Gordon Robinson, Contributor
So, Jesus might've been 'married' or, at least, might've had a 'wife'. OMG! What a religious disaster! Can you imagine? This facilitates all sorts of blasphemy by irreverent mortals like me. I can see the sitcoms now: Julianna Margulies stars as 'The God Wife'; Ray Romano and Patricia Heaton in 'Everybody Loved Mary'.
As expected, the uproar from church leaders, so long accustomed to their official status as exclusive readers of Jesus' mind and spokespersons for His views on current moral issues, has drowned out even the cacophony from PNP MPs seeking to nuance Damion Crawford from revolutionary to despot.
Here's the factual background from The New York Times' Laurie Goodstein:
"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 historian is Dr Karen King, a Christian history specialist and the first woman appointed as the Hollis professor of divinity. Thus, since her appointment in 2009, she has occupied the oldest endowed chair in the United States (founded 1721).
She didn't discover the tattered papyrus, but was asked by its owner, a collector, to translate its Coptic inscription. The collector, allegedly wishing to avoid reporters, curiosity seekers and buyers, requested anonymity. Dr King hasn't tried dating the ink by carbon testing. She says it would involve scraping off too much ink, thus destroying the document. She plans a spectroscopy test by which a rough determination of its age would be possible.
However, the available evidence makes forgery a very remote prospect. Two eminent papyrologists, Roger Bagnall, director of NYU's Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, and Anne Marie Luijendijk, an associate professor of religion at Princeton University, have independently declared the papyrus likely authentic.
They examined the scrap under sharp magnification ... .
It was written in Coptic, an Egyptian language that uses Greek characters and, more precisely, in Sahidic Coptic, a dialect from southern Egypt, Dr Luijendijk said in an interview.
What convinced them ... was the fading of the ink on the papyrus fibres, and traces of ink adhered to the bent fibres at the torn edges ... .
"It would be impossible to forge," said Dr Luijendijk ... .
Dr Bagnall reasoned a forger would have had to be expert in Coptic grammar, handwriting and ideas. Most forgeries he has seen were nothing more than gibberish. And if it were a forgery intended to cause a sensation or make someone rich, why would it have lain in obscurity for so many years?
"It's hard to construct a scenario that's at all plausible in which somebody fakes something like this. The world isn't really crawling with crooked papyrologists," Dr Bagnall said.
The Church's reaction, reminiscent of Hamlet's Player Queen's, has been swift, loud and dismissive. The Catholic World Report's Carl Olson quickly resorted to attacking the messenger. He opened his September 18 column with: "The Da Vinci Code may have come and gone, but the same dubious 'scholarship', breathless 'gotcha!' tactics, and general, sloppy silliness lives on - in The New York Times."
Unable to attack the papyrus' authenticity, he attacks "how the story is presented". He quotes extensively from Goodstein's balanced report (painstakingly emphasises the papyrus isn't necessarily proof that Jesus was married) to trumpet, "So, in other words, this is just another Dan Brown-like tempest in a teapot?"
Dr King's focus is women's involvement in Christianity, something the Church wants restricted to silent obedience and mammary motherhood, so her latest disclosure has attracted characterisations like "the Queen of Gnostic looniness" from James White, himself a kooky Christian fundamentalist with his own cult, based in Phoenix, calling itself The Alpha and Omega Ministries. A PhD, he's the author of numerous books and has engaged in many moderated debates where he's been forced to admit that many books of the Bible have unknown or anonymous authors. So, what's the difference with this papyrus find?
Dr King is neither your standard celebrity nor very fashion conscious. She wears loose-fitting clothes, horn-rimmed spectacles, and often ties her grey hair in a bun. Her view of women's role in early Christianity, her campaign to introduce more feminism to the modern church, taken with her outward appearance, make her an easy target for religious chauvinists with a desperate need to keep women marginalised. And they've taken dead aim.
Too much unknown
In an article titled 'Inventing Jesus' Wife' (September 19), the Catholic League's Bill Donohue, having pooh-poohed the quality of the "evidence" based on what "we" don't know ("We know nothing about when the scrap was discovered. We know nothing about where it was discovered. We know nothing about how it was discovered. We know nothing about the context in which the words were written. And we know nothing about the owner") slipped smoothly into a vicious demonisation of Dr King. He wrote:
"The reigning dogma in the academy is that words can have multiple meanings. For King, however, the words, 'My wife,' are so clear that they 'can mean nothing else.' Yet, according to some biblical scholars, 'sister-wives', as they are called, were not uncommon in the early centuries: these were women who performed domestic duties but didn't have sexual relations. And since we know nothing of the context in which the words were allegedly said, King's confidence is unwarranted.
"King is known for her fertile imagination. For example, she previously claimed that Mary Magdalene was one of the apostles. Even better, in the book in which she made this extraordinary claim, she 'rejects His [Jesus'] suffering and death as the path to eternal life.' Not much left after that.
In the 1990s, King sent her German mentor a book she wrote on feminine images in the Gospels. She later learned that he 'had utterly no interest' in it and quickly pawned it off on his wife, unread.
So after first inventing an apostle for Jesus - who the divinity professor says is not the Saviour - King has now invented a wife for him. Her generosity, if not her scholarship, is beyond dispute."
Donahue's non sequitur
First, Donohue's equating Dr King's rejection of "His [Jesus'] suffering and death as the path to eternal life" to an allegation that Jesus "is not the Saviour" is an egregious non sequitur. Some of us prefer to believe Jesus, The Saviour, died to spread The Word about "the path to eternal life" rather than accomplishing the salvation of all sinners simply by dying. So what?
Second, seriously, what's the furore about? If Jesus married, what would make that forbidden?
"If it's love, girl, how could it be forbidden?
The way I feel just can't remain hidden.
Folks may talk but I don't care
'cause wherever you are, girl, I wanna be there.
We were put here for a special reason
and you're the pot that's cooking and I'm the seasoning.
You're everything I dream of.
How could it be forbidden if it's love?"
If Jesus married:
It would've been a marriage between one man and one woman;
There was no legal or moral stricture against such marriage;
Jesus was a Jewish rabbi for whom marriage was normal;
Having married a former prostitute, Jesus would've embodied and exemplified his teachings of forgiveness for past sin.
Dr King never claimed the papyrus proves Jesus had a wife. Her claim is that the papyrus is genuine. It's obvious the missing words would better contextualise the document. They might be anything (e.g. "My wife would have to be a devout woman"; or "My wife would have an impossible job so I chose not to marry"; or "My wife is now a virtuous woman"). Why's it so important to insist Jesus had no wife?
'Sounds married to me'
Did Jesus have a wife? Maybe. He was always broke and forever "out with the boys" who were all jealous (some more volubly than others) of His "special" relationship. Sounds like the quintessential married man to me.
"JUDAS: It seems to me a strange thing, mystifying
that a man like you can waste his time on women of her kind.
SIMON: Hey, cool it, man.
JUDAS: Yes, I can understand that she amuses,
but to let her kiss you, stroke your hair,
that's hardly in your line.
It's not that I object to her profession,
but she doesn't fit in well
with what you teach and say.
It doesn't help us if you're inconsistent.
They only need a small excuse to put us all away.
JESUS:Who are you to criticise her?
Who are you to despise her?
Leave her, leave her, let her be now.
Leave her, leave her, she's with me now.
If your slate is clean, then you can throw stones.
If your slate is not, then leave her alone ... ."
Forbidden Love, a collaborative effort among songwriters Rupert Bent, Glenn K. Bolton (a.k.a. 'Daddy-O'), William Alexander Clark, Michael 'Ibo' Cooper, Stephen Haldane 'Cat' Coore, and Richard Daley, was one of Third World's most profoundly spiritual recordings. Strange Thing Mystifying, from the brilliant rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar, written by musical geniuses Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, was the sort of creative blasphemy that attracts fatwas these days.
After the resurrection, Jesus first revealed Himself to Mary Magdalene. Why? Maybe he knew he'd better report to The Old Ball and Chain first. Maybe they WERE "married". So what? Jesus preached love above all else. Why would Jesus' own love or marriage be forbidden?
The problem seems to be there's no historical record of any formally accredited wedding ceremony. So, if Jesus took a common-law wife, it would upend centuries of Victorian-style, mind-controlling Church dogma about marriage and sex. It might turn out civil unions are as much marriages before God as any churchified ceremony accompanied by gifts in the offering plate. It might even mean sex is permissible other than for reproduction. Good grief, Apocalypse now! So, this heretical leaking that Jesus might've considered Mary his "wife" must be deemed historical fallacy and cauterised before it leads to only God, Mary and Jesus-know-what.
"How can it be forbidden if it's love?
How can it be, how can it be ...?"
Peace and love.
Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.