The Latest Real Jesus

Long ago, I wrote the following piece, which I share again because of a series I plan to start tomorrow:

Not quite “I’m my own Grandpa” but close

Here’s an email about a website called “New Covenant Ministries” (a self described “No-nonsense, Honest, Direct, Prophetic, Apostolic, Priesthood of All Believers [Men and Women], Post-Trib, Sabbatarian, Messianic-Israelite, Patriarchal, Evangelical, Received Text, Johannine Tradition & Communion, End-Time Gatherers, New Birth, Holiness, Restorationist, New Covenant Torah, Non-Charismatic, and Sola Scriptura” group which styles itself “One Spotless Church Gathered from the Corpse of Christendom.”

That warm affirmation of ecumenism should be a tip off that this group is unlikely to be tremendously reliable when their assertions wander off the beaten path of Christian orthodoxy. But still my correspondent is worried. This group insists (as gluttons for punishment can read for themselves here) that Jesus was married and that the real “groom and bride” at the wedding in Cana (John 2) were Jesus and Mary Magdalene! (Pay no attention to the wedding portrait of the happy couple on the site. Thanks to the miracle of Photoshop and a good dose of artistic ignorance, they’ve melded an icon of Jesus with an icon, not of the Magdalene, but of his mother, the Blessed Virgin and himself as an infant.)

Anyway, these folks argue that Mary (Magdalene, not his mother) was making a crypto-reference to Jesus as her husband when she exclaimed “Rabboni” on the morning of the Resurrection (John 20:16). They also teach that John the Baptist’s reference to Jesus as the Bridegroom was yet another crypto-reference to Jesus’ marriage to Mary Magdalene (John 3:29). They argue that the early Church, influenced by gnostic hatred of sex, covered up all this wedded bliss in order to promote a gnostic emphasis on asceticism and loathing of sex. My correspondent explains that he wouldn’t take it so seriously, but that some show on the tube had also recently made a similar claim. Is there perhaps something to it, he wonders?

My answer, in a nutshell is “No.” There is nothing to it. The reality is that the intensely hypothetical and remote nature of the speculation here is simply contrary to the entire memory of Christendom on this question for 2000 years-beginning with the apostles. The simple fact is, the whole of the Christian testimony on this subject from Christ’s time down to the present is that Jesus remained unmarried. Contrary to the claim of the website, the tradition that Jesus was unmarried did not “begin in gnosticism”. It began with the apostles’ memories of Jesus and was always recognized as a genuine apostolic teaching, even by Church Fathers who were mortal foes of gnosticism and all its works and ways. Indeed, Jesus himself commended those who were “eunuchs for the kingdom of God” (i.e. “virgins”) (Matthew 19:12).

The web site’s exegesis fails to take into account the point John is attempting to convey in his account of the Miracle at Cana. In that account (and elsewhere) Jesus simply is not the earthly Bridegroom at the earthly wedding no matter how much ingenious readings-between-the-lines we attempt. However, the earthly wedding, like all earthly marriage, does provide the archetypal image of Jesus as the Cosmic Bridegroom of the Church and that is what John wishes us to see, just as Paul wishes us to see it in Ephesians 5. John the Baptist’s language describing Jesus as the Bridegroom is clearly figurative, not descriptive of a relationship with Mary Magdalene (who is simply absent in the Johannine narrative except in the resurrection account and who comes nowhere near the wedding at Cana). The attempt to transform Mary’s cry of “Rabboni” on the morning of the Resurrection into a confession of her married status as Christ’s earthly wife is utterly without attestation anywhere in the Christian tradition. John, in fact, tells us what Mary meant: she called Jesus “Teacher”, not “husband.” (John 20:16).

One good rule of thumb whenever one encounters a “real Jesus” who is radically at odds with the picture offered by the ordinary Tradition, Scripture and magisterial teaching of the Church is to examine the dominant fixations of one’s own age and see how much of a Rorschach ink blot test that new “real Jesus” is. Oddly enough, when liberal Protestantism went gaga for the Social Gospel a hundred years ago, the Real Jesus looked very much like a Social Gospel Protestant a la Albert Schweitzer. When the world went nuts for Marxism, a new Real Jesus suddenly appeared on the scene as the First Marxist preaching the Sermon on the Barricades to the Oppressed Proletariat. Nazism was fond of discovering a Real Jesus who was “really” an Aryan eager to condemn Judaism and not beholden to his Jewish ancestry. Ironic postmodernity sees an ironic postmodern Jesus, feminism sees a feminist Jesus and New Age “prophets” see Real Jesus who offer the same sort of pantheistic tapioca they offer. Of the making of “real Jesuses” there is no end.

In our case, we live in a popular, celebrity culture that is obsessively fascinated with sex and with the sex lives (real and imagined) of the famous. By some unfathomable coincidence, that’s just what this sort of speculation about Jesus resembles too. Similarly, “documentaries” on the tube are, of course, geared to appeal to that sex-obsessed culture first and only secondarily to accuracy (the goal of TV, after all, is to sell shampoo and beer, not to be tremendously accurate). In other words, this “real Jesus”, like all the previous “real Jesuses” tells us more about our current cultural quirks and obsessions than it does about anything substantial in the record.

Further, the speculation about Jesus’ sex life feeds a primal American habit of rejecting “the official story” (and feeding our pride as People Who Aren’t Told What to Think by Sinister Vatican Officials). When you are engaged in the immensely ego-gratifying project of Gathering One Spotless Church from the Corpse of Christendom, you don’t suffer from the troubling questions of self-esteem and humility that lesser breeds without the law so often stumble over. Like Buzz Lightyear, you’re always sure. You have the inside scoop! Only fools and simpletons would accept the Official Story that, say, the earth is round or JFK is really dead. You know The Truth is Out There and you aren’t afraid to Tell It Like it Is. Only saps fall for the Commonly Accepted Story.

The trouble is, sometimes the commonly accepted story is commonly accepted because it is the true story. It becomes the official story, not because Officialdom tricked the dumb sheep into buying it, but because the whole herd of sheep, beginning with apostles who ordained the officials, told Officialdom, “This is what happened.”

Attempts to chalk up Christian belief in the celibacy of Jesus to “gnosticism” are therefore fundamentally clueless about the Catholic view of sex, just as Marxist atheist attempts to divine a Marxist atheist “Jesus” lack a basic grip on reality. Catholics do not believe Jesus was a virgin because sex is evil any more than they believe Jesus distrusted Mammon based on an atheistic theory of class warfare. On the contrary, for Catholics marriage is a sacrament and sex is therefore holy in the context of the sacrament. But as Jesus makes clear, though marriage is holy, virginity is holy too. It is not a case of good and bad but of good and better. Jesus chose the way of virginity as a sign of his consecration to the Church, his Bride. That was John’s point in the story of the Wedding at Cana. It was John’s point in speaking of Jesus as the Bridegroom, and it remains the Church’s point today-a point preserved, no thanks to gnosticism, in the apostolic Tradition, Scripture and Magisterial teaching of the Church for 2000 years. The only “real Jesus” is the one the Church has proclaimed since Pentecost. Accept no new improved versions.

I offer this because, starting tomorrow, I wish to start looking at yet another Latest Real Jesus who is, as we shall see in the end, a response to another kind of Real Jesus: the MAGA antichrist Jesus of money, guns, and raw nihilist power. It is an understandable reaction to that ugly antichrist vision, but it is also deeply and dangerously wrong, all the more because it is much more attractive and humane-seeming than the MAGA antichrist Jesus.

My goal is not to take away from what is decent and well-meaning in that reaction, still less to affirm anything the satanic MAGA Jesus, but to underscore what the original eyewitnesses and servants of the Word report to us of his actual sayings and doings. Because like it or not, that is everything that we actually know of him and all attempts–especially well-meaning ones–to pit him against what those witnesses tell us are not “getting back to the original Jesus and freeing him from his ecclesial trappings and myths”. They are simply wishful thinking that, as ever, tells us only about the fantasies, wishes and obsessions of the modern revisionist and nothing about Jesus.

Of which more tomorrow.

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24 Responses

  1. Mary is the generic name for a priestess. Miriam, the sister of moses, Maryam, and on down the line. This is why so many mary’s in the NT. Priestesses, and usually depicted in Red.

    I’ve seen I don’t know how many paintings of MM and VM as I wandered around Europe. i have a special fondness for MM and her churches. I think in the vast majority, if Not all cases, MM is always pictured in Red, VM in blue, at least in the Catholic churches..

    This being an orthodox icon, maybe they switched it around. But I don’t know.

    1. None of this is true. Miriam is not a Levitical priestess. MM was not a priestess either. The red color does not, for MM symbolize priesthood, but a penitent sinner since she was (wrongly) identified with the sinful woman who anointed Jesus feet (that was Mary of Bethany). She was a favorite figure of medieval piety because she was and is relatable to the rest of us poor sinners as somebody Jesus had mercy on. The east hails her as “Apostle to the Apostles” but not as a priestess. And yes, the “icon” is a photoshop job. Read the caption.

      1. @ mark

        It all depends on which books you read, doesn’t it?

        From wikipedia…

        Miriam (Hebrew: מִרְיָם‎ Mīrəyām) was described in the Hebrew Bible as the daughter of Amram and Jochebed, and the older sister of Moses and Aaron. She was a prophetess and first appears in the Book of Exodus.
        The Torah refers to her as “Miriam the Prophetess”[1] and the Talmud[2] names her as one of the seven major female prophets of Israel. Scripture describes her alongside of Moses and Aaron as delivering the Jews from exile in Egypt: “For I brought you up out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery, and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam”.[3] According to the Midrash,[4] just as Moses led the men out of Egypt and taught them Torah, so too Miriam led the women and taught them Torah.

        Soundslike a priestess to me.

        You are right, of course, that Mary Magdalene was miss identified as the fallen woman. I couldn’t tell you the name of the book now, but I did read a book on the iconography to be found in religious paintings, because it was very interesting to me at the time. And read was the color of priestesses. The Wikipedia entry certainly seems to be saying that.

      2. Prophetess =/= priestess. A prophet is a mouth who speaks for God. A teacher teaches, including Torah. A priest offers sacrifice. There are whole books laying out in agonizing detail who can be a priest (Levite males) and the incredibly fine tuned details of what they are to sacrifice. That is a huge chunk of what Torah is about. Women were not priestesses in OT cultic worship. Nor was MM a priestess. Wishful thinking don’t make it so.

      3. @ mark

        I can’t really argue the point because it’s been too many years since I read the books. I’m going on my memory. But I checked my books, and right there on the Christian shelf is Mary Magdalene by Susan Haskins. 400 pages of carefully documented stuff. I don’t intend to read it again, but I suspect this is the book where I got the information from. But it might have been from the other book on the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, which i don’t seem to have any more. Laren king? It might have been Bart Ehrmann’s books.

        The only thing I can testify to that I read a bunch of them, and this is what I remember.

    2. “Mary is the generic name for a priestess”
      In what language and / or where, and “down” what “line”? This appears to be something someone has just made up out if whole cloth. “Mary / Miriam” is just a very, very common Jewish name for a girl.

      1. @ iain

        I gave some references, but I can’t get more Exact than that. One does have to wonder why there were so many Mary’s in the NT.

    3. Remember when that Dan Brown book came out? He wrote it in a borrowed house ten minutes from my house!!!!
      Omg I could have written that book. I even liked it after the critics panned it. But yes. It was pure doo doo.
      (My BIL and SIL actually booked time in Italy to observe Da Vinci’s last supper.
      Scandal sells.
      My entire life has been surrounded by scandal. I’m not a believer in the shi**y kind.

      1. My late mother and I used to share books and discussions, always lots of fun. I got the Dan Brown from the library for her, she really enjoyed it.

        Said it was a real page-turner, the correct style for a thriller, and so on.

        Then she said, “Now, you don’t believe any of that horse sh*t, do you?”

        Sums it up perfectly.

  2. All women are priests and prophets through their baptism in Christ.

    Red isn’t really my color though, so I’ll pass on that.

    1. I swear this is such a perennial–right down to the gnostic “gospel” stuff–so much so that you can just recycle this every time it comes up and this was done nearly a decade ago–

      1. Thank you. 🙂
        I’ve seen some of their stuff. Lutherans would make good Catholics.

  3. Can I bring an atheist perspective on this?

    One of the Pliny’s briefly mentions a Jewish cult leader who was executed by the Romans. This was probably Jesus. And that, my friends, is the sum total of all the written records we have of the life of Christ –

    Except for the Gospels, which, if we’re allowed to state the obvious, were written by hardcore partisans and should thus be taken with a large grain of salt.

    Trying to state anything with certainty about the life of Christ is a fool’s mission, since we have no reliable sources. We don’t know.

    And I will leave now, before the rotten fruit starts pelting me . . . .

    1. I think you may have confused Pliny the Younger with Tacitus. Tacitus mentioned the crucifixion in his discussion of the Great Fire of 64 AD. Pliny’s letter is concerned with early Christian practice, but I don’t think there’s any mention of the crucifixion or other biographical info about Jesus in his correspondence with the emperor.

      And Tacitus and Pliny hardly constitute the “sum total” of ancient written non-Christian sources. I mean, that’s just demonstrably untrue.

    2. Except for the Gospels, which, if we’re allowed to state the obvious, were written by hardcore partisans and should thus be taken with a large grain of salt.

      But the partisanship of the Gospels is what you would expect if the Gospel story is true. If it’s false … you would need some explanation for the partisanship.

    3. I don’t know that Pliny ever mentioned Jesus. Can you provide a source?

      Tacitus (Roman author) and Josephus (Jewish author) most certainly did mention Jesus.

      And I don’t know that any work by a “hardcore partisan” should be taken with a grain of salt. Neil DeGrasse Tyson is a hardcore astrophysicist, so we obviously have to treat his views on astrophysics with a huge grain of salt. Richard Dawkins is an expert and hardcore evangelist of evolution, so we must obviously be suspicious of anything he writes about evolution. And I have seen BLADE RUNNER at least twenty times, so I must not know anything about it.

      1. Yes. Partisanship cuts both ways – it doesn’t provide, in itself, evidence for the truth or falsity of the matter itself.

    4. You are thinking of Suetonius. Pliny writes as a bureaucrat trying to figure out what to do with this new eastern sect but has no interest in Jesus per se beyond mentioning that Christians sing hymns to him as a god. Also Tacitus mentions Jesus, as does Josephus. One of the things the skeptic needs to decide on is whether he is going to play the “Who even knows *anything* about Jesus because Romans who have no reason to care about him don’t care about him and they are the measure of all *real* history!” game or the “We absolutely know that the gospels cover up the *real* truth about Jesus because here is Celsus talking smack about him 2 centuries later based on jack shit” game. Both claims cannot be true and neither have to be.

      The gospels are four converging accounts written by people who saw or knew those who saw the event they relate and who paid with their lives for their story.Only an absolute fool would say, “Your honor, the witnesses substantially agree in their accounts. I demand you throw out their testimony as worthless.” What you are actually doing is remarkably similar to white anthropologists who declared that Native people were too stupid to remember their own history and traditions and then, since no whites had written records, declared that they were a people without a history, making it easier to ignore them. Just because Romans ignored them and their history does not mean they ignored themselves. You just don’t want to bother listening to them. Check your chauvinism.

      1. Mark, forgive me, but you give away your whole position when you acknowledge that the Romans, who actually lived near enough Jesus to see him in action, nonetheless had no reason to care about him. Think about that very carefully, given your stated belief that the Gospel accounts are accurate.

      2. You get that Judea was the eastern hinterland of the Empire and the Galilee was the ugly stepson of Judea, right? What on earth can you mean when you say Romans “lived near enough Jesus to see him in action”. Even the arresting party of the Sanhedrin needed a guide to pick him out of a crowd at night. Some centurions noticed him. But Roman historians tended to cluster in (surprise!) Rome, not the sticks in Judea. Your imperial snootiness continues to pretend that the only *real* historical memories are Roman historical memories while ignoring four strongly corroborating witnesses (five when you count Paul regurgitating the traditions of the Church at Antioch that Peter helped found). Only a fool says, “What? Four strongly corroborating accounts of the same events! Get rid of that!” You just don’t like what the witnesses say.

    5. Trained historians using critical methods can look at the Gospels and come to a consensus about Christ’s life. It’s almost universally accepted that Jesus was baptized, for example, and most feel he was unlikely to have been married.

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