A Harvard historian has made public a papyrus fragment that purportedly quotes Jesus as making reference to his "wife". Dr. James Tabor, chair of Religious Studies at UNC Charlotte has done extensive research on early Christianity and he talks about the newly-revealed discovery in this interview with WFAE's Mark Rumsey.
See Dr. Tabor's blog posts on this topic.
Read more on the discovery from The Christian Century.
MARK RUMSEY: Dr.Tabor, based on the initial announcement of this find, how significant might it be?
JAMES TABOR: I think it’s very significant. We should probably first preface everything by saying “if it continues to be judged as authentic”, but actually Karen King, the Harvard scholar, she discusses all of the possibilities of ‘Was it forged? Was it not forged?’. And I’m convinced at least from what I’ve read, that it has a good chance of being authentic. So let’s assume it’s authentic. And then, to go to your question, “What’s the significance of it?”. First of all, the date. It’s written on a fourth-century piece of papyrus, which is the ancient Egyptian paper. But that doesn’t mean it was written in the fourth-century. For example, our gospel text, we generally date in the first century, but the copies are from the fourth century. So this could be a copy of a text, which Dr.King dates to maybe the second or third century, in other words, maybe 100 or 150 years earlier. And the reason she dates it earlier, is we have other texts that talk about Jesus having a intimate companion, a woman that followed him who was a leader of whom the apostles were jealous. She’s known to us as Mary Magdalene, but she’s never called his wife, in any of these texts. So this would be an additional text from the same period, and I’m talking about texts like the Gospel of Mary Magdalene. Don’t look for it in your Bible, it’s not there. And it celebrates Mary Magdalene as really the first witness to Jesus, as a kind of apostles of the apostles, which is completely different from her role in the New Testament, where we hardly know anything about her.
MR: We should just point out that the Christian church at-large would reject all of these post-New Testament texts, if you will, as basically works of fiction, right?
JT: Yeah, the tendency is to say, “You know, if it’s not in the Gospels, then, it couldn’t be historical.” But what we have to consider is that if Mary Magdalene was in fact the wife or intimate companion of Jesus, she could have been written out of the tradition. And it would be because of the celibacy that begins to develop. The ideal of celibacy that Paul began to put forth. That to be really holy and spiritual at the highest level, you should live without a wife.
MR: Overall, how likely would you say this finding is to impact current historical or religious debates, particularly about early Christianity, and who Jesus was?
JT: Well, I think, again, if it stands as an authentic text, it adds to our evidence. And so the thing that it changes is before yesterday, we had no text that ever used the word wife -- even if Mary was discussed as an intimate companion or follower of Jesus -- and now we have one. So that changes … it doesn’t show that he was married, it doesn’t prove anything precisely, but it adds to our discussion. So that that option is more on the table than it was ever before, because we have a text that states it.
MR: Dr.James Tabor, chair of religious studies at UNC Charlotte, thank you.
JT: Thanks. Glad to talk to you, Mark.