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My Take: I don't know if Jesus was married (and I don't care)
September 21st, 2012
09:28 AM ET

My Take: I don't know if Jesus was married (and I don't care)

Editor's Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

A few years ago I wrote a book about Jesus in the American imagination. What I learned along the way is that the American Jesus is a Gumby-like figure who can twist and turn in almost any direction.

Our Jesus has been black and white, gay and straight, a socialist and a capitalist, a pacifist and a warrior, a civil rights activist and a Ku Klux Klansman. Over the American centuries, he has stood not on some unchanging rock of ages but on the shifting sands of economic circumstances, political calculations and cultural trends.

Part Proteus, part Paul (who called himself "all things to all men"), he became during the Victorian period a sentimental Savior. During the Progressive era of Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders, he flexed his muscles and carried a big stick. During the counterculture of the 1960s and 1970s, he grew his hair long and strummed his guitar for peace.

Now, in an era in which Americans are debating who can marry and have sex with whom, we are given a Jesus who has given his body and soul in marriage, at least if we are to believe the scrap of ancient papyrus soon coming, via Harvard Divinity School professor Karen King and the Smithsonian Channel, to a television set near you.

“Jesus said, ‘My wife,'” this Coptic papyrus reads, and since King announced her finding at a Coptic studies conference in Rome on Tuesday, the world is trying to imagine not only what manner of man (and god) this might be, but what sort of woman he might have taken into his marriage bed.

As for the question everyone is asking — was Jesus married? — the only correct answer is that we do not know.

There are all sorts of reasons to be skeptical about this find. First, according to King it is owned by an anonymous dealer who is willing to give the fragment to Harvard, but only if it buys other parts of his collection.

Second, we don’t yet know anything about where this fragment was supposedly found or by whom, and the world of ancient Jewish and Christian manuscripts is replete with fakes and fakers.

Third, even if the papyrus is genuine, it points only to one author quoting Jesus as referring to his wife. Perhaps that author was simply trying to push the early Christian tradition away from a preference for celibacy over marriage.

Or perhaps the reference is to some symbolic or spiritual “wife,” rather than one of the flesh-and-blood type. (In the New Testament Jesus already refers to himself as the bridegroom.)

In the end, what intrigues me about this tiny fragment (it measures roughly 1.5-by-3 inches) is the huge hype. The original Belief Blog piece on this story has over 4,000 comments and counting. And a Smithsonian documentary is in the works for September 30.

Jesus may be one of the best attested figures in the ancient world, but we still know hardly anything about him. And because he is the key figure in the largest religion in the world, we are keen to fill in the blanks.

The Jewish tradition has a name for this: midrash, which refers to a way of storytelling that fills in the gaps. This is what Americans have been doing for centuries with Jesus. Not sure where he was during his “lost years” from the end of his childhood to the beginning of his ministry? Send him off to India. Not sure how he looked? Draw a painting or carve a statue.

What is going on here, as I see it, is a reluctance to say, “I don’t know.”

The truth of the matter is that we don’t know what Jesus looked like. We don’t know where he was or what he was doing when he turned 18. And we don’t know if he was ever married or divorced.

What we do know is that we live in a country besotted with Jesus and in an age obsessed with marriage and sexuality and the body, which is why this tiny papyrus is making such big waves.

As for me, I don’t much care what Jesus thought about marriage, or whether he engaged in it. I think we as a society tend to collapse religion far too readily into bedroom questions, as if Jesus came into the world to tell us with whom we should be having sex, and how.

I’m more interested in what Jesus has to say about wealth and poverty, the rich and the poor. And there is plenty in the available record to read and heed, "if only we have ears to hear."

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: Belief • Christianity • Coptic • Jesus • Sexuality • United States

soundoff (2,026 Responses)
  1. d0meniica

    oh wow. lol
    people...dont be so easily deceived!! we have an enemy with an army that has only THREE rules; steal, kill & destroy.

    Jesus CLEARLY stated WE, His Beloved believers, are to, upon His return to Earth, be His bride- and we will be together Eternal in Paradise... what treasures and riches are you sending to Him for the arrival of the Everlasting Kingdom?

    ohemgee. i wna call ppl idiots but that isn't very Christ-like lol... READ YOUR BIBLE, PEOPLE!!

    September 27, 2012 at 4:50 am |
    • sam stone

      So, you will be Jesus' bride? Will you be on top or will he?

      September 27, 2012 at 7:23 am |
    • WASP

      @dom: you mean the "holy book" paid for, and assembled by a pagan emperor of the roman empire.
      so which of the few thousand versions of your "holy book" should we read?
      better yet which of the many contridictions in youir "holy book" should we follow? maybe the one about killing women and children, or perhaps the passages for sacrificing animals to your god.

      so in short no thanks, i enjoy looking around and trveling around the world viewing and feeling pride in seeing how much humans have accomplished without the aid of any supernatural boogieman.

      September 27, 2012 at 7:59 am |
    • midwest rail

      i wna call ppl idiots but that isn't very Christ-like
      Why would that stop you ? It certainly doesnt impede many contemporary faux Christians.

      September 27, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
  2. Chad

    Most atheists seemingly believe that a married Jesus of Nazareth presents some kind of difficulty for the Christian message..

    The bible is clear that Jesus lead a perfect life fulfilling the requirements of the Law therefore being able to atone for my sins. There's no reason to think that a marriage would have somehow interfered with that, The bible is clear that marriage is a union that is blessed by God.

    Although commonly referring to the collective body of Christians as the "bride of Christ", and noting that some disciples of His were married (peter for example), the bible is silent on the marital status of Jesus. Personally I tend to think that He wasnt, the three years of preaching, culminating with death on the cross would have been (to put it mildly) very difficult for dependents of His. But, that's an opinion only...

    September 27, 2012 at 12:00 am |
  3. YouTubeVideoDownload

    I'm really inspired together with your writing abilities and also with the structure for your weblog. Is that this a paid theme or did you modify it yourself? Anyway keep up the excellent quality writing, it is uncommon to look a nice weblog like this one these days..

    September 26, 2012 at 4:53 pm |
  4. Sony Bozo & Chair

    Friggin' care if Yeshua has a wif or not 😉

    September 26, 2012 at 3:59 pm |
  5. Good News

    Jesus has already RETURNED, as he promised (Luke 13/35)
    in the beginning of this Third and Last DAY (=MILLENNIUM; John 6/40) now!
    Here is the most Clear and Solid Proof:

    http://www.holy-19-harvest.com
    UNIVERSAL MAGNIFICENT MIRACLES

    September 26, 2012 at 3:39 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      Gee another cut and paste, post and run troll with nothing better to do with his/her pathetic excuse for a life.

      September 26, 2012 at 3:41 pm |
  6. beall

    I care -I care very much- if He was married and I care very much if a woman-wife was an apostle-The reason I do is -if we want to accept the idea that writings were not tampered with, the leaving out of this information-through the ages- was deliberate.Jesus was very specific as to what was expected of the "Children of God"-Nowhere is there evidence that he felt women were unworthy to spread His Fathers' word.He elevated marriage to a sacrament-A sacrament that those consecrated and spreading His word cannot recieve? We all know there is a controversy as to how accurate the writings are or if individual leanings were included in the texts.We would be naive to think that the Bible writings were verbatim and not influenced by the individuals rewriting them through the ages.In my experience of the understanding of what Jesus of Nazareth stood for the idea of a woman being unworthy to spread His word is basically against everything He stood for.How did this become so-Because it was the culture of the time and those writng it were not concerned with changing culture.We are not addressing Christianity on this issue we are addressing the Roman Catholic Churchs'remaining unspoken belief that the female creation of the Almighty is inferior to the male and not worthy to represent Him and that if a priest were to marry he would be diminished-This is once again a cultural concept that the female is an inferior being-More than half of the human race.

    September 26, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
    • Mmccm

      Very well said. Men through the ages have changed spiritual matters to suit their social building and needs. I for one think it quite plausible that Jesus was married. Why not? Marriage is ordained of God for the benefit and blessing of men and eomen. Why wouldn't he partake of something He ordained. Makes me place marriage on a different level.

      September 26, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
    • Anybody know how to read?

      Mat 19:8 He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.

      September 26, 2012 at 2:19 pm |
    • Anybody know how to read?

      Mat 19:9 And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except [it be] for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.

      September 26, 2012 at 2:20 pm |
    • Anybody know how to read?

      Beginning:'Gen 3:16 Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire [shall be] to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.'

      September 26, 2012 at 2:21 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      The Catholic Church currently teaches:

      The Lord Jesus chose men to form the college of the twelve apostles, and the apostles did the same when they chose collaborators to succeed them in their ministry.

      The Church recognizes herself to be bound by this choice made by the Lord himself. For this reason the ordination of women is not possible.

      For more information see the Catechism of the Catholic Church, sections 1577: http://www.usccb.org/catechism/text/pt2s…

      With love in Christ.

      September 26, 2012 at 3:04 pm |
    • Anybody know how to read?

      The catholic church is a her, bill? The original gubmint church? Wait til you see what the nation that has the star of Moloch on its flag is going to pull off. More gubmint religion.

      September 26, 2012 at 11:42 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      You didn't know the Catholic Church identifies in the feminine? Ok, so you can read but you don't?

      September 27, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
    • sam stone

      "Marriage is ordained of God for the benefit and blessing of men and eomen."

      Marriage was around before Christianity

      September 27, 2012 at 2:19 pm |
    • Anybody know how to read?

      Bill Deacon, I knew a dude who identified as a female so he could have 'fun' in Macy's dressing rooms, for women of course. It was gubmint approved.

      September 27, 2012 at 10:28 pm |
    • Anybody know how to read?

      Mat 23:9 And call no [man] your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven.

      September 27, 2012 at 10:31 pm |
  7. Joshua Tilghman

    The truth just keeps coming out...everybody in the world believes something different about Jesus, and the whole Jesus concept keeps changing. C'mon folks. The Jesus story is the story of US, not some man that lived 2000 years ago. Didn't even Jesus say the kingdom is within. If it's within you, then you don't need to look outside of you.

    http://www.spiritofthescripture.com/blog

    September 26, 2012 at 11:52 am |
    • Bill Deacon

      Interesting isn't it that no matter the controversy over the course of human history, we eventually end up with Jesus right in the middle of it.

      September 26, 2012 at 3:06 pm |
  8. Ike Ike

    my question...was he white? the answer...yes, that picture is ceasar bargoa, the mashiah had skin color and hair like wool and wasn't married. but j-sus most likely was. these religious sites are meant to keep ppl bind and blind while the powers of this world continue to keep the true names blotted out. I hope we are all doing our studies and not letting man do it for us. Shalum.

    September 26, 2012 at 9:53 am |
  9. DodgyMerchant

    Was Jesus married? Was Robin Hood gay? Does the tooth fairy have a crack addiction?

    All equally valid and vital questions.

    September 26, 2012 at 3:30 am |
    • Anybody know how to read?

      All equally valid and vital questions.?????? A prize for every Bonzo.

      September 26, 2012 at 8:45 am |
    • sam stone

      Truly, all equally valid questions

      September 26, 2012 at 9:17 am |
    • Cynthia

      prillycharmin@verizon.net

      September 26, 2012 at 10:59 am |
  10. Derrick Murray

    This question can be easly solved. Just go to the Vactin in Rome and try to get into there Libary safe and the answer is right there. End of story. But yes I do believe jesus was married and had a kid which means he have a blood line and the chruch knows this. if the truth got out then every religion would have to change their teaching or go out of business. SIMPLE.

    September 25, 2012 at 11:20 pm |
    • Anybody know how to read?

      Bedtime story for Bonzo.

      September 26, 2012 at 8:41 am |
  11. niknak

    My take;
    I don't know if jesus sucked dick, nor do I care.....

    September 25, 2012 at 9:39 pm |
    • Anybody know how to read?

      rabbi nick the hick has spoken.

      September 26, 2012 at 8:47 am |
  12. Steve Billiter

    Jesus Christ as a man, had laid down His divinity to become the sacrifice for sin. He is God the Son, whose mission was not to marry any woman. If He did–the Holy Bible would have recorded it. Who was at the cross with Him?

    American King James Version

    Joh 19:25 Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene.
    John 19:26 When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he said to his mother, Woman, behold your son!
    John 19:27 Then said he to the disciple, Behold your mother! And from that hour that disciple took her to his own home.

    Scripture plainly says "His mother, her sister, and Mary Magdalene..and John was there. If He were married to Mary Magdalene, this is where it would have been recorded. There re no other manuscripts that are trustworthy save the 1900 extant ones from the Textus Receptus, which forms the foundation of the KJV.

    Satan, through his human agents, has sought to deceive men since he said to Eve, "You shall not surely die..."

    September 25, 2012 at 8:37 pm |
    • niknak

      jeebus is NOT the son of god, as there is no god.
      In fact, there is credible evidence jeebus did not even exist.
      Your bible is a rip off of earlier religions that were in the region before yours.
      The Egyptians had a version of your jeebus a full 1000 years before yours was fabled to exist.
      You and your version of the sky fairy are not original or all that intersting.
      A mind is a terrible thing to lose, to religion.......

      September 25, 2012 at 8:50 pm |
    • Major Tom

      @niknak You took the words right out of my mouth. And saved me a bunch of typing. Thanks bro.

      September 25, 2012 at 10:33 pm |
    • dred

      niknak.. I think Steve is referring to Jesus of Nazereth, who was born in Bethelehem, in the northern spring, at the time of the Roman census, whose mother was Mary, step father was Joseph, and who had half brothers and sisters, who was murdered in a plot by the Jewish Sanhedrin, aided by the Roman governor......not , who ever this jeebus you are talking about.
      I mean..that's like saying Osama is the president of the USA, after all , what's the difference between Obama and Osama?
      Just b.& s.
      I definately agree with you..jeebus is not the Son of God, but you should find out about Jesus for yourself,
      like I know Osama is not the president of the USA..but Obama is.

      September 26, 2012 at 2:57 am |
    • sam stone

      "Satan, through his human agents, has sought to deceive men since he said to Eve, 'You shall not surely die...'"

      How is that different than having eternal life in either heaven or hell?

      September 26, 2012 at 8:13 am |
  13. niknak

    My take;
    I don't care if jesus existed, nor do I care.......

    September 25, 2012 at 8:30 pm |
  14. Julia

    Look, the bottom left...third line up..it reads "CNN". What are the odds?

    September 25, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
  15. mb2010a

    I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop...and someone to admit this is a fake. Beside the phrase "My wife..." could be followed by a billion other things other than the claim that he was referring to his actual wife. My wife is fat as a pig...or My wife would be...or My wife, when and if I marry, would be like...very convenient that it ends with just "My wife...". It's a fake...get over it...

    September 25, 2012 at 4:14 pm |
  16. Terrell

    If He was married, when was the wedding? The bible recorded He was at a wedding but not as the groom! When he was on the cross he told one of the disciples to look after His "mother" not His "wife". Enough said.

    September 25, 2012 at 3:59 pm |
    • Arvoasitis

      According to tradition, his wife would have been taken care of by his brother.

      September 25, 2012 at 4:30 pm |
    • Seyedibar

      it would be difficult to now any of the truly personal aspects of his life considering that the original account by Paul's scribe was written well after he was dead and lacked any specific detail. It was Matthew nearly a century later that concocted the guts of the story with specific names and events and miracles.

      September 28, 2012 at 11:49 am |
  17. Anybody know how to read?

    Israel is the proper name of the bride. I could NOT care less what your rabbis or vicars say. 'Mat 15:24 But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.' If you don't want in, just run along and play.

    September 25, 2012 at 1:47 pm |
    • OTOH

      Why would you care what 'Matthew' said?

      September 25, 2012 at 1:49 pm |
    • Anybody know how to read?

      He was chosen.

      September 25, 2012 at 1:52 pm |
    • Maria

      Jesus didn't come to this world to get married.He came to die on the cross for our sins in order to reconcile us to God the Father.
      The reason why people mock Jesus and the Bible and Christians is because we don't go after anyone asking for their heads.
      I'm always amazed when I watch President Obama, Hilary Clinton and CNN condemning the anti Islamic movie out of fear but I have never heard them condemning the big lie: The Da Vinci Code movie!
      One day, every knee will bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.

      September 25, 2012 at 3:57 pm |
    • sam stone

      "One day, every knee will bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father"

      Nonsense. Just edited, translated Iron Age hearsay.

      But, it does appeal to the subservient set

      September 26, 2012 at 8:17 am |
    • WASP

      @maria: "condemning the big lie: The Da Vinci Code movie!"
      seriously? why am i not surprised that you believe that fairytale when you are sitting here preaching about another fairytale. ROFLMFAO religious people are so gullible, you folks buy into anything.

      September 27, 2012 at 8:38 am |
  18. PrimeNumber

    Jesus, we are informed, is the guy who never existed yet has managed to be dead for 2000 thousand years (those who are obsessed with the "irrelevance" of Jesus are still working this out). My take? Of course he wasn't married. Marriage is for ordinary people.

    September 25, 2012 at 1:46 pm |
  19. myweightinwords

    There are many questions that folks on all sides get very invested in having the RIGHT answer to that I find my response to is "why should it matter"...this is just another.

    As someone fascinated by religion, by the history and development of beliefs, by the way man copes with things that they do not understand, I find the idea of what we don't know about the man we call Jesus to be intriguing. We will NEVER know with any clarity, because it was thousands of years ago and we haven't figured out time travel yet.

    Speculation will continue. Why get so worked up over it? Does it matter to what you believe?

    September 25, 2012 at 10:37 am |
  20. Tom Bonvie

    I've never seen such ignorance! Allow me to enlighten you. Jesus Christ is the ONLY BEGOTTEN SON of God the Father...born of a Virgin (possible only by an act of God). The purpose of his "divine" birth was accentuated by his mission...to die on the Cross at Calvary for the sins of the whole world. This purpose was fulfilled at the age of 33 when He was arrested, tortured and crucified. The shedding of his "sinless" BLOOD became the cleansing factor that would set mankind free from inherited sin.
    Jesus expired physically on the Cross and was buried, but rose from the dead on the third day, thus fulfilling his mission.
    All we have to do to gain Heaven is to REPENT of our sinful way and BELIEVE in what Jesus Christ did for us. He paid the price we could not pay. This is the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ. He was never married, however, all who come to him in faith believing shall become what is known as "the BRIDE of Christ", which in essence is His Church.

    September 24, 2012 at 10:20 pm |
    • Reality

      Not so fast !!

      The Apostles' Creed 2012: (updated by yours truly and based on the studies of historians and theologians of the past 200 years)

      Should I believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
      and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
      human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven??

      I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
      preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
      named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
      girl named Mary. (Some say he was a mamzer.)

      Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
      the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,

      He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
      a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of
      Jerusalem.

      Said Jesus' story was embellished and "mythicized" by
      many semi-fiction writers. A descent into Hell, a bodily resurrection
      and ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
      Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
      grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
      and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
      called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.

      Amen
      (references used are available upon request)

      September 24, 2012 at 11:38 pm |
    • Arvoasitis

      Wrong science. It is quite possible for a virgin, even one who has had no contact with a man, to conceive. It happens, although exceedingly rarely. Of course, the biblical Jesus was born of a young maiden, presumably but not necessarily a virgin, literally speaking.

      September 25, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      If you were a young woman in a society with a Divine Mandate to stone to death any se/xually active, unmarried girl and found yourself pregnant out of wedlock, you;d lie through your teeth.

      September 25, 2012 at 4:31 pm |
    • sam stone

      "Allow me to enlighten you. Jesus Christ is the ONLY BEGOTTEN SON of God the Father...born of a Virgin (possible only by an act of God)."

      Thanks for straightening that out, Tommy. Now, get back on your knees

      September 26, 2012 at 8:18 am |
    • Bill Deacon

      sam stone was alone when he popped hi last balloon
      climbing walls while sitting in a chair
      They played his last request
      While the room smelled just like death
      With an overdose hovering in the air

      September 26, 2012 at 9:07 am |
    • sam stone

      Congrats, Bill.

      September 26, 2012 at 9:18 am |
    • Bill Deacon

      Was there a contest? What did I win?

      September 26, 2012 at 3:08 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.