Why does everyone want Jesus to be married?
It’s hard not to smile at yet another manifestation of what writer Charlotte Allen calls the “Jesus-Mary Magdalene Wedding-Industrial Complex.” Ever since Dan Brown cooked up “The Da Vinci Code” in his walk-up office above Water Street Books in Exeter, N.H. — you remember the movie; Audrey Tatou is a direct descendant of the Jesus-Mary hookup — finding a mate for the Nazarene carpenter has been a top priority for “scholars” and hustlers worldwide.
According to Allen, Harvard Divinity School professor Karen King’s 2003 best-selling book,“The Gospel of Mary of Magdala: Jesus and the First Woman Apostle,” capitalized “on feminist enthusiasm for the Magdalene as an intimate of Jesus whose importance, some feminist scholars maintain, was suppressed by early churchmen who wanted an all-male Christian clergy.”
King did herself one better in 2012, brandishing a calling-card sized slip of papyrus which she called “The Gospel of Jesus’s [sic] Wife.” Said “gospel” was eight lines long, and its authenticity has been questioned, to put it gently. “As evidence that the real-life Jesus was married, it is scarcely more dispositive than Dan Brown’s controversial 2003 novel, ‘The Da Vinci Code,’ ” Ariel Sabar wrote in Smithsonian magazine.
Now filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici and biblical scholar Barrie Wilson have whipped up a new addition to the Jesus-is-married-stewpot — their hot-selling new expose, “The Lost Gospel: Decoding the Ancient Text that Reveals Jesus’ Marriage to Mary the Magdalene.” Wilson teaches at Toronto’s York University; Jacobovici is the Geraldo Rivera of Bible documentaries, lending his name to such sensations as “The Lost Tomb of Jesus,” “The Jesus Discovery,” and so on.
University of Iowa religious studies professor Robert Cargill mercilessly fricassees Jesus’ latest wedding announcement (“this latest round of absurdity”) on his blog. Cargill explains that Jacobovici-Wilson have taken a well-known Greek text called “Joseph and Aseneth” and substituted “Jesus” for Joseph and “Mary” for Aseneth.
“Now if your first thought is, ‘[What?] This is just as problematic as the ‘Bible Code’ dude, who attempts to read every passage in the Bible as an allegory for every modern event, from the invasion of Iraq to the Wall Street crash to President Obama’s election, etc.’, then you’re right on the money,’’ Cargill writes.
What’s the real compulsion here? Why does Jesus have to be married, or gay, or be part of a “normal” family, with brothers and sisters? (What’s so normal about that, I ask, as an only child?) The purpose, animated by the all-powerful secularism of our time, is to bring him down to our level.
“See, he wasn’t so special,” this line of chatter insists. He had sexual desires, he had children and grandchildren, and nephews and nieces like everyone else. The apostolic succession is a fake, the pope is fake, yadda yadda yadda.
Maybe. Or maybe not. Jesus’ claims seem quite modest to me. He didn’t insist that his followers be unmarried, and he never inveighed against what we euphemistically call “family values.” Far from it. He obeyed the fifth commandment (“Honor thy father and mother”) and venerated the status of children at every opportunity.
So he hadn’t married by age 33; it’s not unheard of. He had other fish to fry, or at least to distribute to the multitudes. He preached an occasionally opaque, at times translucent, message of universal love and challenged the powerful Jewish and Roman orthodoxies of his time. He doesn’t insist that you believe in him, and billions of spiritually healthy people don’t.
Let’s let Jesus be Jesus, and proceed about our business.
Alex Beam’s column appears regularly in the Globe. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.