Jesus may not have been a man — at least, Jesus may not have been what in today’s society would be considered male, according to an article published Friday by University of Notre Dame religious scholar Candida Moss. Writing in the online magazine The Daily Beast, Moss argues that despite the way Jesus has been traditionally depicted in works of art, “this does not necessarily tell us as much about his gender as we might think.”
And if the historical Jesus did not identify as a man, Moss says in the article, “then a number of arguments for the all-male priesthood of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox priesthoods are suddenly undercut.” In other words, if Jesus himself was not traditionally male, the church would have no remaining reason to bar women from becoming priests.
The strongest arguments that Jesus was not traditionally male but, in fact, “intersex” come from another religious scholar, Susannah Cornwall, who in a 2012 study concluded, “we can’t know for certain that Jesus was male as we currently define maleness.”
Cornwall — whose article was prompted by the debate over ordaining female priests into the Church of England — stated that whether or not Jesus was a man is “simply a best guess.”
After all, she noted, “we do not have a body to examine and analyze.”
However, the confusion could be cleared up by scientific analysis of the Shroud of Turin, which allegedly depicts a full-body image of Jesus that somehow imprinted on a linen cloth covering His body after he died from the ancient Roman method of execution and torture known as crucifixion.
The scientific analysis published in November of 2016 revealed a previously unseen portion of the right thumb of the “Shroud Man” widely believed to be Jesus. The supposed absence of thumbs on the man had previously been seen as evidence that the Shroud was a phony.
But more importantly to the debate over the sex of Jesus, the scientists also found that the Shroud Man’s scrotum is also visible in the mysterious Shroud image.
“If the Shroud is authentic, this would seem to supply clear evidence that Jesus was, in fact, male,” Moss wrote. But she also noted that a majority of researchers consider the Shroud to be a forgery produced sometime in the Middle Ages.
No historical record of the Shroud exists before 1353 C.E., and radiocarbon dating has placed the date of its creation sometime between 1260 and 1390. Of course, if the Shroud does not actually depict Jesus, then the finding of the Shroud Man’s scrotum is meaningless for the question of the sex of Jesus.
Numerous religious paintings create during the Middle Ages clearly depict the baby Jesus with his penis exposed. In fact, in numerous such paintings — many of which may be viewed at this link — the baby Jesus is portrayed as touching his own genitals, and in other works of medieval religious art, adults including Jesus’s own mother are shown manually handling the genitalia of the infant Jesus.
In fact, in other paintings, the adult Jesus is depicted with an erection. One such medieval image may be viewed by clicking on this link.
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The paintings leave no doubt as to what European Christians in the Middle Ages thought of whether or not Jesus possessed male genitals. At the same time, Moss notes, other scholars note that Jesus has also been depicted by medieval artists as “a nursing mother,” meaning that “the imagination of this period was able to conceive of Jesus as either hypermasculine or deeply feminized,” the Notre Dame scholar wrote.
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