It was as predictable as the old adage — “It’s just a piece of paper” — professed by opponents of marriage since the first marriage license was issued in the Middle Ages. As reported Friday by CNN, L’Osservatore Romano — editor-in-chief for the Vatican’s newspaper, Gian Maria Vian – has proclaimed the little fragment of papyrus, which contradicts the long-held Christian belief that Jesus was celibate, to be “a fake.”
“Substantial reasons would lead us to conclude that the papyrus is actually a clumsy counterfeit,” Romano wrote in the paper’s Friday editorial.
In other words, in any case it is a fake.
Elisabetta Povoledo of The New York Times wrote Friday that the Vatican described the revelation as “problematic and controversial,” and most likely a fake.
The findings in the contentious little 1.5 by 3-inch honey-colored papyrus fragment — known otherwise as “The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife” — were announced in Rome earlier this month by Harvard Divinity School professor Karen King at the International Association for Coptic Studies.
The most controversial of King’s translations suggests that Jesus was married.
“Jesus said to them, ‘My wife…’”
“she will be able to be my disciple.”
“As for me I will dwell with her in order to…”
While certainly controversial, the text “does not, however, provide evidence that the historical Jesus was married,” King wrote in a draft of her analysis of the fragment, set to appear in the January edition of Harvard Theological Review.
“This fragment, this new piece of papyrus evidence, does not prove that (Jesus) was married, nor does it prove that he was not married” King clarified during a conference call with reporters earlier in the month. “The earliest reliable historical tradition is completely silent on that.”
Alongside L’Osservatore Romano’s editorial, Povoledo further wrote that Coptic scholar, Alberto Camplani — one of the conference organizers — took issue with King’s translation of the text in his own article because other ancient sources make no mention of Jesus’ marital status.
However, that is not entirely true.
Francis Watson, a New Testament scholar at Durham University in England, argued in his Sept. 20 analysis – “The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife: How a fake Gospel-Fragment was composed” — that “the text” is “fake” because it “has been constructed out of small pieces – words or phrases – culled from the Coptic Gospel of Thomas.
That text, known as The Gospel of Thomas,” was discovered in Nag Hammadi, Egypt, in 1945 among a cache of ancient manuscripts thought to have been written by early Christians known as Gnostics.
In an exchange with Jesus, transcribed in the Gospel of Thomas and shared by The Gnostic Society Library, Simon Peter said:
Make Mary leave us, for females don’t deserve life.
Jesus said, “Look, I will guide her to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every female who makes herself male will enter the domain of Heaven.” (114:1-3)
“Strange as it sounds,” wrote Elaine Pagels in “The Gnostic Gospels” in 1979, this simply states what religious rhetoric assumes: that the men form the legitimate body of the community, while women are allowed to participate only when they assimilate themselves to men.”
Then there is the Gospel of Mary, which was discovered in a Coptic codex in 1896. Two other small fragments – written in Greek — were found at Oxyrhynchus in Northern Egypt.
While the Gospel of Mary is not claimed to be written by Mary Magdalene, she is the prominent figure throughout. In one passage, Christ’s male apostles plead for Magdalene to teach them her special knowledge of Christ’s teachings.
Peter said to Mary, Sister we know that the Savior loved you more than the rest of woman. Tell us the words of the Savior which you remember which you know, but we do not, nor have we heard them. (Chapter 5:2-6)
After she shares her insights, Peter’s inquisitive demeanor appears to shift to jealousy.
Did He really speak privately with a woman and not openly to us?” Peter asks the other disciples. “Are we to turn about and all listen to her? Did He prefer her to us?
“My brother Peter,” Mary responds weeping, “what do you think? Do you think that I have thought this up myself in my heart, or that I am lying about the Savior?”
“Peter you have always been hot tempered,” the disciple named Levi told Peter.
“Now I see you contending against the woman like the adversaries. But if the Savior made her worthy, who are you indeed to reject her? Surely the Savior knows her very well. That is why He loved her more than us. Rather let us be ashamed and put on the perfect Man, and separate as He commanded us and preach the gospel, not laying down any other rule or other law beyond what the Savior said. And when they heard this they began to go forth to proclaim and to preach. (Chapter 9, 4-10)
Another provocative passage regarding Magdalene can be found in the Gospel of Phillip, also part of the Nag Hammadi find.
And the companion of the […] Mary Magdalene. […] loved her more than all the disciples, and used to kiss her often on her mouth.
In this Gospel, the disciples question Jesus directly about his relationship with Magdalene.
Why do you love her more than all of us?” The Savior answered and said to them: “Why do I not love you like her? When a blind man and one who sees are both together in darkness, they are no different from one another. When the light comes, then he who sees will see the light, and he who is blind will remain in darkness.
Also written in the Gospel of Philip is the description that, “it is by a kiss that the perfect conceive and give birth” and “for this reason we also kiss one another.”
According to Wednesday’s account by The Catholic World Report, this latest revelation that Jesus was married has Christians is such a frenzy they have abandoned their loving virtues and turned to violence.
Government officials have tried to control the riots and calm the spreading chaos through a series of colorful television commercials (featuring hand puppets and felt banners) urging Christians to “be nice” and to “remember that hate is not a family value.”
Even so, this is not the first time that the hypothesis that Jesus was married to Magdalene has sent Christians into hysterics and ruffled the robes of Catholic leaders.
“The Da Vinci Code” – written by Dan Brown in 2003 and translated into film in 2006 by director Ron Howard — enraged Christians by suggesting that Jesus and Magdalene were married and had a child.
Martin Scorsese’s 1988 adaptation of a book written by Nikos Kazantzakis — “The Last Temptation of Christ” — was labeled as blasphemous for daring to include a scene where Christ – while dying on the cross — hallucinated that he was not only married to Magdalene but made love to her.
As for the latest revelation that Jesus had a “wife,” The New York Times further reported that Camplani expressed skepticism over the authenticity of the papyrus because it had been found on the antiquarian market and not through a dig.
“Such an object demands that numerous precautions be taken to establish its reliability and exclude the possibility of forgery,” he wrote.
Evidently, King agrees. She “has arranged to have the chemical composition of the ink tested by the Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies at Harvard in mid-October.”
In the meantime, we wait.
So, was Jesus married or not? Does it matter – or not?
Either way, it’s worthy to note that — while the Catholic Church has no problem proclaiming the famed Shroud of Turin to be “an important tool for faith regardless of its authenticity,” as CNN reported two years ago when Pope Benedict XVI knelt and prayed before the iconic relic – the hierarchy of this male-dominated club of “faith” was curiously fast in banding together to dismiss that “problematic and controversial” little fragment of papyrus as “just a piece of paper.”