Thursday, December 29, 2011

Virgin Birth redux

OK, no more posts on this, but I did find one "analysis" from Free Inquiry Magazine pretty funny:
Now, let’s turn to the Christian record. What do the Gospel writers say about Jesus? When it comes to his birth, as a group, they say nothing. The Gospels of Mark and John never mention the Nativity. Only Matthew and Luke describe it.

But it’s misleading to say “Matthew and Luke.” One might better say “Matthew vs. Luke,” for the Gospels bearing their names contradict* each other on almost every detail. The popular image of shepherds and wise men side by side before the cradle? Matthew says wise men. Luke says shepherds. Neither says both.

The star in the East? Only in Matthew.

“Hark, the herald angels sing” . . . but only in Luke. Matthew never heard of them**.
"Contradict" does not mean "a detail found in one story is missing from another." But that's a post for another day. What the author fails to mention studiously ignores is that one can tell the entire base story of Jesus' nativity from facts found in both accounts. To wit:

(1) Jesus was born during the reign of Herod****.
(2) He was born at Bethlehem in Judea.
(3) He was named Jesus by divine command.
(4) He was declared to be a Savior.
(5) He was conceived via the Holy Ghost.
(6) His mother, named Mary, was a virgin.
(7) She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph.
(8) Joseph was descended from King David.
(9) Joseph knew of Mary's pregnancy and its cause.
(10) He married her anyway and took responsibility for her child.
(11) The Annunciation and birth were attended by revelations and visions.
(12) After the birth of Jesus, Joseph and Mary lived in Nazareth.

What is amazing about the two birth narratives is not that they contain differences, but that as different as they are, on those details that are central to the story, they agree.  That is, unless one wishes to argue that "wise men vs shepherds" is more important than that Joseph accepted Mary's unexpected pregnancy. 

That doesn't mean there aren't problems. Frankly, the genealogies are an issue, though not as one might think.  Genealogy problems (as I've discussed before) are par for the course in the ancient world, but as no historian argues that Ceolwulf was legendary because different sources differ in genealogical details, no historian argues the same for Jesus.  If it's a problem***, that problem is theological, not historical. The theology is not really my interest.

But what it does mean is that if one looks for the underlying story of the Virgin Birth, one will find that all the points that matter are found everywhere that Jesus' birth is mentioned.

* You keep using that word, I do not think it mean what you think it means.
** No one should fail to note the argument from silence here.

*** And I'm not sure it is.  The differences, of course, have been noted since the First Century, and a number of possible solutions proposed (e.g. one line is Mary's, the lines are 'physical' versus 'legal.'). But the important points are that a) everyone knows the two genealogies have differences, and b) no one in 2000 years bothered to fix them.  That shows that the copyists' respect for textual integrity has been more important than their concern about 'difficulties,' modern atheist mumblings about mass changes and insertions aside. Such a respectful approach makes documents more historically valuable than if the ancients had tidied up what to us looks like a mess.
**** Let's keep this readable, shall we?
(1)  Matt. ii. 1, 13; Luke i. 5. 

(2)  Matt. ii. 1; Luke ii. 4, 6.
(3)  Matt. i. 21; Luke i. 31.
(4)  Matt. i. 21; Luke ii. 11.
(5)  Matt. i. 18, 20; Luke i. 35.
(6)  Matt. i. 18, 20, 23; Luke i. 27, 34.
(7)  Matt. i. 18; Luke i. 27; ii. 5. 
(8)  Matt. i. 16, 20; Luke i. 27; ii. 4.
(9)  Matt. i. 18-20; Luke ii. 5.
(10)  Matt. i. 20, 24, 25; Luke ii. 5ff.  
(11) Matt. i. 20, etc.; Luke i. 27, 28, etc.
(12) Matt. ii. 23; Luke ii. 39.

6 comments:

Giraffe said...

I like these posts.

El Borak said...

I'm glad. I try not to overdo it with this kind of stuff - this is not meant to be an "apologetics" blog. On the other hand, since there is almost nothing else happening right now that I haven't hit like a pizza parlor mole over the past 5 years, it's this or nothing.

Hopefully I won't lose my other reader over it :)

Professor Hale said...

nope. Still here.

Anonymous said...

If you "lose" some over it, perhaps you will gain more important others in so doing. It is indeed the best and most important thing you have done on here through the years.

Anonymous said...

And "Free Inquiry" is purposeful, Orwellian speak.
The claim is not the thing itself.

El Borak said...

The claim is not the thing itself.

Of course not. One example is sufficient to prove the case. When I hear of a miracle, I am free to believe in it or not. A freethinker is not free to believe in it, and must not.