Mary, My Wife, My Disciple?

The Smithsonian has a long article with a lot more information about the scrap of papyrus that suggests Jesus had a wife.

Personally, I don’t care whether he was married or not (or what kind of sex life he had, if any). What’s interesting is that Professor Karen King, who is presenting this new information to the world, doesn’t claim that the papyrus provides reliable biographical information about Jesus. She admits that it calls into question the official view that Jesus wasn’t married, but she thinks that its real significance is that it shows yet again that important alternative versions of Christianity were suppressed by church authorities:

“Her scholarship has been a kind of sustained critique of what she calls the ‘master story’ of Christianity: a narrative that casts the canonical texts of the New Testament as divine revelation that passed through Jesus in ‘an unbroken chain’ to the apostles and their successors—church fathers, ministers, priests and bishops who carried these truths into the present day.

According to this ‘myth of origins,’ as she has called it, followers of Jesus who accepted the New Testament—chiefly the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, written roughly between A.D. 65 and A.D. 95 were true Christians. Followers of Jesus inspired by noncanonical gospels were heretics hornswoggled by the devil.”

In this case, the alternative version is one in which a woman (possibly Mary Magdalene) has a larger role in the history of Christianity, either as the wife of Jesus or as an “apostle to the apostles”.

3 thoughts on “Mary, My Wife, My Disciple?

  1. But when one studies it, you see this claim by King (of an oppressed other story) is just mistaken. Yes there was a large group of “Gnostic” Christians, but they were never part of the mainstay church, and they seem to have been an already independent group built around neo-platonic mysticism prior to Christianity and merely latched onto the growing religion as a means to further disseminate their views. King’s biases really come forward in her insistence to say this was a belief viable among many “early Christians.” Her view is only tenable in certain branches of Kerygmatic theology and its offshoots. If we look at Christianity as, instead, a genuinely historically based religion, then there is a truth to who Jesus was and what he did and said and the New Testament is a witness to that. We should subject it to historical investigation. Her view, which comes from a Bultmannian perspective, is that the message of the early Church (in the second or third centuries) is where Christianity comes from, and not from the historical Christ. That’s the distinction between this view of Christianity and the Evangelical view of Christianity.

    • Hi — thanks for your comment.

      I’ve got no expertise in the history of Christianity, and you certainly might be right. But Professor King isn’t alone in her views. What I’ve always found especially interesting about this topic is how the bishops got together at the Council of Nicaea in the year 325 to reach a consensus regarding Christian doctrine. That suggests (to me anyway) that there was significant disagreement among people who considered themselves to be Christians, and that, if the bishops had reached a different consensus, Christianity might have been a different religion.

      • Well…sort of. It seems that there was a certain amount of disagreement, through a variety of people, about who Jesus was. In that respect they were primarily dealing with whether Jesus was God and man, whether Jesus was a created being higher than us, or an illusion in his body (only God, not really man), or entirely man who became God. What is at issue is whether the council was affirming what had been the historical faith (and there is good evidence to believe that until the second century what Nicaea affirmed was the only faith, due to various other evidences, but primarily textual ones), or whether they “created” the narrative. The difference between conservatives and liberals (theologically) is primarily based upon whether, with the former, they believe Nicaea was simply affirming the historical truth or whether, with the latter, they were simply creating their own religion. Keep in mind, also, that while the Scriptures had yet to be formally approved, what we now know as the 4 gospels had already begun to function as authoritative and other gospels (or the lack of those 4) had been completed rejected. If that really is the case, and due to other correspondence that is widely available, there is good reason to think it is, then the issue becomes whether the 4 gospels are accurate in their description of history. The more liberal theologies will instead say that the consensus of the Nicaean council determined that these would be scripture later. On that view you can say that if the bishops had reached a different consensus Christianity might have been different. On the conservative view, if the council had reached a different consensus, there would have been rebellion and division and there would be even more fragmentation to what is nor called Christianity (but the stream that affirms the 4 Gospels, and was affirmed by the actual council of Nicaea would have been more dominant). In my opinion there is reason to doubt King’s view, but that’s just me.

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