Did Jesus Have a Wife? A New Gnostic Fragment

By Gary Manning Jr.

gospel of jesus wifeAccording to an article in the Washington Post, an ancient manuscript claiming that Jesus had a wife has just been discovered. I’ll tackle this new discovery with some Q&A.

What is this new find?

Karen King, the Gnostic scholar who published the manuscript, has titled it the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife (see the scholarly article here). It is a very small fragment, only 12 partial lines, of an ancient Gnostic book. The fragment, written in Coptic, dates from the fourth century, but it is a copy of an older book, perhaps written in the late second century. According to the fragment, Jesus refers to “my wife.”

Is the manuscript genuine?

It’s too early to tell. When manuscripts are discovered, it usually takes some time of examination and scholarly vetting before forgeries are discovered. There are some concerns about Gospel of Jesus’ Wife’s unknown provenance and history of ownership, but the initial reports make it seem likely that this is a real fourth-century Gnostic document. That doesn’t mean that the document is true or has anything to do with Jesus!

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How is this related to the so-called Gnostic gospels?

The Gnostics wrote a number of short collections of sayings that they attributed to Jesus: the Gospel of Philip, Gospel of Judas, Gospel of Mary Magdalene, and others. Technically, these are not really gospels, at least when compared with the canonical gospels. The four gospels in the New Testament are full biographies of Jesus, directly tied to eyewitness accounts, and written within 25 to 60 years of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The Gnostic gospels, in contrast, are short collections of sayings, with little or no biographical material. They are written by people more than a century removed from Jesus, with no connection to the eyewitnesses. Generally, these works are easily identified because they try to make Jesus sound like a Gnostic. This newly discovered fragment has a few lines that sound like the Gospel of Philip, the Gospel of Thomas, and the Gospel of Mary Magdalene…


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