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The Wife of Jesus: Ancient Texts and Modern Scandals [Hardcover]

Anthony Le Donne

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Book Description

7 Nov 2013

Was Jesus married? The question has the power to inflame opinion, split religions, start wars and divide Christians and scholars alike. Whether stirred up by the phenomenal success of Dan Brown's novels or the 'discovery' last year by Harvard Professor Karen King of the so-called Gospel of Jesus' Wife - an ancient piece of papyrus that made the explosive suggestion that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were man and wife - the matter refuses to rest, and remains unsolved.

Original research in the area has been undermined by a vigorous campaign to dismiss the possibility of Jesus' marriage, a cause further strengthened by the popularity of conspiracy theories. Now, approaching the subject from a fresh, historical perspective, Le Donne places Jesus firmly within his socio-cultural context and provocatively argues that the evidence has only one conclusion: Jesus had a wife.


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Review

“Despite a subject matter that is sure to be provocative, Le Donne manages not to take sides but also reminds readers that our ideas on Jesus’ sexuality and marital status show more about us than they do about him. A welcome resource and fresh voice.”

(Kirkus Reviews)

"Anthony Le Donne balances strong scholarship with sensitivity as he lays out the possibilities in The Wife of Jesus: Ancient Texts and Modern Scandals. This is an eminently readable book for nonspecialists and specialists alike that contributes to the discussion with clarity and candor even as it challenges readers to ask what it is about ourselves that we might learn from our curiosity and concern."

(Publishers Weekly)

'Reasonable, provocative [and] courageous... Le Donne reaches his conclusion with much careful thought and analysis.'

(Chicago Trubune)

'An impressive work from beginning to end, "The Wife of Jesus: Ancient Texts and Modern Scandals" is a fascinating, informed, informative, and iconoclastic work that is as thoughtful and thought-provoking as it is well written and presented. Enhanced with extensive notes, an impressive nine page bibliography, and a reference index as well as a subject index, [it] is highly recommended reading and will make an enduringly popular addition to community and academic library Christian Studies collections.'

(The Midwest Book Review)

'A marvellous survey of ancient and modern attitudes toward Jesus' possible marriage.'

(Maclean's)

About the Author

Anthony Le Donne is a visiting lecturer at the University of the Pacific, California. He completed his PhD at Durham University, England in 2007 and his books include The Historiographical Jesus: Memory, Typology, and the Son of David and Historical Jesus: What Can We Know and How Can We Know It?


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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars  11 reviews
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Responsible Historiography 10 Oct 2013
By Ben Sutton - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Anthony Le Donne has provided interested readers with a double blessing. In The Wife of Jesus, the initial intrigue of Jesus' marital status gives way to a crash course in responsible historical inquiry.

Le Donne's expressed goal is two-fold: to provide arguments for and against the possibility of a married Jesus (p. 7), and to provide a self-critique of a culture so captivated by the scandal of Jesus' sex-life (p. 8).

To accomplish these goals Le Donne begins with a sketch of the prevalence of sexual insecurity, which is the likely candidate for the enduring memory of a celibate Jesus. This is followed by a series of chapters examining the development of various non-celibate pictures of Jesus in the last 2,000 years. These pictures are the result of individuals or groups who project their current circumstances and struggles onto the life of Jesus by retelling stories from the Gospels (which contain the closest historical evidence for Jesus' life). By retelling stories of Jesus, each group or individual can `create' affirmation for whatever position they hold.

The repeated theme of the book is that our current situation will inevitably influence how we interpret the past. The problem with these portrayals of Jesus is not necessarily that they construct a Jesus which reflects their perspective, it is that they do so without appropriate consideration for the context of Jesus' life.

Le Donne proceeds cautiously--surveying the available ancient documents which provide a picture into the expectations and values current in Jesus' time. It is only after this cultural background is understood that the teachings of Jesus can be examined and contemporary pictures assessed for historical plausibility. The unexpected result is a subversively celibate Jesus, who may be as unpalatable to Christians for his opposition to blood-relatives (Jesus emphasizes the spiritual `family of God') as a married Jesus.

If offence is taken either way this book should be a wake-up call to assess the assumptions we may have about Jesus. Le Donne doesn't just provide a tentative answer to a difficult question. He demonstrates the kind of sustained effort it takes to answer historical questions responsibly, while calling all people to examine their cultural frameworks for traditions that might be better forgotten.

Engaging, concise, and well-researched, this is a quick read that gives a substantial return on investment.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thorough, Relevant, Accessible 16 Oct 2013
By Mitchell Chilcott - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
No other book better investigates the historical question of the wife of Jesus.

Anthony Le Donne's work is thorough, meeting the demands of modern historiographical research and providing lengthy discussions of relevant topics, such as asceticism in the first century, western notions of sexuality, interpretations of Jesus' celibacy throughout history, and ancient texts related to the wife of Jesus.

However, this book is much more than a discussion of ancient texts. Last year's announcement of a small Coptic papyrus, quickly named "The Gospel of Jesus' Wife," spurred newspaper articles, blog posts, and op-eds related to this topic. However, it also brought about new discussions of our own sexual culture and how that might impact the historical inquiry of Jesus' sexual identity. This book is born out of that kind of dialogue.

The accessibility of this book is one of its greatest qualities. Explanations of key terms, cultural references, and brilliant illustrations all serve to make the content of the book understandable to those not well-read in the discipline. And yet, Le Donne provides substantial arguments, reaching defensible conclusions that are characteristic of careful biblical and historical scholarship.

Devoid of obfuscating prose and not overly technical, Le Donne's writing style will engage the casual reader as well as the tenured New Testament scholar.

Mitchell Chilcott
duke.academia.edu/MitchellChilcott
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very fair book that's a pretty easy read 23 Oct 2013
By dkhundley - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I'm not sure about the other reviewers, but I will start by saying my formal education in historical Jesus studies is pretty limited. I would consider myself the average person and hopefully can provide insight to you if you're an average reader interested in this book.

First, speaking to the readability of this book, I'd say compared to other works I have read, Le Donne writes in a way that is both easy for any regular reader and even entertaining at times. Not to speak ill of any other works on the same level as Dr. Le Donne, but I've personally found them to be difficult to read. Le Donne does a great job in relaying his ideas in a clear and concise manner to readers of any academic level.

Regarding the content of the book, Le Donne does a fantastic job building cases for and against a wife of Jesus. It is very clear that Le Donne did his homework on both sides. Le Donne does a good job of steering clear of personal opinions and, coincidentally, elaborately explains how personal agendas have shaped people's views of a possible wife of Jesus.

If you are a person curious behind the rationale of why some people, past and present, may believe in the idea of Jesus having a wife, this is the book for you. This conclusive study on the subject covers all ground, and I really don't know how anybody else could write a better conclusive study on this subject.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Was Jesus scandalous? Yes, but not as most people think. 25 Oct 2013
By Loren Rosson III - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
In this terrific and accessible book, Le Donne argues that many Christians have been right for the wrong reasons. While the gospels don't say that Jesus had a wife, neither do they say he didn't, and silence means nothing. Marriage was a cultural given in Jesus' time and place, the most important way of honoring parents, and the path to economic integrity and manhood. It was considered necessary for survival, and so we should assume that Jesus was married unless we have reason to believe otherwise.

Though that last is admittedly the rub. In scrutinizing the New Testament, it appears that Jesus was abnormal -- not on account of being too holy for sex, says Le Donne, but for having wild ideas about honor and family. By his 30s at least (i.e. by the time of his gospel ministry), he was dishonoring his blood ties and reshaping a spiritual family around him. He had embraced many (though not all) of the ascetic and non-conformist teachings of his mentor John the Baptist. He lived as if the world was coming to an end, and provision for future generations (family property rights secured through marriage) wasn't a part of his message. He said there were different kinds of eunuchs -- those who lack reproductive organs, but also those who choose celibacy for the sake of God's kingdom (Mt 19:12). "In all of these ways, Jesus subverted civic masculinity and quite possibly the institution of marriage, which stood at the center of civic masculinity (p 128)."

Le Donne allows that Jesus may well have been married prior to becoming a prophet. It's more plausible that he was married in his 20s and that his wife died in childbirth (as was extremely common), than that he would have shamefully dishonored his family by rejecting the Abrahamic blessing of progeny. Only by the time of his itinerant prophetic career was he engaged in the flagrant dishonor of severing blood ties. Of course, from his radical point of view, he wasn't being dishonorable at all: he thought of his disciples and followers as his true family; his blood relations weren't even real.

The gospels are replete on this point, and Le Donne discusses all the relevant passages. Jesus declares that his family members are not biological kin, but those who do the will of God (Mt 12:46-50; cf. Mk 3:31-35; Lk 8:19-21); that he hasn't come to bring peace but a sword -- "to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother"; that if you loved your biological family more than him, you were unworthy (Mt 10:34-36); indeed you had to hate your biological family to be a disciple (Lk 14:26). Following Jesus meant surrendering economic and social security, sacrificing inheritance rights, hating your family, and living like a shameful itinerant. Le Donne notes the irony that many modern Christians who see Jesus as "above sex" tend to be the same who champion "family values", which Jesus clearly had no use for.

The Wife of Jesus is a sober analysis devoid of sensationalism, but don't fear: sensationalist claims are addressed by the author, which makes the book fun (and amusing at times) to read. He covers the recent hoax of the Jesus' Wife fragment, noting that whoever forged it had internet access to a source with a typographical error which the forger copied. He even discusses the Secret Mark hoax, which of course depicted a gay Jesus. He traces the evolution of Mary Magdalene, who began in the gospels as a follower of Jesus, was later cast a prostitute by the church, and in recent years became the actual wife of Jesus (in the hack novel by Dan Brown). It's a concise and well-written book that couldn't be more timely, and I hope many people will read it.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wish I was there for the bachelor party 29 Dec 2013
By Joel L. Watts - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition
Anthony Le Donne 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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