Two years ago, when writing about the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife, I wrote that news organizations would bring it up again “just in time of the holiday season, when it will be big, important news yet again.”
With Easter right around the corner, look what is suddenly breaking news again.
- Mashable: Papyrus Mentioning Jesus’s Wife Is Likely Ancient and Not Fake, Scientists Say
- NY Times: Papyrus Referring to Jesus’ Wife Is More Likely Ancient Than Fake, Scientists Say
- Boston Globe: No evidence of forgery in ancient text mentioning ‘Jesus’s wife’
So, you’re telling me it’s ancient? But what exactly does that mean? Well, it could mean that the papyrus dates all the way back to the first or second century, during the time of the early church and closest to the actual time of Christ. Or it could mean this, from the Globe:
The results of a carbon dating test found that the papyrus probably dates to eighth-century Egypt, about 400 years later than King originally thought, but still in ancient times.
There is absolutely nothing of significance in this latest announcement other than sensational headlines and page views for newspapers. Because there’s nothing different today than there was two years ago, I’m going to copy and paste below exactly what I wrote then in my post: BREAKING NEWS: New York Times reports Jesus has a bride, Apostle Paul & Christians everywhere hardest hit.
The papyrus and its translation are being publicized by Dr. Karen King, a prominent scholar and professor at Harvard. The anonymous owner of the papyrus allowed King and others to examine it to determine its legitimacy and, most likely, its value.
King was a good choice for the owner if they intended to garner positive press with the support of a recognized historian. She has published numerous books elevating the perspective of the so-called Gnostic gospels and was a member of the infamous Jesus Seminar.
As New Testament scholar Dr. Ben Witherington told NBC News, “She does have a dog in this hunt. She’s an advocate for the Gospel of Mary and the Gospel of Judas, telling us of early Christian experiences of various kinds, particularly of the Gnostic kind.”
However, King is quick to say that this fragment does not prove Jesus had a wife. In the PDF detailing their findings, King asserts that the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife does not settle anything about the possibility of Jesus being married. She brings up the question, asserts that early Christians had these discussions, but she’s not saying it was actually the case.
In doing this, King and the academics publicizing “findings” like this are able to remain somewhat above the fray. They aren’t saying Jesus had a wife – they are just titling the fragment Gospel of Jesus’ Wife and leaving it for the media to do the rest.
These scholars know what happens next. They can stay respectable and scholarly with their word choices and pronouncements, while allowing journalist to make the boldest claims that, in letter, mischaracterize the work, but, in reality suit the scholars just fine. They know the headlines will read like the New York Times one did: “A faded piece of papyrus refers to Jesus’ wife.”
Scholars and historians can say with precise honesty, “We never said this papyrus proved Jesus had a wife.” No, you didn’t, but it’s not like you tried to quell those long disproved conspiracy theories by titling the faded piece of paper: Gospel of Jesus’ Wife.
Of course, the academics are shocked, shocked I tell you, when the reporters start writing about the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife and they begin to refer to Jesus’ wife and the challenging questions this raises for traditional Christians, who just refuse to accept what real science is telling them. For a press that often shares the disdain many in academia have toward evangelical, conservative Christians, the story just writes itself.
The craziest thing about this latest (and yes, it is the latest in a long line preceding it and sure to follow it) discovery that is sure to “radically reshape Christianity” is that the so-called Gospel of Jesus’ Wife is not even a Gospel per se. It’s not even a small book. It’s a fragment with a few legible phrases on it, one of which has Jesus speaking of a wife.
So in this fourth century copy of a text [ed. or eighth century as we know now] that is asserted to have originated in the second century (evidence anyone?), Christ mentions a wife. I know this might come as a real surprise to the New York Times, but there are even earlier documents that mention Jesus, his marriage and even his bride. You can find these shocking statement in a collection of first century Christian writings called the New Testament (John 3:29, Revelation 19:7, Ephesians 5, 2 Corinthians 2:11). Perhaps, you have heard of it?
I’m sure the Apostle Paul would be horrified to find out that someone living 300 years after him wrote that Jesus had a wife (and by “horrified,” I mean, “completely cool with it”). He would reject the idea that Jesus was married to one woman physically here on Earth, but a phrase that speaks of Jesus’ wife would be entirely in line with orthodox Christian theology, when the bride/wife is understood as the Church.
Witherington said he believes the papyrus to be speaking more of a wife relationship than the Church as the Bride of Christ, but regardless of what this papyrus is all about, it does nothing to reshape Christianity. As it is, the fourth century fragment does not even challenge or question historical, biblical theology. Even if it did, explain to me why I should be more concerned about this, than a first century fragment of Mark being discovered.
The media’s attitude toward it all is basically, “There are actual developments in the world of biblical archeology with real impact on Christians today, but, wait, what’s that? There’s some random old piece of paper that we can construe as saying something controversial and contrary to historical Christianity? We’re on it!”
Honestly, I was surprised by one thing in this whole story – the fact that they didn’t hold on to this until Christmas or Easter, when they run their usual “new discovery undermines Christianity” pieces. [ed. Oh, me of little faith. They just wanted to wait a little while.]