Suggestion That Jesus Was Married Sends the Christian Right into a Tizzy
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Was Jesus married? The question is ancient—perhaps as old as the question of his divinity. On September 18, at a conference in Rome, Harvard historian Karen L. King, unveiled an ancient scrap of papyrus with Coptic script in which Jesus refers to his wife. As they do in such situations, academics began debating whether the scrap was authentic or fraudulent and discussing the features and tests that would incline them one way or the other. Scholars of religion are interested in two sets of questions. One set has to do with the papyrus itself: Who wrote it, when, and why? Which of the many early Christian traditions might it derive from? Does it inform our understanding of Christian history and if so, how? The second set of questions has to do with Jesus: Assuming the existence of a historical Jesus, ( some scholars don’t) what are our best hypotheses about who he was and how he lived? Was he indeed married? How should such a question affect the priorities of Christians today?
While antiquities scholars await further test results, popular Fox News commentators and conservative Christian clergy went into high gear dismissing the relevance or authenticity of the scrap – or both. The Vatican called it a fake. They don’t like the idea of a married Jesus, don’t really care what the scholars ultimately conclude, and so have gone straight into damage control mode. Why?
What is the threat? Here’s what: At a symbolic level a Jesus with a human wife would be a polygamist. Conservative Christianity is scripted around a Jesus who metaphorically is “married” not to some short, illiterate Semitic woman of the first century, but to believers themselves. Evidence aside, the thought of competition for his affections simply doesn’t sit well.
The Church is the bride of Christ. Since the time of early Jesus worship, Christians have used the language of man and wife to represent the relationship between and Jesus his followers. For example, in the gospels of Mark and John , Jesus and John the Baptist call Jesus the bridegroom .
Still later, in the wild and apocalyptic book of Revelations, another writer revives the metaphor:
One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” 10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God (Revelation 21:9-10).
The Apostle Paul likens the Church to a virgin bride as he exhorts early Christian communities in Corinth and Rome to be faithful:
I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him (2 Cor. 11:2).
Nuns are married to Jesus. The Catholic tradition takes the pure virgin concept beyond mere metaphor. Many nuns describe themselves as “married to Jesus” and some even wear wedding rings to symbolize their devotion. When Oprah did a segment entitled, “ Marrying Christ” one mother commented,
My daughter joined the sisters five years ago . . . . At her "wedding" we were moved by the change from white to black veil and by the prostration. She is truly married to Jesus Christ and her joy is so evident! I would encourage all parents to welcome the opportunity to allow and even encourage their daughters to explore the life of consecration to Jesus and see if your lives are not transformed as well!