Was Je­sus mar­ried?

The Compass - - OPINION - Bur­ton K. Janes bur­tonj@nfld.net

Was Je­sus mar­ried? The an­swer to this ques­tion is ei­ther yes or no, so you have a 50 per cent chance of be­ing right.

There is no ex­plicit an­swer in the New Tes­ta­ment to the ques­tion of Je­sus’ mar­i­tal state. It makes no men­tion of his wife, but nei­ther does it state he was un­mar­ried. In­deed, when­ever the Gospels — Matthew, Mark, Luke and John — re­fer to Je­sus’ nat­u­ral rel­a­tives, they speak only of his fa­ther, mother and sib­lings. He had four broth­ers, James, Joseph, Si­mon and Ju­das; he also had sis­ters, but they are not named or num­bered.

The fact that the Bi­ble is silent on Je­sus’ mar­i­tal state is taken by some as strong ev­i­dence he lived a sin­gle life. Oth­ers sug­gest the New Tes­ta­ment’s si­lence on the sub­ject is ev­i­dence he was in fact mar­ried, the rea­son be­ing that vir­tu­ally all J ewi s h m e n in Je­sus’ day did marry. How­ever, the gov­ern­men­tal and reli­gious laws of his time did not re­quire him to marry.

These and other thought s b egan swi r l i n g in my in­quir­ing mind last week. I had just read about the dis­cov­ery of a piece of pa­pyrus sug­gest­ing some early Chris­tians be­lieved Je­sus was mar­ried. A codex in Cop­tic from the fourth cen­tury quotes Je­sus as re­fer­ring to “my wife.” The frag­ment also sug­gests the ex­is­tence of a fe­male dis­ci­ple.

Karen L. King, a pro­fes­sor at Har­vard Di­vin­ity School, says it’s the only ex­tant text in which Je­sus is ex­plic­itly por­trayed as be­trothed. She goes far­ther, call­ing the slip of pa­pyrus, which is the size of a re­ceipt, “The Gospel of Je­sus’ Wife.”

The frag­ment says, “Je­sus said to them, ‘My wife....’ “Un­for­tu­nately, the rest of the sen­tence is cut off. An­other seg­ment says, “As for me, I dwell with her in or­der to …” In the lat­ter case, the speaker re­mains uniden­ti­fied.

“Chris­tian tradition has long held that Je­sus was not mar­ried, even though no re­li­able his­tor­i­cal ev­i­dence ex­ists to sup­port that claim,” King says. “This new gospel doesn’t prove that Je­sus was mar­ried, but it tells us that the whole ques­tion only came up as part of the vo­cif­er­ous de­bates about sex­u­al­ity and mar­riage.”

I’m try­ing my best to re­strain my ex­cite­ment about this most re­cent “dis­cov­ery.” It sounds too much like a scene snatched from the pages of Dan Brown’s 2003 novel, “The Da Vinci Code,” which claims that Catholic lead­ers cov­ered up Je­sus’ mar­riage to Mary Mag­da­lene.

It’s also highly rem­i­nis­cent of the so-called James os­suary, which was an­nounced to a breath­less world in 2002. The os­suary is a 2,000-yearold chalk box that was used for hold­ing the bones of the dead. An Ara­maic in­scrip­tion, trans­lated as “James, son of Joseph, brother of Je­sus,” is cut into one side of the box. The in­scrip­tion is con­sid­ered sig­nif­i­cant be­cause, if gen­uine, it could pro­vide ar­chae­o­log­i­cal ev­i­dence of Je­sus of Nazareth. Ho w e v e r, some schol­ars strongly sus­pect a mod­ern- day forgery.

Ap­par­ently, Karen King her­self is hold­ing off pub­lish­ing the claim that Je­sus had a wife, pend­ing full vet­ting and sci­en­tific dat­ing by ex­perts in the field.

Other schol­ars shy away from com­mit­ting them­selves to the au­then­tic­ity of this most re­cent bib­li­cal dis­cov­ery.

Dar­ryl Bock, un­doubt­edly speak­ing for many oth­ers, in­serts a cau­tion­ary note into the on­go­ing de­bate . “It is one speck of a fringe text in a sea of texts that say Je­sus was sin­gle,” he says. “Thus, in the end, even if it says what peo­ple are sug­gest­ing, it tells us only about a fourth cen­tury group’s views, not any­thing about Je­sus.”

I have no sadis­tic de­sire to be a killjoy. And I cer­tainly have no aver­sion to ac­cept­ing bona fide dis­cov­ers that have the po­ten­tial of throw­ing light on the Bi­ble. If Je­sus had a wife and/or a woman dis­ci­ple, then so be it. At the same time, I too urge re­straint in too read­ily ac­cept­ing at face value sen­sa­tional claims that have not been au­then­ti­cated.

In 1986, I read a book — “Re­li­gion’s Rebel Son: Fa­nati­cism in Our Time” — that helped set­tle many ques­tions I had about the hu­man pen­chant for gulli­bil­ity.

“The twen­ti­eth (and, I might add, twenty-first) cen­tury is the most cred­u­lous and con­form­ist age in his­tory,” Lloyd Billings­ley writes. “Mod­ern Man can be in­duced to be­lieve any­thing, pro­vided it is dished up in the proper jar­gon, en­dorsed by the proper author­ity, or, best of all, seen on tele­vi­sion (or, in the con­tem­po­rary set­ting, the In­ter­net).”

These and other thoughts be­gan swirling in my in­quir­ing mind last week. I had just read about the dis­cov­ery of a piece of pa­pyrus sug­gest­ing some early Chris­tians be­lieved Je­sus was mar­ried. A codex in Cop­tic from the fourth cen­tury quotes Je­sus as re­fer­ring to

“my wife.”The frag­ment also sug­gests the ex­is­tence of a fe­male

dis­ci­ple.

Bur­ton K. Janes lives in Bay Roberts. His col­umn ap­pears in The Com­pass ev­ery week. He can be

reached at bur­tonj@nfld.net

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