From Our Archives
WILLIAM EDELEN (1922 – 2015)
The Contrary Minister
A very live and contemporary issue today, with many magazines and newspapers covering it, is the question “Was Jesus Married?” This is all due to a lost manuscript that has surfaced. An outstanding article in the New York Times for Sept 27th, was Fighting Over God’s Image. Please find a copy and read it if this is a subject that appeals to you.
A number of years ago when Dr. Robert Funk had his Jesus Seminar here in Palm Springs with over 100 leading New Testament scholars present, he asked me to give the lecture on The Sexuality of Jesus. The fear among many of pursuing this subject has been revealing and shocking. Also a number of years ago The Sexuality of Christ in the Renaissance Art and in modern Oblivion received rave reviews from all quarters. It was written by Leo Steinberg, who delivered the material at a Lionel Trilling Seminar at Columbia University and was honored by the College Art Association of America with its annual award. Some will find it offensive… those who find all expressions of sexuality offensive. The sexuality of Jesus is very obvious in the paintings.
Jesus was a Hebrew male, a man in the fullest sense and a sexual human being in the same sense that all men are sexual human beings. And yet, for some strange, neurotic and weird reason, many want to keep this subject behind drawn shades, or else locked in the closet. Many times, in study groups and seminars, when I have presented material that would indicate that Jesus was either married or had a mistress, there has been a tensing up and then after thinking it over, a gradual relaxing with the subject.
Even Martin Luther faced this issue squarely, saying in his “Tabletalk” that Jesus probably had sexual relations with Mary Magdalene as well as “other women.” That Luther was a pretty gutsy guy. He also wrote: “If your wife is cold, call the maid.” Of course Luther was not alone in his robust attitude toward sexuality. Pope Julius II by a papal decree established a “secret” brothel in Rome that flourished under his successors, Leo X and Clement VII. The earnings of the brothel supported the Holy Sisters of the Order of St. Mary Magdalene. (Church history is not as dull as you might think).
But back to the sexuality of Jesus. Ancient Judaism, at his time, valued married life highly. They disdained celibacy. Every man took marriage seriously. There are no instances of life long celibacy in the entire Old Testament, the Apocrypha, the Qumran scrolls, the Mishnah or the Talmud.
Our 20th century sexual liberalism is not the issue here. What is the issue are the sexual attitudes of first-century Judaism and it is recorded that Jesus traveled around the countryside in intimate companionship with a group of women, including Mary Magdalene. His entourage included “women who ministered unto him of their substance” (Luke 8:13). His women followers remained faithful to him right through to the end (as compared with Judas and Peter, for instance). And our New Testament Gospels say that only Mary Magdalene and her women attended the tomb of Jesus.
The duty of becoming betrothed shortly after puberty was axiomatic in ancient Judaism. Marriage was a religious duty that every man took seriously, and the Gospel of Mary, discovered in Egypt, leaves no doubt about the matter, suggesting that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married.
In the Gnostic Gospel of Philip, one part reads as follows: “There were three who walked with Jesus at all times, Mary, her sister Salome and Magdalene, she who is called his partner.” In another sentence, Mary Magdalene is referred to as the “spouse” of Jesus, and tells how he kissed her often. The treasure of Gnostic gospels, discovered only as recently as 50 years ago, have many references to the sexuality of Jesus. Professor Helmut Koester of Harvard University writes that the collection of sayings in many of the Gnostic gospels include traditions older than the gospels of our New Testament. And in the Gospel of Philip are these words: “The companion of Jesus is Mary Magdalene. Jesus loved her more than all the disciples and used to kiss her often on the mouth. Jesus said to the other disciples, ‘why do I not love you as I love her?’”
This is not such a new theme, really. D.H.Lawrence and Nikos Kazantsakis made the issue of Jesus’ sexuality central to two of their works. And of course one of the most haunting and beautiful songs to come out of Jesus Christ Superstar was the tender rendition of I Don’t Know How to Love Him sung by Mary Magdalene to Jesus.
The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art introduces readers to a very legitimate dimension of Jesus, the man who was fully human. Many who have no problem with Jesus and sex would find it refreshing. So, the controversy of today about did Jesus have a wife is an old issue with moss growing on it… long ago settled by distinguished biblical scholars. But still a subject that throws the thin lipped biblical robots into a state of mental and moral frenzy.