One thing to keep in mind with the Jesus’s wife story is that it’s all bound up in trends and obsessions in certain academic quarters devoted to study the Christian Gnostics. One of their chief texts is the “Gospel” of Thomas, a text dating to the late 2nd century or later. Thomas is important because it tells us a great deal about Gnostic beliefs, but it’s also important in modern debates as a litmus test for academic credibility.
Princeton Professor Elaine Pagels, among others, assigns a very early date to Thomas. Her theory is that Thomas came before the Gospel of John, and that John is, in fact, a late response to Thomas. This would make Thomas authentic, John false, and call into question in the entire narrative of the early Church. Certain Gnostic scholars believe Thomas contains true sayings from Jesus that were omitted from the canonical scriptures, and that this strain of Christianity was stomped out and suppressed by the “orthodox” Christians. (In fact, a number of real sayings from the canonical scriptures are found in Thomas.)
Some believe this denial of a tradition of mystical wisdom teaching damaged the burgeoning Church, and prevented a more authentic Jesus (read: one more amenable to modern tastes) from developing. Of course, if we eliminate John completely and compare Thomas to Matthew, Mark, and Luke, you still can’t reconcile the two strains of Christianity. For Thomas to be true, everything else has to be false.
The reality is pretty mundane and nobody gets stories in the New York Times for talking about it. John came first and represented mainstream apostolic teaching. Thomas, Philip, and other Gnostic texts were fringe, regional variants that emerged later and were slapped down because they had nothing to do with real Christianity or the historical Jesus of Nazareth. They were suppressed because they were false and, in some case, completely daft, and posed a risk of confusing the community of the faithful.
Academics who believe that Gnostic Christianity is the “true” Christianity are operating at the academic fringes, yet by nature of their controversial positions they command an inordinate amount of media time.
How crazy is Thomas? Judge for yourself:
Jesus said, “Blessed is the lion which becomes man when consumed by man; and cursed is the man whom the lion consumes, and the lion becomes man.”
He saw a Samaritan carrying a lamb and going to Judea. He said to his disciples, “that person … around the lamb.” They said to him, “So that he may kill it and eat it.” He said to them, “He will not eat it while it is alive, but only after he has killed it and it has become a carcass.”
They said, “Otherwise he can’t do it.”
He said to them, “So also with you, seek for yourselves a place for rest, or you might become a carcass and be eaten.”
Jesus said, “I am not your master. Because you have drunk, you have become intoxicated by the bubbling spring which I have measured out.”
And He took him and withdrew and told him three things. When Thomas returned to his companions, they asked him, “What did Jesus say to you?”
Thomas said to them, “If I tell you one of the things which he told me, you will pick up stones and throw them at me; a fire will come out of the stones and burn you up.”
Jesus said, “Where there are three gods, they are gods. Where there are two or one, I am with him.”
and, of course…
Simon Peter said to Him, “Let Mary leave us, for women are not worthy of Life.”
Jesus said, “I myself shall lead her in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every woman who will make herself male will enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”
Someone actually captured footage of early Gnostic preachers. Here it is: