Thursday, September 8, 2005

But he was a Jew!

In reply to my recent musing about Jesus' celibacy, a reader commented in reply to my observation about Jesus celibacy:

How do you know Jesus lacked a wife? Several scholars have argued that scriptural silence on the issue suggests just the opposite: since an unmarried state was not thinkable for an adult male Jew, and the texts do not specifically mention his unmarried state, which it would have had he been in that unusual condition, he might well have been married. Don't mistake doctrine for historical fact.

In all humility, I knew it was only a matter of time before someone raised this "objection." All I can say is that I find it odd, extremely so, that Jesus would describe the loss and renunciation of marriage as a highroad into/for the Kingdom he came to inaugurate -- which was also a principle his earliest disciples taught (cf. 1 Cor. 7) -- if he himself didn't take that path (cf. Mth. 19). Even a casual reading of the Gospels makes it clear that ruffling his contemporary culture's feathers is one of the clearest elements in Jesus' life (cf. e.g., Jhn. 2; Lk. 4; Mth. 5-7, 23-27). Jesus is, by definition, unusual as far as his (and our) culture's assumptions go. Hence, I find the "but-Jews-always-married" claim a red herring. At any rate, even if the culture's assumptions were the point, though, that woudn't matter, since there was indeed a place for celibacy in Jesus' era (e.g., the Essenses, the Stoics, Talmudism, etc.). In this vein, see also this ATRI article, Fr. Mateo's article and Br. Anthony Opisso's discussion of ancient Jewish celibacy.

Finally, by "several scholars" I must admit I can only suspect my reader means Dan Brown, Leigh Baigent, Margaret Starbird and other pop-neo-gnostics (as well as Robin Williams in his latest HBO comedy routine -- now there's some serious academic weight! ;o) ). My reader advised me not to mistake doctrine for historical fact. Pardon me, but what facts? As it stands, I suggest we all not mistake faddish conjectures for plain, unbroken historical/ecclesial testimony (a.k.a., evidence). The absence of evidence is, as the historiographical maxim puts it, not the evidence of absence. Meanwhile, the presence of evidence immediately shifts the -- in this case, *enormous* -- burden of proof onto the objector.

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