Jesus Was Married with Children

This is the “explosive” claim made by a just published book, according to ABC News.

A new book based on interpretations of ancient texts features an explosive claim: Jesus Christ married Mary Magdalene, and the couple had two children.

In “The Lost Gospel,” set for release Wednesday, authors Simcha Jacobovici and Barrie Wilson argue that the original Virgin Mary was Jesus’ wife – not his mother – and that there was an assassination attempt on Jesus’ life 13 years before he was crucified.

The writers say they spent six years working on the book. Their arguments are based on an ancient manuscript dating back nearly 1,500 years, one they say they found in a British library, translating the text from an Aramaic dialect into English.

Mark Goodacre, a professor of religious studies at Duke University, is skeptical of the book’s findings.

“I don’t think that there is any credibility in these claims at all,” Goodacre said. “There is simply no evidence in this text or anywhere else that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, much less that they had a couple of children.”

This is not the first assertion that Jesus was married. A fragment of an ancient Egyptian papyrus known as the “Gospel of Jesus’s Wife” was unveiled in 2012, containing the phrase “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife,” although the document was written centuries after Jesus died.

The 2003 novel “The Da Vinci Code” by Dan Brown also highlighted the possibility of Jesus’ having been married to Mary Magdalene.

This is simply ridiculous. The earliest and presumably most reliable biographical materials we have about Jesus of Nazareth are the canonical Gospels written from about AD 70-100. As I have said before, these writings are entirely credible accounts of a Jewish preacher who managed to get himself crucified. The writers were familiar with the geography and customs of first century Judea and if the writers were not really Matthew, Mark, Luke and John,(the Gospels were written anonymously) they were certainly written by men very much like them. Most of the other “Gospels”that appear in the news these days were written by members of various Gnostic sects more than a century after the crucifixion. These accounts tend to be rather fanciful and divorced from the context of the historical background of first century Judea. The Jesus they present is more of a mythological figure than a historical one.

Could Jesus have been married? There is something like a twenty year gap in the Gospels between the finding in the temple at the age of twelve and the beginning of Jesus’s public ministry. It is likely that in that period, Jesus of Nazareth lived a more or less ordinary life, perhaps taking up the carpenter’s trade of his foster-father. An observant Jew of his cultural background would have been expected to get married and have children. Except for groups like the Essenes, celibacy has never played a role in Jewish culture. It is possible that there was a Mrs. Jesus and a Jesus Jr. It might seem to be incompatible with the role of a Messiah to get oneself crucified leaving a widow and orphans, but the discovery that Jesus had a family wouldn’t change any fundamental Christian beliefs about him or discredit Christianity.

There is, however, no mention of a wife and children anywhere in the canonical gospels. When Jesus’s mother and brothers went to fetch him, surely believing that he had lost his mind, (Mark 3:31-34) there was no mention of an abandoned wife. When Jesus returned home to Nazareth, people recognized him as the son of Mary and the carpenter and the brother of James, Joseph, Simon and Judas. No one mentioned a wife or children. There was no grieving wife at the cross. Mary Magdalene was a female follower of Jesus, but there is no indication they were married.

Perhaps the church suppressed the knowledge of Jesus’s wife. As I have said, the Gospels were written from around AD 60-100, before there was much of an organized church. In the Apostolic and immediate post-Apostolic period when the Gospels were written, Christianity was still mostly a heretical Jewish sect that had begun to appeal widely to Gentiles. Christian congregations were small, autonomous and informally organized. The more elaborate hierarchy of priests, bishops, etc did not begin to appear until well into the second century. There wasn’t anyone who could suppress divergent views and indeed the early church was plagued with all sorts of movements later deemed heretical. We do not, obviously, have the original copies of any books of the New Testament, but scholars are reasonably certain that the New Testament we have matches what was originally written. There are fragments of manuscripts dating fairly early that match more complete, later manuscripts. The Church Fathers often quoted scripture in their writings, so much that if every copy of the Bible were destroyed, we could still reconstruct much of the New Testament from their works. The quotations match the New Testament we possess. There was no rewriting of the Bible by the emperor Constantine or at the Nicene Council, or anywhere else.

If Jesus had left descendants, would they not have played a role in the leadership of the early Church? Jesus’s brother James was apparently a leader of the Jerusalem Church. (Acts ch 15, Galatians ch 2) Why not Jesus’s sons? The descendants of Mohammed are still esteemed in the Islamic world as are the descendants of Confucius in China. Only the descendants of Aaron could be priests in Israel. Where are the descendants of Jesus?

Why this book getting any attention? If Simcha Jacobovici and Barrie Wilson had written a book contradicting what was generally known about any other historical person, say Julius Caesar, based on an interpretation of an obscure manuscript, they would be regarded as cranks and generally ignored. With Jesus Christ, however, any story, no matter how unsubstantiated, provided it departs from the orthodox conception of who he was is given admiring attention. It would seem that a great many people in the media are intensely interested in promoting the idea that either Jesus never existed or that he is not what Christians believe him to be.

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