On 18 September, Harvard professor Karen King presented her research at a conference in Rome on a newly discovered fragment that purportedly mentions Jesus having a wife. New stories rapidly appeared, with some declaring it as a weapon in the war fought by women seeking ordination in various ecclesiastical traditions. It seemed that some critics imply delighted in the possibility of a challenge to orthodox Christian tradition. However, there are significant questions swirling around the fragment.
Did Jesus really have a wife? All of the evidence suggests “no.” To begin, there are major concerns about the authenticity of the fragment. Many scholars have already pronounced it a fake. Even if it were authentic, though, Christians have to remember three things: (1) since it was found on the antiquities market, the text has no context, (2) it is a lone voice in a massive body of literature that never indicates Jesus was ever married, and (3) the text is late, and contains influences from non-Christian (i.e., Gnostic) sources.
The media circus surrounding “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” is instructive for Christians everywhere. More than once in recent history, the media has pounced on a story only to find out later that scholarship does not support the conclusions of the discoverer. National Geographic’s coverage of the Gospel of Judas indicated that this long-lost gospel would revolutionize our view of the apostle who betrayed Christ. Once scholars got a closer look, this alternative version of Judas quickly vanished. The same goes for the “lost tomb” of Jesus in Jerusalem. The Discovery Channel produced a slick documentary that had a lot of believers upset. At the end of the day, almost no one with any credibility argues that the Talpiyot tomb actually held the body of Jesus.
There are lots of challenges to the faith, and there is no end in sight. But believers may have confidence that the truth will eventually come to light. In the case of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife, it appears that it did just that even more quickly than usual.