Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Creating Jesus 16: The Virgin Birth

We already discussed how the first memories of Jesus were that of a human son. Paul knows the tradition that "God sent forth his son" and he was "born of woman" (Gal 4:4).

Scholars question whether or not the actual father was Joseph because of the way the traditions in Matthew and Luke are recorded. They suggest that Mary's pregnancy happened outside of wedlock, although within her betrothal period and Joseph seems surprised, needing a vision from an angel to convince him to marry Mary.

Of course this is very much a hot button topic, since Mary has become in the religious tradition the Queen of Heaven and Holy Mother, perpetual Virgin, and so on.

For my own reasoning, I don't trust any of the information given in the virgin birth stories, not even the references to Mary's pregnancy outside of wedlock. These references all appear to me to be part of a growing story to portray Mary as non-sexual, a virgin whom Joseph didn't even touch, so that she can properly birth a god. Paul doesn't yet know this, only that God's son was "born of woman." This phrase is idiomatic and means something like "born a human being." His reference to "son" may be a reference to his status as Angel, since angels were known in the tradition to be sons of God.

What I do know is that the genealogies which both Matthew and Luke preserve (despite their very different versions of Jesus' virgin birth) trace Jesus through Joseph's line. The early teachings from Jerusalem also agree that Joseph is Jesus' real dad. So the earliest traditions appear to me to be that Joseph was Jesus' father. This gets overlaid with the virgin birth stories when they develop.

More to come...


Geoff Hudson said...

Joseph was Caiaphus. Mary was betrothed to him. But she became filled with the Spirit, and followed the prophets. She married Judas.

The story was garbled in the writings attributed to Josephus, where we have the Paulina and Mundus affair.

Leon said...

Geza Vermes made a point about the virgin birth (in "Jesus the Jew") that is often overlooked. He noticed that ancient Jews did not mean by virgin what we mean by it. For them, it meant a woman who was not capable of bearing a child either because she was too young or too old. Even an old woman could be said to have passed from womanhood to vriginity.

As I recall, Vermes gave some examples. As for too young, they seemed to have believed that a young girl could not bear children before the onset of menstruation. Thus, in Luke's story both Mary and Elizabeth are virgins and this makes for a connection between them. Sarah in Genesis would also have been considered a virgin. Vermes discussed all this so many years ago, and yet most scholars have passed over it.

Leon Zitzer

Geoff Hudson said...

The explanation of Mary's virginity (and Elizabeth's) is to be found in Essene marriage - sex only for procreation.