US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Jesus, his wife, and his female disciple--Could a new discovery change women's role in the church?

By Scott Alessi | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

The New York Times reports today on an interesting finding from a historian at Harvard Divinity School: A faded piece of papyrus dating back to the fourth century with Coptic writing that talks about Jesus' wife and a possible female disciple.

The fragment was given to Harvard Divinity School researcher Karen King for study. Though only portions of the text are left on this part of the page, King translated the Coptic writing that includes the phrases "Jesus said to them, 'My wife...'" and "she will be able to be my disciple," among other snippets. She shared her findings with the press last week before heading off to Rome to present her research at the International Congress of Coptic Studies.

Experts who analyzed the fragment say it is likely real and would be "impossible to forge." King was careful to warn, however, that since this document was likely written centuries after Jesus lived it is not proof that he was married, but it does suggest that early Christian communities may have believed he was, or at least they discussed the idea.

If the document is real, and the text has some legitimacy to it (both of which are big ifs), it raises some interesting questions for today's church. Perhaps the most intriguing question is what it would mean to Catholic doctrine if we could learn more about Jesus calling upon a woman to be his disciple, no less his wife.

I wouldn't expect the church to have much, if anything, to say officially about this discovery, but it can be fun to speculate. What do you think the document means? And if it were real, would it change the way we look at celibacy and women when it comes to church leadership?