A friend of mine recently told me that when she was in fourth grade she won the statewide Bible Bust. A moderator would cite a chapter and verse and the contestants would all dive into their Bibles to find the passage. She was a Biblical whiz kid. Pre-Google! Her prize was some dreamy pale blue Keds.
In the middle of her story, I realized that despite my sixteen years of Catholic education, I had never read the Bible. I loved the onionskin paper and grosgrain ribbon of our family Bible, but I never read it.
Unlike my friend’s direct tactile experience of the Bible, my church relied on intermediary translators and interpreters of the Bible, lest we get flummoxed by all the begots, begats, and bigots.
I spent the elementary years memorizing the asterisked questions in the Baltimore Catechism. In junior high, we read stories of teen martyrs to learn Christian comportment. I don’t remember high school; I was in an emotional blackout trying not to become the abominator I knew I was. In college, it was the urbane, and much condemned, Jesuit philosopher Teillhard de Jardin all the way, and there were bite-sized portions of New Testament stories woven into mass during the liturgical year.
So, I’m no biblical scholar, but I have always liked stories about Jesus. He was a game-changer. Back in the day, I probably would have been on his Facebook fan page. I certainly would have noticed a change in his marital status. As have Vatican scholars, after Harvard scholar Karen King’s recent announcement of the discovery of a papyrus fragment that includes the phrase, “Jesus said to them, my wife.”
My first reaction to the news was, “The poor thing.” You know he wasn’t home much and when he was, he’d bring all the guys over for dinner. He did not waste his miraculous powers doing the dishes or the laundry.
My next reaction was that the Vatican seemed quite touchy about the whole thing. King made it clear in her paper at the Congress of Coptic Studies that the fragment did not say Jesus had a wife, but rather suggested there were active debates about sexuality and marriage at the time.
Nonetheless, the mere suggestion of a Mrs. Jesus H. Christ had the doubters and virgin birthers pouncing faster than a Romney reaction team. You call that cuneiform writing? That’s not papyrus! That’s a matchbook from Mubi’s bar in Cairo. We’ll have our Fiber Coptics experts check it.
The Bible-busting, game-changing, business card-sized suggestion that Jesus had a wife is a lovely Christmas gift. It adds froth to the already contentious contemporary debates about marriage, male-only clergy, the value and vice of priestly celibacy, and the Church’s self-proclaimed supernatural amazingness.
Perhaps in Bill O’Reilly’s inevitable seasonal lament about putting Christ back in Christmas, he will talk about putting Christ back in the Christian family. That would be an answer to my prayer.