Hej Alle! Vi snakker om sammensværgelser idag! (Hello everyone! Today we are going to discuss conspiracies!)
Ted Goertzel writes, “many [conspiracy] theories are clearly absurd, but some are plausible and others actually contain elements of truth” (2).
The theory I have chosen to discuss is more on the plausible side of things and has possible elements of truth. Indeed in 2005, I, a rational and logical human being, became a practitioner in this widespread conspiracy theory. Who could possibly make me, Rebeca Hays, a practitioner? No one but Dan Brown.
(P.s. The usage of the word practitioner instead of believer is a conscious choice and will be discussed in this blog post later.)
The conspiracy theory which I am referring to is that Jesus Christ was married. The theory can also include the notion that not only was Jesus married, but he was married to Mary Magdalene. This “conspiracy” theory first gained ground after the 2003 release of Dan Brown’s book The Da Vinci Code. Due to the book’s extreme popularity, by 2009 over 80 million copies had been sold, the theory that Jesus Christ had been married, one of the several conspiracy theories the book references, spread across internet blogs like wildfire. You can find a webpage of a disbeliever of this conspiracy theory here. This webpage, written by a Philip Neal, the editor of the site, Christian Biblical Church of God, a site devoted to “restoring original Christianity today,” solely blames The Da Vinci Code for bringing life to this “satanic plot to undermine the truth” (Neal). Whether this conspiracy theory is “satanic” or not, I believe it is not, it is important to note that this conspiracy is expressed in many ways mentioned by Ted Goertzel and Susan Blackmore in their perspective writings.
For starters, this theory can indeed be defined as a “conspiracy” according to Ted Goertzel’s definition. While Geortzel writes, “there is no single accepted definition of “conspiracy,” and people apply the term differently depending on their point of view” (2), he does mention that there are criteria in defining a conspiracy. For instance, he writes that “the word conspiracy usually implies something that is secret and hidden” (Geortzel 2), moreover, a “conspiracy” can be defined as “a secret plan on the part of a group to influence events in part by covert action” (Pigden qtd in Geortzel). Putting these two pieces of critera together I have decided to define conspiracy as a secret that many people agree on. Thus, the theory that Jesus was married is indeed a “conspiracy” theory because several people agree that the church/bible kept hidden the fact that Jesus was indeed married. This link, which takes you to a webpage devoted to the debunking of this marriage conspiracy, claims that The Da Vinci Code explains that the church tried to hide evidence of Jesus’ humanity and the fact that he was married in order to emphasize his divinity. The site is called ReligionFacts and is maintained by a Mormon organization, the author of the specific webpage, titled, “Was Jesus Married, with Children?” is not mentioned. Thus, as previously mentioned, it is clear that the theory that Jesus was married is a conspiracy theory, but further, it can also be referred to as a meme.
It is a meme in the sense that this theory has been imitated and passed on. “When you imitate someone else, something is passed on. This ‘something’ can then be passed on again and again, and so take on a life on its own…Fortunately there is a name [for this something]. It is the meme” (Blackmore 4). Since the Jesus was married theory has been imitated and passed on again and again, we can refer to this theory as a meme, thus, the notion that Jesus was married can be referred to as a conspiracy meme.
But this meme is more than just an ordinary meme, it is a “memeplex.” It is a memeplex because it perfectly fits the three criteria which Blackmore assigns to successful memeplexes. 1) It serves a genuine function (Blackmore 178). This blog, titled “Was Jesus Married?” is written by a practitioner of the conspiracy meme. The author, Nelson Jones, a a writer for the New Statesmen, an online British Current Affairs and Politics Magazine, points out, “Perhaps if the Son of God had had a wife, Christianity would be a bit less hung up on sex”. This statement, shows that the conspiracy has a genuine function. As Nelson Jones states, if Jesus had been married Christians would be more open to discussing and engaging in sex, this new religious liberalism serves a genuine purpose in today’s openly sexual society. Before I move on however, it is important to stress the fact that again, like I wrote in reference to myself in the opening of this blog post, I use the word “practitioner” instead of “believer” for the author of the above blog. I refer to both the author of the linked blog, and myself as practitioners of this conspiracy meme because of Goertzel’s writing. Goertzel points out, “it isn’t essential that practitioners actually believe the theory; they just find it plausible and useful to raise doubts and discredit their competitors” (2). With this definition in mind, it is clear why I used the word practitioner to refer to the author of the above blog; he never mentions that he fully believes in the conspiracy meme but he does find it “plausible and useful” in discussing its possibilities. I am the same in this sense.
Now back to the second of Blackmore’s criteria that defines a successful memeplex. 2) The idea must appeal in modern American/Europe (or really where ever the meme has taken hold) (178). The theory of Jesus being married is not just appealing to modern Americans and Europeans because it would liberalize sex, but it is also appealing for several other reasons. First, for me it was so appealing because it suggested, in reference to Dan Brown’s mention of the theory, that Mary Magdalene was not a whore but the wife of Jesus and a strong powerful woman who won the heart of the Son of God. For me, as a young Christian girl, reading this theory in Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code was a breath of fresh air, it was the first time I ever read about the possibility that in early Christianity women really were powerful and influential. And not just prostitutes or mothers like the bible so stringently assigned. It also appeals to Americans and Europeans because many of us, like myself, give ourselves the credit of being able to have critical and analytical discourses on religion while still believing in God and Jesus. A good example of this modern critical approach to religion is expressed in this blog post titled “So What if Jesus Had a Wife?” written by a professor of The New Testament at Ashland Theological Seminary. Professor John Byron, also a practitioner of this conspiracy meme, writes, “someone asked me what it would mean for salvation if Jesus did have a wife. My answer is nothing. It doesn’t change a thing. The faith and hope of Christianity rests not on whether Jesus was single or married. It is based on his death and resurrection.” This statement is indeed a very critical, analytical, and modern approach to religion.
This conspiracy meme is further a memeplex because it fulfills Blackmore’s third and last criteria, 3) The idea is promoted by television and media (178). As mentioned the conspiracy meme that Jesus was married, and possibly to Mary Magdalene, garnered a great deal of attention after the release of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. It gained even more popularity when the film version of The Da Vinci Code, Directed by Ron Howard, came out in 2006 starring big-time movie stars such as: Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou, Ian McKellen, and Jean Reno. Thus, in accordance with Blackmore’s definition and criteria, the conspiracy meme that Jesus was married is very much so a memeplex.
But this memeplex is more than just an ordinary meme it is special. In the words of Goertzel, this meme is a “Resistance to Orthodoxy Meme.” Goertzel writes, that the resistance to orthodoxy meme is the rejecting of the “herd mentality” (5). The “‘herd mentality,’ is a collective behavior phenomenon: a belief that is reinforced and becomes part of conventional wisdom because it is repeated so often” (Geortzel 5). It has been conventional wisdom for centuries that Jesus never married, theorizing that Jesus was married rejects the herd mentality and consequently resists orthodoxy. Geortzel even encourages such rejecting theories, “dissenting theories should be published if they are backed by plausible evidence” (5). It just so happens that the Jesus was married resistance-to-orthodoxy-conspiracy-meme does have some plausible evidence. You may have noticed, that the blog posts written by Professor John Byron and Nelson Jones both mention a papyrus fragment that had been recently found (both of these blog posts were written in September of 2012) that suggested that Jesus had been married. The small 4th century papyrus read “Jesus said, ‘My Wife.'” The following article mentions the papyrus as “Proof” that Jesus was married, indeed, the article is titled, “‘Proof’ Jesus was married found on ancient papyrus that mentions how son of God spoke of his wife and Mary Magdalene.” The author of this article and consequently practitioner of the Jesus was married conspiracy meme is Damien Gayle, a journalist for the online British newspaper Mail Online. In the above article, Gayle assigns a lot of credibility to the researcher of the papyrus, Karen King, Hollis professor of Divinity at Harvard University, by writing that the Hollis professor of Divinity at Harvard is, “the oldest endowed academic seat in the U.S.” Further, Gayle includes captions on the photos of the small 8cm by 4 cm papyrus fragment stating, “Explosive: The ancient papyrus that apparently proves that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene.” The picture below is of the said papyrus fragment.
In conclusion, the theory that Jesus was married and specifically to Mary Magdalene, is a according to both Susan Blackmore and Ted Geortzel’s writings: a conspiracy theory, a conspiracy meme, a memeplex, and a resistance to orthodoxy meme. It was easy to find much internet traffic concerning this con-meme-plexy-resistance-to-orthodoxy theory, however, it was hard to find any blogs written by true believers of the theory. It was however, extremely easy to find devout practitioners of the meme such as Damien Gayle, Nelson Jones, and Professor John Byron. Is it maybe because believers are too afraid to blatantly toy with religion? It was also remarkably simple to find fervent disbelievers such as Philip Neal. As for me I am a devout practitioner, maybe even leaning towards believer. Why wouldn’t I be? I am a modern, independent, liberal, well-read, and educated young Christian woman. Of course it makes sense to me that if Jesus had been married the Church would have tried to hide the fact. Possibly because he had been married to the very strong and influential woman, the very woman that the Church decided to paint as a wanton. Maybe the Church hid these facts in order to suppress women for so many centuries. And maybe if the secret got out, the Catholic Church, in particular, would lose its patriarchal standing.
Okay…maybe I am just a believer instead of a practitioner. But “Shhhhsss,” I don’t want the secret getting out…
Vi Ses Næste Gang, (See You Next Time)
Blackmore, Susan. (1999). The Meme Machine. London: Oxford University Press.
Bryon, John. (2012, Sept 19). So What if Jesus did have a wife? Retrieved from http://thebiblicalworld.blogspot.com/2012/09/so-what-if-jesus-did-have-wife.html
Gayle, Damien. (2012, Sept 18). ‘Proof’ Jesus was married found on ancient papyrus that mentions how son of God spoke of his wife and Mary Magdalene. Mail Online. Retrieved from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2205235/Jesus-married-Proof-God-spoke-wife-Mary-Magdalene-ancient-papyrus.html
Goertzel, Ted. (2011) “The conspiracy meme,” Skeptical Inquirer, 35(1).
Jones, Nelson. (2012, Sept 20). Was Jesus married?. NewStatesman. Retrieved from http://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/religion/2012/09/was-jesus-married
Neal, Philip. Was Jesus Really Married to Mary Magdalene? Christian Biblical Church of God. Retrieved from http://cbcg.org/Jesus/was_Jesus_really_married.htm
Was Jesus Married, with Children? ReligionFacts. Retrieved from http://www.religionfacts.com/da_vinci_code/jesus_married.htm