Review: The Wife of Jesus: Ancient Texts and Modern Scandals

]] has laid for us a perfect trap. In his finely crafted work, Le Donne treats us to scandals and ancient problems our forebearers have encountered when discussing, or surmising, the sexual activity of Jesus. What this book, I believe, is designed to do is to focus our attention upon ourselves rather than upon the question of the Jesus’s marriage. Do we see our very Western self in a celibate Jesus or do we see ourselves in a married and peaceful Jesus? There is no easy answer; after all, to argue from the position of silence (i.e., using the canonical Gospels) is only to allow ourselves to speak about that which we do not know.

The book’s genesis is found in a lecture series the author gave as well as the current media frenzy regarding supposed 4th century documents purporting the barest of statements regarding a supposed Ms. Christ. Keep in mind, no answer is actually given in this book, but questions are raised as to why we are so enticed into these conversations. If tomorrow, another book is produced, say, suggesting a far-distant (from the time of the Gospels) book is an actual allegory of Jesus and his wife (without any historical basis whatsoever) there will be countless people who want to believe and countless people who will simply dismiss it. The answer is found not in the Gospels, not in history, and certainly not in apocryphal tales Jesus invented centuries later, but in ourselves.

Le Donne provides us with ten short chapters (the whole of the book is only 166 pages) discussing various points in the field of Rezeptionsgeschichte. This is not a book filled with a draught of highly-placed academic jargon, but one geared to each of us, lay or not. In this, the book is a masterful find of basic instruction on how to read something through the lens of the modern and pre-modern receivers. Le Donne includes discussions among the earliest Christians as well as the account of the rise of romantic love (rather than marriages based purely on property exchanges). Further, he gives us real history on the life and times of Jesus, examining the reasons many believe Jesus would be married as well as the allowances for a celibate Jesus. Le Donne is the masterful teacher here, giving us the facts and letting us decide which way we will see Jesus.

This is a book designed with one goal — to push the reader into understanding that the marriage of Jesus is not really what is discussed in our debates, but ourselves. Equipped with a better understanding of why we feel the way we do, we may discover something more about ourselves than we did about Jesus and we may discover we simply do not know whether or not Jesus was married, but we’d be okay either way.

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