CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

This is Part 2 of my A Distinguished Birth series. Part 1 is here. As stated therein, the series argues three basic points: 1) there are substantial differences between the narratives of Jesus’ birth and those of pagan births involving pagan deities that include but go beyond the virgin conception, 2) the authors of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke were aware of the pagan birth stories involving deities and sought to distinguish Jesus’ birth from them, and 3) the efforts of Matthew and Luke to distinguish Jesus’ birth from rival pagan accounts help explain why some early Christians did not highlight the virgin birth of Jesus in their preaching and writing.

This part focuses on the ways in which the authors of Luke and Matthew wrote their respective accounts of the conception and birth of Jesus so as to distinguish them from the pagan birth accounts involving deities and avoid offense to Jewish readers and misunderstanding by Greek readers. It also discusses the implication of the author's efforts to distinguish.

Distinguishing Jesus’ Birth

It is very likely that the authors of Matthew and Luke knew that their virgin birth narratives would invite comparisons -- and resulting misunderstandings -- with the previously discussed stories about births resulting from sex with pagan deities. They were, after all, Greek writers themselves with Hellenistic audiences. Moreover, the authors of Matthew and Luke were familiar with Greek literary genres such as biography and historical monographs, suggesting broad contact with Greek culture. It follows, therefore, that the authors sought -- in the recounting of traditions available to them -- to distinguish Jesus’ birth from the miraculous birth stories of pagan deities and legends. There are multiple features of their narratives of Mary's conception and the birth of Jesus which the authors use to serve this purpose.

1. A Virgin Conceives

Although virgins were involved in some of the pagan birth narratives, in the New Testament we have a truly “virgin” birth. Mary conceived Jesus without any sort of sexual act and remained chaste throughout her pregnancy. The women in the pagan narratives, however, conceived as a result of sexual acts and were, therefore, no longer virgins. For example, although the mother of Romulus and Remus was a “vestal virgin” she ceased being one once Mars raped her. The sex act produced the conception. This is not the case with Mary, the mother of Jesus. Her conception was accomplished by the power of God, not by any form of intercourse or the result of lustful thoughts or actions.

Matthew records that Mary was “pregnant by the Holy Spirit” (1:18) and that the angel told Joseph that “what has been conceived in her is by the Holy Spirit” (1:20). Additional confirmation is provided by Matthew where he states, “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son” (1:23) and emphasizes that even after marrying Joseph “kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son.” (1:25). In Luke, the conversation between the angel Gabriel and Mary serves the same purpose. When told she will conceive, Mary asks “How can this be, since I have not been intimate with a man?” Gabriel answers that she will conceive not by her husband but by the “Holy Spirit.” (1:34-35).

Mary's response to Gabriel can be usefully contrasted with the story of Samson's birth. Samson's mother -- who is unnamed -- had been married but was "sterile and remained childless" -- suggesting many unproductive efforts with her husband. Then, an angel appeared to her and said "You are sterile and childless, but you are going to conceive and have a son...." Note the difference in the address. The angel emphasized that the barren wife had been trying to conceive but could not. This is a classic "closed womb" healing story being set up. Equally notable is that she does not respond as Mary -- "How can this be?" -- because she is not a virgin but a married women who has a sexual relationship with her husband. Finally, there is no mention of the Holy Spirit's miraculous power producing the conception. It is clear that the conception will come about in the usual way -- sex with her husband -- now that God has opened her womb. Judges 13:1-24. Given the similarities of the story, it appears that here Luke is distinguishing Jesus' birth not only from pagan stories, but even from OT stories involving God's miraculous power. The purpose of doing so is to emphasize that Mary was and remained a virgin until after Jesus' birth and that the conception resulted directly from God's miraculous intervention.

Furthermore, it is interesting that both gospels stress that the conception will be accomplished by the “Holy Spirit.” This identification of God was perhaps chosen in part to emphasize that it is no man, earthly entity, or God in some other material form that caused the conception. It was effected by the miraculous intervention of the Holy Spirit’s power, not physical interaction. This is unique. As Justin Martyr wrote, "[n]ow it is evident to all, that in the race of Abraham according to the flesh no one has been born of a virgin, or is said to have been born of a virgin, save this our Christ." Dialogue With Trypho, 66.

Finally, nothing about the accounts in Matthew or Luke, “suggest sexual activity, but [they] do connote divine agency. The Holy Spirit is identified with God’s power in a way that anticipates Acts 1:8. The verb ‘to come upon’ also anticipates Acts 1:8, and, then, the Pentecost event. The text may call to mind Isah. 32:15, which anticipates the Spirit’s being poured out upon God’s people as a mark of the age of peace.” Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke, page 90. A helpful resource on the text here is Glenn Miller’s discussion of the issue. He goes through the language of the birth narrative and its focus on the Holy Spirit's intervention and notes that the language "is a stock, generic phrase from OT literature” that “means empowerment, being set apart for a special task.” It was not used to suggest sexual intercourse and would not communicate that to the gospel audiences (assuming some background familiarity with Jewish-Christian thought).

Accordingly, the authors distinguish Jesus’ birth by emphasizing that Mary was a virgin during and after conception and that the conception was a miracle of God’s power, not physical presence.

2. A Jewish Child and the Jewish God

Both Matthew and Luke include lengthy genealogies, emphasizing that Jesus is a Jew descended from Jews. The conception is likewise the result of the intervention of the Jewish God. Jesus is not the son of just any deity, but of the One True God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This not only distinguishes Jesus' birth from the pagan stories with their pagan gods but is unique in Judaism itself. Although there are examples of miraculous conceptions in Judaism -- such as Sarah conceiving in her 90s and other previously barren wives such as Samson's mother, Hannah, and Elizabeth -- these conception were brought about in the usual way via a human father. God made conception possible by opening a closed womb but did not cause it. Although this may be an obvious point, it most likely was comforting to Jewish and Jewish-Christian readers with concerns about mixing Judaism up with paganism.

3. The Significance of the Miraculous Birth

An often overlooked difference between the pagan miraculous birth accounts and Jesus’ birth narratives is the consequence of divine intervention. Hercules was strong, for example, because he was the son of Zeus. He had divine blood in him. The greatness of Alexander the Great could similarly be attributed to divine parentage and blood. Jesus, on the other hand, is not a divine man infused with divine power because he is a son of a deity. The virgin birth is helpful in identifying that Jesus is anointed and chosen by God for a special task but the authors do not tell their audiences that it is the source of Jesus’ powers or miracles.

4. A Willing and Grateful Mother

Contrary to the stories of deception and rape so common to pagan divine birth stories the Gospel of Luke emphasizes that Mary is a blessed, willing participant in God’s plan. Mary welcomes and celebrates her role as the mother of God’s son. When told she would conceive by the power of the Holy Spirit -- which would clearly result in hardships --, Mary replies, “I am the Lord's servant . . . May it be to me as you have said.” Luke also records that Mary sang a song of celebration about her situation, which begins, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior because He has looked with favor on the humble condition of his slave. . . .” (1:46-55). Although not as explicit, in Matthew the angel’s first appearance to Joseph sets up a context in which Mary is a willing participant in God’s plan.

There is no deception. There is no rape. There is no coercion. This is a stark contrast to the deception and coercion employed by pagan deities to impregnate unwilling and unaware victims. Because the authors of Matthew and Luke had to know the dichotomy they were creating between the pagan world and the Jewish-Christian one, the contrast cannot be attributed to mere coincidence. It was an intentional contrast showing that the Christian message was different, its God was loving and superior to pagan gods, and that Jesus’ birth should not be confused with the miraculous pagan births of legend and myth.

5. Jesus’ Birth a Part of God’s Plan to Benefit Humanity

The authors of Matthew and Luke are clear that Mary’s pregnancy is part of the plan of the God of Israel to fulfill Israel’s messianic hopes and bring salvation to the world. It is not merely the whim of a god or a matter ordained by fate (a very different concept). As Matthew states, “Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet.” 1:22. Luke is less direct in mentioning fulfilled prophecy, but he also narrates divine messengers proclaiming that Mary’s conception is God’s will and pursuant to His plans. Luke also emphasizes the place it has in God’s plan through Mary’s Song (1:46-55) and Zechariah’s Prophecy (1:67-79).

The conceptions in the pagan stories, on the other hand, were the result of the whims of the gods, indulging their fleshly appetites. Even where there is some sense of foretelling, as with Perseus, it is fate -- not providence -- that is at work. The difference is significant and highlighted by both authors. In pagan lore, even the gods are subject to fate whereas in Jewish-Christian belief, God is sovereign and can control world events. God’s plan, moreover, is to benefit mankind, not the deity’s own lusts or fleshly appetites. In Luke, Mary sings that “His mercy is from generation to generation” and Zechariah proclaims that “He has visited and provided redemption for His people.” The angels on the night of Jesus’ birth proclaimed “good news of great joy for all the people: today a saviour, who is Messiah, was born for you in the city of David.” (2:11). In Matthew, Jesus will be born to “save his people from their sins” and his name means, “God with us.” (1:21, 23). Further, the presence of the Magi in Matthew communicates the inclusion of the Gentile world in God’s plan of salvation.

Again, the contrast with the pagan stories is stark. Any beneficial result of the pagan deity’s intervention was typically a matter of happenstance; an unintended consequence of the deity’s self-serving acts of rape, seduction, and deception.

6. The Righteousness of the Protagonists

Another key distinction between the pagan birth stories and Jesus’ birth is the role righteousness and character play in the birth narratives. The gospel authors are careful to highlight the righteousness of the important characters in their birth narratives. Zacharias and Abia, the parents of Jesus’ cousin John the Baptist, were “righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.” (Luke 1:6). Matthew makes a point of emphasizing that Joseph is a “righteous man.” (Matt. 1:19). In fact, “Joseph . . . is depicted as the model disciple and follower of God’s will, for he gives up a Jewish father’s greatest privilege (siring his firstborn son) in order to obey God’s will.” B. Witherington, Matthew, page 46. Mary is depicted as a righteous woman as well. She is properly betrothed to a righteous man and has been chaste pursuant to the law. She is honored to be God’s chosen and sings a song of joy and thanksgiving to God. In the pagan birth stories, the usual characteristic highlighted in the character is either the woman’s beauty or the deity’s craving. Their character is typically not mentioned or relevant to the miraculous events at hand.

7. Differences Between Matthew and Luke

At points in the discussion it appears that Matthew or Luke may have emphasized some of the distinguishing features more than the other. For example, Luke spends more time focusing on Mary's consent and gratefulness and Matthew spends more time focusing on Josephes' righteousness. Matthew is also much more explicit in establishing that Jesus' birth fulfills Jewish prophecy, whereas Luke spends more time emphasizing the virginity of Mary.

These distinctions in emphasis may be the result of the audience of the respective gospels. Matthew is often noted as being the most Jewish of the canonical gospels, whereas Luke is the most Hellenized and likely the only one written by a gentile. Emphasizing fulfilled Jewish prophecy and Joseph's awareness and approval of the Holy Spirit empowered conception of Mary may be more directed at Jewish concerns about a story involving a deity causing the conception of a virgin. Luke on the other hand, may be doing more to avoid misunderstanding among his more gentile audience by explaining in greater detail that Mary was a virgin and willing. The distinctions between the two, therefore, may in part be due to addressing possible concerns or misunderstandings that could arise to a less specific narrative of the virgin conception and birth.

*A final note on Luke. Luke writes more pursuant to the genre of Greco-Roman historiography, whereas Matthew writes more pursuant to the genre of biography. This makes Luke's unequivocal presentation of the virgin birth all the more remarkable because, as noted above, Greek and Roman historians such as Livy and Herodotus expressed skepticism of the mythical and legendary birth stories prevalent in pagan poetry and plays. Luke distinguishes Jesus' miraculous birth by declaring as a historian who has investigated these accounts that it is a fact. It is real history, not a fable or myth that should be ignored and glossed over. Moreover, Luke writes as a second generation Christian much closer to the time frame of the miraculous birth about which he writes than any pagan historian ever could. Luke must have been familiar with the more skeptical pagan historians' attitudes about miraculous births, and he distinguishes -- once again -- the virgin birth of Jesus by declaring it to be a proper subject of history because it is true and has important consequences.

Conclusion

The virgin birth of Jesus is unparalleled in the pagan stories of births involving pagan gods as fathers. Nevertheless, then -- as now -- there was the danger that the stories would be be seen as related and the virgin birth of Jesus would be misunderstood, and become a barrier to the spread of the gospel rather than its facilitator. The authors of Matthew and Luke were aware of this problem and crafted their narratives accordingly. To distinguish Jesus’ birth, they emphasized that Mary was a virgin when she conceived and gave birth, that she was a willing and grateful participant, that the conception was not sexual but accomplished through the miraculous power of the Holy Spirit, that it was part of the God of Israel’s plan to benefit all of humanity, and that the people involved were righteous and good.

No doubt some of these themes served other purposes or were unavoidable, but their concentration, the manner in which they were crafted and emphasized strongly suggests the authors of Matthew and Luke intentionally distinguished Jesus’ birth in order to avoid misunderstandings that might give them a distorted understanding of God and his nature. This is no small concern. Jewish audiences were reassured that this is the God of Israel acting in a fashion consistent with their understanding of His nature. Pagan audiences would learn that the God of Jesus and Israel was not driven by human weakness or fleshly desires, as the pagan gods of legend and myth. Rather, He is a God who acts to benefit humanity out of love and concern.

That the authors of Matthew and Luke engaged in such literary efforts adds weight to the theory that early Christians did face challenges in sharing accounts of the virgin birth with both Jewish and Pagan audiences. The silence of some authors may be due to their care to avoid misunderstanding and inhibit the gospel message.

11 comments:

JUSTIN MARTYR, FIRST APOLOGY; CHAPTER XXII -- ANALOGIES TO THE SONSHIP OF CHRIST. XXXXOLD

Moreover, the Son of God called Jesus, even if only a man by ordinary generation, yet, on account of His wisdom, is worthy to be called the Son of God; for all writers call God the Father of men and gods. And if we assert that the Word of God was born of God in a peculiar manner, different from ordinary generation, let this, as said above, be no extraordinary thing to you, who say that Mercury is the angelic word of God. But if any one objects that He was crucified, in this also He is on a par with those reputed sons of Jupiter of yours, who suffered as we have now enumerated. For their sufferings at death are recorded to have been not all alike, but diverse; so that not even by the peculiarity of His sufferings does He seem to be inferior to them; but, on the contrary, as we promised in the preceding part of this discourse, we will now prove Him superior--or rather have already proved Him to be so--for the superior is revealed by His actions. And if we even affirm that He was born of a virgin, accept this in common with what you accept of Perseus. And in that we say that He made whole the lame, the paralytic, and those born blind, we seem to say what is very similar to the deeds said to have been done by AEsculapius.

So,

Alexander's father was a God and his mother was a mortal woman. And you think that was a myth.
Asclepius' father was a God and his mother was a mortal woman. And you think that was a myth.
Perseus' father was a God and his mother was a mortal woman. And you think that was a myth.
Danae's father was a God and his mother was a mortal woman. And you think that was a myth.
Melanippe's father was a God and his mother was a mortal woman. And you think that was a myth.
Auge's father was a God and his mother was a mortal woman. And you think that was a myth.
Antiope's father was a God and his mother was a mortal woman. And you think that was a myth.
Plato's father was a God and his mother was a mortal woman. And you think that was a myth.
Apollonius of Tyana's father was a God and his mother was a mortal woman. And you think that was a myth.
Octavius' father was a God and his mother was a mortal woman. And you think that was a myth.
Scipio Africanus' father was a God and his mother was a mortal woman. And you think that was a myth.
Romulus father was a God and his mother was a mortal woman. And you think that was a myth.
Dionusus' father was a God and his mother was a mortal woman. And you think that was a myth.
Attis' father was a God and his mother was a mortal woman. And you think that was a myth.
Buddah's father was a God and his mother was a mortal woman. And you think that was a myth.
Heracles' father was a God and his mother was a mortal woman. And you think that was a myth.


Jesus' father was a God and his mother was a mortal woman. And you think that was NOT a myth.

That about sum it up?

Anon,

I have already discussed Perseus, Alexander, Romulus, and Hercules as well as many others in Part 1 and showed how they are distinct from Matthew and Luke here in Part 2. You respond to no point raised. Rather, you appeal to a level of generality that ignores the significant differences I have articulated.

This is simplistic and unpersuasive.

I am willing to discuss these other examples further if you are prepared to respond to the points actually raised in my two posts. I'd also truly appreciate additional references to the sources in which these claims are made.

--- I'd also truly appreciate additional references to
--- the sources in which these claims are made.

Moreover, the Son of God called Jesus, even if only a man by ordinary generation, yet, on account of His wisdom, is worthy to be called the Son of God; for all writers call God the Father of men and gods. And if we assert that the Word of God was born of God in a peculiar manner, different from ordinary generation, let this, as said above, be no extraordinary thing to you, who say that Mercury is the angelic word of God. But if any one objects that He was crucified, in this also He is on a par with those reputed sons of Jupiter of yours, who suffered as we have now enumerated. For their sufferings at death are recorded to have been not all alike, but diverse; so that not even by the peculiarity of His sufferings does He seem to be inferior to them; but, on the contrary, as we promised in the preceding part of this discourse, we will now prove Him superior--or rather have already proved Him to be so--for the superior is revealed by His actions. And if we even affirm that He was born of a virgin, accept this in common with what you accept of Perseus. And in that we say that He made whole the lame, the paralytic, and those born blind, we seem to say what is very similar to the deeds said to have been done by AEsculapius.

Justin Martyr, First Apology, 22



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And there is no absurdity in employing Grecian histories to answer Greeks, with the view of showing that we are not the only persons who have recourse to miraculous narratives of this kind. For some have thought fit, not in regard to ancient and heroic narratives, but in regard to events of very recent occurrence, to relate as a possible thing that Plato was the son of Amphictione, Ariston being prevented from having marital intercourse with his wife until she had given birth to him with whom she was pregnant by Apollo. And yet these are veritable fables, which have led to the invention of such stories concerning a man whom they regarded as possessing greater wisdom and power than the multitude, and as having received the beginning of his corporeal substance from better and diviner elements than others, because they thought that this was appropriate to persons who were too great to be human beings. And since Celsus has introduced the Jew disputing with Jesus, and tearing in pieces, as he imagines, the fiction of His birth from a virgin, comparing the Greek fables about Danae, and Melanippe, and Auge, and Antiope, our answer is, that such language becomes a buffoon, land not one who is writing in a serious tone.
Origen, Against Celsus, Book 1, Chapter 37


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"The devils...craftily feigned that Minerva was the daughter of Jupiter not by sexual union."
Justin Martyr, First Apology, 64


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I am Dionysos, THE SON OF ZEUS,
come back to Thebes, this land where I was born.
My mother was the king Cadmus's daughter, Semele by name,
midwifed by fire, delivered by the lightning's blast.
And here I stand, A GOD INCOGNITO, DISGUISED AS A MAN.

Euripides, The Bacchae, v 1 - 5 (5th century BC)



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For some have thought fit, not in regard to ancient and heroic narratives, but in regard to events of very recent occurrence, to relate as a possible thing that Plato was the son of Amphictione, Ariston being prevented from having marital intercourse with his wife until she had given birth to him with whom she was pregnant by Apollo. And yet these are veritable fables, which have led to the invention of such stories concerning a man whom they regarded as possessing greater wisdom and power than the multitude, and as having received the beginning of his corporeal substance from better and diviner elements than others, because they thought that this was appropriate to persons who were too great to be human beings.
Origen, Against Celsus, Book 1, Chapter 37



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Now this Apis, or Epaphus, is the calf of a cow which is never afterwards able to bear young. The Egyptians say that fire comes down from heaven upon the cow, which thereupon conceives Apis. The calf which is so called has the following marks:- He is black, with a square spot of white upon his forehead, and on his back the figure of an eagle; the hairs in his tail are double, and there is a beetle upon his tongue.
Herodotus 3.28


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According to Eratosthenes, Olympias, when she sent Alexander on his way to lead his great expedition to the East, confided to him and to him alone the secret of his conception and urged him to show himself worthy of his divine parentage. . .
Plutarch, Life of Alexander, Chapters 2 - 3


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Adding crime to crime, he murdered his brother's sons and made the daughter, Rea Silvia, a Vestal virgin; thus, under the presence of honoring her, depriving her of all hopes of issue.
1.4 But the Fates had, I believe, already decreed the origin of this great city and the foundation of the mightiest empire under heaven. The Vestal was forcibly violated and gave birth to twins. She named Mars as their father, either because she really believed it, or because the fault might appear less heinous if a deity were the cause of it.
Livy, History 1.3 - 4



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When Atia had come in the middle of the night to the solemn service of Apollo, she had her litter set down in the temple and fell asleep, while the rest of the matrons also slept. On a sudden a serpent glided up to her and shortly went away. When she awoke, she purified herself, as if after the embraces of her husband, and at once there appeared on her body a mark in colors like a serpent, and she could never get rid of it; so that presently she ceased ever to go to the public baths. In the tenth month after that Augustus was born and was therefore regarded as the son of Apollo.
Suetonius, Life of the Deified Augustus, Chapter 94


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It is recorded that the mother of Scipio Africanus, the elder, had the same experience as Olympias, Philip the Great's wife and Alexander the Great's mother,... his mother had long been believed sterile and that Publius Scipio, her husband, had despaired of having children. Then, while her husband was away and she was sleeping on her own, a huge snake was seen beside her, in her room and in her bed; when those who saw this snake shouted out in terror, it vanished and could not be found. Scipio consulted the harupices about this and they held a sacrifice and gave a response that children would be born. Not long after the sighting of the snake, the woman began to show all signs of being pregnant; in the tenth month, she gave birth to this Publius Africanus, the man who defeated Hannibal and the Carthaginians in the Second Punic War. But it is much more because of his achievements than because of that prodigy that he also i.e., as well as Alexander--- is thought to be a man of godlike quality.
Aulus Gellius, Attic Nights VI. 1.1-6, 2d century AD


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And Semele, daughter of Cadmus' was joined with him
Zeus in love and bore him a splendid son, joyous Dionysus,--a mortal woman an immortal son. And now they both are gods.
Hesiod, Theogony 940


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a daughter of the river Sangarius, they say, took of the fruit and laid it in her bosom, when it at once disappeared, but she was with child. A boy was born, and exposed, but was tended by a he-goat.
Pausanias, Description of Greece 7.17.9-11


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Once he Rutilianus asked Alexander about marriage; he was told in no uncertain terms:
"Marry the daughter that goddess Selene has borne Alexander."
Alexander had long ago given out the story that the mother of the one daughter he has was the goddess Selene: she had once seen him when he was asleep and had been overcome with love form him…

Lucian, Alexander the False Prophet, 35


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He Alexander worked up a mystery ceremony of his own, complete with torchbearers and presiding priests…. Then came…the birth of Apollo, his mating with Coronis, and the birth of Asclepius. On the second day there was the birth and presentation of the god Glycon. On the third day the marriage of Podalirius and Alexander's mother…. The finale was Alexander's love affair with the goddess Selene and the birth of Rutilianus' wife.

Lucian, Alexander the False Prophet, 38


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The young men who had grown up in Messenia the best and most numerous were round Andania, and among them was Aristomenes, who to this day is worshiped as a hero among the Messenians. They think that even the circumstances of his birth were notable, for they assert that a spirit or a god united with his mother, Nicoteleia, in the form of a serpent. I know that the Macedonians tell a similar story about Olympias, and the Sicyonians about Aristodama, but there is this difference : The Messenians do not make Aristomenes the son of Heracles or of Zeus, as the Macedonians do with Alexander and Ammon, and the Sicyonians with Aratus and Asclepius. Most of the Greeks say that Pyrrhus was the father of Aristomenes, but I myself know that in their libations the Messenians call him Aristomenes son of Nicomedes. He then, being in the full vigor of youth and courage, with others of the nobles incited them to revolt. This was not done openly at first, but they sent secretly to Argos and to the Arcadians, to ask if they were ready to help unhesitatingly and no less energetically than in the former war.

Pausanias, Description of Greece, 4.14.7-8 (second century AD)



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According to the account which the Scythians themselves give, they are the youngest of all nations. Their tradition is as follows. A certain Targitaus was the first man who ever lived in their country, which before his time was a desert without inhabitants. He was a child -- I do not believe the tale, but it is told nevertheless -- of Zeus and a daughter of the Borysthenes.

Herodotus, The Persian Wars, 4.5

Anon,

I should have been more clear, but hat would be most helpful is not just a list of cut and paste text, but citations and a discussion by you of why these examples disprove my analysis. I had already discussed some of these examples and the rest you provide are mostly just more of the same, although a couple have interesting wrinkles that nevertheless do not dispute my analysis.

Re: Perseus, I have already written about him and nothing in Martyr's brief reference alters the distinguishing features I highlighted. If you disagree, please point to something specific.

re: Origen, he distinguishes these as outlandish comparisons. How does this help your case? For example, Danae was impregnated by Zeus who was stricken by her great beauty.

re: Minerva, she was not a human who dwelled on earth but a Roman goddess, the counterpart to the Greek goddess Athena. There was no birth or any conception. She "leaped forth" from Jupiter's head as an adult and wearing a complete suit of armor.

re: Dionysus, he too was not a human but a greco-roman god, also known as Bacchus. Although some stories say he had a human mother, his was the result of Zeus sexual relations with the human. His mother died prematurely when Zeus appeared to her in full glory and Zeus placed Dionysus in his own thigh until he was born out of Zeus thigh. While this is unusual, Zeus was no virgin and this was no virgin conception or birth.

Re: Plato, his mother was no virgin. Diogenes Laertuius states that there was a story that Plato's father Ariston "made passionate love to beautiful Perictione" regularly. Live of Eminent PHilosphers, 3.1-3. The Apollo admonished Ariston to stop and he "left her unmolested until she gave birth." There are no details, this could mean that Ariston had gotten her pregnant already or that -- as some apparently believed -- Apollo took the pleasure of getting her pregnant.

re: Apis, he was a bull, not a human or even a god that looked like a human.

re: Olympia, I already discussed Alexander the Great. She was no virgin and Zeus impregnated her.

re: Romulus and Remus, I also discussed this with the citation. She was raped and thus not a virgin when she conceived, much less gave birth.

re: Atia, this version sounds like one of the many pagan stories in which a human woman was raped by a God in animal form. In this case, the offspring was supposedly Augustus. It is interesting that she was described as a moral woman, but that does not seem to be part of the reason Apollos impregnated her. Also, she was no virgin, but married at the time and there is no hint that she was alienated or refrained from her husband. The author is also rather dispassionate about this. He repeats it as a story that may have just been a coicidence. Snakes were not uncommon in Roman temples after all.

Re: Scipio, that his mother "had the same experience as Oympias" is quite telling. She was married and had sex. The snake came in. She got pregnant.

Re: dionysis in Theogony, see above.

Re: the Pausanias reference, the mother was a goddess, daughter of the river God. She wasn't a human and there is no indication that she was a virgin. The story is actually more complex than your brief account suggest. The almond was actually seed from the ripped off male genitalia that had spilled into the earth after the castration of the demon god Agdistis. The seed penetrated her bosom and impregnated her. She didn't want the child, perhaps fearing it, and left it to die of exposure but as you note it was rescued by a goat.

Re: Lucian, we have gods and goddesses mating. No virgins, just sexual conception.

Re: Aristomenes, he fits into the already discussed paradigm of pagan gods having sex with mortal women in disguised animal shapes. No indication that she was a virgin prior, either.

The last reference shows Hoerodutus' rejection of the story and is just another story about Zeus' predilection for taking mortal sexual partners.

Anon,

I was just rereading my first paragraph of my last comment and wanted to stress that I really do appreciate you posting these references. I have some of them but some I did not.

Thanks.

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Anon,

I want to respond to you, but you must drop the profane acronym at the end. I suggest you delete and repost without it or I will delete for you.

I see.

Have a nice life.

Anon,

You are a guest here and we've given you a platform to dispute my comments. You even got the last word on the last thread we debated. So I do not think it too much to ask that you abide by our rules of civility.

This is quite simply. All you need to do is cut your comment, take out the offending remark, and paste into a new window.

I'll give you a little more time.

This is an unusual comment because the Anonymous commentor who was responding to my post refused to remove a profane reference. Although I gave him time to remove the offending language he refused to do so. However, I saved the post and will respond . To avoid confusion -- at the risk of creating some -- I have retained his references to my comment (with "<<" symbols) to which he responds as well as his response (all in bold).

I acknowledge your points raised. I agree there are circumstantial differences. I do not agree circumstantial differences are decisive in determining the mythic nature of an ancient story. You don't seem to address this issue specifically.

Please define the tests you rely on to determine whether a difference is one that identifies a story's mythic/ not-mythic origin or nature.

What facts or evidence lead you to believe those tests give answers that are correct?


It appears that we disagree about what is circumstantial.

And the crux of this series is not that there are differences therefore the birth narratives of Matthew and Luke are necessarily true, but that the pagan legends are distinct in important ways and that Matthew and Luke went out of their way to distinguish them for their audiences. Once that is established, we may move on to using various common historical tools to see where they come from, but these posts do not claim that the evidence proves the birth narratives are historical facts.

As for ultimately determining what is myth and what is historical, that goes beyond the present scope of the post although I trust we are on our way. The present post focuses on how Matthew and Luke distinguish their birth narratives from those respecting miraculous pagan births involving divine fathers and some implications of those distinctions.

I had previously referred you to my article the miracles of Jesus which discusses the common historical tools for evaluating historical claims. I also think that such an analysis would have to take place in the broader context of Christian claims as well as the impact of the better attested resurrection of Jesus on the virgin birth narratives.

It seems to me a theory of Christian uniqueness based on circumstantial differences with other ancient myths must fail. Sure, Jesus' mother was a _virgin_, named _Mary_, and He was born in _Bethlehem_ with _shepherds outside singing to Jehovah_. No other story has those details. His story is unique.

His story is also not unique in that it's theological elements are exactly the theological elements of ancient pagan myth. God in the sky as Father, mortal woman mother, dream / vision / angel / visitation foretold birth, godman teaching wisdom, doing miracles, bringing salvation, etc., etc.


I think it is obvious that you thought any such inquiry “must fail” from the beginning.

In any event, by adding distinguishing elements I did not use you are distorting my point. I do not claim that mere circumstantial differences are enough to distinguish the birth narratives. The name of the mother, the location of the birth, the name of the husband, the time of the year, the presence of shepherds all may be incidental details. That Mary was a virgin and no sexual contact was involved in the conception, however, is a fundamental difference. So too is the very Jewish nature of the narratives and the nature of the God involved. It is these distinguishing factors I point to in my original posts and they are much more than incidental.

And you overstate the supposed points of comparison. Dreams are not the same as angelic visitations. And prophecy and providence importantly different than oracles and fate. And teaching wisdom and doing miracles is not as common as you suggest for these stories. And “bringing salvation” is terribly misleading and another example of your tendency to overgeneralize for the sake of making your point.

> > "The virgin birth is helpful in identifying that Jesus is anointed and chosen by
> > God for a special task but the authors do not tell their audiences that it is the
> > source of Jesus’ powers or miracles."

You fail to allow for the function of myth. They didn't _have_ to tell them. That's the point. The mere fact of the miracle told them magic was involved. That's what makes the story a pagan myth.


You miss the point. The role of the virgin birth in Luke and Matthew’s narrative is not to explain why Jesus was able to perform amazing feats or accomplish great things. It is not his divine DNA that is the cause of those things but his faith and the Holy Spirit. Why was Hercules strong? Because his father was Zeus. Why was Romulus able to found the great city of Rome? Because his father was the God of War, which explains a lot about Rome.

The virgin birth does not serve the same purpose in the gospels of Matthew and Luke, IMO.

--------------------------------
> > " Again, the contrast with the pagan stories is stark. Any beneficial result of the
> > pagan deity’s intervention was typically a matter of happenstance; an
> > unintended consequence of the deity’s self-serving acts of rape, seduction,
> > and deception."

This is simply not true.

".... this god Osiris .... is far removed from the earth, uncontaminated and unpolluted and pure from all matter that is subject to destruction and death ; but…when these souls are set free and migrate into the realm of the invisible and the unseen, the dispassionate and the pure, then this god becomes their leader and king, since it is on him that they are bound to be dependent in their insatiate contemplation and yearning for that beauty which is for men unutterable and indescribable. With this beauty Isis, as the ancient story declares, is for ever enamored and pursues it and consorts with it and fills our earth here with all things fair and good that partake of generation."
Plutarch, Isis and Osiris, 382.D - 383.


You distort by omission. I did not claim that pagan deities only act maliciously or capriciously. But these pagan birth narratives, including the ones you reference, were generally acts of selfishness without regard to the mother. They are the result of rape, eduction, and deception. Just what is it in your selection from Plutarch to you think contradicts that point?

> > "Although virgins were involved in some of the pagan birth narratives, in the
> > New Testament we have a truly “virgin” birth. Mary conceived Jesus without
> > any sort of sexual act and remained chaste throughout her pregnancy. The
> > women in the pagan narratives, however, conceived as a result of sexual acts
> > and were, therefore, no longer virgins."

You fail to distinguish circumstantial differences and theological elements. The virgin bit of Jesus myth came from Mt and Lk rooting around the OT for prophesies that the godman Jesus must have fulfilled. Mary's virginity is a circumstance drawn from Jewish legend.


As I explained in my article, there is no evidence that Jews expected the Messiah to be born of a virgin. Matthew looks like he’s trying to match his tradition with a verse rather than having invented a story to match the verse. Luke doesn’t mention or infer that prophecy foretold a virgin birth.

The essential theological element of Jesus' birth myth is the God in the sky transferring divinity to His son on earth.

The “God in the sky” thing is rather silly and no doubt meant to be derogatory. More to the point, it is silly. That is not how Jews thought of God. In any event, God did not “transfer” divinity to Jesus. You are confusing the virgin birth with the incarnation. You can have one without the other and the other without the one. John has no virgin birth but has the highest explicit christology of all. Moreover, you are are simply generalizing to make your point, again. You claim on one hand its a pagan myth and on the other hand its a miracle of God and Luke and Matthew invented it because of Jewish prophecy.

Christianity didn't get it's virgin birth myth by having "Matthew" and "Luke" copy some other God's story fact by fact. That's not how ancient religions got their myths. They absorbed the religious ideas of the time, and made up their own myth "facts" to fit those ideas in with the rest of their myth.

This is all abstract, generalized, conjecture. Moreover its begging the question in this case.

Alexander of Abnoteichus, the flim flam man who invented the God Glycon, didn't borrow the idea of a prophecy on a buried bronze tablet when he made up his Glycon myth. But he did borrow the general idea of prophesy. He made up his own prophesy, and put it on bronze tablets, because that fit the other circumstances of his Glycon scheme.

Although this is off point, even here I have disagreements with your characterizations. Lucian calls Alexander an “oracle-monger.” I do not equate oracles and fate necessarily with prophecies and providence.

Whoever made up the story of Alexander the Great getting his godness from a divine snake didn't copy the "fact" of an impregnating snake having a go at the king's wife. They used the general notion of passing along godness, and a local reverence for divine snakes, and made up facts to fit those ideas in with the other circumstances of Alexander's story.

Sure. There were hundreds of stories of the pagan gods taking animal form to impregnate pagan women.

Ditto whoever made up the virgin birth of Romulus. And the virgin birth of Perseus. And the virgin birth of Danae. And the virgin birth of Melanippe. And the virgin birth of Auge. And the virgin birth of Antiope. And the virgin birth of Plato.

These were not virgin births as I have explained and you have conceded again and again. Indeed, not all these women were virgins before being impregnated by a god. For example, Plato’s father "made passionate love to beautiful Perictione" regularly before she gave birth to Plato. Live of Eminent Philosophers, 3.1-3.

--------------------------------
> > "Jesus is not the son of just any deity, but of the One True God of Abraham,
> > Isaac, and Jacob. This not only distinguishes Jesus' birth from the pagan
> > stories with their pagan gods but is unique in Judaism itself."

Proof by assertion?

No it doesn't distinguish Jesus as different. It distinguishes Jesus as exactly the same – the divine son of the local God.


Of course it distinguished Jesus. Obviously because it meant he was not the son of any pagan god but more so in that the Jewish God did not go around having sex with anyone, much less mortals. He is asexual. Which leads into my second point, this was unique within Judaism itself.

--------------------------------
> > "There is no deception. There is no rape. There is no coercion. This is a stark
> > contrast to the deception and coercion employed by pagan deities to
> > impregnate unwilling and unaware victims."

First, your claim is factually wrong. Examples below.


You provide one example and it is ridiculous.

Second, again, you fail to distinguish circumstance and theology. The other pagan legends included rape, when the do, as plot element to motivate Zeus' actions.

The theology was God in the sky sending his divinity to his Son on Earth. That's what gave the godman his powers, not the rape. Without the rape you'd still have a godman (and do, in some myths). But but-for the God in the sky passing his divinity, you wouldn't have a godman with magic powers.


I think it generous to refer to the Pantheon as theology. In any event, your distinction between circumstances and theology is contrived. As I referenced above, the names of the people involved, the city, and details like that may be incidental or circumstantial. But the fact that your god is the kind of deity that engages in rape and impregnates unwilling or unaware women is itself a powerful theological statement. On the other hand, that God is not interested in sex or driven by such base desires is a powerful theological statement about God.

You have no true desire to articulate a distinction between circumstance and theology. You again and again look make artificial comparisons write off the significant as insignificant.

--------------------------------
> > "In the pagan birth stories, the usual characteristic highlighted in the character
> > is either the woman’s beauty or the deity’s craving. Their character is typically
> > not mentioned or relevant to the miraculous events at hand."

Again, you confound circumstance and theology. The godman gets his power from the God in the sky, and his humanity from the woman. That's the theology. How nice the lady looks gives the plot motive, it doesn't change the theology.

What were they going to say? "That Mary, what a shrew!" Of course they said she was nice.


Why, “of course?” Most pagan stories give no indication about the character of the mother. Again, it is theological significant that Joseph and Mary, and Zecharias and Elizabeth are people of character. In any event, it was important to Matthew and Luke but not pagan authors to emphasize this distinction.

--------------------------------
> > "Luke distinguishes Jesus' miraculous birth by declaring as a historian who has
> > investigated these accounts that it is a fact. It is real history, not a fable or myth
> > that should be ignored and glossed over."

You fail to read Luke in his cultural context. A claim of historicity, or of eyewitnesses, accompanying a miracle story was convention in ancient culture. Josephus describes it as part of how 1st century Palestinian magic men did business. Tacitus does it to validate Vespatian's cure of the blind man. Lucian does it, in parody of how the credulous justified their silly ghost stories.


I think it you who ignores the cultural, and more importantly the literary context of the statement. Luke is not hyping the virgin birth by stressing he was an eyewitness or that there were lots of eyewitnesses. The statement about investigating everything carefully is typical of ancient historians. Pagan historians who did that typically did not include divine birth stories or at least did not represent them as part of the history.

And please include citations when referring to authors with lengthy works of antiquity.

--------------------------------
> > Moreover, Luke writes as a second generation Christian much closer to the
> > time frame of the miraculous birth about which he writes than any pagan
> > historian ever could.

Your facts are wrong. Glycon was a God invented in the 2d century AD. Glycon
was the son of the God Apollo, who ...


Quick question.

Did you take this from this website (http://www.pocm.info/pagan_christs_Glycon.htm) without attribution or did you author this at this site?

... came to Earth through a miraculous birth,
... was the Earthly manifestation of divinity,
... came to earth in fulfillment of divine prophecy,
... gave his chief believer the power of prophecy,
... gave believers the power to speak in tongues,
... performed miracles,
... healed the sick,
... raised the dead.

These stories were entirely contemporaneous with Glycon, as is Lucian's record of them. Your claim is false.

As I discussed above, the comparison is ridiculous. Probably your worst yet. In fact, your omissions are so material the only explanation for their omission is you intend to deceive by leaving out embarrassing and inconvenient facts. Glycon was not a human. He was not even a god in human form. He was not even a human-like creature. No, Glycon was a snake. A big snake, but a snake nonetheless. His handler and oracle, Alexander, presented him as a snake although one with “a serpent’s head of linen, which had something of a human look.” Lucian, Alexander the False Prophet, 12.

Next, describing Glycon’s birth as “miraculous” is yet another distorting generalization. There was no virgin birth or even one of the divine pregnancies discussed above which at least have the benefit of involving a human mother. Rather, Glycon the snake was hatched from a goose egg (that had been specially prepared by Alexander).

I should also point out that not only does Glycon post-date Christianity, but the hoaxer -- Alexander -- is familiar with Christianity and despises Christians and casts aspersions on them. I do not see any substantive parallels but if therew were any, you could not rule out Christian influence here.

The rest of your points of comparison are unrelated to the present topic, the virgin birth. Nevertheless, I will make some points. First, Glycon was the reincarnation of Asclepius, who had been born and lived on earth before. Second, the “divine prophecy” is unspecified by you but appears to be the burial and unburying of certain “bronze” tablets that had been planted to predict the coming of Asclepius. Third, the puppet master acted as an oracle, selling oracles for money, which is a very different thing than a Jewish prophet which precedes the Hellenistic period in any event. Finally, the comparison with miracles, healing, and raising the dead is an empty one. There are no miracles actually narrated for Alexander or Glycon. All that Lucian claims is that Alexander “was even sending men abroad to create rumours in the different nations in regard to the oracle and to say that he made predictions, discovered fugitive slaves, detected thieves and robbers, caused treasures to be dug up, healed the sick, and in some cases had actually raised the dead.” Ibid., 24.

People can read Lucian's account of Glycon for themselves: http://www.tertullian.org/rpearse/lucian/lucian_alexander.htm

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