Jesus May or May Not Have Been Married. But We Already Knew That.

Slate's Culture Blog
Sept. 19 2012 12:31 PM

Jesus Was Married?

1348071588089
Karen L. King holds up the fragment of what she calls "The Gospel of Jesus's Wife"

YouTube

Yesterday the New York Times reported on a scrap of papyrus, “smaller than a business card,” which “contains a phrase never seen in any piece of Scripture.” That phrase, cut off on the torn parchment after just a few words, is, “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife…’

The scholar who has researched the document is Karen L. King, who, coincidentally, is “the first woman to hold the nation’s oldest endowed chair, the Hollis professor of divinity” at Harvard. King’s academic article about the finding can be read in full online, and Harvard has posted a quick primer on the document as well. Meanwhile, Smithsonian Magazine has the full story of how the apparently 1,600-year-old text came to light.

Advertisement

King is quick to point out that, even if her interpretation of the parchment is correct, this would only prove that some early Christians believed that Jesus was married. The papyrus would thus be an enormously valuable contribution to the study of early Christianity, but it would not radically change the academic understanding of the religion. While the Da Vinci Code has popularized the idea that Jesus’s marriage is a dark secret that, if discovered, would unlock the secrets of the universe—or something; I didn’t read it—Christians have in fact argued about the matter for centuries. That’s because the Bible doesn’t provide any definitive evidence either way.

Certainly some of the people I went to church with growing up believed that Jesus was married. That’s because I grew up Mormon. And while the LDS Church does not have any official doctrine regarding Jesus’s marital state—he may or may not have been married, as far as Mormonism is concerned—some high-profile early Mormons believed that he was. And, judging from my personal experience, at least some Mormons today believe this as well. Those who do are probably nodding their heads at the news of this finding.

For the rest of us, though, the parchment serves primarily as a reminder that this question about the historical Jesus has never been settled, and that confident assertions on the matter tend to be fraught with social and political implications. As the article in the Times points out, the debate about whether Jesus was married still matters today, as “global Christianity is roiling over the place of women in ministry and the boundaries of marriage.” If this text helps those pushing for more authority for women in their denominations, and a broader idea of marriage, so much the better. But they don’t need a scrap of 4th-century papyrus to prove them right.

David Haglund is a senior editor at Slate. He runs Brow Beat, Slate's culture blog.

TODAY IN SLATE

History

The Self-Made Man

The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.

Michigan’s Tradition of Football “Toughness” Needs to Go—Starting With Coach Hoke

Does Your Child Have “Sluggish Cognitive Tempo”? Or Is That Just a Disorder Made Up to Scare You?

The First Case of Ebola in America Has Been Diagnosed in Dallas

Windows 8 Was So Bad That Microsoft Will Skip Straight to Windows 10

Politics

Mad About Modi


Why the controversial Indian prime minister drew 19,000 cheering fans to Madison Square Garden.


Building a Better Workplace

You Deserve a Pre-cation

The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.

Don’t Panic! The U.S. Already Stops Ebola and Similar Diseases From Spreading. Here’s How.

Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD

The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 30 2014 6:59 PM The Democrats’ War at Home Can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 30 2014 7:02 PM At Long Last, eBay Sets PayPal Free
  Life
Gaming
Sept. 30 2014 7:35 PM Who Owns Scrabble’s Word List? Hasbro says the list of playable words belongs to the company. Players beg to differ.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 30 2014 3:21 PM Meet Jordan Weissmann Five questions with Slate’s senior business and economics correspondent.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 30 2014 8:54 PM Bette Davis Talks Gender Roles in a Delightful, Animated Interview From 1963
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 7:00 PM There’s Going to Be a Live-Action Tetris Movie for Some Reason
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 30 2014 6:44 PM Ebola Was Already Here How the United States contains deadly hemorrhagic fevers.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 30 2014 5:54 PM Goodbye, Tough Guy It’s time for Michigan to fire its toughness-obsessed coach, Brady Hoke.