Fragments of Rage

The recent unveiling of the “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” has been interesting, less because of the Gospel itself and more because of the reaction to it. The Gospel, fragmentary as it is, tells us very little about 2nd century Christianity that we didn’t know before. The Gospel of Philip, with its famous line that Jesus “loved [Mary Magdalene] more than all the disciples, and used to kiss her often on her mouth,” already shows that some early Christians pictured a close, intimate relationship between Jesus and Mary.

And that’s as far as we’ll go. So far, none of the scholars I’ve read are willing to suggest that this new fragment tells us anything about the historical Jesus. Most historians I’ve read don’t even seem to be interested in the question; they’re more eager to flesh out our knowledge of 2nd century Christianity.

There were debates in the second century about the role of women, the status of marriage and the nature of human sexuality, and Mary Magdalene became one of the characters used in these debates. On one side we have things like the Gospel of Philip and the new fragment, and on another side we have statements like this out from the Gospel of Thomas:

Simon Peter says to them: “Let Mary go out from our midst, for women are not worthy of life!” Jesus says: “See, I will draw her so as to make her male so that she also may become a living spirit like you males. For every woman who has become male will enter the Kingdom of heaven.”

The new fragment, if it isn’t a modern forgery, seems to be the first to clearly say that Mary was the wife of Jesus, but this is just a more clear statement of an arguement that we already believed was there. But for some, even this seems to be a threat.

Not surprisingly, Albert Mohler is one who seems threatened. Mohler said in a tweet, “The real agenda behind “The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife.” It is the rejection of normative biblical Christianity.”

In our own backyard, Thomas McDonald of God and the Machine sees the same sort of conspiracy, and he knows who to blame:

…Karen L. King, who, Ms. Goodstein breathlessly informs us, is “is the first woman to hold the nation’s oldest endowed chair, the Hollis professor of divinity,” because academic credentials taketh away the sins of the world, particularly “first woman” credentials. (That’s an actual quote from the Gnostic Gospel of Fred. Prove it isn’t.) [...]

King has an agenda. Let’s be very clear about that. She makes some throat-clearing gestures in the Goodstein article towards downplaying the outrageous claims being made for “Jesus’s wife” fragment, but she’s positively panting to prove it to be true.

True? True how? McDonald quotes King talking about early Christianity, but that’s a long way from talking about the historical Jesus.

I think the touchiness of some of the conservative commentators in regards to this is striking. We haven’t learned anything new about Jesus, but maybe we’ve learned something about modern Christians.

Meet The Wife
Being Agent Scully
So Long, And Thanks For All The Memories (From Dan)
All Cycles Come to an End
  • kessy_athena

    All I can say is WTF?? Seriously, to me this one of the most bizarre aspects of christianity. What conceivable difference does it make if Jesus had a wife and kids or not? Confucius’s 79X lineal descendant lives in Taiwan. The royal families of Morocco and Jordan both claim direct descent from Mohamed. The imperial family of Japan claims direct descent from the sun goddess Amaterasu. Half the monarchs of the ancient world claimed descent from one god or another. Nobody else finds this sort of thing particularly noteworthy. The christians are the only ones who seem to tie themselves in knots. I’d really appreciate it if someone could at least try to explain it to me. And while I’m at it, if anybody understands Dan Brown…

    • The Other Weirdo

      Dan Brown is basically Holy Blood Holy Grail, a discredited book that started life as a BBC Special.

    • vasaroti

      I prefer Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco. He really uses the Templar mythos to lead the reader on a merry and frustrating chase.

  • JohnMWhite

    I’m not remotely surprised at the reaction from modern Christians, but all they are really doing is underscoring exactly why this fragment is as useful as the mainstream bible for understanding the historical Jesus.

    • Schaden Freud

      I actually think all the outrage stems from their tendency to use the mainstream bible to understand the historical jesus. They’re used to accepting the gospels as a reliable historical record, so their first reaction is to think that if this is a gospel fragment it must be a historical record of Jesus’ marital status.

  • Brian K

    I don’t think we have learned ANYTHING new about modern conservative Christians. We already knew they are a tribe of misogynist, reactionary shouters. This merely “confirms” what we already know.

  • peicurmudgeon

    Many Christians are like the rest of us. We like to think we will change our minds if new information comes along, but in actuality we are slow to do that. At least the est of you skeptics are. It obviously doesn’t apply to me. .

    I once read a comment that Dan Brown writes as if he believes everything he ever read on the internet.

    • The Other Weirdo

      I have no problem with being slow to change one’s mind based on new information coming in. You need to take the time to make sure the new information is, in fact, actual fact, and not more tripe. Just because there is new information doesn’t mean it’s reliable.

    • Brian K

      I could not get more than a few pages into his “novel”. What dreadful writing! It must be of the Devil. LOL

  • vasaroti

    Here’s a draft of King’s article: I suggest everybody interested at least skim it, because many of the spin-off articles are misrepresenting what it does and does not say:

  • Peter

    If Christians ever read their bibles closely, they’d discover who the most prominent woman is in the NT. It’s not Mother M because she has cameo appearances in Matthew and Luke describing this miraculous nativity, then disappears from the story. No, the woman who dominates the narrative in the Gospels is Mary Magdalene. She is always mentioned first before any other woman during Jesus’ mission. It was she, after all, who discovered the empty tomb and the supposed resurrection. And she went and told the others who didn’t even bother going to the tomb. A case can be made that she started Christianity. But because the Church sanitized and destroyed any record we’ll never know the truth.