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The Gospel of Jesus’

Celibacy has been an honoured vocation in Christianity but it has in the meantime created a mystery surrounding the marital state of Jesus. Frank Gelli explores this mystery


id Jesus have a wife? Five years ago a tiny papyrus scrap in the Coptic language appeared to suggest he did. It bore the incomplete words: ‘Jesus said to them, my wife…’ Bit of a bombshell. The canonical Gospels do not refer to a Messiah’s spouse, nor do indeed the other New Testament writings. The multifarious Gnostic texts that are known to us, as well as ancient Jewish polemicists, which might have had a mischievous interest in mentioning such a person, also are silent about a Mrs Jesus of Nazareth. Needless to say, the traditions of the Christian Church have maintained hitherto that Jesus was unmarried. What to make of the papyrus’ claim? Harvard Professor Karen King, addressing a conference in Rome, gleefully nicknamed the find ‘The Gospel of Jesus’ wife’. A feminist, she rejoiced in the supposed setback to a certain Christian ideal of celibacy as superior to the married life. The Council of Trent had actually issued an anathema against those who held the contrary. Although the Catholic Church no longer teaches that, the impression that sexuality and holiness may be difficult to reconcile still holds sway in some quarters. Regardless, the Vatican called the papyrus a forgery. Radiocarbon dating cast doubt on the find’s authenticity. A scholar thought it absurd that in the text the words ‘My wife’ are written in bold type as if to


January 2018

emphasise the meaning. Karen King herself later admitted the papyrus was of spurious origins. However, the challenge remains: was Jesus married? And, if not, why not? First, nowhere does the New Testament state that Jesus was unmarried. Hence the argument that he had no wife is an argument from silence. A notoriously weak type of reasoning. Nonetheless, if the lucky lady ever existed, she must have kept a very low profile for having escaped notice so thoroughly. It won’t do to argue that the early Church covered up the evidence. The Gospels, for example, do refer to Jesus’ brothers and sisters. On the face of it, a difficulty for the Christian belief in Jesus being God’s only son. Yet, the reference was not omitted. Nor was the embarrassing assertion of Jesus’ relatives that ‘he is beside himself’. Such passages prove

that, had Jesus had a consort, the Gospel writers could have mentioned her, however unpalatable the idea. Similarly, they undermine the quirky claims of novelists like Dan Brown, author of the entertaining Da Vinci Code, according to which the Messiah’s wife had been doctored out of history by scheming male clergy. It may also be worth pointing out that Jesus appears several times in the Qur’an, in the narrations (ahadith) and other texts belonging to Islam. They too, as far as I know, never speak of a ‘Jesus’ wife’. Given past theological controversies between our faiths, had there been evidence of such a spouse, why not mention her, to stress the Prophet Isa’s humanity? On the contrary, I learn from a distinguished Islamic scholar that in the Nahjul Balagha, Sermon 160, Imam Ali

Profile for islam today magazine UK

Islam today issue 55 january 2018 web ready  

Islam today issue 55 january 2018 web ready