There have been plenty of stories of an ancient text in which Jesus says ‘my wife’. The story broke in the New York Times and some other sources and was soon picked up by outlets too numerous to list. Some of the reporting is accurate, and some is just sensationalist, for example, from the The Daily Mail:
“If genuine, the document casts doubt on a centuries old official representation of Magdalene as a repentant whore and overturns the Christian ideal of sexual abstinence.”
We are of course in a context where there is so much ignorance of basic facts about Christianity that even when the media properly relay facts they get completely distorted and misunderstood in popular perception. The original scholarly article upon which almost all knowledge of the fragment is based is here.
Professor Karen King and the others who have been involved (Harvard Divinity School) is exemplary. They have avoided sensation, they have not rushed to judgement and they have not used the media as the primary outlet for publication. Harvard Divinity School have published a helpful press release: The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife: A New Coptic Gospel Papyrus. It features a high-definition picture of the fragment in question, an FAQ aimed at journalists, and most importantly a draft of King’s forthcoming article offering a detailed and balanced study of the fragment.
Dr Simon Gathercole, an expert on apocryphal gospels and Senior Lecturer in New Testament at the University of Cambridge, has written some very helpful thoughts:
Harvard Professor Karen King, who is the person who has been entrusted with the text, has rightly warned us that this does not say anything about the historical Jesus. She is correct that “its possible date of composition in the second half of the second century, argues against its value as evidence for the life of the historical Jesus”. But she is also right that this is a fascinating discovery which offers us a window into debates about sex and marriage in the early church, and the way Jesus could be adapted to play a part in a particular debate, but only if it is genuine.
Francis Watson of the University of Durham has provided a six-page analysis (PDF) of the Coptic fragment which seems to say Jesus was married. This is the most in-depth examination I have seen yet. Professor Watson concludes that
The text has been constructed out of small pieces – words or phrases – culled mostly from the Coptic Gospel of Thomas (GTh), Sayings 101 and 114, and set in new contexts.
This is most probably the compositional procedure of a modern author who is not a native speaker of Coptic.