Response to Bedard’s Laozi, Jesus and the Virgin Birth

My response to Bedard’s blog post about Laozi:

http://1peter315.wordpress.com/2009/01/06/laozi-jesus-and-the-virgin-birth/

“You are correct that most often it is a supernatural birth and not a virgin birth. But that is not how Jesus myth proponents state it. They describe pagan myths using New Testament language, even if it is not accurate in describing the myth,”

This is irrelevant.  Yes, there are different words in different languages.  But often meanings are similar if not the same.  Words even etymologically evolve between languages as do other cultural elements such as religious motifs.  For instance, Egyptian meri and Christian Mary may be etymologically linked.

Many goddesses were called virgins even after they gave birth.  This is because their virginity was an inherent characteristic.  When speaking about these issues, we are talking about mythology and not biology.

Another issue is that scripture says that Jesus has brothers and scripture doesn’t say that they weren’t Mary’s children.  If they weren’t Mary’s children, scripture would’ve mentioned it.  Anyways, Mary gave birth  and still was considered a virgin.  Obviously, her hymen was broken at least when Jesus came out.  Also, considering that Paganism had examples of goddesses and women remaining or regaining virginity after sex, there is no reason to assume Joseph and marry never had sex.

6 thoughts on “Response to Bedard’s Laozi, Jesus and the Virgin Birth

  1. I just got back. I’ll get to the meri issue later, but I was thinking about another aspect.

    I was pointing out how the issue of virginity in ancient religions had more to do with mythological meanings (with their attendant spiritual implications) than with biology. Of course, ancient people were aware of basic facts of biology, but that wasn’t their main concern when conveying religious truths.

    In light of modern understanding, this distinction between mythology and science is even more significant.

    Scientifically speaking, virgin births are impossible in humans or rather no known cases have been observed. Billions of people have been born under the supervision of medical doctors and I’ve never heard of a documented case of virgin birth in humans.

    Mythologically speaking, virginity is a very profound symbol of spiritual truths. Comparative mythologists and Depth Psychologists have written probably thousands of books on the significance of this common mythological/archetypal motif.

    Considering the lack of scientific evidence, the rational conclusion is that virgin birth motif in various religions isn’t meant to imply a literal interpretation.

  2. I had another thought about the distinction between virgin birth as mythological truth vs as biological fact. Parthenogenesis is the term that is used by both scholars and scientists.

    Non-sexual reproduction is common in some species, but it has a perfectly natural explanation. The process is scientifically understood and no divine intervention is necessary. So, even if Mary could be proven as an example of human parthenogenesis, it wouldn’t prove Jesus’ divinity.

    Murdock mentioned how it took her a long time to realize the common motif of virgin births. The reason was because scholars used the term parthenogenesis, probably so as not to offend orthodox Christians.

    The term parthenogenesis comes from the word parthenos. The Greek concept meant virginity, but obviously it didn’t mean what we now understand as biological virginity. Zeus was called parthenos despite having impregnated many women. Virginity was a mythological status. It’s no different than the mythological belief that Catholics hold that Mary was a virgin even after giving birth because the whole process was considered miraculous (meaning it had nothing to do with biology).

  3. http://unreasonablefaith.com/2008/06/20/why-i-deny-the-virgin-birth-of-jesus/

    Daniel Florien says:

    Paul, the earliest New Testament author, never mentions the virgin birth. For someone who we rely upon for much of Christian theology, it is an odd omission. Paul refers to Jesus’ birth twice (Rom 1:3; Gal 4:4) and never says he was born of a virgin or of different means than anyone else. You’d think that would be important.

    The virgin birth is also not in Mark, the earliest gospel, or in John, the only other gospel not based on Mark. Why is such an important story left out of all the early sources? Probably because it hadn’t been made up yet.

    Why would the story be made up? Perhaps to fulfill an old prophecy of a virgin birth, which the Gospel of Matthew cites:

    Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14)

    Some scholars say “virgin” was a mistranslation in the Septuagint (the Greek translation the gospel writers used), and should have been translated “young woman.” That means the story might have been based on a mistranslation!

    It seems likely the virgin birth was created to boost the authority of Christianity through prophecy and compete with rival gods who were born of virgins.

    VorJack responds:

    My understanding it that the original Hebrew used the word ‘almah’, which specifically means ‘young woman,’ rather than ‘bethulah,’ which specifically means ‘virgin.’ The greek translation used a word that was more ambiguous – sort of like the word ‘maiden’ in english. Not exactly a mistranslation, just a bit confusing.

    Still, it’s pretty clear from the context what Isiah is speaking of, though. He’s speaking to Ahaz about the upcoming invasion of Judah by the Syrians and their allies. If Isiah were to say to Ahaz, “Don’t worry, in 700 years a virgin will give birth to someone who will fix everything,” Ahaz would have had him lynched. Isiah is clearly making a prediction about the near future, and most likely about his own son that he mentions in the next chapter.

    Not that any of this would have bothered Matthew. Like most of the interpreters of his time, he would have believed that verses had hidden meanings that only become apparent after the fact. Of course, this clashes with the current ‘plain sense’ interpretations of the modern era.

  4. The argument for meri has several aspects.

    As I pointed out in one of your other blogs, there are a number of respectable scholarly sources including the Catholic Encyclopedia that etymologically connect meri with Mary and Miriam. Also, meri was an epithet that increased with popularity in it’s use with deities including with Isis, and Isis popularity increased massively preceding and for centuries into the Christian era. Meri was used as an epithet and as a proper name.

    Meri is a known epithet of Isis and they’re found together in hieroglyphics. Isis was one of the goddesses referred to as meri directly prior to Christianity. It doesn’t really matter if it’s specifically found in a nativity if it was common knowledge and the connections are strong even without such a reference. Unfortunate for you, it is referenced in the Luxor birth narrative. The term mert was used referring to divine love. Mert is just another form of Meri. Specifically, this term describes Horus feeling divine love towards Isis.

    Meri means something like beloved or loving. This fits the characteristics typically applied to the Virgin Mary as well. Plus, there were numerous pre-Christian goddesses named Mari. At Philae, Mery is found in in a relief regarding the evemerized princess Arsinoe. This is important to note as the mythicist theory is that Mary is a evemerized deity. This explains the differences between deities as straight mythology that have weird elements such as emerging from a rock and an evemerized mythology that had been made more mundane. There are numerous such examples. Murdock wrote about evemerism in Suns of God:

    http://books.google.com/books?id=rey19p_ycHUC&pg=PA53&lpg=PA53&dq=evemerism&source=bl&ots=83EbImdjlX&sig=lCQfP0aJPb-TUNzzd7iwQJZPc84&hl=en&ei=VvvRSbKQI4bsnQf2q_jHBQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=4&ct=result

    Isis and her sister Nephthys were known as the plural Merti which begins with the same Egyptian symbols as Meri. This is the Latin Mertae, the Hebrew and German Martha, and the Italian Marta. Like Isis and Nephthys, Mary and Martha were sisters of a resurrection figure.

    Another detail is that meri was an epithet but it was also a direct reference to the deity. It could come before or after the deity’s name. There are offering formulas where meri ends each line. There is evidence that Isis later on was sometimes referred to simply as Meri.

    According to Budge, one of the common titles of Horus in the Book of the Dead is “the Beloved Son” which is what Jesus is called. In fact, Merit was the coptic term for meri and was used in reference to Jesus. Horus’ father Osiris was also known as Osiris Merti.

    Horus’ sometimes mother was Hathor and she was referenced as Meri. Hathor was the Egyptian goddess of love and the Virgin Mary was worshipped by the Kypriotes by the name Aphroditissa. At Maturea, the sycamore-fig of Hathor, with the characters and name of Meri, is considered the tree of Mary and her child. Mary is often referred to as “the beloved” in Gnostic texts.

    Isis and Hathor became increasingly linked in the Greco-Roman period, and was also identified with Aphrodite, as was the Virgin Mary purportedly identified on Cyprus which is close to Egypt. The very popular Greek goddess Selene was linked with Isis and even called Isis-Selene, and was invoked as “O beloved mistress”. Plutarch referred to Isis as “wise and wisdom-loving”. By the second century CE, Isis was known as the “All-loving Mother”.

    Furthermore, Isis was called a virgin in Egyptian texts and she became connected with Greek virgin goddesses. There is also the Paschale Chronicle which refers to a pre-Christian Egyptian ritual with a virgin birth and nativity with a babe in a crib. This is just one of several Christian accounts admitting to these motifs from Paganism being pre-Christian. And the Book of the Dead refers to the “cradle of Osiris” where he renews his bith.

    This is all from Murdock’s Christ In Egypt. Besides what I provided, she has another 70 pages of references like this just about Isis and she goes into more detail about Luxor. Here is an adapted excerpt from the book:

    http://www.stellarhousepublishing.com/luxor.html

    Murdock criticized Carrier’s interpretation claiming he was mixing up inscriptions. Here is Earl Doherty talking about this disagreement about Luxor (scroll down):

    http://www.jesuspuzzle.humanists.net/supp13D.htm

  5. I should add that there are multiple versions of Isis conceiving Horus. Only one of these versions involves a Phallus. Murdock writes about how the tale became sanitized over time. So, there are versions of the story where no sex occurs.

    Also important to note there are multiple versions of Jesus’ conception. In some Gnostic versions, Jesus is conceived normally which means Mary lost her virginity just like any other woman.

  6. The one thing I’ve learned about translations is that versions by scholars can diverge greatly. I’ll have to look into it further, but I think the translated word for semen has other possible translations. This translation issue was part of the conflict between Carrier and Murdock. Carrier thought that something portrayed overt sex, but Murdock referenced various scholars that disagreed.

    Offhand, there are a couple of non-sexual conception scenes I’ve seen.

    One picture portrays Isis as a bird hovering over the dead body of Osiris, but they’re not even touching. I have the image before me and I suppose it can be found on the web. Murdock has this image referenced to p. 80 of Budge’s On the Future Life. I think she talks about it in the text somewhere, but I don’t remember where at the moment.

    The other picture is panel 4 from the Luxor hieroglyphics. I also have it before me. Here is what Murdock says:

    p.186-7 “The hieroglyphs themselves in the Amenhotep inscription do contain two phallic symbols; however, one of these clearly is part of a term meaning “husband,” and the phallus signs (Gardiner’s D52 and d53) are often used to indicate maleness, rather than sexual intercourse. In consideration of the fact that there are Egyptian representations of men and gods with erect phalluses (“ithyphallic”), indicating that the Egyptians felt no compunction to avoid “pornographic” imagery, the question remains, why the delicacy of the birth narrative images, which do not indicate any sort of sexuality at all? The figure of Mun holding an ankh to the nostril, imparting life, appears elsewhere outside fo the Luxor nativity cycle. Hence, it may be that, viewing the delicate scene alone, the average Egyptian and Alexandrian Jew who was involved in the creation of Christianity—not being able to read the hieroglyphs, was not aware of any sexual innuendo in the narrative.”

    p. 190 “Furthermore, if all this eroticism were so obvious, one would think that it would be noticed by Rev. Sayce—a devout Christian minister—whose oversight in pointing out this difference between the Egyptian and Christian nativity narratives would seem baffling, since he undoubtedly believed the Luxor depiction to be a virgin birth, which he specifically deemed it.”

    p. 189 “It seems to be agreed by all parties that the queen in this image is a virgin before her impregnation, which occurs after her “converse” with the god Amun in the form of her husband.”

    p. 191 “If the creators of the Luxor scenes felt no difficulty in leaving out a number of phrases that might be considered erotic, it should not surprise us if the creators of Christianity did likewise.”

    Murdock refers to and quotes numerous scholars in this section, but I’m sure you can find various differing opinions. Carrier for some reason sees a sex scened and so you could read his work as well. Carrier has a blog and has many papers available online.

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