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)

[Read more…]

Pontius, Our Pilot – Part 4

<< Continued from Part 3

Summing the Woeful Tally

The gospels simply do not tell a consistent story about the trial of Jesus.

Prophecy: In the first three gospels, a Silent Jesus comports with the prophecy of Isaiah, as intimated by Luke’s record in Acts. In John, a Mouthy Jesus precludes any possibility that Isaiah’s prophecy was fulfilled by the quick-witted Nazarene, who parried questions with a series of paradoxical comebacks that worked circles around a hapless Pilate. Either (1) Isaiah was indeed foretelling the messianic Jesus, and hence John was exaggerating the story for his own dramatic ends; or else (2) John finally told us the truth about just how talkative Jesus was, and the prior three gospels were skewing the trial to make the life of Jesus seem to fit Isaiah’s prophecy, when it really didn’t. In any case, one or more of the gospels was playing fast and loose with historical fact. Either Jesus fulfilled Isaiah, or Jesus out-pointed Pilate. [Read more…]

Pontius, Our Pilot – Part 3

<< Continued from Part 2

Probable Cause

Some 40 years after the death of Jesus, stories about him finally found their way into a heroic written tale, the book of Mark. In the subsequent two decades, these accounts were duly amplified by the later three gospel writers, along with many other non-canonical gospels. But the stories preserved about Jesus, while retaining a good deal of historically implausible content, persistently steer further away from conceding the most probable cause for Jesus’ violent end. [Read more…]

Pontius, Our Pilot – Part 2

<< Continued from Part 1

The Reluctance and Showmanship of Pilate

But now we come to the second focal area of this essay: the purported reluctance of Pilate in condemning Jesus to crucifixion. The scrupulous reader can readily observe that the gospels do not paint the same picture on this question either.

Mark portrays Pilate as reluctant, condemning Jesus to placate the demands of the Jewish leaders.

Matthew amplifies the theatre of the scene by describing Pilate washing his hands, offering a literary opportunity for the Jewish leaders to call down a curse upon themselves and their descendants (a thematic move blamed by many for the later Semitic persecution of the Catholic church). Indeed, Pilate’s wife is even invoked, sending him warning to leave the righteous Jesus alone. And on both counts again – we should ask again how it was that a later account from Mathew seemed able to come up with additional details unknown to Mark. How would Matthew know about a private message from Pilate’s wife? [Read more…]

Pontius, Our Pilot – Part 1

What-is-truth02To those who have, of late, recited to me our old evangelical adage – that the scriptures of the Bible are, despite their manifold authors, truthful and without contradiction – I have countered with my standing response: where would you like to begin?

Today we shall turn to one of our preeminent but unacknowledged allies, one who stands as exemplar of the sorrowing fact that the biblical writers were rather making it up as they went along – our old dear villain, Pontius Pilate. Just like Lazarus and Paul, Pontius can help us to pilot up-current, back through the Channel of No Return, to break the siren spell of rose-tinted apologetics. [Read more…]

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