Urban Legends pastors tell

As I’ve often complained, a major way that urban legends get spread around is as sermon illustrations.  Some of these are more in the related genre of scholarly legends.  But thanks to Trevin Wax for catching these:

1. The “eye of the needle” refers to a gate outside Jerusalem.

“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God,” says Jesus in Mark 10:25. Maybe you’ve heard of the gate in Jerusalem called the “eye of the needle.” The camel could pass through it only after stooping down and having all its baggage taken off.

The illustration is used in many sermons as an example of coming to God on our knees and without our baggage. The only problem is… there is no evidence for such a gate. The story has been around since the 15th century, but there isn’t a shred of evidence to support it.

2. The high priest tied a rope around his ankle so that others could drag him out of the Holy of Holies in case God struck him dead.

Various versions of this claim have been repeated by pastors, but it is a legend. It started in the Middle Ages and keeps getting repeated. There is no evidence for the claim in the Bible, the Apocrypha, the Dead Sea Scrolls, Josephus, the Pseudepigrapha, the Talmud, Mishna or any other source. Furthermore, the thickness of the veil (three feet) would have precluded the possibility of a priest being dragged out anyway.

3. Scribes took baths, discarded their pens, washed their hands, etc. every time they wrote the name of God.

As a way of getting across the reverence of the Jewish and Christian scribes toward God, preachers like to describe the honor given to God’s name. Unfortunately, there’s no evidence that scribes did these sorts of rituals every time they came across the name of God.

4. There was this saying among the sages: “May you be covered in your rabbi’s dust.”

This is one of the most pervasive and fast-spreading stories to flood the church in recent years. The idea is that as you walked behind your rabbi, he would kick up dust and you would become caked in it and so following your rabbi closely came to symbolize your commitment and zeal. Joel Willitts explains:

This is powerful stuff isn’t it? Well the only problem is that it just isn’t true… The context in which it is given in Mishnah Aboth 1:4 is expressly not what is assumed by those who promulgate this idea.

5. Voltaire’s house is now owned by a Bible-printing publisher.

Voltaire was famous for saying, “One hundred years from my day there will not be a Bible in the earth except one that is looked upon by an antiquarian curiosity seeker.” There is a myth out there that within 50 years of Voltaire’s death, his house was owned by a Bible society that used his own printing press to make Bibles. Sounds like a great story, but it’s not true. Regardless, Voltaire’s prediction of the demise of the Bible was vastly overstated.

6. Gehenna was a burning trash dump outside Jerusalem.

I’ve used this illustration many times. But there isn’tevidence to support this idea. Still, because it seems like a reasonable explanation for the origin of the Hinnom Valley as “hell,” commentators and preachers have accepted it. It’s possible that the verdict may still be out on this one, but not if Todd Bolen is right:

“The explanation for the ‘fire of Gehenna’ lies not in a burning trash dump, but in the burning of sacrificed children. Already in Old Testament times, the Valley of Hinnom was associated with the destiny of the wicked. That the valley was just outside the city of Jerusalem made it an appropriate symbol for those excluded from divine blessing.”

7. NASA scientists have discovered a “missing day” which corresponds to the Joshua account of the sun standing still.

Please don’t repeat this myth. There has been no “missing day” discovered, and the legend has been circulating longer than NASA has been in existence, with different scientists playing the part.

via Urban Legends: The Preacher’s Edition : Kingdom People.

I would add:  Medieval theologians once debated how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.  Although I think this is an excellent question, this was rather a later joke at the scholastics’ expense, rather than something the scholastics actually considered.  See this.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Carl Vehse

    One wonders whether these are urban legends passed on by old professors in seminary classes or through magazines on “sermon tips” that pastors get.

    Lutherans have their own collection of urban legends, including stories of Luther throwing an inkwell at Satan in Wartburg castle, Luther’s claimed preference for a wise Turkish ruler over a foolish Christian one, and even some fairy tales about the 1839 Missouri Saxon immigration to America.

  • Carl Vehse

    One wonders whether these are urban legends passed on by old professors in seminary classes or through magazines on “sermon tips” that pastors get.

    Lutherans have their own collection of urban legends, including stories of Luther throwing an inkwell at Satan in Wartburg castle, Luther’s claimed preference for a wise Turkish ruler over a foolish Christian one, and even some fairy tales about the 1839 Missouri Saxon immigration to America.

  • http://cyberbrethren.com Rev. Paul T. McCain

    Or how about the urban legend that some like to spread that Carl Vehse was key to the founding of The LCMS?

    ; )

  • http://cyberbrethren.com Rev. Paul T. McCain

    Or how about the urban legend that some like to spread that Carl Vehse was key to the founding of The LCMS?

    ; )

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    Oh man… I heard a LOT of these in the Baptist church I grew up in.

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    Oh man… I heard a LOT of these in the Baptist church I grew up in.

  • Michael Z.

    Yep, I have heard pretty much all of them except the Voltaire one. We need a Snopes for Christianese Legends.

  • Michael Z.

    Yep, I have heard pretty much all of them except the Voltaire one. We need a Snopes for Christianese Legends.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    It can be quite amazing how often you even hear the same stories from one sermon to another told by pastors, as if they were the main character. Sermon tips? maybe. Truth is Pastors tend to be very bad plagiarists, when it comes to writing sermons.
    Of course, this is why I learned Swedish, so no one would know when I was doing this…. right.
    One of the problems I have with this plagiarism is it makes the sermons tediously boring. Repetition may be the mother of learning. And It was a teaching note that I took from guys like Rosenbladt, and Dr. Scaer, among others. In fact it is seen that Jesus repeated his sermons often in different places with different variations here and there. But it has it’s limits and when the analogy is tired, and something I heard as a kid, don’t try to pass it off as a new insight, or peculiar to you.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    It can be quite amazing how often you even hear the same stories from one sermon to another told by pastors, as if they were the main character. Sermon tips? maybe. Truth is Pastors tend to be very bad plagiarists, when it comes to writing sermons.
    Of course, this is why I learned Swedish, so no one would know when I was doing this…. right.
    One of the problems I have with this plagiarism is it makes the sermons tediously boring. Repetition may be the mother of learning. And It was a teaching note that I took from guys like Rosenbladt, and Dr. Scaer, among others. In fact it is seen that Jesus repeated his sermons often in different places with different variations here and there. But it has it’s limits and when the analogy is tired, and something I heard as a kid, don’t try to pass it off as a new insight, or peculiar to you.

  • Kirk

    Re: Eye of the Needle

    I’ve seen this used by prosperity types to suggest that those who love riches are at difficulty in entering heaven, but that it’s not entirely impossible. Riches sort of being a burden, but one that can be born.

  • Kirk

    Re: Eye of the Needle

    I’ve seen this used by prosperity types to suggest that those who love riches are at difficulty in entering heaven, but that it’s not entirely impossible. Riches sort of being a burden, but one that can be born.

  • Stephen

    Not sure the Gehenna one quite fits. As I understand it, the idea is that outside the walls of the HOLY city is where unclean things happened like the burning or depositing of trash, dead bodies of the unclean, etc., and of course, crucifixion which was very unclean and pornographic. So to even go near such a place was a stomach turning idea. It is the same idea as being put out of the community of faith like the woman with the issue of blood. It had visceral and spiritual connotations together that were very real at the time. I had never heard of the child sacrifice connection.

    It does seem the Jesus was referring to an actual place that was familiar and had just these kinds of connotations. Jews were not so big on an eternal hell fire the way we think of it. Their concerns had to do with being among the chosen. The looked to their ancestor’s stories, their progeny, and their own standing in the community via the Law of Moses more than concerns about the afterlife as the primary spiritual realm that assured them peace with God.

    Someone correct me if I’m off, but I think that is fairly accurate though a bit of a reduction.

  • Stephen

    Not sure the Gehenna one quite fits. As I understand it, the idea is that outside the walls of the HOLY city is where unclean things happened like the burning or depositing of trash, dead bodies of the unclean, etc., and of course, crucifixion which was very unclean and pornographic. So to even go near such a place was a stomach turning idea. It is the same idea as being put out of the community of faith like the woman with the issue of blood. It had visceral and spiritual connotations together that were very real at the time. I had never heard of the child sacrifice connection.

    It does seem the Jesus was referring to an actual place that was familiar and had just these kinds of connotations. Jews were not so big on an eternal hell fire the way we think of it. Their concerns had to do with being among the chosen. The looked to their ancestor’s stories, their progeny, and their own standing in the community via the Law of Moses more than concerns about the afterlife as the primary spiritual realm that assured them peace with God.

    Someone correct me if I’m off, but I think that is fairly accurate though a bit of a reduction.

  • http://TurnaroundChurches.com DeknMike

    Lamsa’s ‘Peshitta’ translation says the original eye of a needle story could also be translated “easier for a rope to go through the eye of a needle.” Besides, camels don’t walk on their knees.

  • http://TurnaroundChurches.com DeknMike

    Lamsa’s ‘Peshitta’ translation says the original eye of a needle story could also be translated “easier for a rope to go through the eye of a needle.” Besides, camels don’t walk on their knees.

  • Carl Vehse

    Publisher McCain, do you have a specific reference to the urban legend you mentioned @2?

    Are you referring to Concordia Publishing House’s continuing advertising and selling of Government in the Missouri Synod (Carl S. Mundinger, 1947) and Zion on the Mississippi (Walter O. Forster, 1953), which do substantiate the influence of the 1839 “Protestation” document by Carl Eduard Vehse, Heinrich Ferdinand Fischer, and Gustav Jaekel on C.F.W. Walther’s arguments in the 1841 Altenburg Debate and Walther’s Theses in Church and Ministry (Kirche und Amt, trans. J.T. Mueller, 1987), which Concordia Publishing House also sells?

    The Protestation document can be read in Die Stephan’sche Auswanderung nach Amerika (Carl E. Vehse, Dresden, 1840, p. 43ff).

    Now if there is an urban legend being spread on the internet about Dr. Vehse, it would the 1999 claim that “if there was [sic] a demagogue among the Saxons, it was Vehse.”

  • Carl Vehse

    Publisher McCain, do you have a specific reference to the urban legend you mentioned @2?

    Are you referring to Concordia Publishing House’s continuing advertising and selling of Government in the Missouri Synod (Carl S. Mundinger, 1947) and Zion on the Mississippi (Walter O. Forster, 1953), which do substantiate the influence of the 1839 “Protestation” document by Carl Eduard Vehse, Heinrich Ferdinand Fischer, and Gustav Jaekel on C.F.W. Walther’s arguments in the 1841 Altenburg Debate and Walther’s Theses in Church and Ministry (Kirche und Amt, trans. J.T. Mueller, 1987), which Concordia Publishing House also sells?

    The Protestation document can be read in Die Stephan’sche Auswanderung nach Amerika (Carl E. Vehse, Dresden, 1840, p. 43ff).

    Now if there is an urban legend being spread on the internet about Dr. Vehse, it would the 1999 claim that “if there was [sic] a demagogue among the Saxons, it was Vehse.”

  • Dan Kempin

    I second Stephen’s motion to remove the “gehenna” one from the list. That there was a trash dump in the hinnom valley during the second temple period, and that the smoke was probably visible from the temple steps where Jesus taught is something I picked up in Jerusalem from a trained archaeologist. Was the dump there to defile the place that had once been desecrated by child sacrifice? Perhaps, but all the more so an argument to see it as a symbol of all that is cursed.

    Was this the origin of the idea of “hell?” Of course not. But an evocative illustration for teaching? Quite likely, I would think.

    Then again, I don’t think I’ve ever used that for a sermon or a teaching illustration. It was rather vivid to consider, though, when I was blessed to stand on the temple steps and envision the glory of the temple above contrasted with the distant smoke of the trash dump below.

  • Dan Kempin

    I second Stephen’s motion to remove the “gehenna” one from the list. That there was a trash dump in the hinnom valley during the second temple period, and that the smoke was probably visible from the temple steps where Jesus taught is something I picked up in Jerusalem from a trained archaeologist. Was the dump there to defile the place that had once been desecrated by child sacrifice? Perhaps, but all the more so an argument to see it as a symbol of all that is cursed.

    Was this the origin of the idea of “hell?” Of course not. But an evocative illustration for teaching? Quite likely, I would think.

    Then again, I don’t think I’ve ever used that for a sermon or a teaching illustration. It was rather vivid to consider, though, when I was blessed to stand on the temple steps and envision the glory of the temple above contrasted with the distant smoke of the trash dump below.

  • Dan Kempin

    But as long as we are at it, what about the urban legend that the virgin mary was 12 or 13 years old? I have heard that baseless conjecture taught as fact quite often.

    Or that engagement was considered the same as marriage to the Jews.

    How many others can we get on the table?

  • Dan Kempin

    But as long as we are at it, what about the urban legend that the virgin mary was 12 or 13 years old? I have heard that baseless conjecture taught as fact quite often.

    Or that engagement was considered the same as marriage to the Jews.

    How many others can we get on the table?

  • Carl Vehse

    Dan @11, there are also the baseless stories that Joseph was an old man when he married Mary and that he had other children from a previous marriage.

  • Carl Vehse

    Dan @11, there are also the baseless stories that Joseph was an old man when he married Mary and that he had other children from a previous marriage.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Dan,
    I would not put the virgin Mary much older than 15. though I’m not sure I’d go as low as 12. on the other hand girls at that time, and even today in that part of the world, are married off at those early ages. So i’m not sure it is that much of a stretch. Couple that with the evidence that suggests Luke interviewed her as he was writing his gospel, as opposed to Matthew who seems to have gotten his Material concerning the birth of Christ from Joseph, and you have a fairly compelling argument that Mary was quite young when she gave birth to Jesus, as she was undoubtedly quite old when Luke wrote his gospel, even if she was 14 when she gave birth to Jesus.
    And Perhaps engagement wasn’t the same as marriage to the Jews, though one might argue that they, at least the pious ones, took it a bit more seriously than most take marriage today.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Dan,
    I would not put the virgin Mary much older than 15. though I’m not sure I’d go as low as 12. on the other hand girls at that time, and even today in that part of the world, are married off at those early ages. So i’m not sure it is that much of a stretch. Couple that with the evidence that suggests Luke interviewed her as he was writing his gospel, as opposed to Matthew who seems to have gotten his Material concerning the birth of Christ from Joseph, and you have a fairly compelling argument that Mary was quite young when she gave birth to Jesus, as she was undoubtedly quite old when Luke wrote his gospel, even if she was 14 when she gave birth to Jesus.
    And Perhaps engagement wasn’t the same as marriage to the Jews, though one might argue that they, at least the pious ones, took it a bit more seriously than most take marriage today.

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  • Carl Vehse

    Bror @13, do you have a reference for evidence that Luke “interviewed [Mary] as he was writing his gospel” rather than having interviewed her in prior years or talked to John or to other disciples or to Mary’s other children, who would likely still be living when Luke wrote his gospel?

    Do you also have a reference for evidence suggesting Matthew may have gotten his information concerning the birth of Christ (exclusively?) from Joseph?

  • Carl Vehse

    Bror @13, do you have a reference for evidence that Luke “interviewed [Mary] as he was writing his gospel” rather than having interviewed her in prior years or talked to John or to other disciples or to Mary’s other children, who would likely still be living when Luke wrote his gospel?

    Do you also have a reference for evidence suggesting Matthew may have gotten his information concerning the birth of Christ (exclusively?) from Joseph?

  • moallen

    My faith lies in ruins. I am a shattered man. ;-)

    I have politely not said anything when I heard these rumors repeated – perhaps that is not the best course, but they can be so earnest about sharing a profound truth… When I first heard the one about the missing day I wondered about the source of knowledge for such a calculation – what would you work with? Apparently your imagination is the tool you need!

  • moallen

    My faith lies in ruins. I am a shattered man. ;-)

    I have politely not said anything when I heard these rumors repeated – perhaps that is not the best course, but they can be so earnest about sharing a profound truth… When I first heard the one about the missing day I wondered about the source of knowledge for such a calculation – what would you work with? Apparently your imagination is the tool you need!

  • http://www.cyberbrethren.com Rev. Paul T. McCain

    Not quite the same, but whenever I hear a preacher start a sentence with, “There was once a little boy named Tommy…”

    I groan.

  • http://www.cyberbrethren.com Rev. Paul T. McCain

    Not quite the same, but whenever I hear a preacher start a sentence with, “There was once a little boy named Tommy…”

    I groan.

  • Dan Kempin

    Bror, #13,

    Not wanting to argue, but just curious. You say you wouldn’t place Mary as any older than 15. Based on . . . what? Anything? Just a hunch?

    “girls at that time, and even today in that part of the world, are married off at those early ages. ”

    MUSLIM girls are married off at that age. What Jew or Christian do you know who ever married a 14 year old?

    And what basis, what source can you show that it was the regular custom for Jews to be married at such a young age? Arranged for marriage? Sure. Could it happen? I guess. But why in the world–for what possible reason–would we hold the mother of God to be a child bride?

    Anyway, like I say, I’m not really arguing. It certainly could be the case. I just find it strange that it is taught as fact and assumed without question.

  • Dan Kempin

    Bror, #13,

    Not wanting to argue, but just curious. You say you wouldn’t place Mary as any older than 15. Based on . . . what? Anything? Just a hunch?

    “girls at that time, and even today in that part of the world, are married off at those early ages. ”

    MUSLIM girls are married off at that age. What Jew or Christian do you know who ever married a 14 year old?

    And what basis, what source can you show that it was the regular custom for Jews to be married at such a young age? Arranged for marriage? Sure. Could it happen? I guess. But why in the world–for what possible reason–would we hold the mother of God to be a child bride?

    Anyway, like I say, I’m not really arguing. It certainly could be the case. I just find it strange that it is taught as fact and assumed without question.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Dan, not could be, but highest probability is.
    Listen what Muslims do is immaterial. They weren’t around when Christ was born. Modern Jews and Modern Christians don’t get married at those ages, typically. But an awful lot of them seem to get pregnant at that age.
    And Child bride? not an applicable term. She would have been considered a woman at that age, and probably able to handle more than women five or ten years her senior these days.
    But it seems to me you are objecting not on any data you have of your own. And I have given you the basics of my theory, which I’m not going to waste looking up references, you can just read the first couple chapters of Luke compared to Matthew and see from there.
    Rather you assume and wrongly at that, that first century Jews are the same as Jews today, and would have shared your modern sensibilities. So you object. But it is you who have the new theory and it is on you to whom the burden of proof falls here.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Dan, not could be, but highest probability is.
    Listen what Muslims do is immaterial. They weren’t around when Christ was born. Modern Jews and Modern Christians don’t get married at those ages, typically. But an awful lot of them seem to get pregnant at that age.
    And Child bride? not an applicable term. She would have been considered a woman at that age, and probably able to handle more than women five or ten years her senior these days.
    But it seems to me you are objecting not on any data you have of your own. And I have given you the basics of my theory, which I’m not going to waste looking up references, you can just read the first couple chapters of Luke compared to Matthew and see from there.
    Rather you assume and wrongly at that, that first century Jews are the same as Jews today, and would have shared your modern sensibilities. So you object. But it is you who have the new theory and it is on you to whom the burden of proof falls here.

  • steve

    Is it possible the risk of falling for these urban legends would be mitigated if pastors would use the pulpit to declare the Word of God rather than to tell pithy anecdotes and cautionary tales?

  • steve

    Is it possible the risk of falling for these urban legends would be mitigated if pastors would use the pulpit to declare the Word of God rather than to tell pithy anecdotes and cautionary tales?

  • helen

    steve @ 19
    Is it possible the risk of falling for these urban legends would be mitigated if pastors would use the pulpit to declare the Word of God rather than to tell pithy anecdotes and cautionary tales?

    Considering that the modern preacher considers a 20 minute sermon twice too long, there really isn’t time for nonsense!

    [My particular pet peeves are the "boiled frog" legend and the "shepherd deliberately broke the lamb's leg" tale!]

    I’ve sat under a preacher who could tell 3 fishing stories (none in the Bible) in 10 minutes, including some in the first person when reliable sources had seen him at home during the hour described.

    But the most outrageous (to me) was describing some people who climbed on a Buddha statue in Thailand. I was in Thailand when a couple of Scouts tried that, for the sake of a photo, and narrowly escaped a Thai jail (which is not a place you want to put on your tourist itinerary).

    It’s never safe to assume you can talk about an exotic locale because your audience won’t know whether the story is true!

  • helen

    steve @ 19
    Is it possible the risk of falling for these urban legends would be mitigated if pastors would use the pulpit to declare the Word of God rather than to tell pithy anecdotes and cautionary tales?

    Considering that the modern preacher considers a 20 minute sermon twice too long, there really isn’t time for nonsense!

    [My particular pet peeves are the "boiled frog" legend and the "shepherd deliberately broke the lamb's leg" tale!]

    I’ve sat under a preacher who could tell 3 fishing stories (none in the Bible) in 10 minutes, including some in the first person when reliable sources had seen him at home during the hour described.

    But the most outrageous (to me) was describing some people who climbed on a Buddha statue in Thailand. I was in Thailand when a couple of Scouts tried that, for the sake of a photo, and narrowly escaped a Thai jail (which is not a place you want to put on your tourist itinerary).

    It’s never safe to assume you can talk about an exotic locale because your audience won’t know whether the story is true!

  • Dan Kempin

    Bror, #18,

    Really. I have a new theory. Huh. Even though my argument is not that Mary was a certain age, but that her extreme youth is asserted without any basis or evidence, I have a new theory.

    And you ironically reply to my argument by NOT providing any basis or evidence, not deigning to waste time looking up references, but nevertheless telling me that you are right.

    I assume, you say, that modern Jews and first century Jews share the same sensibilities. (Not exactly, but ok.) That is the flaw in my argument. You, on the other hand, take the fact that modern Jews would never marry a young girl and say, “Aha! There is evidence that the first century Jews surely DID marry children!” Sorry, that doesn’t quite scour.

    If the first century Jews did marry at a siginificantly younger age, then fine. Show me. Present a source. Don’t just repeat an assertion that you have apparently never given any critical thought.

    But if you want the burden of proof to fall to me, then fine. I’ll go:
    Argument 1–Mary’s age is not in the text.
    Argument 2–Reason to assume Mary was particularly young is not in the text.

    Now you go.

  • Dan Kempin

    Bror, #18,

    Really. I have a new theory. Huh. Even though my argument is not that Mary was a certain age, but that her extreme youth is asserted without any basis or evidence, I have a new theory.

    And you ironically reply to my argument by NOT providing any basis or evidence, not deigning to waste time looking up references, but nevertheless telling me that you are right.

    I assume, you say, that modern Jews and first century Jews share the same sensibilities. (Not exactly, but ok.) That is the flaw in my argument. You, on the other hand, take the fact that modern Jews would never marry a young girl and say, “Aha! There is evidence that the first century Jews surely DID marry children!” Sorry, that doesn’t quite scour.

    If the first century Jews did marry at a siginificantly younger age, then fine. Show me. Present a source. Don’t just repeat an assertion that you have apparently never given any critical thought.

    But if you want the burden of proof to fall to me, then fine. I’ll go:
    Argument 1–Mary’s age is not in the text.
    Argument 2–Reason to assume Mary was particularly young is not in the text.

    Now you go.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Dan,
    Her age is asserted with much basis, and I have listed that for you. Even Luther makes these arguments in his christmas sermons as I recall.
    But no you have no basis for asserting this is incorrect. You are the one here saying the theory is wrong or baseless. prove it.
    I gave you evidence based on even a conservative dating of Luke, and the appearance in the text that he interviewed Mary when he was piecing together the story of Christ’s life, at a much later date than when Matthew the first Gospel was written. (I do not buy Markan primacy one bit, but that would be immaterial anyway)
    And you do not seem to be able to read an argument at all. Your sensibilities are not the same as a first century Jew’s would have been. That they married younger, and that Marry was in all likely hood no older than 15 and probably as young as 13 is accepted in Most commentaries that comment on the matter. i’d like to see your argument against it. As you are the one contesting it, not based on any evidence you have, but merely that it upsets your modern sensibilities shaped by considerations of a modern society that would not make much sense to Joseph or Mary.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Dan,
    Her age is asserted with much basis, and I have listed that for you. Even Luther makes these arguments in his christmas sermons as I recall.
    But no you have no basis for asserting this is incorrect. You are the one here saying the theory is wrong or baseless. prove it.
    I gave you evidence based on even a conservative dating of Luke, and the appearance in the text that he interviewed Mary when he was piecing together the story of Christ’s life, at a much later date than when Matthew the first Gospel was written. (I do not buy Markan primacy one bit, but that would be immaterial anyway)
    And you do not seem to be able to read an argument at all. Your sensibilities are not the same as a first century Jew’s would have been. That they married younger, and that Marry was in all likely hood no older than 15 and probably as young as 13 is accepted in Most commentaries that comment on the matter. i’d like to see your argument against it. As you are the one contesting it, not based on any evidence you have, but merely that it upsets your modern sensibilities shaped by considerations of a modern society that would not make much sense to Joseph or Mary.

  • Kelly

    I posted about this on Facebook a few days back. It was sparked by an urban legend that is often told by pastors, who are sometimes teetotalers: “Alcohol, even in moderate amounts, kills brain cells.” Not true. Teetotalers and Prohibitionists also used to tell people that the alcohol taken into the blood stream could cause spontaneous combustion.

    I wish that the myth about Luther and other reformers using “drinking songs” to write their hymnody would go away forever. It’s not “bar tunes,” it’s “bar form”: a technical musical term that has nothing to do with drinking or trying to baptize “popular tavern culture” in service to the Gospel.

    I dislike urban legends in the form of misapplied (or purely invented) quotes as well. St. Augustine did not say “In the essentials, unity; in the non-essentials, liberty; and in all things, charity.” We have no direct evidence of the quote attributed to St. Francis: “Preach the Gospel; use words if necessary.”

  • Kelly

    I posted about this on Facebook a few days back. It was sparked by an urban legend that is often told by pastors, who are sometimes teetotalers: “Alcohol, even in moderate amounts, kills brain cells.” Not true. Teetotalers and Prohibitionists also used to tell people that the alcohol taken into the blood stream could cause spontaneous combustion.

    I wish that the myth about Luther and other reformers using “drinking songs” to write their hymnody would go away forever. It’s not “bar tunes,” it’s “bar form”: a technical musical term that has nothing to do with drinking or trying to baptize “popular tavern culture” in service to the Gospel.

    I dislike urban legends in the form of misapplied (or purely invented) quotes as well. St. Augustine did not say “In the essentials, unity; in the non-essentials, liberty; and in all things, charity.” We have no direct evidence of the quote attributed to St. Francis: “Preach the Gospel; use words if necessary.”

  • Cincinnatus

    Dan Kempin,

    You seem to be asserting contemporary social (and moral?) norms as universally applicable. Nowadays, it’s (absurdly) considered to be quite early to get married when one is 18 or even 21, but laws remain on the books in Massachusetts and many other states stipulating that it is perfectly legal to get married as young as 14, reflecting typical practices at the time such statutes were created. I don’t know why it’s so surprising, much less objectionable, that women in a different and older culture were regarded, in fact, as women when they were 12/13–i.e., capable of bearing children!–and accordingly permitted or even required to marry.

    Today, we have invented this thing called adolescence, in which period we think people are still quasi-children, etc., but our way is the new and unordinary way, not theirs. Ours is the innovation. If anything, these old marriage customs reflect much more closely natural biology (not to mention subsistence social structures) than do ours, which depends upon a highly industrialized form of developed capitalism and affluence.

    In short, it would be stranger to imagine Mary being “given in marriage” later than 16 than earlier, and unless contrary evidence is discovered, it is indeed safer to assume that she was younger rather than older.

    Why is this problematic for you?

  • Cincinnatus

    Dan Kempin,

    You seem to be asserting contemporary social (and moral?) norms as universally applicable. Nowadays, it’s (absurdly) considered to be quite early to get married when one is 18 or even 21, but laws remain on the books in Massachusetts and many other states stipulating that it is perfectly legal to get married as young as 14, reflecting typical practices at the time such statutes were created. I don’t know why it’s so surprising, much less objectionable, that women in a different and older culture were regarded, in fact, as women when they were 12/13–i.e., capable of bearing children!–and accordingly permitted or even required to marry.

    Today, we have invented this thing called adolescence, in which period we think people are still quasi-children, etc., but our way is the new and unordinary way, not theirs. Ours is the innovation. If anything, these old marriage customs reflect much more closely natural biology (not to mention subsistence social structures) than do ours, which depends upon a highly industrialized form of developed capitalism and affluence.

    In short, it would be stranger to imagine Mary being “given in marriage” later than 16 than earlier, and unless contrary evidence is discovered, it is indeed safer to assume that she was younger rather than older.

    Why is this problematic for you?

  • http://scottishlutheran.blogspot.com Michael Keith

    Just to play devil’s advocate here: In this post we have been given a list of things that are claimed to be false without much documentation. I would suggest that the urban legends get spread around because they sound plausible but do not come with much documentation. So, it is not entirely impossible, that Dr. Veith is being a bit tricky here and tomorrow could say that all of these items are true! :-) How would you know unless you have studied in these particular areas? Upon what basis do we take these refutations to be true? :-)

  • http://scottishlutheran.blogspot.com Michael Keith

    Just to play devil’s advocate here: In this post we have been given a list of things that are claimed to be false without much documentation. I would suggest that the urban legends get spread around because they sound plausible but do not come with much documentation. So, it is not entirely impossible, that Dr. Veith is being a bit tricky here and tomorrow could say that all of these items are true! :-) How would you know unless you have studied in these particular areas? Upon what basis do we take these refutations to be true? :-)

  • Dan Kempin

    Cincinnatus and Bror,

    I don’t seem to be getting my point across. Let me try again.

    First the clarification–and listen closely to this one: I did not say that Mary could not have been young. I did not say it offended my sensibilities. I am not imposing contemporary culture on Biblical history. Whatever Mary’s age may or may not have been does not bother me in the least.

    What bothers me is the “urban myth” nature of the belief. It is stated–by both of you, in fact–as though it is well established fact. MY argument could be boiled down to a simplistic “who says?” That question has not yet been answered.

    Cincinnatus, you say, “I don’t know why it’s so surprising . . . that women in a different and older culture were regarded, in fact, as women when they were 12/13.” Well, it is not particularly surprising, but why do you say it is true? What source do you reference to validate that, in fact, first century Jews regarded girls as women “when they were 12/13?”

    Bror, you’ll have to put up with my slowness. I’m not sure what Luke interviewing Mary has to do with her age at the time of her marriage. I assume the argument is that Luke’s Gospel was late and Mary was still around, so she must have been young when Christ was born. If so, what date are you going to use for Luke’s gospel, and how will you establish it? And how can you possibly know when he spoke to her, or whether she was alive when the gospel was written? And even so, how can you make the argument for the difference of three or four years based on how long she lived unless you know how old she was when she died?

    Anyway, you are kind of making my point. “Girls were considered marriageable at puberty” seems to have become a point of doctrine, and I’m not sure why. I mean it. I genuinely don’t know why you have any investment in making this age argument. It doesn’t matter. It’s not like I’m denying the virgin birth or calling into question the incarnation. Why do you feel the need to be so sure about this?

  • Dan Kempin

    Cincinnatus and Bror,

    I don’t seem to be getting my point across. Let me try again.

    First the clarification–and listen closely to this one: I did not say that Mary could not have been young. I did not say it offended my sensibilities. I am not imposing contemporary culture on Biblical history. Whatever Mary’s age may or may not have been does not bother me in the least.

    What bothers me is the “urban myth” nature of the belief. It is stated–by both of you, in fact–as though it is well established fact. MY argument could be boiled down to a simplistic “who says?” That question has not yet been answered.

    Cincinnatus, you say, “I don’t know why it’s so surprising . . . that women in a different and older culture were regarded, in fact, as women when they were 12/13.” Well, it is not particularly surprising, but why do you say it is true? What source do you reference to validate that, in fact, first century Jews regarded girls as women “when they were 12/13?”

    Bror, you’ll have to put up with my slowness. I’m not sure what Luke interviewing Mary has to do with her age at the time of her marriage. I assume the argument is that Luke’s Gospel was late and Mary was still around, so she must have been young when Christ was born. If so, what date are you going to use for Luke’s gospel, and how will you establish it? And how can you possibly know when he spoke to her, or whether she was alive when the gospel was written? And even so, how can you make the argument for the difference of three or four years based on how long she lived unless you know how old she was when she died?

    Anyway, you are kind of making my point. “Girls were considered marriageable at puberty” seems to have become a point of doctrine, and I’m not sure why. I mean it. I genuinely don’t know why you have any investment in making this age argument. It doesn’t matter. It’s not like I’m denying the virgin birth or calling into question the incarnation. Why do you feel the need to be so sure about this?

  • Dan Kempin

    Michael, #25,

    Good point. Maybe the literature doctor is teaching irony.

    (Wait! Is that irony? I’m never sure.)

  • Dan Kempin

    Michael, #25,

    Good point. Maybe the literature doctor is teaching irony.

    (Wait! Is that irony? I’m never sure.)

  • Carl Vehse

    Not all definitions of urban legend, include the requirement that the urban legend is completely false, though that may often be the case.

    The burden of proof in a debate is typically placed on the person making an assertion. Thus a person who asserts that Mary was married to Joseph when she was a specified age or in a specified age range has the burden of proof to provide evidence for such an assertion. Until then, others may rejected the assertion as unproven, or conditionally accept it with some level of probability based on other information.

    A person who claims that such a specified marriage age or age range for Mary is an urban legend (defined as not necessarily being false) has no such “burden of proof ” for such that claim. However, if the person asserts the urban legend is completely false, then he has the burden of proof to provide evidence against the urban legend.

    For the urban legend example of Luther’s “wise Turk” quote, I previously indicated that the quote is not found in any Luther references available to me or others who have looked for it, and that I provided statements from Luther contradicting the view of the alleged “wise Turk” quote. Similarly, Billy Graham’s oft-quoted description of the Lutheran Church (or the Missouri Synod) as “a sleeping giant” is an urban legend because Graham actually quotes a pastor using the phrase to describe the laity of his own congregation in Canada. It’s not known if the Canadian church was even Lutheran.

    In a discussion where evidence is presented that is probabilistic in nature or has uncertainty, there should be a prior understanding or established agreement on a quantitative level of probability acceptable to both sides – whether it’s 100%, 99.9%, 99%, 90%, or something less. Otherwise, one side will claim the probability of the evidence establishes proof of the assertion at the same time an opposing side argues such probability of the evidence fails to prove the assertion. (This may be the problem between Dan and Bror – Dan is requiring 100% proof; Bror is using evidence acceptable to him, but with less than 100% probability for Mary age.)

    Sometimes in an argument, rather than providing evidence for one’s own assertions, there is an attempt to shift the burden of proof to the other side to prove the assertion is false. Sometimes in an argument, an assertion is made in terms of a belief. Stating one believes something is essentially proof of one’s belief, but not proof of what is believed. An assertion that the person does not believe something usually requires evidence that person has previously stated contradictory beliefs.

  • Carl Vehse

    Not all definitions of urban legend, include the requirement that the urban legend is completely false, though that may often be the case.

    The burden of proof in a debate is typically placed on the person making an assertion. Thus a person who asserts that Mary was married to Joseph when she was a specified age or in a specified age range has the burden of proof to provide evidence for such an assertion. Until then, others may rejected the assertion as unproven, or conditionally accept it with some level of probability based on other information.

    A person who claims that such a specified marriage age or age range for Mary is an urban legend (defined as not necessarily being false) has no such “burden of proof ” for such that claim. However, if the person asserts the urban legend is completely false, then he has the burden of proof to provide evidence against the urban legend.

    For the urban legend example of Luther’s “wise Turk” quote, I previously indicated that the quote is not found in any Luther references available to me or others who have looked for it, and that I provided statements from Luther contradicting the view of the alleged “wise Turk” quote. Similarly, Billy Graham’s oft-quoted description of the Lutheran Church (or the Missouri Synod) as “a sleeping giant” is an urban legend because Graham actually quotes a pastor using the phrase to describe the laity of his own congregation in Canada. It’s not known if the Canadian church was even Lutheran.

    In a discussion where evidence is presented that is probabilistic in nature or has uncertainty, there should be a prior understanding or established agreement on a quantitative level of probability acceptable to both sides – whether it’s 100%, 99.9%, 99%, 90%, or something less. Otherwise, one side will claim the probability of the evidence establishes proof of the assertion at the same time an opposing side argues such probability of the evidence fails to prove the assertion. (This may be the problem between Dan and Bror – Dan is requiring 100% proof; Bror is using evidence acceptable to him, but with less than 100% probability for Mary age.)

    Sometimes in an argument, rather than providing evidence for one’s own assertions, there is an attempt to shift the burden of proof to the other side to prove the assertion is false. Sometimes in an argument, an assertion is made in terms of a belief. Stating one believes something is essentially proof of one’s belief, but not proof of what is believed. An assertion that the person does not believe something usually requires evidence that person has previously stated contradictory beliefs.

  • SKPeterson

    From what I have read in other venues regarding Mary’s likely age, is that she was between 13 and 17, with 17 being on the very high side. Several reasons for this can be noted such as similar ages for other married (or child-bearing anyhow) women in historical and archaeological records from the entire Mediterranean world, and the relatively low expected lifespan at the time (if you were 40-45 you were old). Since we have yet to find Mary’s birth certificate attesting to her birth date (or the immaculateness of her conception) or marriage license to ascertain her age, the best we can do is make an educated guess based upon the available social clues found in the historical and archaeological records. Moreover, the Bible does not only mention a virgin giving birth, but also women of advanced or post-menopausal age. If Mary had been older and unmarried or unable to bear children that would have probably been noted in the Biblical stories. Finally, the estimated time between Jesus birth and his death is 33 years, so that Mary would have been an old woman of 45 to 50 by contemporary eastern Mediterranean standards, thereby putting limits on her availability to tell eyewitness stories. It is possible that she could have lived into her 70′s – the same processes held then as they do today (the longer you live, the higher probability you’ll live even longer, i.e. if you live to be 80, you have a higher probability of living to 81 than someone who is 65), so she could have been around when Luke was interviewing people for his Gospel.

  • SKPeterson

    From what I have read in other venues regarding Mary’s likely age, is that she was between 13 and 17, with 17 being on the very high side. Several reasons for this can be noted such as similar ages for other married (or child-bearing anyhow) women in historical and archaeological records from the entire Mediterranean world, and the relatively low expected lifespan at the time (if you were 40-45 you were old). Since we have yet to find Mary’s birth certificate attesting to her birth date (or the immaculateness of her conception) or marriage license to ascertain her age, the best we can do is make an educated guess based upon the available social clues found in the historical and archaeological records. Moreover, the Bible does not only mention a virgin giving birth, but also women of advanced or post-menopausal age. If Mary had been older and unmarried or unable to bear children that would have probably been noted in the Biblical stories. Finally, the estimated time between Jesus birth and his death is 33 years, so that Mary would have been an old woman of 45 to 50 by contemporary eastern Mediterranean standards, thereby putting limits on her availability to tell eyewitness stories. It is possible that she could have lived into her 70′s – the same processes held then as they do today (the longer you live, the higher probability you’ll live even longer, i.e. if you live to be 80, you have a higher probability of living to 81 than someone who is 65), so she could have been around when Luke was interviewing people for his Gospel.

  • Phillip

    @Dan

    Right after the beginning of the 20th century, Italy raised the minimum marriageable age for girls to… 8. 100 years ago any single woman over 20 was a spinster. Ample historical evidence says that it would be a very noteworthy aberration if Mary was over 15 or 17. Furthermore, the Hebrew in Isaiah for virgin also means young woman, hence the RSV’s mistranslation. At that time, 15 would be pushing it for a single woman to qualify as young. That’s the basis for a young age for Mary to marry.

  • Phillip

    @Dan

    Right after the beginning of the 20th century, Italy raised the minimum marriageable age for girls to… 8. 100 years ago any single woman over 20 was a spinster. Ample historical evidence says that it would be a very noteworthy aberration if Mary was over 15 or 17. Furthermore, the Hebrew in Isaiah for virgin also means young woman, hence the RSV’s mistranslation. At that time, 15 would be pushing it for a single woman to qualify as young. That’s the basis for a young age for Mary to marry.

  • Simone

    J. Dean @ 3
    Yes, same here!

  • Simone

    J. Dean @ 3
    Yes, same here!

  • Dan Kempin

    Phillip, #30,

    First, I conside there to be quite a difference between “15 to 17″ and “12/13.” Engaged at 15, perhaps, does seem quite likely. But . . . you just did it again!

    “Ample historical evidence says that it would be a very noteworthy aberration if Mary was over 15 or 17″ Yet you don’t share any of this historical evidence, ample though it may be.

    “At that time, 15 would be pushing it for a single woman to qualify as young.” Again, what is the basis for what you assert was the norm “at that time?”

  • Dan Kempin

    Phillip, #30,

    First, I conside there to be quite a difference between “15 to 17″ and “12/13.” Engaged at 15, perhaps, does seem quite likely. But . . . you just did it again!

    “Ample historical evidence says that it would be a very noteworthy aberration if Mary was over 15 or 17″ Yet you don’t share any of this historical evidence, ample though it may be.

    “At that time, 15 would be pushing it for a single woman to qualify as young.” Again, what is the basis for what you assert was the norm “at that time?”

  • Cincinnatus

    Dan, this isn’t a research paper. Further, this isn’t an obscure or controversial claim we’re making. That ancient Mediterranean women married at a very young age (by our standards) is a fairly standard claim. As such, I’m quite certain you possess the requisite capabilities to verify such claims via Google itself.

    Literally two seconds of Google-fu gave me all this: http://lmgtfy.com/?q=ancient+mediterranean+marriage+age

    The first link is about how girls married at 15 “in order to guarantee virginity,” though it is admittedly speaking of Greeks and not Jews. I doubt, though, that there was a significant difference between the cultures on this point.

  • Cincinnatus

    Dan, this isn’t a research paper. Further, this isn’t an obscure or controversial claim we’re making. That ancient Mediterranean women married at a very young age (by our standards) is a fairly standard claim. As such, I’m quite certain you possess the requisite capabilities to verify such claims via Google itself.

    Literally two seconds of Google-fu gave me all this: http://lmgtfy.com/?q=ancient+mediterranean+marriage+age

    The first link is about how girls married at 15 “in order to guarantee virginity,” though it is admittedly speaking of Greeks and not Jews. I doubt, though, that there was a significant difference between the cultures on this point.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Cincinnatus at 33, Exactly!
    Dan, what Cincinnatus said. He has managed to articulate it a little better than me. You are the one who seems to think it preposterous and without historical basis.
    Did you ever bother to do some research on your own? You should have a few resources at your disposal, as Cinc. points out if nothing else google.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Cincinnatus at 33, Exactly!
    Dan, what Cincinnatus said. He has managed to articulate it a little better than me. You are the one who seems to think it preposterous and without historical basis.
    Did you ever bother to do some research on your own? You should have a few resources at your disposal, as Cinc. points out if nothing else google.

  • Dan Kempin

    All right, I’ll let it go, since no one seems to be getting my point. Apparently on this issue, and on this issue only, there is no need to provide any basis or documentation.

    Cincinnatus, I didn’t say that it was an obscure or controversial claim. I said that it is unsubstantiated. And you might want to work on your Google-fu, since the result of your search is “admittedly” indirect.

    What amazes me is not that a very young marriage age is considered as a possibility for Mary, but that a slightly older age is rejected out of hand. Is it even possible that Mary was a bit older–say 18 or 19? Apparently not.

    But don’t worry. The muslims agree with you and are quoting these unsubstantiated and careless claims by Christian theological commentators in order to accuse Christianity of supporting child marriage.

    http://www.scribd.com/doc/53667490/7/Age-of-Marriage-During-Biblical-Times

    http://www.answering-christianity.com/age3.htm

  • Dan Kempin

    All right, I’ll let it go, since no one seems to be getting my point. Apparently on this issue, and on this issue only, there is no need to provide any basis or documentation.

    Cincinnatus, I didn’t say that it was an obscure or controversial claim. I said that it is unsubstantiated. And you might want to work on your Google-fu, since the result of your search is “admittedly” indirect.

    What amazes me is not that a very young marriage age is considered as a possibility for Mary, but that a slightly older age is rejected out of hand. Is it even possible that Mary was a bit older–say 18 or 19? Apparently not.

    But don’t worry. The muslims agree with you and are quoting these unsubstantiated and careless claims by Christian theological commentators in order to accuse Christianity of supporting child marriage.

    http://www.scribd.com/doc/53667490/7/Age-of-Marriage-During-Biblical-Times

    http://www.answering-christianity.com/age3.htm

  • Cincinnatus

    Dan,

    Maybe Mary was 18 or 19 when she was married–but given historical trends, it’s just highly unlikely. So why press the issue? Chances are, she was 13-16 when she was betrothed. She would have been an old maid by 20. But whether she was 13 or 18, I don’t really see why the question matters, beyond mere archaic interest. There is oodles of evidence testifying to typical marital age in the ancient Mediterranean, so the burden of proof is on you, not us, to demonstrate that Mary did not conform to these rather rigid expectations. Meanwhile, all of us will continue to refrain from making definitive statements about her age until we discover her long-form marriage certificate.

    As for the Muslims, they may be wrong that Christianity is promoting child marriage–I don’t know any Christians who promote anything of the kind–but you may be wrong in implicitly believing that Christianity prohibits child marriage or otherwise regards it unfavorably. That just isn’t true. First, the definition of “child” is largely a cultural construct, especially between the ages of 12 – 18. Second, extant statutes and other clear historical evidence clearly indicate that our current customs of marriage after 18 or much later are decidedly new. Again, it is legal in most American states to marry at 14. Is a 14 year-old a child? I suppose we would say so now, but the people who wrote the law apparently disagreed. In short, I don’t think Christianity–by which I assume you mean the Scriptures, Confessions, Creeds, etc.?– has a concrete position on marriageable age. As long as a woman is biologically capable of having children, there doesn’t seem any reason to have such a position either.

    So what’s your argument here about Muslims? That we should stop admitting that Mary, in all probability, was very “young” when she was married so Muslims won’t think we believe in child marriage? You’re going to have to excise a lot more from our explicit and implicit traditions, then. According to your metric–and the metric of these blinkered Muslims–Christianity also condones polygamy and a variety of other social practices now considered taboo, rightly or wrongly.

  • Cincinnatus

    Dan,

    Maybe Mary was 18 or 19 when she was married–but given historical trends, it’s just highly unlikely. So why press the issue? Chances are, she was 13-16 when she was betrothed. She would have been an old maid by 20. But whether she was 13 or 18, I don’t really see why the question matters, beyond mere archaic interest. There is oodles of evidence testifying to typical marital age in the ancient Mediterranean, so the burden of proof is on you, not us, to demonstrate that Mary did not conform to these rather rigid expectations. Meanwhile, all of us will continue to refrain from making definitive statements about her age until we discover her long-form marriage certificate.

    As for the Muslims, they may be wrong that Christianity is promoting child marriage–I don’t know any Christians who promote anything of the kind–but you may be wrong in implicitly believing that Christianity prohibits child marriage or otherwise regards it unfavorably. That just isn’t true. First, the definition of “child” is largely a cultural construct, especially between the ages of 12 – 18. Second, extant statutes and other clear historical evidence clearly indicate that our current customs of marriage after 18 or much later are decidedly new. Again, it is legal in most American states to marry at 14. Is a 14 year-old a child? I suppose we would say so now, but the people who wrote the law apparently disagreed. In short, I don’t think Christianity–by which I assume you mean the Scriptures, Confessions, Creeds, etc.?– has a concrete position on marriageable age. As long as a woman is biologically capable of having children, there doesn’t seem any reason to have such a position either.

    So what’s your argument here about Muslims? That we should stop admitting that Mary, in all probability, was very “young” when she was married so Muslims won’t think we believe in child marriage? You’re going to have to excise a lot more from our explicit and implicit traditions, then. According to your metric–and the metric of these blinkered Muslims–Christianity also condones polygamy and a variety of other social practices now considered taboo, rightly or wrongly.

  • Carl Vehse

    The urban legend referred to by Dan @11 was “that the virgin mary was 12 or 13 years old.”

    Claiming that “Chances are, she was 13-16 when she was betrothed” doesn’t prove that Mary was 12 or 13 years old when she married Joseph. Since it cannot be proved, the urban legend is still an urban legend.

  • Carl Vehse

    The urban legend referred to by Dan @11 was “that the virgin mary was 12 or 13 years old.”

    Claiming that “Chances are, she was 13-16 when she was betrothed” doesn’t prove that Mary was 12 or 13 years old when she married Joseph. Since it cannot be proved, the urban legend is still an urban legend.

  • Cincinnatus

    Carl, I think we all agree on that point. The fact that something is an “urban legend,” however, doesn’t mean that it is false, however. We all acknowledge that no one can (yet) make a definitive statement about Mary’s age, but–and this is what we are trying to communicate to Dan–it is highly, highly likely that she was, in fact, that young. Otherwise, she would have been in notable contravention of highly rigid social conventions. So to dismiss the entire claim as false is silly. Dan seems to be going further, in fact, hoping for tactical reasons that she was not young lest Muslims believe Christians are all pedophiles.

  • Cincinnatus

    Carl, I think we all agree on that point. The fact that something is an “urban legend,” however, doesn’t mean that it is false, however. We all acknowledge that no one can (yet) make a definitive statement about Mary’s age, but–and this is what we are trying to communicate to Dan–it is highly, highly likely that she was, in fact, that young. Otherwise, she would have been in notable contravention of highly rigid social conventions. So to dismiss the entire claim as false is silly. Dan seems to be going further, in fact, hoping for tactical reasons that she was not young lest Muslims believe Christians are all pedophiles.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    In an attempt to play peacemaker (a role I was clearly born to play, as I’m sure we’ll all agree), perhaps we can all agree that, the next time Mary’s age is brought up in a Christian sermon, it should be couched a little more in terms of probability, rather than as some sort of fact that someone has deduced?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    In an attempt to play peacemaker (a role I was clearly born to play, as I’m sure we’ll all agree), perhaps we can all agree that, the next time Mary’s age is brought up in a Christian sermon, it should be couched a little more in terms of probability, rather than as some sort of fact that someone has deduced?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    And hear, hear to Helen’s complaint (@20) about the boiled frog. Man, I’m sick of hearing that one. Even if it were true (and I have read fairly convincing articles that it isn’t, though I have yet to empirically verify them myself, which I won’t), can’t we get a new metaphor, anyhow?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    And hear, hear to Helen’s complaint (@20) about the boiled frog. Man, I’m sick of hearing that one. Even if it were true (and I have read fairly convincing articles that it isn’t, though I have yet to empirically verify them myself, which I won’t), can’t we get a new metaphor, anyhow?

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Dan your write “But don’t worry. The muslims agree with you and are quoting these unsubstantiated and careless claims by Christian theological commentators in order to accuse Christianity of supporting child marriage.”
    Really? that is the reason you take some umbrage to this? I would not combat this accusation of Muslims by contesting the age of Mary and trying to make her out to be older than she was when she had Jesus. That is a dead end for all the reasons Cincinnattus and I have pointed out.
    And in fact as others have pointed out, It was considered reasonable till quite as of late for girls to marry at this age in Christian societies, indeed in just about every society. There is a reason Barmitzvahs and Confirmation happen to be around this age.
    It seems disgusting to some of us today for reasons unexplained. Except that we have tried to prolong childhood, and somehow glory in that. We also somehow expect that we can up the marital age to 25, and that the teenagers will somehow control the sexual drive and desire for intimacy until after they have finished college and get a haircut and a real job. And act totally aghast when the girls end up pregnant and 25% of them with STDS before they graduate from high school already having been exposed to more sexual partners, and the trauma that goes with that than an employee at the Bunny Ranch in her first day of work.
    The fact of the matter is that the apologetics that tackle Mohammed for having multiple wives and teenage brides is going to fall on deaf ears, and is a very bad approach to begin with. Getting in a pissing match over whose morals are better usually is, all it does is invite navel gazing and a sense of superiority. Argue with them over who Christ is, who he said he was, how he proves that, and the veracity of the Christian scriptures over and against the silliness of the Koran.
    But I at least sympathize with Islamic culture a bit when it comes to the propriety of marriage at a young age, even it may not be totally feasible in today’s modern society. Though, sometimes I also wonder why not? Girls raise children as teenagers all the time even in our society, it makes life harder on them, but it might not be quite so hard if society would change its attitude towards them, and parents called their adolescent sons into a bit more accountability in these situations. But that is another debate all together.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Dan your write “But don’t worry. The muslims agree with you and are quoting these unsubstantiated and careless claims by Christian theological commentators in order to accuse Christianity of supporting child marriage.”
    Really? that is the reason you take some umbrage to this? I would not combat this accusation of Muslims by contesting the age of Mary and trying to make her out to be older than she was when she had Jesus. That is a dead end for all the reasons Cincinnattus and I have pointed out.
    And in fact as others have pointed out, It was considered reasonable till quite as of late for girls to marry at this age in Christian societies, indeed in just about every society. There is a reason Barmitzvahs and Confirmation happen to be around this age.
    It seems disgusting to some of us today for reasons unexplained. Except that we have tried to prolong childhood, and somehow glory in that. We also somehow expect that we can up the marital age to 25, and that the teenagers will somehow control the sexual drive and desire for intimacy until after they have finished college and get a haircut and a real job. And act totally aghast when the girls end up pregnant and 25% of them with STDS before they graduate from high school already having been exposed to more sexual partners, and the trauma that goes with that than an employee at the Bunny Ranch in her first day of work.
    The fact of the matter is that the apologetics that tackle Mohammed for having multiple wives and teenage brides is going to fall on deaf ears, and is a very bad approach to begin with. Getting in a pissing match over whose morals are better usually is, all it does is invite navel gazing and a sense of superiority. Argue with them over who Christ is, who he said he was, how he proves that, and the veracity of the Christian scriptures over and against the silliness of the Koran.
    But I at least sympathize with Islamic culture a bit when it comes to the propriety of marriage at a young age, even it may not be totally feasible in today’s modern society. Though, sometimes I also wonder why not? Girls raise children as teenagers all the time even in our society, it makes life harder on them, but it might not be quite so hard if society would change its attitude towards them, and parents called their adolescent sons into a bit more accountability in these situations. But that is another debate all together.

  • Larry H

    Carl Vehse,
    I would like to hear the statements from Luther that you found which contradicts the noble Turk urban legend.

  • Larry H

    Carl Vehse,
    I would like to hear the statements from Luther that you found which contradicts the noble Turk urban legend.

  • Trey

    I know I am late to the proverbial party, but I will opine. I have read through most of the comments and agree with Bror and Cincinnattus . It is reasonably due to the culture and history that Mary was young. While we may not like this today, we shouldn’t foist upon our 2011 views on to the text. This would be divination i.e. making stuff up.

    Also, this information about the wise turk and stupid Christian is news to me. I guess I assumed (blindly) Luther said it. I think it embodies the view that in the state the leader need not be a Christian as long as he rules by the moral law and uses the sword to curb those against it. We would have to analyze what a “wise Turk” actually is. That’s for another day.

  • Trey

    I know I am late to the proverbial party, but I will opine. I have read through most of the comments and agree with Bror and Cincinnattus . It is reasonably due to the culture and history that Mary was young. While we may not like this today, we shouldn’t foist upon our 2011 views on to the text. This would be divination i.e. making stuff up.

    Also, this information about the wise turk and stupid Christian is news to me. I guess I assumed (blindly) Luther said it. I think it embodies the view that in the state the leader need not be a Christian as long as he rules by the moral law and uses the sword to curb those against it. We would have to analyze what a “wise Turk” actually is. That’s for another day.

  • Carl Vehse

    Larry H @12,

    There’s a brief explanation in this December 23, 2008, BJS web comment. The link given there to the old Cranach blog posting with more information should be updated to this archived location of The Wise Turk quote.

  • Carl Vehse

    Larry H @12,

    There’s a brief explanation in this December 23, 2008, BJS web comment. The link given there to the old Cranach blog posting with more information should be updated to this archived location of The Wise Turk quote.

  • Gary

    @Phillip–30

    “hence the RSV’s mistranslation”

    I wouldn’t call RSV’s translation at this verse any kind of mistranslation at all. The Septuagint’s rendering it parthenos is the dubious translation.

  • Gary

    @Phillip–30

    “hence the RSV’s mistranslation”

    I wouldn’t call RSV’s translation at this verse any kind of mistranslation at all. The Septuagint’s rendering it parthenos is the dubious translation.

  • ChachoLibre

    “Eye of the needle” — when visiting Israel in 2004, our guide (ex-high ranking officer with IDF, christian) took us down into a cavern (near Mt. Meggido) which was used in ancient Israel during times of war and explained to us the concept of the “eye of the needle” – a hole on the outside of this makeshift cavern, to escape from the attacking enemy — big enuf on the outside for a good size person to crawl thru, but as it entered in (maybe 5-10 meters long), just barely big enuf for a very small person to squeeze thru — trapping the enemy on the inside for an easy kill — ‘escaping thru the eye of the needle’
    shalom

  • ChachoLibre

    “Eye of the needle” — when visiting Israel in 2004, our guide (ex-high ranking officer with IDF, christian) took us down into a cavern (near Mt. Meggido) which was used in ancient Israel during times of war and explained to us the concept of the “eye of the needle” – a hole on the outside of this makeshift cavern, to escape from the attacking enemy — big enuf on the outside for a good size person to crawl thru, but as it entered in (maybe 5-10 meters long), just barely big enuf for a very small person to squeeze thru — trapping the enemy on the inside for an easy kill — ‘escaping thru the eye of the needle’
    shalom


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