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Mythicists and the Virgin Birth: Readers’ Mailbag May 6, 2017

I’ve been devoting the blog to some autobiography recently, so in this Readers Mailbag I’ll make a shift to a couple of academic questions, one about Mythicist claims on the virgin birth and the other about the usefulness of ancient translations of the New Testament for establishing the original text.

 

QUESTION:

I often read mythicists argue that Jesus was a mythological figure because he (allegedly) has many parallels in pagan gods. One of the parallels, of course, is him being born to a virgin. My question is: do mythicists realize that the concept of the virgin birth is a much later development?

 

RESPONSE:

I have spent time with Mythicist groups, and have always enjoyed myself, finding the people friendly, eager to talk, cordial, and interesting.  But the general lack of basic knowledge about the Bible is shocking, even among the most outspoken among them.  What is shocking is not that they don’t know much about, say, the New Testament – that’s true of most people on the planet  — but that they have so many firmly held misconceptions that are just factually wrong. (I’m not talking about wrong interpretations that can pretty easily shown to be wrong – I’m talking about simply wrong factual information).

Let me say two things about the question.  The first is that there is not in fact a precise parallel anywhere in Greek and Roman religions to the idea of a “virgin birth.”  There are, of course, numerous instances in which a woman is made pregnant by a divine being.  But never in those cases is the woman a virgin.  Most of the time she is a sexually active woman, and even in the cases in which she is not, she has sex with the god who has come to her in bodily form and becomes pregnant that way.  The point of these stories is precisely that the woman has had sex.  In fact, I suppose you could say, she’s had divine sex.

That’s not what you get in the birth stories of Matthew and Luke (the only two books of the New Testament that mention a virgin birth).  The whole point of those stories is that Mary never has had sex.  And God does not assume human (or animal) form in order to have sex with her.  He makes her conceive without having sex.  I don’t know of any parallel to that idea in any other ancient source.

The second point is the one made by the questioner.  This view of a virgin birth is not an early….

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My Encounter with the Enlightenment
What Happened Next: My Life After Moody Bible Institute

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Comments

  1. J.J.  May 6, 2017

    Curious about your opinion on the origins of the Latin translations. Metzger (Versions, pp. 285-86) argued based on Augustine & Jerome that many different Latin translations were made prior to the Vulgate. Many Latin scholars (Houghton, Burton, Fischer, Petzer) argue the opposite–that there essentially was one Latin translation behind them all–somewhat like the KJV was not really a new translation since it’s 80% based on Tyndale’s work. Despite the obvious fluidity among Vetus Latina mss, there is some very striking uniformity among them as well. Thoughts?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 7, 2017

      It’s very hard for me to disagree with the likes of Houghton and Fischer; on the other hand it’s also hard for me to believe that there was only one original translation into Latin in all of the western empire. So, well, I’m not an expert on the matter and don’t really know!

      • Curtis7777  May 7, 2017

        Dr. Ehrman, in your first and second edition of _The Text of the NT in Contemporary Research_ that you co-edited with Dr. Holmes, what was your role in editing, especially since some articles were beyond your admitted expertise?

        • Bart
          Bart  May 8, 2017

          Ah, that’s a great question. I’ll add it to the Mailbag (too long to address here in a comment)

  2. Wilusa  May 6, 2017

    About the “virgin birth” – I’m certainly not disagreeing with anything you said! But am I right in thinking that when the ancient Jews wanted to claim a birth was “miraculous,” they claimed it had taken place when the mother was way past childbearing age?

    Obviously, no one could have claimed that about Jesus’s mother. And I doubt a Jewish tradition of “miraculous births” of any kind could have influenced whoever first claimed a miraculous birth for Jesus. If it really was Matthew, he was just relying on a mistranslated word in an “Old Testament” passage that didn’t refer to the Messiah at all.

    • Bart
      Bart  May 7, 2017

      No, in a lot of stories the woman was still in her child-bearing years but was “barren” (as it is often translated)

    • talmoore
      talmoore  May 7, 2017

      The most “Jewish” part of the Virgin Birth narrative is, by far, the Annunciation. The story of an angel of God coming down to inform a woman that she is about to miraculously give birth is so common within the Bible that it was pretty much a trope by the 1st century. (Since ancient women — unlike today’s liberated women — were treated, basically, like baby factories, their ability to bear children was of singular concern to them.) In fact, the Biblical example that seems to fit Mary the most is not even the usual Matriarchs, but, rather, Samson’s mother, who is informed that her son was also going to be special at birth — while Samson is born a Nazirite, Jesus is born the Messiah.

  3. James Cotter  May 6, 2017

    have any scholars come out with reconstructions (translations)which completely contradict verses in the modern day bible?

  4. Tony  May 6, 2017

    No mythicist I know claims that the Gospel virgin birth story is based on paganism. The implied notion that this is a uniform mythicist belief is nonsense. It may well be that some ignorant folks claiming to speak for Mythicism spout inaccuracies. Just like some Christian apologists like to speak on behalf of all biblical scholarship.

    I suggest it would be useful to not use straw man arguments in the discussions relating to Historicity versus Mythicism.

    However, the similarities between Christianity and Pagan dying and rising savior gods has been recognized even by Justin Martyr in the mid-second century.

    What about the translation issue in Isaiah 7:14? The Hebrew “almah” – young woman becomes the Greek “parthenos” – virgin in the Septuagint. We know the gospel writers mined the Septuagint for prophesy fulfilment. Could that have been the source?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 7, 2017

      I don’t know why you say that. It’s been a common claim in Mythicist literature since at least the 19th century. Here are simply two examples out of a long list (one old classic, one recent): Kersey Graves, The World’s Sixteen Crucified Saviors: Christianity before Christ. New York: Cosimo Classics, 2007; originally published 1875. Tom Harpur: The Pagan Christ: Recovering the Lost Light. New York: Walker & Co., 2004;

      • Tony  May 7, 2017

        Except Harpur, I’m not familiar with the literature you quoted. Harpur identified the issues with Paul, but went on some strange tangents and concluded Jesus is based on the Egyptian Horus. I fully agree that a lot of “Mythicism” work is off the wall. Obviously, this is a very controversial subject, but the current work of Carrier and others is academically defensible and based on probabilities rather than opinions.

        But you got the home team cheering for you Bart! I feel like Daniel in the lions den…. You think Daniel could have been the basis for the gospel tomb issues?

        • Bart
          Bart  May 8, 2017

          I don’t agree at all that Carrier’s views are not based on opinions. Very far from it.

          • Tony  May 8, 2017

            I know that. It is also unfortunate that the discussion has deteriorated. I also understand your position that the historicity of Jesus is “settled science” and that Jesus historicity sceptics are akin to flat earth proponents.

            I’ve read Carrier’s “on the historicity..” and I disagree with your assessment. However, it should be easy for you to address Carrier’s errors and opinions – if that is indeed what they are. DJE did not do that.

            One of the helpful points of Carrier’s work is that he actually defines his terms for historicity and Mythicism. This eliminates some of the anti-Mythicism straw man arguments.

        • Pattycake1974
          Pattycake1974  May 10, 2017

          Carrier himself claims the virgin birth story in the gospels are from paganism, so I’m surprised that you or anyone you know wouldn’t think so too. http://www.richardcarrier.info/archives/11161

    • talmoore
      talmoore  May 7, 2017

      The most disingenuous nature of Mythicists’ arguments is that they want to have their cake and eat it, too. On the one hand, they want to invalidate the Bible as evidence to support the claim for the existence of an historical Jesus, because it’s “biased” and otherwise unreliable. And at the same time, they want to be able to use the Bible as evidence to support the claim for the non-existence of an historical Jesus. But in either case, you’re using the Bible as evidence to support an historical claim — one for existence and one for non-existence. You can’t have it both ways! You can’t say the Bible is invalid when supporting an historical Jesus, but it is valid when supporting a non-historical Jesus. That’s simply dishonest.

    • Salvador Perez  May 7, 2017

      Tony, I completely agree with you. Its a shame Dr Ehrman avoided a direct answer to your question and vaguely addressed your comment. Just for the record, I seriously doubt the existence of the man/deity named Jesus existed at all, I do however know for a fact that a person or group invented the core tenant of ancient Christianity of “reinterpreting” scripture. I’m open for conversations on the topic.

      cheers

      • Bart
        Bart  May 8, 2017

        I’m sorry — I don’t understand what you’re saying. Tony said that no mythicist claimed that the Virgin Birth story was taken from pagan sources, and that my saying so was nonsense. And so I gave him references to two sources (I could easily have given him others — and still can) that in fact say precisely that. How am I not directly answering him? Do you mean about Isaiah 7:14? I’ve discussed that numerous times in the past and repeatedly talked about its significance for Matthew.

        • Tony  May 8, 2017

          “Tony said that no mythicist claimed that the Virgin Birth story was taken from pagan sources”

          I did not say that! What I said was:

          “No mythicist I know claims that the Gospel virgin birth story is based on paganism.”

          Notice the “I know”? I’m sure numerous historicity sceptics made erroneous claims. So did/do historicity proponents. That’s why proper definitions are critical because they eliminate these kind of straw man arguments.

      • Tony  May 8, 2017

        Salvador, thanks for your support!

        Certainly, Hebrew scripture was (re)interpreted by the likes of Paul as well as the later Gospel writers. I’d appreciate your thoughts on the subject.

        • jcutler79  May 13, 2017

          Salvador’s support seems rather otiose. We can all read the comments ourselves and see clearly how Dr. Ehrman did in fact directly answer your comment above. When the comments are all in plain sight it just makes you guys look like you’re living in your own special little world.

          I appreciate you sharing your argument though. The carping on the side just gets in the way.

          • Tony  May 14, 2017

            Aah, jcutler79, born of a woman – unlike uncle Pete whose human ancestry was always debated…. Are you actually reading or even comprehending the comment?

            How come I always get a whiff of desperate denial whenever I see another Jesus historicity non-argument?

            Are you capable of any independent thought, or are you just another fawning Ehrman sycophant? Let’s hear some real stuff and cut the “we” and “you guys” polemics. Go for it!

    • dankoh  May 7, 2017

      Matthew quoted the LXX version. However, the original Hebrew, ‘almah, means a young woman around 20 or so; it is the female counterpart of ‘elem, young man.

      But more than that, those who (like Matthew) say that Isaiah was prophesying Jesus totally miss the point. Isaiah was not prophesying Emmanuel’s birth (his mother was already pregnant); he was telling Ahaz that before this child about to be born is old enough to know the difference between right and wrong, God will rescue Ahaz’s kingdom from his current enemies. (Isa. 7:16). In other words, the prophecy was about timing, not about the child.

      Context is everything.

  5. Lawyerskeptic  May 6, 2017

    I have a question for you. In Matthew 27:25, the Jewish crowd cries out, “His blood be upon us and our children.” Is there a historical context in which it would make sense for this to actually happen? What exactly is this supposed to mean – not in theological terms, but in practical terms that Pilate might care about? If Caesar were displeased with Pilate’s decision, I cannot imagine it would help pass the buck to the Jews. Today, no judge would care if a crowd agreed to be responsible for a decision in his or her court. Why would any person in authority ever care about a crowd accepting responsibility?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 7, 2017

      It’s supposed to mean: we as a people take the responsibility upon ourselves — his blood is not on your hands but ours. And no, I don’t think it’s historically plausible. It’s part of Matthew’s anti-Jewish polemic.

    • godspell  May 8, 2017

      From a very early age, hearing this read out at mass–having to actually say it out loud, in our tradition, as we the parishioners played the part of the Jewish mob who want Jesus crucified (Catholicism can be extremely weird), I decided this could not have happened. Because I knew enough about people to realize that nobody would ever say this. People often want to kill, but they rarely want to accept responsibility for their killing, and collective responsibility is a crock. Burke was right when he said there is no way to draw up an indictment against an entire people.

      It’s highly likely there were many people witnessing Jesus’ trial and execution who were in some way connected to the temple authorities. Who felt the new cult was heretical, and possibly even dangerous to all Jews, because of its potential for enraging Rome. And of course few if any of Jesus’ supporters–or even those curious and/or sympathetic to his beliefs–would have dared be present.

      And yes, I suppose in some way his blood was on their hands, as the blood of many innocent people is on our hands, when we advocate for war, or support capital punishment (or push for the end of important social programs that aid poor and sick people, because they offend our political beliefs in some way).

      But to say that all observant Jews, then and ever afterward, were responsible for the words and actions of a tiny handful of Jews living in that precise time period–when most Jews never even heard of Jesus until long after he was dead–that may be the single most evil and destructive idea that early Christianity promulgated.

      No feud like a family feud.

  6. Jim  May 6, 2017

    Thanks for your helpful response to question 1 regarding the virgin birth narratives (and thanks to the person who posed this question).

    Another area that mythicists typically challenge regarding Jesus being a historical person, is the somewhat bizarre claim that Paul never *mentions anything* about a historical Jesus.

    Would you consider doing a post (your time permitting) on what you consider to be clear references, that not even a mythicist could dispute :), to the historical Jesus in the authentic Pauline writings?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 7, 2017

      Here’s where I did that on the blog a year and a half ago: https://ehrmanblog.org/paul-and-the-historical-jesus/

      • Jim  May 7, 2017

        Thanks, I should have searched this blog more carefully.

        • Tony  May 9, 2017

          Thanks Jim. Your response is a lot more constructive compared to some others who resort to angry name calling and character assassination. Comes with the territory…

          I like to address the points you raised. To me, the explanation with the least ad-hoc assumptions is likely closer to the truth. Not a black and white process – but we have to start somewhere.

          1) Why would Paul not make at least some references to the historical Jesus? Historicity assumes that both Paul and his audiences knew about Jesus of Nazareth. Would all parties be totally disinterested in his life? At a minimum we could expect that Paul, who preaches the imminent arrival of Jesus Christ as part of his Gospel, to indicate “something” about a return. So, historicist need ad hoc explanations (everybody already know everything, nobody cared etc.). No such ad hoc explanation is needed for mythicism.

          6) There are no references to Passover, Last Supper, or Death of Jesus in the Didache Eucharist. Paul’s audiences were Pagan God-fearers. These pagans certainly followed other cults as well, as Paul makes clear in his Roman 1:18-32 rant. Some secret pagan mystery cults had communal meals where they symbolically ate and drunk the flesh and blood of their God. Some honored gods born of a divine father and human mother, resurrected after death. The Dionysus cult may also have had an influence. It would not be difficult for Paul to incorporate such an existing pagan ritual by claiming that Jesus instructed him through a vision.

          7) Paul would have taken a great chance of a fatal credibility loss, if he lied and got his Christ information from the ones he had persecuted instead of a direct vision as he so adamantly claims.

          10) That would contradict Paul’s Paul’s high opinion of Roman rulers, who, according to Paul’s Romans 13:1- 4, were definitly not influenced by demonic forces.

          12) I do not claim absolute certainty, but Paul in 1 Cor 9:5-6 seems to distinct between rank and file church members as “brothers of the Lord”, and Apostles. Paul’s routine salutation is shortened as “brothers”. James was a rank and file member – not an Apostle. Referring to an Apostle as “brother of the Lord would have been redundant.

          13) It seems unlikely that a human was raised from the death. I’m familiar with the defenders of historicity argument, but it requires numerous ad hoc assumptions. Pagan religions had a number of dying and rising god’s. A god who had died and rose in the heavens was not unusual.

          14) I’m questioning any dating by anyone of the documents associated with the NT. Once you dig in the rational you’ll find more loose opinions than facts. The point is, that an overlay of the beliefs expressed AoI seem to fit with a mythical interpretation of Paul’s gospel. That’s about it.

          • talmoore
            talmoore  May 11, 2017

            Three tell-tale signs that you’re pushing a conspiracy theory:

            1) All of your questions are rhetorical. Conspiracy theorists are always “just asking questions.” The reason they’re always “just asking questions” is that they, themselves, do not have proper answers. They simply want to raise doubts so as to set up an argument from ignorance. “Why does Paul never mention the Last Supper?” The conspiracy theorist who asks this is trying to imply that Paul doesn’t mention the Last Supper because there wasn’t a Last Supper — a conclusion that cannot logically be drawn from the question. The rhetorical nature of the question, therefore, is meant to implant an implication without evidence: textbook argument from ignorance.

            2) Mindreading. This is when the conspiracy theorist speculates as to the motives of someone they don’t know, have never met and have no access to. You’ll notice Mythicists always seem to know what Paul’s intentions were in everything he wrote. Why do conspiracy theorists do this? It’s so to set up a motive that rationalizes the conspiracy. For example, 9/11 Truthers will impart a motive for George Bush purposely attacking his own country — such as, for example, wanting to justify a war in the Middle East — even though they don’t personally know the man, they’ve never personally met the man, and will never, in a million years have access to talk to him, yet they are still thoroughly convinced they know the man’s thoughts and motives. They have to convince themselves of this, otherwise their conspiracy theory collapses. Mythicists do the exact same thing with Paul. They concoct an entire set of motivations for Paul to explain away why he talks about Jesus as both a real, physical man and, also, a divine being. For example, when Paul talks about Jesus being crucified by the Roman authorities, that doesn’t mean they crucified a physical man on a physical cross, no. How do Mythicists square that circle? Paul must be speaking metaphorically. Well, how do you know that? You don’t have access to Paul’s brain. You’re bringing into the text something that Paul doesn’t say. Could it be possible that Paul simply thinks that there was BOTH a physical AND divine nature to Jesus? For example, that Jesus was a physical man into which a divine essence, e.g. the Holy Spirit, went into? In fact, if you simply read Paul without any prejudices that’s pretty much what he says; Jesus was a physical man who embodied a divine spirit. That explains everything, really.

            3) Have you ever noticed that a conspiracy theory is almost always more logistically complicated than the “official” story? To take up the example of 9/11 Truthers again, we have to ask which scenario is the more logistically complex? That thousands of government workers devoted thousands of hours to setting up a fake operation, involving fake airliners crashing into buildings with pre-installed controlled demolitions, and a massive cover-up operation to hide this fact? OR some terrorists hijacked some jets and flew them into buildings? Mythicists’ conspiracy theory is no less convoluted in its logistical possibilities. If Jesus the man never existed, at some point Christianity had to go from non-existent people to existing people. Someone had to, at one point, “make up” Jesus! Was it Peter? Was is Paul? Was it the twelve disciples? Was it Polycarp? Was it Papias? Was is Timothy? Was it Mary Magdalene? Was it Clement of Rome? Was it Ignatius of Antioch? At some point, some persons had to start existing. Where do you draw that line? You know where a simple, reasonable place to draw that line would be? At Jesus.

          • Jim  May 11, 2017

            Ty for your response, and fair enough.

            Reconstructing ancient history seems to me (I’m not a historian, not even arm-chair level) to involve probability assessments that involve varying degrees of subjective calls on each piece of data (at least where hard data like coins, inscriptions in stone, documents by well known scholars of the time period, etc. are not available). Admittedly since I’m not a historian, I’m likely more prone to subjective interpretations compared to most scholars in the field.

            So with that in mind and in reference to Gal 1:9 (re point 12), I found Eleanor Dickey’s publication “Literal and Extended Use of Kinship Terms in Documentary Papyri,” Mnemosyne 57 (2004): 131-76 interesting. She examined 4738 letters (3343 contained kinship terms) for how kinship terms were used in Greek letters from the period 300 BCE to 300 CE. Her study looked at the usage of the (Greek) words for father, mother, brother, sister, etc. in letters. In particular, her analysis focused on how/when these terms were used literally (referring to biological family members) and when they were used in a metaphorical sense (referencing individuals not physically related to the speaker/writer).

            I had read this paper years ago so only had time to scan my yellow highlighted sections. Her observations were that when kinship terms were found in letters that referred to the relationship of one person to another person who were not relatives of either the sender or recipient, more often than not the usage referred to an actual familial relationship.

            Since words don’t usually have fixed meanings (i.e. two possibilities in Gal 1:9; biological family verses member of a social group), the sentence becomes an important contributing semantic element. Application of Dickey’s study to Paul’s reference to the two third party individuals, namely James and the Lord, as brothers would favor the interpretation of referencing an actual biological family relationship.

            But again, this is my totally subjective musings, and Dickey’s study wasn’t focused on NT style letters.

    • Tony  May 7, 2017

      And here is the (somewhat bizarre) mythicist response:

      1. Paul’s letters show no knowledge of an earthly Jesus of Nazareth. References to the imminent arrival of a celestial Jesus Christ – the Lord, are always, and only, in future tense – he is to come, to arrive etc. Nowhere does Paul state that Jesus will return, come again, or gives any other indication of an earlier earthly residence of Jesus Christ.

      2. Nowhere does Paul state where, or when, the death and resurrection of Jesus took place.

      3. None of the Jerusalem Church members Cephas (Peter), John and James, or anyone else, are ever identified as followers (disciples) of an earthly Jesus.

      4. Paul never identifies Jesus Christ as a preacher, teacher, or a leader of any Palestinian religious movement.

      5. Nowhere are Paul’s “the twelve” from 1 Cor. 15:5 identified as disciples. That misplaced notion comes from reading the Gospels into Paul’s letters. Peter (Cephas) was not part of the twelve.

      6. Paul does not identify where, or when, the bread and wine ceremony in 1 Cor 11:23-26 took place – or whether it even occurred on earth, Paul claims he received his information about the ceremony through a vision from Jesus.

      7. Paul states that his knowledge about Jesus Christ came through direct revelation from Jesus Christ and scripture only – and not from any person. Gal. 1:11-12 and Rom.16:25-26.

      8. There is no evidence that other apostles obtained their knowledge about Jesus Christ by means other than revelations and scripture as in 1 Cor. 15: 3-8.

      9. Paul describes Jesus’ crucifixion in Gal 3:13 as having been hung from a tree. The scripture reference is to Deut. 21:22-23. The OT verses deal with the postmortem display of executed criminals and not the Roman execution method. “Hanged from a tree” in Greek will be translated as “crucifixion”.

      10. In 1 Cor 2:6-10 Paul tells us who killed Jesus-without specifying a time or location. Jesus was “crucified” (see 9) by the “rulers of this age” (archonton tou aionos toutou). By using the term “rulers of this age” Paul refers to the supernatural powers of Satan and his demons who live in in the firmament, and not to earthly authorities. Apparently, these supernatural powers were ignorant and mistakenly killed Jesus – and by doing so are doomed to perish.

      11. Elsewhere, in Romans 13:1- 4, Paul states that earthly authorities are servants of God who can do no wrong. Good conduct need not fear, but wrongdoers will be punished by God servants. Here Paul contradicts the Gospel’s claims that Jesus was not guilty of a crime, and unjustly executed. Another indication that Paul Jesus Christ is not the Jesus of Nazareth of the Gospels.

      12. In Rom. 8:22-23 Paul promises his followers adoption by God. Consequently, in Rom 8:29 God’s firstborn Jesus will be surrounded by many (adopted) brothers. They are, “the brothers of the Lord”.

      13. A key part of Paul’s belief was a soon to come end-times cosmic battle when Satan, his Demons and death, are defeated and subjugated by the celestial Christ. Since Christ had assumed human form in the firmament, his sacrifice nullified death introduced by the disobedience of Adam. 1 Cor. 15:20-27.

      14. The late first century manuscript, “The Ascension of Isaiah”, describes the crucifixion, (hanged from a tree), and resurrection of a celestial Jesus in Satan’s world. It fits Paul’s Jesus story well. On the other hand, The Pauline narratives remain a difficult fit for an historical Jesus.

      • Bart
        Bart  May 8, 2017

        Just curious: what do you make of Galatians 4:4?

        • Tony  May 8, 2017

          I’m assuming you meant “born of a woman” as proof Jesus was historical?

          I’d say that “born of a woman” is a ridiculously redundant statement. It should raise all kinds of red flags. If Jesus was historical, and everybody knew it, why in the world would anyone make such a bizarre statement? To please historicity supporters two millennia later? Nowhere else does Paul state that Jesus had a mother, but he does refer to God as his father.

          But, of course, you know that’s not what Paul intended. Paul uses genomai, from genomenos, and he means “made” – “Made of a woman”. Just as the KJV translated it.

          God making Jesus from a woman makes sense from a mythical hypothesis perspective because Jesus needed to be sacrificed in human form.

          The other issue is the meaning of “woman”, because Paul, a few verses later in Gal 4:24-31 refers to allegorical “women”.

          Also, we do know that early orthodox Christian tried to change “made” to “born”, because Bart Ehrman told us so in “The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture”, pg. 239.

          • Jim  May 9, 2017

            I suppose that since I was an instigator by using the phrase “somewhat bizarre claim”, I should respond. The following thoughts are just my own personal views on a few of your points. Dr. Ehrman’s post on Paul and the Historical Jesus handles the topic efficiently:

            Re Point 1: Why would Paul’s letters actually have to include specific references to Jesus’ earthly life? Paul doesn’t appear to be writing a gospel. Six of his seven letters were dealing mainly with specific local church issues/misunderstandings. The seventh, Romans, was directed to people who were already devoted Jesus followers.

            Re Point 6: The communion seems to have been practiced by different groups of early Jesus followers (see Didache). The author(s) of the Didache appear to have viewed the communion as a rather typical Jewish community meal with a Passover tone. They appear to have modeled their ceremony on what they perceived (and likely independent of Paul) Jesus last earthly Passover would have been like.

            Re Point 7: Paul states that his knowledge about Jesus Christ came through direct revelation from Jesus Christ and scripture only – and not from any person. If Paul had persecuted Jesus followers as he claims, it’s not out of the question that at least some of what he knew about Jesus came from those he persecuted.

            Re Point 10: One can also take 1 Cor 2:9 as implying Satan and his demons possessing those carrying out the physical crucifixion (demonic possession of *humans* is also a theme in the gospels and Acts). So it’s not really a stretch to think that Paul envisioned the rulers of this age in terms of human (Roman) rulers who were in Paul’s view, influenced by demonic forces.

            Re Point 12: Rom 8:29 states in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. This does not negate, with absolute certainty, that Gal 1:19 is referring to a biological brother, especially since James is specifically singled out as the “Lord’s brother” while the generic brother of the Lord, Cephas, is not. (Dr. Ehrman has dealt with this in some detail elsewhere.)

            Point 13 Paul’s Jesus had been raised from the dead, a terminology which would seem to indicate Jesus previously had a human existence. Surely, it’s not a stretch to view the use of the terms death and resurrection as implying a previous human existence.

            Point 14 Although Carrier places AoI at the end of the 1st century, others (Knibb) place it later in the 2nd century. The document seems to have be made up of three different sections written at different times. The earliest section could have been written late 1st, early 2nd century, but the dating isn’t firm. In any case, the extant manuscripts are from centuries later, so it’s difficult to directly link Paul to AoI.

            Although the E. Doherty/R. Carrier approach may be interesting, it is certainly not developed to the point where it can totally displace the more conventional reading, which is why I lean towards the consensus.

          • jcutler79  May 13, 2017

            I’m having trouble deciding whether what Tony makes of Galatians 4:4 is convincing, or exasperated mental gymnastics. “Nowhere else does Paul state that Jesus had a mother.” So, now even avowed mythicists are acknowledging that Paul did state–if only once, in Galatians–that Jesus did in fact have a mother. This makes it even harder for me to see credibility in the mythicist case.

          • jcutler79  May 22, 2017

            Tony, my observation about you admitting that Paul made the simple affirmation that Jesus had a mother appears to have struck a nerve with you. I’m sorry about that, though I can’t help but notice what it implies about your insecurity over the issue.

            If this topic (and others) makes you so upset at the people you’re talking to, maybe you should stop and ask yourself, “Why?”

            It could be because you’re working too hard to object to really straightforward arguments. But I’m sure it’s another reason, so feel free to expatiate on the real reason in your next reply instead of addressing the question of Jesus’ mother.

            In spite of the (continued) carping, I am still curious about the mythicist argument. In other words, I don’t have any personal stake in the matter, and I would love to hear more real argument on this point specifically. I can assure you I’ve been reading your various bullet points for the mythicist case and I find your rationale interesting. If you have something more cogent to say on the subject of Jesus being “born”/”made” of a woman, then just say that instead of what you’ve said so far (which, from what I could tell, didn’t lend much credibility to the mythicist case). Based on how vehement and passionate you are about this topic, I almost feel tempted to want to have a reason to see things the way you do out of sheer pity. So, go for it! Let’s hear your best argument, rather than your best insults.

            So, regarding your argument thus far on this topic, I see you’ve mentioned “allegorical” women in Galatians 4:24-31. Mentioned in that passage are Hagar, Sarah, and then geographic locations and cities, like Jerusalem. What is your point about this supposed to imply? Paul refers to Jerusalem, and then to a Jerusalem “which is above.” Did Paul think of Hagar and Sarah only as mythical people? Or are we just supposed to keep in mind that when Paul says “woman” he could mean either a mythical woman or a literal one, just like “Jerusalem” could refer either to the real one or the mythical one above, and there’s just no way for anyone to know? Please elaborate! (but only if you’re in a more amicable mood :))

            In case you’re wondering, I don’t have my own personal argument for the historical Jesus vs the mythical Jesus anymore than I have my own personal argument for string theory vs against string theory. I am, however, curious about what the best arguments are for either. So, thanks for providing something! Sorry if if I gave you the impression that I had a prejudicial interest in denying mythicist arguments.

          • Pattycake1974
            Pattycake1974  May 28, 2017

            “I’m assuming you meant “born of a woman” as proof Jesus was historical?”
            “I’d say that “born of a woman” is a ridiculously redundant statement. It should raise all kinds of red flags.”

            It seems to me that saying someone was “born of a woman” was a common way to describe someone that had a natural childbirth–
            Job 14:1 Mortals, born of woman, are of few days and full of trouble.

            Matthew 11:11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist;

            Luke 7:28 I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”

            Galatians 4:4 isn’t out of the ordinary and perfectly describes a natural (non-virgin) birth:
            “But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law…”

      • godspell  May 9, 2017

        Nope. They’re only a difficult fit for those who interpret the gospels literally.

        And bizarrely, that’s precisely what many Mythicists do.

        Fundamentalist atheists.

      • talmoore
        talmoore  May 11, 2017

        “Paul describes Jesus’ crucifixion in Gal 3:13 as having been hung from a tree.”

        In both Hebrew and Aramaic, the words for “tree” — עץ and עע, respectively — also mean “wood”. So you don’t have to literally be “hung from a tree” to be hung from a tree. Even if you were just hung from a wooden pole, you’re still “hung from a tree”. (By the way, I know this is just a pedantic trifle, but the proper grammar is “hanged from a tree”.) I’m a Hebrew speaker myself. When I refer to a tree, I call it an “etz,” and when I refer to a wooden table I call it a “shulchan m’etz” or “a table of tree”.

        • Tony  May 13, 2017

          Paul did not write in Hebrew. He was a Jew from the diaspora. Seeing that he communicated with Judean Jews he may well have spoken Hebrew or Aramaic. We don’t know.

          Paul uses the Greek word for tree in Gal 3:13 – Xylon. The word Paul uses elsewhere, that gets translated to “crucifixion”, is derived from stauros – stauroo. That could mean stake, pole or hanged from a tree. It is the same Greek word that the Gospels use to describe the Roman crucifixion.

          Thank you for your grammar correction.

          • talmoore
            talmoore  May 14, 2017

            I’m referring specifically to your connecting Gal 3:13 to Deut. 21:22-23. My point is that the word used for “tree” in translation of Deut. 21:22-23 is “etz,” which, again, can mean BOTH tree AND wood. Therefore, Deut. 21:22-23 can just as reasonably be translated “hanged from wood” as “hanged from a tree”. In other words, you’re unnecessarily constraining the meaning of Deut. 21:22-23 in order to fit your theory of Paul’s meaning in Gal 3:13. Crucifixion was one of countless ways that a human being can be hanged from an “etz” (tree or wood generally). One can be literally hanged from a tree. One can be impaled on a wooden pole. And one can be crucified. All of those scenarios match the meaning of Deut. 21:22-23’s “hanged from a tree”.

        • Tony  May 15, 2017

          Thanks Talmoore, you’re making my point for me.

          Deut. 21:22-23 is about the postmortem display of an executed criminal, and the limitations thereof. I don’t have a “theory”, this is the accepted interpretation.

          Ehrman argues that Paul’s use of “crucifixion” refers specifically, AND ONLY, to the Roman execution method. You agree with me – that’s not necessarily so. You’re a closet mythicist after all Talmoore, You sly devil.

          • Bart
            Bart  May 16, 2017

            Not to interfere in the back and forth you two are having, but where have I ever argued that?

  7. Jason  May 6, 2017

    Two fascinating letters merit two questions tonight:
    1. What would the significance of virginity have been in first century Galilee, and then later among the early Christian writers or for the editor mentioned here?
    2. Are the early Coptic/Syriac/etc. versions of the NT as referenced here in ever, occasionally, generally or without exception complete NTs as currently canonized?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 7, 2017

      1. Probably it meant different things for different people. For matthew the VB meant Jesus miraculously fulfilled prophecy and for Luke that he literally was God’s son. The point in both is that women who have never had sex don’t have babies. *That* much science they knew! 2. No, none of these are complete copies of the entire Bible.

      • Tony  May 16, 2017

        May 16, 2017
        “Not to interfere in the back and forth you two are having, but where have I ever argued that?”
        ——————————————————————
        Your post of November 21, 2016:
        “One of the main reasons I think Jesus called himself the future messiah is that this best explains the best attested event of his entire life: his crucifixion by the Romans.

        Tony November 22, 2016:
        Dr Ehrman
        “Could you please identify where, in Paul’s letters, one might find: “the best attested event of his
        entire life: his crucifixion by the Romans” ?”

        Bart November 23, 2016:
        “It’s the one thing Paul says most frequently about the historical Jesus. Cf. 1 Cor. 2:2 for
        example.”

        Tony November 23, 2016:
        Paul never identifies where or when his Jesus was crucified. The closest he
        comes to “who” is 1 Corinthians 2:6-8; the “rulers of this age” who are “doomed
        to perish”. Here the “archons” are Satan and his Demons. Paul is silent
        (ignorant?) about the role of Romans, Pilate, the Sanhedrin etc. in the crucifixion.
        Of course, he identifies Roman authorities as agents of God who can do no
        wrong in Romans 13.
        The closest Paul comes to describing the crucifixion “how” is in Galatians 3:13,
        where he refers to Jesus as being hanged from a tree (I changed this from hung….). The OT reference is to the
        practice of displaying the post mortem body of an executed criminal. This is
        obviously not the Roman crucifixion method. Paul uses the Greek “stauros”
        which is translated as “crucifixion”, but that does not necessarily means the
        Roman execution method. Nailing, or hanging a body on a pole, stake or tree
        would use the Greek stauros and be translated as “crucified”.
        Would you agree that the notion of Jesus’ crucifixion by the Romans does not
        come from Paul’s writings, but from the Gospels?
        —————————
        Followed by our further exchange still on record in the comments.

        • Bart
          Bart  May 17, 2017

          I certainly think Jesus was crucified. But that’s not what you said.

          • Tony  May 17, 2017

            I assume you have an issue with: “Ehrman argues that Paul’s use of “crucifixion” refers specifically, AND ONLY, to the Roman execution method.”

            I maintain that’s an accurate representation of your assertions. Please let me know if, and how, it is not.

            Are you now saying that Paul’s “crucifixion” does NOT refer to the Jerusalem Passover Roman execution of Jesus of Nazareth?

          • Bart
            Bart  May 19, 2017

            I don’t know what you mean that crucifixion was “only” the Roman execution method. Other people used it too (including Jews) and Romans used many other methods as well (beheading). I have never argued otherwise.

  8. annepquast  May 7, 2017

    Didn’t Celsus in the second century write that the real father of Jesus was a Roman soldier named Pantera? Just think of the ‘chat-up line’ he could have used!!

    • Bart
      Bart  May 7, 2017

      I think the idea is that he didn’t need a good line…

      • Tony  May 19, 2017

        Bart  May 19, 2017
        “I don’t know what you mean that crucifixion was “only” the Roman execution method…….”
        ——————————————
        But that is not what I’m saying. My comments pertain only to PAUL’s use of the word crucifixion. Consistent with your (absolute) belief in an historical Jesus, your interpretation is that, when PAUL writes “stauroo”, he is in fact writing about the Jerusalem execution as described in the gospels.

        Did I miss something?

        • Bart
          Bart  May 21, 2017

          I don’t think your words are saying what you mean them to say.

          But to clarify what I’m saying. I do not think Paul knows the Gospel stories about Jesus’ trial and execution. But he certainly does know that Jesus was crucified by the Romans (on a wooden cross).

          • Tony  May 21, 2017

            “I do not think Paul knows the Gospel stories about Jesus’ trial and execution.”

            Great, we are in full agreement on that one! Paul shows no sign of knowing anything about a Roman execution, in Jerusalem. There is no need to say more… But wait, you are saying more….

            “But he certainly does know that Jesus was crucified by the Romans (on a wooden cross).”

            But that IS the Gospel story in a nutshell! You appear to be making two completely contradictory statements.

            Here is what likely happened, (notice no absolutes). At Paul’s time there was a widespread cosmological belief that there were multiple heavens. Paul says so in 2 Cor 12:1-4. The heavens and firmament (between the earth and the moon), were not empty space, but real, (although invisible), worlds with trees (made of wood), oceans, kings, angels etc. It is in this domain that Paul’s celestial son of God Jesus was executed – hanged from a tree.

            Try reading the letters with this in mind and, unlike using the Gospel Jesus assumptions, they now start making sense…

          • Bart
            Bart  May 22, 2017

            I’m not sure why we’re having trouble understanding each other! Here’s my view. Paul has never read the Gospels (they didn’t exist yet). Paul knows that Jesus was crucified by the Romans. So do the later Gospel writers. They tell stories connneced with the death of Jesus: for example his betrayal, his arrest, his trial before Pilate, the Barabbas incident, his flogging, his going to Golgatha, what he said on the cross, etc. Paul does not refer to any of these stories in his surviving writings. If he *knew* any of them is anyone’s guess.

          • Tony  May 22, 2017

            Maybe this will help. You assert that Paul’s crucified messiah and the gospel Jesus of Nazareth crucifixion are based on the same, and identical, core event – the Roman crucifixion in Jerusalem of somebody named Jesus – about 20 years before Paul starts writing letters.

            To me, the NT evidence shows that Paul’s Jesus and the later gospel Jesus are NOT one and the same. However, they appear related because someone (Mark?) used Paul’s celestial Jesus crucifixion/resurrection myth as the basis for his gospel creation. He pulled Jesus down to earth so to speak.

            You will likely object to having your view referred to as an hypothesis. After all, it is the basis of Christianity and most current secular scholarship. In my opinion both scenarios are legitimate possibilities, but the myth hypothesis seems to provide a better fit for the evidence.

  9. Greenham  May 7, 2017

    What is the earliest explicit extrabiblical reference to the virgin birth of Christ?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 7, 2017

      Ignatius’s letter to the Ephesians around 110 CE; The Proto-Gospel of James, mid second century; Justin Martyr around 150 CE.

  10. John  May 7, 2017

    Hi Bart, hope you and Sarah are well.

    I bumped into one of your posts on Form Criticism from 3 years ago this month where you said you would continue the thread but you seemed to cover a lot of other subjects at that time and I don’t know if it was ever finished. I couldn’t see it.

    This comes up quite a lot when talking to Christians about the period before the Gospels, but they just say ‘Form Criticism is dead’ and that is effectively the end of the conversation as far as they are concerned. I have read ‘Jesus before the Gospels’ but thought it would be a good subject to get your teeth into again over a few posts.

    What do you think?

    Anyway, best wishes, John

    • Bart
      Bart  May 7, 2017

      I don’t remember talking about form criticism on the blog, but yes, it might be interesting to deal with!

  11. RonaldTaska  May 7, 2017

    It is fascinating that something as extraordinary as a virgin birth is not mentioned in the Gospels of Mark and John or the writings of Paul. In his classic, the “Age of Reason,” Thomas Paine wrote about significant New Testament omissions with his prime example being people rising from the dead after the death of Jesus, as described in the Gospel of Matthew, not being mentioned anywhere else. Some other examples:
    1. Jesus being God not being mentioned in the Synoptic Gospels just in John;.
    2. 500 people witnessing the Resurrected Jesus as described by Paul, but not mentioned in the Gospels.

    Extraordinary omissions indeed. One would think that events this profound, if historical, would have been mentioned lots of places. Why would any author omit them?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 7, 2017

      In these cases I would say the traditions aren’t “omitted.” They are simply “unknown” (to the authors).

  12. James Cotter  May 7, 2017

    is it possible that paul and jesus hated their lives? jesus does not wash his hands before he eats. he tells his followers to give up everything and hate mother and father. paul dreams about another incorruptible body . jesus does miracles as photo opportunity but he tells his disiples to allow people to abuse them and beat them and to endure till the end. this all seems that jesus needed to do suicide because he hated his current form of corruptible body.

    do you agree?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 7, 2017

      I’m not sure! But it’s an interesting idea….

      • James Cotter  May 10, 2017

        if i was hating , why would Dr Ehrman allow my post to go through? i am not a hater, i am asking a scholar his view on my opinion that’s all.

    • talmoore
      talmoore  May 7, 2017

      Cults tend to exploit personal esteem issues in their recruitment. As a matter of projection, even the leaders of such movements are usually trying to overcome some self-perceived lack of fulfillment or failure in life (cf. the ostensibly humble cult leader who wears a burlap robe while driving a Rolls Royce). In the process of recruitment, the cult leader will then convince his or her followers that the way to fulfillment is through the movement, and that contact with anyone or anything outside the movement can potentially obstruct or reverse said fulfillment. This is all part of the process of breaking someone down so as to (supposedly) build them back up via the movement.

      http://psychologyofcults.blogspot.com/2012/05/cult-mentality.html

    • godspell  May 8, 2017

      I see no evidence Jesus hated life. “I am come that you may have life, and have it more abundantly.”

      I think you misunderstand what he said about not washing your hands–he’s talking about a religious purification there. He’s saying (in contradiction to the very strict Jewish laws about ritual purification) that it’s not what goes into you that makes you impure, but what comes out of you. Worry more about how you treat people, and how you love God, than what you’ve touched, or eaten. It’s not a lesson in hygiene. I’m sure Jesus washed his hands when he could, but suppose you need to eat, and don’t have the means to wash up? It was easy for the well-off among the faithful to preach at the poor about how filthy they were. Hell, we still do that now.

      As to accepting abuse and beatings–do you think the 1960’s Civil Rights Marchers, including Dr. King, hated life? Did Mahatma Gandhi?

      I think you hate Christianity, and are looking for reasons to justify that hate. But hate never brings clarity.

      I don’t think Paul hated life either, but I do think he had problems with regard to sex, that he helped pass on to Christianity as a whole. I tend to believe that if Jesus had the same problems, he’d have talked about sex a whole lot more than he did. His clear desire to engage women as equals and sisters (exceptional by the standards of ANY religion at that time) tells me he didn’t have that kind of mental dysfunction. What his own sexuality was, I have no idea. But if he touched a woman, he wouldn’t feel like he had to purify himself afterward. Because the soul can’t be dirtied by what we touch, or consume. Only the way we behave–what comes out of us.

      • James Cotter  May 9, 2017

        “I think you misunderstand what he said about not washing your hands–he’s talking about a religious purification there. He’s saying (in contradiction to the very strict Jewish laws about ritual purification) that it’s not what goes into you that makes you impure, but what comes out of you. Worry more about how you treat people, and how you love God, than what you’ve touched, or eaten. It’s not a lesson in hygiene. I’m sure Jesus washed his hands when he could, but suppose you need to eat, and don’t have the means to wash up? It was easy for the well-off among the faithful to preach at the poor about how filthy they were. Hell, we still do that now.”

        quote :
        But the Pharisee was surprised when he noticed that Jesus did not first wash before the meal.

        jesus thinks that only filth comes out of a persons mind

        quote :
        o you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile, 19 since it enters, not the heart but the stomach, and goes out into the sewer?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) 20 And he said, “It is what comes out of a person that defiles. 21 For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, 22 adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.

        end quote

        now why would any of his pals run to the nearest sink after hearing a reply like that? jesus thinks that only filth comes out of his brain since he is a human too.

        you said , “worry more about how you treat people….”

        but washing and purifying could also help one keep a clean mouth physically and spiritually since the water which is used to wash is clean.
        jesus tells his pals that their is no religious significance from washing hands, if their is NO religious significance, would people have washed? if there was no washing ritual would people have washed?

        it is yhwh who said that if you LOVE god WATCH what you touch and what you eat . so in the jewish mind, who is more important, a jesus who thinks nothing but filth comes out of mind or yhwh who is “holy” and wants people to be “holy ” by obeying his commands?

        jesus did not see himself as righteous and clean human :

        “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good–except God alone.

        • James Cotter  May 9, 2017

          in the accounts it seems clear that jesus’ disciples and jesus did have the means to wash hands, but since jesus thinks the human can only think filth , then the ritual of washing is not necessary. but if ritual was not needed and is “tradition of men” why would jesus wash ?
          it is not a lesson in hygiene because jesus knowledge was that of pharisees and he , like the pharisees saw only ritual.

          • James Cotter  May 9, 2017

            i find it interesting that right after jesus tells his pals to watch what comes out of their mouths , he , in front of them, calls a woman and her sick daughter and her people “dogs” and thinks that special miraculous bread is not to be cast at them. “worry more about how you treat people” is not something jesus really worried about.

        • godspell  May 11, 2017

          Jesus believed all mortal beings were fallible and flawed. Including himself.

          And your problem with that is…..?

          I think that assuming that story about his not washing his hands was accurate (and it could be), he was making a very deliberate point about not getting caught up in meaningless ritual, when faith was what really mattered. Not saying nobody should ever wash up before meals again. Jesus did that kind of thing a lot. And a lot of people missed the point. And apparently so did you.

  13. Pattycake1974
    Pattycake1974  May 7, 2017

    I think the virgin birth story was a natural conclusion made from linking Jesus as the Messiah to OT prophecy. I’m wondering if the same thing happened when they were placing special emphasis on the meaning of his name. I don’t recall Mark’s gospel or Paul referring to Jesus’ name with any particular connotation. Wasn’t that a later development?

    I was just thinking that if Paul viewed Jesus strictly as a celestial being, it seems that he would have been given a much more grandiose name. Not one so commonplace and ordinary that dozens of men were given back then.

    • dragonfly  May 8, 2017

      Yes, we are all saved because celestial Bob was killed and ressurected in some other world.

    • Pattycake1974
      Pattycake1974  May 8, 2017

      What I keep seeing with the mythicist argument is that it’s all over the map with information. There’s nothing cohesive, it’s so pieced out. Facts are ignored or omitted. No compromise with any of the scriptures supporting a real man Jesus.

      • Tony  May 30, 2017

        I’m glad to see you found yourself a Christian Apologist who confirms your opinion and gives you the assurance you seek. Christianity has a small army of those guys – and only one google search away!

      • Tony  May 30, 2017

        How come I get your comment per email before it has been moderated? Now THAT is a mystery to me.

        So Hoffman is just an Apologist. Same point applies, you’re just looking for items to confirm your bias. Try some independent analysis.

    • godspell  May 9, 2017

      Nothing natural about it–could have been a misunderstanding created by translation problems–the Hebrew word for ‘young woman’ being translated to ‘parthenos’–but that can’t have been the only reason. To me, there’s little reason to doubt Jesus’ followers were trying to persuade themselves he was the promised Messiah before his death–whether he encouraged them to do so or not is a thornier question–after his death and perceived resurrection, they all believed it. But most of them still did not think he was born of a virgin. That belief took generations to take hold.

      I think it was mainly pagan converts who made this happen–people whose former religions were full of stories about divine conceptions–but the need to make it jibe with Jewish scripture led to a very different story being told, and there are probably other things we don’t know about. Basically, the story stuck because it’s a good story. You want to know the origins of someone you revere that much, and Jesus was unknown until relatively late in his life. The blanks were going to be filled in somehow. Whoever told the best story would win.

      Americans revered Abraham Lincoln after he was assassinated. But he was born to a family of poor dirt farmers, who moved around a lot, and he never wrote his memoirs. As a result, when you read scholarly biographies of him, information about his childhood is extremely skimpy–and what we do have is mainly very questionable, and full of amazing events that somehow prefigure his later greatness.

      No scriptural prophecies, properly translated or not, were needed for this to happen.

    • Tony  May 29, 2017

      Pattycake1974  May 28, 2017
      “I’m assuming you meant “born of a woman” as proof Jesus was historical?”
      “I’d say that “born of a woman” is a ridiculously redundant statement. It should raise all kinds of red flags.”
      It seems to me that saying someone was “born of a woman” was a common way to describe someone that had a natural childbirth–
      Job 14:1 Mortals, born of woman, are of few days and full of trouble.
      Matthew 11:11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist;
      Luke 7:28 I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”
      Galatians 4:4 isn’t out of the ordinary and perfectly describes a natural (non-virgin) birth:
      “But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law…”
      ———————————————————-
      You quotes uses different contexts for the “born of a woman” phrase. The first one specifically compares mortals with gods. the second compares one mortal with others. The third is a copy of the second and a good example how the gospel writers plagiarized each other’s work.

      But if you’ve read my comment you’d know that the Greek translates into “made”. So, it reads “made of a woman”. Check the KJV. The bottom line is that Gal 4:4 does not provide proof of a human birth.

  14. crucker  May 7, 2017

    After reading the post, previous things you’ve written, and the comments here, is it likely at all that the virgin birth story originated *because* of the mistranslation used by the author of Matthew’s gospel in reading Isaiah 7:14 as “virgin” instead of “young woman”? If chapters 1 and 2 of Luke were a later addition (and I’m assuming that’s a big “if”), then that leaves Matthew as the earliest virgin birth story. Or do you think the virgin birth was already a story Matthew may have heard, and Isaiah 7:14 was merely a verse Matthew used to try to bolster the claim, rather than being the origin/inspiration of the idea? Curious about the odds of such a huge theological doctrine originating because of mistranslation.

    • Bart
      Bart  May 8, 2017

      Yes, that’s entirely possible; but my sense is that Matthew had heard rumors of Jesus’ unusual birth and then found the proof text to support them.

  15. HawksJ  May 7, 2017

    Off topic question:

    I am reading “Jesus: Apocalyptic Prohet…”, and you are discussing the timeline of when the gospels were written and a seemingly obvious question occurred to me that I had never thought about nor have I heard anyone ever mention.

    Wondering when they were written raises the rather obvious (in retrospect) question about an author self-dating his work. Obviously, these writers left no deliberate, specific references to when they wrote them. That seems to contrast sharply with modern custom, but my question is this: how unusual was it for their contemporaries around the beginning of the Common Era? Was leaving no direct references – or even intentional clues – to dating unusual or commonplace back then?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 8, 2017

      I can’t think of any ancient books that self-date their writing. Maybe someone else on the blog does? (Note: most modern authors don’t either; it’s the publisher that puts a copyright date on the book)

  16. SidDhartha1953  May 9, 2017

    If an editor of Luke added chs. 1&2 in the 2nd century, it seems reasonable to assume the Matthean Nativity and infancy narrative was an influence. Why is it so different from Matthew?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 9, 2017

      I think that’s why Matthew was *not* directly the influence. The redactor had heard independent stories of Jesus’ virgin birth.

  17. Eskil  May 9, 2017

    In Gospel of Philip, it sais that…
    “Some said, “Mary conceived by the Holy Spirit.” They are in error. They do not know what they are saying. When did a woman ever conceive by a woman?”
    Could the “Some said” mean that around 180-250 CE when the Gospel of Philip was written the story in Mathew and Luke wasn’t yet commonly held within Christians? It doesn’t say “Most said” but only “Some said”.
    The Gospel of Philip also gives interesting interpretation for the virgin birth…
    “Adam came into being from two virgins, from the Spirit and from the virgin earth. Christ therefore, was born from a virgin to rectify the Fall which occurred in the beginning.”
    Here the inspiration is taken from the OT not from other religions.

    • Bart
      Bart  May 11, 2017

      I’ve usually taken it to mean that a group of Christians other than the author’s own claim that Jesus was born of the Spirit, as related in Matthew and espl. Luke, so he calls them “some.” I.e., this is evidence that hte story of the virgin birth *was* known.

  18. jdh5879  May 9, 2017

    The Zoroastrians believed a messiah figure(s) or Saoshyant(s) would be born from a virgin. They would be conceived when their mothers bathed in a lake that somehow preserved the “seed” of Zoroaster himself. These beliefs developed after the time of Jesus.

  19. Pattycake1974
    Pattycake1974  May 11, 2017

    If I’m understanding you correctly, you’re not saying the virgin birth concept was new when it started to appear in the gospels. I am having a difficult time thinking the Jesus’ birth narrative didn’t come from pagan sources. Justin Martyr wrote about it in The First Apology: “Then when they heard it said through that other prophet Isaiah that he was to be born of a virgin and would ascend into heaven by his own [power], they put forward what is told about Perseus.”

    Also, there’s a painting of Queen Mautmes on the walls of a palace located in Luxor, Upper Egypt. A British scholar named Samuel Sharpe, an English Egyptologist and Bible translator, wrote about this painting in a book called Egyptian Mythology and Egyptian Christianity in 1863. He stated that the painting depicts the Annunciation, Conception, the Birth, and the Adoration. He, too, believed that the virgin birth narrative in Luke’s gospel was a later addition. Interestingly enough, I believe the book is located at the Princeton Theological Seminary because I found it on a website that has the pictures of the actual books (not a pdf but the book itself) where they can be read online. It has the Princeton stamp on it.
    https://issuu.com/grupodeestudosfernandodeogum/docs/mitologia_eg__pcia_eo_cristianismo

    Have you heard of this scholar or the book?

    • Pattycake1974
      Pattycake1974  May 11, 2017

      I almost forgot–the part where Sharpe describes the painting and the Luke addition is located on page 21. The book is very small and not difficult at all to read.

      • Pattycake1974
        Pattycake1974  May 13, 2017

        Oddly enough, the Queen Mautmes painting must be a source of confusion. Someone asked a question about it on the blog in 2012. Sacredtexts.com claims it’s a story of a virgin birth. There are several websites that also claim Mautmes was a virgin who gave birth. Superficially, the websites seem okay, but what someone may not realize is that most of them seem to circulate back to Archarya S. (D.M. Murdock).

        Since Samuel Sharpe’s time, there’s been archaeological evidence found that shows the painting is about a different queen who was in no way a virgin. It’s a bit messy when trying to get to the bottom of it, but it’s there and likely correct. Hopefully, if someone searches for it on the blog after going in circles on the internet, they’ll find this.

    • Bart
      Bart  May 12, 2017

      Yes, I certainly think the VB story was influenced by pagan notions of a god making a woman pregnant.

  20. Jana  May 11, 2017

    Then where of with whom did the idea of Virgin Birth originate? (I had thought erroneously with the Romans so thank you for clearing this up). Possibly you’ve dealt with this in one of your books I’ve yet to read. If so please suggest! Sorry I’m late to your blogs .. a lot of sickness in my pueblo se llama “roto virus” and I caught it too.

    • Bart
      Bart  May 12, 2017

      I wish we knew! We first hear of it in Matthew’s Gospel. So either he or a storyteller before him came up with it.

      • Jana  May 12, 2017

        Why was it important then that Christ was born from a Virgin? Are there Jewish concepts of purity involved? (I’m clueless) … zika has been reported today.

        • Bart
          Bart  May 14, 2017

          For Matthew it is in order to show that he fulfilled prophecy, and that’s all he says about it (quoting Isa. 7:14); for Luke it’s to show that he really *was* the Son of God.

  21. ftbond  May 18, 2017

    I’d like to offer a different take on this “virgin birth” stuff.

    Let me begin by saying I have no idea at all why “almah” (Heb) got translated to “parthenos” (Gk) in the Septuagint. But, I would submit that the whole “virgin” idea was unimportant to Matthew.

    Matthew is, in his gospel, making reference to Isaiah 7:14 – “Behold, the “almah” [young woman] will become pregnant, bear a son and name him ‘Immanu El [God is with us]” (CJB)

    I would submit this: This passage that Matthew quotes is *not* about the mother, it’s about the child. I submit that what Matthew is doing here is simply referencing a well-known scripture which refers to this specific child (the one to be called Immanu El) as something of a “shorthand reference”: Immanu El is described later in the book of Isaiah with words such as Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Prince of Peace, and so on. In other words, Matthew simply uses Isaiah 7:14, referring to Immanu El, as if it were understood by the reader that this was the same *child* that would also be called “Wonderful, Counselor [et al]”. If Matthew was indeed writing primarily for a Jewish readership, then I suspect he was simply counting on his readers to make that “mental connection”. But, in any case, Matthew’s concern was the child, not the mother.

    Matthew brings up the Isaiah reference for a purpose: First, he states simply that “…she [Mary] was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit”. He continues with the story, then says “all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet”. I submit that Matthew mentions this because, as Jews have long known, there is no specific record in the Tanach of the child Emmanuel having ever having been born. The Jews have long discussed and debated the meaning of, and fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14, but there has never been a consensus reached about the scripture. Some Jews think Hezekiah was Emmanuel. Others clearly disagree. And, this disagreement continues to this day among the Jews. Matthew very clearly seeks to end that debate, by declaring that *Jesus* is the “Emmanuel” of Isaiah.

    Luke is the one that seems to make a point of the “virgin” thing, but, it’s not central to the story. What is more important in the story is Mary’s declarative question to the angel (regarding her previously foretold pregnancy), “how can these things be, seeing I am not knowing a man”? (not having sex). The angel, of course, then explains that “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.”

    Again, as in Matthew, the emphasis in Luke is on the *child*, and on the fact that the *childs father* would be God Himself.

    Personally, I don’t know why Mary’s “virginal status” is mentioned at all: it would entirely suffice to say (as she reportedly says in Luke), that she wasn’t sexually involved with anyone, thus, having a kid would seem quite an impossibility. (But, hey, maybe she *was* actually a virgin). Nonetheless, whether Mary was a virgin or not, it’s not central to the story, either in Luke or in Matthew. The point of the story is that God was, quite literally, Jesus’ father – his Dad. Jesus was, therefore, quite literally, God’s son. And likewise, it *is* central to the story that Jesus’ conception (according to the gospels) was miraculous. But, one must admit that whether a woman is a virgin or not, *any* instance of a woman conceiving a child without the involvement of a man, then giving birth to that child, is going to be seen as miraculous.

    In any case, I don’t see any particular reason to drag “Greek mythology” (or any other mythology) into the story. Just because something has been said to happen in a myth does not mean that thing cannot happen in real life. Just because the Trojan War was a myth, it does not at all mean that real wars don’t happen.

    • Bart
      Bart  May 19, 2017

      I think the preceding verses (18-21) show that Matthew was indeed concerned to emphasize that she was a virgin and that in part this is about her.

      • ftbond  May 19, 2017

        After re-reading my hastily-written post, and hitting the vastly-overstated line that says that the “whole ‘virgin’ idea was unimportant to Matthew”, I’d very seriously like to suggest that my whole post be removed. I myself really don’t want it out there…

        I didn’t let the reader in on an important “assumption” (belief? notion? theory?) which I operate under, which is that Matthew was originally written in either Hebrew or Aramaic. And, that’s (a) a highly disputable “ball of wax”, but (b) perhaps fundamental to whether Matthew would have understood “parthenos” (in Isaiah 7:14) to mean “virgin” or simply “a young woman” (as in the Hebrew).

        So, really, if you’d like to just remove my post, I wouldn’t be the slightest bit offended. In fact, I encourage it. Heck, I’m *asking* you to remove it. II truly see my own post as “very late-night dribble”. About the only thing that might be relevent to the discussion at hand is that last paragraph, where I say “In any case, I don’t see any particular reason to drag ‘Greek mythology’ (or any other mythology) into the story. Just because something has been said to happen in a myth does not mean that thing cannot happen in real life. Just because the Trojan War was a myth, it does not at all mean that real wars don’t happen”.

        • Bart
          Bart  May 21, 2017

          Sorry — it’s already posted! I’m sure everyone who was going to read it has read it already.

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