In the eyes of some people, Jesus got married this week. Elated liberals and cantankerous conservatives both decided to attend the wedding.
Karen L. King of Harvard announced her discovery of a fragmented text at the International Congress of Coptic Studies. The text reportedly conveys the idea that Jesus was married. Since then, the media has been ablaze with commentary about this mysterious woman and the implications to Christianity.
I didn’t pay much attention to the story until I was driving home in the afternoon and the story was on a conservative radio talk show. The program was trying to get an additional hour on the air because there were so many callers.
Liberals and conservatives alike have looked like fools in their analysis of the issue. Jesus’ purported wife has been turned into a political football (surprised?) which is being kicked back and forth between the two camps. Some liberals are heralding the text, saying that it destroys the concept of traditional marriage and gender roles. Somehow, they reason, if a fourth century writing says that Jesus had a wife, then we should all be able to shack up with someone of the same gender. On the other half of the field, conservatives are pointing to the text as proof of the liberal’s devious plan to chip away at traditional Christianity one belief at a time.
Both sides are showing their ignorance.
Huffington Post has blown up with posts about the revolutionary find and its implications.
Michael D’Antonio wrote: “The implications of professor King’s discovery are profound.” No, they aren’t.
Rebecca Pahle wrote: “this particular discovery is pretty interesting (to me, anyways) in that it challenges the traditional Biblical view of woman’s relationship to man.” No, it doesn’t.
Conservatives have attacked King, saying she is just another liberal academic trying to dismantle Christianity. King is probably not your typical Sunday morning country churchgoer; but, in my limited experience, most of the people who work in Ivy League divinity schools aren’t trying to destroy your grandma’s beliefs.
The text simply shows what a group in the fourth century believed or what they were trying to convince people of. That’s what writing does. If the world spins for another 2,000 years, people will be able to read FOX News and MSNBC and see what they were trying to push in 2012.
There’s nothing revolutionary about this text, there’s plenty of ancient writings in which you could find something that might not line up with a traditionally held belief about the Old or New Testament. This latest text is just the flavor of the week.
Why aren’t we talking about the writings that bear the names of Enoch, Baruch, Esdras and the Maccabees? Or how about Gabriel’s Revelation, which supposedly cast doubt on the resurrection story? What about the Testament of Abraham? And where’s Huffington Post’s coverage of the Gospel of Thomas? There’s plenty of good material in there for the Bible basher.
If you were to regularly attend conferences like the International Congress of Coptic Studies, you would encounter this sort of thing quite frequently. Yes, this was a revolutionary find in the field of biblical studies, but it’s not worth all the media fuss. It doesn’t make King an enemy of traditional beliefs, it doesn’t redefine sexual roles and it doesn’t even mean that Jesus was married. It’s just something a person wrote in the fourth century. It shows what they believed or wanted others to believe. Just because a person jots something down doesn’t make it authoritative. Imagine if all the blogs today were treated as historically authoritative 1,500 years from now. What a mess!
Biblical scholars come across this type of thing on a somewhat regular basis. It helps them understand how the ideas and writings of ancient communities evolved.
As they teach you in preaching class, no discussion of a text should conclude without a personal application, so here’s how the text applies to you:
If you don’t believe the Bible is the inspired, authoritative word of God, then this ancient text tells you that somebody in the fourth century wrote that Jesus had a wife.
If you do believe the Bible is the inspired, authoritative word of God, then this ancient text tells you that somebody in the fourth century wrote that Jesus had a wife.