Jesus, often accused of diversion and rabble rousing, has managed to distract the media again, even in a week where Mitt is sporting a suspicious tan. The news this time? A fourth century papyrus hinting he may have had a wife.
The scholar who announced her discovery is an expert in early Christianity and presented the find with all the usual caveats. The sentences are cut off, the scrap out of context, it was written three and half centuries after his death, and she emphasizes emphatically, highlights possible belief rather than historical fact. The stories following have ranged from inviting discussion “Did Jesus have a Wife?” to the more provocative “Jesus and Mary Magdalene Married!” Even Stephen Colbert weighed in, bemoaning the loss of his last single friend, his “bro-siah.”
I decided to ask a room full of people what they thought of this revelation. I had been reading responses online – doubt, outrage, excitement, Dan Brown hailed as a prophet – and sparked by the spirit of archeological adventure, I wanted to do my own digging.
“Did you hear about Jesus? He was married.”
“It seems logical for a thirty-three year old man of that time.”
“I think it is made up.”
“I don’t get it. What does this mean?”
“I am Catholic so I won’t believe it until the Pope tells me it is true.”
“I grew up Mormon and we believe Jesus had not one but two wives, Mary and Martha.”
I continued that that a married Jesus, let alone his wife as a disciple, could have huge ramifications to several theologies. Maybe the Knights of the Templar were keeping their secret after all? I wondered who was watching their kids. And how rude that his wife has been cast as harlot throughout history. I blamed Paul.
“I have to go to a meeting.”
I would not be deterred from my investigation.
“Wow, this has been the summer of Jesus, did you hear that an image of The Virgin Mary has appeared on a tree in New Jersey?”
“Yep, it is causing a rift between the Catholics and the Evangelicals and it costs the city $1000 a day to protect the tree from vandals. The Evangelicals think it is witchcraft.”
“There are so many Virgin Mary and Jesus appearances right now that the Vatican had to translate from Latin and release a document on how to investigate true spiritual manifestations. Do you want to see a picture of her and judge for yourself?”
“I have to go to a meeting.”
“Wait, did you hear about that eighty year old Spanish woman who tried to restore a fresco of Jesus and botched it? They are calling it the ‘Beast-Jesus.’ She wants to be reimbursed for the tourist money generated by her mistake. Wait . . .”
I have determined that my MSN homepage, six scholars, twenty-three pastors, The Vatican and I may be the only people that care about Jesus news this summer. The story of Jesus’ wife will generate buzz on a few cable programs and then fade into the framework of what everyone believed originally. The same will happen with whether or not Mitt wore make-up to appeal to the Latino audience. It will be perceived as a lighting mishap or Al Jolson, depending on the partisan lens.