Wednesday 19 September 2012

The King of King's Code

Mr and Mrs Jesus
You know it all already, don’t you?  You know that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, having penetrated the code and read the gospel according to Da Brown, or at least seen the movie of the gospel of the code of the book.  Even so, it might interest to know that a far older code has been discovered proving the same point…or proving that Dan Brown is a lot older than he pretends!

I fragment of papyrus has been discovered, an ancient Da Vinci Code, which makes the ‘explosive suggestion’ (that’s Daily Mail, not Ana speak) that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were man and wife.  The report I read in the Mail pompously declares that the discovery “undermines centuries of Church dogma by suggesting that the Christian Messiah was not celibate.” 

Au contraire, monsieur le Mail; this undercurrent has been around for centuries, part of a Gnostic tradition, text that did not make it into the official text, Satanic Verses, if you like.  The Gospel of Philip promoted the marriage claim centuries before Dan Brown.  But the Gospel of Philip, along with that of Thomas and Mary Magdalene herself, is among the scriptural also rans.  In other words Christian dogma trumps the other dogma; the Nicene Creed trumps the Gnostic heresy!  

Anyway, this in the cryptic script, translated from ancient Coptic, the language of Biblical Egypt;

…not [to] me.  My mother gave me li[fe]…
The disciples said to Jesus,
deny.  Mary was worthy of it
Jesus said to them, My wife
she will be able to be my disciple
Let wicked people swell up
As for me, I dwell with her in order to
an image.

An image?  What image!  Hmm, yes, well, you can make of that what you wish. What Karen King, Hollis Professor of Divinity at Harvard University, wants to make of it is quite a lot.  She recently told the Smithsonian Magazine that the fragment casts doubt “on the whole Catholic claim of a celibate priesthood based on Jesus’ celibacy.”  Oh, really, more so than the far more complete Gospel of Philip?  In time to come we may have the Gospel of Karen to add to the unofficial canon, or a new cracking bestseller – The Da King Code.

Hey, let’s get our feet back on the ground and look at the picture a little more soberly. To begin with, Jesus was a practicing Jew, a rabbi.  There is nothing in Jewish tradition and law that would proscribe marriage for such a person.  More than that, an unmarried rabbi is likely to have been considered as a bit of an oddity. 

The other thing is that the Catholic Church itself did not always insist on priestly celibacy.  That came later, when the performance of sacred duties was felt to be incompatible with carnal marriage.  When the Church decided on the purity of the priesthood it was easy to fall back on the canonically accepted Jesus as the avatar of perfection. 

There was no problem in this.  Scripture is completely silent on Jesus’ marital status, pointing neither one way nor the other.  But the whole point of Christianity is its novelty – it took a rabbi and prophet and turned him into the Messiah and the Son of God.  The Son of God as a carnal being? – never in a month of sexless Sundays! 

I always find it amusing when an academic advances a bridge too far, when making a mark rather than scholarly probity and caution becomes the important thing.  It’s like the silly fuss over the ‘discovery’ of the remains of Richard III in the archaeological dig at Leicester, a conclusion trumpeted before the facts have been fully established.  Wait and see, always wait and see.  

Professor King does not wait.  She goes that much further.  Never mind dead bones; she has the living text!  There she is, a more fatal Martin Luther, ready to shake the Catholic Church to its foundations with an enigma that is no enigma, a revelation that is no revelation!  It’s such a pity that Philip and Dan got there first.  It makes her dramatic dénouement look just a tad derivative and oh so passé.  

Stop Press!

There have been developments.  This ‘explosive’ evidence has been systematically rubbished by other specialists since I wrote this story at breakfast time this morning.  Now the King herself, in the light of this, is backtracking, at least to a point. 

With the stable doors creaking and groaning in the wind she says: “We still have some work to do, testing the ink and so on and so forth, but what is exciting about this fragment is that it's the first case we have of Christians claiming that Jesus had a wife.”  To this she adds that the papyrus itself provides no evidence (what?!) that Jesus was married, merely that ‘some Christians’ believed he was two hundred years after his death. 

Yes, and would ‘some Christians’ go by the name of Philip; would some Christians be considered as Gnostics?  She has also revealed – what a surprise – that the unnamed owner wants to sell it. 

"There are all sorts of really dodgy things about this,' said David Gill, professor of archaeological heritage at University Campus Suffolk.  "This looks to me as if any sensible, responsible academic would keep their distance from it.”  Ouch!  Those whom the gods wish to destroy they first turn into the Hollis Professor of Divinity. 


  1. Interesting picture, one can only imagine what Mary M. is reaching for. Those two had children and their descendants migrated to southern France. The Catholic Church made up all kinds of stuff as they went along. ( J.C. to M.M., S it B!)

    1. Yes, it invites speculation. There is Jesus with the sheet. "Come back to bed, honey", she pleads. :-)

  2. The suckers have been buying the same stale fish for two millennia; no reason to quit fleecing them now.

  3. To me religion is the curse of a thinking mind. The mind invents to fill gaps in knowledge. Religious tracts and beliefs are purely that process recorded. If we accepted this, what I consider to be self evident truths, then this argument about whether Jesus was married or not would be seen as irrelevant and meaningless. Then we can perhaps get on with concentrating intelligent discussion on more important matters that lead to better outcomes in this life because after this one evidence would suggest there is not another.

    1. AS, yes, some excellent points. The question of Jesus' marital status is really only relevant against the background of Catholic dogma and dogma is, well, dogma.

  4. I've always believed that Mary Magdalene was Jesus' wife. Everything else is tenuous alternativism.

  5. Ana, I'm not sure if I should be commenting here or not.

    There is a down side to being Christian - we are expected to just ignore any insults made to us or our Lord (who allowed himself to be tortured to death for our sakes). But I am SO f*cking tired of "turning the other cheek" when people like Antisthenes and Calvin question my intelligence and education because I maintain my faith. Unlike most, I have actual personal experiences that support my beliefs, but I can't reveal them in an open forum and still maintain my anonymity (which is VERY important to me) on the web.

    Oh to be a ancient Catholic and launch a Crusade, or to be one of those modern Muslims (who seem to be allowed to torture or murder anyone they like) if you insult theirs!

    sigh. It's rough being a Baptist sometimes :-P

    Dark thoughts aside, while I am sceptical about anyone trying to contest 2000 years of doctrine based on a single snippet of papyrus someone is trying to sell, I have always thought that it was a little odd that a 30-year old man, who (per St. Luke) was "in favour with God and men", and had a decent job as carpenter, was not yet married before the start of his ministry. In His culture and time, many men ten years younger already had had a wife and a couple of kids.

    1. CB, of course you should comment, whenever you feel like it. Yes, I understand that faith, especially a faith like Christianity, can be a burden sometimes, a cross to bear, but it is still your strength, defining what and who you are. You have no need at all to apologise for the things you believe in.

      Personally I think this papyrus is a fraud. But there is nothing new here, despite all the silly fuss. I think that the more fundamental point.