Assessing a New Book on Jesus’ Wife


I used to think that of course Jesus was married — what normal 1st-century small-town Jewish man would not be married? Answer: most of the Essenes, to name one group.

The perennial interest in an actual bloodline of his descendents is periodically stoked by books like Holy Blood, Holy Grail, The Da Vinci Code, and more recently, by The Lost Gospel: Decoding the Ancient Text that Reveals Jesus’ Marriage to Mary the Magdalene.

Ah, Mary Magdelene, who was she? A minor disciple of the wandering preacher? Or the disciple who understood him best? A wealthy follower who financed his wanderings? His wife and mother of their kids? Some combination of the above? Or as Robert Graves imagined in the 1940s, the priestess of some surviving Canaanite Paganism who sexually conveyed to him a sovereignity over the land — the thesis of his novel King Jesus, which predated The White Goddess by two years.

The Lost Gospel’s authors, “Simcha Jacobovici, author, and TV personality perhaps best known for his series The Naked Archaeologist, along with Prof. Barrie Wilson of York University,” make a textual argument over a  “6th century Syriac text that records the apocryphal tale entitled Joseph and Aseneth.”

So this is a text written some centuries after Jesus lived but maybe copied from a much earlier original about two biblical characters who might be read as allegories for Jesus and Mary Magdalene.

My quotes come from a four-part entry on the University of Toronto’s Religion Beat blog, written by Anna Cwikla, a graduate student in religion. Part One. Part Two. Part Three. Part Four.

She pokes some holes in their argument and faults them for taking the rhetorical stance sometimes called “They laughed at Galileo” — If  the established experts  are against me, then I must be right!

But I might still read The Lost Gospel anyway, just for cultural reasons. Whereas we Pagans are comfortable with the idea of female religious leaders, the Middle Eastern monotheisms mostly still are not. Cwikla quotes an MCC pastor:

The possibility of Jesus having a wife sparked positive responses from some female clerics. For example, in a blog post on the Huffington Post website, Moderator of the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches Rev. Dr. Nancy Wilson expressed tempered optimism about the fragment’s potential to change the patriarchal position of many Christian denominations: “Will a little snippet of ancient writing change the Christian world? It is possible, and I am hopeful.”

Plus, like The DaVinci Code, the book is “scandalous,” particularly for the Roman Catholic Church. She cites Anthony Le Donne, author of  The Wife of Jesus: Ancient Texts and Modern Scandals (another one for the reading list):

By looking to the past for evidence of women as leaders in early Christianity, we are attempting to look for a way to change the longstanding tradition of women having less power in most Christian traditions that is still evident in modern society. By wedding Jesus, we may be trying to make him more “human-like,” or, as Alex Beam suggests: “The purpose, animated by the all-powerful secularism of our time, is to bring him [Jesus] down to our level.”

There is a potential irony there for the liberal Christians: If you add female clergy but lose the divinity of Jesus, what is left? Where is the “juice” of your religion?

Pagan-Studies Scholars Tell Their Stories

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The new double issue of The Pomegranate is something different. It contains two long papers, but the rest is devoted to a special section on scholarly autobiography conceived and edited by Doug Ezzy (U. of Tasmania).

Doug visited Hardscrabble Creek in November 2014 and while holed up in the guest cabin, speed-reading my library, thought how interesting it might be to get some of the long-time Pagan-studies scholars to tell their stories. How did they get started? What obstacles did they face? Who helped them? And so on.

We drew up a list of people to ask for contributions—all from the English-speaking world for this volume, so I see a second special section ahead in the future. Most were happy to write something.

By arrangement with the publisher, my editorial, “A Double Issue of The Pomegranate: The First Decades of Contemporary Pagan Studies,” is a free download. Because workers deserve to be paid, the entire special section costs £17.50  (US $25.40), normally the fee for a single article.

Articles

The Divine Feminine in the Silver Age of Russian Culture and Beyond: Vladimir Soloviev, Vasily Rozanov and Dmitry Merezhkovsky,” Dmitry Galtsin

Elements of Magic, Esotericism, and Religion in Shaktism and Tantrism in Light of the Shakti Pitha Kamakhy?” Archana Barua

Special Section – Paths into Pagan Studies: Autobiographical Reflections

“The Pagan Studies Archipelago: Pagan Studies in a Cosmopolitan World,” Douglas Ezzy

“The Old Pomegranate and the New,” Fritz Muntean

“Walking Widdershins,” Wendy Griffin

“Playing Croquet with Hedgehogs: (Still) Becoming a Scholar of Paganism and Animism,” Graham Harvey

“Navigating Academia and Spirituality from a Pagan Perspective,” Michael York

“An Outsider Inside: Studying Contemporary Paganism,” Helen A Berger

“The Owl, the Dragon and the Magician: Reflections on Being an Anthropologist Studying Magic,” Susan Greenwood

“The Academy, the Otherworld and Between,” Kathryn Rountree

“Making the Strange Familiar,” Sarah Pike

“Reflecting on Studying Wicca from within the Academy and the Craft,” Melissa Jane Harrington

“Pagan(ish) Senses and Sensibilities,” Adrian Ivakhiv

Quick, Download this Paper Now

Israeli scholar of Paganism has published a paper on “Connecting British Wicca with Radical Feminism and Goddess Spirituality during the 1970s and 1980s: The Case Study of Monica Sjöö” in the Journal of Contemporary Religion.

It is currently available as a free download. Here is the abstract:

This article attempts to chart some of the ways in which ideas of radical feminism, Goddess Spirituality, and feminist Witchcraft—which originated in the United States during the late 1960s and the 1970s before taking root in Britain—were introduced to British Wiccans during the latter half of the 1970s and throughout the 1980s. Several UK-based radical feminists who combined their newfound political awareness with Goddess Spirituality acted as important conduits for the transference of these ideas. This will be shown through the use of a case study of the artist and Goddess Feminist Monica Sjöö (1938–2005).

As they say, this offer may expire, so act now.

Missing Sekmet Statute Mystery Solved

When the statue from the Temple of Goddess Spirituality in southern Nevada disappeared last April, many Pagans wondered if it was a hate crime or what.

“It was foolish kids doing foolish things,” said Candace Ross, temple priestess.

Kids who freaked out and smashed the statue. But a new one is in place.

Peaceful Minoan Crete . . . Was Not

Boy boxers smack each other in a Minoan fresco. (Wiki Commons).

Bronze Age (Minoan) Crete is often portrayed as this peaceful place where people gathered flowers, danced, sang, and worshiped the Great Mother Goddess.

Um, no, says an archaeologist from the University of Sheffield:

“Their world was uncovered just over a century ago, and was deemed to be a largely peaceful society,” explained [Barry] Molloy. “In time, many took this to be a paradigm of a society that was devoid of war, where warriors and violence were shunned and played no significant role.

“That utopian view has not survived into modern scholarship, but it remains in the background unchallenged and still crops up in modern texts and popular culture with surprising frequency.

“Having worked on excavation and other projects in Crete for many years, it triggered my curiosity about how such a complex society, controlling resources and trading with mighty powers like Egypt, could evolve in an egalitarian or cooperative context. Can we really be that positive about human nature? As I looked for evidence for violence, warriors or war, it quickly became obvious that it could be found in a surprisingly wide range of places.”

Much like other people, in other words. Read the rest here.

A Goddess-Movement Video with Something Extra

One of Fred Adams’ visionary paintings on the DVD case for “Dancing with Gaia.”

First, although this is not directly about “the Goddess movement,” I want to point out the blogging that Aidan Kelly has been doing, particularly about the history of contemporary Paganism in America, at his Patheos blog, Including Paganism.

Another resource is Dancing with Gaia, a video subtitled “Earth Energy, Sacred Sexuality, the Return of the Goddess as Gaia . . . a Continuum,” produced and directed by Jo Carson (82 min.)

A number of the well-known names from the Goddess movement are in, such as the Swedish artist and anarchist Monica Sjöö (1938–2005) to name just one. So it is a valuable work.

What I found particularly interesting, however, was the large amount of 1970s- era footage of the Southern California Pagan group Feraferia, founded by the Goddess- visionary artist Fred Adams and his wife, Svetlana.

Somehow the Adamses are left out of most surveys of Goddess religion. Perhaps they were too visionary, too “cosmic”  . . . and too religious? They just did not fit the narrative—except in Carson’s case.

But what you can see is home-movie footage of Pagan ritual in the California mountains that must be some of the earliest available, as well as other footage of sites in Europe, the Mediterranean, and elsewhere.

Dancing with Gaia is available on DVD for $19.95.

Some Recent Publications Available Online

Some recent publications in or related to Pagan Studies:

The first issue of Goddess Thealogy: An International Journal for the Study of the Divine Feminine is available for download (PDF, 3.17 MB)

Videos and PDF files of lectures from the “Demons in the Academy” session at the recent American Academy of Religion meeting are available at the Phoenix Academy website.

With author Eric Steinhart’s permission, I have uploaded his series of posts on atheism and Wicca as one PDF file.

World Religions versus the Blue Bra Revolution

Washington Post writer Sally Quinn looks at photos of Egyptian soldiers beating an abaya-shrouded Muslim woman, and a light bulb goes on for her about major religions:

Why would men, particularly under the guise of religious belief, want to keep women down? Because they understand that women’s sexuality is something that they cannot live without, it is something that renders them powerless. Women can have babies, women can breastfeed, women are the lifegivers.

Sounds like much of the Pagan discourse beginning in the 1970s, if not earlier! Read more about her hoped-for “blue bra revolution.”

In related news, Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority is nervous.

For decades Copts have suffered attacks by Islamists who view them as “kafir”—Arabic for nonbelievers. But there is now a sense among Middle East experts that they have become more vulnerable since the revolution.

This year, mobs have looted and attacked Coptic churches, homes and shops throughout Egypt. Churches have been burned down, and one Copt had his ear cut off by a Muslim cleric invoking Islamic law.

Strong gains by Islamist parties in the recent elections have further raised fears among the Christian minority that they won’t have a place in the new Egypt.

An acquaintance of mine is married to an Egyptian Christian woman. Her parents recently came for what he said is a month-long visit — I see them around town with their daughter now and then. I am starting to wonder if they actually plan to go home or to seek asylum. Maybe they are weighing their options.

On Reading Merlin Stone for the First Time

Jason Pitzl-Waters posted a notice of the passing of Merlin Stone, “sculptor and art historian,” yes, but best known in my circles for her book When God Was a Woman, first published in 1978.

I remember an “Oh wow” reaction on reading it when I was in my late twenties—already Wiccan, but still in that eager mode of scooping up new intellectual sensations (something I can still do when the stars are right).

This was in my pre-grad school stage. I did not even know that the author was female—after all, Robert Graves had written The White Goddess, and my only association with the name Merlin was the Arthurian one. (Apparently I was not going to the right conferences. I was not going to any conferences!)

There are lots of tributes to the book’s imaginal power (if not scholarship) at Jason’s post.