(Above: English translation of the GosJesWife papyrus fragment put forth by Harvard scholar Karen King.)
Update: On June 20, 2016, Harvard scholar Karen King reportedly told the Boston Globe that the papyrus fragment bearing some evidence that Jesus might have been married to a woman named Mary seems to have been a fabrication. This doesn’t change the point of my post, that a woman of Mary Magdalene’s stature did not have to be married to her spiritual teacher in order to pursue consciousness.
Original Post: An ancient papyrus has recently emerged that, for the first time, literally presents Jesus as a married man. The fourth-century fragment refers to a woman named Mary in the context of Jesus’ wife. In a paper to be published in the Harvard Theological Review, Harvard scholar Karen King suggests this Mary could be Mary Magdalene.
Until now all surviving texts have been either ambiguous or silent on Jesus’ marital status. The Gospel of John makes several references to an anonymous beloved disciple that some venture to believe is Mary Magdalene. In the Gospel of Mary, the disciples complain that Jesus loved Mary more than other disciples, male or female. According to the Gospel of Phillip, Mary Magdalene was the koinônos of Jesus, but that word is vague and can mean companion, spouse, lover, or partner. At last, the latest fragment spells out Jesus’ wife in no uncertain terms.
Does the newly discovered papyrus mean Jesus and Mary Magdalene were actually married to each other? Sorry, no. King, the expert in Christian history who translated the fragment’s Coptic script, believes it to be a copy of a second-century Greek gospel. Because that gospel would have been written at least a hundred years after the death of Jesus, it doesn’t prove directly that Jesus was married, but it does strongly suggest that some early Christians believed he was.
The find is not without controversy. The grammar and syntax are all wrong for the dialect and period, the penmanship crude, and the edges of the business card-size fragment too tidy, leading some to suspect forgery. Given the context, however, King believes the fragment to be authentic, errors and all.
The script, which King calls the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife, is a conversation between Jesus and his disciples in which he is explaining the worthiness of discipleship. The disciples appear to be protesting Mary’s participation, as is the case in other gospels, but Jesus has found her worthy. Supposedly, the script also speaks to early Christian concerns of reconciling marriage and sexuality with spiritual devotion. King takes the translation a step further, suggesting it presents Jesus’ marital status as a metaphor for spiritual union in the vein of the gnostic Gospel of Phillip, but this can only be conjecture on her part.
Assuming that the fragment is authentic and the translation reasonably accurate, what would be the implication of such a document? Pop culture has grown used to the idea of a relationship between Jesus and Mary through novels and movies, and such a find would generate marginal interest. Fundamental Christians would hardly bat an eye, for after all they’ve rejected a pageantry of gnostic texts ever since the first century. Gnostic documents in general tend to look at the esoteric, metaphoric aspect of Jesus’ life, whereas fundamental Christians take the crucifixion literally. If Jesus were married, it would not fit the narrative of a divine being in the flesh.
Esotericists, particularly those following Light and Sound paths, view the ideal of the Son of Man/God differently. All beings are divine, but God realization isn’t bestowed automatically – it’s attained through a living master such as Jesus. Being married is inconsequential for either master or student; it’s all a matter of cultural and personal circumstances and the lessons to be learned from either abstinence or union.
What is consequential, according to the fragment, is that Jesus vetted all of his students, male and female. Despite thousands of centuries of inequality for women, Jesus welcomed them the same as any man. But apparently acceptance into discipleship was strict, and not all who were called were chosen. King says that the context of “worthiness” in the script reminded her of Luke 14:26-27 or Thomas 55: “Whoever does not hate father and mother cannot be my disciple, and whoever does not hate brothers and sisters and carry the cross as I do, will not be worthy of me.” In other words, to be accepted into discipleship, a person has to be in the throes of an existential crisis, no longer drawing identity and support from family and conventional religion. Moreover, a worthy disciple must be willing to take responsibility for one’s own karmic actions, while also being able to accept instruction from the Divine made flesh. These criteria are true of the ultimate spiritual path to God realization.
For the final two sentences of the fragment, King takes a leap in her translation from the mundane to the esoteric. Line 7 states: “As for me, I dwell with her in order to …,” and Line 8 says: “… an image ….” Although essential words are missing from these two lines, King makes some inferences based on the Gospel of Phillip. The word “image” often points to a symbolic paradigm, and therefore this single word signals that a symbolic translation can be given to the word “dwell” in the previous sentence. According to King, “dwell” not only implies that Jesus lived with his wife, but also that his marriage represents an archetypal union. Phillip comments extensively on marriage and sexuality in the context of the proverbial bridal chamber, which symbolizes the masculine/feminine duality of the cosmos as two halves of a continuum. Scholars have taken the sexual symbolism literally as descriptive of a ritual that might have existed when Gnostic Christianity was active. King opts for the metaphor rather than the literal. And so do I.
In the Light and Sound Teachings, the soul is considered to be feminine energy, while one’s master is masculine energy. A true, living master, or Sat Guru in Sanskrit, represents the Sound Current, the Logos, or the Word, the vibratory power that cascades from the Godhead through all inhabitants of Its creation and returns the soul back to It. Since the soul exists within the upper, inward echelons of one’s hierarchical being, so too does the magnetic essence of the Sound Current. God realization is a progression of the soul merging with the Sound Current in ever more refined stages, beginning in the bridal chamber at the third eye. A significant analogy to this process in the mundane, physical world is the union between the male and female forces.
Light and Sound is a modern term for the path of the Sound Current, which is otherwise as old as humanity and lies at the root of all religions. In India, for instance, the teachings are called Surat Shabda Yoga, which in Sanskrit means the union of the soul with the essence of the Absolute. Masters of the Light and Sound teach that Jesus was also a master of this eternal path, along with Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato, and Rumi, among many others. The path has also been called Sant Mat, or Path of the Masters, a loosely associated group of teachers that became prominent in the northern part of India from about the 13th century. A more contemporary path, called MasterPath, exists in America.
My book, The Logos of Soul, A Novel on the Light and Sound, is in part about Mary Magdalene’s standing among the disciples of Jesus. In the novel, Jesus leaves his ministry to Mary Magdalene. Masters typically pass the mantle on to male successors, but the Gnostic texts suggest that Jesus passed the mantle on to Mary. Though it is highly likely that Jesus and Mary were married, I didn’t make it so in the novel. That is because in both the canonized and the Gnostic gospels, Mary Magdalene is a formidable spiritual being in her own rite. As the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife demonstrates, her worthiness for discipleship was not a status that was granted her merely because of her intimate relationship with Jesus. As one of the main characters in the novel, Mary Magdalene’s story is one of deep devotion to her chosen master and her own personal inner growth. The romantic love I leave to the reader’s imagination.
The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife Updates by the Harvard School of Divinity