Theologian Mark D. Roberts explains why he’s not overwhelmed by new research that has turned up a 4th century fragment that refers to someone named Jesus having a wife. Notice how many of these “fragments” of later centuries keep showing up in revisionist texts. Before this, there was the Secret Gospel of Mark, which was used to argue that Jesus had homosexual relations with Lazarus and other young men who “loved him.”
I’m now waiting for “Fifty Shades of Jesus,” wherein it will be proved, in the style of all those sites promoting Christian porn or Christian BDSM, that Jesus was actually a sado-masochistic cannibal, who invited his followers to eat him and enjoyed his flagellation, torture and killing on the cross. [Note: THIS IS SARCASM]
The disturbing fact is that in an age of multiple-choice tests and zero-sum debates, the ability to place things in context, balance the weight of a piece of evidence against contradictory claims, the ability to study a text on its own terms without projecting onto it the prejudices and obsessions of the contemporary world, has vanished.
No matter how carefully a scholar frames a question, all the nuances are thrown aside when the media gets hold of a piece of information.
Mind you, I wouldn’t be surprised if Jesus was married. It was a requirement among Jewish rabbis. Perhaps he was married when he was younger and his wife died. Or she herself became a teacher. Or maybe she was a silent part of his ministry. Who knows. Even, if against all odds, this new research finds support in the future, I fail to see how it affects Jesus’ explicit teaching about sexuality. Nor does it alter the judgment of his contemporaries, as recorded in the Gospels, that “there was no sin found in him.”
Since they were looking very very hard for it, I think that’s fairly conclusive just there.
However, knowing that there are many people who have an axe to grind with the traditional Christian teaching that elevates celibacy (which is also elevated in Buddhism and Hinduism), I also know that it isn’t dispassionate scholarship or intellectual curiosity or respectful disagreement that drives these debates. Rather it is political activism that wants to rewrite the people and events of the past into forms more palatable to modern sensibility. I have advice for them. If you don’t like what Jesus had to say, don’t read him or follow him or try to follow him. Get a teacher after your own heart.
“Did Jesus have a wife, after all?
Major news outlets, such as the New York Times, are reporting on the discovery of a new document that refers to Jesus’ wife. More precisely, a small fragment from a previously unknown document contains a statement by a character named “Jesus” referring to “my wife.”
Does this give us new historical evidence for the literal marriage of Jesus of Nazareth to some woman, perhaps Mary Magdalene?
Professor Karen King displays the fragment of the so-called Gospel of Jesus’s Wife. Photo from http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/090512_AncientPapyrus_1714_605.jpg
No, says Karen L. King, the scholar who recently revealed the existence of the manuscript fragment in which “Jesus” speaks of “my wife.” In an article to be published in the Harvard Theological Review, King writes:
This is the only extant ancient text which explicitly portrays Jesus as referring to a wife. It does not, however, provide evidence that the historical Jesus was married, given the late date of the fragment and the probable date of original composition only in the second half of the second century.
Near the end of her article, King, with contributions by AnneMarie Luijendijk, reiterates:
Does this fragment constitute evidence that Jesus was married? In our opinion, the late date of the Coptic papyrus (c. fourth century), and even of the 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.
Of course, King’s measured judgment here will do little to stop the coming tidal wave of claims that we now have definitive evidence if not proof that Jesus was actually married. Dan Brown and his spokesman, Sir Leigh Teabing, appear to have been right all along! At least this is what we’ll hear in the days to come.
In fact, as Karen King rightly observes, the discovery and publication of the fragment known as the Gospel of Jesus’s Wife in fact tells us nothing about the first-century man we know as Jesus of Nazareth. If it is genuine, the fragment of the otherwise unknown document will tell us something about the beliefs of people who lived a century or two after Jesus, though what exactly we should conclude on the basis of this small piece of an ancient manuscript is yet to be determined.”