August 18, 2017

Did Jesus have a wife? New evidence says “Yes.”

 

Eagle Rock, CA – Milady Annabelle and I were visiting Occidental College. She’s an alumna. It’s a fine private, coed

Dr. King shows the sample of papyrus at a conference of scholars in Rome. --from the New York Times

Dr. King shows the sample of papyrus at a conference of scholars in Rome.
–from the New York Times

college, one of the oldest on our Pacific coast. Just a few miles east of downtown Los Angeles.

We were strolling the beautiful grounds. I noticed a newspaper box and, news junkie that I am, took out a paper—the students’ Occidental Weekly! A freebie. Never saw it before.

A big headline on Page 1: “Former Occidental Professor debates possible existence of Jesus’ wife.”

Couldn’t resist it. Read it right there. Every word. Seems that Jesus did have a wife. Gosh! But the headline was mild compared to the story itself. In her talk to Occidental students, the professor wasn’t “debating” anything. She said she had strong evidence that suggested yes, Jesus did have a wife!

I handed the paper to Annabelle. She feasted on it. “Sensational,” she said.

Both of us had heard allusions of this over the years, whispers, so to speak. But nothing like this. Nothing this firm. And that’s why I’m sharing it with you now.

Imagine our learning of this in a student newspaper!

The professor, Dr. Karen L. King, had moved on from Occidental and was now a professor at Harvard U. Divinity School. She had had come back to give to give her talk about this astounding development.

And she had first-hand info—she had done the research to come up with it.

She had gotten possession of a scrap of ancient papyrus. Just a tiny thing—the size of a business card. It had pieces of Coptic writing on it. Translated, one of them stated, “Jesus said  (to his disciples), “my wife….” That’s all.

Unfortunately, the rest of the sentence was missing.

The story we were reading was written by student Clark Scally—students produce the whole paper. I was impressed by it. I noticed Scally had also authored two other articles in it. A busy young man. To my eye, quite professional.

His story about Dr. King’s talk had a juicy tidbit. He wrote, “In the Gospel of Philip, discussed by (Prof.) King in her lecture, Jesus speaks of marriage and sexuality extensively. He also refers to Mary Magdalene as his close companion whom he kisses more often than his other disciples, much to the concern of Apostles Peter and Matthew.”

That tickled me. For the simple reason that over the years I have come to think of Jesus as a man, as a very great teacher, one of the greatest ever, but just a man. And this certainly makes him look manly. I like that. Besides. I had never heard it said that boldly before.

In her talk, Dr. King said that scrap of papyrus was believed to have come from the fourth or fifth centuries.

She said an anonymous donor who collected such things had given it to her at Harvard Divinity School.

She had made thorough efforts to authenticate that exciting bit of papyrus. Had shown it to numerous scholars. Had discussed it with them. Had double-checked everything as carefully as she could. Had slept on it. Had decided it was legitimate. But she said more analysis is going on.

Certainly she’s a lady and professor of high repute and attainment. She left Occidental to join Harvard Divinity in 2003 as the Winn  Professor of Ecclesiastical History.

Six years later she made history when she became the first woman to be the Hollis Professor of Divinity. It is the oldest endowed chair on our shores, dating back to 1721.

She has received research grants from prestigious foundations. Has written many articles and half a dozen scholarly books. So, she is no lightweight.

I find the titles of two of her books tantalizing, The Secret Revelation of John and The Gospel of Mary of Magdala: Jesus and the First Woman Apostle.

She spilled this about Jesus and his wife at Occidental on Feb. 7. But that came after a storm of controversial announcements and newsbreaks about it.

Initially, Dr. King had traveled to Rome with the papyrus and displayed it to a group of New Testament experts. She came back sure that it was authentic, though apparently the scholars were not all agreed.

The Vatican blasted it as counterfeit. A columnist for Britain’s eminent Guardian newspaper disagreed loudly. Declared the papyrus document a fraud and explained why. It boiled down to a typo.

It is known that the notion that Jesus did not have a wife developed only a century after his death. It is said that numerous people of Jesus’ time believed that he was indeed married. How about that?

To announce her findings to the wide public, Dr. King staged a press conference at the Divinity School.. It got attention. The New York Times was there, among others. It followed up with a detailed story. And it stirred up scores of comments, pro and con.

I read many. Scholarly and impressive. Regardless what side they were on, these people seemed awfully knowledgeable.

I’m not sure what to believe. I’d like more than a scrap of evidence. But again, deep down I like to believe that Jesus was a married man. That’s so natural. That’s what most of us want to do and end up doing. More and more of us get married more than once!

And now we have men marrying men and women marrying women! Legally.

Getting hooked seems to satisfy an inner need.

The public reaction was more than Dr. King expected. She says shat she is not saying Jesus had a wife. She is saying that the papyrus said he did.

I found it dramatic that this red-hot story was appearing in the student newspaper of a college of strong Christian origins. Occidental was founded by staunch Presbyterians and was totally Presbyterian for a century or so. It has been liberalizing in the last decade or two. I wonder how the old-timers would feel about this.

For sure one would be the Rev. Dr. Hugh K. Walker, D.D. He was a long-time chairman of Occidental’s board of directors in its earliest days. He set the school on a firm path.

He was the minister of the leading Presbyterian church in Los Angeles.

Why am I telling you this? Because of a terrific coincidence. Dr. Walker was milady Annabelle’s grandfather on her mother’s side. And that’s why her mom and dad enrolled her at Occidental.

In fact, her dad also was a Presbyterian minister. But he gave that up and became president for many years of the Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital… in time also became president of the U.S. Protestant Hospital Association.

Occidental’s fine reputation has become even more widely known of late. A big reason is that it was the first college in our continental U.S. that young Barack Obama, freshly arrived from Hawaii, attended. He lasted two years, transferring to Columbia U. in New York.

That’s something Annabelle shares with him. She jumped after two years, too, and probably for the same reason—to experience a broader undergraduate experience. She went on to the University of California at Berkeley and graduated from there.

One more thing about Clark Scally’s piece in the Occidental Weekly.

At its close, he wrote: “A member of the audience asked Dr. King how she was handling the attention and its pressure.

“’I lost eight pounds in the first week.’ Dr. King answered.

‘The Divinity School arranged a panic button in my office due to concerns for my physical safety. Most of my job since this has come out is to throw cold water on everything.’”

I liked young Scally’s including this quote.  it shows that it’s not so easy to be a professor. At times you must really profess.

Maybe he’ll wind up on the New York Times someday.

~ ~ ~

 

Comments

  1. Joan Perrone says:

    An interesting theory. Some questions, though. You state that the papyrus is dated from the fourth or fifth century. Quite some time after Jesus walked the earth….so, not written by someone who was actually there with him. Also, there’s a matter of translation…things can get misinterpreted during that process. But, as much as I personally don’t think that Jesus was married; I am open to any proof that he was. I don’t think the importance of what Jesus did would be changed if we did find out that he was married. And if he was, maybe it would make a case for married priests….which is something that the Catholic Church does not allow. Food for thought! Joan

  2. Nancy Simonds says:

    Love this story. It’s one I’ve thought about on and off for years. He was, after all, a man and obviously, a good, loving one. What woman in her right mind wouldn’t want him? I agree with Joan’s comments as well. . . . “not written by someone who was actually there.” Written passages during that time are convoluted these days. But what’s the difference? Whether he was married is not important in comparison to what he ultimately did for mankind. I also agree with Joan that if he was hooked, it would make a case for married priests. I always thought it was judgmental and wrong for them not to marry. Certainly would be less disgrace in the Catholic Church; especially in the Vatican. Thanks, John. As you know, I love hearing about your adventures. Take good care. ~ Nancy

  3. Dear John,
    in response to this blog entry, I offer the following:
    Siddh?rtha Gautama Buddha (according to the myth a son of God Indra as Jesus a son of god Jahveh), being just a man – although already married – left his family to pursue his spiritual path.
    Jesus, being on his spiritual path, required that his disciples/followers leave their families (according to the gospels).
    Should Jesus be considered to be a hypocrite by expecting the disciples to leave their families and he himself keep Mary Magdalene as his wife?
    Kissing a companion (referred to apocrypha-gospel of Philip) in early Christianity is not evidence of being married or even of a romantic gesture.
    Canonic texts of the New Testament mention many times the holy kiss or the kiss of love.
    In the gospels themselves, Jesus says to his host, Pharisee Simon, that he did not greet Jesus with a kiss when he entered into his house while the woman who wetted Jesus’ feet with her tears and perfumed them with an ointment does not cease kissing them.
    Judas kisses Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane and Jesus says to him: `Judas, with a kiss the Son of Man dost thou deliver up?’
    Christians kissed each other in a ritual way – nothing to do with eroticism, sexuality or “getting hooked”. More frequently kissing Mary Magdalene than other companions might only emphasize her special role in the group. Peter and Matthew might be just jealous about her position or Jesus’ special trust of her.
    Early Christians kissed each other on the lips.
    Michael Penn, author of Kissing Christians: Ritual and Community in the Late Ancient Church, says:
    “Just as kissing had many different meanings in the wider ancient world, so too early Christians interpreted the kiss in various ways. Because ancient kissing was often seen as a familiar gesture, many early Christians kissed each other to help construct themselves as a new sort of family, a family of Christ. Similarly, in the Greco-Roman world, kissing often was seen as involving a transfer of spirit; when you kissed someone else you literally gave them part of your soul. The early church expanded on this and claimed that, when Christians kissed, they exchanged the Holy Spirit with one another. Christians also emphasized the kiss as an indication of mutual forgiveness (it’s from here that we get the term “kiss of peace”). These different meanings influenced and were influenced by the sorts of rituals kissing became associated with. For example, because the kiss helped exchange spirit, it made perfect sense for it to become part of baptism and ordination, rituals in which you wanted the Holy Spirit to descend and enter the initiate. The flip side of the coin is that before someone was baptized you wouldn’t want to kiss them. Early Christians often believed that previous to exorcism and baptism people were inevitably demon possessed. Given that they also thought that kissing resulted in spiritual exchange, it’s pretty clear why you wouldn’t want to kiss non-Christians.”
    The papyrus scrap is not evidence for anything particular. The words “My wife…” are without any context. We do not know if with these words is meant a person like you and me or, for example, the Church, Israel, or Holy Jerusalem – all of them have the metaphoric name of bride and of wife in the bible.
    Jesus at some point referred to his mother and brothers explaining that not the biological connection makes them mother or brothers but the spiritual connection makes it happen regardless of the connection of flesh and blood.
    (48) And he answering said to him who spake to him, `Who is my mother? and who are my brethren?’
    (49) And having stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, he said, `Lo, my mother and my brethren!
    (50) for whoever may do the will of my Father who is in the heavens, he is my brother, and sister, and mother.’
    (Matthew 12:48-50, Young’s Literal Translation)
    Maybe in that scrap of papyrus Jesus just started to say: my wife is not one I join in flesh but the Church whose Temple I am.
    The confirmation of such interpretation is to be found for example in St. John’s Apocalypse/Revelation 21, but also in canonic gospels in various places as well as in the letter to the Church in Ephesus 5:22-32.
    Regards,
    Maria in Maine

  4. Dick Weston-Jones (Rev.) says:

    It’s a good tale. However the back story on this is that no one who actually saw Jesus wrote anything about him, as far as the best scholarship shows, until he had been dead 40 years. Everything was passed down by oral tradition before it was written down. Everything! All New Testament scholars, including Dr King, know that. The scrap of papyrus only shows that someone was talking about a wife with Jesus. There’s no historical evidence one way or the other four centuries before this scrap of papyrus was inked. I think Mary Magdalene probably was his intimate partner and all his disciples would have known it. There’s no scandal there. Calling her a wife reflects the preferred conventional practice of the time when the word “wife” was used. Jesus was far ahead of his time in his treatment of women and Mary Magdalene may have influenced him. Or maybe he got there on his own. He was also far ahead of the Catholic Church today. That’s the scandal!
    Dick

    • Dear Dick,
      I greatly appreciate your comments. Your insights are valuable indeed.
      You added a line that was most important: He was also far ahead of the Catholic Church today. That’s the scandal! You are so right!!!
      All the best!
      John

      • Each religious movement is way behind the times of their founders.
        Each religious movement may be called dissident from its original.
        The best example for this could be among others the Taoism. As soon as it became ritualized it changed from a fine way of life to an absurd festival of marionettes.
        Far too many times it was emphasized by Jesus that the Church is not build from stone. Find me only one religion that does not build temples from stone. Even Jehovah’s Witnesses who claim to be turned to early Christianity build Kingdom Halls from stone (in New England probably from fake clapboard).
        There are not records on marriage, there are not records on Jesus’ existence neither (beside the gospels).
        Titus Flavius Josephus, maybe the only historical figure who could write about Jesus, wrote indeed about several men of the time with the name Jesus but not this or that Jesus. He only mentioned James, the brother of Jesus who was called Christ, however the connection to Jesus called Christ was probably inserted to his “Antiquities” not by the Historian Josephus himself.
        The American Historian Richard Carrier calls the historicity of Jesus a hypothesis.

    • I think there was a good reason not to write about Jesus 40 years long after his probable death or debatable resurrection as this is about the time of the end of the Jewish war. Some confusion or doubt would be understandable amidst his followers after his death but Jewish war only confirmed the prophecies of Jesus and contributed to stronger belief in his promises. The outburst of gospels was sort of natural at this point.
      The Temple of Jerusalem was smashed to the ground by the army of Titus Flavius in 70.
      Jesus said (according to the gospels):
      (6) `These things that ye behold — days will come, in which there shall not be left a stone upon a stone, that shall not be thrown down.’
      Lukas 21:6

  5. Hi John,

    Great piece, and very enjoyable! (and I’ve also heard rumblings over the years about this marriage controversy)

    Thanks for the post,

    Andrew

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