Was Jesus married? The question is ancient—perhaps as old as the question of his divinity. On September 18, at a conference in Rome, Harvard historian Karen L. King, unveiled an ancient scrap of papyrus with Coptic script in which Jesus refers to his wife. As they do in such situations, academics began debating whether the scrap was authentic or fraudulent and discussing the features and tests that would incline them one way or the other. Scholars of religion are interested in two sets of questions. One set has to do with the papyrus itself: Who wrote it, when, and why? Which of the many early Christian traditions might it derive from? Does it inform our understanding of Christian history and if so, how? The second set of questions has to do with Jesus: Assuming the existence of a historical Jesus, ( some scholars don’t ) what are our best hypotheses about who he was and how he lived? Was he indeed married? How should such a question affect the priorities of Christians today?
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