Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Was Jesus Married? Discussion point by point

Unexpectedly, some weeks ago I entered into a discussion about whether Jesus was married or not, and if so, could it have been with Mary of Magdala?

I am convinced that the traditional understanding that Jesus was single is very correct. Yet, for the sake of the discussion, and edification of others, I post here, in a nutshell, what I found to be the main related arguments of this topic (as I understand them), and my answers (in scare quotes).

Point 1:
Jesus was a Jewish rabbi and as such it would have been very unexpected that he would not have married. He was expected to marry.  All the rabbinic literature endorses marriages and indeed the Torah command it (Gn 1:22, be fruitful and multiply).
Actually, during the time of Jesus, it was not that uncommon for a Jew to be unmarried. For instance, Paul himself was unmarried (1 Co 7:7). And there is also the group of the Essenes, who were known for their emphasis on celibacy (Josephus, Antiquities; Jewish War; Philo, Hypothetica 11.14-18). [cited here ] Basically, although most Jews were married, some were not. It is possible that Jesus saw his celibacy as a dedication to announce the Kingdom of God.

Point 2:
The wedding at Cana is in fact the wedding of Jesus and Mary of Magdala. At Jesus time the broom was expected to provide the wine and this is what Jesus did at Cana. 
This is a quite extravagant reading of John 2;1-11. The plain reading is clear: Jesus, his mother, and his disciples were invited into a wedding party that runs out of wine. Prompted by his mother, Jesus tansformed water into wine, providing the first sign of who he was. This was done discretely, not in front of everybody. Because of this miracle the disciples believed in him. As for Mary of Magdala, she is not even mentioned in this passage, as she will only encounter Jesus later in the gospel.

Clearly, this story is not evidence for Jesus marrying Mary of Magdala. If you want to read Jesus wedding into this text, well, that is your call, but you have to force this interpretation into into the text. 

Point 3:
The gospel of Philip have a passage where Jesus kisses Mary of Magdala. And there is also the gospel of Jesus' wife.
The gospel of Philip would have been written more than two hundred years after the death of Jesus. In comparison the canonical gospels written only a few decades after Jesus' death.  It is easy then to realise which ones are more reliable. The particular passage in Philip's gospel, even if unreliable as historical witness, could just read that Jesus have kissed Mary's hand and the disciples got upset by that (see wikipedia). Finally, as for the gospel of Jesus wife, which is not really a gospel, but more like a paragraph, it seems it is a forgery. The reason is that the document have been provided by an "anonymous" person, who moreover had also been demonstrated to provide other forgeries. That the person cannot be traced back, and that other material he or she provided is demonstrably forged makes the case very suspicious. Weight the evidence against the whole of the canonical gospels and there is no case.
Point 4:
The disciples didn't want the people to know that Jews was married, but there are hints here and there. You don't want to see them because you are a doubting Thomas.
It seems to me that the only way to criticise the solid evidence of of Jesus being single, is by buying into the conspirational theory. This is to claim that the disciples knew the truth, but didn't want people to know. This is much more than to say that the disciples might have been mistaken about such and such particular issue, but is to say that they were dishonest. That they sold a lie. At this point I start to wonder if some people are not deceiving themselves here, that there is something more here than trying to study and learn from history. 

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