Newly surfaced ancient document has Jesus referring to "my wife"

In this Sept. 5, 2012 photo released by Harvard University, divinity professor Karen L. King holds a fourth century fragment of papyrus that she says is the only existing ancient text that quotes Jesus explicitly referring to having a wife. King, an expert in the history of Christianity, says the text contains a dialogue in which Jesus refers to "my wife," whom he identified as Mary. King says the fragment of Coptic script is a copy of a gospel, probably written in Greek in the second century.
Rose Lincoln,AP Photo/Harvard University

(CBS News) A 1,600-year-old document, translated for the first time, has a message that could shake up Christianity. It is the first-known statement from that era that refers to Jesus, talking about having a wife.

An American historian presented the new evidence on Tuesday. An anonymous private collector first reached out to Dr. Karen King, a professor of divinity at Harvard University, asking her to translate the document. At first, she was suspicious but after close examination she and her colleagues now say it's real.

The tattered piece of papyrus resembling perhaps a discarded business card dates back to the 4th century. Written in an ancient dialect of Coptic language, it contains just eight broken lines in faded black ink.

Translated, the first one reads, "Jesus said to them, my wife"; the second, "she will be able to be my disciple."

The discovery will be featured in an upcoming documentary on the Smithsonian Channel.

But does it mean that Jesus was a married man? King said the text doesn't necessarily prove that Jesus had a wife, but it does suggest that early Christians debated the issue.

"It is the only extent piece of early Christian literature where Jesus talks about having a wife."

It may sound like something straight out of the controversial movie "The Da Vinci Code." But Serene Jones, president of New York City's Union Theological Seminary, said it isn't so. "'The Da Vinci Code' is interesting fiction," she said, "but it is not historical by any means."

However, Jones said that the finding could reinvent the way Christians think about Jesus and women - especially in the Roman Catholic Church. She explained, "The whole idea of the priesthood being male and being celibate is based on the historical assumption that Jesus was male and was celibate and single."

When or how the document was discovered is still unknown. Experts plan to do additional testing, analyzing the chemical makeup of the ink to try to come up with more answers to a question that challenges the very foundations of Christian thinking.

Watch Allen Pizzey's report in the video above.