That the media and public at large know nothing about history in general and even less about biblical history in particular is proved yet again by a scholar’s claim of finding a piece of manuscript mentioning Jesus’ “wife.”
Harvard University history professor Karen King announced the fragment of a “gospel” in which Jesus is depicted as referring to “my wife,” Mary.
It’s far from the first time someone has suggested that Jesus had a wife. Usually the idea goes hand in hand with a theory about some sort of misogynistic conspiracy to hide Jesus’ alleged spouse from the world.
Most of these tales, or “gospels” as university professors like to tout them, are writings inspired by third or fourth century mystery cults that flourished in the Roman Empire.
The liberal scholar line in general is that there were many versions of Christianity until the early fourth century when four gospels were chosen from among dozens or even hundreds of so-called Gnostic Gospels, some of which were wildly bizarre. Usually, this goes hand in hand with the theory that early Christians were so bigoted or insecure about their position on Jesus’ divinity that they deleted all references to Jesus’ wife and children.
Probably the most famous illustration of this line of historical torture is the “DaVinci Code,” which ties the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD into the old saw about the Merovingian kings and their holy bloodline descending from Jesus. Part of the conspiracy theory is that the Emperor Constantine dictated that out of dozens of variants of Christianity only one version and its four gospels would be practiced in his empire.
In reality, the four gospels were accepted Christian canon centuries before, and the Council of Nicaea dealt with the heresy of Arianism, and set a date for the celebration of Easter.
King’s discovery fits in perfectly with the conspiracy version of Christian history. Although King claims the Coptic script is a copy of a second-century Greek text, which is nowhere to be found, the actual scrap of writing is dated to the fourth century.
In it, the apostles are depicted having a discussion about Mary’s worthiness to be counted as a disciple. This, too, is a common theme in the Gnostic version of Christianity. For a theory that proposes the early church was anti-women, the texts the theory’s champions put forward are all markedly more sexist than the four real gospels in the Bible.
I expect the media will love this story as reporters will think it challenges Christianity, but any familiarity with the church’s early history blows the Gnostic theories out of the water every time.
First, the earliest Gnostic gospel for which there exists any mention is the so-called Gospel of Judas, mentioned by St. Irenaeus in the late second century in “Against Heresies,” where he called the Gnostic Gospel of Judas a “false history.”
The earliest actual writings about Jesus are often thought to be the letters of Paul in the New Testament. The four gospels were most likely written over the course of a few decades after Jesus. Most scholars place them all within the first century, but certainly they were completed and considered canon by the middle of the second century because St. Irenaeus lists all four gospels and gives reasons why they are authoritative in the same “Against Heresies” around 180 A.D.
As for Jesus having a wife, there’s no reason to think the early church would have opposed it. Marriage was expected of most people, and Jesus was unusual among religious teachers of the time in that he had many female followers and was probably close friends with several of them.
If you read the gospels closely, Mary Magdalene seems to have been one of Jesus’ favorite followers, and she bears the honor of being the first witness to Jesus’ resurrection with a special commission to tell the Apostles what happened.
Many of the letters of Paul also address prominent women in the early church, and Paul stated repeatedly that Christ’s followers, men and women, were equal. So the notion of he-man woman haters erasing Jesus’ wife just doesn’t hold water.
King’s discovery is an interesting historical artifact perhaps, but it has little if anything to do with the actual Christian church.