The latest “big news” in the world of religion is a fragment of papyrus that contains the phrase said to be uttered by Jesus: “my wife.” Another sentence mentions of Mary Magdalene that “she will be able to be my disciple.” There are lots of reasons to be skeptical of the historicity of these statements and I’ll name a few in a minute. But first, let me introduce you to some of the on line reader comments of the NY Times article making the announcement. Each tends to show some important gaps in logic. Each is followed by my comment.
“The first mistake is that Jesus wrote and spoke Aramaic, not Coptic. Jesus did not write this.”
It is very likely that Jesus spoke Aramaic. We don’t know if he knew how to write anything. More important for this debate, nobody claims Jesus wrote the words on this fragment.
“It sounds as if Jesus accepted a female as a disciple, therefore equal to Matthew, Mark, Luke, John.”
“Disciple” means “learner” or “follower.” Jesus had lots of women in this category. “Apostle” is the term referring to the inner circle of twelve. So no big deal. Oh, Luke isn’t an Apostle. He was apparently a traveling companion of Paul, makes no claim to have known Jesus, and is instead one of the four Evangelists.
“This is old news…when they cleaned Da Vinci’s last supper it became clear that sitting at the right hand of Jesus…was not a man but a very beautiful woman.”
“It became clear” to Dan Brown and others, but is not even close to being agreed upon by art or historical scholars. Even if it was so, think: when did Leonardo paint this and what “secret” reference material did he have?
“Of course he was married. Everyone was back then; it was not optional.”
This is a statement with not a shred of historical fact. Not everyone was married, in fact, though marriage was an expectation of a Jewish male, there were exceptions.
“[Jesus] was a rabbi and they were expected to be married.”
Because Jesus was called Rabbi by a follower did not make him an “official” rabbi. He never claims to be one and doesn’t seem to function as one.
Having read dozens and dozens of comments to the article, it seemed clear that many of those commenting had not read the article very well. Even those who may have read it, seemed to have suspended a good portion of their critical thinking ability—perhaps because they don’t understand historical skeptic. Incidentally, Dr. King, who announced the existence of the fragment never said it was proof Jesus was married. In fact, according to the Times, “She repeatedly cautioned that this fragment should not be taken as proof that Jesus, the historical person, was actually married. The text was probably written centuries after Jesus lived, and all other early, historically reliable Christian literature is silent on the question, she said.”
When it was written is an open question. The papyrus is too small to be carbon dated without destroying a big piece and too much ink would need to be scraped off to date it. However, she intends to have it dated using spectroscopy. Another problem is the provenance of the fragment. The owner is unknown, how it was obtained is unknown, and from where and under what circumstances is unknown. All these are issues to be resolved. What they won’t tell us is whether or not Jesus was married—only that some believes, sometime long after he died, where thinking about it.
Be careful when reading novels and new accounts about such things.