Posted on Sep 19, 2012
Sure, it’s stirring up the whole Internet: “The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife,” as the NY Times puts it. But really, so what? Someday someone in the far future is going to unearth yesterday’s NY Times, and they’re going to call it evidence that people in the 21st century wondered what the earliest Christians had to say about women’s role in the church. Which is all this fragment does for us, except it’s about the 4th century instead of the 21st.
This so-called “Gospel of Jesus’ wife” is a credit card-sized fragment written in Coptic (Egyptian) in the 4th century. According to the NY Times, the discoverer, Dr. Karen L. King,
repeatedly cautioned that this fragment should not be taken as proof that Jesus, the historical person, was actually married. The text was probably written centuries after Jesus lived, and all other early, historically reliable Christian literature is silent on the question…. But the discovery is exciting, Dr. King said, because it is the first known statement from antiquity that refers to Jesus speaking of a wife. It provides further evidence that there was an active discussion among early Christians about whether Jesus was celibate or married, and which path his followers should choose.
It’s undoubtedly a valuable find for some historical purposes, but nothing in the news reports on it indicates anything new or surprising. It provides no new biographical information about Christ. It was written many miles away and hundreds of years after the facts. All we have is a tiny fragment. It’s the only document among hundreds from the early Christian era hinting at a wife. It bears signs of dependence on historically discredited gnostic gospels.
It’s evidence that the church in the fourth century had questions and concerns about women’s role in the church. Sure, that’s a vital issue today, and it was in the fourth century, too; but we already knew they were talking about it back then.
So thanks for the news, but I think I’ll go back to my nap again. Wake me up if something interesting comes along, okay?