National view: If Jesus was married, a lot of dogma is in big trouble

The news that a Harvard professor has obtained evidence that Jesus Christ may have had a wife could be a problem for married guys everywhere. Really, how do we measure up?...

The news that a Harvard professor has obtained evidence that Jesus Christ may have had a wife could be a problem for married guys everywhere. Really, how do we measure up?

Being the son of God, he'd be perfect. He'd make Ned Flanders look like a slob. The grass would always be cut, the dirty socks always picked up, the toilet seat always down. He would listen. He would not chafe at talks about relationships.

(Note: I am fully aware that there were no lawns, socks or toilet seats 2,000 years ago. Work with me here. Thank you.)

He would remember birthdays and anniversaries. On trips to whatever passed for a mall in the first century After Him, he would carry the bags without complaint. If asked by his wife whether her new robe made her look fat, he would always know what to say and it would not be a lie.

Being a carpenter, he'd be good with his hands and thus everything around the house would be squared away. The shaky table would not have a book under its short leg. New cabinets, dear? No problem. The front door would not squeak. All of those little chores that the rest of us never quite get around to, he would take care of.


One possible point of contention: He was always out with the guys. Many wives would have a problem with that. Probably not his. In fact, if the Harvard professor's evidence stands up, his wife -- or at least some woman -- was one of his guys.

For those who came in late: On Tuesday, Karen L. King, a professor of early Christianity at the Harvard Divinity School, announced that she was in possession of a scrap of papyrus from the 4th century. It was a fragment of what appeared to be a document written in the Sahidic Coptic language of ancient Egypt. The anonymous owner of the papyrus scrap had given it to King for study.

Among the partial phrases on the scrap were references to a woman named Mary being "worthy of it" and to a woman who "will be able to be my disciple."

Most intriguing of all was the phrase, "Jesus said to them, 'My wife ...'"

Who knows if this "Jesus" was even the real "Jesus"? The papyrus could be another guy named Jesus, a kind of 4th century Rodney Dangerfield trying to work out the "Take my wife -- please" joke.

We can believe, but we cannot know. The Sahidic Coptic language has been dead for hundreds of years. It is read now by scholars who study ancient writings, including the so-called "Gnostic gospels," accounts of Christ's life and early Christianity that didn't make the cut when the New Testament was being compiled.

As a writer, I am familiar with the butchery of editors who blunt my diamond-edged prose. As an editor, I realize that writers sometimes need certain tender mercies applied to their copy. I further realize that sometimes stuff gets massaged by editors in ways that disguise its original intent.

Thus I have always worried about what got into the Bible and what didn't. I want to know not only who wrote what, but I want to know who edited it and why.


The faithful, of course, believe that the Bible was divinely inspired, and thus God himself was the final editor. I have known a lot of editors who thought they were God. It would be nice to think that one actually was.

So maybe it was he who decided that the Gnostic texts that alluded to Jesus as being married, possibly to Mary Magdalene, should not be part of sacred scripture. But what if it was just a guy with an ax to grind? A guy who thought that women should have a subservient role and weren't worthy of being disciples, much less Mrs. Jesus Christ.

Odds are that Karen King's scrap of papyrus was written by a guy who was just speculating, like the novelist Dan Brown was when he had Jesus married to Mary Magdalene in "The Da Vinci Code." As I was telling Winston Churchill only yesterday, modern writers feel entirely free to make up stuff involving historical figures. It probably was the same way in the 4th century.

In Brown's novel and the subsequent movie, the news of Jesus' marriage to Mary started a bloody feud within the Catholic church, which it certainly could have. In recent decades, the church has stopped teaching that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute before meeting Jesus, but the hooker thing was less of a problem than the wife thing for a church that enforces priestly celibacy.

King's papyrus scrap isn't likely to cause churchly consternation like a novel that sold 80 million copies and was turned into a Tom Hanks movie. If it should, I'll be following it closely. Right after I take out the trash.

Kevin Horrigan is a columnist for the St. Louis Post- Dispatch. He can be reached at khorrigan@post -dispatch. com.

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