On the issue of the sexuality of Jesus, the traditional understanding of Christian churches and theologians is that Jesus did not marry and remained celibate until his death. That has not prevented speculation about alternative and fringe theories of his sexuality. The Gospels and the New Testament reveal little on the subject.

Jewish background

In first century Judaism, sexual immorality included incest, homosexuality, adultery, polygamy, and bestiality, according to the rabbinic interpretation of Genesis 2:24,[1] i.e., "a man shall leave his father and his mother" forbids a man from having relations with his father's wife and his own biological mother; "cleave to his wife" forbids a man from having more than one wife, having relations with another woman, or having same-sex relations; and "they shall become one flesh" forbids a man from having relations with non-human beings (such as animals).[2] Jesus states in the gospels that he came "not to abolish, but to fulfill" Jewish law, and at his various trials, no one could testify that Jesus broke Jewish laws (Matthew 5:17,[3] Matthew 26:59–60).[4]

Heterosexuality

Mary Magdalene

The Penitent Magdalene by Domenico Tintoretto

The non-canonical 3rd-century Gospel of Philip, using Coptic variants of the Greek κοινωνός (koinōnos), describes Jesus' relationship with Mary Magdalene. The gospel uses cognates of koinōnos and Coptic equivalents to refer both to the literal pairing of men and women in marriage and sexual intercourse, but also metaphorically, referring to a spiritual partnership, and the reunification of the Gnostic Christian with the divine realm.[5]

The Gospel of Philip mentions Mary Magdalene as one of three women named Mary "who always walked with the Lord" (Philip 59.6–11). The work also says that the Lord loved her more than all the disciples, and used to kiss her often (Philip 63.34–36).[6] Author John Dickson argues that it was common in early Christianity to kiss a fellow believer by way of greeting (1 Peter 5:14),[7] thus such kissing would have no romantic connotations.[8] Kripal writes that "the historical sources are simply too contradictory and simultaneously too silent" to make absolute declarations regarding Jesus' sexuality.[9]

Bart Ehrman, a scholar of the Greek New Testament and early Christianity, concludes that historical evidence says nothing at all about Jesus' sexuality—"certainly nothing to indicate that Jesus and Mary had a sexual relationship of any kind". Ehrman says that the question people ask him most often is whether Mary Magdalene and Jesus of Nazareth married each other (after the claim was popularized in The Da Vinci Code):

It is not true that the Dead Sea Scrolls contained Gospels that discussed Mary and Jesus. ... Nor is it true that the marriage of Mary and Jesus is repeatedly discussed in the Gospels that didn't make it into the New Testament. In fact, it is never discussed at all—never even mentioned, not even once. ... It is not true that the Gospel of Philip calls Mary Jesus' spouse.[10]

Homosexuality

The disciple whom Jesus loved

The Gospel of John makes references to the "disciple whom Jesus loved" (John 13:23,[11] John 19:26,[12] John 21:7–20),[13] a phrase which does not occur in the Synoptic Gospels. In the text, this "beloved disciple" is present at the crucifixion of Jesus, with Jesus' mother, Mary.

The "disciple whom Jesus loved" may be a self-reference by the author of the Gospel (John 21:24), traditionally regarded as John the Apostle.

Jesus and John at the Last Supper, by Valentin de Boulogne

In subsequent centuries the reference was used by those who implied a homosocial or homoerotic reading of the relationship. For example, LGBT scholar Louis Crompton says Saint Aelred of Rievaulx, in his work De spiritali amicitia ("Spiritual Friendship"), referred to the relationship of Jesus and John the Apostle as a "marriage" and held it out as an example sanctioning friendships between clerics.[14]

James I of England may have been relying on a pre-existing tradition when he defended his relationship with the young Duke of Buckingham: "I wish to speak in my own behalf and not to have it thought to be a defect, for Jesus Christ did the same, and therefore I cannot be blamed. Christ had his son John, and I have my George."[15] Frederick the Great wrote to similar effect in his 1748–9 poem Palladium, which includes the lines: "This good Jesus, how do you think He got John to sleep in his bed? Can't you see he was his Ganymede?"[16]

Others who have given voice to this interpretation of the relationship between Jesus and John have been the philosophers Denis Diderot and Jeremy Bentham.[17]

Gene Robinson, an openly gay priest, discussed the possible homoerotic inclinations of Jesus in a sermon in 2005. Robinson's claim has been criticized, including by David W. Virtue, who editorialized by calling it an "appalling deconstructionism from the liberal lobby which will spin even the remotest thing to turn it into a hint that Biblical figures are gay".[18]

Bob Goss, theologian, LGBT activist, and the author of Jesus Acted Up, A Gay and Lesbian Manifesto and Queering Christ, Beyond Jesus Acted Up,[19] said of the interaction between Jesus and John, it "is a pederastic relationship between an older man and a younger man. A Greek reader would understand."[20] Theologian Ismo Dunderberg argues that the absence of accepted Greek terms for "lover" and "beloved" discounts an erotic reading.[21]

In contrast, the writer and theologian Robert Gagnon has argued that the Greek word translated as "loved" is agape (used, for example, in John 3:16:[22] "for God so loved the world"), rather than the Greek word referring to sexual love, eros.[23] On the other hand, Theodore W. Jennings Jr. notes that "eros does not occur either in the New Testament or in the Septuagint" and that these use agape to refer to "the love of a husband for his wife or even to the illicit loves of inordinate desire", including throughout the Song of Solomon.[24]

The naked youth

The Gospel of Mark describes how in the Garden of Gethsemane, "A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they [the Temple guards] seized him, he fled naked, leaving his garment behind." (Mark 14:51–52).[25]

The text of the naked youth is puzzling for some authors; moreover, the text only appears in Mark, which has led some commentators to allege that Mark was describing himself as the youth.[26]

The separate and non-canonical Secret Gospel of Mark—fragments of which were contained in the controversial Mar Saba letter by Clement of Alexandria, which Morton Smith claimed to have discovered in 1958—states that Jesus during one night taught "the mystery of the kingdom of God" alone to a youth wearing only a linen cloth. This has been linked to the views of an ancient group called the Carpocratians. Some modern commentators interpret it as a baptism, others as some form of sexual initiation, and others as an allegory for a non-sexual initiation into a gnostic sect.[27] However, the authorship of Secret Mark is still a matter of debate.[28] Some scholars find it authentic, while others consider it to be Smith's forgery,[28] while still others believe it to be apocryphon.[28]

Celibacy

Eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus is reported to have referred to the behavior of eunuchs to illustrate an approach to sexuality: "For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother's womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake." (Matthew 19:3–12)[29]

The term "eunuch" normally referred to a castrated man. Several theologians and Bible commentators have interpreted this passage as indicating Jesus's support for celibacy.[note 1]

The early Christian writer Origen who was purported to have interpreted Jesus' words literally, was alleged to have castrated himself as an act of devotion.[30] The early Church Father Tertullian wrote that Jesus himself lived as a "eunuch",[note 2] likewise encouraged people to adopt this practice.[31]

Bride of Christ

The Bride of Christ is a metaphor for the Ecclesia, likening the relationship between Christians and Jesus to a betrothal pointing to a future wedding, when Christians are re-united with Jesus. In the Gospel of John (John 3:22–36),[32] John the Baptist speaks in terms of himself as a "best man" with the implication that Christ the bridegroom (see also Matthew 9:15)[33] is coming to meet his bride, although there is nothing specific to identify the bride. Church Fathers such as Cyprian applied the image to the Church.[34]

Polygamy

Latter Day Saints

Early Latter Day Saint Apostle Orson Hyde taught that Jesus was a polygamist who was married to Mary Magdalene, Martha, and Mary of Bethany, and fathered children with them. He also taught that the marriage at Cana was Jesus' own wedding.[35][36][37][38] This idea is not official LDS doctrine,[39] although it has certainly entered into Mormon folklore.[40][41][42]

In fiction, art, and imagination

The Children of God Christian group actively promotes the view that a sexual relationship with Jesus would be desirable, encouraging devotees to imagine during sexual activity that it is Jesus who is having sex with them,[43] and equate prophecy with Jesus' ejaculation.[44] Historic Christian figures have also been accused of similar thoughts. Teresa of Avila's description of her most famous vision has been interpreted by secular writers, such as Dan Brown, as "a metaphor for some serious sex";[45] the view of Teresa having a sexual relationship with Jesus, in her visions, is exemplified by the poster art for Theresa: The Body of Christ, a 2007 film by Ray Loriga.[note 3]

The Irish surrealist painter, Colin Middleton, depicted Jesus as androgynous in his Christ Androgyne (1943),[46] currently in the Ulster Museum. Middleton added female characteristics to Christ's body, including one naked breast. The work can be interpreted as sexual, or as a general symbol of suffering humanity during World War II.[47]

The 1976 fictional poem The Love That Dares to Speak Its Name by James Kirkup speculated what it would have been like if Jesus had had several sexual encounters with other men – including with Pontius Pilate, and a graphic description of Jesus' sexual encounter with a Roman soldier; Christian opposition to the poem's suggestions resulted in the Whitehouse v Lemon court case, a famous blasphemous libel trial.[48]

The sadomasochistic undertones of the crucifixion have been commented upon, and occasionally portrayed explicitly in modern art; for satirical reasons, this was depicted in the controversial Jesus with erection poster, a concept which has also been depicted for serious reasons in sculpture by Terence Koh.[49]

See also

Notes

  1. ^ In the ancient Middle East and Asia, eunuchs often served as officials overseeing harems, or in other Royal positions. See Encyclopaedia of the Orient for more details.
  2. ^ Note: There is some controversy in this statement as in context, spado, which in most cases means "eunuch", is generally translated as "virgin" as in here and a fuller explanation can be found here. e.g. Tertullian, On Monogamy, 3: "...He stands before you, if you are willing to copy him, as a voluntary spado (eunuch) in the flesh." And elsewhere: "The Lord Himself opened the kingdom of heaven to eunuchs and He Himself lived as a eunuch. The apostle [Paul] also, following His example, made himself a eunuch..."
  3. ^ Due to copyright restrictions, see Theresa: The Body of Christ article for poster.

References

  1. ^ Genesis 2:24
  2. ^ Weiner, Moshe (2009). Sheva Mitzvot Hashem [Seven Laws of God] (in Hebrew). Vol. 2. Pittsburgh: Ask Noah International. pp. 429–30 fn. 5. ISBN 978-0-9814811-4-2.
  3. ^ Matthew 5:17
  4. ^ Matthew 26:59–60
  5. ^ Marjanen, Antti (1996). The Woman Jesus Loved: Mary Magdalene in the Nag Hammadi Library and Related Documents. Leiden: Brill. pp. 151–60 et passim. ISBN 9004106588.
  6. ^ King, Karen L. "Women in Ancient Christianity: The New Discoveries". Frontline: The First Christians. Web: 2 November 2009.
  7. ^ 1 Peter 5:14
  8. ^ The Christ Files: How Historians Know What They Know About Jesus, John Dickson, p. 95 (Sydney South: Blue Bottle Books, 2006). ISBN 1-921137-54-1
  9. ^ Jeffrey John Kripal, The Serpent's Gift: Gnostic Reflections on the Study of Religion, p. 52 (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2007). ISBN 0-226-45380-4 ISBN 0-226-45381-2
  10. ^ B. D. Ehrman, Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalene: The Followers of Jesus in History and Legend. New York: Oxford, 2006. p. 248.
  11. ^ John 13:23
  12. ^ John 19:26
  13. ^ John 21:7–20
  14. ^ Louis Crompton, Homosexuality and Civilization, p. 180
  15. ^ Royal Panoply, Brief Lives Of The English Monarchs, Carrolly Erickson, St. Martin's Press (May 2, 2006). ISBN 0-312-31643-7
  16. ^ T. Blanning, Frederick the Great
  17. ^ Louis Crompton, Homosexuality and Civilization, p. 111.
  18. ^ Day, Elizabeth (April 3, 2005). "Jesus might have been homosexual, says the first openly gay bishop". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved January 29, 2010.
  19. ^ Hansen, Jamie. "Goss challenges traditional Christian beliefs". Archived from the original on 10 August 2007. Retrieved 4 March 2015.
  20. ^ Hank Hyena, "Was Jesus Gay: A search for the messiah's true sexuality leads to a snare of lusty theories", p.2, 1998–04 Archived February 17, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.
  21. ^ Dunderberg, Ismo (2006). The Beloved Disciple in Conflict?: Revisiting the Gospels of John and Thomas. OUP Oxford. p. 176. ISBN 978-0-19-928496-2.
  22. ^ John 3:16
  23. ^ Robert A. J. Gagnon, The Bible and homosexual practice (2001)
  24. ^ Theodore W. Jennings, Jr. The Man Jesus Loved (2003)
  25. ^ Mark 14:51–52
  26. ^ Robert J. Myles, Dandy Discipleship: A Queering of Mark’s Male Disciples Archived 2013-07-01 at the Wayback Machine JMMS 4:2 (2010), p. 66–81.
  27. ^ Miller, Robert J. (1994). The Complete Gospels: annotated Scholars Version. HarperSanFrancisco. p. 411. ISBN 9780060655877.
  28. ^ a b c Pheme Perkins, "Apocryphal Gospels and the Historical Jesus", in James H. Charlesworth, Brian Rhea, Petr Pokorny (editors); Jesus Research: New Methodologies and Perceptions (2014), pp. 663-664, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids: Michigan, ISBN 978-0-8028-6728-5.
  29. ^ Matthew 19:3–12
  30. ^ J. David Hester (2005). Eunuchs and the Postgender Jesus: Matthew 19:12 and Transgressive Sexualities. Journal for the Study of the New Testament, Vol. 28, No. 1, 13–40 (2005)
  31. ^ Tertullian, Adversus Marcionem i.29.
  32. ^ John 3:22–36
  33. ^ Matthew 9:15
  34. ^ Cyprian of Carthage, De Ecclesiae Catholicae Unitate, 4–6
  35. ^ Orson Hyde, Conference message, October 6, 1854, Journal of Discourses 2:82
  36. ^ Inside Today's Mormonism by Richard Abanes 2007 ISBN 0-7369-1968-6 page 239
  37. ^ A Disparity in Doctrine and Theology by E Roberts 2011 ISBN 1-4497-1210-X page 54
  38. ^ Cky J. Carrigan. "Did Jesus Christ Marry and Father Children?". Evangelical Ministries to New Religions. Archived from the original on 11 October 2014. Retrieved 4 March 2015.
  39. ^ Barams, Cooper. "Do Mormons Believe that Jesus Christ Was Married and Practiced Polygamy?". Retrieved 4 March 2015.
  40. ^ Pratt, Orson (October 1853), "Celestial Marriage", The Seer, vol. 1, p. 159
  41. ^ Wilford Woodruff, Journal Entry 1883-07-22, reporting on a sermon given by Joseph F. Smith.
  42. ^ Joseph Fielding Smith, Handwritten note responding to letter from J. Ricks Smith, 1963.[better source needed]
  43. ^ The "Loving Jesus" Revelation Archived 2009-04-29 at the Wayback Machine
  44. ^ Golden seeds
  45. ^ Brown, Dan (2000). Angels & Demons. New York, NY: Washington Square Press. p. 285. ISBN 978-1-4165-8082-9.
  46. ^ "Christ Androgyne - Colin Middleton". Retrieved 25 May 2022.
  47. ^ "Christ Androgyne - Colin Middleton, Ulster Museum". Retrieved 25 May 2022.
  48. ^ Staff Writer (10 January 2008). "The gay poem that broke blasphemy laws". pinknews.co.uk. Pink News. Archived from the original on 3 June 2012. Retrieved 25 February 2015.
  49. ^ Baggini, Julian (September 3, 2008). "Cock and bull". The Guardian. London. Retrieved May 23, 2010.