Reprise of “Isaiah-Gate” – Catholic Tremors and Affirmation

Infallible StampIn response to my recent post on the virgin birth, a fellow blogger, Arkenaten, was good enough to forward a quite interesting article. It recounts how a group of Jewish inquirers sent three questions to then-pope John Paul II for response. These questions pertained to seemingly conflicting assertions in the New Testament regarding Jesus’ (1) post-resurrection appearances, (2) genealogies, and (3) virgin birth. I highly recommend reading this short web article, for it is insightful from top to bottom. However for our purposes, the well-asked third question was put as follows:

The genealogical line linking Jesus and King David seems to pass through Jesus’ father. But since Jesus was the product of a virgin conception, then he does not share in his father’s Davidic ancestry. How is Jesus a descendent of David?

The Vatican declined to give a direct answer but referred the group to the French Dominican Fathers’ Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem. They also declined comment, but stated that the catholic theologian Raymond Brown could provide appropriate answers. Brown was good enough to direct them to his own theological works at the library of the Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem. What they found was a catholic position undermining the historicity of the virgin birth altogether. This is what they report:

On the other hand, admits Brown, “The virginal conception under its creedal title of ‘virgin birth’ is not primarily a biological statement.”  He stresses that Christian writings about virginal conception intend to reveal spiritual insights rather that physical facts.  Because record of the virginal conception appears only in two Gospels, and there only in the infancy narratives (which Brown suspects are largely fictional), the Catholic theologian tactfully concludes that “biblical evidence leaves the question of the historicity of the virginal conception unresolved.”

Brown mentions the possibility that “early Christians” might have imported a mythology about virginal conception from “pagan or [other] world religions,” but never intended that that mythology be taken literally.  “Virginal conception was a well-known religious symbol for divine origins,” explains Brown, citing such stories in Buddhist, Hindu, Zoroastrian, Greco-Roman and ancient Egyptian theologies. He proposes that early Christians “used an imagery of virginal conception whose symbolic origins were forgotten as it was disseminated among various Christian communities and recorded by evangelists.”

~ SimpleToRemember, Judaism Online (link)

Never one to take controversial web postings at face value, I prodded around a bit more. Brown did indeed voice these subversive thoughts, and at some length. A 34-page paper by Brown expounds the issue at greater length: “The Problem of the Virginal Conception of Jesus.”  However, a far longer 142-page book by Brown can be acquired on Amazon: “The Virginal Conception and Bodily Resurrection of Jesus.

Pope John Paul II responded by affirming the dogma of the virgin birth, while still seeming to come up short of direct condemnation of Brown, as recounted on a pro-Catholic site. It seems that this dilemmas is one that both the preeminent Brown and the papal office tiptoed around with some delicacy.

The suggestion was dangerous. Latent in the comments on both sides, it can be observed that questions of fact took a backseat to questions of public relations. Dogma is difficult to part with. What could it do to people?

Thus, it is not surprising that the basis of the papal re-affirmation finds little grounding in factual or evidential support. One will note Paul’s vapid repetition of the idea that a long-held view may be regarded as true, simply because it was long-held:

“As we have seen, the Gospels contain the explicit affirmation of a virginal conception of the biological order, brought about by the Holy Spirit. The Church made this truth her own, beginning with the very first formulations of the faith. “The faith represented in the Gospels is confirmed without interruption in later Tradition. The formulas of faith of the first Christian writers presuppose the assertion of virginal birth, a real, historical virginal conception of Jesus. . . . The solemn definitions of faith by the ecumenical councils and the papal Magisterium, which follow the first brief formulas of faith, are in perfect harmony with this truth.”

~ John Paul II (CatholicCulture.org)

It would be harder to imagine a more perfect circle of reasoning.

It is a historical fact that Jesus was actually born of a virgin. This is true because we have long believed that it was so. How silly it would be, to think of it the other way around.

Comments

  1. If you paid a builder to build a new house for you and it had as many flaws in it as the Christian bible does you would take the builder to court for a number of crimes, not least of which would be for giving you incorrect information before the contract was signed…

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  2. How is one expected to get this across to Christians if die-hard evangelicals are pumping their version of literalism?

    Apologist, Mike Licona lost his job over a single sentence about the “Zombie Apocalypse” in his 2010 book on Jesus where he mentioned that perhaps it should not be taken literally(?)

    The truth over Moses and the Exodus has been known for years, yet it is still bandied about as some sort of real live historical event, and worse, taught as such to kids.

    Yet here we have a spokesman, Raymond E Brown, who had the authority to speak on behalf of the Pope admitting . it was all hokum; myth and still the Train Rolls On.

    Lol..shakes head.

    MAL’s comment is so true.

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    • I didn’t know that about Licona. But your observations are spot on. And hey, a big thanks for sending this one.

      What is MAL?

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      • I read that Licona, like many evangelical apologists who work for evangelical educational institutions are obliged to sign a contract of employment; usually one that states or alludes that the bible in its original form is inerrant.
        Licona’s story made headlines a while back.

        I recently read(somewhere?) that Gary Habermas teaches out of Liberty(?) where they teach creationism.
        His name jarred when I saw mention of the Minimal Facts Argument on your blog somewhere.

        My Atheist Life….look at the comments. 😉

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  3. This letter really has to get out to a larger audience.

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  4. archaeopteryx1 says:

    “One will note Paul’s vapid repetition of the idea that a long-held view may be regarded as true, simply because it was long-held.”

    Unlike fine liquors, good cheese, and me, bullshit doesn’t improve with age.

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  5. RE: archaeopteryx1’s comment: BS doesn’t improve; it just hardens minds into concrete. The bible itself was my teacher out of the christian trenches. But that was because I read all of it. People go back over and over to their denominations’ favorite bible verses to prove their points. I hear it all the time. The “God’s way are higher than our ways” and “the secret things belong to God” escape verses are easy outs. All of you who blog on this subject were my teachers also. You confirmed what I was finding, and most of all, you helped me know I wasn’t crazy. Keep on keeping on.

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    • “Lean not on your own understanding.” A nice stopper for inquiry, isn’t it?

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      • I forgot that one. It is one of the best ones to put us in our places. If you begin thinking logically, you will inquire. And we know what inquiring minds want, don’t we?

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        • Forbidden knowlede? No wait- to be like God?

          I give up.

          Ooooh, that’s what you were going all along for wasn’t it?

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          • Charity says:

            Yeah, but there’s also “line upon line, precept upon precept”, as well as “study to show thyself approved”. Oh, but we’re supposed to omit those.

            Hey Matt, your last few entries have me thinking about Jesus in the wilderness for forty days and forty nights. Many, religious and none, pretty much believe that Jesus never wrote anything for the Bible. Leads one to wonder how on earth we ended up with the account itself. “Could it be mmmm SATAN?!” Every body do the SNL Church lady dance.

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            • The wilderness wandering is a really good example. And another place where – if memory serves – John is different. John has Jesus someplace else just after his baptism I believe.

              SNL Church Lady, love it. 🙂

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              • Charity says:

                My husband works for a network of religious hospitals and has no issue bringing up his non belief. Normally, he doesn’t talk about it, but the moment someone questions him about faith he tells them he’s an atheist and discusses scripture with them. He recently talked about this specific incident with a co-worker. The other guy tells him that the Bible has the account of Jesus’ fast in the wilderness because he talked about it with his disciples and they wrote about it in scripture. He continually tells my husband that he just “lost his faith”. He responded with “you are more than likely to lose your faith than I am to go back to it”.

                As far as the virgin birth is concerned, I now find the whole scenario quite unsettling. First of all, I agree with Nan, it is with my understanding that virgin actually means young girl or young woman. It is believed that Mary was between 12-15 years old. Now I know there are theories out there from one extremity to another, but I tend to believe, due to Hebrew culture, that Joseph was much older. I find it a little scary that somebody somewhere is a pedophile: God, Holy Spirit or Joseph from my view point now if I have followed the story correctly.

                Ruth made an exceptional point about how the women were going to anoint Jesus’ dead body with oils and spices etc.if they had to move a big ass stone. I salute her for catching that. It doesn’t surprise me though, she has a great knack for standing back and looking at the whole picture.

                How do you feel about the theory out there that ties the resurrection of Jesus with Masonry? For instance, some believe that what Jesus did in the tomb was similar to Skull and Bones in what they do when they initiate new members. They fake a death in a coffin. If that were the case, I wonder if Jesus masturbated in the tomb as they do in coffins before “resurrecting”. I wish I knew more about this concept and how they relate it to Jesus, but I don’t.

                In speaking of the bloody sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, I am reminded of Malachi. I told my husband that the next time the above mentioned co-worker wants to talk about scripture with him, he needs to discuss tithing with him. If bloody animal sacrifices are an Old Testament practice because Jesus’ sacrifice in the New Covenant/Testament replaced it once and for all, why are tithes still necessary in the modern day Church? Tithing is not discussed in the New Testament, giving, yes, but not tithing. This is something that came to my attention the last two years of my faith. The only time we see mention of “first fruits” is when Paul is discussing new (the “first”) converts of “the way”. I told my husband that whoever pieced the Bible together knew what they were doing placing Malachi (the last book of the OT) right before the first book of the NT, Matthew.

                I’m sorry that I’m all over the place, Matt. You’ve got me thinking about the Gospels in a way that I haven’t thought of in a while. When I was looking at deconverting (I actually became an atheist between Purim and Easter in 2012.) Jesus was the last straw for me. I was looking for something redeeming about him, if I had found it I would have stayed a Christian. There were just too many inconsistencies! Suddenly, this man that I thought was once love and peace became arrogance and confusion to me. I knew it was time to leave.

                Thanks for posting your latest series.

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              • WOW, the suggestion of potential pedophilia was… disturbing. I hadn’t ever considered that. The question is whether there is any real historical content to this nativities at all. Paul and Mark don’t bother to say anything. Looks mostly like pagan/Isaiah adaptations to my eye.

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              • archaeopteryx1 says:

                Also, John says he met Yeshua along the Jordan River, while he and James were followers of John, the B, negating Matthew’s entire “fishers of men” story.

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            • archaeopteryx1 says:

              “Every body do the SNL Church lady dance.”

              Well, isn”t that special –?
              Love me some Dana “Church Lady” Carvey!

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              • Charity says:

                Me too, Arc, I’ll never forget the one mocking Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker (and yes, it’s spelled with two ks). Best one ever! I remember feeling a little blasphemous for laughing at it. My family had three timeshares at Heritage USA and had been there several times.

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              • archaeopteryx1 says:

                RE: “Me too, Arc”

                Call me Arch – I wouldn’t want anyone to confuse me with that weirdo, Arkenaten – he’s already gotten me kicked off of one theist’s website, and she told me I was the good one! He’s a troublemaker.

                And yeah, I’m talking about YOU, Ark! (He knows he is –)

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              • LOL. The two of you make such a gentle pair. 🙂

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              • archaeopteryx1 says:

                Oh, he’s not too bad, for a transplanted Brit —

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    • archaeopteryx1 says:

      You may well BE crazy for all I know, but certainly not for holding the beliefs – or disbeliefs, if you prefer – that you do. And there’s a lot to be said for crazy – if anyone should know —

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  6. archaeopteryx1 says:

    Interesting story about how you left religion, Charity – I was asked what I wanted to give up for Lent, I said, religion. True story. Almost.

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    • Charity says:

      Arc, that is so true! My husband and I had been Christians since we were kids and didn’t leave until we were about 40. Last night I told him that I can’t believe we didn’t give up on it all sooner. That’s how sneaky brainwashing is! You have to do all that you can to break off its oppressive hold.

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      • Man, we’ve had that thought.

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        • Charity says:

          I know I’m responding in the wrong spot, Matt. Yeah the whole rape thing adds a completely different outlook on the whole virgin birth story. Remember, this is the same God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He didn’t seem to have an issue with Abraham raping his wife’s slave. He never punishes him for it nor does he do anything when he kicks her and their son out with nothing. In fact, nothing ever happens to Abraham. However, everyone else gets into trouble for his sins. Judaism and Christianity are both religions heavily rooted in prejudice, violence and misogyny. This is a HUGE REASON why you will NOT hear me piss and moan on whether or not I should send my children to Church. I don’t feel guilty for pulling them out and I doubt if I ever will. People can say horrible stuff all they want about Islam, but they seriously need to take a good, hard look at Christianity and Judaism too.

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      • Charity says:

        Will do, Arch. I like both of you. I like your humor and I enjoy Ark’s bluntness.

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    • My dad always cited Lent as the reason he left Catholicism for Protestantism. 🙂

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  7. At the risk of going too much off on a tangent, the age of ‘Mary’ is not often brought up or taken into consideration, but the old log in the eye is always pointed at Mo and Islam.
    Although artistic renditions of Mary tend to depict a fully grown woman of indeterminate age,
    by Jewish custom she was likely around 13 or 14 . Possibly if already betrothed, even younger.
    Odd to think that in this day and we would consider her becoming pregnant statutory rape, married or not!

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    • archaeopteryx1 says:

      14 seems to have a special significance – Rebekah was 14 when she got together with 40-year old Isaac, and Rachael, when she met 70+ year-old Jacob, though because he had to work 7 years for her, she was 21 when married.

      But one has to consider that, at least here in the States, 150 or more years ago, most girls were married by 15 and considered old maids, if they weren’t by twenty.

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    • Charity says:

      Agreed, Ark. Near the end of my Christian faith I began to read passages about Mohammed in the Koran. I started to see the hypocrisy of Christians who criticized him for marrying young girls. The Bible clearly supports the same ideas of rape/pedophilia within/surrounding marriage, especially in regard to the Virgin Mary. That’s why I think it’s important to question Christians on who’s the real pedophile: God, Holy Spirit or Joseph?

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      • @Charity

        From what little I have gleaned about ancient Jewish custom, I am hazarding a guess that ”Mary”,
        as with most women throughout male dominated history, would have been considered little more than
        chattel, knocked up by Yahweh or not.
        The biblical portrait painted of the ”loving couple ” is gag-awful fiction, plain and simple.
        What woman would have tolerated a 50 km donkey ride in that state of pregnancy, especially if she were carrying a god? And what husband would have been that insane to risk his missus having a miscarriage and then have to incur the Wrath of Yahweh?
        Wasn’t going to happen.

        If you have ever seen the movie Life of Brian there is a line of dialogue that has one of the characters yelling, “He’s making it up as he goes along.”

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  8. I do have to comment on the problem of confusing pedophilia with what is usual and customary in many pre-industrial cultures, and that is judging girls who are distinctly post puberty to be adults and marriageable. Plus, remember that 13 is the customary age when young Jewish men go before their congregations and declare that “Today I am a man.” Very important in a world where the life expectancy was in mid thirties if you were lucky, usually not that old. The one I do wonder about is Mohammed, his last wife was only 9 years old when they began their marital life together. I really have to wonder if she had passed puberty yet, it’s possible, but extremely rare.

    Actually, the Virgin Birth fits the story very well, a classic myth bit in a classic myth. It would be a standard expectation in the world of first or second century Rome. If your father is a god, you have to be conceived in some fancy special way. Our poor Jewish political rabble rouser with delusions of royal ancestry who got himself crucified by the local Roman governor then turned into a Roman demigod by later writers deserves our sympathy if nothing else. People who take their myths seriously are truly sad.

    Happy Spring y’all, Three cheers for the Sun God, He is the One God, Ra, Ra, Ra! Gotta love that old time religion!

    Like

    • archaeopteryx1 says:

      Long time, Mariah, been hibernating? Wouldn’t blame you, it’s been a cold one.

      Like

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Michael Seidel, writer

Science fiction, fantasy, mystery and what-not

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My freedom from spiritual abuse happened when I walked away from the abusers. My healing and recovery from the complex trauma of spiritual abusers, spiritually abusive faith and toxic religion happened while I was still a Christian and continues to this day. My deconversion came later after many many years of studying the Bible, Christian apologetics, cults and spiritual abuse. When I realized that the Bible is not the inerrant Word of God, the only honest thing I could do was to stop calling myself a Christian. What I write here, may be very different from what I’ve written in the past. It might also be repeats of the past themes. ~ Zoe

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