Recently a fragment of papyrus was presented to a conference in Rome, in which Jesus is reported as speaking about his wife. The fragment, written in Coptic, the language of ancient Egypt, is small and hard to read. Elsewhere in the fragment the name Mary is mentioned, but that could refer to either Mary Magdalene or Jesus' mother. So is this evidence that Jesus was married? Karen King, who presented it, does not think that it is evidence, as she believes that it is a late composition, probably from the fourth century, so it is not a document from Jesus' time.
The fragment itself is limited as evidence? Is it genuine? Probably not. Professor Francis Watson of Durham University thinks that it is a modern forgery. His grounds for thinking this are that the text seems to be taken from a variety of early Christian documents, one of which is the gospel of Thomas, an early text. Furthermore, he detects a line break at exactly where a line break occurs in a modern copy of the Gospel of Thomas. For this reason he believes that the text is forged, though he is yet to be fully certain.[Catholic Herald 28Sept 2012]
Yet the issue of Jesus' marriage will not go away. Occasionally we hear talk of Jesus' being wed to Mary Magdalene. What is the evidence in favour of this claim? John's Gospel tells of how when Mary met him after the resurrection she made as if to touch him, which suggests that she was used to physical familiarity with Jesus, [John 20:18.] The Gnostic gospel of Philip, a late text not deriving from Jesus' time, speaks of Mary as enjoying physical intimacy with Jesus, often kissing him on the lips. [The Gnostic Gospels, Elaine Pagels, Weidenfield and Nicholson 1979, p64.] This gospel is familar to us through the Nag Hammadi texts, a collection of papyrus documents and fragments found in Egypt. It dates from the third century A.D, so it is not as old as the four canonical gospels. This text has been criticised on the grounds that the Gnostics were promoting Mary as a rival to the apostles, and thus grounding their teachings in the testimony of one closer to Jesus than they were. Clearly, as the church was basing its testimony on the witness of the closest companions of Jesus, a good polemical tactic was to find the testimony of someone closer than they were.
There is also the fact that Jesus was often called rabbi by those who addressed him, and it is the case that Jewish rabbis are supposed to be married. In this case Jesus should have been married to someone, probably from an early age, otherwise he could not have qualified as a rabbi.
On the other hand, the evidence against is strong. The earliest Christian writings are the letters of Paul, and later on the synoptic gospels. They never mention Jesus' having had a wife. The oral tradition of the Christian community never speaks of Jesus as being married. Talk of his marriage comes from quite late. The tradition that he married Mary Magdalene and went to live in Gaul, modern France, is a mediaeval legend intended to prove that the ruling dynasty of France, then the Merovingians, were descended from Jesus and therefore had special legitimacy. Serious scholars discount it.
Furthermore, it is quite possible that Jesus had a close relationship with the Qumran community of the Dead Sea scrolls. Consider, he was a rabbi, but he does not seem to have attended an orthodox rabbinical school, so he may have studied at a less orthodox Jewish site, such as Qumran. At Qumran there was a tradition of celibacy for the spiritual elite, those who could handle it. Thus it is possible that if Jesus had been a member of the Qumran community and part of its spiritual elite, he was a celibate.Certainly, if he was married there is no mention of his having had any children.
The gospels speak of Mary Magdalene belonging to a group of woman who provided for Jesus from their personal wealth and ministered to him. This is significant, as if Jesus was married to Mary, she and her wealth would have legally become his property, but the gospel speaks of it as hers, [Luke 8:1-3.]Certainly they do not identify her as anything other than a member of Jesus' personal band of friends.
Ultimately, we can never have certainty about the past. The weight of evidence seems to favour the earliest texts, which are the canonical gospels, and these do not provide any evidence of Jesus' marriage Thus it is unlikely that Jesus was married, but there remains a theoretical possibility that he was.
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