Religion

Did Jesus Have a Wife?

An ancient fragment doesn’t prove that Jesus was married—but it does raise questions about Christians’ attitudes toward sex.

AP Photo/Harvard University, Karen L. King

The world of ancient papyrology—the study of tiny scraps of manuscripts unearthed in archeological digs across the Mediterranean—is not, in general, a font of juicy media stories. That is, unless the papyrus in question seems to suggest that Jesus, long understood to have been celibate, was married. Last September, Harvard Divinity School professor Karen L. King presented her initial findings about a business-card-sized fragment of papyrus, believed to be the work of early followers of Jesus. The 33 words on the fragment included:

Jesus said to them, “My wife …"

 "she will be able to be my disciple" 

The End of the "Ick Factor"

This hard-core rock-'n-roller knows his scripture. (Flickr/Center for American Progress)

Let it not be said that conservatives have failed to evolve on the question of gay rights. These days, even if you are adamantly opposed to marriage equality, you're required to express a kind of libertarian attitude toward homosexuality itself. Love the sinner, hate the sin? Not anymore. Now it's love the sinner, and as for the sin, well that's none of my business, you do what you like. But this public display of live-and-let-livism is a rather shocking contradiction with the very grounds on which many conservatives base their beliefs about this issue, namely the Old Testament. I give you Mike Huckabee, speaking yesterday at the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition: "I'm not against anybody. I'm really not. I'm not a hater. I'm not homophobic," he said. "I honestly don't care what people do personally in their individual lives."

Well hold on there! You honestly don't care? But doesn't the Bible condemn the act itself? Yahweh doesn't say, "Whatever you do in the bedroom is none of anybody's business, just don't think you can get married." Huckabee, a Baptist minister, certainly knows his scripture, and he explained why he can't change on this issue even if public opinion changes:

Thrown to the Lions

There have been many odd and interesting developments in American conservatism in the last few years, but there are few that liberals find more incomprehensible than the belief among many conservative Christians that not only are they currently being oppressed for their religious beliefs, but that today's outrages are but a prelude to a far more vicious and violent crackdown on Christianity that is right around the corner. There's a movie I want to talk about in a moment, but first, I'd like to explore where this is coming from, both from the perspective of the conservative Christians themselves, and the liberals who have such a hard time understanding it.

The News Isn't the Silencing. It's the Debate

AP Images/Nanette Kardaszeski

The event was billed as a discussion about "What It Means To Be Pro-Israel." It was actually a screening of a new film ostensibly aimed at proving that the pro-Israel, pro-peace lobbying group, J Street, is aligned "with the Arab side" against Israel. The film, The J Street Challenge, features talking heads of the Jewish right haughtily describing their opponents as arrogant. It begins with a quote from George Orwell, an unintentionally appropriate touch in an thoroughly Orwellian movie. By the final credits, it turns out that the film is also somewhat mislabeled: Its ultimate target isn't J Street or its support for a two-state agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. The target is American Jewish liberalism as such.

Why "Noah" Shouldn’t Get a Happy Ending

Over the past month, faced with a torrent of criticism from Christians in the U.S. and Muslims abroad who say his interpretation of the Bible as blasphemous, the director Darren Aronofsky has taken to calling his new movie, Noah, a midrash, after the stories that ancient Jewish sages told to bulk up sparse passages in the Hebrew Bible. It’s an apt descriptor for a film that turns a few hundred lines of scripture where the protagonist never speaks into a 140-minute meditation on the folly of humankind. In keeping with the Jewish tradition of layering commentary upon commentary, Aronofsky and his co-writer, Ari Handel, scoured Jewish apocryphal texts and rabbinic midrashim for detail about Noah’s world. Often, these interpretations give snippets of backstory, making the Biblical patriarchs less mysterious and more human. One famous midrash explains why Moses—who tells God he is “slow of speech and of tongue”—was such a clumsy talker. (The answer: As part of an elaborate test from Pharoah, baby Moses briefly put a coal in his mouth. Thereafter, adult Moses suffered from a perpetual burned tongue.)

Tolerance For the Non-Religious, Here and Around the World

Our chart of the day comes from the Pew Research Center's Global Attitudes project, which asked people in 40 different countries whether it is necessary to believe in god in order to be a moral person. There's a lot going on within that yes-or-no question, and one could see how it could carry different connotations in different cultures. The results aren't just a measure of people's own religious beliefs, but also of the character of the place they're in and the exposure they have to people who aren't like them. If you've always been taught that the nature of right and wrong and the enforcement of those rules comes from the church, and virtually everyone you've ever known believes in god, those who don't would seem like something of an alien species. So for instance, in Ghana, where 96 percent of people in another poll described themselves as religious, it isn't surprising that 99 percent in this poll—or basically everyone in both cases —says you have to believe in god to be moral.

At the other end, if you live in a place where most people don't believe in god, even if you do, you probably know many perfectly nice people who don't, so it would be harder to sustain the belief that they're all inherently amoral psychopaths. For example, in France, where about a third of people describe themselves as religious, only 15 percent say you need to believe in god to be moral. Unlike in Ghana where there are virtually no religious people willing to grant the morality of those who aren't religious, in France over half of religious people are willing to be so generous.

What about the U.S., you ask? Show us the chart already! Here it is:

Israel-Palestine Peace: A Hostage to History

AP Images/Mahmoud Illean

One of Benjamin Netanyahu's best known preconditions for a two-state peace accord is that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish nation-state. That's actually the short version of the Israeli prime minister's demand, it turns out. The long version, as he laid out last week before the most amenable audience he could find, is that the Palestinians must sign off on the entire Jewish narrative of the history of the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan.

Platinum-Level Citizenship

AP Images/Robert F. Bukaty

Ask a conservative Christian about the President of the United States, and you're likely to hear that Barack Obama has been waging a "war on religion" since pretty much the moment he took office in 2009. As laughable as the assertion may be, there's little doubt that many have come to believe it, spurred on of course by opportunistic politicians and right-wing talk show hosts whose stock in trade is the creation of fear and resentment. In response, those conservative Christians have mounted a little war of their own, fought in the courts and state legislatures. The enemies include not just the Obama administration but gay people, women who want control of their own bodies, and an evolving modern morality that has left them behind.

Pope Francis's "Cardinal" Rules

Thinking about Otto Preminger's film 50 years later in the context of Pope Francis.

AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino

What to make of last year's onslaught of Francismania? Like the sucker for pop-culture phenomenons I am, I haven't enjoyed anything so much since the Harry Potter books took off. As a veteran secular humanist, I can't help feeling some simpatico with the killjoys striving to remind us that the first Pope in memory to rate an affectionate New Yorker cover still presides over an essentially reactionary organization whose core doctrines haven't changed. But all the same, screw it: they're messing with everybody else's good time. Those of us without a dogma in this hunt just dig waiting for Pope Frank's next Bob Newhart-ish "He said that??" surprise, even as we relish the consternation he's provoked in everybody from Rush Limbaugh—"pure Marxism," the great man flatulated—to Home Depot founder Ken Langone, who fretted that Francis doesn't understand how good rich Americans are. Cardinal Timothy Dolan had to reassure Langone that the latest Pontiff does indeed love his flock's gazillionaires.

Bishops May Not Be the Crooks This Time

AP Images/Luca Zennaro

Tamesha Means was only 18 weeks pregnant on the morning of December 10, 2010 when her water broke. In a haze of pain, she called a friend for a ride to the only hospital in her central Michigan county. She had no idea that the hospital, Mercy Health Partners, was part of a Catholic health system. She just knew she needed help.

With God on His Side

Does my opponent own a bible? Will he shake it at you thusly? I think not.

Mark Pryor has a problem. A Democratic senator in a state Barack Obama lost by 24 points, in a region where party identification is an increasingly rigid tribal marker, Pryor needs to get voters to look beyond the D next to his name if he's going to win re-election next year. So how does he do it? By appealing to an even higher tribal identification. Forget politics, he all but says in his new ad—all you need to know about me is that I'm right with the Lord. Take a look:

The Contraception-Mandate Cases Aren’t Really About Contraception

Ap Images/Tony Gutierrez

Earlier today, the Supreme Court announced that it would hear not one, but two challenges to the Obama administration’s contraception mandate; they’ll be heard together in an action-packed hour of oral arguments sometime in the spring. Both cases deal with conservatives’ ever-growing penchant for anthropomorphizing corporations—this time, the justices will decide whether companies can be exempted from the mandate to provide birth control at no cost to employees because of the owners’ religious beliefs.

The Gay Awakening

While Christian leadership has held fast against the changing tide of public opinion on same-sex marriage, congregations have moved on without them.

AP Photo/Jacqueline Larma

Any other day, Reverend Frank Schaeffer might look out onto the 179 acres of woods at Camp Innabah—a Christian retreat center 40 miles outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania—and stop to ponder God's design in the natural beauty. But today, his mind is on other matters. Mainly, his trial. "There probably won't be an acquittal," says Schaeffer, who faces losing his credentials to preach in the United Methodist Church, the country's largest mainline protestant denomination. "I just hope the penalty will be restorative rather than punitive."

A Church Basement Revival without the God Part

Even if you can start a religion that prominently features Bon Jovi songs, should you?

AP Images/REX/IBL

Wednesday night, the charismatic leader of the world’s newest religious movement was bouncing manically around a rehearsal room in the basement of the Woolly Mammoth Theater in Washington, DC, herding his flock into chairs. Freddie Mercury’s dulcet tones thumped out of the speakers. The congregation—a motley crew of four dozen twenty-somethings wearing tie clips and middle-aged hippies in patterned fleeces—shambled to the front of the room as Sanderson Jones, the man of the hour, warned them that he was going to make us sing. “When they killed Richard III, a group of people did it so they didn’t have to take responsibility for what happened,” said Jones, a tall man sporting enormous black-rimmed glasses with a wrap-around band—the kind you give toddlers or athletes to keep from falling off. “It’s the same with singing.”

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