The Rejection of Pascal's Wager
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The Virgin Birth

The virgin birth is a myth with no historical foundation and was an infusion of pagan mythology into early Christianity. Let us see why this is so:

Matthew's Use of a Mistranslation of Isaiah in the Septuagint

Both Matthew and Luke stated that Jesus; conception was not a commonplace one. In these gospels Mary was a virgin who became pregnant, not through sexual intercourse, but through the "power of the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 1:18; Luke 1:34-35). The gospel of Matthew explicitly mentioned that this virgin pregnancy took place in fulfillment of the scriptures:

Matthew 1:22-23
And this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: "The virgin is with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel-which means 'God is with us'".

Matthew is quoting the book of Isaiah (7:14) from the Septuagint. The word for virgin is rendered in the Greek Bible as parthenos. This word carries the explicit meaning of virgin. However, if we are to look at the Bible in its original Hebrew, from the massoretic text, the word used there is almah. Now the nearest English translation for almah is a young woman and does not carry with it any strong connotation of virginity. [1] To show how far almah is from the meaning of virginity, I have quoted below some passages from the Old Testament where the word was used:

The word is used to describe occupants of a harem in the Songs of Solomon:

Songs of Solomon 6:8
There are sixty queens and eight concubines, and almah without number.

The occupants of harems are not, as a rule, virgins.
Finally we have a passage from Proverbs:

Proverbs 30:18-19
Three things are too wonderful for me; four I do not understand; the way of an eagle in the sky, the way of a serpent on a rock, the way of a ship in the midst of the sea, and the way of a man in an almah.

Surely it could not be a virgin that is being referred to above. So while the use of the Hebrew word can sometimes mean a young girl of marriable age, as for instance, when it was applied to Rebecca before her marriage to Isaac (Genesis 24:43), sometimes simply a woman (see Proverbs 30:18-19 above) and sometimes even for women in a harem!

If the author of Isaiah wanted to make clear the prophecy, he would not have used the word almah for all the ambiguity that it entails. He would have chosen the Hebrew word that does explicitly mean a virgin: bethulah. This word would have been the Hebrew equivalent for the Greek parthenos. The Greek equivalent for almah should actually be neanis, which means young woman.

Matthew's assertion of the virgin birth being prophesied in the scripture is therefore based on a mistranslation of the Hebrew word for a young woman. The virgin birth is nowhere prophesied in the original Hebrew. [2]

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The Context of Isaiah 7

In fact, if we look at the passage in Isaiah within its entire context, it looks even more unlikely to be any sort of a messianic prophecy. It arose in a conversation between the prophet Isaiah and Ahaz, the King of Judah. It was a time of national danger and the king feared a new attack from the alliance of Syria and Israel. The two combined force had just failed to take Jerusalem (Isaiah 7:1). Isaiah wanted to assure Ahaz that God is on Judah's side. Form this point on let us follow the Biblical narrative:

Isaiah 7:10-17
Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, "Ask for a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven." But Ahaz said, "I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test." And he said, "Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary man, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign. Behold a young woman [almah] shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted. The Lord will bring upon you and upon your people and upon your father's house such days as have not come since the day that Ephraim departed from Judah-the king of Assyria.

Trying to fit Jesus into the passage above is impossible. What does the prophet mean when he said that the saviour will eat butter and honey? Or that there was a time when Jesus life when he does a not know how to refuse the evil and choose the good? Yet the prophecy above is obviously meant to be taken as a whole.

The whole passage suggest that the prophesy had a more immediate meaning. It is enough to note the section I have italicized above, which connects the child to be born with the immediate events (i.e. the defeat of the two kings). The prophesy was obviously meant by Isaiah to reassure Ahaz that the kings of Syria and Israel will soon be defeated or rendered powerless. In modern terms the prophesy will go something like this:

If a woman gets married today and conceives a child, from now until his birth [i.e. around nine months] conditions will be so much improved [butter and honey] that he will be able to be given a name that signifies a good omen, Immanuel or "God is with us". And by the time the child begins to understand and distinguish between good and bad [around two to three years] the two enemies of King Ahaz will be vanquished by the king of Assyria.

The whole prophecy of Isaiah was not on the mode of conception of the child but on the speediness in which king Ahaz's enemies will be defeated. The child was used as a benchmark, so to speak, for the Judean king to confidently estimate the timing of the approaching events.

In fact the child being prophesied was very probably the one referred to in the next chapter:

Isaiah 8:3-4
And I went to the prophetess, and she conceived and bore a son. Then the Lord said to me, "Call his name Mahershalalhashbaz; for before the child knows how to cry 'My father' or 'My mother', the wealth of Damascus and the spoils of Samaria will be carried away before the king of Assyria.

Immanuel was obviously a symbolic name, after all the Christians were never bothered that Jesus was not called by that name. But the name of the child above Mahershalalhashbaz, is significant here, for it is another symbolic name which means "haste-spoil, speed-booty"; it connotes the calamity which was to befall the kings of Israel and Syria, is the exact opposite of Immanuel, which connotes the converse fortune for Judah. And before the child can utter "mama" and "papa", Ahaz's enemies will be defeated: exactly what was predicted in Isaiah 7:10-17.

It is therefore obvious that the passage from Isaiah viewed in its full context has nothing to do with Jesus or any messianic prophesy. Only by taking the passage out of context and by the mistranslation of the Hebrew word almah could it be finally twisted to refer to Jesus. In short, there was no Old Testament prophesy of the virgin birth. [3]

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Earliest Sources of Jesus Life Do Not Mention the Virgin Birth

The question arises: did Matthew invent the story of the virgin birth based on the mistranslation of Isaiah or did he or some other early Christian read into Isaiah a tradition that was already circulating among the believers at that time Matthew was written around the end of the first century CE? The former is unlikely as Luke seems to have written about the virgin birth independently of Matthew. Hence it is more likely that Matthew was writing down (and perhaps embellishing it with additional details from his own creative mind) what was community tradition regarding Jesus circulating among the believers at that time.

Parthenogenesis, or virgin birth, is among human beings, to say the least, an extremely unlikely occurrence. This is not to reject the idea out of hand but simply to point out that anyone making such a claim is making an extraordinary assertion. The burden of proof lies squarely with the party that asserts that such an event had occurred in history. And extraordinary claims demand extraordinary proof. We have seen that the Bible can contain error, inconsistencies and downright falsehoods, it is therefore not enough to assert that just because it is in the Bible it must be true.

Let us now get back to the virgin birth. Now most of the people who knew Jesus during his ministry knew him as an adult, so they are pretty useless as witnesses in this case. From the people who should have known him before his ministry, we get a reaction that positively suggests that the miracle of parthenogenesis never happened.

For example as Mark reveals, when Jesus started preaching, his family, including his mother went to call him back because they thought he was "out of his mind" (Mark 3:21). Now why on earth would Mary, of all people, think her son "out of his mind" when he started preaching when she had been a willing and knowing party to the first miracle in the messiah's life?

Now the people whom Jesus grew up with, the next best candidates to have knowledge about his special birth, what did they do? According to Mark they initially rejected his teachings (Mark 6:1-6).

In fact the earliest sources on Jesus are silent on the issue of the virgin birth; we see nothing in Paul's letters (AD51-64) and Mark's gospel (cAD70) about Jesus' miraculous conception. This silence is actually strong testimony against the historicity of the virgin birth. For both Mark and Paul were convinced believers and had it occurred or had they heard about it, they would surely have written something about it. In fact a natural reading (i.e. without any theological preconception) of Paul's letter to the Galatians showed that the "apostle to the gentiles" believed Jesus came into the world like anyone else:

Galatians 4:4
But when the time had fully come, God sent his son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem under the law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.

The message conveyed by Paul here is that Jesus was a normal Jewish child called by God. [4]

Our next early source is from the Jewish Christians, or the Nazarenes, who were (very probably) the followers of Peter and James (the brother of Jesus). The Nazarenes never accepted the story of the virgin birth. We know this through references of their beliefs by the early church fathers such as Justin Martyr, Jerome, Ireneaus and Origen. It is these group of Christians, more than any other group, that can have claim to direct eyewitnesses to the events in Jesus' life. [5]

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Pagan Sources for the Virgin Birth

If the virgin birth was not prophesied in the Old Testament and has no claims at all for being historical, where did the idea come from? And how did it become embedded into the Christian tradition? The answer immediately suggests itself when we turn our attention to the Gentile world where Christianity took root and flourished.

The gentile cultures, religions and mythologies during the time of Christian beginnings around the first century CE were filled with stories of divine incarnation. For example in the Greek myth, Perseus was born of the virgin Danae. Danae was conceived by the God Zeus who took the form of a shower of gold. [6] In another Greek myth Dionysius was born of the virgin Semele. Semele was impregnated by Zeus with a bolt of lightning.

And in almost all the popular mystery religions [a] around the Meditteranean, the beliefs of the uneducated masses, the divine personalities are born of virgins. For example, Horus, a major god of the Egyptian mystery religion, was born of the virgin Isis (like Jesus in Luke, Horus was also born in a stable). And Mithra, an derivative of the Persian sun-worship, whose cult rivalled Christianity during the first few centuries of its existence, was conceived when God himself, in the form of light, entered a virgin. Phoenecian mythology had Adonis being born of the virgin Myrrh. [7]

The popular culture also ascribed to many famous men miraculous, divine and, sometimes, even virgin birth. [8] Thus the emperor Augustus, the reigning sovereign during the time of Jesus, was reputedly miraculously begotten when a snake descended upon his mother in the temple of Apollo. [9] So too, Romulus, the legendary founder of Rome, was born of a vestal virgin. [10]

It was therefore to be expected, in fact inevitable, that Christianity, which vied for converts with these mystery religions, would itself be imbued with such mythological elements. It could happen in many ways. The Christians, desiring to provide conclusive vindication of their faith in the divine nature of Jesus, would naturally turn to the signs that were accepted in the culture as proofs of divinity. [11] New converts from the mystery religions would also naturally carry the mythological baggage from their previous beliefs.

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Notes

a.The pagan religions were referred to as mystery religions because they took the form of mysteries which was only revealed to the initiated

References

1.Cuppitt & Armstrong, Who Was Jesus?: p46
Joyce, The Jesus Scroll: p36
Warner, Alone of All Her Sex: p19
Wilson, Jesus: The Evidence: p48
2.Guignebert, Jesus: p123
Wilson, Jesus: The Evidence: p19
3.Asimov, Guide to the Bible: p531-533
Craveri, The Life of Jesus: p36-37
Cadoux, The Life of Jesus: p27-30
Guignebert, Jesus: p122
4.Cadoux, The Life of Jesus: p27
Guignebert, Jesus: p119
5.Livingstone, Dictionary of the Christian Church: p165-166
Maccoby, Revolution In Judea: p286
6.Craveri, The Life of Jesus: p33-34
7.Robertson, A Short History of Christianity: p37
Freke, T & Gandy, P., The Jesus Mysteries: p35
8.Craveri, The Life of Jesus: p33
9.Knight, Honest to Man: p119
10.Knight, Humanist Anthology: p29
11.Guignebert, Jesus: p122

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