And instead of honoring that, I'm going to talk about a papyrus fragment, the details of which are found over here.
My first response was the one I posted on Slacktivist:
There's a strong tendency on the part of many scholars to err uncritically on the side of the exotic and non-traditional: the same person who takes the standard gospels as unreliable in their depiction of Jesus will then treat a text written centuries later, which makes outlandish claims attested to nowhere else, certainly no text written when there were still living witnesses to Jesus's life, as if it were very good evidence!YES. THIS THIS THIS. Thank you so much for saying that.
On a broader scale, my biggest issue with this whole topic is the horrible looming sense that there isn't going to be ANY intelligent, rational discussion about if and how this papyrus fragment means or matters: that people will, for personal psychological reasons, arbitrarily and dogmatically declare "Jesus was/wasn't married!"
Because as a relatively studied Christian (and usually the one who has to represent Christianity in my completely unchurched social circles), I waste enough time as it is dealing with the Rapture and Dan Brown. And maybe it's because I'm short of sleep, but I have no hope that popular culture won't make a mess with this, and I am tired of endless remedial cleanup.My expanded thoughts are as follows, below the cut.
#1. First off, this is a fragment of papyrus, written in Coptic, from about Constantine's era. For the sake of textual arguments, that's a pretty thorough disqualifier right there. Arguing from this that Jesus was married is like arguing that Malory's Arthur was a woman, citing Fate/stay night. And while I'm going to harp on this in the future, because bad theology never dies, I'm not writing papyrology here; I'm trying to write some amateur theology.
So here's my theological verdict: a married Christ screws up Christianity in bad ways. I've been reading and reflecting (or reflecting? It's hard to gauge how much I thought vs. how much I felt) a fair bit of postliberal theology of late; what interests me most is its approach to Scripture - not as slogans or points of data, but as stories that carry meaning in themselves - and a married Christ is a change in characterization that clashes with the rest of the narrative, on at least two big, important ways.
#2. Symbolically, a married Christ is an exclusive Christ. If we're assuming that he took the Halakhic ideals of marriage seriously (and Christians from at least Paul onward have argued that He's a perfect embodiment of the Law), it's saying that he loved somebody in a way that kinda compromises the title of Emmanuel. I've been physically present to people who weren't "with" me at all, because they completely ignored me in favor of talking to the person on the other end of the telecommunications. (Hell, I've been that person before.)
To say that Christ is married is to say that God-with-us loved someone else. That all the rhetoric of love needs serious qualifying, because it's different from loving the Wife. And to me, at least, that brings back the Gnostic take on the Good Shepherd parable, where the punchline is the shepherd, whispering in the lamb's ear, "I love you more than the rest."
#3. Marriages in antiquity were not love marriages. They were power relationships, and very unequal ones at that. A married Christ reflects a God who's participant in worldly power. What kind of participant? We can't even guess - only extrapolate.
But, in a way, it's a statement that God is part of worldly power, as much as if Christ is a centurion. That would have a big impact on Christianity as we try to live it - and a scary one, because a married Christ is a patriarch, and we are still living and struggling with the power of patriarchy.
#4. It doesn't really matter what I think or say. I am going to be cleaning up after this for the rest of my life, and I know that. But this papyrus fragment has already left people building new idols for themselves - and I'm not looking forward to having to challenge those idols.
It's as if somebody says that Jean Valjean is asexual, and somebody else argues against it, and a third party gets in... and somebody cites a Reader's Digest version of Les Mis to defend their position, while two others cite separate, subtly different movies of it, and an argument breaks out about whether the official dub or the fan subtitle of the anime adaptation of the Shoujo Beat serialization is truer... and meanwhile the lights have gone down, and the curtains have gone up, and COLM fucking WILKINSON is standing there on stage, and watching dumbfounded as the crowd fucking dissolves into a fandom wank, and then a moshpit.A married Christ, presented even as an option, is a means to your very own Christ.