Was Jesus married?

First of all, it seems only common sense that Jesus was married. In Jewish society, a man married at 18 and a woman even younger than that (if you can call them men and women at that age). Probably the parents arranged the marriages. It was expected that they would then “be fruitful and multiply.”

For a woman not to bear children was a shame, and I don’t mean in the sense of a disappointment. She was shamed and ostracized and it was definitely grounds for divorce. This cultural difference has caused us to misread a lot of what is in the New Testament. It was explained to me once by a Coptic Christian (this is an ancient group of Christians from Egypt, Somalia and Sudan) that the woman at the well was not a “fallen woman” but rather a woman spurned by her own society because she had no children. Perhaps we have misread Mary Magdalene in the same manner. She was a woman shamed because she was barren. Then this situation carried over to my main character Elizabeth, who was redeemed by the birth of John and then shamed again when he refused to marry.

I believe that Jesus, as a dutiful and loving son, would have married, and that he would have been a dutiful and loving husband who would not have divorced his wife even if she was barren.

I portrayed John differently as his character seems more given to extremes than Jesus’s. There was a group in those days called the Essenes who lived in strict, almost monastic circumstances and refrained from sex. John might have been influenced by them in his youth. He certainly adopted some of their habits, like living frugally in the wilderness. It is possible that John married at 18 and then later turned his back on his wife and any children he may have had, but this would not have made him a very sympathetic character to modern eyes. The same could be said of Jesus. After all, he recommended to his followers to turn their back on their families and follow him.

Jesus, too, may have been influenced by the Essenes for a time, but his teachings and beliefs were fundamentally different. The Essene texts talk about and condemn a “rogue” rabbi who may very well have been Jesus.

So why do none of our Biblical texts talk about Jesus being married? The Christian church as it developed began to return to the cultural norms of the Greco-Roman world that gave a secondary role to women. It rejected scriptures that gave a principle place to women, such as the gospels of Philip, Thomas and Mary Magdalene. These books were also more arcane and metaphysical.

The early church decided that women, contrary to Jesus’ teachings and practice, had to be put in their place. Women could not be priests and priests could not marry. They made much of Paul’s strictures against marriage in I Corinthians 7. But he makes it clear in these verses that he believed there was not much time left, “for this world, as it is now, will not last much longer.” (I Cor. 7:8) As he was wrong about that, I believe he was also wrong about marriage. [If Paul even wrote this letter. There is some doubt about his authorship of some of the epistles.] But the burgeoning Christian Church crushed the idea of Jesus being married and totally discredited the woman to whom he was probably married as nothing better than a prostitute, though even the gospels that remain in our official Scripture never name her so.

We all know how this decision has led to the continued dominance of men over women that continues in the church to this day. Just as in the Muslim faith, this dominance is culturally imposed and has little to do with religion. It is more than time, in my opinion, that the Catholic Church admit its mistake and restore an equal and right relationship between men and women, just as Jesus himself did, having many women followers whom he did not relegate to the kitchen. (see the story of Mary and Martha in all the official gospels.)

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