Thursday, July 23, 2015

Why I Would Rather The Labour Party Were In Opposition Forever Than The Tories Were In Government Forever With No Opposition


I am Socialist. 

In fact, I am probably your worst nightmare. I am a Christian Socialist. 

(I can answer the one about men's bottoms better than Tim Farron, but I am not going to.) 

I am not a Marxist or Communist. I think that everyone, including me, should pay slightly more taxes; and that the money be spend on schools, hospitals, libraries and parks which everyone, including me, can use.

I am also, incidentally, a liberal, in the sense that I think that everybody should be allowed to do whatever they like so long as it isn't interfering with anybody else. ("I find it squicky" does not count as interfering.)

My ideal arrangement would be a consensus around the political center-left:
  • Health care free at the point of need
  • Public service broadcasting
  • State schools that are sufficiently good, that no-one needs to pay for private education
  • A job for every one who wants one 
  • Everyone with a job able to afford a mortgage (or rent on a decent home); to feed and clothe their family; and have a bit left over for beer
  • Everyone without a job paid an allowance so they can buy food and pay rent and have a bit left over for beer
  • No-one made to feel like an outsider or in danger because of their headwear or the word they use for "god" or who they fall in love with (this includes headwear, deities, and sexual practices I persohnally find squicky) 
  • A country where we don't execute school children; spank murderers; or torture people who look a bit like people who think might be terrorists. 
  • The rich permitted to continue tearing small woodland animals to pieces in the privacy of their own homes if they really want. 
However, as I understand it, a center-left government is not currently one of the options on the table.

The options on the table appear to be

1: A far right government that wants to abolish the BBC, abolish the welfare state, abolish the NHS and bring back the Workhouse, with an center left opposition that criticizes them, attacks them, campaigns against them, picks holes in their laws at committee stage, supports protesters and strikers and generally makes life as hard as possible for the government. 

2: A far right government that wants to abolish the BBC, abolish the welfare state, abolish the NHS and bring back the Workhouse and an opposition which positively encourages them, in the hope that, in 2025, the opposition can form a government which believes in abolishing the BBC and bringing back the workhouse.

So I choose option 1. Obviously, option 3 (a center left government with a center right opposition) would be the best option. But it isn't on offer.

They won't call them workhouses. But silly teenagers are going to carry on having sex whatever Geroge Osbourne says. Particularly when the newspapers won't ever allow realistic advise about sex, contraception and abortion to be given to school children. Dacre and Murdoch and Desmond are prudes, like all pornographers. So instead of "silly ladies with five kids from three different men being supported by the public purse" we are going to have "silly ladies with five kids from three different men who can't possibly support those kids." So either we go back to Cathy Come Home, kick her onto the streets, and send the kid catcher round to forcibly put her kids in a state orphanages (which is more expensive than Welfare) or we send poor people who simply won't stop breeding to some sort of state-run institution, probably on the model of detention centers for immigrants, where they can be taken care of away from the public gaze. And those detention centers will be made as nasty as possible, so as not to appear to reward people who have "done the wrong thing" and chosen to be poor. And the Daily Mail will say that these places are like holiday camps, and that honest people's tax dollars shouldn't be spent on water and air for women who've had sex too young when they can't afford it, and if they would rather die they had better do so so quickly and reduce the surplus populations. And Labour will say that that's what they're hearing on the doorsteps and it would be self-indulgent to disagree.
As a very wise man once said: the poor drink and dance and screw because there's nothing else to do.

Politics isn't a destination, it's a trajectory. 

At one time, we had the Tories saying "Move slowly to the right" and Labour saying "Move slowly to the left". 

Then it became the Tories saying "Move quickly to the right" and Labour saying "Move slowly to the right." 

The new policy is Tories saying "Move quickly to the right" and Labour saying "We certainly aren't going to stop you."

Perhaps one day, David Cameron will say "We have now moved as far to the right as we need to, and can stop?" On that day, will his party say "Hooray! We have moved as far to the right as we need to, and can stop." Or will they denounce him as a communist? 

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

How Democracy Works

"Now I will tell you the answer to my question. The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake."
Nineteen Eighty-Four


How I think democracy works

Everyone votes for the candidate whose politics most closely match their own.
The candidate with the most votes in a particular region goes to Parliament.
Parliament as a whole -- consisting of many members from many different parties with many different points of view -- represents "the people" who also belong to many different parties and have many different points of view.
The many different MPs debate taxes and wars and duck houses from their various points of view, and then take a vote. Whatever the majority of MPs vote for become the Law. 

How Harriet Harman thinks democracy works.

Everyone votes for the candidate whose politics most closely match their own.
The candidate with the most votes in a particular region goes to parliament.
The party with the most seats in parliament is deemed to represent the will of of "the British people."
The opinions of those members of the British People who voted against the party with the most seats in parliament are disregarded.
It becomes the moral duty of candidates who were voted in by members of the minority party to pretend that they support the majority party because the majority party, by virtue of being the majority party, represents the will of the whole of the British people, and to vote against them would be "undemocratic". 
It is clear that the whole idea of representative democracy is a terrible mistake. It would be better to dispense with constituencies altogether, and to give which ever party secures the plurality of votes 100% of parliamentary seats, presumably picked off a party list.
Indeed, the whole idea of "parliament" is a terrible mistake: it would be better to dispense with MPs altogether and simply elect a President, with absolute dictatorial powers, for a term of 5 years.
Possibly, in fact, the whole idea of "representatives" is a terrible mistake and we should simply vote for a programme which Civil Servants would then carry out unquestioningly until the next election.
(This is extremely close to how Mr Tony Blair did, in fact govern: I don't need to listen too much to Parliament, because people voted for ME to Prime Minister; I don't need to to listen to criticism of my programme, because The People voted for The Pledges which were in The Manifesto and therefore whatever was in the Manifesto is the People's Will and it would be undemocratic of me to do anything else. The idea may be that Labour wants to treat the Tories as elected dictators in a one party state because they intend to behave like elected dictators in a one party state when they get back into power in 2025 or 2030.)

What Harriet Harman thinks happened at the 2015 election.

Harriet Harman thinks that the 2015 was a disaster for the Labour Party. She thinks that The People rejected the Labour Party on such a scale that the only sensible thing to do is to stop being the Labour Party and become something else instead.

What I think happened in the 2015 election

I think that the 2015 election was a Damn Close Thing.
I think that 37% of those of us who voted voted Tory; 30% of those of us who voted voted Labour and 33% of those of us who voted voted Something Else.
I think that 25% of us voted Tory, 20% of us voted Labour, another 20% voted for Something Else and 35% of us didn't bother to vote at all.
According to our crazy election system, that means that 51% of MPs are Tories; 36% of MPs are Labour and  13% are Something Else. But that still means that the Tories have only got a slender majority. Members of Parliament do occasionally vote against their party, or call in sick, or get stuck in traffic, so every single debate and vote ought to be regarded as a Damn Close Thing. 

What I think the point of the Opposition is.

I think the point of the Opposition is to oppose.

What Harriet Harman thinks the point of the Opposition is.

I don't know.









Sunday, July 19, 2015

Coffee and Clangers

Suppose I go to a cafe and have a horrible cup of coffee.

There are a number of things I might do. I might send it back and ask for a nicer one. I might decide not to go to that cafe any more. I might say that in the grand scheme of things drinking a horrible cup of coffee isn’t that big a deal.

On the other hand, I might draw the conclusion that it is impossible to get a nice cup of coffee anywhere in England nowadays. I might go further. Until recently, every village and high street in England was full of shops selling really great coffee. Suddenly, all the coffee shops started serving filthy American coffee — the kind where you grind up beans and force steam through the powder, not the traditional English kind that comes in bottles with a picture of a Gurkha on it. And no-one, absolutely no-one, likes this new Star Bucks drink. The BBC decided to give undue prominence to a tiny number of celebrity chefs who told everyone that the foul American drink was better. They probably did so for bad motives. Possibly they had financial interests in the new coffee shops; or possibly they just wanted to reinforce their sense of superiority by affecting to like a drink which no-one could possibly like. 

Before long, I’ll be talking about a powerful coffee lobby with a name ending in brigade or -ista who has made it impossible for anyone to say, or even think, that Nescafe is nicer than single estate Americano – except for you and me, who are the only people on earth who understand these things.

Every couple of Februarys, England loses a day or two’s work to the weather. Everybody who stops to think about it understands why this happens: we get so little snow that it would be pretty pointless to spend millions of pounds on thousands of snow plows that would sit in garages gathering dust on nine hundred and ninety nine days out of a thousand. Nevertheless, it is an important national tradition that we spend the bi-annual cold day in February saying (all together now) 

What’s the matter 
with this country
(of ours)
two inches of snow 
and it 
grinds to a halt!

That’s all perfectly good fun. Almost as much fun as laughing at the railwayman who blamed train delays on "the wrong kind of snow." (He never existed, and he never said it, but it's still good fun.) I recall a year or two back A Pundit, (possibly Christopher Hitchens' brother) going on Question Time to explain that England was now THIRD WORLD COUNTRY and we were slow at unblocking frozen roads BECAUSE COMPREHENSIVE SCHOOLS. No-one has ever actually written my coffee essay, but I do recall A Nother Pundit eating a meal that was more highly spiced then he happened to like and writing a column to the effect that there was no longer a single restaurant in England where they cooked without chili because political correctness. 

The iconic example of the genre is Paul Johnson's 1964 essay which claimed that young people didn't really like the Beatles: they were pretending to like them because politicians told them to; that music critics pretended to be able to tell the difference between different kinds of jazz to cover up the fact that it was all equally a savage cacophony; and that the youth of 1964 liked the same things that young people have always liked, namely Dante, Matisse and Proust.

I don’t think that I would go as far as Philip Sandifier who characterises this kind of mindset as fascist – the golden age, the act of backstabbing betrayal, the belief that the back-stabbers are secretly running things; the need for a mighty hero to come and slay the celebrity chefs.  I’d be more likely to call it the Old Man’s Fallacy. 

Stuff changes. Most of us are more comfortable with the stuff that was around when we were young and less comfortable with the stuff that has come along since. I remember visiting the town I grew up in after a few years absence and being confused and mildly annoyed that the 261 bus that I used to take to school was now called the 84 and stopped in a different place. It would have been terribly tempting to draw the conclusion: "It is the natural order of things for the 261 to stop outside the newsagent; Ken Livingstone must have changed it for some ulterior motive. He is a commie, after all."

In fact, I recall thinking "I suppose when you are old, everything feels like this: the whole world is confusing and mildly annoying."

It would be crazy to believe think that a bus route is part of the natural order of things. As crazy as thinking that the right number of pennies for there to be in a pound is 240, or being prepared to go to jail rather than weigh your bananas in grams. Or starting a political party to ensure that our unit of currency is never called the Euro. A millennium survey found that the second most hated man in history was Dr Beeching (after Adolf Hitler.)

And there's nothing wicked about liking old things and thinking that change for changes sake it is a bit silly. I like the fact that each generation leaves stuff for the next to look at; and I like the fact that the next generation thinks "Why on earth did the last generation leaves us that?" It reminds us that what everyone agrees is obviously true this year is not what everyone agreed was obviously true last year. Next year something different will be obviously true. Two hundred years ago the people of Bristol all thought that Edward Colston was just the kind of person you ought to commemorate with a statue. Nowadays the people of Bristol all think that a guy who made his living selling tobacco and black people is more a monster than a hero. That strikes me as a very good reason to leave the statue exactly where it is.

The Old Man's fallacy is particularly prevalent among Old Men who write for a living. It is possible to turn "I ordered a cup of coffee but it wasn't very nice" into a sparkling anecdote that makes readers want to come back next week and hear the scintillating tale about how you ordered you ordered you steak medium and got it well-done. Bill Bryson has made something of a career out of that kind of thing. But most of us, if required to transmute life's minor irritations into column inches are tempted to read the general into the particular, the universal into the specific. A proper essay on "Why Joe's Cafe served me a rotten drink" would you require you to talk to Joe, interview Joe's customers and Joe's baristas, to take a tour of Joe's kitchen and learn a little about the fine art of coffee making. Actual work; actual research; actual journalism. Any fool can rattle off  "Why this cup of coffee proves the world is in an awful mess" in an hour and a half.   

*


The Clangers was a children's animated TV show from 1970. There were 24 episodes of the original series, meticulously hand made with stop-motion animation. More or less everyone agrees that it was the best children's TV programme ever made. Forty years on, the BBC has produced a new series, twice as long as the original. 

NuClangers is about as steeped in nostalgia as a TV show could possibly be. Not a sequel or remake, it's more like a painfully devoted love-letter to the original. It uses old fashioned stop motion animation when the temptation must have been to CGI the thing. The characters are still very obviously knitted puppets, although I am told the internal skeleton is more complicated than in the olden days, so the creatures can strike poses they wouldn't have managed in the original. 

It is most unlikely that anyone at Smallfilms in 1969 said "I know, let's use knitted puppets, because that will look quaint and endearing." I think that knitting was probably just the easiest way of making little pink aliens. TV screens were smaller in those days, so probably hardly anyone saw the stitching. Valerie Singleton didn't tell us to knit a Clanger: she told us to make them out of socks. Mine was made out of an old school uniform sock: grey with silver foil armour. But that’s fine because, in the 1970s, the Clangers were grey. We realized they were knitted at the same time they turned pink: when we got to play remastered DVDs on colour tellies. 

A TV show that was obviously meant for children, but was obviously set on an alien planet seemed fresh and strange in 1970s. It can't possibly feel like that now. The original show was made by basically two people, frame by frame, in a shed, doing whatever seemed to amusing at the time. Modern TV reels of lists of set designers and animators in dozens. Old Clangers existed in a very specific time-slot, namely 5.30 on weekday evenings. We kids were still watching our after-school children’s programmes, but Daddy had just come in from work and was waiting for the early evening news. Then it would be tea time, and then, as Zebedee might have put it, time for bed. The children’s programmes that lived in that space were allowed a knowing, adult irony, because kids and grown-ups were likely to be watching them. That slot simply doesn't exist any more. The natural home of NuClangers is CBBC, which means that it has to appeal directly to kids, which makes it slightly more patronising than it was before, and slightly more moralistic. Or at any rate slightly differently moralistic. The Soup Dragon, explains the narrator carefully, is only sulking because she wanted Small Clanger to say "thank you" for the Soup; Major Clanger means well in building Granny Clanger a knitting machine, but doesn't understand that she positively likes knitting. 

If anything, its slightly too faithful to the original show. A classic Old Clangers story involved some new thing arriving on the Moon, and the Clangers, after some initial misunderstanding, making friends with it. Unusually for a kids show, it had a sort of continuity to it. If Small Clanger plants a music tree in episode 3, then there is still a music tree on the Moon in episode 5. Each episode creates a new status quo. NuClangers is reluctant to disrupt the status quo that was established in the final part of old Clangers. It has to place the Iron Chicken and the Froglets and Cloud and even the Sky Moos in fresh configurations to produce new stories. It does a good job in making up new stories about the friends that the Clangers had already made in the original series, but so far it hasn't introduced any new ones. 

The Daily Telegraph's main complaint was the blinkin' obvious one. NuClangers is narrated by Michael Palin, and Michael Palin is no Oliver Postgate. Oliver Postgate had a voice which could comment on the Universe at one moment (“this is the planet earth; our home; it is a small world, wrapped in clouds”) and on Tiny Clanger's hi-jinks the next (“I’m not sure that’s such a good idea...”) with hardly a modulation in his tone. Stephen Fry said that if he believed in God, then the voice of God would sound like Oliver Postgate. Oliver Postgate is not narrating the new series for one very good reason: he has, er, been dead for seven years. 

Well, I suppose one might possibly say "Clangers without Postgate is like Trek without Nimoy: it's an obviously silly idea, and there is no more to be said." The Telegraph proceeds to say that, because of the lack of his voice, the new series is not as sad as the original, which may, perhaps be true. (The main thing that struck me was that in the old series, space was black, but in the new series, space is blue.)

And so the Old Man's Fallacy kicks in. Fings ain’t what they used to be. The reason for this is that bad people have gone around changing fings for bad motives.

It is (concludes the essay) another example of how children’s TV has become sanitised, just like so much else in children’s lives.

To which the only possible answer is "No it isn't and no it hasn't".

No-one has sanitized anything. But it is possible that in the last 40 years, the world has changed in various small ways.

Accepting and adapting to small changes in your world is very much what Oliver Postage's original Clangers episodes were all about.


Old Men who keep abreast of new TV shows, new comic-books and (especially) new music are universally referred to as "hipsters".

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Did Jesus Have a Cat?

Part 1

Preliminary skirmish: on the history behind fairy tales.

Part 2

Have two academics discovered an overlooked fifth gospel in the manuscripts collection of the British Museum? (Clue: No.)

Part 3

Things that the Bible definitely doesn't  say about Mary Magdalene.

Part 4

The, as C.S Lewis might have put it, cardinal difficulty with conspiracy theories about Mary Magdalene.


A more convincing conspiracy. (Not safe for work.)

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Did Jesus Have a Cat (4)

It took courage to write this book, and it will take courage to read it. Because its theories and proofs do not fit into the mosaic of traditional archaeology, constructed so laboriously and firmly cemented down, scholars will call it nonsense and put it on the Index of those books which are better left unmentioned. Laymen will withdraw into the snail shell of their familiar world when faced with the probability that finding out about our past will be even more mysterious and adventurous than finding out about the future.
                     Chariots of the Gods



Jacobovici believes (of course) that St Paul substantially falsified Christianity in the first century; that it is possible, two thousand years down the line, to recover the truth about Jesus; but that there is a huge blob of "Paulist Christians" trying to stop us.

Paul came from Tarsus. Tarsus is in Turkey. Tarsus was one of the centers of the worship of the Graeco-Roman god Attis. Attis (like Mondamin and John Barleycorn) died in the winter and came back to life in the spring. So the Jesus-story was made up out of the whole cloth by St Paul and festooned arbitrarily onto Jesus. The idea of Jesus dying and rising again is Paul trying to historicize the Attis story. Attis was a celibate cult; to the extent that some priests castrated themselves; which is why Paul insisted on celibacy for Christians. (*) Once Paul had convinced everybody that Jesus, like Attis, was celibate, Mrs Mary Christ had to systematically removed from accounts of Jesus' life, although she remained in anti-Paulist, Gnostic versions. 

Jacobovici is inclined to use “Pauline Christianity” and “orthodoxy” rather interchangeably. But if St Paul invented the idea that Jesus was a dying and rising divine saviour, then every version of the Jesus-story of which we are aware was written by a "Pauline" Christian. There is no point in saying that Pauline Christianity triumphed at the Council of Nicea; or that the Paulists suppressed the Gnostics. Arius, who believed that Jesus was of a similar substance to God was just as much a Paulist as Athanasius who insisted that he was of the same substance. The Gnostics, who thought that Jesus was so totally the Son of God that he didn't have a human body at all were just as much Paulists as John, who thinks that Jesus was the Word of God in human flesh.

Jacobovici treats Pauline Christianity as a lobby which controls academic departments, determines what can and can’t be said, and which frequently argues in bad faith. He points to two recent discoveries which support his theory that Jesus married Mary Magdalene. The so-called Gospel of Jesus' Wife is a fragment of papyrus which seems to include the phrase "Jesus said 'my wife'". The so-called Jesus Family Tomb once contained the remains of someone called "Jesus, son of Joseph", who had a son called Judas; and was buried near an unidentified person called Mary. Scholars have indeed been pretty skeptical about both these "discoveries". They were skeptical about the Jesus' Wife papyrus because the text seemed altogether too close to another ancient fragment, arousing suspicion that one had been copied from the other  by a modern forger. It was also a little too good to be true that a fragment contain the words "Jesus" and "Wife" should come to light exactly when everybody was talking about the Da Vinci Code. They were skeptical about the tomb because “Jesus”, “Joseph” and “Mary” were very common first century names: by one count, there could have been a thousand men called "Jesus, Son of Joseph" in first century Jerusalem. (Jacobivici mocks this idea: saying that the tomb belongs to a different Jesus is like something out of life Brian.) They are also skeptical because the person in the tomb had a son called "Judas", and we have no reason to think that the Jesus of the Bible did.  (The probability that a tomb of "Jesus son of Jospeh connected in some way with Mary" belonged to the famous Jesus is explored very clearly here.) There are also questions about what the inscription actually says. Some people think that the iconography on the tomb shows it was at least a Christian burial. Others, not so much. That's what you'd expect that with a very old artifact.

But Jacobivici insists that anyone who doesn't accept that these discoveries prove that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene (whose name doesn't appear on the tomb or in the manuscript) are arguing in bad faith; on purely theological grounds. He uses very dramatic language to describe this:

“The rules of the game are that any archaeology that contradicts orthodox Christian theology is either too late, too early, not what it looks like or an outright forgery. Nothing, I repeat, nothing in archaeology can ever contradict what Pauline Christianity says is the gospel truth.”

“And every time something important is discovered, an unholy alliance of Pauline Christians and frustrated archaeologists forms in an attempt to debunk the find. According to these people, by definition, absolutely no archaeology that may be Jesus-related can possibly be authentic. “ 

“After all, if you believe that Jesus is God, God doesn’t have a coffin, certainly not a wife and not a child that could’ve resulted from their sexual union.”

“Immediately, the sleeper agents of Pauline Christian Orthodoxy, masquerading as objective scholars, ran to the media and began blogging that King, Bagnall, Lujendijk and Shisha-Halevy had fallen for a modern forgery.”

This is the language of conspiracy theory. The way an academic argument proceeds is for one person to present a hypothesis, and for everyone else to do their damnedest to refute it. If the hypothesis stands up to criticism, it's probably true. If the response to every counter-argument is "aha, but that's what they want you to think" then no argument can proceed. It's like accusing me of killing Lord Melchett's favorite pigeon, and deciding in advance that all the defense witnesses are liars and scoundrels because no-one but a liar and a scoundrel would speak in defense of a pigeon-murderer.

Anyway, it's quite false to say that everyone who is skeptical about the manuscript and the tomb are conservative Christians who regard everything in the Gospels as the literal truth. I'm a big fan of Mark Goodacre's podcasts. Goodacre has been an outspoken opponent of the "Jesus family tomb" theory, but he is equally skeptical about the historical truth of huge chunks of the Gospels.



The really strong evidence that the Biblical Mary was Jesus' lover is said to be the fact that she went to Jesus' tomb to anoint his body. Which is just as well: because that's all she does in the Bible. She witnesses the crucifixion; she goes to the Tomb; she runs and tells the disciples that Jesus' body has vanished, and then she disappears.

Over the years, Christians who have wanted to know more about this mystery-woman have conflated her with the woman taken in adultery; or with one of the women who washed Jesus feet with ointment and tears; or with Mary the sister of Lazarus.... And you can make up quite a nice story out of this composite figure. I really like the scene in The Passion of Christ when Mary watches Jesus being crucified and remembers that he saved her from being stoned to death. But there is not one word in the text to back the idea up.

The point of Mary's story is that when she goes to Jesus' tomb, Jesus is not in it. Put another way, the only story which Mary features in is the story of the Resurrection. And the whole crux of the married-Jesus theory is that the story of the Resurrection is Paul's invention: Jesus is a dead guy who preached some good stuff about the kingdom of God, on whom Paul imposed a story about a corn god who ripped off his own balls. 

John's version of the Resurrection story gives even an evil Paulist like me pause for thought. It’s a moving, intimate scene: one of the few times in the Bible where we see Jesus talking one-to-one with a disciple, rather than preaching to a crowd. Why is Jesus sharing this precious moment with a disciple who was only introduced on the previous page? Why not with Peter? Why not with the Beloved Disciple, in whose name the book is written? Why not with his Mother? Could there be something to the theory that Mary is Jesus special friend? (**) 

But Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping : and as she wept, she stooped down , and looked into the sepulchre, and seeth two angels in white sitting , the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain . 

And they say unto her, “Woman, why weepest thou ?”

She saith unto them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him.” 

And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus. Jesus saith unto her, “Woman, why weepest thou? Whom seekest thou?” 

She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, “Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.” 

Jesus saith unto her, “Mary.” 

She turned herself, and saith unto him, “Rabboni;” which is to say, “Master”. 

Jesus saith unto her, “Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.” 

Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that he had spoken these things unto her.

But if Paul invented the Resurrection then one thing of which we can be absolutely certain is that nothing like this ever happened. If this scene is fictional; then Mary is fictional as well. If we delete this scene from the Gospel, then we delete Mary Magdalene.

The Magdalene is a perplexing figure just because she appears only at this one crucial point in the story. If you accept the "Paul Made Everything Up" theory, then she vanishes altogether.

*

Jacobovici becomes incandescent at the suggestion that the Jesus wife fragment, if genuine, tells us that an ancient Christian sect believed that Jesus was married, but doesn't necessarily tell us anything about the historical Jesus. No, says Jacobovici:

Well, logically speaking, there are only two possibilities – either Jesus was married or he was not. Since in the 2nd century we have both traditions, one is reflecting theology and the other is preserving real history....One of those positions must be preserving history while the other is defending theology.

I have to say that I don't follow this at all. Why can't both positions be theological? Am I entitled to say "There was a tradition that two women discovered the empty tomb of Jesus, and that they ran away and didn't tell anybody; and there was also a tradition that Mary discovered the empty tomb and ran and told the disciples: one or other must be the historical truth." Can't you reply "Or perhaps they are both stories?"

And this is why all these attempts to "uncover" secret "truth" behind old documents seem to me to be so futile. They don't treat the gospels (canonical or "lost") as texts with a meaning. They see them as collections of clues, with a solution. The writers of the Christian Gospels wanted to tell us something -- something that they thought was urgent and important. And they told us in the form of a story. Of four stories. The trouble with Bible Code theories is that they direct our attention away from those stories towards some different story that they have just made up; which they privilege by calling "historical". The "lost Gospel" doesn't offer us a version of the Biblical Jesus who happened to have a wife. It's a substantially different story, in which Mary, a pagan priestess, was the star of the show; in which Jesus and Mary were married by the Emperor and in which the wine of the last supper was Mary's menstrual blood! Their methodology doesn't only prevent us from seeing what St Mark wrote; it prevents us reading the Apocrypha as well.

*

I mentioned a few weeks ago on Twitter that my next essay would either be about Mary Magdalene or about 1970s Star Wars comic books. "Why not write about both at once" said some wag. I suspect that that is precisely what I have been doing. 



















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.
Anon


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.

(continues)

Appendix

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!"








This page is supported by Patreon. If you like what you see, please pledge to donate £1 or fifty pence every time I write something. Supporters get little extras from time to time.



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.




























Friday, July 10, 2015

Did Jesus Have a Cat (2)

Bettridge's first law states that when a newspaper headline poses a question (Does Prince Charles have cancer? Can acupuncture make you a better lover?) the answer is invariably "no". 

Betterdige's second law, incidentally, states that everything before the "but" is bollocks. 

The Daily Mail ran a particularly Bettridgian headline on its front page at the end of last year.


"This" turns out to be a book by two religious scholars who -- 

"are convinced that they've uncovered a missing fifth gospel — to add to the four gospels which tell the story of the life of Christ and are said to have been written by the evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in the 1st century AD"

Oh. Those four gospels. 

I would have thought that "Q" (the hypothetical source of the bits that Matthew and Luke have in common) was the lost fifth gospel? And the "gospel" of Thomas, the collection of wise sayings which make Jesus sound like Yoda: some people think that contains original J.C material that the big four left out. I would have thought that was the fifth gospel as well. And isn't there a clever theory that the gospel of Peter contains a version of the Resurrection-story that predates the Biblical one? So wouldn't that be the fifth Gospel? Not to mention the unauthorized prequel to Matthew: only historical fiction, of course, but people believed it was real for centuries and it was a massive influence on Christian art and literature. Surely that must be the fifth gospel? 

You might as well say that Yoko Ono was the fifth Beatle.

The person who has uncovered this, er, ninth Gospel is one Simcha Jacobovici. Readers may remember that he has previously uncovered the authentic tomb of Jesus in Jerusalem, the location of Atlantis and nails and wood from the True Cross. It can only be a matter of time before he uncovers the Ark of the Covenant and is melted by Nazis.

What he has in fact uncovered is a document in the British Library called Joseph and Aseneth. Not that he needed to go as far as the British Library to uncover it. I uncovered it myself on the internet this morning. It's a fan-fic about Joseph (the fella with the coat of many colours, nor Jesus' step-dad). You remember, of course, that after Joseph came out of prison and was put in charge of corn-rationing, he married an Egyptian wife, and had two Egyptian sons, who each got half a tribe of Israel named after them? This is her story.

It's actually pretty dull.

But what Jacobovici has uncovered is that if you assume that whenever the book says "Joseph" it really means "Jesus" and whenever it says "Aseneth" it really means "Mary Magdalene" then the book says that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and had two sons with her.

(Mem to self: Try reading Lord of the Rings on the assumption that whenever it says "Sam", it means "Tony" and whenever it says "Rosie" it means "Cherie.") 

Bible expositors sometimes play a game whereby characters in the Old Testament foreshadow characters in the New, and characters in the New Testament re-enact key events in the Old. If you've ever sung "oh come thou branch of Jesse draw / the quarry from the lions jaw" you know the kind of thing. David the shepherd boy rescued a sheep from a lion; that foreshadows Jesus rescuing the human race from the devil. That's a particularly good one because Son of David is a title given to Jesus. King Darius taking the stone away from the lions' den and finding that Daniel has miraculously closed the lions' mouths foreshadows the disciples going to the Tomb on Sunday morning and finding that Jesus has de-fanged Death. It doesn't follow that Jesus was deported to Babylon, or that he decoded mysterious graffiti for the King. The game is about finding likenesses, not one-to-one correspondences. It's a good game. Jesus played it himself on occasion, when he said that his death would be like Jonah being swallowed by a whale. We're not intended to infer that Jesus was a very reluctant prophet, keeps getting kicked off boats, or is planning to run away to Tarshish.

So: it would not be very surprising if a Genesis fan-fic written by a Christian treated the patriarch, Joseph, as a type of Christ. And the idea that the Church is the Bride of Christ is very well established, as every Sunday School boy knows:

The church's one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord
She is his new creation by water and the word
From heaven he came and sought her
To be his holy bride
With his own blood he bought her
And for her love he died. 

The Song of Solomon is routinely read by Christians as a love song between Jesus and the Church. My Bible has a helpful running commentary which glosses things like:

As a piece of pomegranate are thy temples within thy locks"

as

the Church professeth her love for Christ; Christ shareth the graces of the Church.

When I was in the Christian Union we used to sing a chorus that went

Terrible as an army with banners
we are the Church of Christ
Making known to principalities and powers 
mysteries that have been hidden in God.

I'm not particularly proud, but we did. But those words didn't originally apply to the church: they applied to Solomon's girlfriend.

Thou are beautiful, oh my love, as Tirzah, comely as Jerusalem, terrible as an army with banners. Turn away thine eyes from me; thy hair is as a flock of goats that appear from Gilead.

So, it would be un-surprising if Christian fan-fic in which Joseph is like Jesus (in some respects) said that Joseph's Egyptian wife is like the Church (in some respects). Joseph's love for Aseneth is like Jesus' love for the church. Everyone's love for everyone is like Jesus' love for the church. That's why he invented marriage. 

But according to the rules of the game, Mary Magdalene is also like the Church. She is the one who first told the disciples that Jesus had come back to life, after all. Announcing the Resurrection is a pretty good job description for the Church.

So the "proof" that Jesus was married and had two sons appears to be roughly as follows:

In a Genesis fan fic, Jospeh is portrayed as a type of Jesus and Joseph's wife is a portrayed as a type of the Church. In mainstream Christian thought, Mary Magdalene is sometimes portrayed as a type of the Church.

If Mary = Church
and Aseneth = Church
then Aseneth = Mary, QED.

Anything which is said of Joseph and Aseneth (they were married, they had two sons, Pharaoh performed the wedding, someone tried to assassinate the sons, Aseneth was a former pagan priestess) must be historically true of Jesus and Mary Magdalene.

This seems to be so tenuous as to leave the argument almost exactly where it was. It doesn't help that this is the sort of code-book where you are allowed to say things like "Magdalene sounds like Magdela; Magdela may mean "tower"; Aseneth lived in a tower; so Mary Magdalene must have been Aseneth"; and "Aseneth had seven virgins attending her; Mary Magdalene had seven demons cast out of her. Seven demons must represent the seven virgins." If anything can be a symbol of anything, then you can prove anything about anything. The answer to the rhetorical question is, as ever, "no".

*

No-on knows whether or not Jesus was married. No document with the faintest claim to historical reliability mentions it one way or the other. Some people say that Jesus must have been married, because the Bible never says he wasn't; other people say that Jesus can't have been married, because the Bible never says he was. Neither argument takes us very far. Arguments from silence never do.

We are told that bachelor rabbis were the exception rather than the rule, so that if Jesus had been a bachelor, one of the four Gospels would have said so. But we know the Essenes, contemporaries of Jesus who lived near the Dead Sea and spent their time composing scrolls, sometimes took vows of celibacy. Some people think their beliefs were quite like those of the early Christians in some respects. And anyway, it wouldn't be terribly controversial to suggest that Jesus probably was fairly exceptional. 

Paul recommends that Christians stay single: surely if Jesus had been single, he would have added "like Jesus was"? But that cuts both ways. Paul also recommends that Christian wives obey their husbands: surely if Jesus had been married, he would have added "like Mrs Jesus"? He also recommends that Christian husbands should love their wives. Here, indeed, he does talk about Jesus — but he doesn't say "as Jesus loved his own wife"; he says "as Christ loved the Church" (setting quite a high bar for us fellas, incidentally).

What about when Jesus himself talks about marriage (which he doesn't, not very much). Jesus says that absolute life long fidelity to one woman is so difficult that some men will have to take the easier path of celibacy. He doesn't say "You have to stay with one woman, forever, to the exclusion of all others — as I have chosen to do." But neither does he say "It is better not marry, but although this is possible for me, it isn't possible for everybody." 

Where is Mrs Jesus? Minor characters are always popping up in the Gospels — people with names and very little else. Simon of Cyrene had children called Alexander and Rufus, but we don't know anything else above them. A lady called Mary the wife of Clopas witnesses the crucifixion, but who Clopas was we have no idea. We know that St Peter was a married man or a widower (quite an embarrassment if you are planning to become the first Pope), but nothing about his wife.  If there was a Mrs Jesus, why does no mention of her ever slip through the net? 

The Church venerated the Mother of God as a semi-divine figure almost from the beginning. Wouldn't they have venerated the Spouse of God and the Grandson of God had there been the slightest hint that such people existed? We are told that Jesus mother and brothers don't approve of his ministry; but we never hear tell of Jesus wife and sons. We are told in passing that Jesus mother was part of the first Christian church in Jerusalem; but there is no mention of his wife. Jesus brother definitely became a leader in the early Christian movement: his brother, not his son. There even seem to have been people, as late as the third and fourth centuries, who identified as Jesus' relatives. There was a special word for them, desposyni. But what they claimed to be were Jesus great-great-great nephews by his brother Judas. (No, not that Judas. A different Judas.) 

Where are all the stories of tall men hanging out in pubs keeping very quiet about the fact that they are the dead King's secret descendant? The idea doesn't seem to have occurred to anyone before three English writers fell victim to a French practical joke about 30 years ago. (One of the three was a TV writer who had written for Doctor Who and invented the Yeti, and therefore the Brigadier. This is not strictly relevant, but it is one of my favorite facts.)

And yet. 

Christians don't think that sex is a bad, although they think that some people ought to abstain from it. Paul didn't insist on celibacy, although he recommended it. Every Jewish writer I look at tells me that an unmarried Rabbi would be an anomaly. Whatever view you take of the Incarnation, I don't think anyone believes that Jesus was Son of God in any heritable sense. So why shouldn't Jesus have been married? 

I suppose, for the same reason that priests and monks and nuns and in the olden days academics and school-masters didn't marry. Because you can't put your wife and your family first if you have sworn yourself to a higher calling. Particularly if that calling involves getting crucified. Isn't there a huge problem if Jesus is thought of as not merely laying down his own life, but depriving little Ephraim and Manasseh of their daddy?

I don't know if Jesus had a wife. I think it is perfectly possible that he did. But if he did, then I am pretty certain that we don't, and can't, know anything about her. Because no-one recorded it, any more than they recorded the name of Peter's wife. The process of going through the New Testament, picking on minor characters, deciding that they must have been Mrs Jesus, and then making up back stories for them is simply a game. It's only one step up from deciding that Sherlock must have been doing it with Irene because she's the only prominent lady in the stories.

(continues)




This page is supported by Patreon. If you like what you see, please pledge to donate £1 or fifty pence every time I write something. Supporters get little extras from time to time.