Smithsonian Sets 'Jesus's Wife' Special

Smithsonian Channel will present an exclusive special based on the just-announced discovery of an ancient text in which Jesus speaks of "my wife."

The Gospel of Jesus's Wife will premiere on Sunday, Sept. 30, at 8 p.m. ET/PT.

On Monday, The New York Times reported that a team of scholars confirmed that a fourth century codex written in the ancient Egyptian Coptic language refers to the wife of Jesus.

This is the first reference to Jesus being married that has been found in an ancient text, and while it is not evidence of the historical Jesus, it suggests some early Christians believed Jesus had a wife.

Dr. Karen King, the Hollis Professor of Divinity at Harvard Divinity School, unveiled her findings at the Tenth International Congress of Coptic Studies in Rome. Smithsonian Channel has been working with her on a program about the discover for about the last two months, the channel said.

One of the world’s most respected historians of early Christianity and holder of the oldest endowed chair in the United States, Dr. King is one of the few who understand the Coptic language. Earlier this year, a collector who wishes to remain anonymous, came to Dr. King at Harvard University with a fragment of papyrus that may have been excavated from an area in Upper Egypt. The fragment, while damaged and difficult to decipher, clearly bears the line, “Jesus said to them, my wife…”

Dr. King initially suspected the papyrus could possibly be a fake. She took it to a papyrologist, Dr. Roger Bagnall of New York University, who judged that the physical condition of the papyrus and the ink provide forensic proof of its age. By comparing the fragment with other early Christian literature, Dr. King has argued that the original composition of the Gospel of Jesus’s Wife could have been from as early as the second half of the second century, which would mean that this story circulated among early Christians for well over a century.

Based on its condition, Dr. King and her colleagues suspect the papyrus of the Gospel of Jesus’s wife may have been salvaged from an ancient garbage heap, or it may have been found in a burial site and perhaps cut from a larger page in order to produce more pieces for sale. According to Dr. King, this small fragment of ancient Christian text does not offer proof that Jesus was married, but Dr. King believes the discovery will raise questions currently debated by modern Christians, such as the role of women in the church.

While some Gnostic Gospels have hinted at a special relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene, the discovery casts new light on Mary, who in some Christian interpretations had been considered a prostitute. The question of who Mary Magdalene was and what role she played with respect to Jesus has been a constant source of debate.

“Smithsonian Channel is thrilled to be at the forefront of such an important discovery; this is truly a fascinating story of huge public interest," David Royle, executive vice president for production and programming at Smithsonian Channel, said in a release. “We are a growing destination for new discoveries and were granted exclusive access to produce this documentary. It is a great source of pride that prominent academics are entrusting us with their stories."

The Gospel of Jesus's Wife is produced for Smithsonian Channel by Blink Films. Executive producers for Smithsonian Channel are David Royle and Charles Poe. Series producer is Dan Oliver and the director is Andy Webb.