Sunday 19 December 2010

Born Of A Virgin

There is an old stand-by of middlebrow, pub bore professional atheism, that the Virginal Conception has numerous mythological parallels. Nothing could be further from the case. What occurs over and over again in mythology is the impregnation, by otherwise normal sexual means, of a woman by a god; a god, therefore, with a physical body. Exactly that does not happen in the Gospels.

However, it is held in Mormonism that this was how Jesus was conceived, one among many reasons why the enormous popularity of the Mormons within American religion - numerically third only to the Catholics and to the Southern Baptists, and the clear direct or indirect originators of numerous ideas such as "Manifest Destiny" - raises very serious questions about whether the American Republic, as such, is any sort of bulwark of Christianity. Not unanswerable questions. But very serious ones.

Both Jews and pagans made all sorts of contrary claims, but one was completely unknown to either, namely that Jesus had been the natural child of Mary and Joseph. No such suggestion was ever made by anyone in the first eighteen centuries of Christianity's existence. Even the Qur'an has the "Prophet Isa" born of the "Virgin Mariam". Apart from that partial retelling in the Qur'an, the Biblical account is unique, and could not be less like any of the parallels that are routinely alleged.

That Islam - a Semitic reaction against the recapitulation in Christ and His Church of all three of the Old Israel, Hellenism, and the Roman Empire - depicts Jesus as both virgin-born and the Messiah foretold by the Hebrew prophets is an important insight into the debate as to whether or not the circumstances of His conception described in the New Testament really are the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy.

Of course, had there been no expectation that the Messiah would be virgin-born, then there would have been no reason for the Evangelists to invent it. And that would have been just as strong an argument in the doctrine's favour. But the Islamic view, staunchly Semitic and anti-Hellenistic as it is, adds considerable weight to the belief that the Virgin Birth is, as the New Testament writers maintain entirely matter-of-factly that it is, the fulfilment of the words of the Old Testament prophets.

It is often contended that it is not clear that the prophecy in Isaiah actually refers to a virgin. Well, it certainly does in the Septuagint, and, contrary to what used to be asserted, first century Palestine is now acknowledged to have been profoundly Hellenised. So either the Septuagint prophecy is indeed being fulfilled explicitly, or else there was no expectation that the Messiah would be virgin-born, and thus no reason to make up that Jesus had been. The doctrine works either way.


  1. Taking that Mary was probably 12 or there abouts at the time of the Nativity (that was the normal age to be engaged in those days), by getting her pregnant, does that make God a paedophile in your opinion and did the Archangel Gabriel groom her?

    It is a saliant queston - but I have a bet on that you will not publish this.

  2. It exactly misses the point, as this post explains.

  3. Two comments: From what I understand, Mary was around 15 at the time of the Annunciation; and regardless, strictly paedophilia is sexual attraction to children before puberty. Our Lady was clearly past puberty in being engaged to be wed, so that wouldn't make either Our Lord or St. Joseph paedophiles.

  4. Neither of them ever had sex with her. No one did. Even if Saint Joseph had it in mind, he was, contrary to what is often assumed or depicted, almost certainly about the same age as she was. Teenage boys who fancy teenage girls are not paedophiles, or even ephebophiles.