Quick Thoughts on the New Jesus Wife Text

Darrell L. Bock's picture

I interviewed with the New York Times, Boston Globe, NPR and CNN today about this text that was announced today. Here are some quick thoughts:

It is a small text with no context.

It is a late text (4th century), if the dating given is right.

It would be nice to know where the text came from on the collector's market. It is a text without any real setting right now, just a date and a few broken lines.

It needs a larger public vetting by experts (like being in the first quarter of a game and asking for comment on the whole).

What is more, in Gnostic Christianity, there was a rite called the bridal chamber in which the church was seen as the bride of Christ. The whole thing could well be metaphorical with a disciple representing the place of the church. If that is the case, then it is not even a claim that Jesus was married in real life to a single person.

It is one speck of a fringe text in a sea of texts that say Jesus was single. It, if authentic, is the exception, to the rule of texts we have on Jesus. Thus, in the end, even if it says what people are suggesting, it tells us only about a fourth century group's views, not anything about Jesus. 

Dr. King is careful also to say this text likely tells us nothing about the real Jesus. 

Her claim the NT is silent about Jesus' marital status is technically correct, but it may well be because there was nothing to say. Everyone knew he was single. The fact there is no wife present at his death may speak volumes. If Jesus had been married, there would be no need to hide the fact. Nothing in the earliest church tradition points to his being married. 

One more thought: there is a difference between wife and bride, but with the next line pointing to a disciple, that means a spiritual dimension is in play pretty quickly. That may suggest the context is complicated in terms of what is addressed.

Let's see if time and some additional reflection can help us understand what we have and do not have in this small fragment.

 

Sept 21 update:

 

A story appeared today in the New York Times updating the discussion on the Jesus wife fragment. It quoted me. Carl Holladay of Emory commented on my view that this text could be metaphorical and challenged that reading.

Here is my response. The lines in question have next to no context. In the next line after the mention of the wife is a remark about a disciple. This brings a spiritual dimension immediately into the discussion. The idea of her being worthy does the same. Gnostic texts defend women as worthy of being disciples in which Mary Magdalene is often the example. The late Gospel of Mary Magdalene does this as does Thomas saying 114. The latter does it in a somewhat strange way by saying Jesus will make Mary male in order that she can qualify for the kingdom! All of this in those other texts takes the few lines we have in the fragment. It shows how discussions of real people can also be about spiritual realities, where the person represents a group. 

Holladay says the Jesus wife fragment is about real people. On that we all agree. The question his response does not treat is in what role are these real people placed? My point is that the disciple noted could simply be seen as a representative of what the church is, a wife or bride of Christ. Without any more context there is no way to tell.  

But let's assume the text does say Jesus had a wife. What does that show? Nothing about the real Jesus, as all who have responded to this text have said. It is too late and probably belongs to too fringe a group to reflect the real Jesus. It shows a group, probably from around the fourth century thought Jesus was married, an exception to the rule of what everything else about Jesus up to this find has told us. The exception is what makes this text unique. It is a footnote in a mound of texts.

The text might reflect earlier views, but we also cannot know that. It does fit what we see in some second century texts from Gnostics. It is likely from Egypt as that is where these kinds of texts tend to be preserved because of the dry conditions there. It is where other such texts have come from.

All of this assumes the text is genuine, something only extensive testing can show since we have no setting for the find. So we are early in the investigation of what this text is. 

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