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Jesus's Wife?

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NY Times:

A historian of early Christianity at Harvard Divinity School has identified a scrap of papyrus that she says was written in Coptic in the fourth century and contains a phrase never seen in any piece of Scripture: “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife ...’ ”

The faded papyrus fragment is smaller than a business card, with eight lines on one side, in black ink legible under a magnifying glass. Just below the line about Jesus having a wife, the papyrus includes a second provocative clause that purportedly says, “she will be able to be my disciple.”

It sounds like this can't have any more authority than the Gospel of Judas did a few years ago. Bracing for the responses from people who just see the headline and don't care what textual criticism is, though.

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First up: The Atlantic. You might be surprised at the author's response:

There's only one problem, though. The Bible itself refers to Jesus' wife, repeatedly. Only that wife is not Mary Magdalene or any other earthly woman. It's the church.

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First up: The Atlantic. You might be surprised at the author's response:

There's only one problem, though. The Bible itself refers to Jesus' wife, repeatedly. Only that wife is not Mary Magdalene or any other earthly woman. It's the church.

"That's it kid, now let's blow this thing and go home!"

Seriously, that's a beautiful interpretation of the six or so words on the papyrus.

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Mark Goodacre offers some initial thoughts.

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First up: The Atlantic. You might be surprised at the author's response:

There's only one problem, though. The Bible itself refers to Jesus' wife, repeatedly. Only that wife is not Mary Magdalene or any other earthly woman. It's the church.

From their Entertainment editor, no less.

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Even if the papyrus was authentic, I fail to see how the speculative notion of Jesus being married affects the doctrine of Christ's divinity or the claims of the gospel one iota.

We emphasize the true humanity of Jesus and by logical extension this must include His sexuality. So why does the possibility of Him being properly married and having sexual intercourse with a woman produce such a visceral reaction in Christian circles?

Akin argues that the New Testament is full of references to the "Bride of Christ"-- His Church-- and that such references would be absolutely incongruous if there were a widowed Mrs.Jesus walking around somewhere in the first century. I disagree. Jesus clearly had a mother and siblings and yet in Matthew 12:48 he publicly disavows His relationship to them in that moment, emphasizing instead a higher principle of spiritual kinship for His followers-- in the same way they were later referred to as His Bride. Those who followed his teachings were His real Family and Wife. But such assertions didn't deny historical realities, they only clarified the higher spiritual purpose of His mission, no?

Edited by Greg P

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It's a good question, Greg. I can think of a number of answers...but no time to write them out!

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Greg P wrote:

: We emphasize the true humanity of Jesus and by logical extension this must include His sexuality. So why does the possibility of Him being properly married and having sexual intercourse with a woman produce such a visceral reaction in Christian circles?

Back in my college days, I used to ask people if they could imagine Jesus having a wet dream, and if they said (or indicated) that they couldn't, I told him their theology was faulty because they hadn't grappled with the full humanity of Jesus. (I specified wet dreams because these, as I understand it, are simple biological processes that happen to everyone and don't require any sort of conscious action, moral or otherwise.)

So I'm sympathetic to the idea that we should be open to the possibility that Jesus was married. However, I do find such a situation unlikely, for a number of reasons.

My first objection, believe it or not, is a somewhat theological one. Sex, in the Christian understanding, makes two people "one flesh" -- especially in its marital form, but Paul tells us in one of his epistles that this is true even of temporary hook-ups between prostitutes and their clients. And if Jesus is God incarnate -- God in the flesh -- then I have difficulty imagining that any woman could have become "one flesh" with God. (Incidentally, it was only when I began to take this idea seriously that I began to appreciate the special reverence that Orthodox and Catholics have for Mary, who was "one flesh" with Jesus in the sense that all mothers share flesh with their offspring. And I think it is noteworthy that Christian iconography and typology has often envisioned Jesus and Mary as a sort of new Adam and Eve.)

Then, on an historical level, I am persuaded by John P. Meier's argument that the gospels are full of references to Jesus' female followers *and* to Jesus' family members, yet it never mentions a wife, therefore it stands to reason that Jesus probably didn't have one. (Note: Meier is a Catholic priest who believes that the historical Mary probably had other children besides Jesus, so he's not saying Jesus was celibate simply to toe the Catholic line.)

The biblical references to the Church as Jesus' bride are a third factor, and they are both historical *and* theological, inasmuch as I think they reflect the theology that the historical Jesus subscribed to himself; i.e. I think it likely that Jesus never married an actual woman because he saw himself as married to something much bigger than that, namely his nascent Church.

Footnote: I have always found it intriguing how Paul writes, in I Corinthians 9, that Peter and James had wives and he did not, but nowhere in that debate does Paul indicate which side of the line Jesus would have fallen on. (Though I guess that could be because, in that case, Paul was referring to traveling apostles taking their wives with them on their journeys, and Jesus clearly wasn't one of those traveling apostles.)

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Aside: Peter, does Meier actually say that he himself believes Mary probably had other children? Or is that the outcome he presents within the framework of his proposed "consensus view" experiment/methodology?

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I can't remember, though I don't recall him emphasizing a strictly *personal* distinction on this particular point. In any case, my use of the phrase "historical Mary" was intended to give some wriggle room here: could mean the Mary who actually lived and died nearly 2000 years ago, or it could mean the Mary as reconstructed via Meier's "consensus view" methodology.

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Footnote: I have always found it intriguing how Paul writes, in I Corinthians 9, that Peter and James had wives and he did not, but nowhere in that debate does Paul indicate which side of the line Jesus would have fallen on.

I think that is because Paul did not conceive of Jesus as a model for every category of human behavior. This is part of the intent of his statement that "Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer." Paul sees a definitive break in our perception of Jesus pre- and post-resurrection. While the suffering and humility of Jesus represents for Paul that very fundamental pattern for the Christian life, he does not think of Jesus' personal characteristics as binding on the believer given his unique role in redemption history. For Paul, taking or not taking a wife is a pragmatic question related to one's calling.

Even if the papyrus was authentic, I fail to see how the speculative notion of Jesus being married affects the doctrine of Christ's divinity or the claims of the gospel one iota.

This is not simply a question of Jesus' divinity, it is also a matter of the titles Jesus accepted as descriptions of his ministry. Can one imagine a married Messiah? Well, given that Jewish tradition speaks of Messiah as the restorer of the Davidic lineage, then there is expectation that Messiah is one that will take a wife. Bar Kokhba, who was married and had children, was accepted as Messiah by no less than Rabbi Akiva during the 135 CE revolt.

So it would not have been contradictory for Jesus to have considered himself Messiah and take a wife. However, what happens in the gospels is that we see Jesus accepting the title of Messiah, fully knowing that he would be the one that would reveal to the nation that their Messianic expectation was flawed. Messiah would come to suffer on behalf of the people, rather than rule in immediate glory. What would have been very odd for Jesus is if he had taken a wife knowing that his life would end early in such a tragic way.

This whole Jesus being married thing is not simply a theological issue, it is a narrative issue. A married Jesus just doesn't make any sense, as it would have been very much out of character with everything we know about his early self-perception and the increasing reference to suffering and death we see in his teaching.

Edited by M. Leary

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M. Leary wrote:

: I think that is because Paul did not conceive of Jesus as a model for every category of human behavior. This is part of the intent of his statement that "Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer." Paul sees a definitive break in our perception of Jesus pre- and post-resurrection. While the suffering and humility of Jesus represents for Paul that very fundamental pattern for the Christian life, he does not think of Jesus' personal characteristics as binding on the believer given his unique role in redemption history. For Paul, taking or not taking a wife is a pragmatic question related to one's calling.

Interesting. I hadn't thought about it in quite those terms, but I like this.

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Greg P said:

:We emphasize the true humanity of Jesus and by logical extension this must include His sexuality. So why does the possibility of Him being properly married and having sexual intercourse with a woman produce such a visceral reaction in Christian circles?

I just finished reading a book called Unclean written by a Christian psychologist that has some relevant thoughts.

Beyond disgust centered on food, morality, or people, disgust is often elicited by stimuli that seem to function as death/mortalit reminders. Events or stimuli that highlight the weakness, decay, or vulnerability of the body often activate disgust responses.....

..... In short, disgust appears to have an existential component. Our body-related disgust is not simply about cleanliness. Rather, disgust seems to be fending off some deeper anxieties and ambivalences, many of cluster around the body and bodily functions. Something about the body seems improper, illicit, degrading and disgusting. Existential psycologists have suggested that the body is disgusting because we experience it as an existential predicament. Although we relish in the body, we know that it will, one day, fail us. Thus, "animal-reminder" stimuli are pushed away as revolting and inappropriate for contemplation......

.... This offensive union-the attachment of our symbolic/spiritual selves with a body-is also implicated in what we might call, following the psychodynamic psychologists, the "scandal of anality". That is, if humans feel like (or at least desire to be) spiritual, angelic, god-like, and immortal beings then participation in basic metabolic functions-eating and excreting- is experienced as offensive and illicit.......

..... Given the "human digust reactions are typically mediated very powerfully by the awareness of death and decay", Nussbaum echoes Becker's analysis that "human beings cannot bear to live with the constant awareness of mortality and of their frail animal bodies. Thus, "self deception may be essential in getting us through a life which is soon bound for death". Digust aids in the self deception by prompting us to push the animal-reminder stimuli away, allowing for a quick restoration to our existential equanimity......

..... But the connection between disgust and death goes deeper. Recall that digust regulates the divinity dimension in human experience. Feelings of digust are triggered when something "high" or "holy" is degraded or profaned. Generally speaking, we tend to place the spiritual aspects of existence "hight" on the divinity dimension. Conversely, things that are physical and animal are seen as "low" on the divinity dimension. Man is "over" the animals. We don't want people to "descend to the level of animals". This is the dynamic a the root of Becker's claim that humans are paradoxical. The spiritual elevated, and "higher" aspects of experience are intertwined with our "lower" animal nature. Given that digust regulates and monitors the movements of elevation and degradation on the divinity dimension, it is not surprising that reminders of our animal nature are often seen as vulgar, inappropriate, illicit, and revolting.

In his book he touches on some of Christendom's reaction to "THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST" when it came out and a possible reason why so many found a few scenes so offensive. Namely Christ's temptation to get married and have sex in the movie. The answer of course is that many associate this with the body, death, "the level of animals", and therefore find it "digusting" and irreconcilable with divinity.

Thus the idea of Christ getting married and having sex is perceived as offensive.

Edited by Attica

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In his book he touches on some of Christendom's reaction to "THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST" when it came out and reason why so many found a few scenes so offensive. Namely Christ's temptation to get married and have sex in the movie. The answer of course is that many associate this with the body, death, "the level of animals", and therefore find it "digusting" and irreconcilable with divinity.

Thus the idea of Christ getting married and having sex is perceived as offensive.

I can't say that this is not why some people found it offensive, but it's not why I found it offensive.

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In his book he touches on some of Christendom's reaction to "THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST" when it came out and reason why so many found a few scenes so offensive. Namely Christ's temptation to get married and have sex in the movie. The answer of course is that many associate this with the body, death, "the level of animals", and therefore find it "digusting" and irreconcilable with divinity.

Thus the idea of Christ getting married and having sex is perceived as offensive.

I can't say that this is not why some people found it offensive, but it's not why I found it offensive.

Personally I don't think I'm as offended, as much as I think it's just kind of stoopid. I mean really, if Jesus had have been married surely some of the apostles or those taught by them would have written about it. Even if not in the Bible, surely it would have entered into the vast amounts of writings that were rejected from the canon. I mean this isn't just a matter of Jesus sneazing.... if he was married they would have thought that God as man marrying a human was a big deal worth writing about.

Edited by Attica

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To clarify: When I spoke of being offended I was not referring to the Jesus wife papyrus, but to the vision (or whatever) in LAST TEMPTATION.

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To clarify: When I spoke of being offended I was not referring to the Jesus wife papyrus, but to the vision (or whatever) in LAST TEMPTATION.

Oh. Okay. I actually haven't seen LAST TEMPTATION so I don't really have an opinion outside of observing what others have said.

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Attica wrote:

: . . . if he was married they would have thought that God as man marrying a human was a big deal worth writing about.

I would agree, yeah.

I also find myself thinking that we never hear about Jesus' purported wife during any of the passion or resurrection narratives, nor even in the Book of Acts -- but we *do* hear about his mother.

(Interestingly, Luke-Acts does not place Mary at the crucifixion or resurrection, as far as I can recall, but it *does* place her at the early church in Jerusalem, albeit without tying her to a specific event there. It is John's gospel that places Mary at the crucifixion, including the passage where Jesus entrusts her to John's care -- a passage that many have cited as evidence that the "brothers" of Jesus were not Mary's sons, for if they were, surely *they* would have cared for her in Jesus' absence.)

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Looks like the story is dying down a bit now. The latest headlines haven't been as prominently displayed in the news, however.

The Guardian - Gospel of Jesus's Wife is fake, claims expert

How a fake Gospel-Fragment was composed

The Washington Post - Doubts

Is it a fraud? Scholars question authenticity of Harvard 'Jesus' Wife' papyrus -

... Stephen Emmel, a professor of Coptology at the University of Muenster who was on the international advisory panel that reviewed the 2006 discovery of the Gospel of Judas, said the text accurately quotes Jesus as saying “my wife.” But he questioned whether the document was authentic.

“There’s something about this fragment in its appearance and also in the grammar of the Coptic that strikes me as being not completely convincing somehow,” he said in an interview on the sidelines of the conference.

Another participant at the congress, Alin Suciu, a papyrologist at the University of Hamburg, was more blunt.

“I would say it’s a forgery. The script doesn’t look authentic” when compared to other samples of Coptic papyrus script dated to the 4th century, he said ...

Edited by J.A.A. Purves

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Christian Askeland had it called regarding the forgery idea the day after news broke. Last I heard, HTR was re-considering publication given that peer-review by actual coptologists would probably make any academic publishing on the fragment far less interesting than the media coverage has made it out to be.

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Mark Goodacre has been blogging this fairly consistently, e.g.:

'The Story is Moving Fast!' (September 20):

I must admit to a little disappointment in finding out tonight, after
the careful, sober, scholarly treatment of the release on Tuesday, that there is -- after all -- something of a dramatic,
sensational TV documentary at hand
. It has clearly been in production for months and
are branding it as a "sensational" find of "Biblical proportions" that will cause people to "reassess Christian theology". "She knew that it was a blockbuster." Of course, this kind of thing is simply part of the publicity machine of the channel, but there is something a touch disappointing about finding out that after all, the press releases were timed to coincide with the the pre-publicity for the documentary (which airs on 30 September). I may be being unfair here but I can't help feeling that this takes away from some of what I and others admired about Harvard's handling of the release on Tuesday."

'How a fake Gospel-Fragment was composed, by Francis Watson' (September 21)

'Francis Watson, Addendum: The End of the Line?' (September 22)

'Gospel of Jesus' Wife: the last line is also from Thomas' (September 24)

'Latest News' (September 25)

At Facebook, he also linked to this story (apologies if it overlaps with anything that has already been linked in this thread):

- - -

Harvard not yet publishing claim Jesus had wife

But on Friday, the review's co-editor Kevin Madigan said he and his co-editor had only "provisionally" committed to a January publication, pending the results of the ongoing studies. In an email, Madigan said the added studies include "scientific dating and further reports from Coptic papyrologists and grammarians."

After Tuesday's announcement, The Associated Press raised questions about the fragment's authenticity and provenance, quoting scholars at the international congress on Coptic studies in Rome, where King delivered the paper. The scholars said the fragment's grammar, form and content raised several red flags. Alin Suciu, a papyrologist at the University of Hamburg, flatly called it a "forgery."

Boston University archaeologist Ricardo Elia said Friday that the Harvard Theological Review should delay publication until the fragment's owner and origins are more clearly documented.

Harvard has kept the owner anonymous, and Elia said that raises questions about professional ethics, because Harvard appears to be protecting the owner, a collector, from other claims to the fragment. The school has said the papyrus most likely came from Egypt, which means it could be Egypt's cultural property, Elia said. . . .

Associated Press, September 22

Edited by Peter T Chattaway

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I don't know if it is just I have the wrong news outlets...but I found it interesting the instant reaction I saw was more of a yawn. Most of what I saw was mockery over the fact that anyone thought such a flimsy story should be given any weight. I mean, even if it was not a forgery, there was nothing to go on to support the story.

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I don't know if it is just I have the wrong news outlets...but I found it interesting the instant reaction I saw was more of a yawn.

The Da Vinci Code already took all the novelty out of it, way way back in 2003. The idea that Jesus had a wife is old hat.

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