Last updated at 11:58 BST, Monday, 24 September 2012

Did Jesus have a wife?

Summary

21 September 2012

The existence of what's believed to be an ancient Christian text written on papyrus, has been revealed by a Harvard professor. She says that the dialogue in the ancient Coptic language makes a highly controversial claim: it quotes Christ as having said that he had a wife.

Reporter:

Alan Johnston

An ancient Christian text

This ancient Christian text quotes Jesus mentioning his 'wife'.

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Report

It's just a scrap of papyrus paper, no bigger than a credit card. It has on it lines of writing in the Coptic language and their message is potentially sensational. They quote Christ as having made a reference to having a wife. Of course, this flies in the face of traditional belief, and Professor Karen King, who's just revealed the text to the world, says it does not prove that Christ did indeed have a wife. But she says it is an indication that some early Christians believed that he did.

Professor Karen King:
"This fragment is not evidence for the marital status of the historical Jesus. Rather, it's evidence that there was a controversy going on in the 2nd century among Christians about whether they should marry or remain celibate. And it's in this context that the question about whether Jesus was married or not was raised for the first time."

So far, experts have agreed that the text is authentic, that it really is as old as it looks. But there's disagreement on the meaning. One Bible scholar argues that the word ‘wife’ could be used here to describe a figure who was only a domestic servant; someone who just cooked and cleaned, and wouldn't be what we would regard as a wife in the life of Christ.

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Vocabulary

papyrus paper

paper made from the papyrus plant

sensational

surprising or shocking

flies in the face of

goes against or contradicts

fragment

small part of something

celibate

not married

authentic

real and genuine

scholar

person who studies a particular subject in depth

figure

person