The Virgin Birth: what really happened?

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Menachem Av: Month 2

I’ve missed twice. No pains or discharge now for two months. I thought the first time I was just late. I’ve not been having the uncleanness for long so it could have just been things not working like they should. That happens right? But then a second time. Not so good. And then I started to show. How as I going to explain it – to the family, the village and most of all to Yossef who they’ve decided I’m marrying?

It wasn’t him. We haven’t, you know, done anything. I’ve only met him a couple of times. He’s older of course, nearly twice my age. He seems nice enough, though it wouldn’t make any difference if he wasn’t. He’s going to be my husband. I’m going to be his wife. Or I am if I survive this.

So what am I going to say? Can’t tell them who it really was. Thaddaios, Shim’on the builder’s boy. Same age as me. We just got to messing about. I didn’t want to, knew it was wrong. Knew it would land us, specially me, in trouble one way or another. But I did want to do it too. It was nice. Nice being touched under my clothes. He was gentle and kind.

But then there was blood and mess. The blood was mine, the mess was his. I wasn’t expecting that – the blood, I mean. I was shocked. I touched it and cried. Touched myself after I’d touched him. That’s when it must’ve happened. Some of his mess found its way inside me, off my fingers, and that’s how the seed of his baby began to grow in me.

Technically, though, I’m still a virgin. I can tell Yossef that: ‘technically I’m still a virgin’, ’cause technically that’s true. Thaddaios never put his thing in me. I wouldn’t let him even though he wanted to, ’cause I know how important it is I’m a virgin on my wedding night. Yossef’s family could do bad things to me if they found out I wasn’t. But I am. Technically anyway.

So that’s the story. I’m a virgin but, you know, with child. Yeah, doesn’t make sense. Yossef’s going to have trouble believing it. I know I would. Maybe I can tell him the Lord had a hand in it somewhere. The Lord’s hand instead of my fingers! Maybe. He might go for that. His family’s very orthodox.

Ellul: Month 3

‘Come off it, Miriam,’ Yoseff said when I told him. ‘Who was it?’ But I stuck to my story. So he prayed about it and said the Lord told him he’d to stand by me, so he has done. He says that when it comes everyone’ll thinks it’s his and he’ll just let them. He’s not such a bad sort. It could be a lot worse. But, he says, it’d be best if we took off somewhere, away from all the questions, to hide my shame, he said, when I really begin to show So we’re trekking off to some God-forsaken part of the country where he has relatives or something.

Nissan: Month 9

So that’s how we ended up here, in one room where the animals come in at night. It could’ve been worse, I suppose. His aunt or whoever she is delivered it. The baby that is. It went okay, if you think having your body just about ripped in two is okay. The baby was fine though and I’m recovering. After, his aunt held it up; a bloody mess, arms outstretched. ‘Well,’ she said, ‘it won’t change the world, but you have a fine healthy baby.’ I might’ve smiled then. She cleaned it up and wrapped it in the swaddling. I looked and thought, maybe it’s not too bad.

Yoseff came in and peered at it.

‘So,’ he said, as if he was interested, ‘what you going to call her?’

 

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Peace Off

angels

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. Luke 2.14 as rendered by the King James Bible.

Whatever happened to that peace? There hasn’t been peace on earth ever since the angels were made to herald Christ’s birth with these words. Some of that absence of peace – the conflicts and wars – has been the result of religion, including that of Jesus himself. Then again, he did contradict the angels when he said he hadn’t come to bring peace but a sword and for once, he was right (Matthew 10.34). So what can the angels have meant? More to the point, what can those who created these words to put in the mouths of non-existent beings have been thinking? Is their declaration a promise? A prophecy? Something to look good on Christmas cards?

Other translations of Luke 2.14 avoid the whole peace on earth shtick by watering down the statement: ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests’ reads the NIV. Now only those whom God ‘favours’ are granted peace, which presumably means only Christians, and it’s now a vague sense of well-being (complacency? smugness?) that isn’t of much use to the world at large. Certainly other New Testament writers, the creators of John’s gospel and the letter to the Ephesians for example, interpret ‘peace’ in this very limited way.

And yet, in Isaiah, in verses applied to Jesus (especially at this time of year; they were read out in the carol service I attended last night) we find him descibed like this:

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9.6)

Apart from the fact this is a specifically Jewish prophecy that has nothing to do with Jesus – which is why most of the titles don’t really apply to him (nobody has ever called him ‘Wonderful Counselor’ or ‘Everlasting Father’) – there again is the idea that he’s somehow connected with capital-letter Peace. He’s a Prince of it, no less.

But wait – there’s more:

Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this. (9.7)

Of course; it’s all end time stuff! We should’ve guessed. Long term peace on the Earth, predicted by the angels and, ostensibly, by Isaiah is going to be in the future, after Jesus returns to establish God’s Kingdom on earth.

Have you noticed how it’s always in the future? Everything Christianity offers is going to happen later: heaven, eternal life, the second coming, the rapture, resurrection, God’s Kingdom, the lion lying down with the lamb, the end of war, everlasting peace. Not in Jesus’ own time as he thought; not in Paul’s, not in the gospel writers’, not any time since, but always just around the corner, any time now, soon. Never in the here and now. Peace on Earth, like all those other promises, is always just out of reach, like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow – the closer you think you might be to it, the further it moves away.

A friend added one of those clever posters to Facebook recently. It said, amongst other things, that it wasn’t okay to ‘shame’ religion. I couldn’t disagree more. Scams must be debunked and the sham of religion’s empty promises held up to the light of reality. None of the things that the Bible says will happen is going to; not now, nor in an ever-elusive future.

A happy and peaceful Christmas to both my readers.

It’s Baby Jesus time again

Nativity2It’s that time of year again, when we’re expected to worship the baby Jesus and thank God for sending him. I do usually go to a church carol service with friends and sing along for nostalgic reasons, while marvelling at folk’s willingness to believe the fairy story. Plus, there’s always a drink or two afterwards to look forward to.

What would Jesus have made of it? The stories of his miraculous birth have been tacked on to the beginning of two of the gospels but even in Matthew and Luke there is no indication that he was aware of them. Neither he nor his mother mention them when it looks like aspersions are being cast on his legitimacy (eg: Mark 6.3; John 8.41). You’d think one or other would have done so as sure-fire proof that he was an emissary from God. In fact, apart from the two conflicting accounts in Matthew and Luke there are no other mentions of his spectacular nativity in the Bible; Paul, writing closest to Jesus’ lifetime, doesn’t refer to it even when he’s arguing in 1 Corinthians 15.42-52 that Jesus came from Heaven.

How do we account for this? The obvious answer is that the nativity narratives are much later inventions. We know they were not included in Matthew and Luke’s shared source material because the two are significantly different (as I discuss here). However, by the time these gospels were being compiled, in the 80s and 90s, such stories had begun to circulate – then as now, people liked origin stories for their super-heroes – and two such tales were incorporated into their accounts. The birth stories are invention, heavy with symbolism and designed to show that Jesus was not illegitimate but spawned by God in a supposed fulfilment of prophecy.

While the adult Jesus was a egotist who thought he was going to the end the system in which he lived (Matthew 24.34-35) and then rule the world with his mates (Matthew 19.28), he didn’t require that his followers worship him. It’s true that, like any other cult leader, he accepted others’ adulation when it was offered, especially when it was offered by women; one anoints him with expensive perfume in John 12.13, while another Mary – they were evidently short of female names back then – fawns over him in Luke 10.41-42. However, he doesn’t make it part of his mission to demand the worship of others. When early Christians started to think of Jesus as a supernatural-being worthy of adulation, they devised statements about how marvellous he was (Colossians 1.15-20 may be one such) but worshipping him through song does not appear to have been part of their agenda.

Modern Christians’ use of hymns and songs to tell Jesus how much they love him is, then, alien to the faith as it was originally practised, and to Jesus himself. The carols that’ll be sung this Christmas have no equivalent in Jesus’ life nor in that of his earliest followers. Even if he were hanging around in Heaven somewhere, which of course he isn’t, the last thing he’d want to be subjected to would be some badly sung Victorian carols telling him what a great guy he is. He was in no doubt about that when he was alive.

Predictions for 2015

BrideMy predictions prophecies for the year ahead:

1. There’ll be no Second Coming in 2015.
Jesus won’t be back this year. Just like he wasn’t back in 2014, 2013, 2012… 1985… 1914… 1868… 1497… 1000… 446… 35. Just think of all those years – count ’em, nearly two thousand – when he’s failed to return so far. Actually, he promised he’d be back while his disciples and those daft enough to listen to him were still alive – around AD30 or thereabouts (Matthew 16:27-28; Matthew 24:27, 30-31, 34; Luke 21:27-28, 33-34). Safe to say he’s not coming back at all now, just like dead people don’t. Not in 2015, not ever.

2. Christians will go on insisting Jesus is going to return any time soon.

3. There’ll be no natural disasters or human calamities as a result of same-sex marriage.

4. Christians will claim natural disasters and human calamities are the result of same-sex marriage. Shaking our fists at God… the wrath of the Almighty… sign of the End Times… blah, blah, blah.

5. More than one prominent Christian will call for the execution of gay people.

6. Christians in the west will claim they’re being persecuted when they’re being expected to treat others fairly and equally, and not to discriminate against them.

7. Christians will respond to criticism with clichés like ‘they wouldn’t dare say that about Muslims’… ‘Christians are the last group who are fair game’… ‘It’s time for Christians to speak out’… ‘Stand up for God’s standards…’ etc.

8. Christians will continue to dismiss and disparage anyone who doesn’t share their views, especially atheists. Look out for ‘atheists have no morality’, ‘the fool hath said in his heart there’s no God’ and ‘atheists want to oppress Christians’ occurring with tedious regularity.

9. There will be more revelations about the abuse of children by church ministers.

10. Church hierarchies will attempt to cover up the abuse of children by their ministers.

11. There will be the usual manufactured ‘war on Christmas’.

12. These predictions have far more chance of coming to pass than any of the so-called prophecies of Bible. I’ll return to them at the end of the year so we can see.

A happy new year to you all!

 

Original picture: Ursula Klawitter / zefa / Corbis

Answers to this year’s all-new Christmas Quiz

saving-christmas-posterGod save us all from this, this Christmas time.

1. Where does the word ‘Christmas’ come from?
The answer is b, the name comes from the Catholic Mass held on the supposed date of Jesus’ birth. So all you anti-Catholic Christians need to find a new name for it fast.

2. When was Christ born?
a) is the answer here: Christ wasn’t born. Maybe Jesus was, but ‘the Christ’ is an invention of later Christians (Paul, for example, in Romans 8.3 and John’s gospel, written up to a century after Jesus lived.) The Christ is a mythic, supernatural being who’s always existed. He bears little relation to the itinerant Jewish preacher Yeshua who wasn’t born on 25th December or in the year 0.

3. Which gospel writers didn’t think the nativity story worth including in their accounts?
Mark and John (b & c) don’t bother including it. Did they not know it? The two gospels that do have bits of the story – Luke and Matthew – contradict each other.

4. How well attested are the events surrounding the birth in historical documents of the time?
a) Not at all. You’d have thought the Romans, who were pretty good at keeping records (lots of which have survived) would have noted Herod’s massacre of little boys or the appearance of a new, magic star in the sky – they were, after all, a superstitious lot. Not even Josephus, who, in the late first century, acknowledges the existence of Christians, sees fit to mention any of it.

5. Following the miraculous events of Jesus’ birth, what did Mary do?
According to Luke 2.19, she treasured them in her heart. However, the answer is c) because only a few verses further on, she hasn’t a clue about what her son is up to (Luke 2.48). Later still, she is part of the family’s efforts to ‘restrain him’ (Mark 3.21 & 31). Why, on these occasions, doesn’t she recall his miraculous beginning and think, ‘oh yes, I remember now. He behaves like a lunatic because he’s the son of the Most High.’ She certainly didn’t write down the details of his miraculous birth for later use in the gospels. No-one did. On account of them not really happening. Just sayin’.

6. How many times does Jesus refer to his miraculous birth?
a) Never. Strange that.

7. How many times does the rest of the New Testament refer to Jesus’ miraculous birth?
c) Never, even more strangely. Evidently the story hadn’t been invented when the rest of the New Testament was written.

8. When did Christians first start celebrating Christmas?
a) hundreds of years later.

9. Which of these Christmas traditions originate in the Bible?
None of them. Despite what Kirk Cameron might think, Christmas trees, kissing under the mistletoe and giving presents all have pagan origins. The giving of gifts did not come about because the wise men did it first. The tradition pre-dates Christianity.

10. Which of these groups has benefited the most from Jesus’ birth?
Yes, you’re right; none of them. Not women, not black people and not LGBT people. Christianity has a history of oppressing all three groups.

Speaking of which…
11. What does Pastor Steven Anderson want for Christmas?
c) he’d like to see the execution of all homosexuals so that AIDS – which, as far as the reverend understands it (I use the term loosely) only gay people get – might be wiped out. Peace and joy to you too, Stevie.

12. How will Christians celebrate Christmas this year?
The answer is a, b and c: by fighting the War On Christmas, putting the Christ back into Christmas and by telling us that Jesus is the Reason for the Season. Just like they do every year. As you can see, Kirk Cameron’s disaster of a movie, Saving Christmas, has two of these blessed clichés on its promotional poster alone.

So how did you do?
If you scored –
between 10-12: well done. Betcha don’t believe in Santa Claus either.
Between 7-10: your cynicism needs a little work. Order my book for Christmas – it’ll help.
Between 4-6: oh dear. You’re new around here, aren’t you. There’s hope for you though, so stick around. Oh yeah, and order my book for Christmas – it’ll definitely help.
Between 1-3: Like Christmas, you are in need of saving, my friend. May the scales fall from your eyes this holiday period. Amen.

This Year’s All-New Christmas Quiz!

SantaBack by popular demand (well, mine anyway), try this year’s all-new Christmas quiz!

Answers in the Bible or not, as the case may be. Real answers next time.

1. Where does the word ‘Christmas’ come from?
a) the Bible
b) the Catholic Mass held on the supposed date of Jesus’ birth
c) the Greek, meaning to pull the wool over people’s eyes

2. When was Christ born?
a) he wasn’t
b) 25th December
c) in the year 0

3. Which gospel writers didn’t think the nativity story worth including in their accounts?
a) Luke
b) Mark
c) John

4. Following the miraculous events of Jesus’ birth, what did Mary do?
a) she remembered them all in her heart
b) she wrote them down for later use in the gospels
c) she forgot all about them

5. How many times does Jesus refer to his miraculous birth?
a) never
b) twice
c) he doesn’t shut up about it (well, would you?)

6. How many times does the rest of the New Testament refer to Jesus’ miraculous birth?
a) repeatedly, showing how important it was
b) only when making an important theological point
c) never

7. How well attested are the events surrounding Jesus’ birth in historical documents of the time?
a) not at all
b) quite substantially
c) as you’d expect when mass murder and strange astronomical events are involved, they’re mentioned everywhere

8. When did Christians first start celebrating Christmas?
a) hundreds of years after the event
b) not long after Jesus died
c) immediately

9. Which of these Christmas traditions originate in the Bible?
a) Christmas trees
b) kissing under the mistletoe
c) giving presents

10. Which of these groups has benefited most from Jesus’ birth?
a) women
b) black people
c) LGBT people

11. What does Pastor Steven Anderson want for Christmas?
a) his two front teeth
b) peace and joy
c) the execution of all homosexuals

12. How will Christians celebrate Christmas this year?
a) by fighting the War On Christmas
b) by telling everyone that Jesus is the Reason for the Season
c) by putting the Christ back into Christmas

 

Picture from memegenerator.net

 

Christmas Quiz Answers

Birth3

1. In what year was Jesus born?   a) 4 BCE (when Herod the Great was king)   b) the year 0     c) 6CE (when Quirinius was governor of Syria)

Matthew’s gospel claims Jesus was born when Herod the Great was king (Matthew 2.1) while Luke says it was when Quirinius was governor of Syria (Luke 2.2). But Herod died in 4BCE and Quirinius didn’t become governor of Syria until ten years later, in 6CE. So JC couldn’t have been born when both men were in their respective positions. Neither was he born in the year 0, because there wasn’t one (the Gregorian calendar goes from 1BCE to 1CE). Most scholars think Jesus was born around 4BCE, just before Herod’s death (as Matthew’s gospel suggests). Award yourself a splash of myrrh if you got this right.

2. When was Jesus born?  a) December 25th?   b) April 1st   c) in the summer

Not December 25th (see my post Jesus Is The Reason For The Season below) which was the date usurped from the pagan festival of Saturnalia; April 1st, maybe, as there’s something about this that takes us all for fools, but if the story is to be believed, it’s most likely he was born in the summer when shepherds would be out on the hillside with their sheep – if the story is to be believed. In short, we don’t actually know. If you said this, reward yourself with three hail Marys.

3. Who was Jesus’ father? a) God himself   b) Joseph, so that Jesus was descended from King David   c) one of Mary’s one night-stands

a) and b) rule each other out: see my post Jesus was born of a virgin… er, no was descended from David, er… below.  There were much later rumours that Mary was raped by a Roman soldier called Pantera, and certainly Jesus’ legitimacy is called into question by early critics of Christianity. This may be reflected in the gospels themselves where Jesus is referred to as his mother’s son, not his father’s as would have been customary (Mark 6.3). Treat yourself to Susan Boyle’s rendering of ‘Silent Night’ if you knew this.

4. How often did the Romans make people return to their ancestral home to be counted?  a) never   b) it was one-off   c) only when the gospel writer needed to get them to Bethlehem

Answer is c). While the Romans did carry out a census in 6CE, i) Jesus was born ten years earlier and ii) there is no record of the Romans forcing people to return to the home of their ancestors.

5. How did Mary get to Bethlehem?  a) on foot   b) on a donkey   c) by being a character in a contrived story

The answer is c). Luke’s nativity story, the only one to have them travel to Bethlehem, doesn’t say how she got there. Leave a carrot out for Santa’s reindeer if you answered correctly.

6. Where was Jesus born?  a) in a stable   b) in a cave   c) at home in Nazareth

Again, Luke’s Bethlehem account doesn’t say. Matthew implies Mary and Joseph lived in Bethlehem all along (Matthew 2.11 & 16) making the whole ‘no-room-at-the-inn’ scenario superfluous. Sprinkle yourself with frankincense for saying so.

7. According to Matthew’s gospel, how many wise-men visited the new-born babe?  a) none   b) three   c) they weren’t wise-men, they were astrologers

The answer is c) and the number isn’t specified.

8. What did the angels say to the wise-men when they told them of Jesus’ birth?  a) you will find him in a manger   b) nothing   c) follow that star

b) is correct. According to the story the angels spoke to the shepherds, not the wise-men. Deck the halls with boughs of holly if you fell for this one.

9. Where did the magic star shine?  a) over the stable where Jesus lay   b) over his house   c) since when do stars shine over specific objects here on Earth?

Looks like c) again, though Matthew, who is the only gospel writer to mention it, claims in Matthew 2.9-11 that it was b), over his house.

10. When did the wise-men visit the infant Jesus?  a) when he was a toddler   b) while he was still in the manger   c) after the Christmas rush

Matthew says Jesus was a child when the so-called wise-men visited him at home (Matthew 2.9-11 again). Given their encounter with Herod (Matthew 2.16), who thinks Jesus could be anything up to two years old, it’s likely JC was a toddler at this point in the fabricated story. Don ye now your gay apparel if you knew this.

11. When did Herod massacre all the little boys, hoping to kill the baby Jesus?  a) later that same week   b) a few years after the birth   c) there is no record of him having done any such thing

Yup, c) again.

12. How many shepherds visited the baby Jesus?  a) all of them  b) two old men and a young boy   c) none

The number isn’t specified, though Luke suggests all of them went (Luke 2.15-16). In fact it was ‘none’ because none of this actually happened.

13. What gifts did the shepherds bring?  a) a lamb   b) a lamb kebab   c) a pair of hand-knitted socks

It doesn’t say. You can have a new pair of hand-knitted socks yourself if you said so. Or a kebab.

14. Which animals were present at the birth?   a) a horse (c’mon, it was supposed to be in a stable)   b) an ox and ass   c) an ox, an ass, the wise-men’s camels and the shepherds’ sheep

No animals are mentioned.

15. After the birth, where did Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus go?  a) to Egypt   b) home to Nazareth   c) nowhere

According to Matthew (2.13-18) the family went to Egypt following the visit of the wise-men and, after hiding there until Herod died, made their home in Nazareth (Matthew 2.19-23). According to Luke, however, they lived in Nazareth before the birth (Luke 1.26) and simply went back there once they’d had the baby circumcised (Luke 2.38); no mention of the holiday in Egypt nor of Herod, who’d been dead for ten years according to Luke’s chronology. It’s kinda neat the way the Bible tells such a consistent story, don’t you think?

16. Where will you find the Christmas story in the Bible?  a) in Genesis (because the answers are always in Genesis)   b) in all four gospels   c) in only two of the gospels, which have conflicting accounts

The answer is c); only in Matthew and Luke, each having a completely different take on things.

Feel entitled to sacrifice two turtle doves for making it this far.