Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Day Two

... here goes ...

Our speaker says that the virgin birth is historical, in the sense that "it actually happened." 99% of scholars think the virgin birth is made up. While he can't prove it positively, he can refute their arguments against it. For one thing, they point out that there are many stories of gods copulating with women in the ancient world so it would be normal for Christians to have something similar. Two pagan examples are Suetonius, "Lives of the Caesars," Augustus, paragraph 94 (go to page 100 or search 'XCIV') and Plutarch's "Parallel Lives," Alexander, paragraph 2.

Those who say it was copied speak generically because the details differentiate. It's like drawing two squares side-by-side and populating one with four smaller squares and the other with six small circles. The similarity of the stories is more apparent than real. In the pagan stories, the women are always married, never virgins, and the act is prominent and borders on p0rnogr4phy (intentionally misspelled, ok). Details are explicit. But consider that the virgin birth story began in Antioch among a conservative, Jewish community.

If the virgin birth is made up, it was made up to say something about Jesus. What does it say? It's his divinity? But pagan stories never believed for a second that the offspring are divine. Take the Book of Jubilees (150 BCE). To what extent Adam and Eve were thought of as human beings: they have sex (chapter 3) and live by the dietary laws. Did anyone think Adam was God? Every Jew believed that Adam had been created directly by God but that didn't make him divine.

The virgin birth doesn't say anything about Jesus, except that he's special. It isn't a theological statement but a historical fact. Since everyone tends to look for the worst possible interpretation - no one reads with a generous mind - what idiot would have made up a story that led to such a dismissive interpretation as cover-up for adultery?

Right, so, it happened and it was enough to motivate Jesus to search out his identity and divine calling. So, next we find Jesus in the Temple, trying to learn from the teachers of the Law what he should be doing. But he comes up empty. Then he waits about twenty years for John the Baptist to come on the scene and he's attracted to him as a possible clue to his mission. He tells John of his special birth and John goes to Jeremiah 1:4-5 and concludes that Jesus is called to be a prophet just like John. So Jesus does that for a time and things are going well until John gets arrested. And suddenly Jesus changes his message. And John finds out about it and asks him from prison. John had been looking forward to the one who was to come and Jesus gives an unusual answer, telling him the results of his work and letting John decide from that. And drawing from Isaiah.

Our speaker is known for believing that Paul went from a Pharisaic legalist to an antinomian in the course of his life. And our speaker sees the same track in Jesus. Samples of his legalism can be found in Matthew 5:18 and his cleansing of the Temple (according to John where it occurs at the start of Jesus ministry). In scenes like this, Jesus is still acting in his role of prophet, calling people back to faithful observance of God's mitzvot. The thing about the money changers was that they were taking in Jewish coinage in exchange for the hardest currency available, Tyre skekels, which were 92% silver and also bore the image of a pagan god and an eagle. So, introducing pagan images into the Temple. But the priests wanted the Tyre currency because it was purer silver, and they wanted it once a year instead of once a lifetime. The Qumran community opposed these abuses and Jesus did also, during what our speaker calls his legalistic period.

Jesus conversion to antinomianism (I'm not sure whether our speaker uses that word) occurred gradually and with great internal struggle. But it was prompted by compassion for people around him who lived the best they could but still seemed to be on the wrong side of the religious authorities. He saw them as victims. During the time before and after Jesus' life, landownership in the Galilee changed dramatically: it went from being a patchwork of small, independent farmers to huge estates. Consider that a bit of land must produce many things, including sustenance for the farmer and his family, income for expenses and (capital) improvements, plus money for taxes. A farmer gets behind and sells out, becomes a tenant farmer so, then, the land must produce enough to cover the additional expense of rent. Finally the farmer sells out entirely and takes a job as a camel-driver (scroll down to Mishnah 14) which is not an ideal profession. So the farmer ends up becoming a Sinner with a capital 'S' because it's his way of life.

Oh, yeah, and he told us that we are all so pious and that we got our knowledge of the Bible from holy cards. But I got him to autograph my copy of his book anyway. :-)


Matt said...

"99% of scholars think the virgin birth is made up."

Then these scholars are worthless. And its not surprising they would think this way, given the heresy prevalent in Biblical Scholarship since the Reformation.

And that's not a knock on Protestants, its a knock on Scholars.

Moonshadow said...

That percentage is undoubtedly exaggerated so as to amplify the humility associated with being counted among the faithful minority.

Not to mention that a virgin birth moves the story along ...