Thursday, September 20, 2012


Everyone else has, so I suppose I must talk about Jesus' wife.
Speculation that Jesus Christ might have married is an ancient one and, however often theologians and historians throw cold water over the idea, it will keep cropping up - most notably in recent years as a key element in the plot of Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code. No one would take that particular novel as gospel, but now a historian from the Harvard Divinity School has come up with what may – just – be the first ever reference to Jesus mentioning a wife.

The fragment of fourth-century Coptic writing on a rectangular piece of faded papyrus no more than eight centimetres by four contains eight lines written in black ink apparently including the words: "Jesus said to them, 'My wife …'" Far from being the start of a music-hall joke, the extract continues: "she will be able to be my disciple," before being cut off.

Karen L King, the Hollis professor of divinity – the oldest endowed academic chair in the US – who made the discovery, told the New York Times: "These words can mean nothing else."
All right then, the words can mean nothing else, but are the words true?  Professor King, the Coptic scholar, decidedly does not go that far.  The fragment is intriguing, and if it's provenance is verified, it will be of great interest to scholars and many others, but it will not prove Dan Brown is right.

What would it mean to me if it could be proved that Jesus had a wife?  I would not be shocked, nor would my faith be in any way affected.

Diarmaid MacCulloch, Oxford professor and historian of Christianity, says, "Bloggers beware – it's not what you think."  But what do I think?  I don't really have an opinion.  I'm far behind others in blogging about the discovery of the papyrus.


Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Talk about march me up to the top of the hill and march me down again.

Jesus said to them, "My wife - ah, that woke you up."

JCF said...

If Jesus had a wife, I daresay there was at least ONE human being who did not believe he was without sin! ;-p

Grandmère Mimi said...

Oh, Adrian.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Maybe his mom and dad? And the Pharisees and Sadducees thought Jesus was a fraud and blasphemer.

Marthe said...

I simply can't get worked up about this as I've always assumed that since Jesus was an observant Jew that he would have married shortly after his bar mitzvah and likely had children (average life expectancy in those days slightly under 40 years - everyone married "young"). His only "reason" for avoiding his social duty/expectation would have been a decided preference for men, which, of course, "modern" types would have considered significantly more scandalous ... there is precious little mention of this possibility in any of the known texts, but being an inveterate sceptic, I've always wondered if the secret vaults of the Vatican contain banned texts that describe Jesus as homosexual, hence secretly the reason RC priests aren't authorized to marry. Yes, that would mean even more trouble for the current crop of haters and "traditionalists" who don't seem to want to treat their neighbors with anything like the respect required by the Golden Rule ... just pot stirring ...

kishnevi said...

Well, this fragment is about 300 years too late to be anything like first hand evidence. It's also possibly influenced by or part of Gnostic writings, which claimed Jesus was married to Mary Magdalen, although often only in a spiritual, mystical way that had no real bearing on normal married life.
1)Main reason to think Jesus was married--that was almost universal among Jews.
Counter argument--there are known (and much praised) exceptions to that rule, so it wasn't quite so universal
Counter argument--it was almost universal among Jews not to wander around Galilee preaching and consorting with lowlifes. Obviously with Jesus the "everyone else did it" argument has definite limits.
2)Main reason to think Jesus was not married--no one seems to mention anyone who might have been a wife. Perhaps Mary was given so much prominence as his mother because there was no wife so she was the best substitute. But there is definitely no woman mentioned who seems to have had any special authority on the basis of what Jesus told her while they were getting read for bed, or washing the dishes after supper.
Counter argument--the traditions about Mary Magdalene, Gnostic and non-Gnostic
Counter argument--the possibility that Jesus had a wife, but she died before he began his public ministry. Perhaps her death was the event that prodded him towards a more openly spiritual path.

Private speculation--I've always wondered if perhaps the woman taken in adultery might have been Jesus' wife, who--of course this is speculation--felt abandoned, took a lover, was caught, and then was presented to Jesus in attempt to humiliate and embarrass him.

But basically this tells up nothing that we can use to shed more light on "the real Jesus". Short of documents from the first century CE squirrelled way and preserved in a similar manner to the Dead Sea Scrolls (and several caches have been found, mostly hidden during or immediately after the Roman Wars of the 60s CE and the 120s CE) that specicially mention Jesus and members of his family in unmistakeable ways, we will probably never know.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Marthe, I couldn't get worked up about the fragment, either. If the papyrus is genuine, the scholars will be excited to learn more about what the Copts of the 4th century were writing about Jesus.

Grandmère Mimi said...

kishnevi, I absolutely agree that the papyrus will shed no more light on the person Jesus. We have the infancy narratives, the story of the 12 year old Jesus confounding the teachers in the temple and worrying his parents, and then nothing more until Jesus begins teaching about age 30, and unless more 1st century or very early 2nd century documents are found, we will know no more of the fact of Jesus' life.

Bonnie said...

Probably the most compelling reason to believe it's not true would be that all of the searches for "traces" have yet to bear any fruit. Search for the Holy Grail, the sliver of the cross, Veronica's veil, provenance of the Shroud of Turin, & etc. I don't think there are any physical traces. Our traces come through faith and small and very compelling miracles.

The Da Vinci Code was an awesome read and while loving every minute of it, I didn't believe a word of it.

Marthe--Priest were allowed at one time to marry up to the 14th or 15th century. (I think the reason that ceased was that caring for the widow was something they didn't want to be responsible for although I'm not sure that was the reason.) Even some Popes were married. And there is that little story about Pius XII and his Popessa who was hustled out of the Vactican upon his death.

Bonnie said...

Marthe--Also this. Peter, the supposed first Pope, was married--biblical fact. The RC's have no justifiable reason for not allowing clergy at any level to marry. Their reasoning around this issue is a most horrific idolatry.

Grandmère Mimi said...

After I wrote my post and comment, I had a thought: we hear of Jesus' parents and his brothers and sisters, so it seems to me that if he had a wife, we would have heard about her.

Bonnie said...

And not only that. How about "Those who know the will of my father and do it are my mother, my brothers." (Probably not the exact quote but close enough.) Or the woman who touches the hem of his garment and he calls her "daughter." Sigh! Could faint dead away when I hear that. Each and every one of us the sons and daughters. And I love all the dear hearts and gentle people who will fight the good fight for that!

Marthe said...

Yup, knew all that, just musing ... all those fellows fussing and fearful of women and our parts and our mysteries sometimes just makes me laugh. That they might not have wanted to "deal with" widow issues or any of those pesky "clergy spouse" problems is entirely plausible, too ... it's the "let's keep secrets and call them holy" stuff that annoys me and makes me wonder just what they're up to.

Grandmère Mimi said...

And long after Peter, popes had mistresses who bore them children, and the males were sometimes give preferential treatment by appointment to high office in the church.

Acolyte of Sagan said...

So many gospels were suppressed or omitted from the early bibles, from Constantine onwards, there may well be 'lost' references to a wife which didn't fit with the religious message the compilers wanted, and a mortal man with mortal needs and desires was exactly the opposite of the Jesus they wished to promote.

As for the references here to The Da Vinci Code; that book was heavily influenced by an earlier, non-fiction book The Tomb of God, by Richard Andrews and Paul Schellenberger, an interesting work which followed 'clues' scattered through many early art-works - including da Vinci's - to try to locate the hidden grave of Jesus somewhere in France.
Well worth a read, if only to see where Brown plegarised..oops..I mean gained inspiration for his own book.

Ann said...

I am more interested in the "she can be my disciple" than the wife part.

Grandmère Mimi said...

One scholar believes the fragment is a forgery.

Russ Manley said...

It's impossible to learn anything from a text so fragmentary: the sentence could have gone anywhere, e.g., "My wife is the one who truly believes in God, and dedicates her life to Him. . . ." etc. In any case, even if we had the full text and it said "My wife is waiting supper on me, gotta run now," it would be about as reliable as those Gnostic gospels that tell all sorts of strange stories about Jesus - like when he was a little boy, turning clay pigeons into live ones, and so on. Lots of people in the early centuries had no qualms about plagiarizing and totally rewriting stuff to fit their own pet theologies or whimsies, it seems.

Nor do I think there are any great secrets likely ever to turn up about Jesus. While I do think Paul and others may have put their own "spin" on what He taught, the apostolic succession, repeatedly championed by the early Fathers of the Church, and closely adhered to by the orthodox crowd, makes it reasonably certain that we have all the major details that were considered important to remember when the NT was being written down. Just sayin'.

And IMO none of the details matter a whit - only the example and the command to love as God loves us.

Grandmère Mimi said...

If we learned that Jesus had a wife, we'd have some interesting discussions, but nothing about the basics of the faith would change. The heart of Jesus' message remains.

...the example and the command to love as God loves us.


Anonymous said...

The words "Jesus had a wife" bring back old memories of the text that I consider authoritative on the matter, inasmuch as I picked it up in college back in the Old Stone Age.

[sung to the tune of "Jesse James"]
Now Jesus had no wife
To mourn for his life,
He needed a bath and a shave.
But that foe of the proletariat,
Judas Iscariot,
Has laid Jesus Christ in his grave.

[But I never learned the verses.]

Porlock Junior

Grandmère Mimi said...

Porlock, here's a link to the rest of the lyrics.