Thursday, September 20, 2012

A Coptic papyrus find, recently disclosed by Professor Karen L. King of Harvard (a recognized authority) and widely canvased on the Internet, says that Jesus was married. This idea is certainly not outlandish. 
In the Hebrew Bible, the prophet Jeremiah is the only prominent figure to have been celibate. Jewish tradition strongly encouraged heterosexual marriage, and admonitions in this regard seem to have been widely, if not universally adhered to. In Jesus' time the only significant exception was a subgroup of the Essenes. Despite some claims to the contrary, Jesus was not an Essene, though John the Baptist may have been. 
Some say that if Jesus was married, why isn't his wife mentioned in the New Testament?  This is an argument from silence, and as such not particularly conclusive.  In all likelihood, all or most of the apostles were married, but in only two or three cases is the fact even mentioned.  The names of the wives do not appear.  
As I say, this omission is not probative.  If, however, we extend our purview to the twenty-five or so noncanonical gospels that have come down to us, it is curious that this would be the only one to mention this marital link. Of course, new discoveries are appearing all the time, and it may be that the mention will be duplicated in one of more other members of this category of documents.
 The significance of the new find, which dates from the fourth century, is not that it definitively shows that Jesus was married, but that it allows us to trace the meme that he was much further back than had been previously thought. Up to now the earliest attestation was an ascription to the Cathars in the thirteenth century.
The idea that holiness requires celibacy is an early Christian doctrine that developed as part of the encratite tradition in the fourth century.  Thus it appears that we have two lines of development starting from this period: one emphasizing Jesus' celibacy, the other suggesting that he was married.  


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