Of all the sexual aberrations, chastity is the strangest. – Anatole France

I am going to make a sweeping generalisation about Christianity: it is commonly assumed that Jesus was celibate and single. This is rarely discussed and even more rarely doubted except amongst a select few who choose to question the perpetuation of this assumption. Le Donne claims that the quest for Jesus’s wife only reveals our own obsessions and insecurities. So, apparently, when we take the time to muse upon Jesus’ marital status, we are doing it wrong anyway.

The early Church Fathers of the 1st century, such as Augustine, have typically put forward a one-dimensional negative view of sex in general: chastity is a superior way of living. Couple this with Jesus’ holiness and purity means that his having sex was out of the question. Ascetics in the 2nd century believed in Jesus’ celibacy perhaps to fit in with their conviction that the physical is inferior to the spiritual. A Coptic papyrus was found in 2012 quoting Jesus as saying “my wife” to his disciples, but maybe 4th century Coptic communities in Egypt projected their own ideals about being both Christian and married onto Jesus. A group of Mormons in the 19th century may have exclaimed Jesus having multiple wives because it suited their own polygamous culture. In the 1970’s a homosexual man ‘discovered’ a story with heavy implications that Jesus had a physical relationship with a boy. Is a theme emerging? Why does it seem as if societies through the ages look at Jesus and his life through their own culture, rather than his own?

Screenings of “The Da Vinci Code,” released in 2006, were banned in several countries throughout the world because the ideas that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene and that she bore his child were unacceptable. There is insufficient evidence to prove that Jesus’ lineage continued, never mind who by, but it is interesting that the mere idea of Jesus having intercourse is so outrageous that it cannot even be considered in some places.

The fact is, even Jewish societies throughout the world, regardless of their ‘modernity’, are not the same as the Jewish culture that Jesus was born into, which probably considered celibacy to be strange or even socially inappropriate: practically speaking, family lines needed to continue. The norm for Jesus’ context was for families to arrange politically or socially advantageous marriages for their children; today in the West especially it is easy to forget how modern a concept ‘romance’ is. If Jesus was married, he would probably have had little or no choice in the matter, it being pre-arranged and at a relatively young age. Whether he continued to identify as a married man or live a married life is, of course, another question. And there is the matter that Jesus was quite clearly an ‘alternative’ man; he represents none or few of the masculine qualities of his time (such as virility and strength on the battlefield, if you wondered). He had an unusual view of what makes a family, holding little regard for blood ties and providing no lifestyle fit for a household. These are exhibitions of a counter-cultural man who would likely have brought shame upon his family if they are true. But the possibility of marriage is there: it doesn’t have to be strong, or stronger than the idea of chastity, but it does exist. It would be unreasonable to dispute that, regardless of your conclusion, the burden of proof rests with you either way.

This ramble is not attempting to prove anything about Jesus’ sexual or marital life, existent or non-existent as they may have been. Rather, it is to suggest that we should stop looking at Jesus just through our own contexts (though it would be impossible to rid ourselves completely of culturally innate prejudices). If we want to find out about the life of Jesus, should we not try to understand his own culture a bit more? We may not know definitively whether Jesus was married but that doesn’t mean we need to project our own agendas or assumptions onto him. To end on a fitting scholarly jibe: “That is not Jesus, it is simply your own face at the bottom of a deep well.”

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