Karen King, a historian of early Christianity at Harvard Divinity School stirred up a hornet’s nest a few weeks ago when she announced she’d discovered a 2nd century papyrus which contained a reference to “Jesus’ wife.” The tiny fragment is barely legible and incomplete so King makes no claims about its interpretation. Nonetheless, a debate is brewing. The same that plagued the publication of Dan Brown’s, The Da Vinci Code.
Brown based his mystery on Gnostic Gospels which claimed Mary Magdalene, not Peter, was the disciple upon whom the Christian Church was to be founded, but in the ensuring rivalry, Peter prevailed. The Gnostics, who favored Mary, were excoriated and driven from the faith. (Man Made God by Barbara G. Walker, pgs. 170-171) This new reference to Jesus’ wife has garnered a quick repudiation from the Vatican to which King has yet to respond, believing that her remarks should await scientific scrutiny of the papyrus.
While it is said that history is written by the victors, in the light of new information, it may be subject to revision. If authenticated as a historical document, new questions will arise about a woman’s role in the Catholic Church as well as the rationale for celibacy in holy orders. King’s discovery may well cast Dan Brown’s novel in a prescient light. I’m not surprised. Just as in Brave New World or 1984, a writer’s imagination sometimes gives us a vision of where we are headed.
(Karen King’s papyrus courtesy of www.hds.harvard.edu)