“Yikes! Is this true?” The email landed in my mailbox with resounding virtual thud, asking for help for a confused Catholic baffled by one of those Mysteries of the Bible shows on cable TV.
I have a private theory that the people who write the Mysteries of the Bible programs used to write for Scooby Doo, Where are You! and just brought a winning formula to their new gig (“Why that was no supernatural occurrence! It was just old Mr Higgins in a bedsheet!
And he’d have gotten away with it if not for those meddling kids!” just morphed into “Why, the Israelites didn’t cross the sea because of a miraculous deliverance by God! It was just low tide!” and “Why, Jesus didn’t miraculous multiply loaves and fishes! People were just so inspired by Jesus’ warm fuzziness that they all shared their lunches! And the biblical authors would have gotten away with it if not for those meddling Mysteries of the Bible producers!”)
It was heading on toward Christmas and the show my friend saw had turned from the “explanations” listed above to explaining away the Virgin Birth. (Every Christmas and Easter, like clockwork, the media goes in search of “the real Jesus” or the “real Mary” and “the real story” about the birth and/or death and resurrection of Jesus.)
The scholars on the show my friend watched, eager for their fifteen minutes of fame, explained that the prophet Isaiah had not actually said, “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanu-el.” (Isaiah 7:14). Actually, the Hebrew says an almah or young woman shall conceive.But centuries after the time of 8th century BC Isaiah (and roughly two centuries before Jesus) the Jews, now scattered through a Greek-speaking world, needed a translation of their own Bible since many Jews were losing their Hebrew and could not read their own sacred texts. So they made a translation call the Septuagint and translated Isaiah’s almah into the Greek word parthenos or virgin.
It was the Septuagint that the evangelist Matthew was quoting in his gospel, said the scholars, and that is why he mistakenly believed that Jesus was born of a virgin. But now, thanks to modern biblical scholarship, we have spotted the mistake and so we know that Jesus was not really born of a virgin!
My friend was understandably confused and worried. Was this all true?