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Child of the Holy Spirit

For some have thought fit ...to relate as a possible thing that Plato was the son of Amphictione, Ariston being prevented from having marital intercourse with his wife until she had given birth to him with whom she was pregnant by Apollo.

And yet these are veritable fables, which have led to the invention of such stories concerning a man whom they regarded as possessing greater wisdom and power than the multitude, and as having received the beginning of his corporeal substance from better and diviner elements than others, because they thought that this was appropriate to persons who were too great to be human beings.
Origen, Against Celsus, Book 1, Chapter 37

Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit
Gospel of Matthew, 1:18

"How will this be," Mary asked the angel, "since I am a virgin?" The angel answered, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.
Gospel of Luke, 1:34-5

Like the ancients, we moderns see miracles as evidences of some magic being. In the gospel stories of Jesus' birth what we moderns notice is the miracle of the virgin birth. A miracle. God at work. A miracle proving Jesus is special.

For the ancients the miracle-as-evidence-of-a-God was only part of the story of Jesus' birth. The other part, the part the ancients noticed but we don't, shows Jesus being given His God-ness by another God-being. In our gospels the Holy Spirit brings divinity from heaven, down to Earth, and into Jesus—into the godman. It wasn't the mere fact that a miracle happened that made Jesus special, it was the "facts" in the miracle, the passing along of the Godness. That's an ancient Pagan idea, laid out by our gospel authors in ancient Pagan terms.

This ain't rocket science. The way the ancients figured it, to have a god-man on Earth, a story needed two things. 1. A source for His Godness, and 2. A source for His humanity.

Ancient books are chock a block with stories of divine men. Over and over those stories include details showing exactly these two details. Where'd the divinity come from? A God. Where'd His humanity come from? A woman. Just as the fact of a miracle is evidence that a God is at work, the-divinity-came-from-a God facts in these stories were evidence that the godman was different from a regular human.

Is this just Greg bloviating, making it up as I goes along? No, it's not. Here's a riff from a third century Christian church father, a guy named Origen, writing about Jesus' divine birth, trying to explain away how come it's so similar to all the other divine births.

Origin warms up by mentioning the virgin birth of Plato.     >>

All these Pagan divine births are invented stories, says Origen, made up to show why wise and powerful men are greater than other people.     >>

For some have thought fit, not in regard to ancient and heroic narratives, but in regard to events of very recent occurrence, to relate as a possible thing that Plato was the son of Amphictione, Ariston being prevented from having marital intercourse with his wife until she had given birth to him with whom she was pregnant by Apollo. And yet these are veritable fables, which have led to the invention of such stories concerning a man whom they regarded as possessing greater wisdom and power than the multitude, and as having received the beginning of his corporeal substance from better and diviner elements than others, because they thought that this was appropriate to persons who were too great to be human beings.

Origen, Against Celsus, Book 1, Chapter 37
Don't believe me, believe the ancients themselves.

You got that? When ancient people wanted to make someone out to be more than a normal person, they invented "facts" for the story that showed how He received His divinity from someone or something. We know that because the ancients said so themselves.

Exactly the same, only different.Was every Pagan God's birth-story a virgin birth story? Nope. Not even a little bit. A few godmen did have divine fathers and mortal virgin mothers; Romulus was one. Perseus another. Danae, Melanippe, Auge and Antiope were others still. [See the blue boxes below for the ancient evidence.] But in general the mother's virginity wasn't necessary to the where'd He get His humanity purpose of the myth. More often birth myths included just a God as father and a (non-virgin) mortal woman mother—just the bare facts that had to be in there to give a god-man his two must-have parts.

Sometimes divinity passed to the godman, through his mortal mother, in other ways. Apis' divinity was zapped down into his mother in a lightening bolt, turning a normal cow into the holy and sacred mother of the God-cow. Glycon the snake-god was placed on Earth directly, by the God Apollo. Mr. Alexander T. Great was born after his mother, in a part of the world where snakes were worshiped, was impregnated by a divine snake. Mithras divinity came to Him when His father in heaven, um…er…spilled his seed on a rock, if you catch my drift.

In every story the circumstantial facts were different. In every story the fundamental fact was the same: the Godman got His divinity from a God-being, and His humanity from a mortal woman.

Now let's look again at the gospel stories about Jesus' birth. These are the only two accounts of Jesus' birth in our New Testament.

"Matthew" (whoever he was, whenever he wrote) says they agency of Mary's pregnancy is the divine Holy Spirit. This regulation English translation captures the meaning.     >>

The Greek original is clearer. Mary was found "en gastri echousa ek pneumatos agiou" ," εν γαστρι εχουσα εκ πνευματος ’αγιου" —literally, Mary was found "in her belly having from the holy spirit."

18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit…

Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 1

"Luke" (whoever he was, whenever he wrote) gives us a word for word account of Mary's palaver with an angel. from which we learn Mary will get pregnant when the Holy Spirit "overshadows" her.

 

34 "How will this be," Mary asked the angel, "since I am a virgin?" 35 The angel answered, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.

Gospel of Luke, Chapter 1
Don't believe me, believe the ancients themselves.

Luke's Greek word, episkiazw,   επισκιαζω, literally "to throw a shadow on," seems an odd choice, until you pick up your bible dictionary and learn: "Used of the Holy Spirit exerting creative energy upon the womb of the virgin Mary and impregnating it—a use of the word which seems to have been drawn from the familiar Old Testament idea of a cloud as symbolizing the immediate presence and power of God."

"Matthew" and "Luke" (whoever they were, whenever they wrote) were each careful to show Jesus getting his divine nature from the divine Holy Spirit of God. That is an utterly Pagan idea, right there in the sacred pages of our holy bible.

Wow.

 

The godman's two parts
It has come to my attention that not everyone immediately believes everything I write here a POCM. In case you think I'm making up the God-bit-from-heaven-human-bit-from-mortal-woman business, here's Ovid telling the story of the Godman Hercules.

God bit from the God Zeus,
mortal bit from mortal Mom.     >>

QED

Scorn not those flames! He who has conquered all things shall conquer these fires which you see; I nor shall he feel Vulcan's power save in the part his Mother gave him. Immortal is the part which he took from me, and that is safe and beyond the power of death, which no flame can destroy. And when this is done with earth I shall receive him on the heavenly shores....

...whatever the flames could destroy, Mulciber had now consumed, and no shape of Hercules that could be recognized remained, nor was there anything left which his mother gave. He kept traces only of his father....

Ovid, Metamorphosis, Book 9 (8 AD), -- which you can find in: Miller, Frank Justus. Ovid Metamorphoses (1916), pg. 22
Don't believe me, believe the ancients themselves.

The Virgin birth of Christ
Are we done? Literalists and apologists won't think so.

Literalist Christians are highly attached to the virgin part of the Jesus' birth story, though I've never heard a convincing reasoned explanation why. I myself think the attachment is emotional. This is the sweetest, preciousest part of the story, the first part believers hear as children.

Apologists have a practical use for the virgin aspect of the virgin birth. Apologetics. If you don't know enough about ancient religion to see the godman-being-passed-His-divinity part of the story, or if you don't know the ancients were highly prone to miracle stories, or if you don't care, then what you see in the gospel stories of Jesus' birth is a unique Christian miracle. A sign of God. Different in some detail or another from the Romulus magic God-mortal birth, different in some detail or another from the Perseus magic God-mortal birth, different in some detail or another from the Alexander magic God-mortal birth, different in some detail or another from the Apis magic God-mortal births. Jesus' virgin magic God-mortal birth becomes an apologetic tool.

Anyway, the virgin part of Jesus' birth myth is important to lots of nice people, so let's talk about it some.

 

So where does the virgin part of Jesus' birth come from? From another part of the Christian myth. I'll be quick, since this is standard New Testament scholarship stuff you can find in other places. [Vaction Bible School is not one of them.]

Early Christians believed Jesus was the Jewish messiah. Not a big deal. Lots of Jews back then believed this fellow or that one was the messiah. What the Christians also believed was that their own particular messiah fellow was also divine. And as we've seen ancient people thought divine godmen had special births, and fulfilled prophesies. So the early Christians went went flipping through the Jewish scriptures looking for the prophesies their godman messiah fulfilled. The Old Testament book they lit on hardest was the one about the prophet Isaiah, and the prophesies he supposedly prophesied.

One of which included this.     >>

 

13 Then Isaiah said, "Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of men? Will you try the patience of my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. 15 He will eat curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right.

Old Testament, Isaiah, Chapter 7
Don't believe me, believe the ancients themselves.

Maybe. I mean, maybe Isaiah's sentence included the word "virgin," but maybe it didn't. Pointy headed people argue. The didn't crowd point out that away back in the BCs the original Hebrew word was "almah." Almah meant young girl. But in the third century BC the Jewish Hebrew scripture got translated into Jewish Greek scripture, and written down and passed around in Greek, in a book called the Septuagint—named after the Simon and Ellie Septuagint Foundation, which funded the research, I think.

Anyway, the fellows who moved Isaiah's Hebrew "almah" over to the Septuagint picked the Greek word "parthenos," παρθενος, which Greek speakers used for both "virgin" and for "young woman," or "maiden" —the thing being, they didn't see much difference, what with them being patriarchal primitives and all, without the benefit of modern misogynist feminism to convince them there should be a difference between "virgin" and "young girl."

So maybe, say fancy schmancy New Testament scholars, Isaiah's virgin will give birth prophesy is really just a young woman will give birth prophecy whose translation "Matthew" and "Luke misunderstood. Boy doesn't that put you to sleep.

From POCM's point of view, it doesn't matter. What matters is "Matthew" and "Luke" apparently thought Isaiah meant virgin, and they wrote it up that way. That's where Christianity's virgin birth mythology comes from. Jesus virgin birth wasn't an event that got reported. It started out as a doctrine, a theology: Jesus was the messiah. More than that, Jesus was a divine godman messiah. The sort of godman who fulfilled prophesies. Jewish scriptural prophesies. And look here, I was flipping through the scriptures and I came across this one about a virgin giving birth to a fellow named Immanuel. That must mean Jesus. Jesus' mother must have been a virgin. So that's how "Matthew" and "Luke" (whoever they were, whenever they wrote) wrote it up.

 

Reasons preview

So, did Christianity copy the virgin birth from Mithras? Or Isis? Or anyone? There were, after all, quite a few virgin birth stories available as sources.

No, Christianity didn't get it's virgin birth myth by having "Matthew" and "Luke" copy some other God's story fact by fact. That's not how ancient religions got their myths. We've seen how they did it. They absorbed the religious ideas of the time, and made up their own myth "facts" to fit those ideas in with the rest of their myth.

Alexander of Abnoteichus, the flim flam man who invented the God Glycon, didn't borrow the idea of a prophecy on a buried bronze tablet when he made up his Glycon myth. But he did borrow the general idea of prophesy. He made up his own prophesy, and put it on bronze tablets, because that fit the other circumstances of his Glycon scheme.

Whoever made up the story of Alexander the Great getting his godness from a divine snake didn't copy the "fact" of an impregnating snake having a go at the king's wife. They used the general notion of passing along godness, and a local reverence for divine snakes, and made up facts to fit those ideas in with the other circumstances of Alexander's story.

Ditto whoever made up the virgin birth of Romulus. And the virgin birth of Perseus. And the virgin birth of Danae. And the virgin birth of Melanippe. And the virgin birth of Auge. And the virgin birth of Antiope. And the virgin birth of Plato.

So divinity was a sort of material thing, which if you found it on Earth, you right away figured it had to have physically moved from there to here—God coming down on a cloud, say, or Zeus having sex with a mortal woman (the point not the rowdiness of the God but the transmission of His divinity), or a divine lightning bolt, with Apis in it, zapping a cow and making it, when you read Herodotus [3.28], Fully God and Fully Cow. Silly myth, till you see it's also our myth.

Now this Apis, or Epaphus, is the calf of a cow which is never afterwards able to bear young. The Egyptians say that fire comes down from heaven upon the cow, which thereupon conceives Apis. The calf which is so called has the following marks:- He is black, with a square spot of white upon his forehead, and on his back the figure of an eagle; the hairs in his tail are double, and there is a beetle upon his tongue.
[Herodotus 3.28]

Don't believe me, believe the ancients themselves.

As you'll see in the blue boxes, the ancients had lots of stories about Gods and divine men being on earth. And most of those stories included an explanation about how the divinity got to earth.

if you look at "Matthew" and "Luke's" birth stories again, you'll see they're

The ancient evidence
Here are a few examples of ancient Gods, emperors and wise men with divine fathers and mortal mothers:

 

Alexander the Great
Alexander (he died in 332 BC, but no one knew. It took a long time for folks to realize what year it was. This just goes to show how much smarter we are than the ancients) was the son of the king's wife Olympias, and the God Zeus Ammon, conceived by a thunderbolt. >>

(Kind of reminds you of Herodotus and Apis, huh? Funny, you never hear believing scholars bloviate on how the stories of Apis' and Alexander's births developed independently. I wonder why that is.)

Mr. A. Great

Maybe. There was also this story about Al's mom and a divine snake.

     >>


Plutarch even goes on to give a third version of Alexander's divine parentage—I won't bother you with that one. You're welcome.

[2] ... It is said that his father Philip fell in love with Olympias, Alexander's mother, at the time when they were both initiated into the mysteries at Samothrace.. . . On the night before the marriage was consummated, the bride dreamed that there was a crash of thunder, that her womb was struck by a thunderbolt, and that there followed a blinding flash from which a great sheet of flame blazed up and spread far and wide before it finally died away. . . .[The soothsayer] Aristander of Telmessus . . . declared that the woman must be pregnant. . . At another time a serpent was seen stretched out at Olympias' side as she slept, and it was this more than anything else, we are told, which weakened Philip's passion and cooled his affection for her, so that from that time on he seldom came to sleep with her. The reason for this may either have been that he was afraid she would cast some evil spell or charm upon him or else that he recoiled from her embrace because he believed that she was the consort of some higher being.

The point of all this was clear to the ancients—
Alexander was the son of God
. >>

[3] ... According to Eratosthenes, Olympias, when she sent Alexander on his way to lead his great expedition to the East, confided to him and to him alone the secret of his conception and urged him to show himself worthy of his divine parentage. . .
[Plutarch, Life of Alexander, Chapters 2 - 3]

Don't believe me, believe the ancients themselves.

In the ancient world, great men were often understood to be born of mortal women and divine fathers. Sheesh. I mean, really. Have you ever noticed how stupid other people's myths are? Until you notice this is our myth too.

 

Rome's founder, Romulus, was the Son of the God Mars, and Rea Sivia, a mortal Vestal virgin

 

Adding crime to crime, he murdered his brother's sons and made the daughter, Rea Silvia, a Vestal virgin; thus, under the presence of honoring her, depriving her of all hopes of issue.

[1.4] But the Fates had, I believe, already decreed the origin of this great city and the foundation of the mightiest empire under heaven. The Vestal was forcibly violated and gave birth to twins. She named Mars as their father, either because she really believed it, or because the fault might appear less heinous if a deity were the cause of it.
[ Livy, History 1.3 - 4]

Don't believe me, believe the ancients themselves.

Romulus was 'hailed a god, son of god',
to whom the Romans prayed
for grace      >>

Then, when a few men gave the lead, they all decided that Romulus should be hailed a god, son of a god, king, and father of the Roman state. And in prayers they begged his grace, beseeching him to be favorable and propitious towards them and ever to protect his descendants.
[Livy, History 1.16]

Don't believe me, believe the ancients themselves.

In the ancient world, great men were often understood to be born of mortal women and divine fathers. Sheesh. I mean, really. Have you ever noticed how stupid other people's myths are? Un till you notice this is our myth too.

 

The first Roman emperor Augustus (62 BC - 14 AD), was the son of the God Apollo, conceived by a holy-snake.

When Atia had come in the middle of the night to the solemn service of Apollo, she had her litter set down in the temple and fell asleep, while the rest of the matrons also slept. On a sudden a serpent glided up to her and shortly went away. When she awoke, she purified herself, as if after the embraces of her husband, and at once there appeared on her body a mark in colors like a serpent, and she could never get rid of it; so that presently she ceased ever to go to the public baths. In the tenth month after that Augustus was born and was therefore regarded as the son of Apollo.
[Suetonius, Life of the Deified Augustus, Chapter 94]

Don't believe me, believe the ancients themselves.

In the ancient world, great men were often understood to be born of mortal women and divine fathers. Sheesh. I mean, really. Have you ever noticed how stupid other people's myths are? Un till you notice this is our myth too.

 

Publius Cornelius Scipio 'Africanus', The Elder (236 - 184 BC)

"From the sun rising above the marshes of Maeotia
There is no one who may be equal in deeds.
If is it right for anyone to rise into the regions of the gods,
For me alone the greatest gate of heaven stands open."

Epitaph of Scipio Africanus - Q. Ennius


It is recorded that the mother of Scipio Africanus, the elder, had the same experience as Olympias, Philip the Great's wife and Alexander the Great's mother,... his mother had long been believed sterile and that Publius Scipio, her husband, had despaired of having children. Then, while her husband was away and she was sleeping on her own, a huge snake was seen beside her, in her room and in her bed; when those who saw this snake shouted out in terror, it vanished and could not be found. Scipio consulted the harupices about this and they held a sacrifice and gave a response that children would be born. Not long after the sighting of the snake, the woman began to show all signs of being pregnant; in the tenth month, she gave birth to this Publius Africanus, the man who defeated Hannibal and the Carthaginians in the Second Punic War. But it is much more because of his achievements than because of that prodigy that he also <i.e., as well as Alexander> is thought to be a man of godlike quality.
[Aulus Gellius, Attic Nights VI. 1.1-6, 2d century AD]

Don't believe me, believe the ancients themselves.

In the ancient world, great men were often understood to be born of mortal women and divine fathers. Sheesh. I mean, really. Have you ever noticed how stupid other people's myths are? Un till you notice this is our myth too.

 

The godman Dionysus was the Son of Zeus and the mortal Semele.

 

I am Dionysus, the son of Zeus,
come back to Thebes, this land where I was born.
My mother was [the king] Cadmus' daughter, Semele by name,
midwifed by fire, delivered by the lightning's blast.
And here I stand, a god incognito, disguised as a man.
[Euripides, The Bacchae, v 1 - 5 (5th century BC),—which you can find in: Meyer, Marvin W.. The Ancient Mysteries; A Sourcebook of Sacred Texts (1987), pg. 67]

And Semele, daughter of Cadmus' was joined with him [Zeus] in love and bore him a splendid son, joyous Dionysus,--a mortal woman an immortal son. And now they both are gods.
[Hesiod, Theogony 940, c. 8th century BC]

Don't believe me, believe the ancients themselves.

A similarity the early Christians recognized, and explained away as "demonic imitation"—copied by the earlier Pagans from the later Christians, magically, backwards in time.

The devils, accordingly, when they heard these prophetic words, said that Bacchus was the son of Jupiter...and they taught that, having been torn in pieces, He ascended into heaven.
[ Justin Martyr, First Apology, 54]

Don't believe me, believe the ancients themselves.

The virgin birth of the God Hephaestus.

 

Hera gave birth to Hephaestus without intercourse with the other sex

Appolodorus, The Library 1.3.5, 2d century BC
Don't believe me, believe the ancients themselves.

Again, the virgin birth of the God Hephaestus.

[929a] But Hera was very angry and quarrelled with her mate. And because of this strife she bore without union with Zeus who holds the aegis a glorious son, Hephaestus, who excelled all the sons of Heaven in crafts.

Hesiod, Theogony, 929, 8th century BC
Don't believe me, believe the ancients themselves.

Pausanias describes the birth of the God Attis:

 

a daughter of the river Sangarius, they say, took of the fruit and laid it in her bosom, when it at once disappeared, but she was with child. A boy was born, and exposed, but was tended by a he-goat. [Pausanias, Description of Greece 7.17.9-11]

Don't believe me, believe the ancients themselves.

What the early Christians thought

 

The second century Church Father Origen says of the Jesus' virgin birth,

He lists a number of Pagan Gods born of virgins: Danae, Melanippe, Auge and Antiope. The stories about these Gods are "ancient," says Origin, but unlike the story of Jesus' virgin birth, only fables. [Origin, Against Celsus 1, 37]

"We [Christians] are not the only persons who have recourse to miraculous narratives of this kind." [Origin, Against Celsus 1, 37]

Don't believe me, believe the ancients themselves.

The second century Christian Justin Martyr says of Jesus,

 

"He was born of a virgin, accept this in common with what you believe of Perseus." [Justin Martyr, First Apology, 22]

Don't believe me, believe the ancients themselves.

Why did these virgin born Gods come before Jesus? Justin knew the answer—devils.

"The devils...craftily feigned that Minerva was the daughter of Jupiter not by sexual union." [Justin Martyr, First Apology, 64]

Don't believe me, believe the ancients themselves.

POCM is about history, not ethics. Jesus' miraculous conception was not new and unique—that's important for the historical truth, or not, of gospel claims.

Other people take the point farther, and ask: "Can we morally say: "Ours is history, yours is a lie"?

Here's how Mrs. Crossan's little boy Johnny puts it:

Augustus came from a miraculous conception by the divine and human conjunction of [the God] Apollo and [his mother] Atia. How does the historian respond to that story? Are there any who take it literally?... That divergence raises an ethical problem for me. Either all such divine conceptions, from Alexander to Augusts and from the Christ to the Buddha, should be accepted literally and miraculously or all of them should be accepted metaphorically and theologically. It is not morally acceptable to say...our story is truth but yours is myth; ours is history but yours is a lie. It is even less morally acceptable to say that indirectly and covertly by manufacturing defensive or protective strategies that apply only to one's own story.

  John Crosssan, The Birth of Christianity, 1998, pg 28 - 29.
POCM quotes modern scholars

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Good Books for this section

Born Divine
The Births of Jesus & Other Sons of God
by Robert MIller


What you'll find:

Professor Miller compares Jesus divine birth with the divine births of other ancient godmen, Herakles, Pythagoras, Apollonius of Tyana, Plato, Augustus Caesar, Alexander the Great, Theagenes the Olympic Champion.