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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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Readers’ Mailbag 1/20/2019: The Only Story of Jesus as a Boy in the New Testament
Was Jesus Born of a Virgin in the Gospel of John?

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    Aion666  January 4, 2019

    Re the virgin birth and scholars of comparative mythology like Joseph Cambell, who would perhaps, suggest that your own journey reflects the ancient myth of the hero. In his last book, Inner Reaches of Outer Space Campell begins the introduction to his subject of expertize with;

    “MYTH AND THE BODY:
    Reviewing with an unprejudiced eye the religious traditions of mankind, one becomes very soon aware of certain mythic motifs that are common to all, though differently understood and developed in the differing traditions: ideas, for example, of a life beyond death, or of malevolent and protective spirits. Adolf Bastian (1826-1905), termed these recurrent themes and features “elementary ideas,” designating as “ethnic” or “folk ideas,” the differing manners of their representation, interpretation, and application in the arts and customs, mythologies and theologies, of the peoples of this single planet.

    Such a recognition of two aspects, a universal and a local, in the constitution of religions everywhere clarifies at one stroke those controversies touching eternal and temporal values, truth and falsehood, which forever engage theologians; besides setting apart, as of two distinct yet related sciences, studies on the one hand of the differing “ethnic” or “folk ideas,” which are the concern properly of historians and ethnologists, and on the other hand, of the Elementargedanken, which pertain to psychology.

    A number of leading psychologists of the past century addressed themselves to the analysis of these universals, of whom Carl G Jung (1875-I961), it seems to me, was the most insightful and illuminating. The same mythic motifs that Bastian had termed “elementary ideas,” Jung called “archetypes of the collective unconscious,” transferring emphasis, thereby, from the mental sphere of rational ideation to the obscure subliminal abysm out of which dreams arise.

    For myths and dreams, in this view, are motivated from a single psycho-physiological source-namely, the human imagination moved by the conflicting urgencies of the organs (including the brain) of the human body, of which the anatomy has remained pretty much the same since c. 40,000 B.C. ”

    And of the Virgin Birth, he states:
    “The idea of the Virgin Birth, for example, is argued as a historical fact, whereas in practically every mythology of the world instances have appeared of this elementary idea. American Indian mythologies abound in virgin births. Therefore, the intended reference of the archetypal image cannot possibly have been to a supposed occurrence in the Near East in the first century B. C.”

    • Bart
      Bart  January 6, 2019

      Yes, Joseph Campbell was very “big” when I just started getting interested in religion decades ago. Today he is not highly thought of among most scholars of religion precisely because he makes such broad, sweeping generalizations about all religions — and about specific ones in particular — generalizations that in fact simply aren’t true. E.g., it simply is not true that “practically every mythology of the world” share the idea of a virgin birth. Just the opposite.

      • Avatar
        nichael  January 7, 2019

        As a footnote, for anyone interested in a readable study of how Joseph Campbell’s work is viewed by modern scholars of religion and mythology, I would recommend Robert A Segal’s “Joseph Campbell: An Introduction”.

        (As Dr Ehrman notes, despite Campbell’s broad popularity his views are not highly thought of by scholars of the field primarily because, 1] most of his claims are, in the last analysis, simple assertions with little underlying data to support them, and 2] his apparent unwillingness to deal with or acknowledge examples that contradict his claims.)

  2. Avatar
    Joel Smith  January 5, 2019

    The hero twins of Mayan religion were produced without sexual union.

  3. Avatar
    davidnmari  January 14, 2019

    It is my understanding that the Romulus Remus mythology is the vestal virgin Rhea Sylvia conceiving by the god Mars. The language of Luke 1:35 of “The Holy Spirit will come on [Mary], and the power of the Most High will overshadow [her]” appears to be very much like a body casting a shadow as in normal intercourse. My Greek is not as good as my Hebrew, but that’s the way it appears to me. Most Christians vehemently oppose this of course, but when I show them God uses the natural entrance ways, such as “God breathed into the man’s nostrils and he became a living soul,” the conversation usually stops. I’d be interested in what the Greek says, and if it parallels the Rhea Sylvia myth at all.

    • Bart
      Bart  January 15, 2019

      The issue with Rhea Sylvia was whether she *was* a virgin or not! I think the idea is that if a god got her pregnant, she hadn’t really violated her oath.

      • Avatar
        davidnmari  January 15, 2019

        If this is true, and I tend to agree with you that “if a god got her pregnant, she hadn’t really violated her oath” is how the story was interpreted, isn’t this a pretty solid precursor to the Mary-Jesus virgin birth myth?

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