If all the “bombshells” that were going to blow the lid off of Christianity were stockpiled in one place, they’d make the Manhattan Project look like the the campfire scene in Blazing Saddles.
The latest addition to the cache: an ancient piece of papyrus … well, I’ll let the New York Times tell it:
A historian of early Christianity at Harvard Divinity School has identified a scrap of papyrus that she says was written in Coptic in the fourth century and contains a phrase never seen in any piece of Scripture: “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife …’ ”
The faded papyrus fragment is smaller than a business card, with eight lines on one side, in black ink legible under a magnifying glass. Just below the line about Jesus having a wife, the papyrus includes a second provocative clause that purportedly says, “she will be able to be my disciple.”
The finding was made public in Rome on Tuesday at an international meeting of Coptic scholars by Karen L. King, a historian who has published several books about new Gospel discoveries and is the first woman to hold the nation’s oldest endowed chair, the Hollis professor of divinity.
OK, class, what should we be looking at here? “Coptic.” Good. “Fourth century.” Excellent. “Fragment.” Yes. “Harvard.” Bingo.
An interesting addition to the collection of Gnostic gospels? Possibly. A curio for scholars to mull over, especially its relationship to the Coptic church and its battles against Gnosticism, not to mention its role in the earliest monastic and eremitic movements—hardly what you would expect from a church that was unsure of the marriage status of its Messiah—sure.
[T]he discovery could reignite the debate over whether Jesus was married, whether Mary Magdalene was his wife and whether he had a female disciple. These debates date to the early centuries of Christianity, scholars say. But they are relevant today, when global Christianity is roiling over the place of women in ministry and the boundaries of marriage.
The discussion is particularly animated in the Roman Catholic Church, where despite calls for change, the Vatican has reiterated the teaching that the priesthood cannot be opened to women and married men because of the model set by Jesus.
Emphasis on could. More likely emphasis on won’t.
[Dr. Karen L. King] repeatedly cautioned that this fragment should not be taken as proof that Jesus, the historical person, was actually married. The text was probably written centuries after Jesus lived, and all other early, historically reliable Christian literature is silent on the question, she said.
But the discovery is exciting, Dr. King said, because it is the first known statement from antiquity that refers to Jesus speaking of a wife. It provides further evidence that there was an active discussion among early Christians about whether Jesus was celibate or married, and which path his followers should choose.
“This fragment suggests that some early Christians had a tradition that Jesus was married,” Dr. King said. “There was, we already know, a controversy in the second century over whether Jesus was married, caught up with a debate about whether Christians should marry and have sex.”
Dr. King first learned about what she calls “The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife” when she received an e-mail in 2010 from a private collector who asked her to translate it. Dr. King, 58, specializes in Coptic literature, and has written books on the Gospel of Judas, the Gospel of Mary of Magdala, Gnosticism and women in antiquity.
So—is she making a distinction between the historical Jesus and the “Jesus of Faith,” who was ostensibly argued over by “Christians” (read: Gnostics)? Sounds like it.
Ask yourself: Why would the authors of the canonical Gospels invent a celibate Jesus? To appeal to … Jews? Who prized marriage and children? The Romans? Yeah, they were a continent bunch. That crazy uncle no one ever talks about? Wouldn’t His “eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom” constitute one of those hard or counterintuitive sayings that “prove” that the historical Jesus really said it? (I’m not making a brief for celibate clergy here. But, if you’re going to lie about your Messiah, at least tell more appealing lies…)
If there’s a debate that will be ignited, it will be, once again, over whether the non-apostolic fables composed centuries after Jesus lived constitute an equally viable interpretation of Christianity.
The Orthodox Coptic Church, in addition to every other creedal church that has survived into the present era, says no. The “Christianity must change or die” crowd, of course, says yes.
Draw your own conclusions.
UPDATE: I see from comments in the combox that some Christians are now planning major uprisings in light of this blasphemy. Also, talk of “sarcasm,” “rude noises,” “sighs of derision,” and “giggle fits” are beginning to percolate throughout the Web. Please, please, Christians—keep your heads! Eructations, Bronx cheers, face palms, and eye rolling have no place in the body of Christ! Can’t you take a page from the playbook of our neighbors, the zombies, and just march around lead-footed with glassy stares?