Kilmore Church, Isle of Mull, Scotland, 1906
So many of you have been e-mailing me, wondering about the significance of the new gospel fragment recently published on the internet by Karen King of Harvard University. Many are expressing amazement that there is a text that mentions Jesus' wife. It is exciting to see the words "My wife" in bold Coptic scrawl.
But let's keep in mind that we actually already have a text that mentions Jesus' wife. It is the
Gospel of Philip
. We already know that there were some early Christians, in particular the Valentinian Gnostics, who taught that Mary Magdalene was Jesus' consort or wife. They wrote about it in the
Gospel of Philip
The reason that their tradition remembered Mary in this way is because they believed that marriage was the sacred creative activity of God and God's manifestations or Aeons. They also believed that their own human marriages were reflections - what they called "an image" - of the eternal marriages of the Aeons. Jesus' human marriage to Mary Magdalene was believed to reflect the sacred marriage of the Aeons Jesus and Sophia. Furthermore, the Aeons Jesus and Sophia were the spiritual twins or angelic dopplegangers of the human Jesus and Mary. If you are interested in learning more about this practice and its sexual implications, I have written a chapter about it in
, called "Is Marriage Salvation?" along with a chapter on Mary, called "How do we solve a problem like Maria?"
The new gospel fragment supports this Valentinian picture. If it turns out to be an authentic gospel fragment from antiquity, it likely came from a page of yet another Valentinian gospel that contained sayings of Jesus. Valentinian Christians were very prolific and they preserved an entire sayings tradition of counter-memories that supported their creative metaphysical outlook and Gnostic spirituality.
But does this mean that Jesus had a wife? It depends on who you ask. If you asked a Valentinian Christian, the answer would have been a definitive "yes". If you asked an early Catholic Christian, the answer would have been "no". If you ask a scholar today, depending on the methods they use to reconstruct the historical Jesus, you will get "yeses" and "noes'.
What do I think? I think that it is next to impossible to reconstruct the historical Jesus from the theological portraits of him in any of the gospels, the New Testament included. Aside from a few broad strokes, the historical Jesus remains shrouded in theology, including his sex life and marital status. I continue to emphasize how necessary it is for us to think critically about these old texts and not take their statements as simple statements of historical facts, at least without first reasoning carefully through them.
Was Jesus married? I like to think so. But this has more to do with my own view of the blessedness of marriage than it does with any historical argument I might make.