Jesus’ Wife: What is the significance of this new Egyptian Fragment?


If you’ve been following or perusing news websites at all this week, you’ve most likely read or at least seen one of the many articles published in response to Dr. Karen King, of Harvard Divinity’s announcement regarding a new Coptic fragment containing a quote attributed to Jesus referring to “his wife.” (1) This discovery was released in the New York Times and further reported by CNN, NBC, BBC, and many others news agencies. This of course launched quite a response from scholars, bloggers, and everyone with an opinion (for reliable insights on this discovery check out Marc Goodacre’s blog). While I believe Dr. King and most of the articles covering the story were responsible, my facebook newsfeed showed some (what I call) overreactions to the discovery and I wanted to share a few thoughts.

I want to ask and address one main question, and it’s three components, “What is the Significance of this specific discovery, or what do we learn from this fragment?” In order to answer this main question, we will focus on three components that will lead us to a reasonable conclusion at present. A. Does this say anything about the Historical Jesus? B. Regardless of the search for the Historical Jesus, what else could this document tell us? C. As some are suggesting ( see summary in 2), does this influence the view of role of women within the church, or lead us to new stunning discoveries that Jesus may have had female disciples? For the sake of discussion, I will assume the fragment’s authenticity (see skeptical article).

A In order to put things in perspective, we must look at the date of the text The fragment is roughly dated to the 4th Century (300s) and written in Coptic. Dr. King believes that it was initially written in Greek and may have been written as early as the late 2nd Century. So, this means that this fragment is from a book or scroll that was at best written 50-70+ years after the Gospels in the Bible were written and (if we give a 150 CE date), 120 years after Jesus’ time on earth. So, it is highly unlikely that this fragment would tell us anything about the Historical Jesus or his disciples. Dr. King, rightly emphasizes that point. This is a fairly uncontroversial position, as both scholars who trust the New Testament as the Word of God (Ben Witherington, see NBC article above), and those who believe we cannot ascertain any accurate picture of the historical Jesus out of the New Testament (see April Deconick [3]) , believe that this document does not shed any new light on Jesus’ life or status from 4BCE-34CE.

B So, what does this tell us? If anything, it is evidence that a group of Christians possibly believed that Jesus was married. Is this the only text that hints at this possibility? No, but it is one of the few. The most popular and most significant is the Gospel of Philip, where Mary of Magdala is referred to as his companion that He kisses on the mouth (a scholar, Dr. Deconick, who specializes in the Gnostic Gospels, indicates that Valentinian Christians held a view of a married Jesus. While she personally believes Jesus was married, she admits that the new fragment, as well as any gospel we have cannot lead us to that conclusion or vice versa on purely historical grounds). The Gospel of Philip, nor our fragment can get us closer to understanding the historical Jesus. Yet, Philip and the new fragment can provide insight into communities that existed within the late Second and early Third Centuries. If one assumes that the reference to “my wife” was literal and does not involve any theological or mystical metaphors, it can indicate that Jesus’ marital status was a topic of discussion and theological debate. However, we need to proceed with caution and not read too much into the text or the author/community it came from. The author is unknown, the place or origin is unknown, and we do not know what community or group produced it.  While it may seem easy to place it in the collection found at the Nag Hammadi library in the early 20th Century, we cannot responsibly make that assumption with the data in hand.

Also, what exactly does the text say?

As per the article from the Christian Post, the text reads

• “not [to] me. My mother gave to me li[fe…”
• “The disciples said to Jesus,”
• “deny. Mary is 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”

Unfortunately, this does not tell us much. As mentioned briefly above, it may fit into Valentinian thought with a huge dose of Gnostic influence. However, we cannot asset that solely from the text itself. We cannot, as far as I can recognize, gather gnostic spirituality from this either. Some have suggested that “my wife” refers to the church ( see overview in 4), since the church is often referred to as Jesus’ bride (I don’t hold much stock in that viewpoint, but the lack of data we have cannot eliminate that theory however unlikely or likely it is). It also cannot tell us if Jesus’ bride is Mary of Magdala, Jesus’ “companion” in the Gospel of Philip.
C. Finally, I wanted to look at the last question regarding the discovery’s significant. Does this fragment add anything new to the status of women among Jesus and his disciples. Does it suggest that Jesus had female disciples? Regarding the historical Jesus, this passage does not really give us much regarding his followers in 30 CE. It may indicate that the discussion was more lively regarding the role of women in the late second sentury, but it adds nothing new. I don’t believe that this passage suggests that Jesus had female disciples, but it doesn’t have to, The Gospel of Luke already implies it.
 Jesus had disciples that were not part of “the Twelve.” While it would be controversial to say that Mary was part of the twelve, it is not at all that daring to say that she was a disciple (conservative Christian scholars affirm this ie. Bauckham). In Richard Bauckham’s book, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, he suggests that the internal evidence in the Gospel of Luke points not only toward female discipleship, but by use of inclusio, the possibility that Mary was a key witness and major source in the composition of that gospel (See my earlier post on this topic). Again, this is a conservative-leaning Christian scholar, not a progressive-liberal Christian thinker.
In conclusion, what does this new Fragment tell us? Probably nothing about the historical Jesus, not much (or nothing new) about his inclusion and selection of disciples, and it cannot tell us much about the specific community it came from. However, it can give us insight and confidence that there was a group out there (possibly the Valentinian Christians) that believed Jesus had a wife.  Unfortunately by using this fragment alone, we cannot honestly go much further without spinning into conjecture. The group may have been addressing theological and social topics such as Christian Sexuality, whether it was better to be single vs married , etc (1). It is still too difficult to gain specifics like that solely on the data we have without reconstructing too much on our own. Regardless, it is an exciting discovery even if it is not as sensational as some would like to believe. Now it’s time to wait for the peer review process.
1. Goodstein, Laurie. “Historian Says Piece of Papyrus Refers to Jesus’ Wife.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 19 Sept. 2012. Web. 20 Sept. 2012. <http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/19/us/historian-says-piece-of-papyrus-refers-to-jesus-wife.html?pagewanted=all&gt;.
2. Cooper, Kate. “‘Wife of Jesus’ Reference in Coptic 4th Century Script.” BBC News. BBC, 19 Sept. 2012. Web. 20 Sept. 2012. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-19645273&gt;
3.Deconick, April. “The Forbidden Gospels.” : Did Jesus Have a Wife? N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Sept. 2012. http://forbiddengospels.blogspot.com/2012/09/did-jesus-have-wife.html.  (She does not explicitly state that the use of the fragment does not shed light on the Historical Jesus, but her final paragraph explaining the use of the New Testament implies it. {Dr. Deconick, if you happen upon this site and I have interpreted you incorrectly, please let me know}
4. Boyle, Alan. “Reality Check on Jesus and His ‘wife'” Cosmic Log. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Sept. 2012. <http://cosmiclog.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/09/18/13945001-reality-check-on-jesus-and-his-wife?lite

Congress Fails at yet another Bi-Partisan Effort


 

The other day, a bipartisan effort failed when Democrats and Republicans attempted to play a game of baseball. The Democrats refused to start the game until the Republicans agreed to play by National-League rules.

Senator Chuck Schumer claimed, “The Designated Hitter is one of the saddest exemptions we have in today’s society. The Republicans claim that it raises the average run total per game, but it does not change the fact that injustices are riddled throughout their corrupt system.” Pelosi added,  “The Designated Hitter is allowed to hit, but does not have to play out in the field like everyone else! The system isn’t supposed to work that way. If you bat, you need to play the field! He shouldn’t get a break because he produces more runs, or totals more hits than everyone else. That line of thinking is ridiculous.”

 

The Republicans responded by saying that the Designated Hitter pays his dues already by batting, and shouldn’t be subject to unnecessary fielding requirements. Speaker Boehner exclaimed, “If we have a place for a designated hitter, he should have the right to choose whether he plays the field or not. We maximize our team, and the game overall by doing that.” Governor Romney concurred, “They say the DH needs to play out in the field if he’s going to bat? Adding a government mandate to that is not fair to the player. They’re just jealous of the Designated Hitter’s success.”

Ron Paul also mentioned that he is not playing either and claimed that both sides have it wrong.


Occupy DC on Strike!


Some disturbing news came out of DC today, the Occupy movement declared that they are on strike. The Official Statement came out this morning.

“We are sick of representing the 99% without adequate compensation. We pitch our tents, we hold clever signs, and we emphatically sit down for 9 hours a day without the usual luxuries the rest of the 99% enjoys every day. No more! No more are we, the willing one percent of the 99%,  going to occupy your streets for your benefit. From here on, we are officially on strike and will demonstrate as such!”

We even caught some word from an anonymous ninety-nine percenter that a Union is in the works. “We should’ve known all along, you can’t just expect to Occupy Wall Street or DC without some worker protection. I’ve been out here for six months, and haven’t received a damn thing.”

Unfortunately new “Strike Against Occupy” movement’s goals are about as vague as the Occupy Movement’s. This worries Occupy Wall Street, because there is no clear way for them to end Strike Against Occupy’s occupation-protest and persuade them to occupy for the right reasons.

There is some concern that the average individual will not be able to differentiate the new Strike Against Occupy protest from the Occupy movement itself. “Somehow we have to distinguish that we are the one percent of the 99% that is fighting the other one percent,” says David Higgins. A few have rearranged their tents into the shape of a hexagon, but the spirited symbolic gesture has gone largely unnoticed.

We do not know how this will turn out, but now the 99% has two percents to worry about


Exploding Cars and Point of View


Finally Friday! It was not just any Friday, it was the Friday former apartment Fry C302  had anticipated for about five months. Our ultimate destination was Long Island, New York but Jason and I were going to stop in Philly to break up the trip.  I picked him up around 9:30 PM in Baltimore and we began our journey. Per the usual we discussed everything from girls, to politics, to sports and reminisced on those nostalgic moments that made college so great.

During one of our conversations I noticed a SUV fly past the passenger side in the middle lane. When he made it about three car lengths in front, the back of the vehicle started to shake and entered a fish tail. It then launched perpendicularly into the guard rail and all the lights on the car went black.

“They’re dead…” I thought immediately as I broke anticipating any debris that might ricochet back into traffic.

“Pull Over!” Jason yelled from the passenger seat. I started to pull to the left shoulder, but realized the stupidity of my decision and moved over to the right shoulder as soon as I could. Unfortunately a car in the right lane prevented us from getting over as quickly as we wanted placing us further away from the wrecked vehicle. Jason bolted out of the car and ran back towards the severe accident. I opened my door and braced myself against the car as I realized how close we were to traffic whizzing by. I restarted my car and pulled closer to the rail hoping that our car would not lead to a second wreck.

I’m not sure if it was the fact that I saw other cars pulled over, or that I knew Jason was already down the road, but I wasn’t moving as fast as I’d like. The smoke from the car became thicker, indicating that something was burning. I walked over, preparing myself mentally to see a mangled, decapitated, or impaled form of the human body caused by the vicious crash.  I picked up the pace a little bit realizing that Jason would definitely pull people out if need be, and ultimately I’d need to jump in too if the situation called for it. A little ominous glow rose above the car, signally to everyone around that the passengers inside had to get out.
Luckily, by the time I arrived at the vehicle, the wounded driver (we’ll name him David for now) and fairly unharmed passenger had been pulled out by another bystander prior to either Jason’s or my arrival. The individual that pulled the victims from the car passed the David off to Jason. Blood ran down both sides of his face as he looked up dazed, unsure of what was happening. He only knew that something about 50 ft. to his left was emitting a very, very bright light. We could tell his chest was causing him immense pain as he held on to it, attempting fruitlessly to ease the sensation.  Jason sat him up on the guard rail, and the other passenger from the vehicle held David in a constant embrace, not letting him tilt in any direction.

Jason, myself, and a few other bystanders who pulled over tried to make some conversation to ease the tension and keep David awake (he had an obvious concussion). We were also shocked. As bad as David appeared, he looked better than he should’ve. I was sure no one survived the accident, so anything short of death was incredible.

A few painstakingly long moments passed as we waited for the arrival of the police and EMTs. Jason then looked at me and asked, “Is this really happening?” It was surreal. The car at this point was completely engulfed in flames. A few seconds later, we heard the final pops as the flames reached the gas tank, causing a small, but still startling explosion on the side of I-95. Everyone there was thrilled that these two individuals were on the side of the road, and out of the vehicle.

Minutes later, one of David’s friends showed up at the scene (yes, he beat the cops and EMTs). This was possibly the most difficult part of the evening. The friend (we’ll name him Joseph) ran up frenetically and in a panicked, desperate voice, he cried, “What happened man?!” He repeated those words over and over for awhile, pausing occasionally to look over David’s wounded and bloodied body. Joseph’s world crashed to the ground harder than his David’s car hit the guard rail. I had to look away and gaze back at the burning remains of the vehicle. It was almost too difficult to look at Joseph’s reaction to the entire thing. For some reason, there seemed like a bit of guilt in his voice. I have no basis for understanding why, but Jason sensed the same thing.

That was one of the many things that stuck with me from that night. It wasn’t just the honesty of his reaction, but the contrast from ours. Of course we didn’t know David, but I think there was another major factor at play. For those of us who saw the accident, David was in relatively great shape. I was expecting to come across a corpse, or at least something very close to it. When I saw him assisted to the guard rail, it was a huge relief. It was almost as if David was resurrected in my own mind.

Joseph did not witness the accident, so he could only compare David’s current state with his normal, unharmed state. This, along with all of our collective adrenaline rushes caused us to experience this I-95 scene differently. I’m not sure if Joseph will ever know just how lucky he was to see David in the state he did. Probably best he never does.

In the end both of our perspectives reflected a shared consensus on just how precious life is. Jason and I saw a life almost taken away, so behind all the wounds remained a preserved, and delicate life. Joseph missed the accident, but saw the evidence of how close he was to never seeing his friend again.


The Stain of the Oppressor


A couple days ago I started Miroslav Volf’s excellent “The End of Memory.” In it, he examines the philosophical, theological, psychological, and sociological elements of memory, and in particular, “remembering rightly.” In this, he is primarily concerned with “remembering rightly” when you are the recipient of a wrongdoing. Can we remember in a way where both justice and reconciliation are possible? Can we remember in a way where the oppressed do not turn around and become the oppressor? Can we remember truthfully in order to pursue reconciliation?

I’m only three chapters in, so I cannot give a full exposition, but one quote in particular is worth pondering. After attending school in the United States and marrying an American woman, Volf returned to his home of Yugoslavia for his mandatory military service. His education, new wife, and pacifistic views proved an incredible obstacle to the strict socialist state under the reign of Tito.

During the year 1984, he went through endless interrogations at the hands of a Captain G. These Kafkaesque (think The Trial) interrogations were essentially sessions of psychological and emotional abuse that caused Volf a great deal of pain. However, he tries to remember the situation as truthfully as possible. It’d be way too easy to make Captain G more of a villain than he was. Volf could add physical abuse to the story, or even intensify the emotional damage done. He could also de-contextualize Captain G. By this, I mean remove him from his surroundings.

Captain G was a military leader, but still a cog in the system, of a strict military under an oppressive socialist state and leader. While what Captain G did was wrong, he was also following orders. If Captain G was interrogating and abusing Miroslav Volf on his own for fun, with no pressures coming from the state or society, he is considerably more culpable than a Captain merely following orders. While the results are the ultimately the same, the true picture of Captain G is important. If Volf incorrectly remembers (or more accurately imagines) Captain G as a sadistic abuser acting as an independent agent, he his placing more blame than necessary on his oppressor. When this occurs, there is a chance that the roles of oppressed and oppressor will reverse.

In thinking through all this, Volf makes a penetrating statement, “In memory, a wrongdoing often does not remain an isolated stain on the character of the one who committed it; it spreads over and colors his entire character. Must I not try to contain that spreading with regard to Captain G’s wrongdoing?”

While many of us cannot directly relate to Volf’s experience, or to that of a holocaust survivor facing the same questions with regarding, “how do I remember and deal with my past victimization?” We can easily apply the above quote to our lives. It is very easy to look at someone who hurt us and define them by the deed. If someone lies to me in a way that cuts deeply, I will most likely forget the positive qualities he or she has. This individual ceases, and becomes a liar. It is an easy thing to do. It’s harder to view a person who hurts us, and remember them in context of all the virtues they possess. Demonizing and casting more blame on an individual than he or she deserves perpetuates the wrongdoing.

“To triumph fully, evil needs two victories, not one. The first victory happens when an evil deed is perpetrated; the second victory, when evil is returned…. in my own situation, I could do nothing about the first victory of evil, but I could prevent the second.”  Volf (p.9)

Thoughts?


Don’t let your ____ define you!


A couple years ago I had what many people describe as a “crisis of faith.” I questioned everything I believed and seriously wrestled with my worldview. There were certain nights in particular where I pretty much accepted the idea that this reality was it. There was no god, no resurrection, no redemption, no purpose, nothing. This line of thinking was particularly difficult. Many of you know I have mild cerebral palsy and I also accumulate every possible overuse-injury imaginable. If I were to follow the purposelessness thinking to its full extent, that meant that the surgeries and all the pain I’d faced at the time had no ultimate redeemable value. That also meant that anything I’d face in the future was fairly meaningless as well. That reality was a disturbing thought, but I’d much rather live with a disturbing thought if it’s true, than delude myself with a fantasy.

So my search for truth continued. Some days I was warmer to Christianity than others, but the first part of C.S. Lewis’ quote from Christian Reflections held true, “Believe in God and you will have to face hours when it seems obvious that this material world is the only reality…” In the midst of this season of extreme doubt, I was still involved in the church. This brought obvious inner-tension. How could I volunteer, or serve the God whose existence I question? It didn’t help that I over-thought everything and used every waking moment analyzing, reading on, and wrestling with my doubt. I wasn’t just looking at the specific areas I was doubting, but also this “weakness” of mine. Why did I doubt when my other friends don’t? Why do I think the way I do?

All of this led me to grab coffee with one of my friend’s pastors. He gave me the best piece of advice I’ve ever received (maybe a tad bit hyperbolic, but you get it). He told me, “Don’t let your doubt define you!” The phrase on its own is relatively self-explanatory, but he expounded a bit more. “You have quite a few flaws, struggles, and quirks, why are you letting one thing you struggle with define who you are as an individual?” He had a good point. The idea in the specific situation was that I could not let my little existential crisis define me and prevent me from accomplishing things I wanted to achieve. This did not mean I should just shove my problem under a rug and forget about it. On the contrary, I needed to read up, examine my doubts, and pursue the search for truth. However, in the process I could not let that define who I was.

I’ve learned that the little phrase applies to much more. As I’ve lived a little longer and encountered new struggles I’ve had to quote, and re-quote that same little line. “Don’t let your ____ define you!” Some days it is particularly difficult look at yourself beyond the lens of a struggle, flaw or trouble you are facing. Instead of saying, “I am John Smith,” the thought “I’m a failed-spouse” or “I’m an addict” dominates.

I am not someone who can claim victory over this particular issue. Many days I have to look beyond a situation and tell myself, “don’t let it define you!” I still have to fight the problem, and work to fix it but I cannot let it get in the way of who I want to be. Sometimes it’s easy to say, “someday when things get better, I’ll achieve, pursue, or put my effort into ____.” What happens when someday never comes? What if it won’t come until you move beyond a pigeonholed definition of yourself? I only write this as advice because it is some of the best that I’ve heard. I also have to repeat this little lesson to myself. I don’t know who reads these posts, but if anything actually clicked with anybody, I’m praying with you tonight!


Interesting Graphic on Evolution and Creationism


 

BioLogos produced this graphic the other week. Interesting and worth a look.

 


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