Friday, September 21, 2012

What's So Controversial ...

... about the possibility that Jesus was married?

A recently dicovered scrap of papyrus -- dating to the 4th century and possibly a transcription of a 2nd century text -- depicts Jesus as referring to "my wife."

Certain clergy are in a bit of a snit about the thing, or at least in a hurry to write it off.

According to Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi, there exists an "enormous tradition, very clear and unanimous" that Jesus was a bachelor.

Unanimous? Hardly.

Thomas White, vice-president of student services and communications at Southwest Baptist Theological Seminary, says that "the Bible we have is reliable."

Well, is it? Because if it is, then Jesus was quite possibly married.

He is referred to by the Pharisees and others, multiple times and without apparent sarcasm, as "rabbi" in all four gospels of the New Testament. While Jewish law was in a cycle of evolution at the time (the Mishnah came out of that evolution circa 200 CE), it's a fairly non-controversial claim that in first century Judea, among the qualifications for recognition as a rabbi were that one be a husband and father. If Jesus was an exception to that rule, surely there would be some remark to that effect ("he's so cool we call him rabbi even though he's single!").

Mary Magdalene keeps showing up in Jesus' life in ... well, intimate ... roles. She anoints his feet with oil prior to his entrance to Jerusalem. After the disciples (with the exception of the "Beloved Disciple," usually called John but probably her brother Lazarus) flee, she remains at the cross until Jesus' death. She goes to maintain his corpse/grave after the crucifixion. She is the first person to see him alive after the resurrection, and is the one who informs his male disciples of his return (they don't believe her).

She is clearly not a minor figure in his life. In fact, she seems to be the single most important human figure in that life with the possible exception of his mother. What was her role?

Here's a clue: A woman sitting shiva (i.e. grieving) for a dead relative or loved one was not permitted to leave her home unless called forth by her husband. As, for example, when Mary of Bethany and her sister Martha were sitting shiva for their brother Lazarus. Jesus approached, and Martha ran out to meet him. But Mary remained in the house until Jesus called her out.

If Mary of Bethany is the same person as Mary Magdalene (I understand there are some scholarly arguments on the subject), things seem to fit together pretty well. The shiva incident indicates that she was Jesus' wife, and her other appearances in the gospels tend to confirm it.

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