The recent announcement of a papyrus fragment in which Jesus refers to his wife has brought us face to face with the sexual Jesus again. And there are many people who do not like this image. Something sacred feels threatened. Corrupted. The married Jesus is inconceivable. It is impossible. Maybe the text is a fake? Or heresy. Yes, that is it. We dismiss it as heresy and feel relieved.
Why is the idea of a married and sexual Jesus so inconceivable to us? Why do we see it as a corruption of the sacred?
If it is authenticated, then we have a second piece of evidence from an ancient Christian gospel that someone in the ancient world didn't have a problem with the married Jesus. The first piece of evidence comes from the Gospel of Philip where Mary Magdalene is identified as Jesus' spouse. The word used in that context has definitive sexual connotations (
). It means his consort, the woman he is yoked to sexually, his spousal partner. Thus he kisses Mary in the Gospel of Philip, and is said to have three Marys in his life: his mother, his sister, and his spouse. In the new fragment, the generic word (
) is used. It means "woman, wife".
So no doubt about it. There is a solid tradition in the ancient world that Jesus was married. The tradition appears to come from the Valentinian Gnostics who envisioned marriage and sex as the greatest of sacred mysteries. Their view of God reflected this. The Godhead consisted of aspects of God like Truth, Life, Church, etc. These aspects existed as married partners, and it was their sexual activities that generate the divine world and life. Human marriages were believed to reflect the pattern of the divine marriages. In the afterlife, one's spiritual self or angelic twin would continue to live as an married entity in a blissful state of eros. So the Valentinians remembered Jesus as a married man with a sexual life.
Now it is true that this early Christian tradition did not survive. It was identified as heresy by the Christians who did become dominant and eventually created the orthodox catholic view of Jesus. We wouldn't even know about it had it not been for these accidental discoveries of old papyrus that survived buried in Egyptian graves.
My question is why did the sexual Jesus become the heretical Jesus while the glorification of the celibate male become the dominant orthodox view?
We can't seem to get away from it. We are back to sex and gender, and the distorted picture of the female body that Christianity has maintained.
We are confronting holy misogyny.
We are looking directly through the eyes of the ancient male who valorized the male body while vulgarizing the female.
We are facing the fact that our Christian tradition made this ancient male hatred of women and their bodies sacred. This hatred is embedded in biblical texts starting with the Genesis story. It continued to be the foundation for all theology built by the catholic Christians, including Augustine's ideas. The worldview of Christianity sees the female body and sex through Augustine's distorted lens and his doctrine of original sin.
As long as the female body is viewed as substandard, subhuman, and naturally deficient as stories like Genesis reflect, as long as sexual desire is perceived to be the penalty for sin as Augustine taught, there is no way we can conceive of Jesus as married or partaking in the pleasures of sex. Our distorted views of human sexuality and the female body will not give us permission to consider the possibility.
The truth is that the sources we have do not permit us to know whether Jesus of Nazareth was a married or celibate man. Both views of Jesus were constructed by different groups of ancient people to reflect their understanding of God and the human condition. It just so happens that the Christian tradition that we have inherited as our own is the one that created the glorified male celibate as its view of the ideal human and god.