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The Virgin Birth is a fundamental tenet of most forms of Christianity. Yet it is very odd that none of the earlier Christian books mention it. The book of Mark, probably the first written, makes no mention of it at all. One would think that it would be worth at least one sentence, if not the amount spent on it by the book of Matthew. It is evident that Mark had never heard of the Virgin Birth. The book of John does not mention it either.
The reason that the virgin birth concept was added to Christianity was because the first Christians were very unsuccessful at converting Jews. Most Jews knew they had something better, so they would not leave Judaism for Christianity. Remember: at the beginning it was nothing more than a very small messianic movement within Judaism, and after their "messiah" died, it was rather hard to convert Jews to their movement.
So they began to reach out to the pagans, the non-Jews. But those pagans attracted to Judaism had already joined Judaism, and the new ones would not be very likely to join a tiny fringe group that had lost all real meaning since their false messiah-leader had died. Anyone interested in Judaism would more likely be interested in mainstream Judaism.
So the Christians had to do something different. They had to develop appeal. So, they began to assume beliefs that pagan people found attractive. That was how they came up with the concepts of the trinity, transubstantiation, the need to "save" everyone through the resurrection of a messiah, virgin birth, and all the other wacky ideas of Christianity. All these were lifted straight from other religions, some of which preceded Christianity by 700 years! Pagans just lapped up things like demigods, gods having intercourse with humans, virgins giving birth. Such claims meant something to pagans, and they were already familiar with such beliefs from their own cultures. So leaving a pagan religion to join Christianity was not much of a stretch, especially after Paul declared that the pagans did not need to keep the Commandments of the Torah.
Virgin birth was a popular pagan myth, prevalent in numerous religions of the time. The particular strain that we find in Christianity was probably taken directly from the Greek myth of the divine birth of Perseus from the virgin Danae. It never had any association with Judaism. Furthermore, Attis, a popular Roman and Syrian god around the time Christianity began, was also said to have been born of a virgin. Long before that, Krishna, the Hindu god, dating back to nine centuries before Christianity, was said to be god incarnate born of a virgin, as was Gautama Buddha. So there was rather widespread precedent for Christian beliefs, but none of it came from Judaism.
Your average Jew with any kind of Jewish upbringing is disgusted by these ideas. This was true back then, just as much as it is true today. The virgin birth seems to us rather strange.
A Jew will also ask: "And how do I know she was a virgin?" We don't, of course, so there's really no evidence at all. In fact, no one could ever have known whether or not she was a virgin!
What do I mean by that? In Matthew, Chapter 1, verse 24-25, it says: "Then Joseph awoke and did as the angel of the Lord had instructed him, and married her. He did not have relations with her until after she had given birth to her firstborn son: and he called his name Jesus."
The verse says that Joseph did not have relations with Mary until after jesus was born. In other words, after jesus was born, they did have relations. Not only that, Matthew later says quite explicitly that jesus had three brothers and a few sisters (Matthew 12:46; 13:55-56). Mark (6:3) lists four brothers and says "all his sisters," which might imply more than two sisters, but in any case implies at least two.
There are those who wish to argue that "brothers and sisters" refers to those that jesus considered is true brothers and sisters -- his followers.
But this answer doesn't work. Let's look at the actual verses involved. First, Matthew 12:46-50.
While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, "Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you." He replied to him, "Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?" Pointing to his disciples, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother."
In other words, his biological mother and brothers were waiting outside for him, and he argued that his real mother and brothers were his followers.
So he apparently had real brothers, biological brothers.
Now, it is quite evident that even if a woman could conceive a child and still remain a virgin, the act of giving birth would rupture the hymen anyway. So once jesus was born, Mary would no longer have had a hymen.
Now, if Joseph did not have relations with her until after her hymen was ruptured from jesus' birth, even Joseph could never know whether she had been a virgin when jesus was conceived. By the time Joseph got to her, one way or another she had no hymen, so how could Joseph know whether the hymen was there before jesus was born?
So who in the world could verify that she was a virgin when she conceived jesus? No one, that's who!
Think about it. What sort of proof would it be anyway? I stand up in front of a few people, and I declare: "You see that virgin?" And everyone turns to look at her, and they say, "Well, I see a woman, but how do I know she's a virgin?"
"Never mind about that now," I say. "I'm a prophet, and I tell you she is a virgin. She will give birth, miraculously!"
"What's so miraculous about that?" everyone wants to know. She'll have relations with someone, and she'll get pregnant, and she'll give birth. It happens every day."
"Take my word for it."
No one checks to see if she is a virgin, because that would be in poor taste anyway.
So how is this a proof of anything?
But what is even more amazing is their supposed proof that virgin birth is significant. It all comes from a distorted verse in Isaiah.
Let's examine what Isaiah says there, in plain English.
King Ahaz of Judah was afraid, because the king of Aram and the king of Israel were conspiring to wage war against Judah.
Isaiah prophesied to King Ahaz that within a few years Israel would be taken into exile, and Judah would be left alone. Aram would not bother Judah, and Israel would not be able to.
Isaiah offered King Ahaz a sign that would prove that Isaiah's words were prophecy from G-d. King Ahaz refused, because that would have caused a greater sanctification of G-d's Name. Isaiah got angry, and offered his own sign. He predicted the gender of an unborn child. Isaiah indicated a young woman who was nearby -- some say it was the king's wife, and some say it was Isaiah's wife -- and Isaiah said, "The young woman is pregnant. she will give birth to a son, and his mother will call him Emmanuel. Before he is even old enough to know good from evil, before he is even old enough to enjoy delightful food, the two kings will stop invading your land. And this child will grow up to enjoy good and delightful food, because your land will be in peace."
And it indeed happened that way.
That is what Chapter 7 of Isaiah is about. Now where is there mentioned the Messiah? How does a virgin fit into this?
Even if you can prove that almah means a virgin -- and you can't-- it is STILL not talking about the Messiah. Jesus was born some 700 years later. How would that have answered King Ahaz's problem? None of the words of that chapter fit into any such interpretation.
Let me restate this, to make sure everyone understands.
Chapter 7 of Isaiah tells of a conversation between King Ahaz and Isaiah, sometime around the year 600 B.C.E.
King Ahaz of Judea was worried. The Kings of Aram and Israel were planning a siege and attack against Judea. G-d told the Prophet Isaiah to reassure Ahaz and tell him not to worry, it will not happen. Aram and Israel will not succeed against Judea.
Isaiah offered a sign. He would foretell an event, and when it came true that would prove that he spoke prophetically. Then Ahaz could cease worrying. What sign did he offer? "This young woman here is pregnant. She will give birth to a son. She will call him Emmanuel. Once he is old enough to have intelligence, he will eat rich foods, because there will be peace in the land. This is because even before he attains intelligence, Aram and Israel will be conquered, and their people will be taken away."
This last point is important.
Isaiah showed King Ahaz a sign, to reassure him that during the childhood of the boy Emmanuel the two kings will be rendered harmless. As it says there, in verse 16 of that chapter in Isaiah: "For before the boy will know enough to refuse evil and choose good, the land whose two kings you dread will be forsaken." The prophecy was fulfilled not long after, when Isaiah's wife gave birth to a son. Isaiah 8:4 therefore says: "Even before the child shall know how to cry 'Father and Mother!' the riches of Damascus and Samaria will be taken away by the king of Assyria."
Isaiah makes it absolutely clear that his prophecy will take place very soon. Not 600 or 700 years later.
So the child being referred to was the son of Isaiah, or the son of the king. It has nothing to do with the Messiah. The entire event: the birth of the child Emmanuel and the exile of the two kings, took place over 600 years before Jesus was born. So the verse is not talking about a virgin, and in any case is not talking about the Messiah, but about a child that was born very shortly thereafter.
But this is considered irrelevant to many Christians. They argue that Isaiah was referring overtly to the problem of the time, but was also alluding to the Messiah.
How do they do this? How can you possibly find in these verses a proof that the Messiah will be born of a virgin?
It's quite simple. Change the "young woman" to "virgin." Change "she is pregnant" to "she will become pregnant." Ignore the reference to "Emanuel." If you don't mention it, perhaps no one else will notice it either.
Don't be concerned that Isaiah makes no mention of the Messiah here. Perhaps the Christian apostles honestly believed that the Messiah is mentioned in this verse, despite the glaring absence of any such reference.
Now, ignore the fact that Isaiah was reassuring Ahaz that in his own time he will have peace. Pretend instead that he was referring to an event 600 years in the future. How that would reassure King Ahaz that he would have peace from Aram and Israel I cannot imagine. Maybe the problem is that I don't have enough "faith" to believe in a lie.
Typically, Christians ignore the context of the verses in Isaiah, and focus -- when forced to -- only on the question of what the word almah means.
Any translation that renders almah as "virgin," is absolutely wrong. That is not the definition of the word. You can argue from today until the middle of next year, but the meaning of the word won't change.
Some people argue that the Septuagint uses the word "parthenos" in Isaiah 7:14. (The Septuagint was a Greek translation created by a large group of Rabbis sometime around 300 B.C.E.) That would mean, if this is true, that even the Jews translated almah as "virgin."
Actually, one cannot bring proof from the Septuagint. The only existing copies of the Septuagint are nothing like the original version. Though the Septuagint was created by Rabbis, they did it against their will, because King Ptolemy Philadelphus of Egypt forced them to do it. Ptolemy wanted a Greek version for his library. The Septuagint was never used by religious Jews as a source of study. In pre-Christian times, it was not popular at all, and if it was used at all, it was used almost exclusively by non-Jews, and sometimes by assimilated, non-religious, Hellenized Jews.
Non-Jews did not consider it holy, and so they were not careful about preserving it precisely. The Septuagint was therefore not kept in its original form. It was changed many times. Later, the Christians deliberately introduced many changes in the text, in order to bring it in line with their own doctrines.
Some argue that the christians cannot be blamed for misreading it, because the meaning of the Greek word "parthenos" changed. Originally, it meant "young woman," and later the meaning of the word shifted (as happens in all languages over time) and people began to use it to mean "virgin." Even if that's true, that gives a sorry picture of the "wisdom and divine inspiration" of the people (i.e., the christians) who thought that Isaiah was talking about a virgin. It means that they had no idea what the original Hebrew verse was saying. Why, then, should I learn theology from an ignoramus?
The original translators that created the Septuagint were Rabbis. They translated it according to Jewish Tradition. They certainly knew Hebrew, and they knew that almah means "young woman." They knew it does not mean "virgin." It makes no sense to believe that the Rabbis of the Septuagint translated it as "virgin," when no other Rabbi in all of history has ever translated it that way.
But even if we accept that the Septuagint was originally written with the word "parthenos," and that the Rabbis meant to translate it as "virgin" (which makes no sense), how does that explain what the Christians did to the rest of the passage? Even if it does mean virgin, how did the Messiah get into this prophecy? And how did a prophecy that clearly refers to a contemporary event get applied to an event 600 or 700 years later? There is no logic to this so-called "proof."
You might ask: Christians aren't stupid. Anyone can read Isaiah and figure out these things for themselves. Why haven't they rejected this doctrine on their own?
There are a few reasons.
First of all, you would be amazed at how many missionaries studied my exposition on this matter, and have responded by saying things like: "I am satisfied that Isaiah Chapter 7 is talking about the Messiah." Many missionaries say they have "blind faith" (and for some reason they expect to somehow use that to convince me). In reality, they are blinded by their faith. Their faith does not allow them to accept interpretations that do not match what they have been taught, so they simply edit the contradictions out of their minds. They see what they want to see.
But not all Christians are blinded by faith. Many blind themselves willingly. Take Catholics, for example. Catholics are not taught to study the Bible, and so many of them know only what they have heard the priests teach them in church.
It is certainly significant that for over seventeen hundred years, the Catholic Church forbade Catholics to read the bible! When two people translated the bible into a language so that everyone could understand it, the Catholic Church burned them at the stake! Can you believe this? They did not want people to read their own holy book!!
They knew that if the Catholics read the bible properly, they might start asking questions that the Catholic priests wouldn't be able to answer. People might start to see the contradictions and problems that the Christian bible is full of.
Protestants have another problem. Protestants often rely on the King James' version of the bible, which not only is so terribly distorted and mistranslated, it is also next to impossible for the modern reader to understand.
Years ago, I used to attend weekly meetings at a book store, where people would get together and have some rather fascinating conversations.
One time I got into a discussion with a customer that walked in at the time. She was Protestant (Methodist, I think), and the subject of the supposed virgin birth was brought up. I challenged her to read chapter 7 of Isaiah and find any references to the Messiah.
She asked the owner of the book store for a bible, and she began to read it. After about two or three verses, she gave up. She complained that she could not understand what the Bible was talking about. That was the end of the conversation, as far as she was concerned. There was no way to even discuss the matter, because she was incapable of investigating on her own.
She would not ask for any other bible, because she insisted that the King James Bible is the only divinely inspired translation, and that it is infallibly correct.
Such people fulfill, I suppose, what the Christian bible says, "If your eyes offends you, pluck it out." If you don't like what you see, don't change the wrong thing. Blind yourself! And then you won't see it.
Missionaries with whom I have had any discussion, especially about this, often simply ignore everything I have written. They can't focus on it. (And in addition, missionaries are trained to trick you and snare you with confusing twists in conversation. Missionaries tend not to even answer the questions you ask them.)
One stance taken by some Christian missionaries is that we Jews are all wrong, and that almah actually does mean virgin. We Jews just don't know any Hebrew! After all, where's the proof from the Tanach that almah does not mean "virgin?" This is ridiculous, of course. We Jews have been using Hebrew for the past three thousand, there hundred years, which is more than one thousand years longer than Christianity has even existed. But I will prove they are wrong anyway.
A Christian woman who tried to convert me over the Internet (I'll call her Beulah) once quoted to me six places in Tanach where the term almah is used, and claimed that all of them "could mean virgin." There is no explicit indication anywhere, she said, as to whether it refers to a virgin or not.
There are two problems with that.
In the first place, the fact that they could mean virgin does not prove that they do mean virgin.
Secondly, she omitted the seventh occurrence of the word, the one that is the actual proof.
The proof is in Proverbs 31:18-20.
There are three things that leave no trace after they have passed, and a fourth that one can never know afterwards. The way an eagle has flown in the sky, the way a serpent has crawled on a rock, the way a ship has sailed in deep water, and the way a man has been with a young woman (almah). That's how an adulterous woman acts: she "eats," wipes her mouth, and says "I have committed no sin."
What this means is that when an adulterous woman sins, she relies on the fact that no one can tell. We cannot tell that an eagle has just flown across the sky, or that a serpent has just crawled across this rock, or that a ship sailed by here ten minutes ago, because they leave no permanent sign. So too, when a man sins with a young woman, no one can tell, because there is no mark left behind.
Now, if almah means a virgin, this passage makes no sense. After a virgin has such an experience, there is definitely a difference, there is definitely a sign: she has lost her virginity. That is in no way comparable to the other three examples. Yet the verse says that the fourth leaves no sign afterwards, and you can never tell it happened!
It follows therefore, that almah here cannot mean a virgin. It means a young woman. The word almah means, simply, a young woman. It does not mean "virgin."
In other places in Tanach a "young woman" might be a virgin, and might not. Here in Proverbs, she is definitely not a virgin.
Beulah, the Christian missionary from the Internet whom I mentioned above, objected that the verse simply says "the way of a man with a young woman." She argued that the way of a man is to talk with young women.
I told her that if she thought all a man does with young women is talk, she's been spending too much time inside her church. She should get out of the convent, and go meet some men, and see if all they want to do is talk.
Secondly, if it simply means talk, why need it say a man and woman? It could refer to any two people. Why particularly a man and a young woman? In what way is talking "the way of a man with a young woman?"
She had no answer, so she ignored my question and changed the subject. I wasn't very surprised at that.
Quite a number of missionaries have attempted to prove to me by other means that almah really means virgin. They show me the other places in Tanach that the word almah is used, and say things like "Surely he wanted a virgin, not merely a young woman." As if that proves the definition of the word, somehow.
Invariably, and I mean this absolutely, they never mention the verse in Proverbs. That one they studiously ignore.
For example, they point to Eliezer, the servant of Abraham, who said that he will choose as a bride for Isaac the first almah who offers water to both him and his animals. "Surely he wanted a virgin," they tell me.
What was Eliezer saying? Was he intending to check each woman and see if she was a virgin? "I will accept only a virgin. So if I see a woman who is not a virgin, I will reject her." That's ridiculous. How would he know which young woman was a virgin and which was not? Would he even have asked her such a question? He was not in a position to make any such judgment.
This is not proof that almah means virgin.
Another argument often thrown my way is the interesting, "All young women then were virgins."
Except that it is completely untrue. Most young women were married, and consequently were no longer virgins.
And here is yet another thing to consider: Isaiah was bringing a sign, that is, a proof that he was a prophet. He prophesied that the woman would give birth to a boy, which was something only prophet could have known for sure. If he meant to use the word "virgin" as his proof, why did he use a word whose meaning is ambiguous? He could simply have said "besulah," which means "virgin."
He didn't use the word "besulah," because that was not the sign he was giving. He said 'young woman," because he meant the young woman (who was, by the way, already pregnant).
In short, the word almah means a young woman. That's all. The woman might be a virgin, she might not be. She might be married, she might be single, she might be divorced, she might even have been debauched. It simply means "young woman," whatever her status. But the word almah does not imply virginity or lack thereof. Virginity is irrelevant to the meaning of this word.
As such, it does not constitute PROOF that someone born of a virgin is the Messiah.
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