The Not-So-Virgin Birth of the Christmas Story

nativity sceneCelestial messengers, natural wonders and a virgin birth establish the baby Jesus as someone special. Why does the rest of the New Testament ignore these auspicious beginnings?

Sometime toward the end of the first century, the writer of Luke told a story that would become one of the most treasured in all of Western Civilization, the birth of the baby Jesus. It opens with an announcement known as the Annunciation. A messenger angel named Gabriel appears to a young Jewish virgin, Mary, telling her that the spirit of God will enter her and she will give birth to a child who is both human and divine:

The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. (Luke 1:30-34 NRSV)

Two Wonder-filled Stories Merge

Our modern Christmas story is a composite drawn from two gospels, meaning devotional accounts of the life of Jesus, known as the books of Matthew and Luke. Both accounts underscore that Mary, a virgin, was impregnated by God alone. The writer of Matthew doesn’t repeat the Annunciation, but he does say that Mary’s fiancé Joseph wants to end their betrothal when he discovers that Mary is pregnant. An angel tells Joseph in a dream that her pregnancy is “of the Holy Spirit,” and so he keeps her a virgin until she gives birth to Jesus. (Matthew 1:18-25)

flinks-angels-anouncing-the-birth-of-christ-to-the-shepherdsMary’s virginity is just one of several ways that the authors of the gospels signal to readers that this is no ordinary birth. Each accounts includes several supernatural wonders and pronouncements of God’s favor.

Because the gospels were aimed at different audiences, the auspicious events differ from story to story. Matthew: A rising star is seen by astrologers who bring gifts that foreshadow the baby’s future. Luke: A chorus of angels singing to shepherds on the hills. Matthew: A jealous king murders baby boys to protect his throne but the family of the holy child, having been warned in a dream, escapes. Luke: A prophet and prophetess recognize the infant’s divine spark.

Christmas pageants that merge these elements into a single story have delighted children and adults alike for centuries. The traditional manger scene or crèche merges them into a single panorama.

Grand Beginnings are Soon Forgotten

Jesus in the templeMany people might find it surprising that these auspicious infancy stories are never referenced elsewhere in the New Testament, for example in the letters of Paul or in the other two gospels that made their way into the Christian Bible. Even in the book of Luke itself, by the time Jesus is a boy, it is almost as if even his parents have forgotten the extraordinary circumstances of his birth. When he turns twelve, his family travels to Jerusalem, where his parents lose him. After three days, they find him in the temple:

When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them. (Luke 2:48-50 NRSV).

Why would two authors describe a virgin birth announced by an angel and accompanied by natural wonders and then, not long after, have their characters behave as if it didn’t happen? That seems like an oddly wasted opportunity for writers who were seeking to establish both their own credibility and the credibility of their fledgling religion. Why don’t the dramatic astrological and biological signs of divinity surrounding the birth of Jesus get more play?

Christianity’s virgin birth narrative, both what it says and why it is poorly integrated into the rest of the Bible, is a fascinating study in cultural evolution. Specifically, it illustrates a process called “syncretism” whereby religions merge over time when cultures come into contact.

The New Testament Is Out of Order

Mainstream Bible scholarship tells us that the marvel-filled stories about the birth of Jesus don’t get referenced later in the New Testament because they were written after many of the books that follow them. When the books of the New Testament are arranged chronologically using the best information available, the gospels of Matthew and Luke are numbers 11 and 20 respectively. They come after letters that are believed to be authentic writings of Paul, for example, and after the gospel of Mark, which may have been a source for both authors but fails to mention an auspicious birth.

In addition, the birth narratives may have been late additions to the gospels themselves, which would explain why they seem forgotten later in the story. Evidence for this can be seen in how different versions of the gospels changed over time.

But the Catholic councils that decided which texts would go into the New Testament didn’t know that. They lacked the modern tools of linguistic analysis, archeology and anthropology and the mindset of antiquities scholarship. They believed that the books called Matthew and Luke were written by men named Matthew and Luke, one a disciple of Jesus and the other a companion of Paul, who had gotten some stories second hand and had been eye witnesses to others. The councils put the gospels first (and the book of Revelation last) because they were trying to assemble a coherent narrative.

Christianity Adapted to the Roman World

Awaypoint - M-Europa-CoypelIn 2012, Jesus scholar Marcus Borg published Evolution of the Word: Reading the Bible in the Order It was Written. Borg encourages readers to explore the 27 books of the New Testament in the order they were written to see how Christian thinking unfolded over time. Ordering the texts as they were written also allows scholars to put the evolution of Christianity in a historical context.

Read this way, one trend line is that the stories about Jesus become more magical over time. For example, John, the last gospel written, has Jesus making the boldest claims about his own deity. Another trend line is that over time, Jesus worship picks up bits of other cultures as Christianity spreads among the gentiles of the Roman Empire. Borg describes “an increasing accommodation within the cultural conventions of the time.” Some of those conventions came from Greek mythology and Roman civic religion.

The Earliest References to Jesus’ Birth Are More Mundane than Magical

The earliest mention of the birth of Jesus comes in Paul’s letter to the church at Galatia, likely written between 49 and 55 C.E, or about half a century before the gospels of Matthew and Luke. Paul’s description makes no mention of a virgin birth. He says simply that, “But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law” (Galatians 4:4).

In another letter, Paul seems to imply that Jesus came into the world in the usual way. In Romans 1:1-3 he refers to . . . the gospel of God…concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh.” The phrase “seed of David” refers specifically to the genealogy of Joseph, the husband of Mary.

So Why Divine Insemination?

Symbologist and retired religion professor Dr. Tony Nugent, tells us that the miraculous elements of the Christmas story have their roots in ancient mythic traditions that predated and surrounded nascent Christianity. In Greek and Roman mythology, heroes and great men often were born from the union of a god and a human woman. For example, in the story of Hercules, Zeus impregnates his mother by taking the form of her husband. Helen of Troy is conceived when Zeus takes the form of a swan and either seduces or rapes her mother Leda. Danaë, the mother of Perseus, is impregnated by a shower of gold. Mars, the Roman god of war fathers the twins Romulus and Remus through Rhea Silvia, a Vestal Virgin. Even Augustus, Pythagoras, and Alexander the Great were reputed to have human mothers and divine fathers.

nephilimThe idea of gods or demi-gods mating with human women was familiar throughout the Ancient Near East. It appears in the book of Genesis:

When people began to multiply on the face of the ground, and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that they were fair; and they took wives for themselves of all that they chose. Then the Lord said, “My spirit shall not abide in mortals forever, for they are flesh; their days shall be one hundred twenty years.” The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went in to the daughters of humans, who bore children to them. These were the heroes that were of old, warriors of renown. (Genesis 6:1-4, NRSV)

Early Christians disagreed over when, exactly Jesus became divine. Jewish converts promoted a theory called “adoptionism” in which Jesus is uniquely adopted as God’s son later in life. The Gospel of Mark for example, suggests that this happens at the time of his baptism. Paul suggests that it happens when he is resurrected. The authors of Matthew and Luke, clearly had a view in this debate—they believed that the sonship of Jesus began at birth, and they made their case in terms that would be both familiar and persuasive to people of their time.

An Ambiguous Prophecy Helps the Story Along

One key goal of the gospel writers was to show that the life of Jesus had been predicted by Hebrew prophesies and that the details of his life fulfilled these prophecies. Many Christians to this day take the fulfilled prophecies of the gospel stories as proof positive that stories are true. The naturalistic explanation, of course, is that the gospel writers (or the oral and written traditions they received) may have shaped their stories about Jesus to fit the Hebrew scriptures. And the careful documentation of Mary’s sexual history—or lack thereof—offers one bit of evidence that they did exactly that.

After telling readers that Jesus was fathered by God himself in spirit form, the writer of Matthew adds the following words:

“All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: ‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,’ which means, ‘God is with us.’” (Matthew 1: 22-23).

Awaypoint - prophetThe quotation is taken from the book of Isaiah (7:14), and in the context of the time it is understood as predicting a hopeful future for the Kingdom of Hezekiah. But the Christian who first linked this passage to the person of Jesus must have been delighted.

Early Judaism was very focused on purity—pure foods, unblemished bodies, and female sexual abstinence that ensured pure bloodlines for God’s chosen people. The Apostle Paul made sexual purity central to mainstream Roman Christianity. To a believer steeped in Rome’s tradition of divine insemination and Judaism’s tradition of virtuous virginity, a divine virgin birth might seem like exactly how Jesus should be born.

The twist is this: The Hebrew word used by the writer of Isaiah is almah, which can mean either a young woman who hasn’t had sex or simply a young women who hasn’t yet bourn a child. Anglican theologian John Shelby Spong tells us that a different word Hebrew word betulah, is used 50 times in the Hebrew Bible when the writer wants to refer specifically and clearly to a woman who hasn’t had sex. (Born of a Woman: A Bishop Rethinks the Virgin Birth and the Treatment of Women by a Male Dominated Church.) But the gospel writers relied on a Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures known as the Septuagint. In the Septuagint, the word almah is translated as parthenos, which also can mean either young girl or virgin, but which is strongly associated with the virgin goddess Athena.

Awaypoint - virgin with baby and lambWould the writers of Matthew and Luke have emphasized Mary’s virginity if they had been privy to the original Hebrew? We will never know. What we do know is this. The story of a virginal young woman who is impregnated by a god and gives birth to a man who changes history appeals to the human imagination. It is a trope that has emerged in many mythic traditions and endured across centuries, cultures and continents. After it took root in Christianity, alternatives fell by the wayside, and the story of the baby Jesus, born to a virgin amidst signs and wonders, became the most celebrated and cherished story in the Bible.

Thank you to Dr. Tony Nugent, Presbyterian ordained symbologist and retired religion professor, for consultation on this article.


Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington. She is the author of Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light and Deas and Other Imaginings, and the founder of  Her articles about religion, reproductive health, and the role of women in society have been featured at sites including AlterNet, Salon, the Huffington Post, Grist, and Jezebel.  Subscribe at

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About Valerie Tarico

Seattle psychologist and writer. Author - Trusting Doubt; Deas and Other Imaginings.
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51 Responses to The Not-So-Virgin Birth of the Christmas Story

  1. shatara46 says:

    And now all one has to do is read Zecharia Sitchin’s archeological findings through his collection, “The Earth Chronicles” to get a better understanding of where the concept of “gods” impregnating Earthian females is sourced. Doing so of course forces one to step out of man’s carefully constructed and comfortable “Matrix” box. This article fails to help one step out of the box, unfortunately. Nothing new here, nothing really “challenging” to the mind. Still going around in circles. When man accepts the fact that his “gods” were once real flesh and blood beings who had power of life and death over their creatures, only then will religions crumble and people begin to awaken to their either fortuitous or very sad lot.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Katharine Bressler says:

    It’s too bad that people can’t just accept these stories for what they are: stories! Myths that people made up to fill in their time before there were TV, movies, ipods, etc. When people take these stories literally, we get into LOTS of trouble!!

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Shawn Tisdell says:

    I asked one of my fundamentalist family members to read a few of Valerie’s posts that were so well written that they said, much better than I, how I had changed and now understood. I had explained that I wanted her to read them, not for any attempts at converting her, but so that she could better understand me. They made her feel nauseous. Her belief hinges on the idea that she must believe in the literal stories. I feel nauseous when I think how many people like her just don’t have a clue how misguided they are and that I was once also a believer of fairy tales….

    Liked by 3 people

  4. archaeopteryx1 says:

    The Gnostic gospels, such as that written by Marcion (all of which were excluded from inclusion into the New Testament by the 325CE Council of Nicea) asserted that the Cristos, the Holy Spirit, entered into the fully mortal Jesus at his baptism, and left him in the moment of his death, prompting him to utter the quotation from Psalm 22, “My God, my god, why have you forsaken me?” The spirit then allegedly returned at the instant of the reputed resurrection.


  5. Rick Drake says:

    Hi Once again a great article. When we have visitors from another planet. This will all be put to bed.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. archaeopteryx1 says:

    No one really knows who the Gospel writers were, they wrote entirely anonymously. That the Gospel known as that of “Mark” was written first is obvious on at least two levels: first, “Mark” is more primitive, indicating an earlier time frame, and secondly, pseudo-Mark’s plagiarists embellished pseudo-Mark’s tales – it is far more likely an earlier story would be added to and embellished, than for a writer to take an elaborate story, such as pseudo-Matthew’s or pseudo-Luke’s and remove elements from either of them, to arrive at a simpler story such as pseudo-Mark’s.

    Almost all the story elements, phrases and words used by pseudo-Mark – about 95% of them – are regurgitated in pseudo-Matthew, in some instances, word for word – even the story of Matthew joining the apostles is told in the third person, indicating that someone other than Matthew wrote the tale. Pseudo-Matthew wrote for a Jewish audience, one still close to the ancestral faith, and thus has his hero say:

    “I come not to abolish the Law and the Prophets but to fulfill them. Till heaven and earth pass away, not one jot or tittle shall pass from the law, till all be fulfilled”
    – Matthew 5:17-18

    Pseudo-Luke, on the other hand, used about 60-65% of pseudo-Mark to tell his story, which was decidedly pro-Roman/anti-Jew. He made it clear to any that the Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus as a result of their having strayed from their god’s laws, and that the Romans only carried out their wishes in his execution. Anti-Semitism began with pseudo-Luke, who himself, was likely not a Jew, as he confused two distinct, common rituals – the purification of the mother and the redemption of the firstborn male – and his errors regarding geography makes it clear he was not familiar with the Levant.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Reblogged this on Patrick Mackie and commented:
    A useful summary of the evolution of the nativity myths and the evidence for their non-divine origins.


  8. archaeopteryx1 says:

    Above, Valerie references that “Early Judaism was very focused on purity—pure foods, unblemished bodies…. – this might offer yet another insight into the background of the nativity tale.

    Located between the towns of Bethlehem and Bethel, on the actual road to Bethlehem, stands a tower known as Migdal Eder – Hebrew, for “the Tower of the Flock.”

    This tower was used by shepherds to keep watch and protect their flocks. The flocks in Bethlehem were raised for very special purposes. The shepherds that cared for these flocks would have been specifically trained for their job, because their task was enormous – the sheep that were born there were destined to become sacrifices to their god. Bethlehem was the birthplace of these lambs, and since their final destination was being offered to the Hebrew god in the temple at Jerusalem, special care had to be taken that they were not blemished. Only a perfect lamb would be acceptable.

    Temple ritual would have required that the birthing place for these lambs be ceremonially clean, so a lamb used for sacrifice would likely not be born in a dirty environment as we would think of a stable in our Western mindset.  According to historic writings, underneath the watch tower itself was a cave-like lower portion. This was where the ewes would be taken to be protected and cared for while they delivered their newborn lambs. When the new babies arrived, they were wrapped in swaddling clothes (described historically as strips of cloth) and placed in a manger until their limbs gained strength, to keep them from injuring or otherwise blemishing themselves. Then at some point, they would be examined by a priest to ensure they were fit for use as a sacrifice.

    (It should be noted that for this same reason – unlike those of Jesus’ companions – Jesus’ own legs were not broken to hasten the asphyxiation process, as was the usual custom.)

    Liked by 3 people

    • Read The Text Please says:

      Wow! Interesting food for thought


      • archaeopteryx1 says:

        It’s easy to see how pseudo-Luke, looking for a birth narrative, could have used the birth procedure of the sacrificial lambs at Migdal Eder to concoct the story. Pseudo-Mark, the first gospel written, never even mentions a birth narrative. Pseudo-Matthew simply mentions that Yeshua was born in Bethlehem – no details – while pseudo-Luke, goes into the most elaborate detail, embellishing as he went. In Gospel writing, much as in the telling of fish stories, the first liar doesn’t stand a chance!

        I would ask any woman out there, who has ever given birth, the likelihood that she would go on a hundred-mile donkey ride the week that she was expecting to deliver.

        Add to that that there is no record anywhere in Roman annals – and the Romans were anal about annals – of such a census that would take men hundreds of miles from their homes and businesses – basically shutting down the economy – when it would be far simpler to have census takers travel from town to town, and the story can be seen for the concoction that it is.


      • I’ve never before thought about that donkey ride. OUCH!


      • archaeopteryx1 says:

        Thinking of things that no one else thought of, is kinda what I do.

        Take the ark for example, Gen 6 thru 9 lets us know that the ark had one window, one cubit square – check the blueprints – (1cubit = +/-18 inches), and it wasn’t opened for 9 months and 10 days in a water-tight, thus air-tight, ark. Yet in that dark ark, when was the last time you saw a study of the accumulation of animal flatulence over a 10-month period?

        A single – 1, count ’em, 1 – average cow expels 600 liters – 157 gallons – of methane gas per day. A single pair of common cows would have produced 12,172.947 cubic feet of methane gas over that 9 month, 10-day period, and some say there were seven – not to mention platypuses, tree sloths, penguins, polar bears, and many, many more. Don’t get me started on elephants!

        Methane is highly flammable, in fact, downright explosive – how did they see? (“No, Shem! Don’t light that match!”)

        If food for thought, at least not a very appetizing repast, but no one ever asks these hard questions —

        Liked by 2 people

  9. Epicurus says:

    Of all the problems with the nativity stories, the one that most leaves me shaking my head is how Matthew/Luke can claim virgin birth but then attempt to link Jesus to the Davidic line through Joseph, his “father.”

    Liked by 3 people

    • Read The Text Please says:

      And it seems Paul thought Jesus was related to Joseph “through the flesh”. Oops. Guess not.

      Liked by 1 person

      • archaeopteryx1 says:

        Another thought for your digestion, this one for anyone versed in genetics – without a DNA-bearing father (“God is a spirit” – John 4:24), would Jesus’ DNA even possess a “Y” chromosome? Or would “he” have been a clone of Mary, in every respect?

        Liked by 4 people

      • Think Always says:

        Interesting thought! Ultimately I think Christians don’t really believe genetics apply when God is involved. There are a lot of easy “explanations” when an all-powerful God is involved.

        Liked by 1 person

      • archaeopteryx1 says:

        Three, three, three words in one: “goddidit!”

        Liked by 1 person

      • metalnun says:

        archaeopteryx1, I also have wondered that. In addition, if Jesus had the SAME DNA as Mary, then by the “pro-life” criterion of what constitutes a human person – unique DNA – then Jesus couldn’t be a human person. Right?

        Liked by 1 person

      • archaeopteryx1 says:

        Jesus couldn’t be a human person. Right?

        That depends on your point of view, Metalnun (you don’t look like any nun I ever saw!) – the Docetists (a form of Gnosticism) believed that Yeshua (his real name) was NOT human, that he only pretended to be tired, hungry, etc. They took it so far as to believe that he only pretended to die. I can’t see where this concept got them, as that would entirely nullify any sacrifice made on his behalf.

        It was these that the anonymous author of the fourth gospel, pseudo-John, was railing against in John 1:1-2 (written around 95-105 CE), revealing a split in the Johannine community. The Docetists did much to influence the concept that Yeshua was on an equal par with their god, if not an actual segment of that god himself.

        Liked by 1 person

      • metalnun says:

        Yes, of course, it depends on the point of view. I was specifically referring to the fundie dogma that a fertilized ovum is a “human person” based solely on having complete, unique human DNA which they say is “the minimal requirement” to be a human person. (BTW, thx! I am a third-order Sister, Episcopal).

        Liked by 1 person

      • archaeopteryx1 says:

        Sorry, didn’t catch your reference.


    • archaeopteryx1 says:

      Equally interesting, Epicurus, is the fact that Thomas Didymus was allegedly the brother of Yeshua, according to the Gnostics – ‘Thomas’ was Hebrew for ‘twin,’ while ‘Didymus’ was Greek for ‘twin’ – could the author be trying to tell us something? Was he the twin brother of Yeshua? If so, could it have been he who others saw after the so-called resurrection? Does anyone wonder how a virgin could have twins by two fathers? If by only one father, wouldn’t Thomas possess the same qualities as Yeshua? Ask a Christian – I’d be interested in the answer you get —

      Liked by 1 person

      • epicurus says:

        Interesting idea but as far as your suggestion to ask a Christian about it, I can’t see them considering it seriously as most Christians reject the Gnostic writings.


      • archaeopteryx1 says:

        I’ve found that Christians reject everything that doesn’t confirm their established belief systems.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Allan Avery says:

    (Just catching up on my Away Point.) Bravo Valerie- Best Iteration As Always. And to archaeotpteryx1 Above- Hey, Don’t’cha Know Anything?? All that “Scientific” talk is an insult to GOD. See, it says so right here. OK, JUST Kidding. Let’s assume, say, that God is Mother Nature. Think maybe we should be paying more attention to Her? But anyhow- How DO we get through to the Warring worldwide Religious masses?? Ideas? Best-to- date? Any New?

    Liked by 3 people

    • Katharine Bressler says:

      Religion isn’t really related to rational thinking. It has more to do with “magical thinking” and is a combination of humanly made-up solutions to fear of death and a group of rules that are supposed to help us live together in a more civilized manner. Unfortunately, we are often not “in charge” of our own brains, which makes thinking and decision-making extremely difficult and fraught with mistakes. For an illuminating read about our fallible brains, I recommend Cordelia Fine’s excellent book, “A Mind of Its Own.” It is humbling. No wonder there is so much dissension and confusion in our world!

      Liked by 1 person

    • archaeopteryx1 says:

      How DO we get through to the Warring worldwide Religious masses??” – Nuke ’em all and let their gods sort it out —


  11. Pingback: what I’ve been reading: a few thoughts on Christmas | kind-ism

  12. RI2007 says:

    The following may help to resolve the issue of the reliability of the Septuagint.

    1 and 2 Maccabees are texts found exclusively in the Septuagint Bible. The Septuagint is canonical for the Catholic, Orthodox, and Coptic traditions. However 1 and 2 Maccabees are rejected by both the Protestant and Jewish traditions.

    Rabbi Hillel Hayyim Lavery-Yisraeli:

    “Today Hanukkah is perhaps the best-known Jewish holiday throughout the world. However, despite its popularity, Hanukkah is the holiday with the least textual basis. The story of Hanukkah does not appear in the Tanakh. And while there is a Talmudic tractate named for the one-day festival of Purim (“Massekhet Megillah”), only a few pages of the Babylonian Talmud (B. Shabbat 21b-23a) are devoted to Hanukkah, including one small paragraph describing the historical event, and a few pages dealing with the laws of lighting Hanukkah candles.

    The Hanukkah tale in the Talmud only tells part of the story: only the miracle of the oil is mentioned. The story of the military victory, described in the siddur as the deliverance of “the many at the hands of the few”, is entirely left out. To complete our knowledge of Hanukkah we need to consult the Books of the Maccabees contained in the ‘Apocrypha’….”

    Professor Jon Levenson, Professor of Jewish Studies at Harvard Divinity School:

    “The Roman Catholic tradition honors these Jewish martyrs as saints, and the Eastern Orthodox Church still celebrates Aug. 1 as the Feast of the Holy Maccabees. By contrast, in the literature of the Rabbis of the first several centuries of the common era, the story lost its connection to the Maccabean uprising, instead becoming associated with later persecutions by the Romans, which the Rabbis experienced. If the change seems odd, recall that the compositions that first told of these events (the books of Maccabees) were not part of the scriptural canon of rabbinic Judaism. But they were canonical in the Church (and remain so in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox communions).

    And so we encounter another oddity of Hanukkah: Jews know the fuller history of the holiday because Christians preserved the books that the Jews themselves lost. In a further twist, Jews in the Middle Ages encountered the story of the martyred mother and her seven sons anew in Christian literature and once again placed it in the time of the Maccabees.”

    Thus it is not a matter of controversy for Jewish scholars that 1 and 2 Maccabees, exclusively found in the Septuagint, and related oral stories, were REDACTED from the prior Jewish canon and tradition. The redaction was very early (soon after the Bar-Cochba uprising 132-136 AD) and was intended to avoid causing offense to the Romans, as 1 and 2 Maccabees dealt with an earlier revolt (175-134 BC) against foreign, Seleucid rule.

    Hanukkah is celebrated in late November or December. Before Hanukkah became known as the Festival of Lights, it was known as the Feast of Dedication (1 Macc. 4:59). John 10:22-23 records:

    “It was the Feast of the Dedication at Jerusalem; it was winter, and Jesus was walking in the Temple, in the portico of Solomon.”

    If Jesus was to be found in the Temple at Hanukkah, and the only textual support for it at the time is 1 and 2 Maccabees (since neither the Talmud nor Josephus’ writings had been written yet!), then either i) the two Books of Maccabees exclusively found in the Septuagint are genuine Biblical texts and scripture acceptable to Jesus or ii) Jesus was guided by non-scriptural tradition on matters of religious faith, history, and observance. Indeed, more than likely, BOTH are true.

    Just as the Septuagint helps to reveal the truth about Hanukkah and the Jewish tradition, so Hanukkah and the Jewish tradition (and Jesus’ participation in it) explicate matters of concern to the various Christian traditions, not least the reliability of the Septuagint.

    (Valerie Tarico, my apologies from misspelling your surname in my previous comment; I was recovering from a 24hr virus.)


    • archaeopteryx1 says:

      I’m somewhat confused as to how either 1st or 2nd Maccabees could possibly be textual support for Jesus “walking in the Temple, in the portico of Solomon” during Hanukkah, when 2nd Maccabees was written in 124 BCE and 1st Mac around 100 BCE.

      I Maccabees was originally written in Hebrew as an official court history for the Hasmonean Dynasty. II Maccabees was originally written in Greek and based on earlier work written by Jason of Cyrene. The Maccabeean revolt against the Greek occupation began in 167 BCE. I can’t see what part Jesus could possibly have played in it, assuming he in fact ever existed.


  13. RI2007 says:


    The subject of my comment was the greater reliability of the Septuagint over the Masoretic Bible, which can be established by the fact the Jewish tradition has come to rely on it for Hanukah, although it (Hanukah) has been redacted or removed from the official Jewish textual and oral record. The redaction had a purpose and logic arising from the perceived need of the Jewish tradition for self-preservation, in this case from the Roman threat. The redaction is non-controversial, even to Jewish scholars and, apparently, to you, A., since you do not demur.

    This context allows us to assess whether the Masoretic Bible is to be preferred on other issues. For example, Valerie Tarico asks in her post if the translation of “almah” in the Septuagint undermines the reliability of this text. In an earlier comment I argue that it does not, given the admitted, non-controversial fact that it (the Masoretic Bible) had been redacted (edited, altered) due to perceived threats to the Jewish tradition; in one instance coming from the Romans; in another (say I) coming from the Christians.

    Jewish scholars themselves have impeached their own text; therefore it cannot be relied upon in turn to impeach a text upon which Christians rely, not least when the Christians (at this time a horribly persecuted minority) posed an existential (albeit cultural) threat to the Jewish tradition. Indeed a pattern of redactions and alterations is observed in the Masoretic Bible, in contradistinction to the Septuagint, all of which have the effect of undermining the claims of the emerging Christian tradition. Given the unequivocal impeachment of the Masoretic text by Jews who follow its tradition, and evidence from the Dead Sea scrolls which supports the Septuagint over the Masoretic, I propose we can safely conclude that the changes were made for “self-preservation”, especially since prior to the Christian “threat” the Septuagint was non-controversial within the Jewish tradition.

    Thus your confusion, A., regarding Jesus and Hanukah, is easily resolved. The subject of my entire previous comment was Hanukah. So, when I write “If Jesus was to be found in the Temple at Hanukkah, and the only textual support for it at the time is 1 and 2 Maccabees”, in context the word “it” must refer to Hanukah, not Jesus.

    As for your remark concerning the existence or otherwise of Jesus, that’s off topic….but it’s a position most of us have considered at one time or another. However, the scholarly consensus is that Jesus WAS a real person living in the places and time claimed for him; disputing this is apparently a game for amateurs and lurid conspiracists.


    • archaeopteryx1 says:

      If Jesus was to be found in the Temple at Hanukkah, and the only textual support for it at the time is 1 and 2 Maccabees” – I took “it” to mean the event of him walking in the temple, not Hanukkah itself, clearly a misunderstanding, and an easy one to make, considering the nondescript word, “it,” was used.

      As for the existence of Yeshua, I agree that it’s off-topic, which is why I didn’t pursue it, other than to make sure that my statement concerning him wasn’t misconstrued as my belief in his physical existence. I don’t know if he existed or is a partial or total fabrication, but that’s fodder for another topic, another day – I am, however, of the opinion that the four gospels are certainly no proof that he did.


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  15. King Billy says:

    Magnificent website! Despite the darker side of the religious coin, it’s fun to read how in particular catholics were able to construct a complete religion out of this.


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  19. June Tipton says:

    Have studied all those points brought up in the article, and they are important to know. Couple thoughts: it doesn’t matter if Luke is the correct name for the writer of that Gospel – someone wrote it is the main thing; and also, beyond the inconsistencies is the central message, “Emmanuel – God with us”!


    • archaeopteryx1 says:

      I think it makes a great deal of difference, June, as it is impossible to verify the credentials of an anonymous author. Presumably, the same author wrote “The Acts of the Apostles,” and it was assumed that these were eye-witness accounts, corroborating the words of Paul. Recently, however, through “The Acts Seminar,” sponsored by the Westar Institute, it has been determined that “The Acts” were written much later, at least 30 years after the death of Paul (presumed to have occurred in 68 CE), and used Paul’s letters for reference – thereby nullifying the corroboration. Nor were the works of the anonymous author, writing the Gospel of Luke eyewitness accounts either, having a), been copied at least 40% from the Gospel of another anonymous author, “Mark,” and b), been written so late in the first century that the idea of his having been in Galilee and Judea 50-60 years earlier, was highly unlikely.


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  22. nonsupernaturalist says:

    No one today should believe that virgins magically have babies, that humans walk on water, or that dead men walk out of their graves to eat broiled fish sandwiches with their former fishing buddies. The whole Christian story is superstitious nonsense.

    If there is a Creator, he/she/it gave us a brain. Let’s use it! Trust in reason and science, not in the tall tales of ancient, middle-eastern holy books.


  23. archaeopteryx1 says:


    From the beginning, his mother knew that he was no ordinary person. Prior to his birth, a heavenly figure appeared to her, announcing that her son would be no mere mortal, but would himself be divine. This prophecy was confirmed by the miraculous character of his birth, a birth accompanied by supernatural signs.

    The boy was already recognized as a spiritual authority in his youth; his discussions with recognized experts showed his superior knowledge of all things religious.

    As an adult, he left home to engage in an itinerant preaching ministry. He went from town to town with his message of good news, proclaiming that people should forgo their concerns for the material things of this life, such as how they should dress and what they should eat. They should instead, he insisted, be concerned with their eternal souls.

    He gathered around him a number of disciples who were amazed by his teaching and his flawless character. They became convinced that he was no ordinary man, but was indeed the Son of God. Their faith received striking confirmation in the miraculous things that he did. He could reportedly predict the future, heal the sick, cast out demons, and raise the dead.

    Not everyone proved friendly, however. At the end of his life, his enemies trumped up charges against him and he was placed on trial before Roman authorities for crimes against the state.

    Even after he departed this realm, he did not forsake his devoted followers. Some claimed that he had ascended bodily into heaven; others reported that he had appeared to them, alive, afterward, that they had spoken with him, had touched him, and had become convinced that he could not be bound by death.

    A number of his followers spread the good news about this man, recounting what they had seen him say and do. Eventually, some of these accounts came to be written down in books that circulated throughout the empire. Ultimately, these eye-witness stories were collected into a single book, in the third century A.D., and the details of his life and teachings preserved for us today in the twenty-first, by author Philostratus (c.170 to c.247CE), in his biography, “The Life of Appolonius.”

    Appolonius of Tyana was a great, first century A.D. neo-Pythagorean teacher and pagan holy man, a worshiper of the Roman gods, and only one of numerous others during that century, who were believed to have been supernaturally endowed as teachers and miracle workers, many of whom were said to have performed miracles, calmed storms, multiplied loaves, to have foretold the future and healed the sick, to have cast out demons and raised the dead, to have been supernaturally born and taken up into heaven at the ends of their lives. It seemed to have been the century for it – or something in the water.

    Liked by 2 people

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  26. Larry Swain says:

    bourn ►
    n. A small stream; a brook.
    n. Archaic A destination; a goal.
    n. Archaic A boundary; a limit.

    You meant “borne.”


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