Last Tuesday, Harvard professor Karen King revealed an ancient (4th century CE) scrap of papyrus in which Jesus, in a conversation with his disciples, refers to his “wife” and says that “she will be able to be my disciple.” (For the whole story, see http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/20/jesus-wife-5-big-question_n_1898524.html).

It sounds like something out of The DaVinci Code, and I guess some people might be upset that some early Christians were even talking about Jesus being married. As King suggested, merely the thought that such a conversation took place could shake up centuries-old traditions.

I, for one, frankly wonder what the problem is. Why couldn’t/shouldn’t Jesus have been married? Actually, we know very little about his personal life from the gospels, which were never intended to be biographies or histories in any modern sense, but theological, persuasive documents, edited according to the author’s purpose and not intended to include every detail (see, e.g., John 20:30,31). So, the texts neither affirm nor deny that Jesus was wed anymore than they let us know what his favorite foods were or what he actually did for a living (carpentry is merely an assumption based on the customs of the day) or what his house looked like (and yes, he lived in house and had a home of his own; see Mark 2:1). We can say, based on the typical practices of the day, that rabbis, such as Jesus, were expected to be married, and it would have been odd indeed for a man of his age and calling not to have a wife.

The Catholic hierarchy apparently said all they intend to say during the controversy surrounding the Dan Brown book and movie back when, which as you know affirmed that Mary Magdalene was Jesus’ wife and that they had a daughter named Sarah. But if people are upset by this latest discovery, I believe it will be because of the skewed notions about sexuality and marriage that have grown up over the centuries, primarily in the Roman tradition. These are ideas that distrust the body, regarding it as evil (as the Greeks said) rather than the gift of God (as Judaism affirmed). Nothing divine could ever have any contact with something so fleshly as marital intimacy, so if Jesus was indeed God, he couldn’t possibly be married. And also, his mother had to have been immaculately conceived, because sin is transmitted through the “concupiscence” attendant upon intercourse, even in marriage. Desire is bad. Sex is wrong, wordly, always in some way sinful. At least according to this thinking. So of course, Mary the mother of Jesus remained a virgin her whole life (despite biblical evidence to the contrary, Matthew 1:25). Priests cannot be married, but must be single and celibate.

The irony of all this is that it implicitly denies one of the central tenets of the Christian faith, in the name of the Christian faith! I mean the notion that “God became flesh,” incarnate, and thus makes holy the human experience, affirms that it is through our expression of full humanity that we encounter God, who undergirds and sustains all that we have and are as the “Ground of Being” (Tillich).

How sad and misguided is it when the Church, of any stripe, doesn’t even understand and affirm the teaching of its own scriptures?

© 2012 Tom Cheatham. All rights reserved.

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