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I had the privilege in 2014 of giving the Hayward Lectures at Acadia Divinity School in Nova Scotia. While there I met a young scholar who is working on various topics in the Gospels. His name is Danny Zacharias. He had recently finished a project on the question of why Matthew (ch. 1) and Luke (ch 3) have different names in their genealogies of Jesus. Some point to this as a contradiction which cannot be solved, thus undermining the reliability of the Gospel accounts. Others see the differences as a matter of purpose and focus. Matthew starts with Abraham and moves forward to Jesus to show that Jesus is the true son of Abraham, the embodiment of Israel. Luke starts with Jesus and moves back through Abraham to Adam, demonstrating that Jesus is the Savior of all sons of Adam and daughters of Eve. One traditional “answer” has been that Matthew has Joseph’s genealogy while Luke records Mary’s. Not all, of course, think this is the case.
Dr. Zacharias offers an intriguing approach to the question. Here is a link to a brief video he did a few years back:
I think you may find it helpful. If so, please let him know.
On my summer reading list is a new book by Darrell Bock and Benjamin Simpson, both faculty members at Dallas Theological Seminary. The title of the book is Jesus the God-Man: The Unity and Diversity of the Gospel Portrayals (Baker Academic, 2016). Bock and Simpson treat the Gospels as reliable sources for the life of Jesus, and they do give us a coherent, new reading of these diverse texts. They are not just concerned with the Christ of faith but the Jesus of history, to use the traditional terms.
It is typically understood that the Synoptic Gospels—Matthew, Mark, and Luke—provide us with the story of the human Jesus of Nazareth, God’s Anointed; the story of the Christ from above, that is the incarnate Word, is the subject of John’s Gospel. Not so fast . . . Bock and Simpson say. The portrayals in the Synoptics and John are far more interesting and complex.
At the end of the day, Bock and Simpson demonstrate that the Gospels give us different stories, different portrayals; but in their analysis their accounts are complementary not contradictory. The Divine Christ is not absent from the Synoptics. The earthly Jesus is not alien to the Fourth Gospel.
Two recent articles appeared in The Atlantic which appear to put the nail in the coffin of the badly named Gospel of Jesus’ Wife.
The first article shows the dodgy provenance (chain of custody) of the piece. It is a bit long but worth the read. You can read it here or here’s the URL to that article:
The second article may be the most important, because in it Karen King, the Harvard scholar who brought the fragment too light and has defended its authenticity, now concedes it is probably a fake. You can read it here or here is the URL:
As Simon Gathercole said to me, now we don’t have to worry about that text. The forged text and our response to it tell us more about ourselves than about the ancient church.
Anthony Le Donne is a young scholar who has tackled some tough subjects. In this particular book he addresses the question recently on a lot of minds: Was Jesus married? The book is entitled: The Wife of Jesus: Ancient Texts and Modern Scandals. It is published by Oneworld Publications in London. The first copyright is 2013 so I’m a bit late telling you about it.
Although the question whether Jesus was married has been around a long time, Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code certainly kindled everyone’s imagination. If you’re prone to sensational readings of history and wish to see conspiracies under every rock, then Brown is your guy. More recently ,the announcement and publication of the badly named Gospel of Jesus’ Wife made it a matter of scholarly concern. I’ll have more to say about that later, but what Le Donne has done is to take a controversial subject and make sense out of it historically and socially. Perceptively, he notes that the modern response to the question—whether excitement or repulsion—has more to say about us than it does the historical Jesus. In many ways the question of whether Jesus was married and how we respond to it provide a mirror of ourselves and our times. In the final chapter he writes: “This book, in large part, has been about ancient and modern attempts to project sexual identities onto Jesus” (p. 147).
Le Donne examines a wide variety of texts from the ancient world, accounts about the asceticism of John the Immerser in the NT Gospels to non-canonical accounts which some people take to describe an intimate relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene in the Gospel of Philip. Le Donne reads widely in Greek and Jewish sources contemporaneous with Jesus and in the first half of the Christian century. He seems to be able to argue for it—yes, it is likely Jesus was married as was typical of most Jewish men—and against it—no, there is no solid historical evidence he was married. As a historian, Le Donne knows the difficulty of arguing from the general to the particular. What is true of most people is not necessarily true of a particular person. Though most Jewish men married between the ages of 20 and 30, not everyone did. There was already an impulse toward asceticism and self- denial in Jesus’ day. John the Immerser and the desert covenanters of Qumran appear to offer contemporaneous examples.
Le Donne offers a helpful construct for what was typical of Jewish males in the first century. The term he uses is “civic masculinity”; it represents the gender role most Jewish men would play in their day. It would include things like marriage and having children, working a trade and taking responsibility for one’s economic well-being, passing the faith along, seeking to own and work the land, etc. Jesus, according to Le Donne, may have been raised to accept this role, but he may have subverted it in his public ministry. Jesus , he says, “invested in the two-sided coin of economic disobligation and celibacy.” Such a lifestyle was probably considered “crazy” by ancient standards and “anti-family” by modern.
Mark Goodacre, NT Professor at Duke University, says it well: Le Donne’s book is “a crystal-clear, compelling yet historically robust account of what we can and can’t know about the wife of Jesus.”
Once again the claim is being made that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, and together they had two children. This time the claim is made in a book by the self-described “Naked Archaeologist,” Simcha Jacobovici, and Barrie Wilson, professor of religious studies at York University in Toronto. The book is entitled The Lost Gospel: Decoding the Ancient Text that Reveals Jesus’ Marriage to Mary the Magdalene (HarperCollins, 2014). First, this document has not been lost. The “lost Gospel” is actually a well known novella from the first 500 years of the common era known as Joseph and Aseneth. It has been the subject of hundreds of scholarly articles. It is found in every standard collection of Jewish documents known as the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha. Only the Dead Sea Scrolls have been studied more than this collection of Jewish writings. Mark Goodacre, professor at Duke University, hosts a website dedicated to the story. Here is a link to the story:
Here is a link to the Aseneth home page:
Joseph and Aseneth is a story inspired by the Joseph narratives in Genesis (chs 36-50). It’s a story of a Jewish boy who made good because God was with him. On his way to becoming vicegerent of Egypt (that is, second-in-command) he was given many gifts including the beautiful Aseneth. The story of Joseph and Asenath is an account of how they met, how he wooed her, and how they eventually fell in love, married, and had two children, Ephraim and Manasseh. Like Daniel it is a story to inspire Jews to remain faithful to the One, True God when surrounded by hostile forces and “pagans.” Like Ruth it is story that celebrates the conversion of a woman to the faith of Israel. So let’s be clear. It is not a Gospel. It doesn’t claim to be a Gospel or Jesus book of any kind. Simcha and Barrie want us to read it as an allegory. So every time you see Joseph (wink, wink) think of Jesus. Every time the text reads Aseneth (wink, wink) it’s really talking about Mary Magdalene. That’s a load of rubbish or as Diarmaid MacCulloch, an Oxford University professor told the Sunday Times: “it sounds like the deepest bilge.”
There is no credible evidence from contemporary sources that Jesus was ever married. But let us suppose there was married. There is no shame in marriage. The Hebrew and Christian tradition affirm the goodness of marriage as an institution ordained by God. Being married is no sin nor does it disqualify a person from God’s service. Likewise there is no shame in having children. Again, both Hebrew and Christian traditions affirm that children are a blessing from the Almighty! I am no systematic theologian, so I don’t mind being corrected on this, but I see no point of doctrine that would be compromised if it could be proven that Jesus of Nazareth married. Still there simply is no evidence from historical sources that he was.