Why I Am Not a Unitarian

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 23 April 2009 0 Comments
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What is this about Jesus leaving the area entirely and going to India and all over the world (Aquarius Bible)? I keep hearing these stories about Jesus traveling all over the world and then he comes back to his home in Bethlehem or Galilee to do his ministry after his travels. Also, what are these stories about his childhood? Now that I am reading your book, I think the stories are false, and I have heard LOTs of stories. However, I would like to have your comments. The stories are always in the vein of miracles and other supernatural things that they say were attributed to him as a child. I don't think this is factual or history. May I have your comments? What about his being married to Mary Magdalene — the basis of The Da Vinci Code? Any credence in that?


Dear Desi,

My first bit of advice to you is to read the Bible itself, not things like the Aquarius Bible. There is nothing in the biblical tradition and no data anywhere else about Jesus traveling to India or any other place. That is out of the pure imagination of some human being. It makes good fiction. It is not good history.

Second, there is only one childhood story in the Bible. You will find it at the end of the second chapter of Luke. It has to do with a trip to Jerusalem with his parents when Jesus was twelve. It was a familiar form of a hero story in that it provides insight into the childhood of the hero that presages his or her extraordinary life in adulthood. The boy Jesus in this story amazes his elders with his knowledge, which the reader is led to suppose comes from a supernatural source within him. He also lays claim to a special relationship with God when he refers to the Temple as "my Father's house." There is, however, no history in this story either, even if it is in the Bible. Luke alone introduces this story (and that not until the late 9th or early 10th decade of the Christian era) and Luke alone mentions it. He bases it on an earlier Samuel story and uses it to serve his interpretive purposes. Luke did not regard it as history.

While I do not think it can be proved, I do think it is possible to build a case from clues in biblical sources themselves for the fact that Jesus and Magdalene were married. I sought to do that in my book Born of a Woman. At the very least I believe we can establish the fact that Magdalene was very close to Jesus and deeply involved in, indeed the primary woman of, the Jesus movement. It is nonetheless highly speculative. Dan Brown is thus not completely out of touch with history when he makes that a key element in his book The Da Vinci Code. The rest of The Da Vinci Code is pure fantasy — very well written and exciting fantasy, but fantasy nonetheless. There is no story of Jesus ever living in Bethlehem except in Matthew's birth story. Matthew then has to develop a story to get him to move to Nazareth, where all of the other gospel writers assume he lived. Even Luke asserts that he lived in Nazareth but was forced by an edict from the emperor to go to Bethlehem so that messiah could be born in David's city and thus lay claim to be the heir to David's throne. Yet all of the gospels refer to him as "Jesus of Nazareth."

Read the Bible itself if you want to know the early Christian tradition is. You will not find it in the Aquarius Bible. Read Dan Brown for good fiction. He is a terrific storyteller. But don't read either for biblical facts or for history.

~ John Shelby Spong



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