coptic fragment

The entire article that discusses the discovery of a new text fragment can be found at the Smithsonian   and the Smithsonian Channel will premiere a special documentary about the discovery on September 30 at 8 p.m. ET.

Top religion scholar, Karen King, just unveiled the discovery of a 1600-year-old Coptic text fragment that suggests that at least some early followers of Christ believed he was married.

The yellowed papyrus, about the size of a credit card, contains 33 words in 14 incomplete lines, but the words are a stunner. According to King’s analysis they read “Jesus said to them, My wife” . In a forthcoming article in the Harvard Theological Review, she argues that the “wife” Jesus refers to is probably Mary Magdalene, and that Jesus appears to be defending her against someone, perhaps one of the male disciples.

Other lines on the text also seem to be referring to her. “She will be my disciple,” Jesus replies. Then, two lines later, he says: “I dwell with her.”

This does not mean that this text should necessarily be taken as biography. Journalist Ariel Sabar said, “What it does seem to reveal is more subtle and complex: that some group of early Christians drew spiritual strength from portraying the man whose teachings they followed as having a wife. And not just any wife, but possibly Mary Magdalene, the most-mentioned woman in the New Testament besides Jesus’ mother.

“The question the discovery raises… is, Why is it that only the literature that said he was celibate survived? And all of the texts that showed he had an intimate relationship with Magdalene or is married didn’t survive? Is that 100 percent happenstance? Or is it because of the fact that celibacy becomes the ideal for Christianity?” and other records suggesting something else were suppressed and cast away.

Mathew, Mark, Luke and John were not the only gospels written to tell the story of Jesus, but until the last century the only thing we knew about the others were in broadsides against them written by early church leaders. It appeared copies of them did not survive.

Then, however, in 1945, an Arab farmer digging in his field stumbled upon a cache of 52 texts that hadn’t made the canon including the gospel of Thomas, the gospel of Philip and the Secret Revelation of John. Quieted voices began speaking through the centuries again.

Sabar said, A picture began to take shape of early Christians, scattered across the Eastern Mediterranean, who derived a multiplicity of sometimes contradictory teachings from the life of Jesus Christ. Was it possible that Judas was not a turncoat but a favored disciple? Did Christ’s body really rise, or just his soul? Was the crucifixion-and human suffering, more broadly-a prerequisite for salvation? Did one really have to accept Jesus to be saved, or did the Holy Spirit already reside within as part of one’s basic humanity?

“Persecuted and often cut off from one another, communities of ancient Christians had very different answers to those questions. Only later did an organized Church sort those answers into the categories of orthodoxy and heresy.”

Mary Magdalene’s relationship with Christ was one mystery these writings shed new light on. For instance, “The gospel of Philip, one of the Nag Hammadi texts, describes Mary Magdalene as a companion’ of Jesus “whom the Savior loved more than all the other disciples and [whom] he kissed often on the mouth.”

In the gospel of Mary, a fifth-century translation of a second-century Greek text, which first surfaced in January 1896, Mary “comforts the fearful disciples, saying that Jesus’ grace will “shelter” them as they preach the gospel. Peter here defers to Magdalene. “Sister, we know that the Savior loved you more than all the other women. Tell us the words of the Savior that you remember, the things which you know that we don’t because we haven’t heard them.'”

Are these additional gospels that reflect a relationship with Mary the writings of dissidents or of those whose voices were lost in the dust when a new orthodoxy dominated?