Was Jesus Really Born of a Virgin?

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Perhaps the stories in Matthew and Luke are indeed edifying fiction and parables as some scholars have long speculated (or perhaps they have many elements in them that stem from historical memories as others have argued), but it seems hard for me to accept how the claim of the Virgin Birth could have arisen without it truly having been believed to have historically happened.

INTRODUCTION

Every Christmas promises an onslaught of new articles about a host of typical holiday topics. The Nativity of course, is usually high on the list. Yet often, these articles merely repeat the same tired cliches from previous years.

Let me be clear: this is not that sort of article.

In my last article, I explored why the stories in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke about Jesus’ birth are not essential for theology (according to the Bible itself!).

The Gospel writers, as it turns out, allow room for Christians to doubt the Nativity story and still remain Christian (though in case you’re wondering, because perhaps you haven’t read the article yet: I’m one of those who believe it).

This week, I want to delve deeper into a mystery that I lightly touched on in the previous article. It’s something, that as far as I’m aware, I’m one of the few to have noticed.

How did this whole “Virgin Birth” story start in the first place?

ISAIAH’S PROPHECY

One of the things which I explored in the previous article is how the Gospels of Matthew and Luke more than likely did not believe that Isaiah had knowingly predicted Jesus’ birth.

This is one of those sorts of things that should be painfully obvious, but which even many Biblical Scholars routinely miss.

Many scholars today assume or imply (depending on the person) that the idea of the Virgin Birth was in a sense invented/inspired by early Christians (those such as Matthew and Luke) by basing the story off of the prophecy of Isaiah 14.

They typically point to the fact that the Greek translation of Isaiah mistranslates the Hebrew’s “young woman” to “virgin” and they use this as evidence to point to the origin of Jesus’ eventual unique birth claims.

However, this does not really make a whole lot of sense.

Due to the fact that Isaiah’s prophecy had already been fulfilled in Isaiah’s own historic time and space, plus noting the fact that the prophecy was not messianic to begin with, this means that there is nothing in the passage to truly lend itself to a connection with Jesus (at least what we know of Him).

There is just no real hook to hang it all on.

That realization takes away the plausibility that the obscure passage in Isaiah would actually serve as the source for the Virgin Birth, even if it got attached to it later.

Because Isaiah’s prophecy was already fulfilled and widely considered as such by the Jews of the first century, this indicates that both the Gospels of Matthew and Luke must have independently believed that Isaiah’s original prediction hid another secondary application.

The implication of that last point is large: it means that Matthew and Luke wouldn’t have applied Isaiah’s “Immanuel” to Jesus unless there had already existed a “virgin birth” tradition prior to this, one which they could then connect to Isaiah.

In other words: the idea of Jesus being born from a virgin, found in Matthew and Luke, is not based off of the Greek translation of Isaiah (as many scholars have assumed), but rather, it must have existed and arose as a belief first by other means prior to the two evangelists attempting to connect it to Isaiah.

THE EARLIER VIRGIN STORY?

It can be surmised that the claim of a virgin birth existed quite a bit of time before either Matthew and Luke wrote. We can surmise this for two main reasons:

  1. The claim of a Virgin Birth was widely spread enough for it to be known and accepted by both Matthew and Luke’s individual and geographically separate communities around 80-85CE.
  2. The connection to Isaiah appears to be independently already established in both.

 

It is implausible to assume that both Matthew and Luke were the first to connect Isaiah with the claim of a virgin birth (each reaching the same belief independently around the same time). Instead, it is far more likely that both received the two ideas together at the same time.

Some scholars have even speculated that both Matthew and Luke’s (or one or the other’s) Nativity accounts may have been borrowed from earlier independent written accounts (much like they borrowed from Mark’s earlier Gospel). If this were the case, then the two stories of the Nativity could be significantly earlier.

At the very least, this means that by the time of both evangelists writing down their independent Nativity stories (or copying them), the connection between Isaiah and the Virgin Birth had already occurred. Moreover, the connection with Isaiah had grown alongside both of the evangelists’ mutually exclusive traditions of Jesus’ birth.

That last point is important since it means that while the penned stories themselves contradict or disagree with each other (indicating that they may have arisen later than the other elements), the specific claim of a Virgin Birth and the connection to Isaiah (two of the only shared elements between both versions of the story) likely predated the actual written stories (at least, in so far as we have them in their current forms).

This means that if we are being conservative, at the latest, the story of the virgin birth must have existed at least by the time of Mark’s Gospel around 70CE. This would allow enough time for the two Nativity stories and their traditions to have had time to promulgate around Christian circles.

However, that may still not optimally provide enough time to explain how both the claim and the stories emerged and subsequently grew in popularity.

Yet, at the very least, it raises an important point: the tradition that Jesus was born from a virgin likely existed prior to any of the four Gospel accounts.

WHERE DID THE CLAIM ARISE FROM?

So, where and how did such a claim about Jesus arise?

If Isaiah did not inspire the claim, then how did it possibly begin?

Many have noted that it was common for the larger Pagan world to speak of virgin births with regard to semi-divine figures.

Yet this cannot rightly be the simplest explanation for how the story arose, since it seems very unlikely that a Pagan claim would have arisen or gained traction amongst early Christians while the Jerusalem Church still existed and Paul’s vision of a “grafted” branch of Gentiles persisted.

So where did this claim arise from, if not the Pagan world? No one can know for sure, but there is a novel possibility that I’d like to suggest.

NATIVITY STORY #3?

One document, outside of the canonical New Testament, may be able to point us in the right direction.

The only other preserved document to contain a third version of the Nativity story (which is early enough to possibly still retain first century traditions) is an extra-canonical gospel known as the Protoevangelium of James (or, the Proto-Gospel of James).

Written (at least, in its final form) presumably around 145CE, this document preserves a set of traditions about both the birth of Mary and Jesus.

What is interesting about this Apocryphal gospel, is that while it shows strong evidence that it knows of the two stories of the Nativity by Matthew and Luke, it also appears to know alternative versions of the same traditions… which it values more.

So, for example: although Luke says Jesus was born in the area of a Bethlehem house where the animals rested at night, the Protoevangelium says that Jesus was born in a cave while journeying toward Bethlehem (right on the outskirts of the city).

Such divergences are impossible to explain comfortably unless the author knew of older traditions which some Christians valued deeply enough to choose even over the canonical ones.

One of these alternate traditions that catches my eye is in 13:6-10, in which Joseph discovers Mary’s pregnancy and  demands to know where the child has come from.

She pleads,

I’m innocent. I haven’t had sex with any man” (13:8)

Joseph presses her harder. If there’s been no sex, he remarks, where did the baby come from?

Mary’s answer?

As the Lord my God lives, I don’t know where it came from” (13:10).

What makes this answer so very odd is that just previously in chapter 11 of this apocryphal gospel, an angel had announced to Mary that she would become unusually pregnant through the power of God and Mary responded by praying that the angel’s word would be true.

However, now suddenly, two chapters later, Mary has no idea why she’s pregnant (as if she never heard from an angel previously).

In fact, underscoring this point is the fact that the narrator wrote in the previous chapter, while she was visiting her cousin Elizabeth, that:

Mary forgot the mysteries which the heavenly messenger Gabriel had spoken” (12:6).

Later, when Joseph and Mary are brought before a court, they again do not state that the child is heaven sent, but Mary simply upholds her virginity (15:8-18).

This is unlike any of the more sanctimonious traditions in either Matthew or Luke.

Oh, and one more thing, curiously: Isaiah isn’t invoked at all in this version like he is in Matthew and Luke.

To me, these strange anomalies point possibly to an older tradition that the writer was attempting to fit within the others he knew of.

In this tradition, Mary did not appear to have known of any angelic announcement (such as in Luke) and simply finds herself in the very odd and strange situation of being a virgin girl who is pregnant.

If I’m right, it’s possible (but would need more research) to suggest that this may be the true origin of the Virgin Birth traditions: that Mary was said to have found herself, as a virgin girl, surprisingly pregnant and gave birth (somewhere near or in Bethlehem).

WHO FIRST TOLD THIS STORY?

There’s one more unique thing about the Proto-Gospel of James: it indicates two things.

First, it appears to draw on an earlier pseudepigraphic account of Jesus’ birth, claimed to have been written in the first person by Jesus’ own father, Joseph. I would venture to assume that this account would have been written sometime in the first half of the second century.

The second thing this apocryphal gospel indicates is who MAY have started the Nativity story.

It ends the entire book’s account by stating that:

Now I, James, am the one who wrote this account at the time when an uproar arose in Jerusalem at the death of Herod. I took myself off to the wilderness until the uproar in Jerusalem died down. There I praised the Lord God, who gave me the wisdom to write this account. (25:1-4)

Attributing an account of Jesus’ birth to the authorship of someone famous isn’t unusual. If they did it with Joseph, why not one of his own brothers who could have been there? James was leader of the Jerusalem Church and in a sense makes sense as a choice.

That would be normal, except for one thing…

James, as a character, is never present in the story. He is literally missing from it.

In fact, another brother of Jesus is named, but no reference to James is ever attempted.

The only time he pops up is here at the end paragraph and in the title.

Now consider this: the author used a pseudepigraphic account that was attributed to Jesus’ own father, but instead of also attributing this account to Joseph (or Mary), the author invokes James who has no role in the book itself?

To me, this indicates the possibility that this is a real historical memory.

What this suggests is that while James, the brother of Jesus and leader of the Jerusalem Church, did not write this apocryphal gospel, he very well may have been remembered to have been the original historical source for the claim that Jesus was born of a virgin!

Think about it

If the story was believed to have been told by someone trusted, the virgin birth could only have been reliably told by someone who was there, which means that it could have originated from Jesus himself (as a personal claim), Mary or one of her other children, especially James, the leader of the Jerusalem Church.

Given that there is little evidence that Jesus spoke of himself in elevated terms (and one would expect the claim of a Virgin Birth to have more widespread acceptance if it originated with Jesus), it is unlikely that he would originate such an unusual claim.

Likewise, while it is possible for either Mary or James to have begun the claim, it may be more plausible, assuming the younger age of James and the impact of his martyrdom, to assume that the tradition may have stemmed from him.

If this theory is true (and like all theories, take it with a good dose of skepticism), it would mean that the claim of a virgin birth stemmed from within the Jewish community, apart from any influence by the book of Isaiah and from an individual who was plausibly an eyewitness either to the event (if he was older than Jesus) or was an eyewitness to his father and mother’s recounting of the story.

In either case, that would be a remarkable foundation for the story to rest upon.

IS IT PROOF OR IS IT STILL FAITH?

Possibly tracing the origin of the Virgin Birth story to James does not, however, prove that it happened.

There is always reason to assume other possibilities.

Perhaps James made up the claim in order to elevate Jesus?

Yet that seems odd at face value since James was known for both being staunchly orthodox and adherent to conservative Judaism. Why make up a claim that was so outrageous (and perceivably pagan)?

Likewise, James tried his best to preserve relations with fellow Jews (and such a story would have ostracized them further).

Notably, the very book of James in the New Testament that possibly stems from the inner circle of James does not demonstrate an interest in elevating Jesus to any supernatural status, and as such, does not seem to indicate that this would be James’ likely motivation.

So, if none of that seems to make sense, and James possibly is the source of the claim, there remains one possible reason: he believed it was true.

And if he believed it was true, it may be because his mother, Mary, did too.

CONCLUSION

Perhaps the stories in Matthew and Luke are indeed edifying fiction and parables as some scholars have long speculated (or perhaps they have many elements in them that stem from historical memories as others have argued), but it seems hard for me to accept how the claim of the virgin birth could have arisen without it truly having been believed to have historically happened.

This means that while this does not and could not prove that the miracle of a Virgin Birth occurred, it does indicate that perhaps the earliest Christians who could have known about the historical birth were convinced it happened.

If Mary truly did believe she gave birth as a virgin and James came to accept that idea (having initially resisted his brother’s teachings), and neither told the story until a certain time and place allowed for it to be shared, then we will still be where we were before: left with a story that requires faith in a testimony that only they could vouch for.

Whether Christians accept that testimony (like Matthew or Luke) or ignore it as unimportant (like Mark and John), I hope that the theory outlined in this post will help to possible enrich the conversation about the topic as whole.

We should keep in mind that if James truly was the source of the Nativity story, he spent far more time working on the Christian mission, spreading Jesus’ ethical teachings and guiding the church on larger issues (like circumcision), than he ever did on relating his personal beliefs about Jesus’ unusual origins.

Whether or not we ignore it or embrace it, Christ (his life and the Gospel) must remain the center of our theology. No matter how Christ entered the world (mysterious as it was), he came and that’s the point.

There was a time where Christ was not born and a time in which he had been. Nativity is the celebration of that monumental fact that the Word came to dwell among us.

And that’s something worth celebrating this Christmas and every single day.


IMG_1306Matthew J. Korpman is a minister-in-training, Young Adult novelist and published researcher in Biblical Studies. A graduating quadruple major at the H.M.S. Richards Divinity School, completing degrees in fields such as Religious Studies, Philosophy and Archaeology, he is an active member of the Seventh-day Adventist church whose research interests include everything from the Apocrypha to the Apocalypse.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Anthony Martinez

    Even the Jews did not receive the original Apocrypha writings as inspired, but only for some historical content, and that was just for a few. Those he references are indeed flawed writings, with little regard to fact, and everyone knew it at the time. It seems to me Mr. Korpman is schooled beyond his intelligence, which has left him adrift with regard to truth.

  • anxionnat

    Actually, I think the author needs to do some reading about mystery religions in the late centuries BCE and the early centuries CE. As far as that is concerned, there were *dozens* of mystery religions, almost all of which had: a dying and resurrecting god, who was born on the Winter Solstice, whose mother was a virgin, and where there was a star or comet to hail his birth. There are some good books out on this topic. Christianity’s closest “sister” religion was Mithraism, with which Christianity shared many commonalities. I have one book which lists and discusses over 250 commonalities between Christianity and the cult of Krishna. So, I’m not going to say that Christianity stole these ideas from elsewhere. I just mean that there was not a single Pagan religion, and that these ideas were floating around, all the way from Spain to India at that time.

  • Isaiah 14? Don’t you mean Isaiah 7?

  • C_Alan_Nault

    “Was Jesus Really Born of a Virgin?”

    You missed a step. Step one would be to prove the Biblical Jesus actually existed.

    As for a virgin birth, it was a common story before the story of Christ. Horus, Zoroaster, Romulus & Remus….

  • Gary Roth

    Really a lot of nonsense. First of all, it wouldn’t predate Mark, since you would think, if it were at all important, Mark would have included it in his, the earliest of the Gospels. He is unaware of it. Second, the reason for it stems from the church’s proclamation of Jesus as the “anti-Caesar.” It gives him all the titles that belonged to Caesar, as it proclaims God’s kingdom/reign as the alternative to that of Caesar. It uses nativity stories that parallel those made about Ocatvius (Augustus) to make its point. Then it looks back to the Torah to anchor the stories in the longer history of Israel. In other words, they are saying that Caesar is the new kid on the block, trying to usurp the throne of the real king, appointed by God long before Rome was even a thing. Jesus is the rightful “Caesar,” and Octavius just an interloper!

  • Charles Dike

    Hi Matthew,
    I thought this was a pretty decent article and you’re taking a lot of undeserved flak. My opinion is that the virgin birth concept predated Moses and the pagans. I also think John was alluding to the virgin birth in 1 John 5:6. This is actually one thing that would be understood by the earliest Christians.

  • jimoppenheimer

    Jesus was born in obscurity. He grew up in obscurity. When he arrives on the scene as Mark describes, he’s an adult. The events of his birth are long forgotten by that time, except the family itself. Nobody seems really interested in the virgin birth idea.
    The virgin birth question arose when scholarly minds tried to make sense out of the story of Jesus of Nazareth. One thing they seem to have agreed upon was that God was too pure to abide in a place as polluted and full of sin as the womb. Plainly, some solution was needed to make that particular womb an acceptable dwelling place for God. Look at how Mary is handled theologically, and you see one detail after another being placed into the story in order to make Mary’s womb an acceptable dwelling place for God. The virgin birth was a beginning; then it was thought that Mary was conceived without sin. Other details came up to further buttress the idea that Mary’s womb was made sinless and acceptable to God as His dwelling place.

    However, look at this another way entirely: Jesus is dead and arisen. People are trying to figure out what happened. Now imagine you are one of those people. Imagine that you are wondering — just wondering — if Mary’s pregnancy was normal, or that there was something unusual about it. What do you do? Do you go to the aging Mary (she was still supposedly alive at that time) and ask her to explain her sex life, her relationship with her husband, etc. I doubt very much that anyone would ever dare to ask Mary such impertinent and intrusive questions. And without such questions being asked and satisfactorily answered, there is no basis for any solid support for the virgin birth story. However, as everybody told everybody else the stories that were being handed down, it makes perfect sense that as the stories continued to be passed around, little extra things got embroidered into them. People made up pious tales to fill in blanks, much like the Rev. Weems made up stories of George Washington out of whole cloth in order to demonstrate the “facts” he already knew without any question about Washington’s character.

    Is there any reason to suppose that stories were made up about events in Jesus life? Actually, there is one area where this is very strongly suggested. I refer to the traditions of the seven last words of Our Lord. Crucifixion is a form of execution which is incredibly painful, but also kills by restricting the victim’s ability to breathe. This being the case, one would expect that Jesus may not have done much more than give a cry from the cross. This is exactly the report of the oldest Gospel, Mark. It simply reports that Jesus gave a cry and died. The later gospels report his words from the cross, and they do not agree. That is how we have come up with seven last words — because there are so many different reports of what he said. It would seem that every writer wanted to get his own pious two cents in, with the exception of Mark, who tells it like it is.

    Another example of making pious fables up are the two genealogies of Joseph, of course. They are hopelessly contradictory.

    The idea of the virgin birth was originally a fanciful embroidery to the stories passed from mouth to mouth in the first century, but then, with the perceived necessity of an explanation of how God could tolerate being in the sinful womb of a human woman, the fanciful fable took on more and more flesh and dwelled — in increasing substance — among us.

  • Kyllein MacKellerann “

    Considering the times when the King James Bible was written, every first born child was of virgin birth. Why? Back then in the 16th century (1500’s) the definition of a virgin was: “A woman who had not given birth”. Jesus was Mary’s first born child, so he was of virgin birth. This is different from the classical Greek concept of “Parthenos” which meant the woman had not had sex, that she was a physically untouched person. Athena Parthenos was one such; she was born of Zeus’s headache and “appeared” in arms and armor. This did not happen to Jesus. He was born like everyone else…and as a first born son, he was of virgin birth. James, his brother was not of virgin birth, being born later.

  • Judgeforyourself37

    Add to that common sense reply, is that “virgin” was a term applied to any young woman of marriageable age.
    Furthermore, many noted, famous or revered people, of course only men, considering the time and place, were said to have been “born of virgins.”
    Needless to say, Jesus was born just as you were, or I was, he had a human father and mother.

  • mjg

    1. James was Jesus’ cousin, not his brother (“…James, the son of Cleophas and of Mary, the Blessed Virgin’s sister or cousin. To distinguish him from the other James, the son of Zebedee (cf. Matt. 10:2-4), this James is called “the less” and, also, “the brother (= cousin) of the Lord” (Matt. 13:55). Catholic Answers

    2. Matthew Korpman’s article has been written from a Protestant perspective. Mary was born without sin, meaning the “Immaculate Conception” She was a virgin upon conception, while pregnant and at the birth of Christ, meaning Jesus was conceived ‘of’ the Holy Spirit.

    3. Reference in this article to the pagan concept of ‘virgin’ is addressed on Catholic Answers in the article ‘Was the Virgin Birth of Jesus Grounded in Paganism?

    4. Do you think that Mary may just have told Matthew and Luke about the birth of Christ? I’m sure she must have told them something, after all, she was there.

  • Tom Hanson

    I don’t understand how you can “presume” that Proto-James was in effect firmed up by 145CE (or AD if you please). Or, indeed, that you can assume it at all as part of a historical tradition in the same sense as the Synoptics because by that date Gnosticism was growing throughout the empire and Christianized Gnostics or Christianizing Gnostics were denying the actual humanity of Jesus and turning him into their version of the demiurge. I think the closest we could safely say would probably be that it knows the synoptics in some form regarding the nativity, and deals with Mary very clumsily to deny the real humanity of Jesus.

  • John Purssey

    Is a virgin birth essential to Christianity? And are we talking of a virgin conception or virginity after birth?

    The earliest NT documents, the epistles, do not mention it at all.

    Mark, for Roman Christians, is not interested in the subject.

    The latest canonical Gospel, John, talks only of the incarnation of The pre-existent Word.

    Matthew, for Jewish Christians, uses a wondrous birth story as part of his message that Jesus is the Messiah, a new Moses, a son of David and the patriarchs.

    Luke, for a Hellenistic milieu, uses a different wondrous story to illustrate the passage of the old Judaism, represented by John the Baptist, to the new Judaism that is represented by Jesus whose genealogy makes him a new Adam, Son of God, and which passes from the Jewish nation to the Gentiles in Acts.

    It is common for religions to look for holy places, and births and deaths are particularly tempting.

    So we start with Jesus’ birth being unimportant.

    Then it is used to show he is the long awaited Messiah/new Moses for Jews.

    And simultaneously the Son of God for the Hellenistic World.

    The Gospel of Mary develops this theme by introducing the perpetual virginity of Mary.

    The Proto-Evangelium of James expands on the virgin conception theme and makes Joseph into an old man who has previously married and has other children, thus getting round the problem for perpetual virginity of Jesus having brothers and sisters. Joseph is made to say that he was reluctant to marry Mary because he was an old man and did not want to appear ridiculous in Israel.

    By the time of the 6th century Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew the Virgin Mary was attended by two midwives. One of the two, who was not Jewish, dared to test with her hand to see if Mary was still physically a virgin after the birth. Her hand withered as punishment for such audacity.

    So the pious stories about Mary grow. The most recent AFAIK was in 1854 when for the Roman Catholic faith Mary was pronounced to have been conceived free of original sin.

    While Matthew and Luke’s stories may have worked for their intended audiences they are problematic for people with a modern understanding that conception requires the union of male and female gametes, rather than the implantation of a ‘seed’ into a woman, whose function is simply to provide a place for the baby to grow. To hold both virgin birth and scientific understand requires mental gymnastics or holding a cognitive dissonance.

    Better, in my view, to try and understand what was behind the different messages that Matthew and Luke tried to represent in their stories, and see if they can be re-contextualised for today. If they cannot, discarding them does not mean the essence of Christianity is lost.

  • Robert J Naumann

    I think it is clear that Mathew takes the quote from Isaiah 7 (not 14) as a prophesy of a future virgin birth. However Mathew quotes Isiah 7 from the Septuagint rather from the original Hebrew, which is Isiah telling King Ahaz he has nothing to fear from the two Kings that have besieged him because the child shall be named Emanuel, meaning God is with us. Read Isiah 7 in the NSRV Bible and see that “a young woman is with child” not “a virgin shall conceive” and it is clear that it applies to the present situation, not something that will happen several hundred years in the future.

    Clearly Paul knows nothing about a virgin birth and he spent some time with James after his conversion so it is doubtful that James was the origin of the virgin birth story.

    The Virgin Birth story is central to the doctrine of the Atonement from Adam’s sin. God was so angry with Adam’s sin that he was no longer satisfied with animal sacrifices – he needed a human sacrifice. But according to Jewish tradition of Yom Kippur, the sacrifice had to be “without blemish” or a human “without sin”. Since all men were tainted with Adam’s sin, God had to send his son to be born of a virgin to be a perfect sacrifice. At he time, it was believed that the womb was just an incubator for the male seed, this seemed to work out well. But later when it was discovered that the female also contributed genetically to the child, it was necessary to somehow make Mary sinless, thus the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception.

  • Daniel Eason

    Krishna came long after Christ.

  • JD

    OR:

    Mary claimed she didn’t know any man and didn’t know why she was pregnant because she didn’t want to be stoned to death.

    In biblical times a pregnant unmarried female girl was frowned upon. Imagine, you as a young 12 to 14 year old girl now pregnant; perhaps by a rape, perhaps by a male that unowned her, or by adultery; in a society that veiws you as damaged goods where no man now will claim her. You are facing punishment by being stoned to death for being found out pregnant and unwed. Her fate is execution.

    So of course she would have said she had no idea how she got pregnant. Perhaps she really didn’t know the man that impregnate her, perhaps she was attacked and raped by a stranger and left on the side of the road. (As a man making sure you weren’t caught you beat the woman you’re raping unconscious so she couldn’t call out and alert others.) Since she could not cry out her punishment is death. Let’s face it; in biblical times women were nothing more than property. An unwed pregnant female was scandalous and were often put the death.

  • David Cromie

    It is all mumbo-jumbo, no matter which way it is ‘viewed’.

  • David Cromie

    There is no contemporary, 1st cent. CE, evidence, whether written or archaeological, that any man-god named JC ever existed.

  • mjg

    People, including the author of this article, you need to watch and listen to Father Robert Spitzer (Spitzer’s Universe, on EWTN tonight at 10pm est) who will explain all this to you. Believe me. (Or go to the EWTN on Demand and look for today’s program, Dec. 20/17, when it is available). This program usually re-airs on Friday night at midnight.

  • mjg

    Kyllein: The New Testament was written after Jesus’ death, not in the 16th century, eg the Gospels were written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John (I’m not including those who helped them), Paul’s letters, etc.. The Old Testament was written before Jesus’ birth. Jesus was Mary’s only child, James was His cousin; refer to the many articles on ‘Perpetual Virginity of Mary’ (it has also been suggested that Joseph may have been a widower and had children from a previous marriage). Refer to my comment on Father Robert Spitzer on The Nativity. You can watch his program repeated this Friday night at midnight, or go to EWTN on Demand and watch today’s program (Dec 20) when it becomes available. Here is another article you may find interesting: Suspending Skepticism: History and the Virgin Birth N.T. Wright

  • mjg

    Judge: See my answer to Kyllein.

  • Neko

    Little is known about the mystery religions; their devotees didn’t leave texts. Christianity has little in common with what little is known of Mithraism. For starters Mithras was born from a rock.

  • Neko

    I have’t read all the comments so this observation may be redundant, but one possibility is the Virgin Birth was an apologetic in response to critics who claimed Jesus was illegitimate, or rather, that Mary was known to have been pregnant before marriage.

    It is implausible to assume that both Matthew and Luke were the first to connect Isaiah with the claim of a virgin birth (each reaching the same belief independently around the same time).

    It’s not implausible if Luke knew Matthew’s gospel.

    it’s possible (but would need more research) to suggest that this may be the true origin of the Virgin Birth traditions: that Mary was said to have found herself, as a virgin girl, surprisingly pregnant and gave birth (somewhere near or in Bethlehem).

    This is apologetics, not history.

  • Neko

    Jesus was Mary’s only child

    This is Catholic apologetics and hardly conclusive. EWTN is a evangelical Catholic mutation and a propaganda arm for the Republican Party, not a reliable source for inquiries into the historical Jesus.

  • Neko

    Paul, the earliest written Christian witness, Galatians 1:18:

    But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother.

    Mark, the earliest gospel, 6:3:

    Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.

  • Neko

    Wish I could give you a few more up arrows.

  • mjg

    Neko: and you are …… what? You don’t consider the Catholic Church a reliable historical source on Jesus?
    If you are a devout atheist, I can understand where your head is at. If, however, you are a self proclaimed Christian, you need help!

  • Neko

    What on earth is a “devout atheist”? I’m a (lapsed) cradle Catholic, so you can get out of town with that trash talk. And No, the Church isn’t my go-to for evidence-based speculation on the historical Jesus.

  • anxionnat

    When I say that Mithraism is Christianity’s closest “sister” religion, I mean that they shared many common myths, like the ones I noted above. So did the Osiris cult in Egypt at the time and many others. There is actually quite a bit known about the Mystery religions. (I took a course on early Christianity in college, where most of the discussion and lectures were about Christianity and the sister religions, the mysteries. So enough is known for a rigorous 10-week course.) Most had public gatherings which were open to anyone. It is only when members went through the seven steps (like seven sacraments of the Catholic church) that they swore an oath not to reveal what they were taught about the respective mystery. So far as is known, no member ever violated that oath. So writers of the day did write about the public rites of some of the mysteries. For example, most Mystery religions had as their first step into the Mystery, Baptism. Christian writers also wrote about them, quoting the ideas merely to refute them. (As they did with other Pagan authors. I suspect that, once Christians gained power, they destroyed the books of other religions, which is why we have no texts except the quotations in church fathers. If such texts existed in the first place.) Mithraic temples (mostly underground) have been found from Britain to Persia, and have been extensively studied. Interesting thing about Christianity: they jettisoned secrecy of the steps to the mysteries, which no other mystery religion did. Except for the ordination to the priesthood, all of their rites, at least today, are open to anyone, including non-believers. Gnostic Gospels contain some strains of the mystery ideas, except that they are generally accepted to have been written much later than the Synoptic Gospels (Mark, Matthew, and Luke.)

  • mjg

    Neko: and you’re proud of it? I was away from the Catholic Church for 40 years and I went back. Many Catholics have reverted. Now that is something to be proud of.

  • John Purssey

    Thanks.

  • John Purssey

    There is a Greek word for “cousin”. If James was a cousin then there is no reason why that word would not be used rather than “brother”.

    The Immaculate Conception is a mid 19th century idea.

    The Lukan and Matthean stories are different and serve different theological purposes for their intended audience. They were constructed from somewhat different collections of stories that were circulating in their communities and have different theological themes to suit the different needs of their audience.

    If the author/redactor of Luke had spoken to Mary that would have likely been mentioned rather than “just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word”.

    When the Gospels were written it is likely that few of the people born more than 70 years earlier would have been alive. Certainly the Hymns of Mary, Zechariah, Simeon, and Anna appear to have been later Christian hymns placed in their mouths by the redactor.

  • Neko

    Thank you for your courteous reply. We’ve read dramatically different perspectives on the mystery religions. Perhaps you could source this extensive evidence of which I’m oblivious?

    I suspect that, once Christians gained power, they destroyed the books of other religions, which is why we have no texts except the quotations in church fathers.

    This assumption is widely held but dubious. I wast trying to remember who wrote an article I read recently on the subject. It may have been Tim O’Neill, who has a recent blog post on the myths surrounding the destruction of the Library at Alexandria. In the course of trying to find it I stumbled onto another germane post by O’Neill:

    “THE GREAT MYTHS 2: CHRISTMAS, MITHRAS AND PAGANISM”

    https://historyforatheists.com/2016/12/the-great-myths-2-christmas-mithras-and-paganism/

    By the way, O’Neill is an atheist, not a Christian apologist.

    A teaser:

    But the idea that there are many remarkable parallels between Mithraism and Christianity and that the latter is therefore derived, at least in part, from the former maintains its imaginative hold on those who don’t bother checking these things. Unfortunately, despite their regular repetition, virtually none of these parallels stand up to critical scrutiny.

    You wrote:

    Except for the ordination to the priesthood, all of their rites, at least today, are open to anyone, including non-believers.

    Not so. The Catholic Church expressly discourages non-Catholics (and Catholics in s a state of mortal sin) from receiving the central rite of the religion, the Eucharist. Lay can’t grant confirmation or absolution or last rites, among other things.

  • Neko

    Why are you personalizing a debate about the origins of belief in the virgin birth? I’m neither proud nor not-proud of my tempestuous relationship with the Catholic Church. “Pride” for simply belonging to a religion smacks of tribalism, which I suppose is no surprise coming from a consumer of EWTN.

    By the way, I reverted (and left again), and when I returned didn’t consider it “something to be proud of” in the slightest.

  • Garden of Love

    You spelled your last name wrong.

  • anxionnat

    Actually I never said Christianity was derived from Mithraism. As far as I know, they were both derived from a common source. (This is very much like saying that humans didn’t derive from common chimpanzees, but they share a common ancestor.) My point was that these myths were floating around the ancient Mediterranean and were found in lots of the mystery religions. Did people know they were myths? Well, in their (and Christianity’s) public gatherings, they were presented as historical fact. But as people were initiated into the particular Mystery, it became increasingly clear that the stories were just that–symbolic. That’s what Christianity jettisoned. Then, and to this day, Christianity presented and presents their myth as historical fact. One of the reasons we *know* that at least Luke and Matthew were writing myth (and knew it) is because of the structure of stories in those gospels .Richard Carrier talks about this in some detail in one of his books. (This research was not available when I was in college.) There’s also a video with Carrier giving a lecture about this–it’s fairly recent, 3-4 weeks ago I think. On your other point about Christianity being open to the public: yes, non-Christians can’t take the Eucharist, but the ceremonies of doing so are open to the public, whereas in other Mystery religions they were open only to initiates, as far as we know. Lay (non-clergy) people can do things like baptize and bless a person at death. And back long ago in Ireland, when Christianity was first introduced, Christians would choose another lay person to confide in and confess their sins to. This person was called anam chara (a soul friend). This was not because of lack of clergy, but an integral part of the Irish version of Christianity, which they spread to Britain, and onto the Continent. That didn’t continue after about the 9th or 10th century. Just as clergy were allowed to marry and have children in many places, until the 10th century or so. The fact that these didn’t continue had more to do with the church of Rome cracking down on dissenters than anything else.

  • Neko

    Yes, I know what you said. What is this “common source” that is supposed to have informed both Mithraism and Christianity? Christianity’s provenance was mainly Jewish, of course. And, yes, from your confidence in the influence on Christianity of mystery cults it’s obvious you’re channeling Richard Carrier, who has a grand reputation among internet atheists but not so much among NT scholars. There is simply not enough known about mystery cults to make claims about their assimilation into Christianity anything but highly speculative.

    As for your digression on the origins of confession, I’m familiar with them. The fact remains that the authority to perform sacraments in the Catholic Church are in most cases reserved to the ordained.

    You wrote:

    As far as that is concerned, there were *dozens* of mystery religions, almost all of which had: a dying and resurrecting god, who was born on the Winter Solstice, whose mother was a virgin, and where there was a star or comet to hail his birth.

    “Almost all of which”! Name one pagan myth involving a virgin birth. And as Tim O’Neill notes in the article I linked to above, the notion that Christianity adopted the winter solstice from paganism as the birth date of Jesus is very probably bunk.

  • Grigori Schmidt

    I see no reason to doubt that the idea of the birth from a virgin comes from the OT. The author says that words of Isaiah had been already fulfilled, so it means that the idea of the virgin birth of Jesus can not be based on the OT passage, but, IMHO, it does not exclude the Isaiah from the equation.
    Qumranic sectarians were also “extracting” prophesies about the events of their times and about their own Teacher of Righteousness from the OT. For them the OT was the living word of God. The God still was speaking about present and the future using the language of the past. I see no reason to think that authors of the gospels were any different.

  • David Cromie

    Anything is possible in never-never-land. All you have to do is imagine it, and hey presto it becomes ‘true’.

  • Tim

    Which makes sense, as those early theologians did not seem to understand the concept that much of the point of Jesus was to be just like us in every way.

  • Tim

    The biggest difference between the two seems to be that Mithraism is very dualistic.

  • Tim

    It’s certainly possible. Much of the New Testament use of the OT is retconned, even if those authors understood that the previous prophecies did not literally refer to the events they were using them to point to.