The Flap Over Jesus’ Wife

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A Harvard Divinity School professor claims that a papyrus fragment about the size of a business card with Coptic script on both sides indicates that Jesus had a wife – probably Mary Magdalene.

The fragment had a convoluted pathway ending up in the possession of Harvard Divinity School Professor Karen King. Supposedly, it came from an anonymous source who obtained it from a German-American dealer who bought it years ago in East Germany. Once it got to the Harvard professor, whose life work is to see Mary Magdalene elevated to the status of Jesus’ disciple, authorities were asked to authenticate the fragment. Two out of three authorities consulted by the editors of the Harvard Theological Review expressed doubts about the fragment coming from the fourth century.

But, don’t worry about the facts; they’re merely inconvenient truths. The media is on a feeding frenzy, promoting the idea that Jesus, indeed, had a wife. Before this moved out of her control, Professor King quickly launched a PR campaign, explaining that she “feared word would leak about [the existence of the fragment] in a way that sensationalized its meaning.” Thus, the fragment ended up featured in a major article in the Smithsonian, which gave it a scholarly imprimatur and guaranteed widespread media attention and lots of sensationalism.

The fragment contains only eight lines on one side, and the writing is legible under a magnifying glass. The fragments say “deny. Mary is worthy of it,” “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife,'” and “she will be able to be my disciple.” Interestingly, Professor King wrote a book about Mary Magdalene and her relationship to Jesus way back in 2003. One of her major points is that Mary Magdalene is apostle material. No connection between those two, huh? No self-promotion or book promotion going on here at all. Definitely no ideology being promoted, eh?

In his article, “The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife? When Sensationalism Masquerades as Scholarship,” Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., provides the background for understanding this “finding.”

Professor King claims that these words and phrases should be understood as a “different gospel” and these words should be read as claiming Jesus was married and Mary Magdalene was likely his wife. But her point (motivation?) is not so much about Jesus’ marital status. A common argument throughout King’s scholarly writing, according to Dr. Mohler, is against the claim that Christianity is a unified body of commonly held truths.

Dr. Mohler adds that the fragment is like the Gnostic literature and other heretical narratives containing claims about Jesus and His message – these are cited lovingly by those who want to replace Christianity with something else. Further, he notes that feminists argue women have been sidelined by the orthodox tradition, and these texts prove that women were central to the leadership of the early church, even superior to men. Others, according to Dr. Mohler’s analysis, say Christianity was a diverse movement marked by few doctrinal principles, until it was hijacked by political and ecclesiastical leaders. These hijackers are the ones, so the argument goes, who inserted the forced orthodoxy and moral prohibitions such as sexuality, especially homosexuality.

In the Smithsonian article, King’s scholarship is described as “a kind of sustained critique of what she called the ‘master story’ of Christianity: a narrative that casts the canonical texts of the New Testament as a 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.”

The new religion attempting to be established is one where Jesus was a worldly teacher who instructs his followers to look within themselves for truth. As Dr. Mohler notes, they advocate enlightenment, not faith through repentance. The church opposed these writings and attempted to eliminate them. They were false teachings, and that’s what the Apostles told the church to do. They saw heterodoxy as spiritual death, not a mere irritation.

This fragment, with its sensationalized claims assuring major media attention, isn’t verified, but it is placed against all four New Testament Gospels. For all the attention on Jesus having a wife, the purpose is much broader: The fragment is an attempt to replace Christian doctrine with feminist, heretical, and radical ideology. It is an attempt to destroy the foundations of Christianity.

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