Skip to comments.The Gospel of Jesusí Wife? When Sensationalism Masquerades as Scholarship
Posted on 09/22/2012 12:41:56 PM PDT by rhema
The whole world changed on Tuesday. At least, that is what many would have us to believe. Smithsonian magazine, published by the Smithsonian Institution, declares that the news released Tuesday was apt to send jolts through the world of biblical scholarship and beyond. Really?
What was this news? Professor Karen King of the Harvard Divinity School announced at a conference in Rome that she had identified an ancient papyrus fragment that includes the phrase, Jesus said to them, My wife. Within hours, headlines around the world advertised the announcement with headlines like Ancient Papyrus Could Be Evidence that Jesus Had a Wife (The Telegraph).
The Smithsonian article states that the announcement at an academic conference in Rome is sure to send shock waves through the Christian world. The magazines breathless enthusiasm for the news about the papyrus probably has more to do with advertising its upcoming television documentary than anything else, but the nations most prestigious museum can only injure its reputation with this kind of sensationalism.
A Fragment of a Text, an Even More Fragmentary Argument
What Karen King revealed on Tuesday was a tiny papyrus fragment with Coptic script on both sides. On one side the fragment includes about 30 words on eight fragmentary lines of script. The New York Times described the fragment as smaller than a business card, with eight lines on one side, in black ink legible under a magnifying glass. The lines are all fragmentary, with the third line reading deny. Mary is worthy of it, and the next reading Jesus said to them, My wife. The fifth states, she will be able to be my disciple.
The papyrus fragment, believed to be from the fourth century, was delivered to Professor King by an anonymous source who secured the artifact from a German-American dealer, who had bought it years ago from a source in East Germany. As news reports made clear, the fragment is believed by many to be an authentic text from the fourth century, though two of three authorities originally consulted by the editors of the Harvard Theological Review expressed doubts. Such a find would be interesting, to be sure, but hardly worthy of the international headlines.
The little piece of ancient papyrus with its fragmentary lines of text is now, in the hands of the media, transformed into proof that Jesus had a wife, and that she was most likely Mary Magdalene. Professor King will bear personal responsibility for most of this over-reaching. She has called the fragment nothing less than The Gospel of Jesus Wife a title The Boston Globe rightly deemed provocative. That same paper reported that Professor King decided to publicize her findings before additional tests could verify the fragments authenticity because she feared word could leak out about its existence in a way that sensationalized its meaning. Seriously? King was so concerned about avoiding sensationalism that she titled the fragment The Gospel of Jesus Wife?
This is sensationalism masquerading as scholarship. One British newspaper notes that the claims about a married Jesus seem more worthy of fans of Dan Browns fictional work, The Da Vinci Code, than real-life Harvard professors. If the fragment is authenticated, the existence of this little document will be of interest to historians of the era, but it is insanity to make the claims now running through the media.
Professor King claims that these few words and phrases should be understood as presenting a different story of Jesus, a different gospel. She then argues that the words should be read as claiming that Jesus was married, that Mary Magdalene was likely his wife. She argues further that, while this document provides evidence of Jesus marital status, the phrases do not necessarily mean he was married. More than anything else, she argues against the claim that Christianity is a unified body of commonly-held truths.
Those familiar with Karen Kings research and writings will recognize the argument. Her 2003 book, The Gospel of Mary of Magdala: Jesus and the First Woman Apostle, argued that another text from the era presented Mary Magdalene as the very model for apostleship.
A Preference for Heterodoxy
The thread that ties all these texts and arguments together is the 1945 discovery of some 52 ancient texts near the town of Nag Hammadi in Egypt. These texts are known to scholars as Gnostic literature. The texts present heretical narratives and claims about Jesus and his message, and they have been a treasure trove for those seeking to replace orthodox Christianity with something different.
Several ambitions drive this effort. Feminists have sought to use the Nag Hammadi texts to argue that women have been sidelined by the orthodox tradition, and that these Gnostic texts prove that women were central to the leadership of the early church, perhaps even superior to the men. Others have used the Nag Hammadi texts to argue that Christianity was diverse movement marked by few doctrinal concerns until it was hijacked by political and ecclesiastical leaders, who constructed theological orthodoxy as a way of establishing churchly power in the Roman Empire and then stifling dissent. Still others argue that Christianitys moral prohibitions concerning sexuality, and especially homosexuality, were part of this forced orthodoxy which, they argue, was not the essence of true Christianity. More than anything else, many have used the Nag Hammadi texts as leverage for their argument that Christianity was originally a way of spirituality centered in the teachings of a merely human Christ not a message of salvation through faith in a divine Jesus who saves sinners through the atonement he accomplished in his death and resurrection.
Professor King, along with Princetons Elaine Pagels, has argued that the politically powerful leaders who established what became orthodox Christianity silenced other voices, but that these voices now speak through the Nag Hammadi texts and other Gnostic writings. Writing together, King and Pagels argue that the traditional history of Christianity is written almost solely from the viewpoint of the side that won, which was remarkably successful in silencing or distorting other voices, destroying their writings, and suppressing any who disagreed with them as dangerous and obstinate heretics.
King and Pagels both reject traditional Christianity, and they clearly prefer the voices of the heretics. They argue for the superiority of heterodoxy over orthodoxy. In the Smithsonian article, Kings scholarship is described as a kind of sustained critique of what she called the master story of Christianity: a narrative that casts the canonical texts of the New Testament as a divine revelation that passed through Jesus in an unbroken chain to the apostles and their successors church fathers, ministers, priests and bishops who carried these truths into the present day.
King actually argues against the use of terms like heresy and even Gnostic, claiming that the very use of these terms gives power to the forces of orthodoxy and normative Christianity. Nevertheless, she cannot avoid using the terms herself (even in the titles of her own books). She told Ariel Sabar of Smithsonian, Youre talking to someone whos trying to integrate a whole set of heretical literature into the standard history.
Orthodoxy and Heresy: The Continual Struggle
Those who use Gnostic texts like those found at Nag Hammadi attempt to redefine Christianity so that classic, biblical, orthodox Christianity is replaced with a very different religion. The Gnostic texts reduce Jesus to the status of a worldly teacher who instructs his followers to look within themselves for the truth. These texts promise salvation through enlightenment, not through faith and repentance. Their Jesus is not the fully human and fully divine Savior and there is no bodily resurrection of Christ from the dead.
Were these writings found at Nag Hammadi evidence of the fact that the early church opposed and attempted to eliminate what it understood to be false teachings? Of course. That is what the church said it was doing and what the Apostles called upon the church to do. The believing church did not see heresy as an irritation it saw heterodoxy as spiritual death. Those arguing for the superiority of the Gnostic texts deny the divine inspiration of the New Testament and prefer the heterodox teachings of the Gnostic heretics. Hauntingly, the worldview of the ancient Gnostics is very similar, in many respects, to various worldviews and spiritualities around us today.
The energy behind all this is directed to the replacement of orthodox Christianity, its truth claims, its doctrines, its moral convictions, and its vision of both history and eternity with a secularized indeed, Gnositicized new version.
Just look at the attention this tiny fragment of papyrus has garnered. Its few words and broken phrases are supposed to cast doubt on the New Testament and the doctrines of orthodox Christianity. A tiny little fragment which, even if authentically from the fourth century, is placed over against the four New Testament Gospels, all written within decades of Jesus earthy ministry.
The Gospel of Jesus Wife? Not hardly. This is sensationalism masquerading as scholarship. Nevertheless, do not miss what all this really represents an effort to replace biblical Christianity with an entirely new faith.
The Gospel of duplicate threads, when repetition meets failure to search:
Of course Jesus was married! And just what is the problem with that? Adam and Eve were married. Why not Christ? In Jesus’ day, one could not be addressed as Rabbi or Rabboni unless he was married.
This has been posted before - I don’t care if Jesus was married or not - He is still the Savior. He lived as others in His time, and getting married is not a sin, it is ordained by God, so why not marry? Again, doesn’t matter.
Thanks Pope Luke! You have spoken, so it is. BTW, could you make sure there’s no rain tomorrow? I gotta be in the garden.
Not so much.
The Gnostics were extremely varied, but one of the few things most of them had in common was a belief that the physical world of matter was utterly corrupt and that to be holy one must withdraw from this world as much as possible.
This meant, at least for the leaders, celibacy and asceticism.
This is not, to put it mildly, a popular POV in the modern western world.
interesting that just bits and pieces and no full context. I guess if I found a papyrus that had say ..”He went out and hung himself.... Go and do likewise” then I could advocate for suicide.
stupid agenda driven ‘scholars’
Be rooted in Christ!
O heavenly King, O Comforter, the Spirit of Truth
who are in all places and fillest all things:
Treasury of good things and Giver of life:
Come and dwell in us and cleanse us from every stain,
and save our souls, O good One.
We should ignore both Christian and non-Christian contemporaneous accounts of Jesus’ life, and accept a Harvard professor’s interpretation of a scrap of paper written 400 years after He walked the earth.
If I learned anything from the Dan Brown books, it’s that too many people will believe anything.
>>Professor King, along with Princetons Elaine Pagels<<
Typical angry lesbians from the Ivy League whose adgenda coincides with the progressive/liberal media? Who would’a thunk it?
“Of course Jesus was married! And just what is the problem with that? Adam and Eve were married. Why not Christ? In Jesus day, one could not be addressed as Rabbi or Rabboni unless he was married.”
First of all, Jesus rebuked the practice of calling anyone Rabbi, which is the equivalent of saying ‘Great Teacher’ or “Infallible Teacher”.
Mat 23:8 But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren.
Second of all, the idea of Christ actually marrying and having children is found nowhere in scripture. This is a 4th centry fragmentary text that has, essentially, no meaning. It’s also an offensive idea, since it basically is like saying that God Incarnate would marry a woman, become One with her in the sight of the law, and then promptly get crucified and leaving her without any support. It’s obvious from the Gospels that Christ was a man always on the move, living day to day on prayer, essentially living, with His human nature, the perfect God-dependent existence. If He had a wife, He would be home all the time and working to support the family, living the perfect married man’s life which puts his wife on an equal measure with himself.
There is nothing in the new testament to indicate at all the Jesus ever married. This surely would have been mentioned had it been true. One little scap of papyrus supposedly indicating to the contrary, in unknown context, written 400 years after His death pretty much is meaningless.
Besides, there could be missing words that put it into context such as “take” and “please.”
Many (not all) Gnostics viewed the physical world of matter as evil in itself. Therefore they viewed reproduction, which traps more spirit beings within matter, as inherently evil too.
Since women do the reproducing, they generally had a less positive view of women than the Church did.
Dan Brown and his ilk just project the beliefs of a 21st century idiot back into the Roman Empire and claim the Gnostics believe as they do.
The Brownians actually have no sense of history. Their preferred belief system actually existed in 18th and 19th century Russia among (some of) the Khlysti. One of their beliefs was that to be forgiven your sins, you first have to accumulate some. Rituals to ensure lots of sinning were involved.
Read her bio, and you’ll get some idea what her “research” is worth.
Probably because I didn't post one. Pay attention.
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Just the link, hg, just the link.