by Shane Morris
Militant skeptics often have a way of revealing more about themselves than about the targets of their doubt. That’s the case with a recent piece in Salon titled “9 things you think you know about Jesus that are probably wrong.” A reprinted article by Valerie Tarico at Alternet, a liberal news site notoriously hostile to Christianity, this one strikes a familiar tone of journalistic impartiality. But its tone shouldn’t intimidate Christians. The sources Tarico cites, as well as her arguments themselves, give away the game almost immediately. Aside from rehearsing well-known trivia about first-century Jewish men (like height, hair length, and name pronunciation), the piece dusts off some of the oldest and most easily debunked stock arguments skeptics have leveled against Christ.
Tarico opens with the contention that Jesus was almost certainly married, not celibate and single as the New Testament and Christian tradition report. Ever since this claim featured in Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code, it’s been re-circulated in popular publications with troubling frequency, usually around Easter. And nearly every time it resurfaces, critics of Christianity marshal the same line of evidence in its support — a collection of second- through fourth-century Gnostic texts, typically including the so-called “Gospel of Philip.” Each of these texts, written generations after the canonical gospels, lacks the characteristics of eye-witness accounts and makes bizarre claims about Jesus.
One claim, popularized as the central revelation of Brown’s novel, is that Mary Magdalene was Jesus’ wife. This Gnostic tradition finds voice in the Gospel of Philip as well as a recent fragment of papyrus studied by Harvard’s Karen L. King. Noting that most Jewish rabbis of the time were married, Tarico urges both texts as evidence that Jesus must have also had a spouse. But as New York Times columnist Ross Douthat reminded eager truth-seekers when King’s fragment came to light, Gnostic texts are notoriously fanciful, written by religious figures without contact to Jesus or anyone who knew him:
“[Such texts] are useful windows into the religious trends of subsequent centuries,” writes Douthat, “but they tell us next to nothing about what Jesus and his earliest followers thought and did and said.”
Tarico levels another well-aged attack on Christianity, this time involving an alleged discrepancy between the gospels on Jesus’ 12 disciples…
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