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The God Squad: Faith far transcends claims that Jesus had a wife

September 28, 2012|By Rabbi Marc Gellman, Tribune Media Services | By Rabbi Marc Gellman, Tribune Media Services

Q: I'm sure you've been following the story about a papyrus claiming that Jesus had a wife. What's your opinion about this?

— M., Long Island. N.Y.

A: In the midst of my intense Jewish immersion in the High Holidays of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur (and again, let me wish a happy 5773 to all my Jewish readers!), it is spiritually balancing to me this week to address the question of whether or not Jesus had a wife.

This high-profile story has surfaced in the normally theologically indifferent general secular press because professor Karen King of Harvard Divinity School recently revealed the existence of a papyrus fragment that supposedly quotes Jesus directly as referring to his wife, whom he identifies as "Mary." The text is written in Coptic, which was the ancient language of Egyptian Christians and remained so until Egyptian Arabic supplanted it in the modern period.

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The passage in question was supposedly translated from a 2nd century Greek text. This explosive discovery may or may not be authentic. Some scholars think it is and some think it isn't.

If it is real, it would cast doubt on the idea that Jesus was celibate and, among other things, would provide scholarly support for Dan Brown's fictional account in "The Da Vinci Code."

Regarding such high-profile stories, I think it's often a good thing to have a sympathetic non-Christian lover of Christians (me, for example) weigh in. For Christians to defend Christian beliefs is like Jews defending Jewish beliefs, or Muslims defending Muslim beliefs — it is both expected and unconvincing.

I'm an outsider to all this, but I have strong opinions that the reaction to this discovery, if not the discovery itself, reveals some serious anti-Christian prejudice.

Leaving aside for the moment the main reason to doubt the authenticity of this papyrus, which is the all-too-common habit of antiquities dealers passing off forgeries as authentic in order to make a buck, the main problem with the text is that it's simply not supported by the entire New Testament. If Jesus was indeed married, it would have been inconceivable for this fact not to have been mentioned somewhere in the Gospel accounts.

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