Looking like the Getreligion folks

The National Post (Canada) has been running a series called Beyond Faith, which is as badly titled as say a book called The End of Faith (oh wait, that was written).

But the title of the series aside, there are some interesting pieces. But this one, today, on the Virgin Mary would not so much be in that category–by my lights. Though to be fair, they did post today the Fourth Sunday of Advent, traditionally honored as a Marian-theme liturgy.

The article begins with different conceptions of faith and whether everyone in fact holds some version of faith (e.g. in the existence of the future). Then this:

Of all the beliefs across time, there is none so seemingly extraordinary as belief in the Virgin Birth. Yet for hundreds of millions of people over the past 2,000 years it is the central idea on which everything else stands: God entered into humanity through the womb of the Virgin Mary to create a man who was also God. Without it, Jesus is just a Jewish prophet from Roman-occupied Palestine who had a few nice things to say. Without it, there is no calming of the seas or feeding the 5,000 with a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish. And there is no resurrection from the dead and there is no Christianity.

There are so many illogical and bad leaps in this one, where to begin.

As to an idea that is seemingly so extraordinary, how about essentially the same doctrine/story in Buddhism? (i.e. That the Buddha was born from the side of his mother. Or any number of Greek myths).

The next line confuses the Virgin Birth with the Incarnation–the belief that Jesus was God made flesh. The two are often combined but are mutually exclusive. The Gospel of John for example holds a doctrine of Incarnation but not the Virgin Birth (or at least doesn’t mention virgin birth).

The resurrection is not in any way determined by whether or not Jesus was born from a literal Virgin Womb. See The Apostle Paul who clearly believed in a Resurrection but no Virgin Birth. (See the Letter to the Romans, Ch.1). It would come as a shock to Paul that without a belief in a literal virgin birth, no Christianity. Though actually since Paul and all the original apostles saw themselves as Jews (and not Christians), they wouldn’t understand the term Christianity anyway.

The claim of miracles–even if you take them to be literal events (which I argue they are not intended to be read as)–like feeding the thousands, is again not in any way determined by Virgin Birth.

Which itself assumes the Virgin Birth story is a story about Jesus actually being born biologically of a virginal womb. Itself a pretty poor read of the story, I would say.

The Virgin Birth traditions come from the Gospels of Luke and Matthew. They in turn are derived from the Septuagint (The Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible), which in the Prophet Isaiah 7, translates the word “alma” (in Hebrew) to parthenos (in Greek)–which likely does mean virgin. A “young woman/virgin will conceive and bear a son….” Now the original context of the story actually has to do with a girl giving birth as a sign to the King of Judah that a siege by an enemy power at the gates will not succeed. Life in other words will go on.

The passage itself in Isaiah was not predicting Jesus. The NT writers used that passage–translated through the Greek and why did they translate the word as “virgin” nobody knows–to weave a story.

The genealogy lists of Jesus in Matthew and Luke are counter-imperial pieces. Emperors (also named sons of God) had genealogies written of them linking them back to a god/goddess as well as through ancient heroes (e.g. Romulus and Remus, mythic founders of Rome). Just with Jesus’. Ancient heroes of the faith, ultimately leading back to God.

It is also a theological (not biological) statement that the birth was of God.

[On both these points listen to Marcus Borg on Interfaith radio interpreting the birth narratives of Jesus here].

Better than the journalist is a psychologist interviewed for the piece (Prof. Jordan Petersen). Petersen states:

“Christ is born at the darkest time of the year. That’s not an accident. There are a lot of extremely complex ideas behind that. So here’s one: the redeeming hero emerges when the need is greatest. The hero is born not only when things are darkest but also when tyranny has reached new heights. There are dozens of examples like that which underlie the way these stories are constructed; they are stunningly profound and people relive them all the time.”

That is a much better symbolic read.

Published in: on December 23, 2007 at 7:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

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