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Opinion

September 30, 2012

Column: Ancient scrap of papyrus revives celibacy debate

Who would have thought that one small piece of papyrus could stir so much explosive debate?

I’m referring, of course, to the recent discovery by a historian of early Christianity at Harvard Divinity School, professor Karen King, of a papyrus fragment that purportedly identifies Jesus as referring to Mary Magdalene as “my wife.”

The papyrus fragment is hardly the first piece of evidence that Mary Magdalene was — or may have been — more than just a disciple or a reformed prostitute. An exhibit at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia on the Dead Sea Scrolls includes two bone-storage boxes that once contained the remains of a married “Jesus son of Joseph.” In addition, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the boxes also contained the remains of a woman whose name resembled that of Mary Magdalene.

The papyrus fragment has been peer-reviewed and deemed authentic. The bone-storage boxes have not been conclusively connected to the New Testament. But as we dig deeper into ancient history and find more relics, I predict this question is likely to be debated many times.

The reason there’s so much controversy surrounding this discovery is manifold. Archaeologists and church elders have debated over the centuries whether Jesus was celibate, and if not, what impact that would have on his purity and on his designation as the son of God.

Of course the Catholic Church’s attachment to Jesus as a celibate is most integral to church teachings. It’s why priests, bishops and all church leaders ca

n only be men (in Jesus’ image) and why they must also be celibate.

To an outsider, this debate is specious. It is as incapable of being settled definitively as the location of the Ark of the Covenant (at least as of now) or the very existence of God. We might as well hang it up.

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