Eagle Rock, CA — Milady Annabelle and I were visiting Occidental College. She’s an alumna. It’s a fine private, coed college, one of the oldest on our Pacific coast. Just a few miles east of downtown Los Angeles.
We were strolling the beautiful grounds when I noticed a newspaper box and, news junkie that I am, took out a paper—the students’ Occidental Weekly. A freebie. Never saw it before.
A big headline on Page 1: “Former Occidental Professor debates possible existence of Jesus’ wife.”
Couldn’t resist it. Read it right there. Every word. Seems that Jesus did have a wife. Gosh! But the headline was mild compared to the story itself. In her talk to Occidental students, the professor was not “debating” anything. She said she had strong evidence that suggested yes, Jesus did have a wife.
I handed the paper to Annabelle. She feasted on it. “Sensational,” she said.
Both of us had heard allusions of this over the years, whispers, so to speak. But nothing like this. Nothing this firm. And that’s why I’m sharing it with you now.
Imagine our learning of this in a student newspaper …
The professor, Dr. Karen L. King, had moved on from Occidental and was now a professor at Harvard U. Divinity School. She had had come back to give to give her talk about this astounding development.
And she had first-hand information—she had done the research to come up with it.
She had gotten possession of a scrap of ancient papyrus. Just a tiny thing—the size of a business card. It had pieces of Coptic writing on it. Translated, one of them stated, “Jesus said (to his disciples), “my wife….” That’s all.”
Unfortunately, the rest of the sentence was missing.
The story we were reading was written by student Clark Scally—students produce the whole paper. I was impressed by it. I noticed Scally had also authored two other articles in it. A busy young man. To my eye, quite professional.
His story about Dr. King’s talk had a juicy tidbit. He wrote, “In the Gospel of Philip, discussed by (Prof.) King in her lecture, Jesus speaks of marriage and sexuality extensively. He also refers to Mary Magdalene as his close companion whom he kisses more often than his other disciples, much to the concern of Apostles Peter and Matthew.”
That tickled me. For the simple reason that over the years I have come to think of Jesus as a man, as a very great teacher, one of the greatest ever, but just a man. And this certainly makes him look manly. I like that. Besides. I had never heard it said that boldly before.
In her talk, Dr. King said that scrap of papyrus was believed to have come from the fourth or fifth centuries.
She said an anonymous donor who collected such things had given it to her at Harvard Divinity School.
She had made thorough efforts to authenticate that exciting bit of papyrus. Had shown it to numerous scholars. Had discussed it with them. Had double-checked everything as carefully as she could. Had slept on it. Had decided it was legitimate. But she said more analysis is going on.
Certainly she’s a lady and professor of high repute and attainment. She left Occidental to join Harvard Divinity in 2003 as the Winn Professor of Ecclesiastical History.
Six years later she made history when she became the first woman to be the Hollis Professor of Divinity. It is the oldest endowed chair on our shores, dating back to 1721.
She has received research grants from prestigious foundations. Has written many articles and half a dozen scholarly books. So, she is no lightweight.
I find the titles of two of her books tantalizing, The Secret Revelation of John and The Gospel of Mary of Magdala: Jesus and the First Woman Apostle.
She spilled this about Jesus and his wife at Occidental on Feb. 7. But that came after a storm of controversial announcements and newsbreaks about it.
Initially, Dr. King had traveled to Rome with the papyrus and displayed it to a group of New Testament experts. She came back sure that it was authentic, though apparently the scholars were not all agreed.
The Vatican blasted it as counterfeit. A columnist for Britain’s eminent Guardian newspaper disagreed loudly. Declared the papyrus document a fraud and explained why. It boiled down to a typo.
It is known that the notion that Jesus did not have a wife developed only a century after his death. It is said that numerous people of Jesus’ time believed that he was indeed married. How about that?
To announce her findings to the wide public, Dr. King staged a press conference at the Divinity School. It got attention. The New York Times was there, among others. It followed up with a detailed story. And it stirred up scores of comments, pro and con.
I read many. Scholarly and impressive. Regardless what side they were on, these people seemed awfully knowledgeable.
I’m not sure what to believe. I’d like more than a scrap of evidence. But again, deep down I like to believe that Jesus was a married man. That’s so natural. That’s what most of us want to do and end up doing. More and more of us get married more than once.
And now we have men marrying men and women marrying women. Legally.
Getting hooked seems to satisfy an inner need.
The public reaction was more than Dr. King expected. She says shat she is not saying Jesus had a wife. She is saying that the papyrus said he did.
I found it dramatic that this red-hot story was appearing in the student newspaper of a college of strong Christian origins. Occidental was founded by staunch Presbyterians and was totally Presbyterian for a century or so. It has been liberalizing in the last decade or two. I wonder how the old-timers would feel about this.
For sure one would be the Rev. Dr. Hugh K. Walker, D.D. He was a long-time chairman of Occidental’s board of directors in its earliest days. He set the school on a firm path.
He was the minister of the leading Presbyterian church in Los Angeles.
Why am I telling you this? Because of a terrific coincidence. Dr. Walker was milady Annabelle’s grandfather on her mother’s side. And that’s why her mom and dad enrolled her at Occidental.
In fact, her dad also was a Presbyterian minister. But he gave that up and became president for many years of the Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital … in time also became president of the U.S. Protestant Hospital Association.
Occidental’s fine reputation has become even more widely known of late. A big reason is that it was the first college in our continental U.S. that young Barack Obama, freshly arrived from Hawaii, attended. He lasted two years, transferring to Columbia U. in New York.
That’s something Annabelle shares with him. She jumped after two years, too, and probably for the same reason—to experience a broader undergraduate experience. She went on to the University of California at Berkeley and graduated from there.
One more thing about Clark Scally’s piece in the Occidental Weekly.
At its close, he wrote, “A member of the audience asked Dr. King how she was handling the attention and its pressure.
“’I lost eight pounds in the first week.’ Dr. King answered.
‘The Divinity School arranged a panic button in my office due to concerns for my physical safety. Most of my job since this has come out is to throw cold water on everything.’”
I liked young Scally’s including this quote. It shows that it’s not so easy to be a professor. At times you must really profess.
Maybe he’ll wind up on the New York Times someday.