The Virgin Birth Was Not A Pagan Myth
by Graham Veale
THE FIRST MYTH OF CHRISTMAS – Christ was Born of a Virgin This was an impossibility in those days, but the myth was nevertheless a common one. Zoroaster, Mithras, Perseus, Horus and Krishna were all alleged to have been born of a ‘virgin’. It was taken as a sign of purity.
Astonishing births are, indeed, common in mythology. So are the themes of creation, salvation and revelation. Mere similarities prove very little. The fact remains that there is a world of difference between the Gospels and the pagan myths that the first Christians were familiar with. Jesus was not sired by a philandering god; his birth was the result of a simple act of creation.
Furthermore, the “purity” of Mary is not something that the Gospel writers sought to defend or expand upon. Mary had not chosen a life of celibacy, and the Gospels casually inform readers that Mary went on to have other sons . The Virgin Birth has nothing to say about sexual morality because Jewish culture was not at all “squeamish” or “reserved” about sex within marriage. Martin Goodman states in Rome and Jerusalem “Most Jews..discussed sex as an enjoyable and desirable activity for both husband and wife…” In fact, the Gospel writers only mention the virginity of Mary to stress the miraculous nature of Jesus’ birth.
The Gospels are thoroughly Jewish documents; their authors would not have been influenced by pagan myths. It would be much more likely for Jewish Gospel writers to create stories to fulfill the Jewish Scriptures. Yet, as NT Wright has pointed out
there is no pre-Christian Jewish tradition suggesting that the messiah would be born of a virgin. No one used Isaiah 7:14 this way before Matthew did. Even assuming that Matthew or Luke regularly invented material to fit Jesus into earlier templates, why would they have invented something like this? The only conceivable parallels are pagan ones, and these fiercely Jewish stories have certainly not been modeled on them.
We are left with something of a puzzle. If the story of Jesus Virgin Birth was not based on pagan myths or Jewish traditons, why would Matthew and Luke include such a tale in their Gospels? As NT Wright asks
if the evangelists believed them to be true, when and by whom were they invented, if by the time of Matthew and Luke two such different, yet so compatible, stories were in circulation?
Ben Witherington III also points out
Evangelistic religions, like early Christianity, grounded in the life of a historical figure, Jesus, were unlikely to make up stories about their hero that would leave them wide open to the charge that Jesus was the offspring of an unholy union of man and woman.
The simplest answer, then, to our question is: “The first Christians believed that Jesus had been born of a Virgin.” There is no evidence of any Christian group opposing the idea in the first decades of Christianity…
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