Jesus Wife Text, Part Deux (Updated 4/13/14)

Darrell L. Bock's picture

Well, we finally heard the scientific report on the Jesus Wife manuscript from a year and a half ago. Yes, right before Easter, as always. The sense of PR timing is so consistent.

What we have, according to the analysis, is an ancient manuscript from the 6th to 9th century. This is pretty standard for an ancient manuscript. Key here, if the analysis is correct, is we do not have a modern forgery. The claim is it goes back to the second to fourth century, but how can one know that with so little to work with? It is a suggestion based on when these discussions commonly arose. That is all it is. It is possible as well.

All the issues about meaning we raised on our Table Podcast Cultural Engagement chapel with Dr. Rick Taylor when the story first broke still apply regardless (check out under www.dts.edu/thetable and look under Cultural Engagment Chapels-

Is this a reference a claim about Jesus' personal marital status (an idea, if it existed at all, that appears to be a decidedly late, minority view on the fringe of things called Christian) or is the expression a metaphorical picture of things like the bridal chamber idea of second and third century Christian Gnosticism, where Jesus' relationship to the church personified in a figure like Mary? After all, the church is called Jesus' bride in Eph 5. With so little context, there is no way to decide that either. King is clear this is not about the historical Jesus and whether he was married. On this point there is universal agreement (and to get that is quite rare). It is a discussion, at least potentially, of how some talked about gender and Jesus centuries later. Unfortunately there is too little text to do little else than tease us about what it is saying.

A key claim by King is, "This gospel fragment provides a reason to reconsider what we thought we knew by asking what the role claims of Jesus's marital status played historically in early Christian controversies over marriage, celibacy, and family," King said. The text is so brief it really does not even give us this much. It might add something that brings another piece into the conversation, but it also might not. How can one raise what role is being discussed when there is no context to say how that role is being presented or portrayed? What if the rest of the lost text simply said, ""some claim this" and then went on to challenge the view? In sum, we simply do not have enough text or context to say very much if anything about what this fragment means in later church history. We do know and are agreed it tell us nothing about the first century life and ministry of Jesus.

Update: Mark Goodacre has a nice summary of the latest discussion with links to Davila, Hurtado and others. Nicholas Perrin covers matters for Christianity Today. Enjoy. Summary, Some are skeptical the Harvard tests show an ancient text, but most are inclined to see a late text is present here. More uncertain is the meaning, but a text like what we find in the third century AD Gospel of Philip may be present. The backdrop for this is not so much Jesus' personal status as much as picture of Jesus and Mary as prototype male and female, an idea popular in some extra-biblical Christian Gnostic texts.

Links:

 

Goodacre: http://ntweblog.blogspot.com/2014/04/the-jesus-wife-fragment-is-back.html

 

Perrin: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2014/april-web-only/gospel-of-jesus-wife-nicholas-perrin.html?start=1&paging=off

Comments

Hey, just wanted to let you know that instead of "marital", you have it spelled as "martial".  Just FYI...

Darrell L. Bock's picture

Got it, thanks. I guess one hand is faster than the other!

Mauricio Berwald's picture

      VEJAM NOSSO BLOG EM WWW.AVIVAMENTONOSUL.BLOGSPOT.COM
ASSEMBLY OF GOD BRASILhttp://WWW.AVIVAMENTONOSUL.BLOGSPOT.COM

I enjoyed the video, which was both clear and cautious in explaining what is known so far about this text. It's difficult to imagine a better outline of the issues being available to the general public.
Do you think this would have received so much attention had the Davinci Code not primed the public imagination regarding Jesus and Mary? Even now, I'm surprised this single, untested and unclear reference would get coverage.

Darrell L. Bock's picture

Skeptimal: Yes, it had primed the pump, but this kind of spin from Karen King is probably coming from other sources and concerns. It fits into the support of a picture of diverse or alternative Christianities in the early period, something I addressed in my The Missing Gospels.

For god so love the world that he gave. Mercy.

I find the idea of Jesus married to Mary scripturally unsound.  If Jesus ran off those that wanted to stone Mary for adultery and Jesus himself did not accuse her, why would he cause her to commit adultery again?  When would Jesus have time to have a relationship with Mary when he was constantly thronged by crowds, healing the sick, blind and lame, and teaching the Apostles?

Darrell L. Bock's picture

Not at all sure we know that the woman caught in adultery is Mary. She is never named. As for Jesus being married, there are no ealry texts that give any hint of this, including those that have women at the cross. As was noted, there is agreement whatever this new text is, it tells us nothing about the real Jesus.

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