In the news again, the possibility of Jesus having been married
Two biblical scholars, Joel Baden
and Candida Moss
, have an article about it in The Atlantic, The Curious Case of Jesus’s Wife
. The article begins with a review of the Karen King Gospel of Jesus' Wife
event, but then it goes on to discuss the real impact of the idea of whether Jesus was married or not ...
Jesus’s bachelorhood is almost taken for granted today. In the Catholic tradition, his single status forms the basis for the theological argument that priests cannot marry. Those making this argument point to a simple, undeniable fact: the New Testament contains no mention at all of Jesus’s having been married.
That’s true as far as it goes. But as the Gospels present it, the biography of Jesus contains a gaping hole. None of the stories produced about him in the first century A.D.—stories with at least some potential to be accurate—tells us anything at all about his adolescence or 20s. During this time, was he employed, shy, heartbroken? Married or single? We have no way of knowing. One might assume that a man of that age living in ancient Palestine would have been married, but neither the Gospels nor the Apostle Paul has anything to say on the subject. The earliest Gospel, the Gospel of Mark, begins with Jesus in the final years of his life, on the banks of the River Jordan, poised to descend into the water for his baptism.
A great deal rides on this question of Jesus’s marital status. Over the centuries, and up to the present, how people have answered this question has served as a cipher in discussions about clerical celibacy ....
When the Karen King fragment became public there was a Catholic defense of a celibate Jesus. James Martin SJ tried to convince us
that only as a single person could Jesus have made a "single-hearted commitment to God". I find this argument incoherent ... most (all?) of the apostles chosen by Jesus were married, and there are many examples of married people devoted to God and their neighbors, such as Albert Schweitzer.
This time it's David Gibson making the case for a celibate Jesus - Five reasons we want to believe Jesus was married
- and it's still not very convincing to me. I guess for most Catholics (maybe most Christians?) the idea of a Jesus with a committed intimate relationship with another individual is just too cringe-inducing. I'm probably the exception in thinking it would have been a good thing.
But anyway, the Atlantic article goes on to discuss the academic world's conclusions about Karen King;s fragment, that it's probably a fake, but ...
Indeed, in the scholarly world of ancient history and ancient texts, little is truly unimaginable—because so little, in the end, is truly known. Despite the piles of evidence suggesting that the Gospel of Jesus’s Wife is a forgery, there remains the possibility, however slim, that it is authentic. So the question becomes this: How much historical reconstruction are scholars willing to stake on such narrow grounds? Or, alternatively: Even if the fragment were proved beyond a doubt to be authentic, could one small piece of papyrus really be so important as to fundamentally change our understanding of the past? The problem with reconstructing the distant past is that with so little evidence available, the discovery of even the tiniest pieces can lead to outsize ramifications. It’s a situation ripe for abuse. The more sensationally these sorts of discoveries are reported, the more such abuse we can expect.
Was Jesus married? I don't know. One thing I do know is that the Catholic Church doesn't know if he was married either.