Becky Bratu of NBC News uses the flap over the dubious “Jesus’ Wife” fragment as the springboard for the question: What’s wrong with the idea that Jesus was married?
And what follows is anything but pretty; you get the feeling that, having “dumbed down” the technical issues for the non-specialists in the audience, the experts left themselves with equally dumb responses. Either that, or they all learned their material from non-Christians who had themselves forgotten the historical, traditional Christian beliefs after years of reading Jesus Seminar-style deconstruction.
Before going further, I need to reinforce something I wrote last week in The Impractical Catholic: The most misleading aspect of the “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife”, which yesterday the Vatican authoritatively rejected as a “clumsy forgery”, is the common representation (even among some of the detractors) that the Gnostics were a Christian sect. The people referred to by scholars as “Gnostic Christians” — a phrase as self-contradicting as “pastel green redness” or “masculine womanliness” — were Gnostics who had adopted characters and terms from the Christian story and crammed them into the Gnostic cosmology.
Cosmology, in a sense, drives theology. The differences aren’t just that the Gnostics liked women and Christians didn’t (which is a false distinction anyway); in the Gnostic universe, the Creator is a demiurge, a lesser emanation of the real First Principle, and a bit of a fool for not recognizing it. Jesus is not human at all, but rather another demiurge who can put his humanity off at any time, like a cheap costume: no hypostasis here. Because the cosmos of the Gnostics is built differently from that of the Christians (and the first-century Jews from whence they came), any similarities between the two are purely on the surface.
So we’re constantly presented with a select few scholars, who may or may not accept the fragment, but who ought to know better than to speak of “Gnostic Christians” without some minimal background information such as I’ve provided. Yet not only do they fail to make this background available, they present the Gnostics as “alternative” Christians who were supposedly arguing a theological point with other Christians — a second-century Diet of Worms. Why? What’s to be gained from blurring the boundaries?
This is where Bratu and “‘Too holy’ for sex? The problem of a married Jesus” come into play. First, she quotes James Tabor of UNC-Charlotte, whose works include The Jesus Dynasty: The Hidden History of Jesus, His Royal Family, and the Birth of Christianity, The Jesus Discovery: The Resurrection Tomb that Reveals the Birth of Christianity, and The Secret Legacy of Jesus: The Judaic Teachings That Passed from James the Just to the Founding Fathers. [Nope, no agenda here!]
Tabor snorts, “I would say that the more conservative groups might be more inclined to be bothered by the idea of a married Jesus, and especially that he might have had a child, god forbid, since that would really raise questions about his ‘divinity,’ since they see him as fully human and fully God. ... Can God sleep with a woman and have a child? It just doesn’t fit the concept they want for Jesus.” [Nice sideswipe at the Incarnation! If Tabor hasn’t stopped being a Christian, he does a very good impression of a secularist.]
How would Jesus being a family guy change things? “Maybe it makes him more human for us,” Tabor said. Hold on to that thought; we’ll come back to it.
Then we have April DeConick, author of Holy Misogyny [ALERT! ALERT! ON COLLISION COURSE WITH POLITICAL AGENDA!], who claims the “Jesus’ Wife” fragment would be “the second piece of evidence from an ancient Christian gospel that early Christians were not bothered by the idea of a married Jesus.” The other piece is from the Gnostic Gospel of Philip, so we’re still waiting on the first piece of evidence to come from a real Christian source. “We have so many hundreds of years of an understanding of sexuality that in some way sex is not divine, it’s not sacred,” DeConick said. “It’s going to be a long hard road for people to see a figure that they think is god as being engaged in a sexual activity — even with a wife.”
DeConick, of course, doesn’t explain why a God who is, was and ever shall be, who being perfect is in want of nothing, who pulls entire cosmoi into being with His spoken flipping Word!, would need to get His Freak on (and don’t you just love how she says, “… even with a wife,” as if it were a second-best option?). Just as Tabor doesn’t explain how Jesus — who ate when he was hungry, drank when he was thirsty, stank when he labored for a full day, slept when he was tired, wept when he grieved, whupped some moneychanger a$$ when he was angry and most likely screamed in agony when his back was beaten into ribbons — is somehow less human than any of us for not having had a wife and kids.
The Greeks and Romans had gods and goddesses who slept around. So did the Irish. As far as I can tell, none of them respected their gods more for being randy than the Jews did their God who demanded sexual restraint. Neither did they really succeed in making sex divine; indeed, the single most important religious figures in Rome were the Vestal Virgins.
DeConick is free to light a candle for Aphrodite, I suppose, even though her chambers are barren and her temple is wasted. Yet sex only approaches the divine when it’s treated as it ought to be — as Man’s participation in God’s Act of creation. Then it becomes not only sacramental but Sacrament: marriage. Treated any other way, it quickly becomes either mundane or demonic.
As for Tabor, his problem isn’t Jesus’ lack of humanity but his possession of deity. (As they say in theological circles, “By their ‘Lives of Jesus’ you will know them.”) You can’t prove he didn’t perform miracles; you can’t prove he didn’t rise from the dead. But if you can prove Jesus got himself some tail, that would fix those bothersome Christians once and for all, wouldn’t it?