I don’t know how to love Him

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.

And of course, when I think of I don’t know how to love him, I hear in my imagination Sarah Brightman’s wonderful voice.
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4 Responses to I don’t know how to love Him

  1. Curmudgeon Bludgeon says:

    I dunno, Motley D. It sounds like another one of those liberrul theologians trying to rewrite the plain words, black-and-white (and-occasionally-even-red), of the Good Book.

    Consider the text that this alleged fragment contains (from pages 4 and 5 of your “Smithsonian Mag” article):

    1) “not [to] me. My mother gave to me li[fe] … ”
    2) The disciples said to Jesus, “
    3) deny. Mary is worthy of it
    4) ” Jesus said to them, “My wife
    5) she will be able to be my disciple
    6) Let wicked people swell up
    7) As for me, I dwell with her in order to
    8) an image

    We’re supposed to look at that and think, “Wow, Jesus was married! He believed that his mother gave him life! (so much for “Woman, what have I to do with thee?” lol!) And he condemned “wicked people” who got all swollen up complaining about it!”

    As the papyrus vendor said to the philologololololologist: “Bullsh . . . !”

    The sure-fire give away that we’re dealing with someone with an agenda here is that [fe] in the first line, where King has helpfully hinted at the “correct” reading for the otherwise unintelligible word “li.” But what makes King so sure that the correct completion is “life” as opposed to, say, “licorice all-sorts” or “liposuction as a baby”?

    In fact, I’ve made a detailed study of this subject, and I can say with confidence what the text in question really means. It’s an out-take, in fact, from the urtext of Q, an it is entirely orthodox in its implications:

    1) “not [to] me. My mother gave to me lists of do’s and don’t’s First don’t, never marry a groupie.”
    2) The disciples said to Jesus, “But Jesus, she’s just busting with piety, that’s something you can’t
    3) deny. Mary is worthy of it if ever a groupie was. Put the rumors to bed and make her your
    4) wife! ” Jesus said to them, “My wife? No way. That tart will never be able to be my wife, but
    5) she will be able to be my disciple if she can just learn to keep her hands to herself.
    6) Let wicked people swell up if they want to, but the male members of my church will not be swollen!
    7) As for me, I dwell with her in order to save on taxes. Look at this coin. What do you see,
    8) an image? [and from here, the digression about Mary and Mary complete, the story resumes with the famous parable of Caesar’s coin, Mt. 22:18 ff.]

    So much for Sarah Brightman!

    • motleydragon says:

      Hello CB… good to hear from you again.

      Thank you for analysing and completing the text… making it a coherent and convincing statement. I am sure that Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Weber could have used your assistance scripting Superstar!

      I rather like your interpretation, but I am confident the Vatican will reject both versions… no new news is good news… and the Good News can’t be changed.

      I am thrilled to know that you enjoyed Sarah Brightman!

  2. Sufiya says:

    I don’t know if my previous comment is going to show or if it has disappeared into the void…I recommended that you check out “The Thunder: Perfect Mind” scripture, from the Nag Hammadi texts…just Google “The Thunder Perfect Mind”

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