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).