Nine Things Salon.com Gets Wrong About Jesus

by John Sorenson

Salon.com recently published an article by former Evangelical-turned-freethinker Valerie Tarico titled 9 things you think you know about Jesus that are probably wrong.

There’s nothing particularly groundbreaking contained in her arguments, but they’ve been making the rounds in social media, and therefore worthy of a response.

Below are each of the nine points, and how to answer if you find yourself confronted with them.

1. Jesus was married, not single.

This tired old claim has been refuted more times than the earth has revolved around the sun, but Tarico backs it up with a rather recent discovery:

When an ancient papyrus scrap was found in 2014 referring to the wife of Jesus, some Catholics and Evangelicals were scandalized. But unlike the Catholic Church, Jews have no tradition of celibacy among religious leaders.

The papyrus she refers to is known as The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife. Catholics and Evangelicals might have been scandalized by this if it was authentic, but it’s not. Owen Jarus of Livescience explains that “a growing number of scholars have denounced the business card-sized papyrus as a fake.”

Furthermore, the fact that ancient Jews had no tradition of celibacy among their religious leaders is irrelevant. Jesus was often at odds with the religious leaders of his time, and it is precisely because of him that the Catholic Church has a tradition of clerical celibacy. In Matthew 19, the disciples proclaim to Jesus that it is better not to marry, to which he responds, “He who is able to accept it, let him accept it” (Mt. 19:10-12).

2. Jesus had cropped hair, not long.

Tarico claims the traditional imagery of a long-haired Jesus is most certainly wrong. As backup, she refers to 1 Corinthians 11:14 where Paul writes, “Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him?”

How long is long? To understand Paul’s words here, we need to evaluate them in their cultural context.

When I was in high school, I remember seeing old pictures of the Beatles on their album covers from my mom’s collection. She told me that the length of their hair was considered long at that time. In those days, I laughed and thought, “That’s not long!” It was the late 1980’s and my hair was down to the middle of my back. What is considered long depends entirely on cultural context.

As further evidence for this claim, Tarico points to an ancient Roman depiction of Jewish men with short hair. If you look closely at the picture, two of the men have shoulder-length hair. What’s even more telling is that not a single one of them has a beard, but we know Jewish men of that time wore beards. It is more likely that the men are depicted this way because that was the cultural norm among first-century Romans, and not because it was necessarily representative of Jewish practice in the area where Jesus lived.

3. Jesus was hung on a pole, not a cross.

Tarico points out that the Greek work “stauros,” which is translated into English as “cross,” can also refer to a number of other shapes. Fair enough. But she also claims that the early Christians may have adopted the shape of the cross because it echoed shapes used by pagan religions of the time.

I’m skeptical of any argument claiming early Christians borrowed this or that custom from a contemporary pagan religion. In my own research I have found these supposed connections to be tenuous or even outright bogus. We know that some people in first-century Rome were crucified the same way Jesus has traditionally been depicted (cf. Seneca the Younger, “To Marcia on Consolation”, in Moral Essays, 6.20), so there is no good reason to believe that Christians adopted this motif. It’s more likely that the traditional account is the correct one…

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9 Things Salon.com Gets Wrong About Jesus