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…]

YouTube – “Isaiah-Gate” and the Virgin Mary… Minus the Virgin

L'_Annonciation_de_1644,_Philippe_de_ChampaigneIt stands to shame that we Christians are the last to know about our own errors of sacrilege. But as the season of Lent is here, I would petition abstention from one particular sacrilege, the inherited error of believing Jesus was born of a virgin, and that being so conceived would have fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy. Our belief that Isaiah predicted a virgin-born Messiah is simply false, a scandal which heretofore shall be referred to as Isaiah-Gate! And though many books have discussed this, I finally located a succinct 4-minute description in an engaging lecture. And a good thing too, because there are two quite curious points to this dilemma of non-prophecy. First, it is odd that we came to believe the messiah would be born of a virgin, essentially based on a translational boof. Second, it is more interesting still that we should wind up with gospel stories describing the fulfilment of said prophecy, when we now realize that Isaiah said no such thing.

But first things first. Here is the YouTube lecture excerpt, with commentary following.

YouTube: Bart Ehrman

Manifold Greatness of the King James Bible, 4 min., January 2013.

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(NOTE: video is set to play from 45:08 to 49:03. Timings sometimes do not work correctly in IE. Recommend using Firefox)

Recap

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As a Matter of Fact

The entire discussion of Christian apologetics would be greatly served if there was a clearer appreciation of a critical distinction: that of (1) facts and (2) contentions.

  1. Fact: A fact is something that has really occurred or is actually the case. The usual test for a statement of fact is verifiability, that is whether it can be proven to correspond to experience. (ref)
  2. Contention: a point contended for or affirmed in controversy. (ref)

The subtle trick of apologetics is get that rubber stamp out: labelling contentions as facts is job one. We do not like doubt. When in doubt, stamp it!

A Recent Comment

One of my commenters recently posted the following:

The foundation of the Christian religion is not in fuzzy emotions or the logical coherence of its theology, but in a historical event: the resurrection; that it occurred, that there were many eyewitnesses to it, and that many of those eyewitnesses died attesting to it.

I formerly believe and said exactly the same thing. But is the resurrection a fact, or a contention? [Read more…]

Infographic – Timeline of the New Testament Books

One of the many difficulties the New Testament presents for scholars is dating and sequencing the books in order. Some of the books were written anonymously and did not specify an author. Dating of documents was also not undertaken. Using a range of textual clues, scholars have developed approximate dates for the books. While timelines can be found from a number of sources, I had trouble finding any that were annotated with other significant events of the period. Thus, the following timeline, which combines information from several resources.

My hope is that this may serve as a fairly rich “info-graphic” to help outline the development of Christology and “historical” information about Jesus as contained in the gospels. (please do advise if you find any errors)

New Testament Timeline - JerichoBrisance

The core timeline – which consisted of only the books and their dates – was drawn from Raymond E. Brown’s Introduction to the New Testament (RC); and I found it in a post by Jared Anderson at RationalFaiths.com (LDS). Other sources consulted are cited below. The following is a brief excerpt from Wikipedia on Raymond E. Brown:

The Reverend Raymond Edward Brown, S.S. (May 22, 1928 – August 8, 1998), was an American Roman Catholic priest, a member of the Sulpician Fathers and a prominent Biblical scholar of his era.

Brown was one of the first Roman Catholic scholars to apply historical-critical analysis to the Bible.

He was regarded as occupying the center ground in the field of biblical studies, opposing the literalism found among many fundamentalist Christians while not carrying his conclusions as far as many other scholars.

Theological Evolution

When surveying the letters of Paul and the gospel accounts, it is interesting to note the development of historical claims, as outlined in the orange numbered callouts on the timeline. [Read more…]

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