It is now a week since the Globe and Mail published Why the fuss over Jesus’s domestic arrangements? by Elizabeth Renzetti. She was responding, in her usual ironic way, to the breaking story about the discovery of a papyrus fragment that appears to state that Jesus was married.
It’s still taboo to consider that this most exceptional man might have been unexceptional in that regard, and that there might well have been a Mrs. Jesus. This week, Harvard divinity professor Karen L. King unveiled a controversial document at a scholarly conference in Rome. It was a 1,600-year-old bit of papyrus (described by Smithsonian Magazine as “a shade smaller than an ATM card”), on which were several sentence fragments written in Coptic. One of them was translated as, “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife’ ” and other fragments said, “she will be able to be my disciple” and “I dwell with her.” The name Mary was also mentioned…
Whatever the truth of Jesus and Magdalene’s relationship, Pope Gregory the Great, in a series of homilies in 591, asserted that Magdalene was in fact both the unnamed sinful woman in Luke who anoints Jesus’ feet and an unnamed adulteress in John whose stoning Jesus forestalls. The conflation simultaneously diminished Magdalene and set the stage for 1,400 years of portrayals of her as a repentant whore, whose impurity stood in tidy contrast to the virginal Madonna…
Renzetti concludes…It’s odd to think that the suggestion that Christ had a loving human relationship is a slur against him. For the people who are deeply invested in protecting his name, perhaps it seems to diminish him in some way, to dilute his divinity.
Indeed! This article, along with 480 comments so far, demonstrates that even the possibility of such a change to the accepted narrative will either upset or delight a lot of people.
The best article I have found so far is by Ariel Sabar posted in the online magazine of the Smithsonian… The Inside Story of the Controversial New Text about Jesus. According to a top religion scholar… Dr. Karen King from the Harvard Divinity School… this 1,600-year-old text fragment suggests that some early Christians believed Jesus was married… possibly to Mary Magdalene. (Italics mine.)
What if? and Yes, but why? are useful questions for starting any line of inquiry. They have led me into interesting new places… and into the proverbial “hot water” … on many occasions.
I can only wonder that it was not expected and believed that Christ, if accepted as fully human, would not also be accepted as fully adult, and fully male. And if not, why? How would our understanding of the Christian narrative be changed if this were true?
More significant, for me, is the question of whether this would have moderated the patriarchal intolerance and misogyny of the catholic church and changed the role and treatment of women in western civilization?
The very idea of Christ being part of a family unit, with a wife and children, a mother-in-law and a whole extended family is just too startling. How would the narrative change? Celibate, impotent, sterile? Too busy with his work to pay attention to family? Too busy with family to pay attention to his mission? Consider the possibilities!
Which is exactly what Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice did in the 1970’s.
Jesus Christ Superstar is a rock opera … based very loosely on the Gospels’ account of the last week of Jesus’ life, beginning with the preparation for the arrival of Jesus and his disciples in Jerusalem, and ending with the crucifixion. It highlights political and interpersonal struggles between Judas Iscariot and Jesus, struggles that are not in the Bible. The resurrection is not included. It therefore largely follows the form of a traditional passion play.
The work’s depiction offers a free interpretation of the psychology of Jesus and the other characters. A large part of the plot focuses on the character of Judas, who is depicted as a tragic figure who is dissatisfied with the direction in which Jesus steers his disciples. 20th-century attitudes and sensibilities as well as contemporary slang pervade the lyrics, and ironic allusions to modern life are scattered throughout the depiction of political events. Stage and film productions accordingly feature many intentional anachronisms.
I Don’t Know How to Love Him is a torch ballad sung by the character of Mary Magdalene about her unrequited love for Christ. She doesn’t know how to love him – as Mary [Yvonne Elliman] sings in the film version.
What kind of love did exist between Mary Magdalene and Jesus ?
Have you seen the film? Rereading Roger Ebert’s enthusiastic review makes me want to watch it again… preferably on a big screen, if not in sections on YouTube. Here is the trailer.