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Were There *Other* Virgin Births in Antiquity?

As happened four years ago when I made a series of posts on the virgin birth stories in the NT, this time too I’ve received queries about whether the idea of a virgin birth was a common motif in antiquity; some “popular” books out there claim that other alleged sons of God were born of virgins.  Is that true?  Well, I don’t think so.  Here is how I responded before.

 

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I have devoted several posts to the issue of Jesus’ virgin birth, as recounted in Matthew and Luke.  As I pointed out, there is no account of Jesus’ virgin birth in the Gospel of John, and it appears that the idea is actually argued *against* (implicitly) in the Gospel of Mark.   Several readers have asked me (or told me) about the parallels to the virgin birth stories in pagan texts, where a son of God, or demi-god, or, well, some other rather amazing human being is said to have been born of a virgin.  Aren’t the Christians simply borrowing a widely held view found among the pagans, that if someone is the son of God (e.g., Hercules, or Dionysus, or Asclepius, etc.), his mother is always thought to have been a virgin?

As it turns out, that’s not the case at all.

I don’t know of any parallel to …

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Was Jesus Born of a Virgin in the Gospel of John?

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Comments

  1. The Agnostic Christian
    The Agnostic Christian  December 30, 2018

    This reminds me of The Two Babylons.

    Its central theme is its allegation that the Catholic Church is a veiled continuation of the pagan religion of ancient Babylon, the product of a millennia-old secret conspiracy founded by the Biblical king Nimrod and the Assyrian queen Semiramis, whom the author, Alexander Hislop, claimed was Nimrod’s wife.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Two_Babylons

    • godspell  December 31, 2018

      This reminds me how silly people can be. A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. So get lots of it.

  2. mwbaugh  December 30, 2018

    The other stories tend to be miraculous, but no virgins. Isis raised Osiris from the dead and replaced his penis with a golden replacement so he could impregnate her (the original organ having fallen into the Nile and been eaten by a catfish when Osiris was dismembered by his brother. There’s no reason to assume Isis was a virgin though, as she and Osiris had been married for some years before this.

    The story of Krishna’s conception is *kind of* a virgin birth story because his father Vasudeva impregnates his mother Devaki without any physical contact. However, Krishna is the last of eight children born to Devaki so it’s unlikely (and not claimed by Hindu sources) that she was still a virgin by the time of her last pregnancy.

    I sat dow with a list of other “gods born on Dec 25th” because I’m kind of perverse about this. Not only were most of the gods not born in December, but many of them come from cultures that didn’t use the Julian calendar.

    It doesn’t take much research at all to see his tenuous these claims are, which makes me wonder why they are so popular. I’d love to see a study of why this idea has captured the popular imagination.

  3. godspell  December 30, 2018

    Paganism is noted for its relatively uninhibited attitudes towards sex. Why would pagans tell a story about a woman who got pregnant without having sex? Where’s the fun in that?

    The sex may take an unusual form (swan, bull, shower of golden rain–hmmm, kinky), but it’s still sex, and the woman is not a virgin after it happens. She probably was before, because that adds to the erotic enticement of the story, which is one of the things the storyteller wants to accentuate.

    There is no eroticism in the gospels. There are literally no love stories of any kind, if by love story you mean sexual love, or Eros. The Greeks would call the love you see in the gospels ‘Philia,’ I believe. It seems that Jesus greatly deemphasized sex, without necessarily condemning it as a particularly bad sin (no sin at all if it’s done within the bounds of marriage, but unclear what he thought the role of sex would be in the Kingdom, if there was any).

    It’s a distraction from what really matters, but he’s not all that concerned with it. To him, the worst sinners in the story of the Woman Taken in Adultery are the ones who want to stone her for an offense they have all committed, if only in their hearts, which is just as bad.

    Now of course the real people who inspired these stories would, presumably, have experienced erotic love of some kind, and there are moments that involve sexuality, like Salome dancing for Herod, and many (such as Oscar Wilde, and Lord only knows how many screenwriters) have given those stories a lot more time than their extreme brevity would seem to merit.

    So it makes no sense–at all–that these sexually charged pagan myths would be the model for the largely asexual Christian gospels.

    But because those who are hostile to Christianity want to find some way to rob it even of originality, say the true creativity was all pagan (even though pagans are at least as superstitious as Christians, and the Romans referred to Christians as atheists in a perjorative fashion), they keep trotting out this nonsense as fact. And since most people know nothing about the history of Christianity (or history, period), they will always find suckers to buy into it.

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  4. mwbaugh  December 30, 2018

    I’ve recently become aware of Richard Carrier who has better academic credentials than most other Christ Myth advocates. I’ve been struggling with his idea when he says, “Every dying-and-rising god is different. Every death is different. Every resurrection is different. All irrelevant. The commonality is that there is a death and a resurrection.”

    That sounds to me like he’s saying the fact that the different stories are so different somehow proves that they are all the same story. I must be missing something.

    Anyway, I noticed that you didn’t analyze Carrier’s ideas in DID JESUS EXIST as you did with Robert Price’s. Have you covered them somewhere else? I’d like to read your analysis.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 31, 2018

      I deal with them a bit there. But his fullest discussion was published later. It’s not an improvement on his earlier work, I”m afraid (just longer) but really don’t feel like devoting a year of my life to pointing out its many problems. His credentials, by the way, are not in the relevant fields of New Testament, early Christainity, or ancient Judaism (he also deals a lot with the Hebrew Bible, without having any training in it).

  5. paulfchristus  December 30, 2018

    Hello Mr. Ehrman.
    Based on your Scholarship, and in your opinion, who do you think the Historical Jesus was?
    Do you think Jesus thought Himself as God? I’m curious because I know what people thought later of him after death.
    But from the Historical evidence, that we have, did Jesus see himself as God the creator?
    I read Albert Schweitzer book and was wondering from your Scholarship what your thoughts are.
    Thank you for taking the time to answer, I really enjoy your blog and appreciate all the time you devote to it.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 31, 2018

      I deal with all these questions in a number of my writings. Most recently: How Jesus Became God. If you’re interested, you should look there! (But no, Jesus certainly, in my view, did not think of himself as God. At all.)

  6. saeed319  December 30, 2018

    You say ” No such evidence exists”. Well no evidence would exist as the Romans did a thorough job of burning evidences multiple times throughout history. Evidence was burned, and so information could be controlled. The burnings are a factual historical reality. Your reply to that?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 31, 2018

      What makes you think the Romans burned evidence? Do you have some sources of information? I’m not aware of any.

      • AstaKask  December 31, 2018

        I don’t know that they burned them deliberately, but fires in antique cities were hardly unusual. A lot of early documents would have been burned in the Gallian Sack of Rome in 397 BC. Then Rome was sacked two times in the fifth century and one time in the sixth century, which can’t have been good for record-keeping. And of course, when the pagan temples were plundered after the Edict of Thessalonica there was probably some burning of religious artifacts and records (after the pattern of Acts 19:19).

        • godspell  January 2, 2019

          Where did the writers of these modern books Bart is talking about get the information they claim to have, if it was destroyed millennia before they were born? Time machine? ESP? Amazon.bc?

          They pulled it out of their asses, is where they got it.

          • godspell  January 2, 2019

            We do have a great deal of information about these earlier myths relating to supernatural births–not just the myths of the great civilizations, but also of tribal cultures around the world. And the trend we see is that the magical births involve sex of some kind, and the women are not perceived as virgins after giving birth.

            Physically, that is quite impossible, of course–Catholicism later tried to say Mary’s virginity was magically restored after she had Jesus, and she and Joseph never had marital relations, which is why Jesus’ younger siblings had to be his older half-siblings from a previous marriage, and Joseph an old man marrying a teenager. Simply to maintain the notion of “Blessed Mary Ever Virgin.”

            It gets that convoluted. But perhaps less so than saying “How can you debunk these writers who say the Virgin Birth was copied from earlier myths? Obviously the information they claim to have was destroyed millennia ago, so that’s why they can’t produce it! Therefore you can’t prove it doesn’t exist!”

            It’s hard to be more convoluted than an old school Catholic. Congrats. 😉

      • saeed319  January 1, 2019

        The Diocletian Edict 303 AD ordered the burning of Scriptures. Emperor Diocletian and Maximianus came to the church in Nicomedia, forced the gates, found the Christian Holy Scriptures, and burnt them.
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diocletianic_Persecution

        Eusebius of Caesarea, in Ecclesiastical History wrote of the ‘great Christian persecution’, and how inspired and sacred Scriptures were committed to flames in the midst of the market place.
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eusebius

        • Bart
          Bart  January 3, 2019

          Yes indeed, there were occasoinal book-burning episodes, notable precisely because they were scattered events, not a systematic policy. There is a good book on this by Wolfgang Speyer, but unfortunately it is in German.

          • GregAnderson  January 8, 2019

            “The Darkening Age: The Christian Destruction of the Classical World”, by Catherine Nixey, documents the destruction of books as well as temples. (This is not a scholarly work per se, but it is annotated with sources.)

            I personally find it completely plausible that many if not most documents of pre-Christian Roman religion were intentionally destroyed. Why would they not have been? A visit to the Pantheon in Rome demonstrates the mindset of late antique Rome perfectly: the building is lovingly preserved while the image and name of every god has been effaced. Why should documents have been spared?

            Also, we know that other pre-Judeo/Christian religions which we now label “Pagan” had books describing their religious practices in detail. Judaism is by no means the first “religion of the (a) book.” See the Hittites for some fascinating examples. So where are all the manuals of Roman religious practice? We know they practiced a bevy of detailed rituals. Did the literate Romans really never record them all somewhere?

            As a science geek, I hold out the hope that one day, the burned library of Herculaneum will be readable somehow, and then I think we’ll be astonished at the variety of topics

    • godspell  January 2, 2019

      I’m not aware of anyone saying the Romans systematically destroyed evidence of earlier pagan religions. Frankly, I never heard anyone say the Romans destroyed evidence relating to Jesus, either. Why would they? The Romans collected information. Caesar may have accidentally destroyed part of the great library of Alexandria (the actual library continued for a long time afterwards), the Dark Ages led to the loss of many ancient books, books are inherently fragile things, so sure, probably there’s a lot of information we’ll never have about pagan myths, and nobody ever knew much about the Mystery Religions, which is why they’re called that.

      But in that case, none of these authors writing these books ever saw it, so what are they basing their claims on?

      I mean, by the same logic, maybe books that would have proved the existence of the historical Jesus to even Richard Carrier’s satisfaction were lost. Maybe books that substantiated large portions of the gospel stories were lost. Maybe Jesus’ birth certificate was lost! A Christian could just as easily use the same logic you’re using to say the debunkers of certain elements of his beliefs can make no definitive claims, because books were lost.

      We work with the information we have. The information we have does not substantiate these claims, and therefore the claims are fraudulent. Absence of evidence is not evidence of anything. And these authors were working in the modern era, with modern standards of scholarship, and far more access to a wide range of information than any ancient writer ever had. So they have far less excuse for their errors, if errors they were. Seems more like intentional obfuscation to me.

      You have a marketing niche. People who want to believe they have secret knowledge about something. People who want to believe Jesus is a myth, and a derivative myth. Something scholars have many times debunked–there is myth-making going on in the gospels, but myth-making built around a person who really lived. Events that actually happened, but not exactly as described, because the myth-making process is taking over. But most myths based on real events are written down centuries later. The gospels within one long human lifetime. It’s different.

  7. AstaKask  December 30, 2018

    I can think of a few, but I also think I know where you’re going with this.

  8. anvikshiki  December 30, 2018

    I have not read the Freke and Gandy book. I myself am a scholar of ancient Indian and Chinese traditions. There are a few births of major figures in those traditions that are announced by dreams or visions, but not virgin births. The first major biography of the Buddha, written four or five centuries after he lived, reports that his mother had a dream one night of being bathed by four gods, then of a white elephant entering her side, and the sign being interpreted the next morning that she would give birth to a great being, and ten months later she did. But the dream does depict an act of conception, the elephant entering her side at the level of her womb. One isolated and obviously mythical story of the (probably entirely legendary) figure of Laozi of Daoist fame reports that his mother conceived him after gazing at the stars one night and kept him in her womb for 62 years, so that he was born “old” (lao). Not a very enviable pregnancy! But this birth too only results from a kind of vision. Anyway, there seems at least some pattern in ancient literature in different cultures that people could either be impregnated by divine beings or after mystical visions or have stupendous births announced to them in unlikely circumstances (such as great age). But the “virgin birth” of Mary seems to have resulted from translating the Hebrew for “young girl” of Isaiah’s prophecy into the Septuagint Greek for “virgin,” and a few Gospel writers adopting that language and associated prophecy for Jesus’ birth. Those details do seem to make the Christian notion of a “virgin” birth, even in the ancient world, quite unusual.

  9. crucker  December 30, 2018

    I read that book several years back and recall looking up the sources they cited in my edition and was amazed at how nothing seemed to match up. One source they cited throughout was The Bacchae by Euripides (which was their source for Dionysus/Bacchus). But when I read that text in its entirety, there was basically nothing there that matched what they said. The closest thing I could find was the phrase “born again” being used within the context of Bacchus being sewn up into Jove’s “thigh”, but that was it. I do recall them citing one of Plato’s works at one point in reference to someone being raised on the third day, however the text they cited was about a ship that was supposed to return the day after tomorrow (or something similar to that– it’s been many years since I’ve looked at this).

    What’s also odd is that there was another book making many of the same basic claim around the same time: The Christ Conspiracy by Acharya S. The first thing that struck me as odd was that these two books didn’t even agree upon which Egyptian god Jesus was obviously stolen from: one claims Horus and the other Osiris. This book also made other astronomical claims that didn’t pan out. For example, they claimed the position of the sun (which represents the “son”) setting on December 25th coincided with the constellation we know as the Southern Cross, and the stories are symbolism for the sun/son “dying” on the cross. But when I looked up the star charts in Ptolemy’s “The Almagest”, none of the stars were even close to the ecliptic (i.e. the apparent path of the sun through the sky). The closest was something like 50 degrees off, which doesn’t allow for the observed phenomenon claimed in the book. Plus, the similarity of the terms “sun” and “son” is seen in English, but not so much in Greek if i understand correctly.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 31, 2018

      Yes, Acharya S’s book was even much worse. Hard to believe that would be possible, but alas, it was!! I talk about them both in my book Did Jesus Exist.

  10. JohnKesler  December 30, 2018

    Even if Matthew and/or Luke was not influenced by pagan stories of gods impregnating mortal women, could not the Genesis 6:1-4 pericope have played a role? Though the women with whom the “sons of God/the gods” had relations are never explicitly called virgins, should we not infer this since they are said to have *married* these divine beings (6:2)?

  11. ask21771  December 30, 2018

    Did the idea of punishment after death exist in the apocrypha before jesus?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 31, 2018

      Yes, indeed, you find it signficantly already in Plato. IN fact, in three instances in Homer!

  12. nichael  December 30, 2018

    Dr Ehrman somewhat implies this in his statement of the topic (I.e. The birth of “sons of God”, demigods, etc in classical legend) but on the other hand virgin/parthenogenesis births were certainly known among the _gods_ in classical mythology.

    For example in some versions of the legend Hephaestus/Vulcan was conceived as the son of Hera and Zeus in the usual way. But in other versions Hera “willed” herself to become pregnant, primarily in revenge for Zeus having “given birth” to Athena. (Moreover this legend explains why Hephaestus was crippled; that is, in Zeus’ fury at Hera’s betrayal he flung the newborn from from the heights of Olympus; and/or the child was fated to be deformed because of the “unnatural” nature of Hera’s conceiving).

    Another example (sort of) is Athena’s son Erichthonous. The problem here was that Athens, like any city dedicated to a god, needed an “ancestor” descended from that God from whom its citizens could trace their ancestry. Since Athena was known to be a perpetual virgin, this presented a problem. Hence the legend that Hephaestus attempted to rape Athena. He failed, and he (as the saying goes) “spilled his seed” first on Athena’s leg and from there onto the ground. It was from this that the child was born, whom Athena later adopted.

    (I suppose though, if we were going to play apologist, we might say this just proves the point. A virgin birth is just fine, provided the principals involved are divine. 😉 )

  13. forthfading  December 30, 2018

    Dr. Ehrman,

    Many Christian apologist assert that if any borrowing was done between religious groups within the Roman Empire it was the “mystery religions” borrowing from Christians.

    Is there any truth to such claims?

    Thanks, Jay

    • Bart
      Bart  December 31, 2018

      It’s hard to establish their actual, historical, relations. We have very little concrete evidence on the mystery religions. If you’re interested, a very nice collection of the important texts is in Marvin Meyer’s book The Ancient Mysteries.

  14. Brand3000  December 30, 2018

    Dr. Ehrman:

    That’s one of the great things about your scholarship, you are critical but fair to both sides of a debate. Looking at the headline of this post I thought it might be very easy to just say, yeah everything is just based on mythology, but I’m glad you take an independent view. I heard you on a radio program once as the host tried to coax you into saying that resurrections were common in antiquity as well, and you said no. Do you still agree that resurrection is unique to Jesus?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 31, 2018

      The precise Christian understanding about what happened Jesus after his death, that his actual body was restored to life and made immortal, is not attested of any pagan figure in antiquity.

      • dankoh  December 31, 2018

        I believe that claim was made about Aristeas of Proconosses. At any rate, Origen takes the claim seriously enough to deny it (c. Cels. III, 27); see Herodotus’s Histories IV, 14-15 and Plutarch’s Lives: Romulus 28. See Endsjø, Greek Resurrection Beliefs and the Success of Christianity, 2009, esp. 63, which is where I got this information, also 102 for Origen. He argues that most Greek resurrection stories did not say the resurrected (or revived) person became immortal, but there are exceptions. Lüdemann is skeptical, but he does list other scholars who accept that there were stories of bodily resurrections (The Resurrection of Christ: A Historical Inquiry, 2004, 143n55).

        • Bart
          Bart  January 1, 2019

          Yes, Endsjø does make this case; I don’t know of any other experts who agree, but I may be wrong. The instances cited are all highly problematic.

          • dankoh  January 1, 2019

            I just reread c. Cels III.27 (actually 26-31; Origen devotes a lot of effort to refuting the Aristeas story: http://www.documenta-catholica.eu/d_0185-0254-%20Origene%20-%20Contra%20Celsus%20-%20EN.pdf – my Latin is really minimal and I have to rely on translations) . He does quote Celsus at length describing how Aristeas died in the fuller’s shop and then the body disappeared and seen later, several years later, and again 340 (I think the correct number is 240) years after that. Also that Apollo wanted him hailed as a god. My only real interest in Aristeas is to suggest that there were stories at the time of other persons being restored from the dead, and in at least a few cases made immortal, and I believe this passage from Origen along with Herodotus and Plutarch do make a case.

            Endsjø is making this argument in response to Bishop Wright, whom I am also arguing against. Do you agree with Wright that there is nothing similar in Greek mythology to the Jesus resurrection, or are you taking a third position?

          • Bart
            Bart  January 3, 2019

            I’m afraid I’m out of the country and so don’t have access to my books. The Chadwick translation is the place to go, and it would be important to look at the entire passage carefully and thoughtfully. But yes, I agree on Wright on this one.

          • dankoh  January 15, 2019

            Thank you for the reference to the Chadwick translation; I’m now poring over it and as best I can see (though the language is twisted), Origen is arguing against Celsus’s position that Aristeas, who died and was resurrected, was once considered a god, but “nobody still thinks him a god.” Origen is saying Aristeas cannot be compared to Jesus.

            Of more interest, I believe, is the passage in Plutarch’s Lives where he talks not only of Aristeas but of Cleomedes and Alcmene. “In short, many such fables are told by writers who improbably ascribe divinity to the mortal features in human nature, as well as to the divine” (Romulus xviii, 6) [Perrin translation]. He goes on to say that “we must not, therefore, violate nature by sending the bodies of good men with their souls to heaven. . . .” (8).

            To my mind, this says that there was a belief in Plutarch’s time of bodily resurrection, of bodily ascent to heaven after death (Alcmene on her funeral bier), else Plutarch would not have felt moved to argue against it. That is the point that I think contradicts Bishop Wright’s assertion that the idea of Jesus being bodily resurrected had never been thought of before. Is that a reasonable reading of Plutarch?

          • Bart
            Bart  January 17, 2019

            I’m not sure he has in mind a body being brought back to life to reappear on earth and then to be taken up into heaven. There are lots of tales of people being taken up in otehr circumstances, e.g., without dying (from Romulus to Apollonius, etc.)

      • Brand3000  December 31, 2018

        Dr. Ehrman:

        The same can be said about the Jewish world too, because prior to Jesus there were only ascensions/exaltations i.e. Enoch and Elijah, but no resurrections, correct?

        • Bart
          Bart  January 1, 2019

          That’s right, no resurrections, just resuscitations and ascensions while still alive.

          • AstaKask  January 3, 2019

            Asklepios was killed by Zeus for bringing people back to life, and he was later worshipped as a minor god. Isn’t that a counter-example?

          • Bart
            Bart  January 4, 2019

            He was already divine.

          • AstaKask  January 4, 2019

            I think you need to look closer at Asklepios. Karelisa Hart (professor emerita of Classics at UF) writes in her book “Performance and Cure: Drama and Healing in Ancient Greece and contemporary America” (2009) writes “[Asklepios] legend states that at some point he was restored to life and elevated to a divine status.” (Asterisks mine). That does sound like an ascension post-mortem to me.

          • Bart
            Bart  January 6, 2019

            Do you know what ancient source she is referring to for this myth? There are certainly ascensions to divine status, from Romulus to Julius Caesar to Appolonius in the Roman tradition, e.g., But these are not instances of bodies being reanimated from the grave. They are ascensions, not resurrections. If you’re really interested in pursuing this, I devote a long discussion to it in my book How Jesus Became God.

          • AstaKask  January 6, 2019

            Nope, it’s behind a paywall. But if you’ve already researched this, then you’re probably right.

  15. bradseggie  December 31, 2018

    Kersey Graves’ “Sixteen Saviors Crucified” presents a lot of these false ideas about Christianity being a simple copy of pagan beliefs.

  16. Gary  December 31, 2018

    Off topic question:

    I’m currently in a discussion with a group of mythicists. One of them made the comment below. I’d be interested in your response:

    Mythicist: “Ehrman has provided a tremendous amount of insight into the literature in and around the NT narratives. But he seems to have back-tracked from his earlier scholarship and works, and plateaued at a historical Jesus without very little substance for one. He does a lot of what seems to be special-pleading via hand-waving and flowery prose, as is present in the text you cite above. He seems to have come close to declaring Jesus a myth 12 yrs ago when he was quoted by a Washington Post reporter telling a packed auditorium at the University of North Carolina –

    “Sometimes Christian apologists say there are only three options to who Jesus was: a liar, a lunatic or the Lord,” he tells a packed auditorium here at the University of North Carolina, where he chairs the department of religious studies. “But there could be a fourth option — legend.” http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/03/04/AR2006030401369.html?noredirect=on

    I think he got burnt by that, and that has influenced what he has said since (his wife and friends are religious, according to that article).”

    • Bart
      Bart  December 31, 2018

      There simply is no arguing with a someone who subscribes to conspiracy. Evidence just doesn’t matter. For those who think evidence does matter, the issue is not even *debated*: Jesus certainly existed, however many legendary accounts sprang up about him. But in any event, this person has misconstrued what I said. The fourth option was not for me at the time or ever that Jesus was a complete “myth.” It is that there are “legends” told about him. There are also tons of legends told about Constantine and Abraham Lincoln. Doesn’t mean they didn’t exist! *That* has to be established on other grounds.

    • godspell  December 31, 2018

      Much as I enjoy Bart’s concise commonsense writing style, I can’t say offhand I’ve seen anything in his books that could be considered ‘flowery prose.’ I guess that’s just a way of saying he doesn’t write in dry pedantic post-modern acadamese all of the time?

  17. John Uzoigwe  December 31, 2018

    Dr Bart Erhman, Paul did warned his followers in ◄ 1 Timothy 1:4 ►
    Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith: so do.
    Dont you think Paul would have been aware of the rumors of virgin birth of Jesus and had written this to dismiss it. What’s your take on this?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 31, 2018

      I don’t think Paul wrote 1 Timothy. But whoever did, he says nothing to suggest that he’s thinking about the virgin birth.

  18. Lev
    Lev  December 31, 2018

    I share your view that the virgin birth story was legendary, rather than historical.

    Something that has baffled me, however, is the question over why early Christians would have invented this story – what was their motivation for doing so?

    Do you think it has anything to do with how the church responded to persecution? That is, their claims that Jesus was the Messiah and King of the Jews through his lineage to David presented a political threat to Rome, and that by inventing a supernatural birth story would somehow mollify that threat?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 1, 2019

      The reasons hinted at in the text both have to do with understanding better who Christ is, as the *literal* Son of God (as in Luke) and as a fulfillment of the prophecies of Scripture (as in Matthew). The idea appears to have developed internally as Christians thought about the significance of Christ, rather than as an attempt to ward off attacks of outsiders. But it’s an interesting idea.

      • Aion666  January 4, 2019

        Hi Bart, does our existential perspective shift upon words and the context of their meaning? WHO Christ was is social context while a shift in perspective lens to WHAT Christ was may force us to meditate upon a felt-sense of metaphor & meaning as to the subconscious ‘anointing’ of our conscious mind, perhaps? Whereby the Legend of a virgin birth may allude to the Axial-age birth of embodied wisdom?

        Re: parallels between the Buddha & the Christ, the temptations during the night that the Prince of Sense-Ability, as some Thai Buddhists call him, sat down on right side of that inamous tree, are similar in existential style to Jesus temporal temptations regarding inner sensations of power & love.

        The wise prophecy at the time of this son of a King’s birth, was that he would one day rule over whole Earth. And of course if this myth of the Buddha is really a parable teaching about the human mind as a King of Nature, then the prophecy could be perceived as a historical truth, No?

        I hope my first comment here is welcome, not sure of the protocols, as a brand new member.

        My Christian name is David BTW, although when l mention to my 4 grown up son’s the Body Language look tends to be, WTF?

  19. AstaKask  December 31, 2018

    Is the virgin birth in the New Testament? Luke and Matthew say the she had had not man before the Holy Spirit came upon her, but does it state that she was a virgin when she gave birth?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 1, 2019

      Yup: read the accounts carefully!

      • davidnmari  January 14, 2019

        Hi Dr. Ehrman,
        I’ve looked throughout Matt 1 and Luke 1 and 2 and do not see the idea that Mary was a virgin when she gave birth. We see that she was a virgin before the Holy Spirit overshadowed her, and we see that Joseph didn’t consumate the marriage, but we see nothing (that I could find) that said she was a virgin after being “overshadowed by Holy Spirit.” The virgin birth appears to me to be a theological statement rather than a textual one.

        • Bart
          Bart  January 15, 2019

          In Matthew 1:23, she “bears a son” *as* a “virgin” (not after once having been one). But you’re right, Luke never explicitly says she was still a virgin after being overshadowed by the Spirit. It is also worth pointing out, I suppose, that the passage was always *interpreted* that way in the early Christian tradition (that she remained a virgin), and not in any other way.

          • davidnmari  January 15, 2019

            Hello again Dr. Ehrman,
            Interpreting Matt 1:23, which is a quote” of Isa 7:14 in LXX, creates the dilemma of having two virgin births. Isa 7:14 clearly is speaking of a young woman during King Achaz’s day as a sign to Achaz. So, if the church is going to interpret this as a virgin birth for Jesus, which I realize is the historical position taken, doesn’t this create a theophany in Achaz’s day as well? I guess my point is, as I stated above, is that this is a theological interpretation that singles out Jesus’ birth as miraculous while ignoring the source citation itself which would then also be equally miraculous. This, of course, is denied. When this occurs, we have a theological position not a textual one. Considering the passage textually would mean that in whatever sense the young woman conceived and delivered in Isa 7:14 would be the same way Mary conceived and delivered?

          • Bart
            Bart  January 17, 2019

            My sense is that they were interpreting the passage *not* to refer to the istuation in Ahaz’s day but as a prediction of the messiah. But you’re right, that would mean not reading the passage in its own context.

  20. JohnKesler  January 1, 2019

    Who was the first person to use the term “New Testament” to describe the 27 canonical
    books? I’ve seen Tertullian and Irenaeus proposed. Did this person coin the term “Old Testament” too? (I realize that Hebrews 8 and 2 Corinthians 3 touch on this, but I’m looking for the person who coined the term(s) after the canon was established as “the Bible”).

    • Bart
      Bart  January 3, 2019

      Ah, I should know this! And used to! But I’m away from my books and can’t look it up just now. Maybe someone else on the blog can give us the definitive answer. (I *can* say that the “New Testament” in reference to the collection of distinctively Christian scriptures was being used long before there was a set canon of 27 books; Origen already uses the phrase. But who before him? I can’t recall just now who, among our surviving authors, was first.)

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