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Was Jesus Married?

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Was Jesus Married?

The Bottom-Line Guide to Jesus, Part 8

pietro-da-_cortona-christ-appearing-to-mary-magdalene.jpg

Pietro de Cortona, Christ Appearing to Mary Magdalene (1640s)

Pietro de Cortona, Christ Appearing to Mary Magdalene (1640s)

This is a lengthy, heavily documented article. For a brief summary, see “How Do We Know that Jesus Was Not Married?

The New Testament does not tell us directly whether Jesus was married or not. Given the lack of an explicit statement on the matter, one might think there can be no objection to the suggestion that Jesus was married, or at least might have been. One might even suppose that it doesn’t matter one way or the other. However, much more is at stake here than the question of Jesus’ marital status, as a review of the history of discussions of this matter will make clear. Thus, in addressing the issue of whether Jesus was married, we will not only be answering that question but will also be learning quite a bit about Jesus and at the same time debunking some radically erroneous claims about him.

History of Debate over Whether Jesus Was Married

It appears that until the nineteenth century virtually everyone (whether Christian or not) agreed that Jesus was never married. The first significant disagreement with that consensus came from the Utah Mormons in the second half of the nineteenth century, when the religion openly practiced polygamy. Brigham Young and other Latter-day Saint leaders of the period postulated that Jesus was not only married but that he had more than one wife. Mary Magdalene and Lazarus’s sisters Mary and Martha were the women usually named as Jesus’ wives.1 After the LDS Church was forced to abandon the practice of polygamy in the early twentieth century,2 it quietly dropped its claim that Jesus was a polygamist. In recent years, the LDS Church has denied teaching that Jesus was married at all as “official church doctrine,”3 though some, probably many, Mormons still believe that he was or at least that he might have been.4

Significant discussion of the marital status of Jesus really dates from 1970, the year that liberal Presbyterian religion professor William Phipps published his book Was Jesus Married? The Distortion of Sexuality in the Christian Tradition.5 As John Maier, the leading Catholic scholar in the historical study of Jesus, observes, “The subtitle alerts the reader that a perfectly legitimate historical inquiry into the marital status of Jesus has become entangled in a fiery polemic against traditional Christian views on sexuality, especially those of the Roman Catholic Church.”6 Many of the arguments one hears today in defense of the claim that Jesus was married come from this book, which was just the first of several books in which Phipps criticized traditional Christian views of marriage, sexuality, and gender.7 Phipps also criticized other aspects of traditional Christian belief. He went so far as to deny the physical resurrection of Jesus, arguing instead that Mary Magdalene’s intense love for her husband Jesus precipitated in her a vision or experience of his continued presence with her that was the origin of the Resurrection belief.8 In his last book he argued that two-thirds of the clauses of the Apostles’ Creed were at least partly if not altogether unfaithful to apostolic Christianity.9 Thus, Phipps’s argument that Jesus was married was part of a larger critique of traditional Christian beliefs.

The next phase of the debate began with the 1982 publication of the book Holy Blood, Holy Grail, which advanced a conspiracy theory in which Jesus’ supposed marriage plays a critical role. According to the authors, Jesus and Mary Magdalene married and had children whose descendants constituted a royal bloodline in early medieval France. Their modern heirs are being protected by a secret society called the Priority of Sion, associated with the Knights Templar during the Crusades.10 In 1997, Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince argued in The Templar Revelation that Leonardo da Vinci knew about these things and left a hint in his painting The Last Supper, in which the figure to the left of Jesus was not the apostle John, as customarily understood, but Jesus’ wife Mary Magdalene.11 If this sounds familiar, it is because this story later became the premise of Dan Brown’s 2003 novel The Da Vinci Code.12 It was through Brown’s novel—which reportedly sold over 80 million copies—that belief in a married Jesus became infused into popular consciousness. Many books seeking to present variations on this sensationalistic claim have appeared since then, including one claiming that Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, is the true heir of the “Holy Grail” royal bloodline of Jesus and Mary Magdalene.13

In all of these works, whether framed as historical studies or as novels, the core conspiracy theory is presented as fact. Supposedly, the true intentions of Jesus and the historical origins of Christianity have been suppressed by “the church” (most pointedly the Catholic Church). Most of these books claim that the belief that Jesus was the divine Son of God incarnate, come into the world to redeem humanity by his death and resurrection, was a later theology devised to keep the Roman emperor in power.14 By contrast, the claim that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married is part of a revisionist theory in which their main significance is usually explained to be that they were the progenitors of an important political and cultural tradition in Western civilization.

Finally, a very few scholars (and a much larger number of popularizers) have cited some recent archaeological discoveries as confirming or at least suggesting that Jesus was married. The first of these was the finding of a first-century tomb in Talpiot, a Jerusalem suburb, containing ossuaries (limestone boxes that held the dried bones of deceased individuals) inscribed with such names as Jesus son of Joseph, Judah son of Jesus, and two different forms of the name Mary. A four-man team led by maverick archaeologist and documentary filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici argued in 2007 that the tomb had been the burial place for Jesus and his family, including his mother Mary, his wife Mary Magdalene, and their son Judah. The authors tie this “Jesus family tomb” into some of the speculations regarding the Knights Templar whose secret knowledge about Jesus’ royal line was encoded in medieval art, including a painting by a student of Leonardo da Vinci named Pontormo.15 More recently, Jacobovici has argued that the first-century text Joseph and Aseneth, whose title names refer to the Genesis patriarch Joseph and his Egyptian wife Aseneth, was actually a coded account about Jesus and Mary Magdalene.16

The other supposed archaeological evidence for Jesus’ marriage was a small papyrus fragment made public in 2013 by Harvard Divinity School professor Karen King, a scholar with a special interest in feminist perspectives on ancient Gnostic texts and early Christianity.17 The fragment, which King dubbed “The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife,” contains eight incomplete lines of text, two of which read, “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife…. She is able to be my disciple….’” Although King admitted that the fragment did not “prove” that Jesus was married, she claimed that it showed that some early Christians thought he was.18 The fragment appeared to confirm not only Mary Magdalene’s marriage to Jesus but also her prominent leadership role in the earliest church.

In sum, various arguments have been mounted to show that Jesus was married (always, as we have seen, to Mary Magdalene). All of the major participants putting forth these arguments have demonstrated a larger agenda antagonistic to traditional Christian beliefs about Jesus and about the origins of the Christian faith. In fact, nearly all of the advocates for belief in a married Jesus have made their case in the context of denying that Jesus rose physically from the grave (Mormons such as Swanson are practically the only exceptions). This connection to the issue of the Resurrection is of extreme importance, since the death and resurrection of Jesus are the foundational events on which Christianity is based (1 Cor. 15:1-19). The advocates of a married Jesus have also sought to show that institutional Christianity is illegitimate, typically characterizing it as a religion of political and patriarchal power and charging it with engaging in a centuries-long conspiracy to suppress the truth about Jesus and his family.

The claim that the institutional church knew (and that some leaders in the Catholic Church still know) that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married and that it suppressed this fact entails, of course, that those Christians who argue that Jesus was unmarried also have an agenda, or at least are unwitting pawns advancing that agenda. We will need to consider this allegation when attempting to answer the question of whether in fact Jesus was married.

Jesus’ Wife, Conspiracy Theories, and the Burden of Proof

As has already been noted, the New Testament does not say explicitly whether Jesus was married. Much of the literature on the subject seeks to assign the burden of proof either to those who say that he was married or to those who say that he was not. Many writers, including some scholars, have argued that since most Jewish men in Jesus’ day married, the “default position” should be that he was likely if not definitely married unless evidence shows otherwise.19 On the other hand, others argue, as does New Testament scholar Ben Witherington, “That Jesus’ marital status is a nonissue in the Gospels probably indicates that he was never married.”20

Advocates of a married Jesus object to statements such as Witherington’s that the lack of any mention of a wife of Jesus in the New Testament does not prove that he did not have one. They typically poke fun at such an argument by asking if we can infer, for example, that Jesus never smiled or laughed from the happenstance that the New Testament does not mention Jesus doing so.21 Indeed, to infer merely from the absence of any mention of a wife that Jesus was certainly not married would be an instance of the fallacious argument from silence. However, the lack of references to a wife, in context, might be evidence that he was unmarried (which is all that Witherington specifically claimed).

The lack of any mention of Jesus smiling or laughing is unremarkable in a way that the lack of any mention of his having been married is not. The difference becomes obvious when one observes that most advocates of a married Jesus argue that the facts about his marriage were suppressed by the early church. It is one thing to claim that the question of Jesus’ marital status was so insignificant to early Christians that the Gospel writers had no reason to mention his wife. It is quite another thing to claim that early church leadership knew that Jesus was married and viewed the truth about his marriage as so embarrassing or threatening to their agenda that they deliberately suppressed the facts. Once the idea of Jesus being married is placed in the context of an elaborate conspiracy theory about the origins of the Christian movement, the burden of proof shifts entirely to the side of those advocating such a theory. Christians who believe that Jesus was unmarried do not shoulder the burden of proof to demonstrate that Jesus did not leave behind a wife and children who traveled to France and created a royal bloodline while the institutional church suppressed this information in order to protect their power.

Historians and biblical scholars representing a wide spectrum of beliefs from conservative Christian to agnostic skeptic have thoroughly examined and refuted the conspiracy theories of Holy Blood, Holy Grail and The Da Vinci Code22 as well as Jacobovici’s The Jesus Family Tomb23 and other works.24 One is hard-pressed to find any scholars outside the small circle of those inventing these stories who think they are at all credible. Essentially, what the authors of these “Jesus conspiracy” books do is to cherry-pick pieces of information from a dizzying variety of sources from the Bible to medieval art, ignore or misconstrue the contexts in which they appear, and piece them together in an imaginative narrative that sounds convincing but for which there is no real evidence. With regard to the supposed marriage of Jesus to Mary Magdalene, what all these conspiracy theories do is a kind of shell-game argument: present plausible-sounding arguments that Jesus was at some time likely or probably married to someone, then shift to claiming that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, that the early church suppressed this fact, and from there spin the extremely implausible claims about Christianity starting off as a political movement centered on the royal family of Jesus.

As for the so-called Gospel of Jesus’ Wife, there was justifiable and widespread skepticism from scholars immediately upon its announcement. Here, in a tiny scrap of papyrus, there just happened to be two statements that appear to confirm what many people today have been claiming: that Mary Magdalene was Jesus’ wife and that she was a leader in the early church—and that these two supposed facts were suppressed by later church authorities. Journalists David Gibson and Michael McKinley nicely explain why skepticism was in order:

There is an adage in the field of biblical archeology that says that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. Increasingly, this appeared to be one such case. Here you had a slip of papyrus with just eight fragmentary lines of text that raised all the hot-button concerns for contemporary Christianity—whether Jesus was married, and to Mary Magdalene, and whether women could be priests just like men. Sex and gender, power and authority—all in one scrap of text that, as a bonus, would unmask one of the greatest conspiracies of all time.25

It did not take very long for the text of the papyrus fragment to be exposed rather conclusively as a modern fraud, by which the Harvard scholar Karen King was duped. Studies by scholars with expertise in the ancient languages and literature that found strong evidence that the document was fraudulent—for example, that the owner who gave King the fragment had used an online interlinear of the Coptic Gospel of Thomas.26 In addition, a journalist writing in The Atlantic traced the source of the fragment to an Egyptology student dropout who later moved to Florida and ran various businesses, including for a while an Internet porn site featuring his wife!27 Shortly after this article was published, King issued a statement acknowledging that the new evidence “tips the balance towards forgery.”28 Virtually all scholars with any relevant expertise would state the matter categorically: the fragment is definitely a fraud.29

The Family of Jesus: What the New Testament Does Say

Although the New Testament does not mention Jesus having a wife, this omission is not because it ignores his family. At least a dozen individuals related in various ways to Jesus are mentioned in the four Gospels and five other New Testament writings (see Table 1). These persons include his mother, his (adoptive) father, several brothers, an uncle and an aunt,30 and at least two other relatives of unknown relation. In addition, two of the Gospels refer to two or more unnamed sisters of Jesus alongside his brothers.31 This distribution of information is just what we would expect from texts whose authors were not manufacturing information: a mix of named and unnamed relatives, their relation to Jesus usually but not always specified, and mostly but not all relatives from his immediate family.32 A few of these individuals we know also from outside the Gospels (especially James). Yet we find no references to a wife or to any child or children of Jesus in any of the New Testament writings. Indeed, we do not find any such references in any texts from the early centuries of Christianity—not even one. 

Table 1. Family Members of Jesus Mentioned in the NT
Name Relation References
Joseph father (adoptive) Matt. 1:16-24; 2:13, 19; Luke 1:27; 2:4, 16; 3:23; John 1:45; 6:42
Mary mother Matt. 1:16-24; 2:11; 13:55; Mark 6:3; Luke 1:27-56; 2:5, 16, 19, 34; Acts 1:14
James brother Matt. 13:55; Mark 6:3; Acts 15:13; 21:18; 1 Cor. 15:7; Gal. 1:19; 2:9, 12; James 1:1; Jude 1:1
Joses/Joseph brother Matt. 13:55; Mark 6:3
Judas/Jude brother Matt. 13:55; Mark 6:3; Jude 1:1
Simon brother Matt. 13:55; Mark 6:3
--- sisters Matt. 13:56; Mark 6:3
John (the Baptist) relative Luke 1:13, 36; many references (esp. Matt. 3–4, 10–11, 14; Mark 1, 6; Luke 3, 7, 9; John 1, 3; Acts 1:5, 22; 10:37; 11:16; 13:24-25; 18:25; 19:3-4)
Elizabeth relative Luke 1:36
Zacharias relative Luke 1:5
Clopas/Cleopas uncle Luke 24:18; John 19:25
Mary (wife) of Clopas aunt John 19:25

Advocates for a married Jesus have sometimes argued that we should not expect the Gospels to mention Jesus’ wife because they are not biographies of Jesus. William Phipps, for example, asserted, “It is widely recognized that the Gospels were not intended to be biographies.” He describes them as “loosely knit sermonic material” that “only incidentally supplies biographical information.”33 More recently, James Tabor, the sole biblical scholar supporting Jacobovici’s “Jesus family tomb” theory, has argued as follows:

One might conclude, incorrectly, it seems, that the ‘silence’ of the gospels regarding wives for the apostles and brothers of Jesus indicates they were living celibate or single lives. We have to accept that the gospels, as theological treatises, simply do not supply us with such details, particularly when it comes to women or children. They are simply not considered important to the story, but it does not mean they did not exist.34

However, a near-consensus of contemporary scholarship now agrees that the Gospels were neither collections of sermonic material nor theological treatises but should be classified as ancient biographies or as a similar genre such as memoirs.35 This does not mean that each Gospel author would have been obliged to refer to Jesus’ wife if he had one. It does mean that it would be highly surprising if we had four ancient biographies of Jesus and not one of them mentioned him having a wife.

The fact that the Gospels are ancient biographies effectively dispels another common argument for presuming that Jesus was married despite the lack of references to a wife. Phipps points out that the Gospels only happen to mention Peter’s mother-in-law due to Jesus healing her of a fever (Mark 1:30-31); otherwise, we would not know from the Gospels that Peter had been married.36 Tabor, in the statement quoted above, alludes to this line of argument. Even Anthony Le Donne, who in the end concludes that it is uncertain whether Jesus was ever married, makes this argument. He observes that the New Testament never mentions the name of Peter’s wife (Matt. 8:14; Mark 1:30; Luke 4:38; 1 Cor. 9:5) and concludes, “If Jesus had a wife at some point, it would not be surprising that we never hear from her or about her.”37 What this argument overlooks is that we do not have biographies of Peter or of the other apostles in the New Testament, but we do have four biographies of Jesus.

The Women in Jesus’ Life

Another common claim made in defense of the supposition that Jesus was married is that the New Testament writings failed to mention her because of their general neglect of women stemming from patriarchal bias. Tabor’s statement that the Gospels do not consider “women or children” important to their story is an example of this argument. Le Donne likewise comments, “Silenced women, obscured women—these are the lamentable rules of history.”38

The claim that the Gospels “silence,” “obscure,” or neglect women should come as a surprise to anyone who has read them. Women play prominent roles in various contexts throughout the Gospels. We have already seen that the Gospels refer frequently to Jesus’ mother and mention his sisters and at least two other female relatives. Matthew’s genealogy famously departs from the usual practice in ancient genealogies by naming five women (Matt. 1:3, 5, 6, 16).39 Eight of the miracle accounts in the Gospels focus on one or more females: 

  • Peter’s mother-in-law (Matt. 8:14-15; Mark 1:29-31; Luke 4:38-39)
  • the synagogue ruler’s daughter and the woman with the blood flow (Matt. 9:18-26; Mark 5:21-43; Luke 8:40-56)
  • the Syrophoenician woman’s daughter (Matt. 15:21-28; Mark 7:24-30)
  • the son of the widow of Nain (Luke 7:11-17)
  • Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna, and others (Luke 8:2-3)
  • A woman sick for 18 years (Luke 13:10-17)
  • Jesus’ mother’s request for him to do something about the lack of wine at a wedding (John 2:1-11)
  • Mary and Martha, the sisters of the recently departed Lazarus (John 11:1-45)

In two of these miracle accounts—the exorcism of the Syrophoenician woman’s daughter and the raising of Mary and Martha’s brother—the Gospels report the women speaking with Jesus at some length. The Gospels recount Jesus’ interactions with women in other contexts, sometimes at length, as in the famous accounts of the “sinful” woman (Luke 7:36-50), Jesus in the home of Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42), the woman at the well in Samaria (John 4:7-29, 39-42), and the woman who anointed Jesus (Matt. 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9; John 12:1-8).

The Gospels identify by name at least seven women, most of whom we have already mentioned, who were followers or supporters of Jesus’ ministry and who are not identified in the New Testament or in any other ancient texts to have had any family or kinship ties to Jesus: 

  • Mary Magdalene (Matt. 27:56, 61; 28:1; Mark 15:40, 47; 16:1; Luke 8:2; 24:10; John 19:25; 20:1, 11, 16, 18)
  • Joanna, the wife of Chuza (Luke 8:3; 24:10)
  • Susanna (Luke 8:3)
  • Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42; John 11:1-2, 5, 19-24, 28-32, 39, 45; 12:2-3)
  • Mary the mother of James the less and of Joses/Joseph (Matt. 27:56, 61; 28:1; Mark 15:40, 47; 16:1; Luke 24:10)
  • Salome (Mark 15:40; 16:1)

To put these references in some perspective, three of the twelve apostles (Bartholomew,40 James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot or Cananaean) are mentioned only in the lists of apostles (see Matt. 10:2-4; Mark 3:16-19; Luke 6:14-16; Acts 1:13). Two of the other apostles are mentioned just once each outside those lists (Matthew, Matt. 9:9; Thaddaeus, also called Judas the son of James, John 14:22). Mary Magdalene is mentioned in the Gospels as often as Simon Peter’s brother Andrew (12 times) and more often than Thomas (10 times).

As is well known, Luke shows an especially strong interest in his Gospel in the women in Jesus’ life, whether family members, followers, or other women with whom he came into contact. His infancy narrative (Luke 1–2) is dominated by the perspective of the women Elizabeth, Mary, and the prophetess Anna.41 Luke narrates five of the eight miracles mentioned above that focused on women. He provides background information on Mary Magdalene, the sisters Mary and Martha, and other women who supported Jesus’ ministry. In all, Luke refers to some 19 specific women (10 named, 9 unnamed) in his Gospel.42 Luke’s special interest in women cannot be limited to those women he might have met personally (though he may well have met several of them), since he gives considerable attention to Elizabeth and Anna, both of whom were elderly at the time Jesus was born and so would have been long since deceased by the time of Jesus’ death (Luke 1:5-7; 2:36). Luke’s concern to highlight so many women in Jesus’ life, including women whom he could not have met, makes it all the more likely that the lack of any reference to a wife of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke reflects the fact that Jesus was not married.

It turns out, then, that the argument against Jesus being married is not merely a presumptuous argument from silence. Rather, the argument is grounded in the nature of the Gospels as ancient biographical works and their considerable attention to Jesus’ family and to other women with whom he was associated.43

Mary Magdalene: Jesus’ Wife?

Mary Magdalene has been the source of almost constant speculation from the second century to the present. “No other biblical figure—including Judas, and perhaps even Jesus—has had such a vivid and bizarre postbiblical life in the human imagination, in legend and in art.”44 The most common perception of Mary for many centuries and still today is that she was a former prostitute before she became a follower of Jesus. This idea was based on the unjustified equation of Mary Magdalene in Luke 8:3 with the “sinful woman” in the preceding chapter (Luke 7:36-50). When this mistake was first made is unknown, but it became the dominant view of Mary for more than a millennium after Pope Gregory the Great taught it at the end of the sixth century. According to Gregory, Mary Magdalene, the sinful woman, and Mary of Bethany were all the same person.45 The recent trend of characterizing Mary Magdalene as Jesus’ wife has even less basis in fact. Feminist scholars have argued, with some justice, that medieval portrayals of Mary as a prostitute reflected their cultural and social agendas. The same thing can be said about modern portrayals of Mary as Jesus’ wife and closest disciple, an important leader in the early church whose role was later suppressed by the church. It has always been tempting to refashion Mary Magdalene to suit one’s agenda, just as many today are reinventing Jesus.

If we take the New Testament Gospels seriously as our best source of historical information about Jesus and Mary Magdalene—as we should—it is reasonably clear that they were not married to each other.

The Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) tell us that Mary was one of a group of women from Galilee who followed Jesus in his itinerant ministry to Jerusalem (Matt. 27:55-56; Mark 15:40-41; Luke 8:1-3; 23:49; 24:10). At least one of those women, Joanna, is identified as the wife of another man (Chuza, Herod’s steward, Luke 8:2). Jesus had healed the women, and in return they were traveling with Jesus and the twelve apostles and helping to support them financially from their own monetary resources (Luke 8:1-3). This information does not square with the notion that Jesus and Mary were husband and wife.

According to the Gospel of John, when Mary Magdalene saw Jesus after his resurrection and recognized him, she cried out, “Rabboni!” (John 20:16). Rabboni is an Aramaic title meaning, as John himself explains, “teacher”; it is related to the word rabbi. Presumably, if they were married, Mary would not address her husband as “teacher”—especially when first seeing him risen from the dead!

John tells us then that Jesus told Mary not to “touch,” “hold,” or “cling” to him because he had not yet ascended to the Father (John 20:17). The Greek verb John uses here, aptou, could mean any of these things; depending on context, it can refer to a simple touch, a physical attack, or sexual contact (a rare usage but found, for example, in 1 Cor. 7:1). Occasionally, someone reads into this text the idea that Jesus and Mary were married.46 However, in context, there is no reason to think that Jesus is telling Mary not to touch him in a sexually intimate way. As just noted, Mary addressed Jesus as her teacher, not as her husband. The point Jesus was making was that she should not expect him to remain physically on earth because he was soon going to ascend into heaven.

James M. Robinson, a scholar whose own views are decidedly not those of traditional Christianity, comments:

From all these references to Mary Magdalene [in the Gospels], it is clear that she was pre-eminent among the women accompanying Jesus, down to the very end. But any romantic overtones one wishes to find in these references to her have to be read into the text, and probably say more about the one who hears such overtones than about Mary Magdalene herself.47

Due to the difficulty of fitting the idea of Jesus and Mary Magdalene as married into the New Testament Gospels, most writers who advocate for this claim appeal to later “gospels” in support, specifically the Gospel of Mary and the Gospel of Philip. No one thinks the first-century persons Mary and Philip wrote these books and they are not considered reliable historical sources of information for the life of Jesus. Furthermore, as we will see, neither book says or implies that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married.

The Gospel of Mary is generally classified as a Gnostic writing. Scholars’ best guess is that it dates probably from the late second century. No complete copy exists; a couple of third-century fragments in Greek (the language of its original composition) and an incomplete Coptic translation from the fifth century are the only extant manuscripts.48 The book represents Jesus, apparently after his resurrection, spouting such esoteric statements as the following:

All natures, all formations, all creatures exist in and with one another and they will be resolved again into their own roots. . . . There is no sin, but it is you who make sin when you do the things that are like the nature of adultery, which is called “sin.”49

After Jesus “departs,” the male disciples start to whine in fear of their lives, and Mary comforts them. One of the things she tells them is that “he has prepared us and made us into men.” (The idea that faithful women were made into men was found in other Gnostic texts, such as the Gospel of Thomas, and was never expressed in the canonical books of the Bible.) Peter then says to Mary, “Sister, we know that the Savior loved you more than the rest of women. Tell us the words of the Savior which you remember.” Mary then tells the men about a vision she had concerning the ascent of the soul as it overcomes desire and ignorance. When Andrew and Peter object to Mary’s reported vision, Levi scolds Peter: “Surely the Savior knows her very well. This is why he loved her more than us.”50 Again, this account is a later fiction with no basis in historical fact or in the New Testament.

According to Charles Pellegrino, the co-author of Jacobovici’s book The Jesus Family Tomb, Levi’s comment that “the Savior knows her very well” may imply a marital relationship, since the Bible sometimes uses the word “know” to refer to sexual intimacy (as in “Adam knew his wife,” Gen. 4:1).51 This interpretation badly takes this one word out of context. The comments about Jesus having loved Mary more than other women and more than he loved the male disciples indeed imply a very close relationship between them, but not marriage. The whole point of the Gospel of Mary is the alleged secret knowledge imparted by Jesus that his followers are to abandon physical desire and become perfect men whose souls ascend beyond the confines of the physical. The book portrays Mary as closer to Jesus spiritually, not physically, than the others.

By the way, it is not clear that the Mary of the Gospel of Mary is the woman from Magdala. She may be—and her post-resurrection interaction with the apostles is consistent with that interpretation—but the extant manuscripts, such as they are, do not say. Pellegrino’s citation of the book as “the Gospel of Mary Magdalene,” or even simply “Magdalene,”52 then, is inaccurate and misleading. The book’s description is equally consistent with Mary of Bethany, who assumed the position of a disciple at the feet of her teacher Jesus (Luke 10:38-42) and who on one occasion exhibited an intimate, though non-sexual, love for him (John 12:1-3).

The other apocryphal work that the Jesus Family Tomb team cites to support the claim that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married is the Gospel of Philip, a Gnostic work probably dating from the third century and known to us from a Coptic translation extant in a single fifth-century manuscript so worn that it has holes in many places. Phipps cited this work in support of his claim that Jesus and Mary were married almost fifty years ago, and many writers have followed his lead.53

Hardly any historian thinks that the first-century apostle Philip had anything to do with the Gospel of Philip or that it provides credible historical information about Jesus or his original followers. Like the other Gnostic works, it is full of esoteric expressions of mysticism that are entirely foreign to the Jewish worldview context of Jesus. Here is a sample:

Light and darkness, life and death, right and left, are brothers of one another. They are inseparable. Because of this neither are the good good, nor the evil evil, nor is life life, nor death death. For this reason each one will dissolve into its earliest origin. But those who are exalted above the world are indissoluble, eternal.54

The passage routinely used in support of Jesus and Mary’s marital status is a line from Philip that Pellegrino, for example, quotes as follows: “the Lord loved her [Mary Magdalene] more than all other disciples and often kissed her on her. . . .”55 As everyone admits, a hole in the manuscript prevents us from knowing what word comes next. (The fact that we only have the one copy of this passage, so that we cannot fill in the missing word from other manuscript copies, does not seem to bother advocates of a married Jesus, many of whom question the reliability of the New Testament text despite the wealth of manuscript evidence we have for it.) Actually, the manuscript is in even worse condition at this point; what is legible reads something like this: “And the companion of the…Mary Magdalene…her more than…the disciples…kiss her…on her….”56

Many scholars think that the key missing word at the end of the quotation is “mouth,” which it may be. Some writers then infer from this statement that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married. This is almost certainly not what Gospel of Philip is saying. Recall that we have already seen in the Gospel of Mary that Jesus’ special love for Mary is an especially close spiritual bond, not a sexual or marital bond. If the author thought Jesus and Mary Magdalene were husband and wife, why would he bother saying anything about Jesus kissing her? Immediately after the statement about Jesus kissing Mary, the text reports the disciples asking, “Why do you love her more than all of us?” If the text reflects the view that Mary was his wife, why would it represent anyone asking such a silly question? No one would ask why a man loved his wife! Thus, if anything, this text attests to a different sort of relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene than that of husband and wife.

In an academic monograph on the Gospels of John and Thomas, Ismo Dunderberg has pointed out that there are “kisses” between Jesus and other, male disciples in other apocryphal writings. For example, the First Apocalypse of James reports James kissing Jesus (31:4-5), while the Second Apocalypse of James reports Jesus kissing James (56:14-16).57 Before anyone gets too excited about these kisses, one should remember that in Middle Eastern cultures, then as now, male relatives and friends kissed each other (typically on the cheek) as a culturally normal expression of affection between men. If there is anything unusual at all going on with these kisses, it is a belief in some kind of mystical or spiritual experience attached to them, not anything sexual or erotic.

Barbara Thiering is another author who argued that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married.58 She also based this claim largely on the Gospel of Philip, though with sprinklings of hints from the New Testament and even the Dead Sea Scrolls to construct her narrative. New Testament scholar N. T. Wright wrote a scathing critique of her book, which he found “laughably incredible” and even “farcical.”59 Thiering claimed that Mary Magdalene was Jairus’s daughter as well as Rhoda, the maid, just one example of the “fantastic name-swapping” Thiering utilizes in her elaborate reconstruction of Jesus’ family. Wright compares Thiering’s take on the New Testament to trying “to stage a Shakespeare play with a cast of five actors” who appear throughout the play in different roles without any explanation.60 Thiering claimed that Jesus had married Mary Magdalene but then divorced her after she abandoned the Christian faith by joining a zealous sect, later marrying Lydia, a woman mentioned in Luke’s account of Paul’s evangelistic ministry in Thyatira (Acts 16:14)! Wright exposes the vacuous nature of Thiering’s arguments and concludes: “These ‘arguments’ are so amazingly thin that it is hard even to know how to answer them. If texts can mean this, they can mean quite literally anything.”61

Pellegrino admits, “In none of the Gospels, be they canonical or apocryphal, is Mary Magdalene—Mariamne—described as being married to Jesus.” To circumvent this simple fact, he alleges a conspiracy to cover up the marriage.62 Somehow, the Gospels of Mary and Philip contain trace evidences that Jesus and Mary were married, but their lack of any explicit reference to this fact is part of the conspiracy. By far the simplest explanation of the evidence is that they were not married.

Jesus Was Not Married

If Mary Magdalene was not Jesus’ wife, then apparently he was not married at all. Virtually everyone who advocates the view that Jesus was married thinks Mary Magdalene was his wife, and we have no reason to think that he might have been married to anyone else.

The one outside chance, from an historical point of view, that Jesus might have been married is that he had married young and his wife had died childless before Jesus began his public ministry at around the age of thirty (Luke 3:23). It is true that women sometimes died in their young adult years, and that this often happened when they were pregnant. However, a majority of women did not; if they had, the population would have shrunk and died off. The hypothesis that Jesus’ wife died childless before his public ministry requires that a number of things all be true: (1) Jesus and his wife married while they were teenagers or in their early twenties; (2) Jesus’ wife died childless; (3) Jesus chose not to remarry although he would have likely had several years in which to do so; (4) Jesus embarked on his public ministry, coming into contact with numerous women, with some of them even following him around Galilee, but he still did not remarry; (5) none of the Gospels and no other texts from antiquity happen to mention Jesus’ wife or her family. This scenario is possible but quite unlikely. Keep in mind that the advocates of a married Jesus claim he would have been almost compelled to seek marriage due to the emphasis on men having families in Jesus’ culture. If this claim were true (it is in fact an overgeneralization), or even if we suppose that Jesus felt that getting married was something important he should try to do, then he would have sought and likely found another wife after his first had passed away. Yet the evidence shows that he did not do so. Once the premise about men in Jesus’ culture nearly always getting married is abandoned, there is no reason to think that he was ever married, so far as the evidence we have would suggest. Thus, the lack of narrative concerning Jesus’ years as a young adult prior to his itinerant ministry cannot be exploited in an argument that Jesus might have been married.

As has already been mentioned, there are no references in any ancient texts—Christian or not, orthodox or not—mentioning a wife or any children of Jesus. Karen King, in announcing the “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife,” claimed, “There was, we already know, a controversy in the second century over whether Jesus was married, caught up with a debate about whether Christians should marry and have sex.”63 Actually, we know no such thing. No text from the second century or from the third century claims that Jesus was married or disputes a claim by others that Jesus was married. There was no debate over the matter.

Clement of Alexandria, writing around the very end of the second century (ca. 190–200), strongly criticized the Gnostics who rejected marriage:

They proudly say that they are imitating the Lord who neither married nor had any possession in this world, boasting that they understand the gospel better than anyone else. The Scripture says to them: “God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Further, they do not know the reason why the Lord did not marry. In the first place he had his own bride, the Church; and in the next place he was no ordinary man that he should also be in need of some helpmeet after the flesh. Nor was it necessary for him to beget children since he abides eternally and was born the only Son of God. It is the Lord himself who says: “That which God has joined together, let no man put asunder.”64

Clement’s statement appears to be the earliest surviving explicit statement regarding whether Jesus was married or not. Le Donne correctly notes that since both Clement and the Gnostics he was criticizing were able to “assume Jesus’ celibacy as a fact,” that understanding must have been in place prior to their debate over its implications. “Therefore it is probably safe to say that there was a widespread belief in the early second century that Jesus had been celibate.”65 Le Donne goes on to claim that since Clement (and presumably Tatian) appealed to New Testament authors (specifically Matthew and Paul) in support of their positions, their arguments show no historical knowledge about Jesus’ actual marital status.66 However, Le Donne has here confused the source of those second-century theologians’ information about Jesus being unmarried with the source of their interpretations of the significance of that fact. Clement cited New Testament authors, not to show that Jesus was unmarried, but to explain why he was unmarried.

This historical record reveals something contrary to popular notions about the origins of the traditional Christian belief that Jesus was never married. It is widely thought that this belief originated to support religious teachings within traditional Christianity about the evils of sexuality, warnings to men about the wiles of women, or the practice of celibacy in the priesthood. This popular perception has things backward. It was the Gnostic heretics in the second century who first claimed that Jesus’ lack of marriage was a model that all truly spiritual people should follow. The orthodox Christians who considered Gnosticism a heresy defended the practice of marriage as an honorable one, as we saw Clement of Alexandria arguing. If anyone at the time had any reason to think that Jesus had been married, Christians such as Clement could easily and naturally argued that the Gnostics were incorrect in claiming that Jesus was unmarried. Instead, Clement agreed that Jesus was unmarried but refuted the Gnostic claim that Jesus was in that regard setting a precedent that everyone else was supposed to follow. It was only much later that medieval Christianity began appealing to Jesus’ status as unmarried as precedent for the celibate priesthood.

The historical evidence, then, refutes the claim that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, and it shows that most likely he was never married.

Jesus’ New Family

Understanding Jesus’ mission and the way he viewed his relationships with other human beings strengthens the conclusion that Jesus was single. He understood his mission as that of bringing other people into a spiritual family in which all believers were children of God (e.g., Matt. 5:9, 16, 45; 6:8-9; 7:11; 23:9; Luke 11:13; cf. John 1:12) and related to one another as brothers and sisters (see especially Matt. 23:8). Even his own blood relatives had to understand that for Jesus, God was his Father and all of his followers were his “family.” This was the point of his famous saying, when he was told that his mother and his brothers and sisters were waiting to see him:

“Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3:33-35).

Putting Christ above one’s natural family (and even above one’s own natural life), even to the point of family strife or death, was the cost of being a disciple (Matt. 10:34-39; Luke 12:52-53; 14:26). Disciples who left or who were rejected by their natural families for Christ’s sake would find a much larger family as well as eternal life (Matt. 19:29; Mark 10:29-30; Luke 18:29-30). Following Jesus might lead to families being torn apart and unbelieving members even participating in killing believers (Mark 13:12).

When Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene, he told her, “But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God’” (John 20:17). The next statement is important: “Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples” (v. 18). She understood that Jesus’ “brothers” were his disciples—those who knew God as their “Father” through their relationship with Jesus. This is one of the most pervasive, well-attested aspects of the teaching of Jesus in the Gospels and a key to understanding the historical Jesus.67

Jesus as the Royal, Divine Bridegroom

Jesus used another family metaphor to describe his relationship with his followers. He referred to himself as the “bridegroom.” For example, in answer to the question of why his disciples did not fast, Jesus replied:

“While the bridegroom is with them, the attendants of the bridegroom cannot fast, can they? So long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day” (Mark 2:19-20 NASB; similarly Matt. 9:14-15; Luke 5:34-35).

Jesus’ imagery here is drawn from the Old Testament prophets in which the Lord God describes himself as the bridegroom and Israel or Judah as his bride or wife (see Isa. 50–62; Hosea 2; Jer. 3, 31). In these passages, the Jews’ unfaithfulness to God was compared to an adulterous wife, yet God promised that eventually he would reconcile with her and she would become faithful to him. The disciples functioned as Christ’s friends or “attendants” enjoying their time with the bridegroom as they worked with him to prepare for his impending “marriage” to God’s people. Jesus’ use of this metaphor implies a claim to deity—that the status of husband to God’s reconciled, restored people belonged rightly to him.68 This is just one of many ways in which Jesus made veiled, implicit claims to deity in the Gospels.69

Jesus appears to have used this metaphor of the bridegroom for himself also in a parable of a king who gave a wedding feast for his son (Matt. 22:1-14). Here Jesus said he was using the parable to illustrate a truth about the kingdom of heaven: not everyone who thinks he should be invited will be allowed to attend. Although the focus of the parable is on the “guests” and not on the bridegroom, the fact that the parable is about the kingdom of heaven and the bridegroom is the king’s son probably reflects implicitly the idea that God’s divine Son, Jesus himself, is the bridegroom.

According to the Gospel of John, this idea was also expressed by John the Baptist:

“The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:29-30 ESV).

Here John the Baptist is what we would call the “best man” while Jesus is the “bridegroom,” the man who is rightfully the center of attention. In context, John goes on to say that Jesus is greater than him and everyone else because he came from above, from heaven (John 3:31). Here again, Jesus is being described in somewhat veiled terms as the divine or heavenly bridegroom who has come down from heaven to find and claim his bride. In John’s Jewish cultural context, this imagery would point to Jesus’ “bride” as the restored, faithful people of God—not a particular woman to whom he was going to be literally married.

We have found this idea of Jesus as the divine bridegroom of the restored people of God in all four Gospels and in different contexts. The best explanation for this diversity of evidence is that this idea came from Jesus himself.70 That would also explain why we find the motif in other parts of the New Testament as different as Paul’s epistles (Rom. 7:4; 1 Cor. 6:16; 2 Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5:22-33) and the Book of Revelation (Rev. 19:1-6; 21:8-22:5, 17).

If Jesus thought of himself as the divine, heavenly Son come down to call to himself a group of people who would be his restored, faithful people, and if he described himself as the “bridegroom” of that people, this would explain very well why Jesus did not follow the usual pattern of human life by getting married. Thus, as one feminist scholar concludes, “That Jesus never married and was not a ‘real’ bridegroom is agreed by Church tradition and most scholars.”71

This conclusion that Jesus chose not to get married in light of his mission is reinforced by the Gospels’ many reports that Jesus fully expected to be killed (Matt. 16:21-28; 17:22-23; 20:17-19//Mark 8:31-9:1, 30-32; 10:32-34//Luke 9:22-27, 44-45; 18:31-33; Matt. 12:39-40//Luke 11:29-32; Luke 17:25; John 2:19-22; etc.). Jesus stated that he had come to give his life as a ransom for many (Matt. 20:28; Mark 10:45). A man who sees himself on a mission that he knows will result in his early death is unlikely to pursue having a regular family. In the context of his mission, it simply would not have been appropriate for Jesus to have gotten married and had children.

Conclusion

Although the evidence rather clearly shows that Jesus was not married, this is not the most important fact about him. What is important is that speculative conspiracy theories not be allowed to obscure the central facts about Jesus: that after proclaiming the kingdom of God and demonstrating God’s power and mercy through his miracles and relationships with other people, Jesus died on the cross and then miraculously rose from the grave. Jesus came, not to start a natural family, and not to start a dynasty, but to reconcile people to God for life in his coming eternal, glorious kingdom.

 

NOTES


1. E.g., Orson Hyde, “The Marriage Relations,” Oct. 6, 1854; Brigham Young, “Gathering the Poor—Religion a Science,” Nov. 13, 1870; in Journal of Discourses (London: Latter-day Saints’ Book Depot, 1854–1886), 2:79–82; 13:309. See Anthony Le Donne, The Wife of Jesus: Ancient Texts and Modern Scandals (Richmond: Oneworld, 2015), 72–80; John G. Turner, The Mormon Jesus: A Biography (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2016), 217–37.

2. There is a wealth of literature on the history of polygamy in Mormonism, e.g., Richard S. Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy: A History, 2nd ed. (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1989); Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1997); Kathryn M. Daynes, More Wives than One: Transformation of the Mormon Marriage System, 1840-1910 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2001); Merina Smith, Revelation, Resistance, and Mormon Polygamy: The Introduction and Implementation of the Principle, 1830-1853 (Logan: Utah State University Press, 2013).

3. “Claims of a married Jesus aren’t LDS Church doctrine,” Deseret News, May 18, 2006.

4. Three Mormon scholars in their book on The Da Vinci Code concluded that while they did not know if Jesus was married, it would not be surprising to learn that he was: Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, Andrew S. Skinner, and Thomas A. Wayment, What Da Vinci Didn’t Know: An LDS Perspective (Salt Lake City: Deseret, 2006), 50.

5. William Phipps, Was Jesus Married? The Distortion of Sexuality in the Christian Tradition (New York: Harper & Row, 1970).

6. John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, I: The Roots of the Problem and the Person (New York: Doubleday, 1991), 333.

7. See also The Sexuality of Jesus: Theological and Literary Perspectives (New York: Harper & Row, 1973); Recovering Biblical Sensuousness (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1975); Influential Theologians on Wo/man (Washington, DC: University Press of America, 1980); Genesis and Gender: Biblical Myths of Sexuality and Their Cultural Impact (New York; Praeger, 1989); Clerical Celibacy: The Heritage (New York: Continuum, 2004), esp. 21–59 on whether Jesus was married (basically repeating the argument from Sexuality of Jesus).

8. Phipps, Sexuality of Jesus, 124–33.

9. William E. Phipps, The Apostles’ Creed: The Ongoing Struggle of the Church to Define Its Basic Beliefs (Lewiston: Edwin Mellen Press, 2010).

10. Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln, Holy Blood, Holy Grail (New York: Delacorte Press, 1982). The three authors also co-authored The Messianic Legacy (New York: Dell, 1986), which expanded on their theory. See also Michael Baigent, The Jesus Papers: Exposing the Greatest Cover-Up in History (New York: HarperCollins, 2006).

11. Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince, The Templar Revelation: Secret Guardians of the True Identity of Christ (New York: Bantam, 1997). Two years later, the authors published The Stargate Conspiracy: The Truth about Extraterrestrial Life and the Mysteries of Ancient Egypt (London: Little, Brown and Company, 1999)!

12. Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code (New York: Doubleday, 2003).

13. Vern Grosvenor Swanson, Dynasty of the Holy Grail: Mormonism’s Sacred Bloodline, rev. and expanded ed. (Springville, UT: Cedar Fort, Inc., 2013). Although not representative of official Mormon teaching, Cedar Fort is one of the more popular Mormon publishing houses. See the critical review by Jesse D. Hurlbut, BYU Studies 48/2 (2009): 179–82.

14. Swanson is for the most part an exception to this generalization, although Swanson, as a Mormon, does consider traditional Christianity to have departed from the original form of the Christian faith.

15. Simcha Jacobovici and Charles Pellegrino, The Jesus Family Tomb: The Discovery, the Investigation, and the Evidence that Could Change History (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 2007); The Lost Tomb of Jesus, dir. Simcha Jacobovici, exec. prod. James Cameron (Discovery Channel, 2007; DVD, Port Washington, NY: Koch Vision, 2007). The team’s one biblical scholar anticipated some of these claims in his book the previous year: James D. Tabor, The Jesus Dynasty: The Hidden History of Jesus, His Royal Family, and the Birth of Christianity (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006). Jacobovici and Tabor attempted to shore up the case for their theory in a later book, The Jesus Discovery: The New Archaeological Find that Reveals the Birth of Christianity (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2012).

16. Barrie Wilson and Simcha Jacobovici, The Lost Gospel: Decoding the Ancient Text that Reveals Jesus’ Marriage to Mary Magdalene (New York: Pegasus Books, 2014).

17. See especially Karen L. King, ed., Images of the Feminine in Gnosticism, Studies in Antiquity and Christianity (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 2000); Karen L. King, What Is Gnosticism? (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003); The Gospel of Mary of Magdala: Jesus and the First Woman Apostle (Santa Rosa, CA: Polebridge, 2003).

18. Laurie Goodstein, “A Faded Piece of Papyrus Refers to Jesus’ Wife,” New York Times, 18 Sept. 2012; see also Ariel Sabat, “The Inside Story of a Controversial New Text about Jesus,” Smithsonian.com, Sept. 17, 2012 (updated June 20, 2016).

19. Le Donne, The Wife of Jesus, 116. The same reasoning is offered dogmatically by some authors, such as Phipps, Was Jesus Married, 34–35; Sexuality of Jesus, 55; Baigent, Leigh, and Lincoln, Holy Blood, Holy Grail, 302; and more tentatively by others, such as Edwin K. Broadhead, “Implicit Christology and the Historical Jesus,” in Handbook for the Study of the Historical Jesus, ed. Tom Hólmen and Stanley E. Porter (Leiden: Brill, 2011), 2:1180.

20. Ben Witherington III, Women in the Ministry of Jesus (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 151 n. 170.

21. Phipps, Sexuality of Jesus, 55; Le Donne, The Wife of Jesus, 116.

22. Darrell L. Bock, Breaking the Da Vinci Code: Answers to the Questions Everyone’s Asking (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2004); Ben Witherington III, The Gospel Code: Novel Claims about Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Da Vinci (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004); Bart D. Ehrman, Truth and Fiction in the Da Vinci Code: A Historian Reveals What We Really Know about Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Constantine (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006); J. Ed Komoszewski, M. James Sawyer, and Daniel B. Wallace, Reinventing Jesus: How Contemporary Skeptics Miss the Real Jesus and Mislead Popular Culture (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2006).

23. Gary R. Habermas, The Secret of the Talpiot Tomb: Unraveling the Mystery of the Jesus Family Tomb (Nashville: B&H, 2008); Buried Hope or Risen Savior: The Search for the Jesus Tomb, ed. Charles Quarles (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2008); John W. Pryor, Jesus Reburied? The Mystery of the Jesus Family Tomb (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2013); The Tomb of Jesus and His Family? Exploring Ancient Jewish Tombs Near Jerusalem’s Walls, Fourth Princeton Symposium on Judaism and Christian Origins, ed. James H. Charlesworth (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2013); Craig A. Evans, Jesus and the Remains of His Day: Studies in Jesus and the Evidence of Material Culture (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2015).

24. Unlike The Jesus Family Tomb, Jacobovici’s more recent books have not elicited book-length responses. On The Jesus Discovery, see Christopher Rollston, “Review,” Rollston Epigraphy (blog), April 12, 2012; Mark Goodacre, “The Jesus Discovery? A Sceptic’s Perspective,” Bible Interpretation (April 2013, PDF). On The Lost Gospel, see Richard Bauckham, “Assessing The Lost Gospel,” NT Blog (Mark Goodacre’s blog, PDF); Bob Cargill, “Review,” at Ehrman Blog, Nov. 10, 2014; Greg Carey, “Another Jesus and Mary Magdalene Hoax,” Huffington Post, updated Jan. 10, 2015. Goodacre (who is skeptical of Jacobovici’s theories, not of Christianity) has closely followed all of these controversies, as well as the “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” issue, on his blog and posted numerous helpful resources: http://ntweblog.blogspot.com/.

25. David Gibson and Michael McKinley, Finding Jesus: Faith. Fact. Forgery. Six Holy Objects That Tell the Remarkable Story of the Gospels (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2015), 87.

26. Andrew Bernhard, “The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife: Textual Evidence of Modern Forgery,” New Testament Studies 61 (2015): 335–55; Andrew Bernhard, “Postscript: A Final Note about the Origin of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife,” New Testament Studies 63 (2017): 305–17.

27. Ariel Sabar, “The Unbelievable Tale of Jesus’ Wife,” The Atlantic, July/Aug. 2016.

28. Ariel Sabar, “Karen King Responds to ‘The Unbelievable Tale of Jesus’ Wife,’” The Atlantic, June 16, 2016. The follow-up article is dated earlier than the main article because magazines are often published ahead of the designated month(s) on their covers.

29. See Mark Goodacre, “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife: Last Chapter Round-Up,” NT Blog, June 20, 2016. See also the last four essays in Fakes, Forgeries, and Fictions: Writing Ancient and Modern Christian Apocrypha, Proceedings from the 2015 York University Christian Apocrypha Symposium, ed. Tony Burke (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2017).

30. That Clopas and Cleopas are variant forms of the name of the same man, and that he and his wife Mary were uncle and aunt to Jesus, is inferred from information outside the New Testament. On the identity of Clopas/Cleopas, see Richard Bauckham, Jude and the Relatives of Jesus in the Early Church (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1990), 16–18. On Mary the wife of Clopas, see Richard Bauckham, Gospel Women: Studies of the Named Women in the Gospels (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 203–23.

31. The question of whether these brothers and sisters were the biological children of Jesus’ mother Mary need not detain us here. The point here is that these “brothers” and “sisters” were members of Jesus’ human family and are freely mentioned in the New Testament.

32. Why many people are named in the New Testament but some are not, and evidence for the credibility of these references, are a major focus of Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2017).

33. Phipps, Was Jesus Married, 36.

34. James D. Tabor, “Was Jesus Married?” originally at Jesus Dynasty (blog), May 1, 2007; later re-posted at A JDT Development Site (blog), July 28, 2012.

35. The most notable works on this subject are Richard A. Burridge, What are the Gospels? A Comparison with Graeco-Roman Biography, 2nd ed., with a Foreword by Graham Stanton (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), and Biographies and Jesus: What Does It Mean for the Gospels to be Biographies? ed. Craig S. Keener and Edward T. Wright (Lexington, KY: Emeth Press, 2016). See also the discussion of the Gospels’ genre in Robert M. Bowman Jr. and J. Ed Komoszewski, “The Historical Jesus and the Biblical Church: Why the Quest Matters,” in Jesus, Skepticism, and the Problem of History: Criteria and Context in the Study of Christian Origins, ed. Darrell L. Bock and J. Ed Komoszewski (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, forthcoming 2018).

36. Phipps, Sexuality of Jesus, 56.

37. Le Donne, The Wife of Jesus, 29–32.

38. Ibid. 29.

39. William D. Davies and Dale C. Allison, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel according to Matthew, Volume I: Matthew 1-7, International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1988), 170; the authors note a relatively sparse number of exceptions in Genesis and 1 Chronicles. On the significance of the four named women besides Mary, see Bauckham, Gospel Women, 17–46.

40. Although Bartholomew may be another name for Nathanael, mentioned in John 1:45-49.

41. See Bauckham, Gospel Women, 47–101.

42. See the lists of named and unnamed persons in Luke in Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, 58–60.

43. So also Meier, Marginal Jew, 1:334–35.

44. Jane Schaberg, The Resurrection of Mary Magdalene: Legends, Apocrypha, and the Christian Testament (New York: Continuum, 2002), 68.

45. Ibid., 82.

46. E.g., James H. Charlesworth, “The Historical Jesus: How to Ask Questions and Remain Inquisitive,” in Handbook for the Study of the Historical Jesus, ed. Hólmen and Porter, 1:119.

47. James M. Robinson, “The Gospel of the Historical Jesus,” in Handbook for the Study of the Historical Jesus, ed. Hólmen and Porter, 1:468.

48. Karen L. King, “Why All the Controversy? Mary in the Gospel of Mary?” in Which Mary? The Marys of Early Christian Tradition, ed. F. Stanley Jones, SBLSS 19 (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2002), 54 (53–74).

49. “The Gospel of Mary,” in Bart D. Ehrman, Lost Scriptures: Books that Did Not Make It into the New Testament (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 36.

50. Ibid., 36-37.

51. Jacobovici and Pellegrino, Jesus Family Tomb, 173.

52. Ibid., 98-99.

53. Phipps, Was Jesus Married, 135–38.

54. “The Gospel of Philip,” trans. Wesley W. Isenberg, in Nag Hammadi Library in English, ed. James M. Robinson, rev. ed. (New York: HarperCollins, 1990), 142.

55. Jacobovici and Pellegrino, Jesus Family Tomb, 99.

56. “Gospel of Philip,” trans. Isenberg, 148; cf. Ehrman, Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalene, 215.

57. Ismo Dunderberg, The Beloved Disciple in Conflict? Revisiting the Gospels of John and Thomas (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), 182.

58. Barbara Thiering, Jesus the Man: Decoding the Real Story of Jesus and Mary Magdalene (London: Transworld, 1992; reprint, New York: Atria Books, 2006).

59. N. T. Wright, Who Was Jesus? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992), 28.

60. Ibid., 29.

61. Ibid., 32.

62. Jacobovici and Pellegrino, Jesus Family Tomb, 105.

63. Quoted in Goodstein, “Faded Piece of Papyrus Refers to Jesus’ Wife.”

64. Clement of Alexandria, Stromata 3.49, in Alexandrian Christianity: Selected Translations of Clement and Origin, ed. John Ernest Leonard Oulton and Henry Chadwick, LCC 2 (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1954), 63.

65. Le Donne, The Wife of Jesus, 140.

66. Ibid., 141.

67. See Joseph H. Hellerman, Jesus and the People of God: Reconfiguring Ethnic Identity, New Testament Monographs 1 (Sheffield : Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2013).

68. See Michael Tait, Jesus, the Divine Bridegroom, in Mark 2:18-22: Mark’s Christology Upgraded, Analecta Biblica 185 (Rome: Gregorian & Biblical Press, 2010); for a summary, see my review, “Jesus the Divine Bridegroom: Michael Tait’s Case for a High Christology in Mark,” RobertBowman.net (blog), July 24, 2018.

69. See Robert M. Bowman Jr. and J. Ed Komoszewski, Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2007).

70. One scholar notes that the Jesus Seminar colored pink the Gospel saying in which Jesus refers to himself as the bridegroom, an acknowledgment that Jesus said something like it. A similar statement is attributed to Jesus even in the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas (104). See Marianne Blickenstaff, “While the Bridegroom Is with Them”: Marriage, Family, Gender and Violence in the Gospel of Matthew (London: T&T Clark, 2005), 1.

71. Ibid.