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Jesus Had a Wife?


 Will many women feel affirmed by the possibility that Jesus had a wife, or will it elicit an intense, conservative reaction?

What a coincidence that a papyrus referring to the “wife” of Jesus would, after about 1,600 years in oblivion, surface two months before the election. But what does it mean?

This is so complicated that, lacking psychological credentials, I hesitate to address it. However, one has to agree that the issue is amazingly provocative.

For one thing, the feminine vote is critical to both presidential candidates, and we’re all wondering whether promoting empowerment will win more votes than invoking a religious tradition of subservience. Will many women feel affirmed by the possibility that Jesus had a wife, or will it elicit an intense, conservative reaction?

And the issue will brighten the glaring spotlight already on the Catholic Church. The tradition of celibacy among the priesthood and nuns was established in the belief that Jesus himself was celibate. What if he wasn’t?

The nunnery was once a good way for women to escape an unwelcome arranged marriage. As well, there has probably been a feminine spiritual fantasy afoot about being a “bride of Christ.” After all, he was rendered in art with aristocratic features and auburn curls, radiating a quality of kindness and respect that would be enormously appealing. If he had an actual wife–well, moral and ethical issues would surface. Have the sisters unwittingly served in a spiritual ménage à trois all these years?

And then I have to ask myself, even though I am not religious, “Do you want Jesus to have had a wife?” It’s complicated, isn’t it? I mean relationships are complicated and detract from the energy that would have been needed to transform the collective conscious. I admire focus. And then this competitive instinct rolls down through the ages. Jesus may have been the best man who has ever lived, so what did this wife have that I might not? I bet I wouldn’t like her if I met her.

To complicate matters, the masculine voice has already intruded to say, “This is all about me.” A Jesuit priest has had commentary published in The New York Times. He raises the question: Would he cease to be chaste if Jesus was married?

Did I ask?

“No,” he responds to his inner inquiry. He would not abandon his vows of chastity.

I am suspicious. Maybe he found the Church a comfortable place to live out the lack of desire. I once thought that priests beat themselves with horse whips to still the yearning for feminine flesh. Actually, I wanted to think that. Another illusion has fallen by the wayside. I am irritated.

So this little piece of papyrus is really messing us all up. It would be easy to hang dismay on the feminine, the current stand-in for Eve being Professor Karen King of Harvard Divinity School, who presented the papyrus at an international congress on Coptic studies in Rome. However, she didn’t organize the congress and probably wasn’t even thinking about the way it might affect the U.S. election.

So how will it shake out? Forget all the feminist overtones and the fact that older, better authenticated documents make no mention of a troubling wife. What we can trust is that this disturbing piece of papyrus is tiny because the original owner–probably long dead–cut up the entire document to maximize his profit in selling it piecemeal. This we understand, because we admire innovative ways of making money and then using it to get what you want. I don’t know, but maybe the amount of money invested in this election will be more important to the outcome than Jesus’ marital status.


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