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Was Jesus Married?

I am en route just now, back from Las Vegas, where I participated in a discussion with two other scholars at the Black Mountain Institute on the question “Would It Matter If Jesus Were Married?” The Black Mountain Institute is part of the University of Nevada at Las Vegas (UNLV); it sponsors events having to do with literature and history. Usually these involve two or more scholars, on stage, on chairs, with a moderator, discussing a topic of mutual interest. The moderator last night was Carol Harter, the former president of UNLV. The two other scholars were Karen King and Mark Jordan.

Both Karen and Mark are very well known and highly respected scholars. Karen is a professor of early Christianity at Harvard, where she holds the oldest endowed chair, of any kind, in the country; her expertise is especially in early Christian Gnosticism, and she has become best known in the past few years for her role in publicizing the “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” that I have blogged on before (search and see!). I’ve known Karen for years, but not well. She is a very insightful feminist historian with special interest in issues involving women, gender, sexuality, marriage in the early Christian movement.

Mark is one of the great scholars of religion in the country. He is extraordinarily wide ranging, having translated Thomas Aquinas on the one hand and having written, on the other, some of the most important books ever produced on the issues of gender and of sexual ethics and, especially the history of homosexuality in the Christian tradition, including his book The Invention of Sodomy. He is not principally an expert on early Christianity per se, but he knows an uncanny amount about just about everything. If he weren’t such a friendly and affable fellow, he would be flat-out intimidating.

Our task was to discuss in front of an overflowing crowd (standing room only: turns out this was a hot topic) various issues related to Jesus’ marital status. Was he married? Why does it matter to people? Should it matter? If he could be shown to have been married, would it matter? For women? For understandings of sexuality? For notions of marriage? For the celibate priesthood in the Catholic Church? For anyone or anything else?

 

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Jesus and Mary Magdalene
Historical Certainty and Jesus

63

Comments

  1. Avatar
    dvmike  January 24, 2014

    I have one question. Was there any discussion on the possibility that Jesus was Gay?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  January 26, 2014

      Not explicitly at that event.

      • Avatar
        Wilusa  January 27, 2014

        Have to ask: What became of that scholar(?) who claimed some years back that he’d found an ancient source suggesting Lazarus (after being “brought back to life”) had a sexual relationship with Jesus? Of course, I don’t even believe in the miracle itself…

        And…someone else commented that the Gospel of John says Lazarus was “the man whom Jesus loved.” I’m not much of a Gospel reader (as you know!). But I’d always gotten the idea that we were supposed to believe the Apostle John had written that Gospel, and, out of modesty, referred to *himself* only in the third person, as “the disciple Jesus loved.” That *whoever* actually wrote the Gospel, that reference was to John. I know he’s often portrayed as being the youngest disciple, and feminine-looking. And I’m sure the artists who portrayed him that way were suggesting homosexuality. But have later generations just read something unintended into a bad translation (use of the word “love”)?

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  January 27, 2014

          It wasn’t Lazarus, it was an unnamed man in the Secret Gospel of Mark. The scholar was Morton Smith, and amazingly erudite fellow.

          John’s Gospel does say that Jesus loved Lazarus, and so part of the debate about who the “Disciple Jesus loved” was is over whether it could have been Lazarus. The problem is that he wasn’t one of the twelve. John, interestingly, is never named in the Gospel of John!

          • Avatar
            judaswasjames  January 28, 2014

            Same one in Mark 14:50-51. It is James, covered. Look at the Rich man parable in Luke 16. Caiaphas and the five Ananus brothers are related by marriage. The last, Ananus ben Ananus is the high priest who convicted JAMES. The Sanhedrin trial of Jesus by Caiaphas is based on the James’ Ananus blasphemy trial. One of his famous quotes is attributed to James by Hegesippus: “You will see the Son of man coming in Power and on the clouds of heaven. ) The connection Lazarus to James is made through John 12 and “they sought to kill him because many were believing on Jesus because of him raised from the dead” — same reason Hegesippus has for the high priests wanting James dead. The gospel authors didn’t want James aggrandized as the beloved disciple, so they called him Lazarus, raised from the ‘spiritually dead’. Even the same “bosom” language is present, “Abraham’s bosom” for Lazarus in Luke, and “on Jesus breast” at the Last Supper in John 13 (13:25). This is the beloved disciple, same one who Peter defers to in asking who is the “Betrayer” (“Deliverer”) and is given the bread (James in Gospel of the Hebrews). The “kiss” is Gospel of Thomas’ “he who drinks from my mouth will become as I am.” – Thomas 108a, and spiritual as in First and Second Apocalypses of James. “I will become he” -Thomas 108b is “I am he” in John 13:19. James is the successor (“Go to James, for whom heaven and earth came into existence.” – Thomas 12). Gospel of Judas has Judas as James in the climax with “You will sacrifice the man that bears me” (woe to the one who betrays me [‘delivers me’]”) as JAMES (“I am HE” of John13:19, following 13:18 “I know whom I have chosen”, and the Psalm 41:9 reference to Jacob and Esau, “following” theme, not Ahithophel and David betrayal theme, as usually assumed. The “kinsman” language is close familial, not appropriate for Ahipthophel.)

            All these fictional characters are a coverup of James as successor.

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  2. Avatar
    fishician  January 24, 2014

    Or, maybe the reason Jesus was single was because of his sexual orientation. Perhaps the Secret Gospel of Mark hinted at that. Perhaps that is why the Gospel of John says Lazarus was the man whom Jesus loved.

    1
    • Avatar
      judaswasjames  January 26, 2014

      Fishician,

      (Are you an expert fisherman?) This is a fascinating topic. “Naked man with naked man” in Secret Mark is about spiritual nakedness. Read the Gospel of Philip: “Some are afraid lest they rise naked. Because of this they wish to rise in the flesh, and they do not know that it is those who rise in the flesh who are naked. It is those who seek to unclothe themselves who are not naked.” James about Jesus in Second Apocalypse of James: “I saw that he was naked, and there was no garment covering him. [He was the light, the one who created heaven and earth].”

      Used in both ways ‘naked’ is a spiritual metaphor.

      About Lazarus and “beloved disciple”: both are stand-ins for James. (Yes, nearly everything is involved in some way or other with covering up James the Just’s Mastership.) Lazarus is the one who is seen in John 12 causing others to believe in Jesus, same as James is reported as doing in Hegesippus, via Eusebius. In the Rich man parable, there are five “sons”, who are standing in for the Ananus brothers as high priests, who are related by marriage to the “Rich man”, who is Caiaphas. The final brother, Ananus ben Ananus, is the one who convicted James of blasphemy (for not repudiating his Master, Jesus, publicly in order that others wouldn’t look for his coming). This is the model for the trial of Christ. The quotes on Jesus’ lips are from James in Hegesippus.

      The climax (Luke 16) is ” they wouldn’t believe even though one comes back from the dead” is about Jesus according to James in Hegesippus by way of Lazarus, of course, the one who is also the beloved disciple (John 11 raising of Lazarus — “Jesus wept”, “See how he LOVED him.”) The “Abraham’s bosom” theme (Luke 16:23) is replicated in the Last Supper scene with the beloved disciple — who is “Lazarus”, who is “Judas”, who is James the Just — lying on the breast of Jesus when Peter asks him (deferring to his superior) to ask Jesus who is the “one to betray me” — actually, “deliver me” spiritually .

      http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/hegesippus.html

      1
    • Avatar
      judaswasjames  January 26, 2014

      Check this out! Dr. Eisenman has a lot to say about all these themes in his work also. Nicodemus, Lazarus, Beloved disciple, Judas, Nathanael, Matthias, Joseph Barsabbas JUSTus, John Mark, Stephen, naked young man, many more, are all James:
      http://www.sheshbazzardaq.com/annas-ananus-ananias.html

      1
  3. Avatar
    TomTerrific  January 24, 2014

    I know it’s not strictly on target but did Dr. King mention anything about releasing the test results that have been delayed a year?

  4. Avatar
    Javalos  January 24, 2014

    Before Jesus died, were there varied views on what it meant to be an apocalyptic Jew? Just like we have varied views in the 1st century (and even today) what it means to be “Christian?”

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  January 26, 2014

      Yes, there were various ways of being apocalyptic; but it’s important to realize that ancient Jews did not call themselves apocalypticists; that’s what modern scholars call them. But there were different kinds of them (the Pharisees and Essenes and followers of John the Baptist were all apocalyptically minded)

      • Avatar
        judaswasjames  January 27, 2014

        Because they knew better. The “Apocalypse” is within, just like the passages say: “kingdom not of this world” and “I am the resurrection and the Life; he who believes in me, THOUGH HE DIE, yet shall he live.” -John 11:25.
        “Sacrifice the man that bears me”….. Is this making sense yet? The “Apocalypse” is between the ears.

        Gnosticism, Bart! Gnosticism! Forget the church. It really messed with your head.

        1
  5. Avatar
    Michael Burgess  January 24, 2014

    Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent. However, it’s not impossible that when Jesus gave up his career as a day laborer in Galilee and took to the road, he may have left behind a wife and kids, just as easily. Contemporary readers just don’t like to look on the Lamb of God as a deadbeat dad.

  6. Avatar
    revben02  January 24, 2014

    Hi Dr. Bart!!
    Watched ALL of your lecture to the RAMTHA people. As a Spiritualist minister, I’ve watched JZ over the years and have a film of her channeling during the early years. Very interesting!!
    Thoroughly enjoyed you presentation on both nights: knowledge, wit, humour and just a touch of sarcasm to keep things interesting!! I would love to be young enough to take some of your classes and get another Master’s or perhaps a Doctorate!!
    I print your blog every day and am keeping them to use to teach and for church lectures.
    If you ever come to Florida, you are invited to my little church, The Chapel of Spiritual Light in Orlando, Florida.
    All the best,
    Rev. Ben

  7. Avatar
    Lance Odus  January 25, 2014

    I know that the “Gospel of Philip does not have much if any real historical veracity to it about Jesus’ life, but does the references about Jesus and Mary Magdalene being lovers and the wholes in the papyrus ‘kissing’ verse (verses 32 and 55 in your “Lost Scriptures” book), help support the view that this most likely Gnostic Christian sect truly believed and taught that Jesus and Mary M were married?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  January 26, 2014

      It never says they were lovers. It says they were companions/associates. And the kissing does not mean foreplay here. I think I’ll post on the question!

      1
  8. Avatar
    judaswasjames  January 25, 2014

    The Essenes “thought that they were living in the end times” because they knew it would come AT DEATH, not to the whole world in a final cataclysm. They learned under the tutelage of James, a real Master — unlike the made-up one Christians worship. This was and still is a commonplace misconception. Just shows how people can and do repeat others’ mistakes.

  9. Avatar
    judaswasjames  January 25, 2014

    They were all celibate because it is advisable to preserve one’s energy for mystic practice.

  10. Avatar
    toddfrederick  January 25, 2014

    I have one question:

    You said …..” except in times of constant war, men always outnumbered women in ancient societies. That’s because so many women died in childbirth. But that means that there is no way that every man had to be married. There simply weren’t enough women!”

    You also said the same thing in the latest video you posted in response to a question from the audience.

    My question: ** Was it the female babies who died more than the male babies, or was it the mothers who died, when you refer to “women”? ** I’m assuming here that the ancient Jews did not kill female babies as is done in many parts of the world today..

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  January 26, 2014

      The mothers died in childbirth. And offhand I don’t know if infanticide was more widely practiced for girls than boys. Seems like the sort of thing that has a clear answer — maybe someone else on the blog knows….

  11. Avatar
    gavm  January 25, 2014

    Why does it matter to people if he was married? Should it matter? these seem like very silly questions if we think about them for 5 mins. the reason the whole world knows who this jewish carpenter who died in humiliation 2000 yrs ago is isnt because he was a particularly nice guy but because billions of people think he was God himself. if he was married it was strongly suggest that this isnt the case and would suggest he was actually quite human, especially if he had kids! (this might be a Hercules like situation going on) so of course it matters to the vast majority of people genuinely interested in Jesus. maybe to atheists it wouldn’t matter

  12. Avatar
    toejam  January 25, 2014

    I think Matthew 19:10-12 points in favor of him not being married:

    10 His disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” 11 But he said to them, “Not everyone can accept this teaching, but only those to whom it is given. 12 For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.” (Matthew 19:10-12 NRSV)

    This saying definitely passes the criteria of dissimilarity and coherence. It’s also not very uncommon for religious cult leaders to choose abstinence – even to the extreme. Marshall Applewhite gave himself ‘the chop’, I believe. And he too had apocalyptic expectations, preaching that the Earth was soon to be “recycled”.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  January 26, 2014

      You seem to be taking “eunuch” to mean “sexually abstinent”?

      1
      • Avatar
        toejam  January 26, 2014

        I think he’s saying “Look, if you can be sexually mute, it is better to do so”.

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  January 27, 2014

          Maybe so. But to be made a eunuch in ancient sources usually meant to be castrated, literally.

          1
  13. Avatar
    Wilusa  January 25, 2014

    I think that when I was being raised Catholic, I would have been shocked at the idea of Jesus’s being married – because Catholicism emphasizes his being God. As such, he was superior to everyone else. Quite aside from thoughts of his having sex, what kind of marriage would it be if one spouse was an inferior disciple of the other, rather than an equal partner?

    But in later years, as a non-believer, I had a different view. I thought he might have been a widower during his public life…or been estranged from a wife who didn’t share his views…or even had a wife and children somewhere, whose names were never mentioned out of concern for their safety. Or he might never have been married. What I thought was ridiculous was the notion that he was married to Mary Magdalene, or to any other named woman who was openly traipsing around with him and his disciples…because there would have been no reason to be secretive about it!

  14. Avatar
    Wilusa  January 25, 2014

    By the way, will we be able to see a video of this discussion? I hope, I hope..

  15. Avatar
    Shubhang  January 25, 2014

    And do we have positive evidence that John the Baptist was unmarried as well? That would make a very nice continuity of bachelors – John, the master, Jesus and Paul, the pupil (loosely put, I admit). What about the other apostles? I assume there is no evidence of them being married men either – in which case, the entire chain of teachers and students, starting from John ends up being unmarried, single men – which would fit in very well with their apocalyptic worldview and disprove Dan Brown’s sweeping generalization on universal conjugation in the Jewish world

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  January 26, 2014

      I’m afraid we don’t have any evidence one way or the other with John.

      • Avatar
        donmax  January 29, 2014

        Nor with Jesus, I’m afraid.
        What you call “evidence” in the one instance (apocalyptic preaching + kingdom ethics) could also be applied to JB.

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  January 30, 2014

          Possibly! But we have far, far less information about his life than about the life of Jesus.

          1
          • Avatar
            donmax  January 30, 2014

            Yes, possibly. But knowing more doesn’t mean you know enough!

          • Avatar
            donmax  January 31, 2014

            Bart,
            I think this is the crux of the problem in dealing with what we know (or think we know) about Jesus.

            When you say we have “far less information” about JB than we do about Jesus, the underlying presumption is that more is better. Not so, I fear. For the better part of two millennia the Christianized world has magnified biblical misinformation to the point of being irreversible, except in rare instances. It is precisely because we think we know so much that keeps most people in the dark, an affliction affecting secular and agnostic scholars, too.

            Few writers sum up our predicament as well as Paula Fredriksen. “New Testament historians attempt to sort out fact from later tradition by applying the various critical methodologies…dissimilarity, multiple attestation, and so on…to the evangelical accounts of Jesus’ ministry. But dispute on the status of individual passages seems endless: a saying or story that evinces a clear ‘ring of authenticity’ for one scholar often displays to another, just as unambiguously, the earmarks of ecclesiastical origin.”

            Part of the reason we still don’t know the “real Jesus” is that for far too long most of us have been taught the same ole stories and sayings written by people who never really knew him; my point being HE CAN ONLY BE KNOWN AS A CHARACTER WITHIN A LITERARY CONTEXT, like Hamlet or Macbeth.

            Best,
            DCS

    • Avatar
      Wilusa  January 27, 2014

      I’m sure it’s mentioned somewhere in the Gospels that Peter was married.

  16. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  January 25, 2014

    Another fascinating post. I guarantee you are never going to run out of material to post.

  17. Avatar
    rlboles  January 25, 2014

    Some time ago you had a post about a manuscript fragment in which Jesus seemed to refer to “my wife”. As I recall, you mentioned that a carbon dating test was to be used to determine its age. Any results from that test?

  18. Avatar
    FrancisDunn  January 25, 2014

    Dr Ehrman

    I realize that many women died in child birth, thus making women for marriage scarce. Would a shiksa be against his religion??

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  January 26, 2014

      Well, against his cultural heritage, in any event. (There probably weren’t any Gentile women in Nazareth in any event….)

  19. Avatar
    donmax  January 26, 2014

    Been thinking about whether or not Jesus was married. Seems to me Karen King and Mark Jordan are right. There’s not enough evidence to know, one way or the other. This can also be said of similar unknowable claims about him as well. But what you offer as “your view” merely adds to the confusion, I think, so long as you persist in speaking of probabilities instead of possibilities.

    When you say, for example, that “Jesus was most probably NOT MARRIED,” it leaves the impression that there are good reasons for his being single instead of wedded. Why? Because John the Baptist, the Essenes and Saint Paul were bachelors? But if we must talk numbers, what about Peter, and all the other unnamed disciples sent out “two by two”? and what about the vast majority of husbands among the Jewish population as a whole? On the other hand, if you had said, “I prefer to think of Jesus as not having a wife,” or “it seems reasonable that he might have been single,” or even “some people think he was married and may have had a wife and children, but I don’t agree,” that at least would reflect some level of uncertainty without favoring your personal opinion as the more *probable* conclusion. In other words, your appeals to “probability” only enhance *the appearance of historical truth*.

    When we speak of past events as being more or less probable it implies ratios, percentages and numbers, something that is frequently missing when evaluating biblical history. Even claims that there is some sort of *scholarly consensus* merely sets up straw polls among unnamed experts, too often without numerical citation. (In this respect, I believe members of the Jesus Seminar have been the most honest in making their collective judgments.)

    I know you like to speak of probabilities, backed up by popular criteria, but as I see it, this approach most likely borders on a serious misuse of language. In some instances it even descends into a form of rhetorical fallacy.

    So I ask you, what are the odds that Jesus was married? 😉

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  January 26, 2014

      I haven’t given my argument yet! All I’ve done is said that the claim that he must have been married because he was a Jewish man is absolutely wrong.

      • Avatar
        donmax  January 29, 2014

        You said much more than that — namely, “My view is that Jesus was most probably not married,” an affirmative statement in the negative. Also, ” But I do incline toward the view that he wasn’t married. ” Then you proceed to add additional arguments in support of your view/conclusion as follows: “we know in fact that there were unmarried Jewish men in the time and place of Jesus, ” after which you cite the Essenes, JB, Paul, Josephus etc., to buttress your claim. My response is to note how you build a fallacious argument (apparently unknowingly) by appealing to separate examples which may or may not apply to the individual instance — in this case, that of Jesus. The more compelling example, I think, beyond your citations and strictly by the numbers, is the demographic one. Many more Jews of 1st century Palestine were of an apocalyptic mindset , particularly Galileans, yet they were nonetheless MARRIED WITH CHILDREN.

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  January 30, 2014

          That’s like saying that my niece is most probably married because most people in 21st century America are married.

          1
          • Avatar
            donmax  January 30, 2014

            Exactly! Either way it’s a weak argument. And, I didn’t say “most probably,” just “more compelling” by the numbers. Perhaps “equally compelling” would be better. (BTW, if you gave me the age of your niece I could give you the “probable” odds of whether or not she is, or is not, married! The same could be done with Jesus. On that basis, we would at least establish the probability of his having a wife, whether or not he actually had one, which for all practical purposes, is “unknowable.” Of course, the issue of being celibate and having children is something else again. 😉

  20. Avatar
    Wilusa  January 26, 2014

    Just rereading this, I was struck by your saying that before Paul became a Christian, he was already an apocalyptic Jew. Is it possible that when he was persecuting Christians, he *didn’t realize* Jesus had been an apocalypticist – and learning that was what made him change his mind?

    A second, but possibly related question: Could it be that while he was en route to Damascus, he was pondering an argument someone had made to him on behalf of Christianity, and decided it was convincing? And he later invented the “vision of Jesus” story because he didn’t want to give that other person credit for his conversion?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  January 26, 2014

      I think it was one apocalypticist opposing another — just as the Essenes (apocalypticists) saw the Pharisees (other apocalypticists) as their enemies. Not so strange: Ted Cruz and Barack Obama are both capitalists!

      Your possibility is possible! But I tend to think that Paul was not a flat-out liar, and that he really thought he *had* seen Jesus, and that is what changed everything.

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