The issue of whether Jesus Christ was married is an emotive one to some Christians. That is why when Harvard professor Karen King presented research findings suggesting that Jesus had a wife, she touched some raw nerves. BRIGHT MHANGO discusses her research.
Professor Karen King may have thought that in presenting her findings on Jesus Christâ€™s marital status she was only contributing to knowledge. But her recent research paper, which led to the conclusion that Jesus had a wife, has revived an age-old debate about whether it is even right to speculate on the issue.
The Harvard University professor unveiled a fourth-century fragment of papyrus which she said is the only existing ancient text quoting Jesus explicitly referring to having a wife.
King, an expert in the history of Christianity, said the text contains a dialogue in which Jesus refers to â€œmy wife,â€ whom he identifies as Mary. She says the fragment of Coptic script is a copy of a gospel, probably written in Greek in the second century.
Four words in the 3.8 x 7.6cm fragment provide the first evidence that some early Christians believed Jesus had been married, King said. Those words, written in a language of ancient Egyptian Christians, translate to â€œJesus said to them, my wifeâ€¦,â€ King said.
She added that in the dialogue the disciples discuss whether Mary is worthy and Jesus says: â€œShe can be my disciple.â€
â€œFrom the very beginning, Christians disagreed about whether it was better not to marry,â€ she said, â€œbut it was over a century after Jesusâ€™ death before they began appealing to Jesusâ€™ marital status to support their positions.â€
The script belongs to a private collector who sought Kingâ€™s help in translation. King presented the document at a six-day conference held at Romeâ€™s La Sapienza University and at the Augustinianum Institute of the Pontifical Lateran University in Italy.
While the Vatican newspaper and Vatican Radio frequently cover such academic conferences, there was no mention of Kingâ€™s discovery in any Vatican media, reports the UKâ€™s Guardian newspaper.
Nothing is known about the circumstances of its discovery, but it had to have come from Egypt, where the dry climate allows ancient writings to survive and because it was written in a script used in ancient times there, King said.
Away from the verification, the carbon dating and the technicalities, what if Jesus actually had a wife? Would his divinity be questioned? Would Christianity be viewed lesser in the eyes of right thinking men?
Those are the questions we floated on Malawiâ€™s biggest Facebook group, â€˜My Malawi My Views.â€™
â€œEven if the research was proved true, it couldnâ€™t change my faith in Jesus Christ because the Christian faith is not based on whether Jesus had a wife or not! It is based on Jesusâ€™s death, resurrection and ascension.
â€œIt is through the death of Christ on the cross where we see the work of Christ having victory over all powers that enslaved man and deliverance from them; itâ€™s the cross that gives assurance of forgiveness of sins and life after death,â€ said Margaret Namondwe.
Many other respondents thought of the mere question of Jesus married as blasphemous, satanic, outlandish and not necessary. Some even took offense.
One Christian, Greyson Chapita, said the existence a Mrs Jesus wouldnâ€™t move his faith.
â€œWhether he had a wife or not (which I believe that he didnâ€™t have) Jesus was and is still God. It wonâ€™t change anything. Besides, he came as a human being, he was a man just like me. Jesus wants us to concentrate on him being the saviour. Some of these details have little significance on salvation,â€ said Chapita.
Emily Chirwa also agreed with Chapita, saying Jesus was a human being, born of a woman, despite being God.
â€œHe lived his life just like human do. After all, getting married is part of being human, and he was human only that, he was sinless, he never committed a sin.
â€œSo for me if I am told that he had a wife, or even kids, it canâ€™t be a big deal. What matters to me is that he defeated sin, he defeated death, he rose from the dead and he ascended into heaven, this is what matters most to me as a Christian, because this was his main agenda when he came on earth,â€ said Chirwa.
Multiphalle Manda agreed with Chirwa and quoted John 21:25 saying: â€œJesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books.â€
The Vatican newspaper has so far labeled the text as a â€˜clumsy forgery.â€™
Jim West, a professor and Baptist pastor in Tennessee, US, said: â€œA statement on a papyrus fragment isnâ€™t proof of anything. Itâ€™s nothing more than a statement â€˜in thin airâ€™, without substantial context.â€