Speculation that Jesus Christ might have married is an ancient one and, however often theologians and historians throw cold water over the idea, it will keep cropping up - most notably in recent years as a key element in the plot of Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code. No one would take that particular novel as gospel, but now a historian from the Harvard Divinity School has come up with what may – just – be the first ever reference to Jesus mentioning a wife.All right then, the words can mean nothing else, but are the words true? Professor King, the Coptic scholar, decidedly does not go that far. The fragment is intriguing, and if it's provenance is verified, it will be of great interest to scholars and many others, but it will not prove Dan Brown is right.
The fragment of fourth-century Coptic writing on a rectangular piece of faded papyrus no more than eight centimetres by four contains eight lines written in black ink apparently including the words: "Jesus said to them, 'My wife …'" Far from being the start of a music-hall joke, the extract continues: "she will be able to be my disciple," before being cut off.
Karen L King, the Hollis professor of divinity – the oldest endowed academic chair in the US – who made the discovery, told the New York Times: "These words can mean nothing else."
What would it mean to me if it could be proved that Jesus had a wife? I would not be shocked, nor would my faith be in any way affected.
Diarmaid MacCulloch, Oxford professor and historian of Christianity, says, "Bloggers beware – it's not what you think." But what do I think? I don't really have an opinion. I'm far behind others in blogging about the discovery of the papyrus.