Monday, July 13, 2015

Did Jesus Have a Cat (3)

He uses facts as a drunken man uses a lamp-post: not for illumination, but for support.

Aha, but the choice of Mary Magdalene to be Mrs Jesus is very far from arbitrary. It has always been perfectly obvious that she was, but they have been hushing it up. We will come back to who “they” are in a moment.

When you are creating a grand theory which will turn everything everyone knows about everything on its head, it is very easy to make grand, sensational claims. When you are refuting such a theory, you often have to resort to a lot of awkward details and qualifications – well, up to a point; that doesn't mean quite what you say it means; you need to look at the context. And that tends to make the skeptic seem shifty, hair splitty, evasive, boring. “Jesus was married!” lingers in the mind much longer than “Fragment of ancient document may possibly show that some early Christians believed Jesus was married.”

In an essay on his blog, which appears to form the basis for the Daily Mail article, Jacobovici cites three main reasons to think that Jesus and Mary were married (outside of his “decoding” of the British library fanfic). They seem to be very good examples of the way in which these kinds of arguments are conducted. I'm afraid my response is going to seem very shifty, hair-splitty, evasive and boring indeed.

If you don't have the attention-span to read to the end, then please take away this one suggestion. When someone -- Giles Fraser, Simcha Jacobovici, Richard Dawkins or Billy Graham -- talks in general about what "The Bible" or "The Gospels" say, go back to the text and see what the four, or, indeed, five Gospels actually say. It will almost certainly turn out to be more interesting and more complicated.

1: The Cathars said that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married.

Or, at any rate, the Inquisition sad that the Cathars said that Jesus and Mary were married.

The Cathars (and 11th century sect) definitely believed that sex, even faithful sex within Christian marriage, was a Bad Thing because it caused another spirit to get trapped in a human body. They thought that the physical universe was completely evil: not merely fallen, but actually invented by Satan. The elite "perfect" Cathars had to be completely celibate. The Cathars were also docetists: they believed (logically) that Jesus only seemed to be human, but was actually a kind of holy hologram. Which makes the suggestion that they thought that Jesus and Mary were having sex pretty odd.

But still, the Inquisition said that they said that Jesus and Mary were married. And if you can't trust the Inquisition, who can you trust?

2: The Gnostics said that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married.

Besides the canonical Gospels, there are the so-called “Gnostic” Gospels. The Gnostics – or “wisdom seekers” – were an early branch of Christianity, whose origins we don’t know. What we do know is that they represent the losers in the Christian orthodoxy game. Pauline Christians won, the Gnostics lost. But the Gnostic Gospels have as much claim to legitimacy as the canonical Gospels. Until recently, we had almost no Gnostic Gospels to refer to. Why? Because after the 4th century, the Church burnt their Gospels and the people who believed in them.

In 1947, in Nag Hammadi, Egypt, the Gnostics got their revenge. At that time, several of their Gospels were found hidden in jars. One is called The Gospel of Philip, the other is called The Gospel of Thomas. These Gospels match another find: in 1896, in Akhmim in upper Egypt, a Gnostic gospel called The Gospel of Mary was also discovered. The Gnostic Gospels all tell the same story – Jesus was married. More than this, for them his marriage and sexual activity was more important than his “passion” in Jerusalem. Simply put, they were more interested in his passion in bed than in his passion on the cross.

As for Mary the Magdalene, with respect to Jesus, the Gnostic Gospel of Philip calls her by the Greek terms koinonos and hotre. These terms have traditionally been translated as “companion”. 

What they really signify is a “sexual partner”. They explicitly refer to heterosexual intercourse. 

Point 1: "Gnostic Gospels have as much claim to legitimacy as the canonical gospels."

Well, it all depends on what you mean by "legitimacy".

If a Christian theologian said that the (gnostic) Gospel of Thomas and the (canonical) Gospel of Matthew had equal "legitimacy", he would mean "both are equally authoritative sources for establishing the morals and beliefs of the Christian church."

If Richard Dawkins said that Thomas and Matthew had equal "legitimacy" (which he does, even though he is probably thinking of a different Thomas) he would mean "they are both equally a load of old rubbish."

If a hippy Jesus-freak from Chalice Well said that Thomas and Matthew had equal "legitimacy" (which they do, frequently) he would mean something like "I can read both, and they are both, like, in a deep sense, totally true, man".

And if an Historian said that Thomas and Matthew had equal "legitimacy" he would mean "Both are equally useful as sources of information about the real historical Jesus." Some historians do think that Thomas is based on traditions about Jesus that are as old as an independent from the four Biblical Gospels. Others think the writer of Thomas knew Matthew, Mark and Luke.

I think that if pressed, Jacobovici would say that he was speaking in sense 3: the Gospel of Thomas is describing a spiritual path, followed by at least some Christians in the ancient world, and no council or committee has the right to determine what kind of spiritual practices individuals ought to follow. But I think that the general reader, who knows little of the gnostic or the Bible, will think that he means "they are equally good historical sources"; “they take us equally close to the Historical Jesus.”

Point 2: "The gnostics were wisdom-seekers".

Gnosis means "knowledge". As in prognosis, diagnosis and agnostic. The Greek word for wisdom is sophos, as in philosopher, sophistry, and sophomore.

Does this slip matter? I think it does. Calling the gnostics “wisdom-seekers” implies that they were plain, simple seekers after truth. In fact, what they believed in was esoteric, secret knowledge. They believed that you could have direct knowledge of God in this world; and that if you had that knowledge you would live for ever in the next. They believed that in order to get that knowledge, you needed very complicated maps of the afterlife, levels of reality, names of different angels, and other occult stuff. This is why gnostic scripture reads like the book of Revelation with the jokes taken out:

There appeared to them the great attendant Yesseus Mazareus Yessedekeus, the living water, and the great leaders, James the great and Theopemptos and Isaouel, and they who preside over the spring of truth, Micheus and Michar and Mnesinous, and he who presides over the baptism of the living, and the purifiers, and Sesengenpharanges, and they who preside over the gates of the waters, Micheus and Michar, and they who preside over the mountain, Seldao and Elainos, and the receivers of the great race, the incorruptible, mighty men the great Seth, the ministers of the four lights, the great Gamaliel, the great Gabriel, the great Samblo, and the great Abrasax, and they who preside over the sun, its rising....

How very true that is. How very true.

Point 3: " The Gnostic Gospels all tell the same story – Jesus was married. "

Again, I think that Jacobovici is using language that will give the non-specialist reader the impression that the evidence is far stronger than it actually is. (God knows, I am not a specialist, but I am a sufficiently sad case that I am prepared to dig out big books in double column texts, check concordances and generally say "that's quite interesting, but what do the texts actually say?”)

I think that the general reader would take the above to mean that the gnostic gospels in general say that Jesus was married and that this was the big secret revealed in the scrolls dug up in 1947. I think that it paints a picture in the reader’s mind of a bipolar contest between "married Jesus gnosticism" and "celibate Jesus orthodoxy". (It also implies that the Nag Hammadi jars contained two texts, where they actually contained about fifty. The majority of the texts reference neither Mary nor Jesus.)

But let's be nice and assume that when he says that "the Gnostic Gospels" all say Jesus was married, he means simply that the three documents he's just named — Mary, Philip, Thomas — all say that Jesus was married.

They don't.

None of them uses words like married, wife, bride, bridegroom or husband about Mary and Jesus. They do, however, say that Jesus and Mary had some kind of "special relationship" with Jesus.

The Gospel of Mary says that Jesus told Mary secrets that he didn't tell the other disciples;

Peter said to Mary, "Sister, we know that the Savior loved you more than all other women. Tell us the words of the Savior that you remember, the things which you know that we don't because we haven't heard them."      

Mary responded, "I will teach you about what is hidden from you." And she began to speak these words to them. .....

This is, of course, what esoteric writing always does. You don't say "I've invented some new quotes and attributed them to Jesus". You say “Jesus (or Adam, or Moses, or Merlin, or Socrates) trusted some previously obscure character with a great secret; and I’m now in a position to reveal what that secret was.” 

Something similar happens in the gospel of Thomas. Here it is the doubtful disciple who Jesus has left a secret message with, but at the very end there is a reference to Mary being a special disciple: 

Simon Peter said to them: "Let Mary go away from us, for women are not worthy of life." 

Jesus said: "Look, I will draw her in so as to make her male,  so that she too may become a living male spirit, similar to you. Every woman who makes herself male will enter the kingdom of heaven."

This leaves us with the frankly impenetrable gospel of Philip, which says explicitly that Jesus loved Mary more than the other disciples and that he sometimes kissed her. It also says explicitly that "we" should all kiss one another, and that kissing has a mystical significance.

And had the word gone out from that place, it would be nourished from the mouth and it would become perfect. For it is by a kiss that the perfect conceive and give birth. For this reason we also kiss one another. We receive conception from the grace which is in one another.

But even if "Philip" thinks Jesus kissed Mary in a non-spiritual way, "he kissed her" is not the same thing as "he married her". Although it is, I concede, mighty interesting.

Philip also contains a fragmentary passage which goes like this:

Three women always walked with the master: Mary his mother, his sister, and Mary of Magdala, who is called his companion. For “Mary” is the name of his sister, his mother, and his companion. Father and son are simple names, holy spirit is a double name. They are everywhere, above and below, in the hidden and in the visible. The holy spirit is in the visible, and then it is below, and the holy spirit is in the hidden, and then it is above.

So everything turns on the English word "companion" which stands in for the Greek word koinonos. Jacobovici says that it refers straightforwardly to heterosexual intercourse, but anyone with access to a concordance can easily prove that it doesn't.

In Matthew's Gospel, James and John are said to be Peter's koinonos. This doesn't mean that they were having heterosexual intercourse with him: it means they shared a fishing business.

St Paul tells the Corinthians that Titus is his koinonos. He obviously means that they are working together as missionaries, not that they are having heterosexual sex.

Paul also tells Philemon that if he still regards him as a koinonos, he should forgive Onesimus. He doesn't mean that he and Philemon used to be having sex. 

This is not to say that the three apocryphal gospels are uninteresting or un-intriguing. They are very interesting and very intriguing indeed. The question of how Mary went from having a 50 word cameo in a first century Gospel to being Jesus' bestest friend in a third century mystical text is certainly worth asking.

"Mary Magdalene has a very small part in the Bible, but is given a bigger role in some ancient mystical writing": true

"The idea that Mary and Jesus were more than just good friends had occurred to some ancient mystical writers": also true. 

"The Gnostics are unanimous: Mary and Jesus were married". Not so much.

3: The four Gospels imply that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married.

To quote, again (this passage is used directly in the Daily Mail piece):

Specifically, after the Crucifixion, the Gospels agree that it was Mary the Magdalene who went early Sunday morning to wash and anoint Jesus’ crucified body, and to prepare it for burial (Mark 16:1). People have a quaint idea that ancient Jews in Jerusalem went around “anointing” each other. They didn’t. What the Gospels are telling us is that Mary the Magdalene went to Jesus’ tomb to wash and prepare his body for burial. That’s the Gospels, not me. Then and now, no woman would touch the naked body of a dead Rabbi, unless she was family. According to the Gospels, Jesus was whipped, beat and crucified. No woman would wash the blood and sweat off his private parts unless she was his wife.

POINT 1: "That's the Gospels, not me."

No, actually, that's you. 

The Gospels do not say that Mary went to "wash" Jesus. The Gospels say she went to "anoint" him.

Or to be precise. One Gospel says she went to "anoint" him; one says that she “took spices” to the tomb; and two just say that she went to look at the tomb without giving any specific reason.

To be even more precise: Mark says that Mary went to the tomb to aleĆ­pho Jesus, which is what the disciples did to sick people they were healing, and which is what the other Mary did when she poured expensive oil on Jesus feet.  Our Mary did not, unfortunately, go to the tomb to chrio him, which means to "pour oil over the head of a king". It would have made Mr Expositor's life easier if she had, because the word for someone-who-has-been-anointed is, of course, christos, Christ. This is almost as much fun as the Silmarillion, isn't?

It’s this kind of thing which makes talking about the Bible incredibly frustrating. "Everyone knows" what the text says; so no-one actually reads it. It's like the Christmas Story. If there was an Inn, there must have been an Innkeeper, and if there was an Innkeeper, he probably had a wife, and very likely a cat as well. And if there was a manger, there almost definitely must have been a stable, and if there was a stable there was almost definitely a donkey, and a cow. And people find it hard to accept that the cow is something that they have added to the story, not something which is actually there: they get genuinely angry when you point out that thee is no cow in the Bible.

I think that it is perfectly reasonable to infer that if Jesus went to a Jewish wedding, he probably knew how to dance. I think that it is perfectly reasonable to infer that when Jesus said "blessed are the peace makers” he included all makers of dairy produce. And I think that it is perfectly reasonable to suppose that if you are going to rub olive oil into the head of a corpse, you might wash it first. But I think you have to be very careful of saying that something that you read into the text is actually in the text.

What do we definitely know about Jewish burial customs, in any case? Did wives, and only wives, embalm the dead? Did it make a difference to the rules about posthumous decency if the deceased had been hanging up stark naked in a public place for several hours before he died? Were women not permitted to bring hot water to men in public bath houses, or tend to them after a battle? Even in prudish societies, female nurses have been allowed to dress and undress sick men, although not usually vice versa. Since Mary was going to defile herself by touching a dead body, would seeing or touching a man’s private parts have necessarily made it any worse?

I ask merely for information. What are our sources for this kind of thing?

POINT 3 "The Gospels agree that it was Mary the Magdalene who went early Sunday morning to wash an anoint Jesus' crucified body"

This is another tremendously slippery statement. It's not untrue, but it's not completely true either. Sentences beginning "the Gospels agree" hardly ever are.

"The Gospels agree that Mary Magdalene went..." does not mean quite the same thing as "The Gospels agree that it was Mary Magdalene who went..." A piece of argument has been elided.

Matthew says that Mary went to the tomb with another woman; Mark says she went with two others; Luke that she was one of a group of at least five. John implies that she had companions, but doesn't say who or how many.

"All four gospels say that a group of women went to the tomb. They don't agree on the names of the women who went, but they all agree that Mary was one of them. So we reckon that by the time the Gospels were being composed, there must have been a tradition that said that Mary was pretty important"...that  might be a reasonable thing to say. But it is squished down into. "It was Mary who went to the tomb". Anyone who doesn't look it up will get a picture of Mrs. Jesus making the sad trek to the funeral parlor by herself, because as a widow, she's the only person who can.  Which is just not true.

And this softens us up for when the rabbit of the “coded” gospel is pulled out of the theological hat. We’re more likely to believe that Mrs Joseph is “obviously” Mrs Jesus if we have an idea running round our heads that the Gospels and the Apocrypha say far more about Mary Magdalene then they actually do.


But there is another, much more serious problem with the idea that you can use the canonical descriptions of the death and resurrection of Jesus as evidence that He was married. I expect you have spotted it already. It's the same brick wall that arguments of this kind always end up smashing their head against.



Matthew: After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. 

Mark: When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus' body.

Luke: On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb.....When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. 

John: Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don't know where they have put him!"

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A long time ago I wrote down everything I know about Religion and put it in a book, It would be lovely if you read it.

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