Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Jesus and Cooties

A few weekends ago, I spent a few days watching documentaries relating to The Da Vinci Code. Many were marvellously entertaining. For instance, did you know the Templars essentially established a form of international branch banking before the thirteen-hundreds? The movie (and the book) seem to have worked up quite a froth among conservatives because of the claims Brown makes about Jesus and the early church. Now to be fair to those doing the frothing, in addition to the fiction which is the book, Brown seems to be pushing a fair bit of background information for the book as factual which actually ranges anywhere from possible to highly improbable in the eyes of most historians, and some of which falls into the category of wild-eyed conspiracy theories. (Very little seems to be either widely believed or authoritatively disproven.) I suspect he does this deliberately because he thinks (probably correctly) that it will sell more books if he stirs the pot a little.

Should I warn about spoilers? I've not read the book myself (or seen the movie), but since I haven't been in a coma for the past year or so, I'm still aware of most of the points which are causing all the ruckus. One of the big ones seems to be the suggestion that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene and that they had children, and that the bloodline still exists today. The producers of one documentary spent some time looking into the question of whether Jesus could have been married, and interviewed several scholars on this point, including a priest. The priest looked absolutely furious; he seemed almost too mad to speak, and managed to spit out that suggesting Jesus was married was "libelous."

Now this I have to wonder about. Whether someone was married or not may be true or untrue, and the question may be open or settled, but I've never heard it suggested that claiming someone was married is libel. (I actually looked up the definition of "libel" just to make sure the universe hadn't changed around me.) What in the world?

Two possibilities occur to me here as to why someone would feel such a claim would be so scurrillous. There is of course the obvious point that we have to remember who is doing the speaking here; if it turns out Jesus was married, someone may have been giving up the horizontal mambo his whole life for what turns out to be no good reason. (Remember the joke about the monk who spent his life making copies of copies of manuscripts who discovered upon reading the originals in heaven that the word was celebrate?) Personally, I suspect there's at least some truth to this basis for the anger, but I think there's another reason for much of the church to dislike the suggestion: They think women have cooties, and no one truly holy could possibly have touched one, or even wanted to. (This also explains how churches supposedly following the teachings of someone who spent almost all his time talking about love, caring, compassion, and forgiveness end up spending almost all their time talking about sex and the importance of not having it, or at least making sure no one has any fun at it.)

Which is particularly interesting in light of what some of the other scholars had to say about Mary Magdalene herself and other women connected with Jesus and with the early church. While the evidence seems to be pretty strong that if Jesus was married it wasn't to Mary, it does seem that she was a disciple who traveled with him--and that she wasn't the only one. In what would have been somewhat scandalous at the time, Jesus seems to have interacted with men and women in essentially the same way. In the earliest church, there were apparently a number of women who became teachers and leaders. Which makes sense if you think about the admonishments from some early (male) church leaders for women to be silent; why tell someone to shut up who hasn't been speaking out?

So perhaps some of the anger is the residual "women have cooties" feeling, which (ironically) may have been part of what Jesus himself preached against. Actually, the whole thing leaves me with the odd feeling that Jesus may have been way more progressive on gender issues than most of the contemporary world.

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