Christ, whatever his relationship to the prevailing parties.

The Essenes, for example, were pretty well wiped out when they joined the rebellion against Rome in 69-70.

Of course, an 8th century Coptic document wouldn’t in any case have much to say on 1st century marriage practice even were it genuine - one might as well consult the da Vinci Code… oh, it seems Fritz did! Dr King herself seems to have been more concerned to increase the status of women in early Christianity than to confirm the normality (or otherwise) of Jesus’s marital condition.


Even the Essene view of death is more similar to modern views of death than the other Jewish sects. While the Pharisees waited for the End of Days for a resurrection… the Essenes believed in a relatively immediate migration of the soul to a divine realm .

See the ancient work called History of the Rechabites for insights.

I agree! King saw what she wanted to see, and objectivity flew out the window.

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And the moral of the story is: beware of scholars with newly-discovered gospels that threaten to rock the very foundations of Christianity.

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Quite so - though N T Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God examines the various nuances of second temple belief on the matter. What nobody expected (as Wright points out) was the resurrectionb of one man as a “deposit” and “guarantee” of the general resurrection to come.

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Absolutely - or in fact, ignore on principle such scholars. I think the foundations would have cracked by now if any such documents existed and had something to say.

One thing that I think really clinches the whole marriage thing would be Paul’s deafening silence on it in I Corinthians 9:5 “Have we no right to take along a wife who is a believer, even as the rest of the apostles, and the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas?”

Had Paul known Jesus to be married he wouldn’t have wasted time listing all the others … he would have just cut right to the chase. And there wouldn’t have been anything close to enough time for him or others to “forget” that Jesus married and/or had a family of his own. It strains credibility to think that Jesus’ contemporaries (and much more the disciples!) wouldn’t have made hay over this had it been true.


But you can make a truckload of money if your claim that your book “rocks the very foundation of Christianity.”

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Good points. I think some goofballs have actually claimed that the famous wedding at Cana in Galilee was Jesus’s own wedding!


As I pointed out in the writing of Hippolytus, if Jesus was part of the Essene tradition (Hippolytus discuses 4 branches of the Essenes), he could have been romantically involved for 3 years before formalizing a marriage.

Right - I’ll just need to add a subtitle to the one I’m working on:

“Flopsy Bunny’s Birthday Party” by Jon Garvey - the book that will rock the foundations of Christianity!

I can give up the day job and just watch the royalties roll in!


Since Hippolytus was a Catholic Christian writer, he may just have mentioned that had it been already known.

I don’t think any of the Church Fathers would have wanted to associate Jesus with the Essenes.

Why not? Hippolytus gets most of his material secondhand from Josephus (long after the Essenes and the Sadducees were extinct, and when the Pharisees had pretty well transmuted into Rabbinic Judaism). And he gives the Essenes the best press of the three (in several chapters before the part-chapter you quote, which goes on to the Pharisees) - not to mention that he would know the bad press the other two divisions appear to get in the New Testament (though Paul’s Pharisaism is no secret).

To the Church Fathers, the Essenes would have been as much a distant memory as the Beghards or the Waldensians are to most Christians now, and the particular sect that got married just an antiquarian curiosity. They might conceivably, I suppose, associate Jesus’s celibacy with his being an Essene (having no knowledge beyond what Josephus glowingly writes) , but they’d scarcely conjecture about him being celibate but engaged member of a minority sect.


Do you know ANY denomination today… Catholic or otherwise … that SUPPORTS such a relationship?

In my view, many of the elements that make the religious practices of Christianity so unique to us are either specifically Essene… or more related to Essene views than Pharisaic.