Recently I was asked by my friend and fellow-blogger Scottie a question about history and historical fables, more specifically comparisons of historical-religious fables. His question was:
About the whole virgin-birth story before Jesus thing. Ark hinted it was an issue. I read online where it is true. But [Pastoral Apologist] claims they have all been debunked. When I first started talking with [Pastoral Apologist] about it, he made statements that made me think the virgin birth idea was very unknown at the time. Then I find websites saying it was very common. I was wondering if you had any studies this before or had some ideas of where I should concentrate my study of it. I know Aron Ra has said that there are similarities between the Jesus story and other myths, but I didn’t realize he was talking virgin-births. To me that is a total game changer on that story if it was a common god-idea. Hugs
Initially I was planning to address Scottie’s question(s) right there in the comments of Jim’s blog-post “How to Separate the Facts from the Myths?” However, after some discussion Jim and I decided that if we placed it in the comments it would soon be eternally buried within the cyber-sphere’s archiving. We both thought this was too important to be so quickly lost. Hence, he convinced me to post it here where it won’t get as buried. Hahaha. So here we go…
Scottie, very often Christian apologists/pastors like to portray their foundational doctrines/theology as incomparable, as dissimilar to any other religious or spiritual constructs. This is unequivocally slight-of-hand. Skeptics are not claiming the virgin stories and legends are identical, or verbatim. Every culture has its own unique twists to trade wind exchanges. As a terrestrial or seafaring example, the Silk Road trade routes (c. 500 BCE until 542 CE with the Bubonic Plague) provided some early means for religious-cultural exchanges well before Jesus’ time and beyond. At the pinnacle of Rome’s influence around the Mediterranean, they were wealthy not only because of their great war-machines, generals, legions, and tactics against other empires and hordes, but also because of their 1.9 million-mile sphere-of-influence in commerce by 117 CE. Over that time the cultural identities and exchanges mixed and transformed into new versions, not unlike the United States is sometimes referred to as The Melting Pot of the World. Christianity, in its current Greco-Roman styled canon, does mimic in numerous forms other older Persian, Arabian, Egyptian, and Greek divinity traditions.
To your question, I will address it in two ways: 1) the popular historical records of virgin-mothers and virgin-born Gods prior to Jesus, and 2) the 4th and 5th century CE Greco-Roman Christian theological one-upping.
Known histories of virgin-mothers and births before Jesus:
It must be remembered that skeptics are not claiming that ancient stories of virgin-mothers and virgin-born Gods are verbatim-identical to the well-known Jesus virgin-mother and virgin-birth story. What most are claiming are the numerous similarities that cannot be denied. Here are several that were known throughout the ancient world BEFORE Jesus. This is not an exhaustive list.
- Marduk by Damkina/Enki — Sumerian-Mesopotamian mythology c. 4500 – c. 1900 BCE.
- Horace by Isis/Osiris — Egyptian mythology c. 3150 – c. 2615 BCE.
- Amenhotep III by Mutemwiya/Amun — Egyptian mythology c. 1388 – c. 1200 BCE.
- Isaac by Sarah/Abraham — Jewish tradition/mythology c. 2000 – c. 1000 BCE.
- Melchizedek by Sopanima/Nir — Jewish tradition/mythology c. 500 – C. 400 BCE.
- Zarathustra by Dughdova/Shaft of light — Persian mythology c. 1375 – c. 330 BCE.
- Erechtheus by Gaia/Hephaestus — Greek mythology c. 500 – c. 285 BCE.
- Dionysus by Semele/Zeus — Greek mythology c. 1500 – c. 1100 BCE.
- Romulus-Remus by Rhea Silvia/Mars — Roman mythology c. 700 BCE – 220 CE.
Ancient fables of divine births and intervention were exchanged by traders and teachers/sages all throughout the vast Roman Empire. Those stories were passed from generation to generation. Due to several sociopolitical (including wars and genocide) and socioeconomic factors, some gained popularity, others faded. Historians not only see this in the archaeological and paleographical evidence, they accept and superimpose this template of evolution on their studies and theories. Christian apologists/pastors prefer not to, at least not cumulatively.
It is worthy to note that according to the College of Pontiffs and Indigitamenta there are no records or evidence from the early 1st-century that a divine god or demigod was newly born of a virgin during Augustus’ reign in the Roman Province of Palestina. However, by the late 2nd century CE the Christian Church Fathers systematically sought to discredit Roman deities and worship.
The Greco-Roman Christian theological one-upping:
The first mention in manuscripts of Jesus’ virgin-birth is about 80 – 90 CE in order to connect him as the Christian Messiah in Isaiah 7:14. Because the Apostle Paul, or Saul of Tarsus, was a Hellenistic educated Jewish Pharisee prior to his paranormal experience on the Road to Damascus (c. 35 CE?), and he was proselytizing to Gentiles unfamiliar with ancient Jewish Messianism, early controversy and confusion about Original Sin and Final Atonement (hereafter called OS/FA) began to pop-up in many Synagogues — official Christian churches didn’t arrive until much later. Many earliest “The Way” followers were Jewish-reformers, later becoming Judeo-Christians. This unpopular history is critical to understand because no matter how hard post-5th century CE Christianity to modern-day Christians want to distinguish themselves away from Jewish Messianism, it is utterly impossible. If they want to have their Messianic Christ, they must embrace (hijack?) true historical Jewish Messianism in its entirety.
The Epistle to the Hebrews, written c. 64 CE, gives us one of the very first indications of the OS/FA controversy among earliest Believers:
But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. (Hebrews 9:11-12)
For when every commandment had been spoken by Moses to all the people according to the Law, he took the blood of the calves and the goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, “This is the blood of the covenant which God commanded you.” And in the same way he sprinkled both the tabernacle and all the vessels of the ministry with the blood. And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.
Therefore it was necessary for the copies of the things in the heavens to be cleansed with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. (Hebrews 9:19-23)
In other words, if 2nd – 3rd century CE Christianity is going to legitimately lay claim to Jewish Messianism, and Jesus is both an Earthly born Messiah as well as a sinless holy God, how did the Apostolic Fathers reconcile this dilemma? The author of Hebrews explains a Jewish version of a virgin-mother birthing a virgin-son of God and eventual “better sacrifice” — an early attempt laden with Jewish priestly Messianism.
However, as the new religion spread with the fading and literal wiping-out of Sectarian Judaism (Jewish reformers and first Judeo-Christians) around the Roman Empire, e.g. the Great Revolts of Judea, more unknowing Gentiles asked challenging questions reflecting the confusion. The letter to the Hebrews was still not enough. And there is still the gnawing problems presented by deadly revolts and chronology. Did Jesus himself ever teach he was born by a virgin? No. Did the Apostle Paul ever teach Jesus was born by a virgin-mother? No. This strongly suggests that the OS/FA controversy began developing among first Judeo-Christians prior to 64 CE, but not widespread enough by 67 CE when Paul wrote his very last letter 2 Timothy from Rome. The OS/FA obscurity during this time-period can be contributed to the Roman “X-Fretensis” Legion, “V-Macedonica” Legion, “XII-Fulminata” Legion, and “XV-Apollinarus” Legion wiping-out many sectarian-reformed Jews in the Great Revolts of Judea. This created the void for Gentile-favored Greco-Roman (Hellenistic) theology to be further established by the 1st and 2nd generation Church Fathers.
Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, and Eusebius of Caesarea
Clement of Alexandria lived between c. 150 – c. 215 in Athens, Asia Minor, Jerusalem, and Alexandria, Egypt. He is considered one of the Church Fathers. In his work called Paedagogus, Clement explains that Christ (the Greek-Hellenistic name) is sinless and born in the impeccable image of God through the virgin Mary.
Tertullian lived between c. 150 – c. 225 in Carthage in the Roman Province of Africa. Tertullian is famous for two reasons: 1) his coining of the word Trinity which made its way into the early Church’s Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed and/or the Athanasian Creed, and 2) his fiery temperament and forceful convictions that eventually radicalized him into Montanist heresy. Both of these Trinitarian theologies were derived from Stoic philosophy and Clement of Alexandria and less so from the author of Hebrews.
Eusebius of Caesarea lived from c. 263 – c. 340 in Caesarea Maritima in Roman Palestine. In his work Historia Ecclesiae, Eusebius points out two types of Jewish sectarian Ebionites. One denied the virgin-birth and virgin-mother, and the other did not. But he labeled both groups of Ebionites as heretical. Because Eusebius draws distinctions between these two Ebionite groups, his knowledge of them clearly comes from Irenaeus, Origen, and Hippolytus using apocryphal sources.
What should be cumulatively noted here is the evolving heavy influence and retro-fitting of Hellenistic, or Greco-Roman philosophy/theology in the roots of the 4th century New Testament canon and 5th century CE Christian Church. It was having to address long-standing conflicting, confusing teachings and questions that were not addressed adequately in the time of Paul’s letters and life, nor answered by the heir apparent Jesus/Christós — at the time, the questions were completely unnecessary and non-existent! Why? If Jesus and Paul never addressed the controversies of the virgin-birth by a virgin-mother in the arena of the later OS/FA debates, does that suggest the Greco-Roman Church — which is the ancestral majority of modern Christian churches and seminaries, many with very contrasting doctrines — did not understand, or did not favor, or intentionally distorted true Jewish Messianism to serve their man-made sociopolitical agenda?
I believe so, for the overwhelming reason that the anti-Semitism motive fits near perfectly into historical Greco-Roman-Hellenistic sociopolitical and religious traditions. The later Christian Church wants to separate itself as much as possible from Judaism.
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Scottie, I hope this post helps despite its very hasty composure. As I mentioned, I also want to give a source for you to better understand the earliest transitions from true Jewish Messianism to sectarian Judeo-reformers and finally into the monster of Greco-Roman Christology. I would start with Robert Eisenman at his website. Be sure to checkout his Articles page. And if you can gain access to two of his books, Dead Sea Scrolls & The First Christians and The New Testament Code: The Cup of the Lord, the Damascus Covenant, and the Blood of Christ, you will be well on your way to an extensive, intimate knowledge of exactly when and how Greco-Roman Christology, that is propagandizing and erroneously taught today, went wrong and subsequently setup its minefield of a never-ending fracturing, disunited religion.
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