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Day to Day Politics: Was Jesus Really Born of a Virgin?

Tuesday 21 November 2017

Whilst strictly this post is off the subject of politics it does address the issue of freedom of religion. In this instance I am questioning the validity of the virgin birth.

Over the years I have lost a number of Facebook friends because of my rather radical views on Christianity and the Bible in particular. My original essay on gay marriage was greeted with surprising positivity by many, but with disdain by Christians. This time I take on the subject of the Virgin Birth of Jesus and I expect some will be shocked with the view I express. Of course everyone is entitled to believe what they will. For me I am more interested in ascertaining truth (truth being the touchstone of the Christian existence, and justice cannot be achieved without it) or at least fact before faith. I will set out five reasons why I think the story is a myth.

As the story goes Mary had a vision. The brightness blinded her at first, but gradually she saw an angelic (I have never been able to fathom just what an angel is or looks like) face and it said, Mary You are favoured indeed.For God himself is the Father of your child. Do not be afraid. He will be great and be called the Son of the Most High.”

The next day Mary told her fiancé that God had impregnated her, she was still a virgin, and an angel had told her this.

Firstly, there is no reliable evidence that a virgin birth ever took place. There were no witnesses or DNA samples, no confirmation by any physician or gynaecologist. In normal circumstances events of this nature require some form of collaborative evidence but this being an extraordinary one it requires evidence of a miraculous nature. Yet none is forthcoming. All we have to support it are a couple of references in an ancient book that was written many decades after the event. Remember if we believe the Bible,something occurred that would baffle the very best current science.

Secondly, the Apostle Paul was the earliest of the New Testament writers (pre dating the Gospels) and is responsible for much Christian theology yet he never mentions a virgin birth. Why.This is simple astonishing. Incomprehensibly so. If a virgin birth did take place surely he would have documented it . It is tantamount to leaving out any reference to the Holocaust in 2nd world war history.

Paul refers to Jesus’ birth twice (Rom 1:3; Gal 4:4) and never says he was born of a virgin. If it really happened and it was the monumental miracle mentioned in Matthew and Luke you would think he would be falling over backwards to tell the world. You’d think that it would be of the utmost importance. The virgin birth is not mentioned in Mark, the earliest gospel, or in John, the only other gospel not based on Mark. Why is such an important story left out of all the writing. I suggest that the story had not yet been made up at that point and was for the reason of embellishment added in later. Or Perhaps it served conveniently to fulfil an old prophecy of a virgin birth, which the Gospel of Matthew cites: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14)

The Hebrew word Almah means young women of marriageable age and when translated into the Greek (The language of Paul) it can mean both virgin and young women. That word is Parthenos. So it well may be, and many theologians believe that a simple miss translation of the Hebrew has resulted in an historical error of epic proportion. Bethel ah ,is the Hebrew word which specifically means ‘virgin.

It could also be likely the virgin birth was created to boost the authority of Christianity through prophecy and compete with rival gods who were born of virgins.

As early as the second century B.C.,”says the distinguished Hebrew scholar and critic, Salomon Reinach, “the Jews perceived the error and pointed it out to the Greeks; but the Church knowingly persisted in the false reading, and for over fifteen centuries she has clung to it. The truth of this accusation of conscious persistence in known error through the centuries is proved by confession of St. Jerome, who made the celebrated Vulgate translation from the Hebrew into Latin, and intentionally “clung to the error,” though Jerome well knew that it was an error and false; and thus he perpetuated through fifteen hundred years the myth of the “prophetic virgin birth” of Jesus called Christ.

Although Papal Infallibility has declared that “it will never be lawful to grant … that the sacred writers could have made a mistake”

Thirdly, it’s the same old myth.

The claims of Jesus’ birth are no different from any of the other virgin birth legends.
Jesus was not the first god to be born of a virgin. Mut-em-ua, the virgin Queen of Egypt, supposedly gave birth to Pharaoh Amenkept III through a god holding a cross to her mouth.
Ra, the Egyptian sun-god, was said to be born of a virgin. So was Perseus, Romulus, Mithras, Genghis Khan, Krishna, Horus, Melanippe, Auge and Antiope.

In the ancient world, great men were born of divine fathers and human mothers. Alexander the Great and the Roman emperor Augustus were great men and (therefore) said to have divine fathers. Jesus was also a great man, so he too must have a divine father.

The claims of Jesus’ birth are no different from any of the other virgin birth legends. It doesn’t have any more evidence or appear to be any more likely. Why should we believe it over the others?

Fourthly, is it the truth, or an error, or just an outright lie? Well it could be as previously stated an error in translation but more likely a lie of convenience. Consider this.
A betrothed teenage girl finds out she is pregnant. The father is not her soon-to-be husband, and he knows this. In her society, the penalty for this prescribed by God is death by stoning. What does she do? She claims an angel appeared to her and told her God impregnated her, and that she is now carrying the Son of God.

Now what is more likely, that she is lying or telling the truth? If this story was repeated today it would be laughed at and the girl placed in an institution. Remember that the story didn’t appear until over 50 years after it supposedly happened.

I can only conclude that the possibility of a virgin birth is not biologically possible so the story is a false hood.

My fifth point* concerns the prediction based on Isaiah 7:14, Christians claim that the birth of Jesus was predicted long before the event. The verse reads, “Behold, the alma shall conceive and bear a son and shall call him Immanuel [literally, ‘God is with us’].” Although the Hebrew word “almah” literally means “young woman,” when the Gospel of Matthew (1:23) cites the verse from Isaiah, it translates Almah as “Virgin.” This translation is useful in supporting the contention that the miraculous birth of Jesus was predicted in the Old Testament.

Jewish scholars reject the idea of the Virgin Birth because, they point out, in Isaiah 7:14 the word Almah is part of the Hebrew phrase ha-alma hara, meaning “the Almah is pregnant.” Since the present tense is used, it is clear that the young woman was already pregnant and hence not a virgin. This being the case, the verse cannot be cited as a prediction of the future.

Jewish scholars, supported by many Christian scholars, have also noted that the word Almah in Isaiah 7:14 cannot mean “virgin” because elsewhere when the Bible wants to specify “virgin,” it uses the Hebrew word betula.

When the Revised Standard Version of the Bible was issued in 1952, the words “young woman,” not the word “Virgin, were used for almah in its translation of Isaiah 7:14. This upset the Fundamentalist Christian community, which maintains that Almah in Isaiah refers to the mother of Jesus, who conceived miraculously, without cohabitation with a man. These Fundamentalists expressed their vehement opposition to the new translation by holding burnings of the Revised Edition of the Bible.

As I have pointed out. We would never, ever, believe this today.Imagine if a teenage girl in your neighbourhood claimed that her pregnancy was due to God impregnating her and that she was still a virgin. Would you believe her? Or would you think she was lying?If she insisted on it being true, we would put her in a mental hospital.

Even if Mary herself claimed it, there would have been every incentive to lie about it since the only alternative was death. Again, why would anyone believe this?

There are other problems connected with the stories of Jesus’ birth, but the above is sufficient to raise significant questions about the veracity of it. When one adds to that the fact that virgin birth stories were common in the Mediterranean world at the time, believing in the Virgin birth of Jesus requires a faith that is beyond my comprehension. If my Christian friends have an alternative view I would like to hear it.

My thought for the day

“I start from the premise that everything is open to question. Others start from the premise that the Bible is a literal truth. I cannot.”

  • Is a direct quote from an essay by The Second Jewish Book Of Why by Alfred Kolatch, 1985).

42 comments

  1. John Kelly

    A fairly comprehensive coverage of biblical scholarship, John. There are something like 3000 deities honoured around our tiny planet. Not sure how many were “ born of a virgin” but it’s a lot. The Buddha was another. It’s almost a rite of passage.

  2. John Lord

    Yes John many religions start with a virgin birth.

  3. Bruce Winchester

    Isiah, a few verses later, ensures his prophecy by impregnating a temple prostitute, with a priest and scribe to witness. No record is known as to whether or not she delivered a boy girl or triplets but the prophecy he made for the king failed. Being a prophet is not good way to meet chicks.

  4. Harquebus

    The problem us atheists have is, we are outnumbered. The promise of eternal life in return for obedience and compliance is a powerful motivator.

    It is my understanding that most of those governing us literally believe in the virgin birth origins of Jesus and many can not understand how it is that they constantly stuff things up. There is big difference between logical, evidence based and faith based thinking. Our stuffed up world is the result of the latter.

  5. iggy648

    Matthew sneaks around it. It claims that the long list of begattings shows Jesus descended from David to Joseph. But it’s all clearly irrelevant since Joseph wasn’t Jesus’s father! Waste paper really!

  6. wam

    A thought provoking read today,Lord.
    Seems like a mixture of bibles?
    There is the jewish bible with the stories of noah imagine the shit after 40 days??, the christian bible lording a saviour with his mother’s genes (gender issue?) and the quran.

    The consistent story has man involved in the creation of women. Giving him control over their bodies.
    Today most men and women still believe in the male superiority as written or dictated by men in writings some 1400-4000 years ago.
    The story I like(true or not) involves johannes who laughed at the rainbow serpent to be told it makes more sense than god coming to earth impregnating a virgin?
    The rabbott et al believe god deliberately incapacitated women with a physiological flaw rendering them unequal.
    Almost all religions and cultures make menstrual blood unclean(Sikhs are one exception).and women are bound by church not to mention the bleeding to boys or their daf.
    The rabbott concedes there are exceptional women who can overcome their affliction and jesus cured a woman from her flowing blood to protect her from ‘unclean’.

    There are many disturbing outcomes from modern women believing in a man as their god,. When a critical mass of women believing in equality is reached. The religions must change or join the dodo.

    We are in a period where 100 years ago women were the workforce. They stepped up again 76 years ago) but history only remembers the men.

    Women get a collective ‘nurse’ mention.

    But even women as powerful as nancy grace augusta wake or Lt Colonel Vivian Bullwinkle are rarely given a mention.
    WHY???
    (there are men like albert jacka that are on the forgotten list)

    PS DID WE GET A VOTE OF RELIGOUS FREEDOM FOR THE NO VOTERS?

  7. OPPOSE THE MAJOUR PARTIES

    the buddha is not held out as being of virgin birth. ‘Buddha’ is a state of enlightenment attainable by all. Sidhartha was solely human progeny. there is no godhead in buddhism to impregnate human females.

  8. OPPOSE THE MAJOUR PARTIES

    like this article. obviously immaculate conception avoids the problem for christians that their savour was an illegitimate bastard.

  9. Terry2

    Immaculate conception sound like a Monty Python sketch !

  10. OPPOSE THE MAJOUR PARTIES

    angels are shape shifters. they can appear in any form. from some winged cherabum to mary’s milkman. my bet it was the milkman.

  11. OPPOSE THE MAJOUR PARTIES

    ‘Immaculate conception sound like a Monty Python sketch !’ with a special guest appearance by the milkman.

  12. OPPOSE THE MAJOUR PARTIES

    The Cult of Christos was an early pre-jesus cult that considered that christhood like buddhahood was a high state of human existance and enlightenment that could be achieved by all humans. the cult was annihilated and its members murdered and excommunicated by the early church to enforce the church’s orthodoxy and hegemonic monopoly. there is no evidence of the existance of jesus of the bible other than the gospels in the bible themselves
    christianity was the only widespread and unique belief system of the roman empire. it is rome’s most ingenius concoction derived by combing various provincial
    religions and folk beliefs into a reasonably systematic unity for the purpose of uniting an ethnically diverse and politically divided empire. In other words, it is roman propaganda.

  13. kerri

    John Lord may I recommend “Agnes of God” a play/movie exploring the angel conception.
    A book I read years ago, sadly lent to a friend and thus am relying on memory here, by an Australian woman called Barbara Theiring called Jesus the Man. Theiring passed away in 2015 but was a very learned scholar on early biblical matters. What struck me most about her book was her explanation of various terms that were in use at the time that are now taken literally and without their contemporary meanings. This woman has read the dead sea scrolls.
    A “virgin” was an unwed woman. Pregnant women were often unwed as no man would marry a woman incapable of falling pregnant. Hence the virgin birth. There are many other colloquial phrases taken out of context in modern times.
    To “walk on water” was to quieten a disorderly crowd.
    Or alternatively there is this view??
    https://youtu.be/-xLUEMj6cwA

  14. Noel

    Some respondents seem to be confusing the birth of Jesus with the immaculate conception of Mary by her parents, Joachim and Anne. John Lord seems to subscribe to the public relations myth that Christianity was made up by brilliant PR propagandists two hundred years after Christ died. The facts are that thousands of men and women died for their belief in the Story of Jesus from very early after his death. The gospel writers were all the executed for their beliefs and never recanted from them.

  15. Bruce Winchester

    Believers of all faiths have died for their beliefs all through recorded history. So have many atheists. Their sacrifice does not prove their faith was true or real. Hundreds of dead Kamikaze pilots failed to prove a divine wind.

  16. jimhaz

    I wonder who inspected Mary’s thingie to ensure it was immaculate.

  17. jimhaz

    I’m calling this a rape of Mary by a celebrity. Did she give permission for God to fiddle with her ovaries so as to make her pregnant.

    Another alternative is that God has a really small willie and failed to break her hymen (if that is possible). He sure acts like a fellow with a small willie. Perhaps Fitz-Jesus had the same problem so never got married.

  18. guest

    Thank you, John, for your research. You might consider the origins of a female figure such as Mary in other mythologies – figures such as Isis and Diana. Mary is kind of a companion figure to the all-male Trinity – and revered as the Mother of God. Which raises the question: who came first, the Mother or God? The notion of the Trinity is beyond explanation. Who made God the Holy Spirit?

    And another thing. Jesus rose up after he left the tomb, they say, and went up to heaven to sit on the right hand of God. And this is a sure sign and certain promise that believers will eventually rise up bodily into heaven (wherever that is) but some say only the 144 000 chosen ones.

    You see why all this must be absorbed by faith and to look at it with reason is very destructive.

    I do not think I have the right mind-set.

  19. Michael

    John, can anyone check me on the following:

    Before humans = no religion
    After humans = religion
    Religion = human construct

  20. nurses1968

    On the first day, man created God

    And then they thought about Christmas as did s lot of other religions

    ATTIS – Phrygia: Born of the virgin Nana on December 25. He was both the Father and the Divine Son
    BUDDIAH – INDIA: Born of the Virgin Maya on December 25th. He was announced by a star and attended by wise men presenting costly gifts.

    DIONYSUS – GREECE: Born of a Virgin on December 25th, placed in a manger. He was a traveling teacher who performed many miracles. Turned water into wine.

    HERACLES – GREECE: Born at the winter equinox of a virgin who refrained from sex with her until her god-begotten child was born

    KRISHNA – INDIA: Krishna was born while his foster-father Nanda was in the city to pay his tax to the king. His nativity heralded by a star, Krishna was born of the virgin Devaki in a cave,

    OSIRIS – EGYPT: He came to fulfill the law. Called “KRST,” the “Anointed One.” Born of the virgin Isis-Meri on December 25th in a cave / manger, with his birth announced by a star and attended by three wise men.

    And then the Evangelicals needed jets and Rolls Royces and glittery things from the poor congregations and the days of the Prosperity Preacher began.

    Me,? If forced I’d go for Scientology. Xenu sounds cool

  21. corvus boreus

    ‘If triangles had gods, they would be three sided’.

  22. Matters Not

    Plato argued:

    the gods are human contrivances, they do not exist in nature but only by custom and law, which moreover differ from place to place according to the agreement made by each group when they laid down their laws.”

    Accordingly:

    Ethiopians make their gods snub-nosed and black; the Thracians make theirs blue-eyed and red-haired … Mortals imagine that the gods are begotten, and that the gods wear clothes like their own and have language and form like the voice and form of mortals. But if oxen or lions had hands and could draw and do the work with their hands that men do, horses would have drawn the form of gods like horses and oxen gods like oxen and they would represent the bodies of the gods just like their own forms

    So make your choice. Then there’s some consequences.

    a man of shrewd and subtle mind invented for men the fear of the gods, so that there might be something to frighten the wicked even if they acted, spoke or thought in secret. From this motive he introduced the notion of divinity. There is, he said, a spirit enjoying endless life, hearing and seeing with his mind, exceeding wise and all-observing, bearer of a divine nature. He will hear everything spoken among men and can see everything that is done.”

    Remember you are being watched.

  23. Shutterbug

    Virgin births are an impossibility, therefore the Bible is bollocks.

  24. Miriam

    Spot on Shutterbug.Tis just a tale.

  25. Michael

    Oh, I only wish I had the education provided by the contributors to this post when I was forced to attend scripture classes in 1950’s primary school – “But Father/Miss……” in goal, probably.

  26. OPPOSE THE MAJOUR PARTIES!

    jimhaz. ‘I wonder who inspected Mary’s thingie to ensure it was immaculate’. It was the milkman

  27. Michael

    I wonder how high the front fence was?

  28. OPPOSE THE MAJOUR PARTIES!

    Michael. “Before humans = no religion
    After humans = religion
    Religion = human construct”

    Before religion it is generally considered there were other less sophisticated belief systems like animism etc. A ‘religion’ is regarded as a more complex belief system than animism. So after humans came animism then after animism came religion. Religion developed from animism.

    There is no evidence thus far that dinosaurs had any religion but Speilberg is working on that for his next Jurasic blockbuster. I believe it is rumored to star Kevin Andrews, Cory Barnadi and James Patterson as dinosaurs and Jacki Lambie as their love interest. Apparently Jacki plays a virgin dinosaur who gives birth to Bronte the Brontasaurus when her husband at the time Kevin was a Tyranasaurus Rex. All hell breaks lose until Jacki devours her husband Kev so that she can get married again and eat more wedding cakes. Rumor is it’s a real beaut.

  29. wam

    RELIGION IS BY MEN FOR MEN QED.

    If women sought equality there would be no reason for any of the current religions. This must be prevented at all cost.

    I loved mitt romney’s belief that god endows boys, on their 12th birthday, with the wisdom to spiritually advise women and girls.

    The right to discriminate against women, gays, blacks or anything else is firmly entrenched in churches and is about to be granted to those men who say they are religious.

  30. Bob Parker

    I think that y’all have missed the point here. 1. Jesus was Italian. There is no way that any major religion would have grown from guy who looked like Yasser Arafat. 2. He had open heart surgery that they forgot to stitch up. 3. The 30 missing years happened when he was away learning English so that he could write the Bible. Just go and look in any Catholic Church. But please make plenty of noise when entering the church! You don’t want to embarrass any priests or altar boys at play.

  31. Nearly Normal Frederick

    For a completely different perspective on the topic of the supposed “virgin birth” of “jesus” (who, what,where and when ever he supposedly was ) check out the reference The Celestial Virgin by Franklin Merrell-Wolff.
    Merrell-Wolff was one of the modern Western worlds most original and unique philosophers. Needless to say he is completely ignored in the academy in both its secular and so called religious forms.
    As for the “right reason” website, it is bollocks all-the-way-down.

  32. Hettie Lynch

    Jimhaz, it is a shame that you need to demean a thoughtful discussion of a belief to which millions adhere, by making your perfectly valid point in such an offensive way.
    Me, I’m a convinced atheist. Clearly the “Virgin Birth” is not believable, but just as clearly it is so called “Miracles” that convince many of the faithful to believe.
    Thank you John Lord for an excellent essay on this issue.
    As you say, none of the New Testament was written during the time during which Jesus is alleged to have lived, or even during the possible lifetime of a anyone who could have been alive then.
    No contemporary records of his life exist, and yet the Romans, like the Germans, kept meticulous records of everything.
    Lots of reasons to be sceptical.

  33. Joseph Carli

    Ok..here’s a virgin joke…an oldie but goldie..it’s not sexist, just about “virginity”..:

    This young lady gets married and at the reception, she takes her mother to one side and confesses..:

    “Mum, Alfred and I are married now and tonight is our wedding night where, no doubt, we will consummate the marriage..But the trouble is, Alfred thinks I’m still a virgin and I’m not!…What shall I do?

    Her mother leans in confidingly and reassures her..

    “Oh..that’s alright, dear…Your father thought the same thing..all men are easy to fool on that issue..here’s what you do…As the two of you are about to “consummate” the marriage, you slip a small bulb of glad-wrapped strawberry jam between your bottom cheeks and as he penetrates you, you snap your cheeks together so the cool jam spills out..He will feel it “down there” and when he looks to see he will ask what it is..and you just say..; ” It’s alright my love…you just burst the flower of my virginity”..and all will be well..”

    So the moment comes, they are all ready, everything in place and Alfred makes his move and she snaps her cheeks together and the jam spills out..Alfred feels the cool substance “down there” and he looks to see what it is and he then asks..:

    “What’s this red stuff?”…Nonplussed and calm she answers..:

    “Oh, that’s alright dear..you just burst the flower-of-my-virginity “..

    Alfred looks at the strawberry jam closely and replies;

    “Jesus!..bloody good job I did then…you were starting to go to seed!”

    NB..all complaints to be directed to Harquebus…

  34. jimhaz

    [Jimhaz, it is a shame that you need to demean a thoughtful discussion of a belief to which millions adhere, by making your perfectly valid point in such an offensive way.]

    I was a rebellious teenager in the 70’s – being offensive is a good thing to me (if pointed or an attempt at humour). For me, most “offense taken” relating to words not directed at an individual, is really just a power play. Thought Police are my enemy and I have no interest or concern about the emotions of the religious. I’m not interested in tolerance for idiots, more so due to the fact there are billions of religious.

  35. Kronomex

    Jimhaz, I was also a rebellious teenager in the 70’s but I didn’t rely on being pointedly offensive as you seem to have, and still are from the sounds of it, been. Being offensive shows a singular lack of wit, humour, and thought and places you in bogan territory. I also have no tolerance for idiots which means I can safely ignore your idiocy.

    I’ve always taken the view that if I am prepared to listen to someone of a religious bent, or any other bent for that matter, then they must be prepared to listen to my viewpoint. If they can’t, or won’t, then it’s look out (usually I just leave and go about my business).

  36. Michael

    provocative or offensive?

  37. win jeavons

    As a practising Christian I would say 2 things. 1 If Mary was a virgin, Jesus would be female, as the default gender for humans is female, and 2 ; I don’t care, as the whole bible is a product of fallible humans even if they were inspired. Things we now take for granted would have been unimaginable 2000 or more years ago. It is the life and teachings of Jesus that we should take more seriously, as the established church and fundamentalists too often fail on.

  38. Bruce Winchester

    There was a young lady from Lod
    Who said she had a baby from God
    But it weren’t the Almighty
    Who crept up her nightie
    It were the vicar, the dirty old sod

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