Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Did Jesus have a wife?

Kilmore Church, Isle of Mull, Scotland, 1906
So many of you have been e-mailing me, wondering about the significance of the new gospel fragment recently published on the internet by Karen King of Harvard University.  Many are expressing amazement that there is a text that mentions Jesus' wife.  It is exciting to see the words "My wife" in bold Coptic scrawl.

But let's keep in mind that we actually already have a text that mentions Jesus' wife.  It is the Gospel of Philip.  We already know that there were some early Christians, in particular the Valentinian Gnostics, who taught that Mary Magdalene was Jesus' consort or wife.  They wrote about it in the Gospel of Philip.

The reason that their tradition remembered Mary in this way is because they believed that marriage was the sacred creative activity of God and God's manifestations or Aeons.  They also believed that their own human marriages were reflections - what they called "an image" - of the eternal marriages of the Aeons.  Jesus' human marriage to Mary Magdalene was believed to reflect the sacred marriage of the Aeons Jesus and Sophia.   Furthermore, the Aeons Jesus and Sophia were the spiritual twins or angelic dopplegangers of the human Jesus and Mary.  If you are interested in learning more about this practice and its sexual implications, I have written a chapter about it in Holy Misogyny, called "Is Marriage Salvation?" along with a chapter on Mary, called "How do we solve a problem like Maria?"

The new gospel fragment supports this Valentinian picture.  If it turns out to be an authentic gospel fragment from antiquity, it likely came from a page of yet another Valentinian gospel that contained sayings of Jesus.  Valentinian Christians were very prolific and they preserved an entire sayings tradition of counter-memories that supported their creative metaphysical outlook and Gnostic spirituality.

But does this mean that Jesus had a wife?  It depends on who you ask.  If you asked a Valentinian Christian, the answer would have been a definitive "yes".  If you asked an early Catholic Christian, the answer would have been "no".  If you ask a scholar today, depending on the methods they use to reconstruct the historical Jesus, you will get "yeses" and "noes'.

What do I think?  I think that it is next to impossible to reconstruct the historical Jesus from the theological portraits of him in any of the gospels, the New Testament included.  Aside from a few broad strokes, the historical Jesus remains shrouded in theology, including his sex life and marital status.  I continue to emphasize how necessary it is for us to think critically about these old texts and not take their statements as simple statements of historical facts, at least without first reasoning carefully through them.

Was Jesus married?  I like to think so.  But this has more to do with my own view of the blessedness of marriage than it does with any historical argument I might make.

7 comments:

Deila Taylor said...

Good points and information about the Gospel of Phillip. I would agree, and like to think that he was married, since I see marriage as something Godly and good.

Jim Davila said...

April, does the Coptic word behind "companion" in the translations actually signify "wife" or "consort" or is it more neutral? If it just means "companion," the new text makes explicit what the Gospel of Philip at most implies.

DummySean said...

I thought the Gospel of Philip was a little too lacunal to say it calls Mary a consort of Jesus, no?

Also what do you make of the boldfaced portions of this new papyrus? Any significance there?

Cheers,
Sean

dmthliana said...

I have recently gone through James Tabor and Simcha Jocabocivi's book, The Jesus Discovery where they related their experience in exploring two tombs in the Jerusalem suburbs. In one of the tombs, called Garden Tomb, ossuaries (small limestone boxes) containing bones were found. And these ossuaries had names on them. One was Jesus son of Joseph, another Maria Mara, another Jose son of Joseph and still another Juda son of Jesus. These two learned authors believe the Maria Mara to be Mary Magdalene and that this tomb was the family tomb of Jesus the Christ. If their findings prove correct, Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene and that they were buried together in a family tomb along with their son Juda and possibly (at least) a brother of Jesus.

Brian Price said...

The only way Jesus could have had a wife, is she would have had to be supernaturally conceived like Jesus was, or she would have had to come from one of his ribs like Eve came from Adams. The reason is. Jesus was made from perfect seed, and lived a sinless life,not from the imperfect seed of Adam, if he took a wife from the imperfect seed of Adam, and became one flesh with her, he would have been defiled, and his sacrifice on the cross would have been rejected by God.

Brian Price said...
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Brian Price said...
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