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Widespread Claims of Pagan Virgin Births

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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Miraculous (Not Virgin) Births in Ancient Pagan Texts
The Virgin Birth and the Gospel of John



  1. Avatar
    toejam  December 29, 2014

    Quick one! Would you agree with this statement: “The doctrine of the Trinity is an illogical proposition” ?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 29, 2014

      It all depends on what system of logic you want to use. It’s not “nonsense,” if that’s what you mean, since within the constraints of Christian theological logic it makes perfect sense. But it probably cannot be reconciled with typical Greek-style philosophical logic as practiced in the West today.

      • Avatar
        toejam  December 29, 2014

        What “constraints” are there in “theological logic” if one’s theology can always appeal to a higher-dimensional being who knows more than us to get around otherwise illogical premises? It’s like saying 2+3=9 isn’t illogical under the theology that a ‘beyond-our-understanding’ God or situation exists that could make 2+3 equal 9. Isn’t that just a weasel way out of preventing oneself from seeing the deficiency of logic nature in the statement?

        • Bart
          Bart  December 30, 2014

          There’s not a theological logic for mathematical formulae. There’s a theological logic for theology. You can’t use theology to prove an algebraic equation, and you can’t use an algebraic equation to establish a theological claim, any more than you can use a screwdriver to solve a philosophical conundrum.

          • Avatar
            Judith  December 30, 2014

            That’s really good!

          • Avatar
            toejam  December 30, 2014

            I guess I just don’t get “theological logic”. Thanks for your replies though.

          • Bart
            Bart  December 31, 2014

            It’s an acquired taste….

          • Avatar
            Simeon  August 15, 2015

            Prof Ehrman
            I know a man who heard Jesus say ” I am Wholehearted as is my Father Wholehearted, you are half hearted”
            After years pondering this meaning (amongst other things) he realized that Jesus considers equality with God to be “wholeheartedness”, concepts that cannot be explained cannot hold water.

      • Avatar
        Mohit Kalburge  December 29, 2014

        Do you think atheists also need to study theology? They reject it saying that when science has proved that there is no god then why one should study theology to denounce religion. What do you think?

        • Bart
          Bart  December 30, 2014

          I think if critics of modern science knew as little about science as atheists who criticize religion know about religion, they’d be laughed off the planet.

          • Avatar
            Stephen  December 30, 2014

            Actually reputable polling in the US consistently shows that atheists tend to know MORE about religion than most religious believers do. It’s easy to see why this would be so; most self-identified atheists are themselves ex-believers who took their beliefs seriously enough to question them.

            I do agree that knowledge is always better than ignorance. But on the best day of the year atheists account for maybe 4 or 5% of the population. How much harm can they do? I’m much more concerned with the 51% who think the earth is only 6000 years old and Jesus is going to swoop down any minute now and save them from the consequences of their foolishness.

        • Avatar
          kdgecko  February 10, 2015

          RE: Atheists, Theology, and Science
          I am an atheist. I believe in science. I do not reject theology based on science. My husband is a physicist, and would never say “there is no God;” though, he himself does not believe in God. Some of his colleagues do. Yes, there are scientists who believe in God. Plus, the study of theology is, in my mind, different than a belief in God. While I hold no faith in God I am interested in the history of religion and on a cultural level what and why humans have faith at all. It’s quite interesting.

      • Avatar
        Wilusa  December 29, 2014

        I, while not of course believing it, think it makes sense if the “Godhead” is thought of as a *committee* – a very special committee, whose members never disagree on any issue of importance.

      • Avatar
        bobnaumann  December 30, 2014

        Let me see here. A body is completely human and is also completely divine. Human is not divine, divine is not human. A excludes B and B excludes A yet C is all A and is all B. I’d like to see that Venn Diagram.

        • Avatar
          godspell  May 11, 2015

          Hey, I’d like to see some of this ‘dark matter’, or some proof of ‘string theory’, but would I understand it if I saw it?

          Modern-day physics might as well be theology, as far as most people are concerned. How many people can fully grasp Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity on this planet of seven billion?

          Hell, how many can grasp the concept of seven billion people?

          There’s a reason so many of the early advanced mathematicians of note were also deeply religious. Even Einstein was not what you’d call reliable on this issue. 😉

      • Avatar
        dragonfly  December 30, 2014

        Any chance you could do a post on the trinity? I just don’t seem to be able to understand it. It’s almost embarrassing to say so.

        • Bart
          Bart  December 30, 2014

          Maybe I should add it to the list!

          • Avatar
            Macavity  December 30, 2014

            I’d like to suggest that before writing about the Doctrine of the Trinity that you explain to us what Christian Theological Logic is and how it differs from typical Greek-style philosophical logic as practiced in the West today. Are you saying that reputable Christian theologians use rules of reasoning that differ from those used by philosophers, mathematicians, physicists, economists and sociologists?

          • Bart
            Bart  December 31, 2014

            If one has certain base-line assumptions (e.g., that there is one God who is in fact a Trinity; or that light is both particle and ray; or that some entities can simultaneously be in two places at once), that will affect how one logically works out the logic of those assumptions.

    • Avatar
      simonelli  December 30, 2014

      You don’t have to look far for the correct answer is in each one of us. Because we also are a trinity, the body, mind and conscience, the three are one and independent from one another, yet working in unison.

  2. Avatar
    HighlandUnitarian  December 29, 2014

    This is one reason I deeply appreciate your work despite our difference of belief: you’re an honest scholar who isn’t tempted to make sensationalist claims.
    I think what really propelled these untruths about Jesus being based on ancient pagan myths into popular consciousness was the film Zeitgeist. There isn’t a day that goes by without some atheist repeating what they heard in that film to me.

  3. gmatthews
    gmatthews  December 29, 2014

    Wouldn’t the Jewish religious need for ritual purity preclude a divine Jesus’ birth by anything other than a virgin? Ie., a pure/clean woman who had not been touched by mortal man. A ritually clean mother for Jesus would mesh perfectly with his supposed divinity and could be pointed to by later early Christians as further evidence of his divinity because if his mother wasn’t pure then his divinity could be called into question. A by-product of believing this would have therefore been a novel idea about god/mortal sexual relationships: virgin birth.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 30, 2014

      I don’t think there is any Jewish tradition about a woman needing to be a virgin to give birth to a divine being.

      • gmatthews
        gmatthews  December 30, 2014

        That’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying that if early Christians claimed Mary was a virgin then it would help support their claims that Jesus was divine because surely he couldn’t be the Son of God if he were the son of a ritually impure / non-virgin woman. Sure, he could have been the son of a non-virgin, but it wouldn’t look as “God-like” because God is perfect and there’s no way he would put his Logos in an impure vessel.

        • Bart
          Bart  December 31, 2014

          I get it. But I’m not sure that anyone would have thought that way if there was no *category* for “person born from a woman who had not had sex” (i.e., no one would think that person was less pure or holy, because they had no concept of such a person.)

      • talitakum
        talitakum  December 31, 2014

        In my opinion this is a key point also for Matthew’s reading of “parthenos”: the Isaiah passage was not messianic in Jewish tradition. This means that Matthew knew a story about virgin birth and then re-interpreted Isaiah to find such a prophecy, not the other way round, for he couldn’t really build from scratch a story of virgin birth based on a prophecy that didn’t exist.. Happy New Year everyone.

      • Lef
        Lef  October 3, 2015

        Anyway, sex is NOT unclean in Judaism, quite the contrary in fact. Sex is encouraged, particularly on Shabbat, to fulfil the precept ‘multiply, be fruitful’. Purity is maintained before and after the act, eg by immersion in a ritual bath. I guess a shower could do if no immersion is available.

  4. leering
    leering  December 29, 2014

    During the 1970’s in my seminary years at Candler(Emory) I took a course studying the Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha, and the Dead Sea Scrolls. The course was taught by John H. Hayes, a goat farmer from Five Points, Alabama. I remember him saying that the ancient Mideastern mind did not function necessarily in a logical fashion. To them holding illogical or even diametrically opposed concepts in tandem was perfectly acceptable. It sounded logical to me.

    Personally, logic in all of its variant forms is only one of a multitude of belief systems. As for other mental filtering systems being “nonsense,” then so does 4×4=16 if one only thinks in terms of an Octal (Base 8) numerical system. Some cultures count their fingers and toes. Others count the spaces between their digits. JMHO, but then again I am only a Sunday school teacher.

  5. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  December 29, 2014

    I have read your book on this issue, but it is helpful to read this material again in this format. I think the point is that these pagan, Buddhist, Hindu reports do not involve a “virgin,” but involve a god having sex with a human woman.

    All that people, like Freke and Gandy, write and say is far from true. Fox News is the best current example of this premise. O’Reilly recently solved this problem on “The Factor” by saying that God can do anything and that belief in the virgin birth is a “matter of faith.” End of discussion.

    So, why does only one tradition involve a “virgin” birth?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 30, 2014

      My guess is that it’s because the idea of a God having sex with a woman to produce an offspring was not an option to Jewish monotheists.

      • Aleph82
        Aleph82  December 30, 2014

        Whoa whoa whoa. So you’re saying that the birth narrative of a Jewish prophet who ministered to a Jewish audience with a distinctlyJewish message might be of Jewish origin? Not pagan?

        • Bart
          Bart  December 31, 2014

          I know. It’s pretty radical.

          • Avatar
            ExMech  February 5, 2015

            I’m inclined to agree with this. After all, Genesis (Bereshit) is, in current knowledge, the only of the near-East creation myths that didn’t involve a male/female sexual metaphor. Elohim’s ‘creation’ was purely asexual where all the others involved a male/female couple at some salient point in the creation narrative.

  6. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  December 29, 2014

    Google “Spectacular Real Virgin Births” (BBC website). Evidently, virgin births occur in snakes and sharks, but, so far, not in mammals.

  7. Avatar
    Tnewby4444  December 29, 2014

    Been a member for 2 years and this string of posts is the most interesting by far.

  8. Josephsluna
    Josephsluna  December 29, 2014

    mercy me – greater
    always nice with a glass of wine, but me, I would conduct to the universe with a ROSE in a nice suit of course just bloggin is all.

    Bart I can’t wait until i talk to you and you hear my voice. So I feel what you feel, and see what you see, and hear what you understand. Bart I consider you a brother in belief as of now.

  9. cadmium
    cadmium  December 29, 2014

    Bart, thanks for all this talk on the virgin birth!! I find this very fascinating in light of obsession with Christmas et al. As a Jew who believes that Jesus was the messiah, I find all of this a wonderful study in understanding culture.

    Another question: Using the assumption that Jesus was born during the fall feast of Succoth could not the rendering of παρθένος in the LXX be better read as “under the sign of the” παρθένος? (Where “under the sign of” is understood, missing, or otherwise assumed.)

    • Bart
      Bart  December 30, 2014

      You’re welcome!

      I’m not sure I’m following your argument about “παρθενος”. (And why would we think he was born during Succoth?)

      • cadmium
        cadmium  December 31, 2014

        Let me explain, as now I read my previous post and realized that the dreaded inner conversation preceded my post, hence… major assumptions in communicating (or lack thereof) my thoughts… 
        Thought process:
        1. Zacharias priestly tour during the course of Abia – Luke 1:5, 1 Chr 24:10
        a. 8th course would have been during the 10th week of that year
        b. Starting time would have been the second Sabbath of Sivan.
        2. John was conceived shortly after the tour, about the 3rd Sabbath of Sivan – Luke 1:23-24
        3. John could have been born around Nissan 15, given a normal gestation.
        a. Jesus said that John was a type of Elijah –Matt 1:10-13, Luke 1:17
        b. Passover would accommodate that idea – the Cup of Elijah (5th cup)
        4. Jesus was conceived 6 months after John – Luk 1:24-27, 36
        a. This happened late in the month of Kislev
        b. It could have happened during Hanukkah, as Jesus was called the Light of the world – John 8:12, 9:5, 12:46
        c. If he was born on the first day of Sukkot (again, assuming a normal gestation), his circumcision would have been the 8th day, Simchat Torah.
        d. Simchat Torah is considered a day of fulfillment of the Torah and is when the Torah readings start over – aka: He had come to fulfill the Law and the Prophets – Matt 5:17
        5. Assuming that Jesus’ ministry lasted 3 ½ years:
        a. Ministry started when he was approximately 30
        b. His crucifixion during Passover minus 6 months would put his birthday in Tishri.
        c. This is circumstantial evidence… but it could help place a relative time.
        In specific to the word παρθενος, it can also be translated as the name of the constellation Virgo. The mazzaroth traditions speak of the virgin birth being heralded by Virgo. The “wise men” of the birth narrative spoke of following his star to the birth place. Paul, in Rom 10:18, quoted Psalms 19:4 in reference to an astrological explanation to Jesus’ birth. This also goes along with the multiple ideas put forth in the Bible in reference to “heavenly signs” or other astrological views about events.
        IF the time of his birth is around 4 BCE to 0 CE, the constellation Virgo would be in the right position to herald his birth, thus “he is born of a παρθενος”.
        Again, this is an interesting thought exercise and I know that there are a lot of assumptions that must be used in order to get to this conclusion. What I like about this theory is that 1) it takes advantage of the mysticism of the day, 2) it fits culturally into the Jewish mindset of Torah and its importance in everyday life (aka a person’s torah passage when they were born, in this case Lev 22:26-23:44), 3) Fits in the feast cycles for which he is said to come to do perfectly.

        • Bart
          Bart  December 31, 2014

          Well, that’s pretty complicated! I don’t think there’s any way, though, that Luke could have had the slightest idea what time of year Jesus was born, or John; and the idea of John’s father being a priest is almost certainly a legend (let alone a priest from the line of Abijah).

  10. Avatar
    Wilusa  December 29, 2014

    I probably should wait till I read your next post…but I’ve always thought that when the ancient Jews wanted to claim a birth was miraculous, they portrayed the mother as being long past menopause. The early followers of Jesus couldn’t do that, because he was known to have siblings near his own age. So they thought up another type of “miraculous” birth.

    I know of one type of miraculous birth in *Irish* legend, which didn’t require anyone’s being a virgin. A divine rival of the goddess Etain turned her into – I think – a dragonfly. As a dragonfly, she landed on a woman’s cup, and the woman inadvertently swallowed her. Then she was born to the woman as an apparent mortal, and actually named for the goddess Etain (whom she still, really, was). Followed by a long, involved story! I think I’ve also heard of myths in other cultures in which swallowing something resulted in a divine birth, but without the mother’s being said to be a virgin.

  11. Avatar
    Matilda  December 29, 2014

    I was wondering if the Jews were so insulated that some of these ideas couldn’t have crossed pollenated. I think it was in one of your books, Bart where I read that Yahweh was essentially a dominant god in a pagan religion and he became God the one and only to the Jews? Could the virgin birth story have drifted and morphed from Greek or paganism into the story in the Bible? I think what I’m asking is how did this story evolve? Surely it was not just cooked up out of someone’s imagination without a germ of gleaned information from something else could it?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 30, 2014

      Yaheweh was a distinctively Israelite divinity. My view of the idea of the virgin birth is the same as for every other religious idea: *someone*, *somewhere,” must have come up with it originally!

  12. Avatar
    smackemyackem  December 30, 2014

    I have read 3 of your books and many of your articles. I believe you have addressed this before…so correct me if Im wrong. Do you believe that Christianity was “influenced” by pagan mythology…but Christianity didn’t rob ideas “wholesale” and insert them into their beliefs? Ive heard some apologists say, as a defense, that since Christianity doesn’t have carbon copy ideas from mythology…there is no connection. Or at least they present it that way. Like it’s an all or nothing proposition. In my mind I always say, “Nobody is saying Christianity was simply copied from Greek mythology, but it was influenced by them. Many concepts are similar”. Would you agree with that statement?

  13. Avatar
    JSTMaria  December 30, 2014

    Speaking of the Trinity, I have read it is originally an Egyptian concept of the Godhead. Do you know anything about this?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 30, 2014

      Egypt did sometimes have three closely related gods (Seth, Isis, Osiris). But they did not have a trinity.

      • Avatar
        Wilusa  December 30, 2014

        And Hinduism…Brahma (the creator), Vishnu (the “maintainer”), and Shiva (the destroyer) are all *aspects* of a single god, right? Similar to the Christian Trinity in some ways, though I doubt the Hindu concept influenced it.

        Another “explanation” of the Trinity that I heard years ago, which makes sense to me:

        “God the Father” represents the aspect of religion that involves, for example, the awe we feel when we look up at the night sky. The wonder and majesty of Creation.

        “God the Son” represents the aspect of religion that involves some sort of Church, on Earth. So it’s understandable that it includes a divine being’s having walked on Earth in human form, and founded that Church.

        “God the Holy Spirit” represents the aspect of religion that involves people’s feeling some sacred knowledge is really being imparted to them, personally. A spiritual connection with God.

        • Avatar
          David  January 3, 2015

          Thanks Wilusa for sharing that explanation of the trinity.I like it in the sense that it’s actually a more realistic,”down to earth” concept of it.

  14. Avatar
    Jim  January 1, 2015

    On the topic of virgin births, 2 of my friends were old family doctors who on different occasions described to me their experiences of virgin births.
    They had both delivered babies from young un-wed mothers with intact hymens.
    Their explanation was “heavy petting without penetration and people’s under appreciation of the
    motility of sperm.”

    • Bart
      Bart  January 3, 2015

      Wow. Amazing.

      • Avatar
        Wilusa  January 5, 2015

        I had heard of that being recognized as medically possible. Not of anyone’s being sure it had really happened. Someone’s having heard of it from two different doctors suggests it may not be as rare as we imagine!

        • Avatar
          ExMech  February 5, 2015

          Spontaneous closure of the hymen during pregnancy.
          Onan MA1, Turp AB, Taskiran C, Ozogul C, Himmetoglu O.
          Author information
          Imperforate hymen is a rare disorder that is usually discovered at the onset of menstruation. In the literature, secondary closure of the hymen has been reported in 2 cases, both of which occurred subsequent to surgical procedures that involved the hymen. We report an interesting case of the spontaneous formation of an imperforate hymen during pregnancy in the absence of previous surgical procedures. Electron microscopic findings indicate hymenal tissue reorganization.

  15. Avatar
    Luke9733  February 2, 2015

    This is sort of an off-topic question, but I often hear Mythicists try to paint the view that Jesus existed as almost an entirely Christian view. You (obviously) are proof that this isn’t so, but I was wondering, who are some other, big name, non-Christian historians in the field of New Testament studies or Early Christian history? I know Gerd Ludemann’s not Christian, but who else? (I’ve tried to find out if EP Sanders or Paula Fredriksen are Christian, but I can’t find anywhere that says if either of them are or not).

    • Bart
      Bart  February 2, 2015

      E.P. Sanders I’m not sure about. I think he considers himself agnostic. Paula Fredriksen is a Jewish convert. A. J. Levine is Jewish. I don’t know anyone in a college or university in North America who teaches in any of the relevant fields — ancient Judaism, New Testament, early Christaintiy, Greek and Roman history, and so on — who is a mythicist. Maybe there are one or two out there, but I don’t know of any. And obviously this includes people with a huge range of personal beliefs.

      • Avatar
        Luke9733  February 3, 2015

        Do you know anything about the following people: Thomas L. Brodie, Thomas L Thompson, Arthur J Droge, Alexander Jacob. They’re all Mythicists, but are they Ph.D historians (trained in a relevant field of history), or are they non-experts or experts in a non-related field?

        Sorry, I’m in a discussion with someone on another blog over whether or not the Mythicist view is, in his words, “on an upward trajectory. “

        • Bart
          Bart  February 3, 2015

          I know that Thomas Thompson is a Hebrew Bible scholar (not in North America and not an expert in the fields normally seen as relevant for studying the historical Jesus), and I know that Arthur Droge is agnostic on the historical Jesus — but I don’t recall that he is a self-described mythicist. Am I wrong about that. The others I don’t know. Are they professors in relevant fields in North America?

          • Avatar
            Luke9733  February 7, 2015

            After looking a bit more, it seems that the only two who are actual Mythicists are Alexander Jacob and Thomas L. Brodie. I found something that says that Jacob has a Ph.D in the “History of Ideas” (whatever that is) from Pennsylvania State University.
            Brodie seems more legitimate (as legitimate as a Mythicist can be, I guess). He was a former Catholic Priest who wrote the book “Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus: Memoir of a Discovery”. Know anything about him?

          • Bart
            Bart  February 9, 2015

            I’m afraid I don’t. He published his book after I had done research on mine.

  16. Avatar
    Luke9733  February 7, 2015

    This is sort of a side-note (again). Have you ever written on Carrier’s “argument” that Philo “mentions a celestial being named Jesus” in On Confusion of Tongues”? I know that Philo doesn’t give the name Jesus (or Joshua), but Carrier’s argument is that he’s writing about “the branch” in Zechariah 6, which Carrier takes to be Joshua son of Jehozadak (meaning Philo would think that Joshua is a celestial being). When I read Zechariah, it sounds like the Branch is someone else. Earlier in Zechariah 3 6-8, it seems like God is telling Joshua that he’s going his servant the Branch (implying that Joshua actually isn’t the Branch).
    Do you have an interpretation of these passages and a view of Carrier’s idea that Philo knows of a celestial being named Jesus/Joshua?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 9, 2015

      I think Carrier ought to take some courses on the topics he writes about. It would be useful, for example, if he would learn Hebrew and take some classes in Hebrew Bible.

      • Avatar
        Luke9733  February 9, 2015

        Does this mean that “Joshua son of Jehozadak” is not intended to be the Branch in Zechariah? Would I be right in saying that The Branch is just an unnamed Messiah figure? (I know Joshua son of Jehozadak is mentioned elsewhere in the Old Testament, but I don’t think Zechariah means that he’s The Branch).
        What would be the correct way of interpreting the Zechariah passage and then interpreting what Philo means (On Confusion of Tongues XIV: 62-63)?

        • Bart
          Bart  February 10, 2015

          I’m sorry to say that to deal with the question adequately and respond would take an hour of my time — and I just don’t have it. I do talk briefly about the issue in my undergraduate textbook on the Bible; but you can see a standard interpretatoin simply from a good critical commentary. I would start with the HarperCollins Bible Commentary. If that’s of no help, let me know and I’ll suggest a Plan B.

          • Avatar
            Luke9733  February 10, 2015

            Are there any commentary books that would include information on the “On the Confusion of Tongues” passage as well? Or would you say a commentary on the Zechariah passage alone is enough to understand where Carrier’s error (errors?) is?

          • Bart
            Bart  February 10, 2015

            I’m not sure which passage you’re referring to, but any good commentary on the Bible will try to explain all the complicated passages.

  17. Avatar
    ErickB  February 8, 2015

    Mr. Erhman, I have greatly appreciated this series on the virgin birth especially this post because I recently saw a movie called, “Zeitgeist”, in which the first part of the film lays out why Jesus never existed and was a myth citing things like the passage you have above about the similarities between Jesus and the pagan gods.
    I knew it was not true, ironically from reading your books especially, “How Jesus Became God”. I looked through Fundamentalist sources and could not find anything.
    (One reason I became a member was to ask you about this very thing. So thank you).
    They picked the 25th of December because it was the day that the sun reached its lowest point in the sky, stayed there for three days, then began to climb again. They then equated this to the death, burial and resurrection of the son. A lot of it was based on astrology.

  18. Avatar
    teacher  April 21, 2015

    RE: Matthew and a “virgin conception.” I’m not so sure Matthew says that. To me, his “the child is from the Holy Spirit” is at best a dubious proof. Like all prepositions (even Greek ones), “from” is at least ambiguous. (I remember looking at my new-born daughter and thinking, “This is a gift FROM God,” and it shouldn’t surprise anyone that “virginal conception” was the last thing on my mind.) Could Matthew be saying something like, “It doesn’t matter how this conception took place; God MEANT for this person to be born”? In that light, it may be important that Matthew starts his story about Jesus with this confusing “pregnancy outside of marriage” story. Why does he do that? (Luke doesn’t.) It’s HIS story, and he can write it the way he wants. Was he simply responding to an “accepted fact” within his community? Was this “from the Holy Spirit” his way of cleaning up the story? It would seem to me that the “virginal conception” is a later interpretation supplied by second-century theologians as they began developing the idea of a “divine” Jesus. How far off base am I?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 22, 2015

      Well, he uses the word “virgin” and quotes Isa. 7:14 to back it up….

      • Avatar
        teacher  April 22, 2015

        True enough… but even ignoring the virgin-versus-young-woman issue, two points: One, Isaiah uses the future tense, which Matthew faithfully copies. Since Mary is already pregnant by the time Matthew inserts the Isaiah quote, I would assume then he is applying the quote to the time BEFORE Mary was pregnant — and almost assuredly a “virgin.” Two, Isaiah prefaces this quote with “The Lord will give you a sign,” and again I would assume that Matthew (unless he is flagrantly cherry-picking) knows his readers will “get” the context and is offering this quote as certification of God’s purpose for this child. In neither case is the language aimed at “virgin conception” as we Christians know it — that seems to come later. Right? Wrong? Just silliness?.

        • Bart
          Bart  April 24, 2015

          Yes, Matthew was not giving a careful exegesis of Isaiah. But in my view Matthew did think that Jesus’ mother was a virgin.

          • Avatar
            teacher  April 27, 2015

            …and your “view” certainly carries its professional weight — far more, I most readily admit, than one coming from a rank amateur. But much as I would like to say, “I get it; I’m with you,” I am still stuck on this. I am trying to see how the “text” leads to the “doctrine,” but I am left with other — and to me more likely — readings for the text than this theologically dramatic one. It seems to me that the “virgin conception” idea is inserted as the “only” reading once the early theologians began working out the “divinity” of Jesus, but for my eyes it doesn’t flow easily from Matthew’s text itself. It is my understanding (and I say that with much reservation) that such an intimate interaction between the Jewish God and a human as our “virginal conception” offers would have bordered on blasphemy for Matthew’s Jewish readers. (I am going to have to re-read your “How Jesus Became God” for some insight here.) Matthew nowhere else makes reference to this idea, and if “virgin conception” is what he meant, I would have thought that such an extraordinary idea would have found its way into his Gospel of Jesus many times. But… nada. My own explanation is that he didn’t mean what our doctrine says; he meant something more prosaic that, once said, didn’t need to be repeated. (I should hedge my bet a little here: Even if Matthew didn’t meant ‘virgin conception,” that in and of itself isn’t reason to reject the doctrine outright.) Am I just being obtuse, here? (You wouldn’t be the first — or last — to accuse me of that.) Should I just be quiet and go away…?

          • Bart
            Bart  April 27, 2015

            No need to go away. But my view is that Matthew’s readers were Christians who believed already that Jesus was the son of God. They would not have considered a virgin birth blasphemous but natural. Matthew doesn’t refer to other parts of the story (Bethlehem, magi, Egypt, genealogy etc.) later either!

  19. talmoore
    talmoore  October 13, 2015

    The Virgin Birth narrative is a prime example of what I would call an ex rectum argument (namely, an argument pulled out of someone’s ass). The way I picture the evolution of the Virgin Birth narrative is something like this. Early Christians were going around preaching the saving grace of Jesus, and the pagans would ask what was so special about Jesus. So the missionaries, who, as most human beings, were averse to saying “I don’t know” would simply manufacture a rationalization ex rectum that would satisfy a pagan mind; namely, they would make Jesus out to be a spiritual being who was incarnated, and wandered the earth as a god in disguise (a common motif in pagan mythology). So then people would rightly ask how Jesus came to be a god incarnate and the missionaries would just reply, ex rectum, he was impregnated by God (just as Zeus was wont to inpregnate women), and Jesus was conceived in a union between god and woman, just like other pagan demi-gods. Of course, this would be a perfectly acceptable explanation to a pagan, but to a Jew it would have been blasphemous. That’s why we only see birth narratives added to the gospel accounts well into the pagan domination of Christianity post-Temple destruction. The Virgin Birth narrative was seen as a selling point to those missionaries preaching to the gentiles, but to the Jews, not so much.

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    Theonedue  January 5, 2016

    If you “had” to give a percentage of assigning the evidence that Jesus was buried in a pit vs. in a tomb by Joseph, what number would you give?

    Name me 3 sayings of Jesus you think are sayings that he probably said during his life.

    • Bart
      Bart  January 5, 2016

      I don’t think history can be done by percentages. On the sayings of Jesus: see my book Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium.

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        Raemon  December 25, 2018

        Why can’t history be done by percentages? “Percentages'” are odds and all we know are the odds that something happened or did not happen. It is seldom you can assign 100% to anything.

        • Bart
          Bart  December 25, 2018

          But on what grounds can you say, e.g., that it is 73% probably that Peter was martyred in Rome? Or 46% likely that Paul went to Spain? You can’t assign numbers like that. It looks like an objective claim but it’s not made on any quantifiable grounds.

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