Jesus’ Wife

You know there’s a buzz out there when 100 emails come into your box all bearing identical links to the New York Times article responsible for the stir.I click on the link and voilà! There before me is a photo of a small papyrus fragment from the fourth century and distinguished Harvard scholar Karen King explaining how this recently recovered and certified authentic Coptic fragment unmistakably has Jesus referring to Mary Magdalene as “my wife.”
Karen King Papyrus ImageWow! That should send another shock wave reverberating through the Vatican!

Now it’s true that journalism is skewed toward the sensational while scholarship is more skewed toward the cumulative. Karen King is a careful scholar and has done her homework carefully.  She knows—as all of us do that have worked in the field with any degree of due diligence—that the contentious issue of Jesus’s marital status is not going to rest decisively on one stray fragment of papyrus.

But what this new discovery does do is to provide additional confirmation for a body of evidence already mounting from those other recently discovered early Christian sacred texts—specifically, the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, and the Gospel of Philip—that a group of very early Christians remember a version of their history quite different from what eventually became the officially sanctioned story. They remember that Jesus’s relationship with Mary was far more than just that of a teacher to a pious devotee or recovering prostitute. They remember that the relationship was spousal in nature, and that she was his designated lineage-bearer. This same message is conveyed, in much the same way in Thomas and in Mary, and Philip specifically refers to Mary Magdalene as Jesus’s koinonos, his “companion.”

It’s also right there hidden in plain sight in the four canonical gospels once you start looking more closely.  So this new fragment is not exactly building from scratch. It joins and further verifies a tradition whose authenticity has already been unquestionably established.

Sooner or later, the evidence trickling in from all quarters is going to be too overwhelming for all but the most obdurate traditionalists to ignore. I had already seen this coming when I wrote my The Meaning of Mary Magdalene in 2010. My real business in that book was not to argue the question of Mary Magdalene’s and Jesus’s relationship one way or another (I leave that to scholars such as King), but to help people try to get over the shock and sense of betrayal that this revelation so often leaves them with. Why has institutional Christianity become so invested in maintaining that Jesus has to be a celibate to be Jesus? That, it seems to me, is by far the more searching question.

And invested it has certainly become. Back in the 1990s when I was tending a small Episcopal Church in Colorado, I once asked a group of my parishoners, “How do you feel about the possibility of Jesus and Mary Magdalene having been married?” Without an instant’s hesitation their furious answers came tumbling out: “But if Jesus had had sexual relations with a woman, he couldn’t have been the Son of God; he would have been impure. “ “If he loved one person in particular, he couldn’t have loved us all impartially.”  What in heaven’s name does that tell us about our own understanding of human sexuality, human love, and conscious partnership as a path to universal compassion? No wonder our churches are so defiled with sexual misconduct and cover-up scandals: our anthropology of human intimacy is still in the gutter.

And yes, the same old rhetoric has already come out in the rebuttals that are already peppering the internet. “Jesus is the only and eternal son of God who will come again to judge the living and the dead,” one irate Christian fulminated—obviously assuming that this unique divine status entails celibacy as part of the package.

But if he were to look more closely at that final court of appeals for issues of early Church doctrinal orthodoxy—i.e., the Nicene Creed—he would see that nowhere in the creed does it specify as an article of belief that Jesus is a celibate, or that his divine status depends on his presumed celibacy. This is all later Christian midrash, the product of an increasingly patriarchal and misogynist hierarchy which for the past sixteen hundred years has conducted its theological discourse in the hallowed halls of celibates speaking to other celibates. Not only does it not reflect the authentic message that Jesus is teaching; it actively distorts this message.

Karen King’s discovery is another small drop in the bucket, but the water that is beginning to collect there from so many different small steams is indeed living water. We are finally getting to the root of the problem.

*This article originally appeared in the Washington Post blog On Faith.

26 replies
  1. mags
    mags says:

    The Sacraments are not received, they are celebrated. Communion comes before conversion.

    So at what point is the Sacrament of Marriage made? It is of course celebrated at the point of the vows being exchanged, but actually it could truly be in God’s eyes, that the Sacrament is made at the first locking together of eyes, where in triune all three (2 partners in God) meet and know that something far greater than just themselves is present. A wedding day being the temporal validation and celebration of the Sacrament already spiritually bestowed in Him. The earthly covenant therefore being temporal. ‘Till death do us part’.

    But the Communion before conversion theory would mean that the spiritual Sacrament of a True Marriage is already made in Him eternal from the day of His bestowing, regardless of the temporal validation and celebration. And in this, Jesus and Mary Magdalene were what they were.

    Holy Holy Communion.

  2. Alan Mackenzie
    Alan Mackenzie says:

    Hello ma belle souer:
    Thank you for your amazing contribution to such a contentious find! Once again, you offer the voice of reason within heated debate.

    A Latin quote comes to mind about now: Ubi dubium ibi libertas: Where there is doubt, there is freedom. I value you my sister, as a free thinker. One who sees “outside the box”. One who’s always devoted to “…transform friends of God into friends of man, believers into thinkers, candidates for the hereafter into students of ‘Now’, and Christians, …into….whole persons.” (L. Feuerbach)

    Mohandis Ghandi once said “The most heinous and the most cruel crimes of which history has record have been committed under the cover of religion or equally noble motives.” “Patriarchal and misogynist hierarchy which for the past sixteen hundred years has ignored the truth” is one such heinous crime, IMHO…

    I’m sure I speak for all Contemplatives d’nunder…. we cannot wait for your return to our desperate shores. MAY THE LORD BLESS AND KEEP YOU until then, precious one! Pax Christi, AAM

  3. vicki
    vicki says:

    Tamara your point being also that some individuals do choose to be single – for purposes that would not be considered invalid. Seems to me that Thomas Merton was genuninely very fulfilled in what appeared to be deep desires that he had, which included being not only single , but often in solitude. Actually read a very beautiful article recently by Cynthia Bourgeault in Rohr’s quarterly journal “Radical Grace” on intimacy – entitled Cosmic Intimacy.

    Interesting stuff!

  4. vicki
    vicki says:

    yes, it seems to me that his Purpose, and the short time He had to achieve that would have precluded that type of relationship from a practical perspective. soccer and diapers are tonque in cheek of course …. : )
    the point being that He seemed pretty focused… I also wonder if the ‘excitement’ about Jesus possibly being married can be as fundamentally political as the insistence that He was not….. seems to me a response to some views on sex and the church? Perhaps I have not been around formal church enough to know the issues there….. perhaps something to do with the Catholic Church’s views on priests not marrying? not Catholic either – just trying to read between the lines….

    Regardless, King’s ‘finding’ is very much open to lots of debate from what I can glean from a wide variety of sources on the net.

  5. vicki
    vicki says:

    I have no personal issue as to whether Jesus had sex or not… I’m just sayin’ that He has alot on His plate re His focus and mission, to also be present as a soccer dad, changing diapers, and devoting himself to a a marriage in what I would think most women as wives would want – at least i would. I don’t see it as an unlikely thing from a ‘theological’ issue as much as from s pragmatic one. Many hermits choose to remain single for a particular spiritual purpose. How much less might Jesus, given what appears to have been His focus for His few short years of ministry and significant amounts of travel. For all we know, Mary was a friend with benefits between two mutually consenting adults.

    • tamara
      tamara says:

      I like that approach – the realistic notion that he would have prefered to be a hermit, and marriage would not really fit into that lifestyle. Very valid point. However, I don’t think that the modern man’s role as ‘soccer dad’ would have applied in that time-period/ culture. It’s hard to get a grown man today to change a diaper, let alone getting him to do that 2000 years ago. Culturally, marriage would only deprive him of personal meditation time, but the Gospel of Mary Magdeline and the Gospel of Thomas present a Mary who was present and supportive of much of his activity, thereby allowing him a home life that probably revolved around his religious duties… Still, a very valid point about marriage not being conducive to the time demands of his ministry…

  6. Sophia
    Sophia says:

    Such an exciting discovery! The spirit of Mary Magdalene, and the energy she brings of wisdom and love and truth cannot be silenced, and continues to challenge what has become of the Christian tradition. Be it that she was Jesus’ loyal disciple, trusted friend and follower, or beloved companion and wife, her presence in his life seems undeniable. But where can we go that her place is recognized and honored?
    The Sunday morning liturgy and sermons seem ever more hollow and lacking, and heartbreaking… Must we leave Christianity to worship and gather with those who know her?

    • Mary
      Mary says:

      Sophie, you said (perhaps with tears) re the Magdalene:

      “Must we leave Christianity to worship and gather with those who know her?”

      If you mean the Pauline-Constantinian forms of Christianity, then most certainly!
      I don’t think you would really miss its patriarchal misogyny.

      If you mean the all-Jewish (Arimathean) form of the Faith, as exemplified in the likes of St Mary Magdalene, the all-Holy Mother of God, St John the Evangelist, and St James the Just, then abandoning that form of Christianity may not be necessary.
      You would welcome its balanced ambience, with the sacred feminine welcomed and embraced. And being a place where all forms of patriarchal misogyny are banished.

      I would not be surprised to find that Cynthia would agree.

      • Julia in Wales
        Julia in Wales says:

        Thank you, Mary, for this reminder. I feel a pilgrimage to Glastonbury coming on!

  7. tamara
    tamara says:

    Christ was perfect in example, but he was still human. He was God’s son, but he probably also farted, burped, mumbled under his breath when he stubbed his toe on a chair, and had morning breath. He was HUMAN in addition to being divine. If he were not human, his sacrifice would have been for nothing – he had to be human in order to empathize with us. In no way would the atonement of Christ be negated if Christ had been married. He, being all -powerful and God’s son, had the capability of dying and being resurrected AND being a husband and father. Sex is only considered ‘worldly’ when it is out of marriage. If he were married, which was required to be a rabbi or high priest in his culture, then he would have been well within the realm of ‘holy’ by doing something sanctioned of God to be done between married partners. As a postgraduate student who researches early Church texts, I can tell you that Saint Jerome and other translators of the Bible openly admitted to changing words and to omitting things that were not cohesive with the ‘teachings of the Church’. All of this said, it was the opinion of those men that ‘Christ-like’ be ‘celibate’ because they did not want church men having wives and concubines (for which they were infamous in the early Middle Ages) so that property and money from wealthy families could be given over to the Church rather than be passed to heirs. What we see in the Bible was strategically placed there by men with a political agenda. Learning that Jesus was married should not cause a crisis of faith for any true believer – If you believe that Jesus Christ is the Savior of mankind, then, if you have TRUE faith in HIM, it would not matter if he were married or not, because the atonement, death, and resurrection all happened regardless of whether it was to a married man or a single man.

  8. Student of Yeshua
    Student of Yeshua says:

    All comments are purely beautiful. The finding of the text is extrodinary. Why cannot we all be born of heaven, and be one with both heaven and earth? Yeshua is the love of my life. In no way could he not be anything than LOVE INCARNATE. What makes the holy spirit holy? Love – THE HEART, which communes with the Creator. This is the peace of the Christos. Celibate, non celibate, doesn’t matter! His message is that we are ALL invited to the Christos experience – We are all worthy. His short life? a life lived in a very traumatic, politicized and Jewish Lawful day! He was the LOVE
    OUT LAW. We have come so far. If you were proclaiming that everyone was actually a child of God who was LOVED deeply, would you not be killed 2000 years ago? Remember, Yeshua never wrote a thing down, his followers passed on the stories. He did not need to. He knew of the Creator’s love and was so certain of it, death could not stop him. Mary was his apostle, and who cares about their sex life, if they had one or not. Certainly, it only could have been God/Love centered. My point? We are all children of the LOVING Creator. Every single one of us!!! Sin as such does not exist, it is we, when we feel unworthy of love, imagine God to be vengeful, selfish and self seeking. When we feel worthy of God’s love, we cannot help but see all humanity as deserving of it, and HELL and sin evaporate. Miracles occur and the heavenly realm is married to this earthly one. And our prayer is our communing with God. Only a child could see it this way, a pure and innocent child of God – ALL of us are just that. ALL of us~ their is no sin, only ignorance of being so loved.

  9. vicki
    vicki says:

    It might be that he was married, but it doesn’t resonate with me in terms of his mission – the amount of time he wished to be or needed to be alone, and the short yet urgent time of His mission on earth. It’s gonna be a ‘he said , she said’, just wait… just one more thing to distract from, what I believe is, indeed hope for one’s tranformation of consciousness, which makes the marriage issue irrelevant… or at least, as a single person, I sure hope it ‘s not a pre-requisite for transformation!

  10. marcia perryman
    marcia perryman says:

    I remember reading a novel which was filled with eroticism between Jesus and Mary Magdalene, who was the priestess of the temple… I was excited and struggled with this change but yes the question is what does it mean to the faith and who cares… that is the sad reality for the Christian religion is that it is stuck and cannot move fast enough to be relevant… I am sure my grandchildren could not care less whether Jesus was married or not…

    • karen hanson
      karen hanson says:

      Amen sister! At last we are beginning to admit Jesus of Nazareth was a healthy human male AND fully evolved into the Christ Consciousness.

  11. Patricia Byrne
    Patricia Byrne says:

    Presenting Mary Magdalene as Christ’s “lineage bearer” erroneously removes The Holy Spirit from the doctrine of. Regeneration. We are born from above and the seed with which heaven impregnates a soul is more real than and only symbolized by sexual love. This does not demote Mary from her position as an intimate and lover of Jesus. I can speak for myself. I too am an intimate of Christ and bear His Divine life. Our intimacy far surpasses the marital joys I know which are indeed richer because of the Trinitarian nature of the love which my husband and I share. These explorations have the potential of distracting us from the quiet mystery which surpasses our understanding. Whenever we find ourselves crusading for a concept, despite it’s beauty or truth, we have already succumbed to a lower level of consciousness.

    • meg
      meg says:

      don’t know about you, but i sure wasn’t *born from above*. i was born from my mother’s womb. just like jesus was born from his mother’s womb. all this *higher/lower* consciousness stuff is a perpetuation of a dualistic split. jesus walked the earth and was made of flesh and blood. that you may choose a more ethereal life path is truly your choice but to assume that your choice is *doctrine* is going astray.

    • cynthia bourgeault
      cynthia bourgeault says:

      By “lineage bearer” I don’t mean on the level of human progeny. I mean his designated heir-apparent to continue his teaching and be the “amma” of the community. Sorry for the confusion.

      • Mary
        Mary says:

        Thanks for this clarification, Cynthia. It helps immensely.

        On the Strength of what I have read in your two books on Yeshua and Mary, (and I hope that I am reading them correctly), I suspected that you were not referring to the Magdalene as necessarily being Yeshua’s blood-lineage bearer – in terms of a literal child in time, but rather being His principal spiritual-lineage bearer – capable of extending throughout all time.

        Thus, it was she, rather than either Peter (for Rome) or Paul (for the Protestants), or. even Andrew (for the Byzantines), who was intended by Yeshua to be the “amma” of the community, working closely with St John the Evangelist.

        Thanks again for this and may Yahweh bless you and keep you.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Sometimes It’s Tough Being Anglican … - Labarum says:

    […] piece for the Washington Post concerning the so-called Gospel of Jesus’ Wife that she later mirrored on the website of her “community”. Borgeeault is ordained by the Episcopal Church and, as I read her article, I kept wondering what […]

Comments are closed.