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Virgin (Bwah-Hah-Hah!) Birth
Okay, you're 16, and you get knocked up. Do you tell your dad, it was Jimmy, the thug from next door, or..."God did it!"? Chloe Breyer on Slate on "What if Mary wasn't a virgin?"

At Christmas, Christians celebrate the birth of God's only son. Some believers, however, wonder if Jesus Christ is God's son only. The ancient "illegitimacy tradition" and its modern proponents propose that Jesus may have had a human father. That idea upsets one of the central mysteries of the Christian faith—the virgin conception. But it's entirely in keeping with more essential tenets: Jesus' role as the Messiah, and God's love for the poor and downtrodden. What's more, the illegitimacy tradition responds to many strange utterances about Jesus' birth in the Scriptures themselves.

Christians agree that Jesus was not conceived by Mary and Joseph while they were married. He was born so soon after Joseph took Mary into his home that it was clear she had conceived during her betrothal to Joseph. Beginning in the second century, most Christians explained the scandalously timed birth as evidence of the virgin conception. Christian leaders were still figuring out Jesus' identity at the time, and the virgin conception offered evidence of the Messiah's exceptionalism. It also made sense that if Jesus was both fully human and fully God, he should have one human parent and one divine one.

The illegitimacy tradition, by contrast, holds that the Holy Spirit supplemented, rather than replaced, Jesus' human paternity. Justin Martyr, a second-century Christian theologian, wrote of early Christians born as Jews who believed that Jesus was the natural son of Mary and Joseph. Origen, another early church father, referred to two branches of first-century Jewish Christians, collectively called the Ebionites, "the one confessing as we do that Jesus was born of a virgin, the other holding that he was not born in this way but like other men." The Gnostic Gospel of Thomas includes an enigmatic saying that may well refer to Jesus: "He who knows the father and the mother will be called the son of a harlot."

..Can a loyal Christian believe that Christ was not born of a biological virgin? Perhaps it's worth posing a different question: Why is church authority so intent upon Mary's virginity as a historical fact? Would Jesus be any less God's son if he had an earthly father? The central message of the Gospel is that God raised up and redeemed his servant from death by crucifixion—the Roman style of execution reserved for the lowest of the low. Why couldn't God have sent the same message of divine solidarity with the world's outcasts by making a Messiah out of a man whose conception was also taboo?

Some church leaders feel the pull of the illegitimacy tradition but fear its impact. "Undoubtedly, some sophisticated Christians could live with the alternative … [but] for many less sophisticated believers, illegitimacy would be an offense that would challenge the plausibility of the Christian Mystery," Brown writes.

Come on, all you religious people out there, you can't really believe this stuff. Admit it. Admit that you just don't apply much (or any) rational thought to it. Stop keeping this little square of irrationality in your life. Once you stop believing in the supernatural, you can really live. Take me, for example. I don't believe in heaven or hell (except maybe hell on earth, when your brat is screaming in my ear at Trader Joe's). As far as I can see, all I've got is as long as I'm alive, so I truly live in the now, and I'm sure not going to waste that "now" in church on some hard bench swearing my allegiance to an imaginary friend!

Posted by aalkon at December 24, 2005 7:25 AM

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Comments

i have read that virgin birth was very common back in that time period. all the roman emperors were of virgin birth as were the egyptian pharos. most of them were also called gods that walked the earth too. funny that people have laughed at them for doing that but jesus, he's different, right :+)

Posted by: -mike- at December 24, 2005 8:14 AM

Or, hows bout this:
Jesus was still born, Why? Because he never actually existed, he was just a re-working of previous mythology. Same with Mary-virgin births were common and used in dozens of pre-existing religious fantasies. It's all fantasy folks, but still the dolts continue arguing about the details of the delusion. Now just how many whiskers does santa have? 10,256 or was it 10,257? Can't you idiots at least try to learn when someone like myself comes into your presence?

Posted by: everybody hates chris at December 24, 2005 9:06 AM

People laugh at the Mormon church, but is its theology that much less believable than Christ's story? 2000 years from now, you could have a billion people accepting Mormon theology as if were cast in stone by bolts of lightning, just like the Christ tradition.

Posted by: Jason Ginsburg at December 24, 2005 9:51 AM

Scientology is way wacky, too. How can people say they believe in this stuff without some measure of embarrassment? If you aren't embarrassed, maybe you just aren't giving it any thought. Oops, excuse me, gotta run, I hear god's parting the Pacific so we can ride our bikes over to Catalina!

Posted by: Amy Alkon at December 24, 2005 10:15 AM

And let me be the first to express my thanks that we live in a country where all of us are allowed to believe (or not believe) as you wish. I worry, however. It seems that with a law protecting Christmas, and no other religious holiday, we're one step closer to a state sanctioned religion. I thought that was the very thing that instigated our founding fathers to leave England in the first place. Oh, well. I guess some of us, who want to worship as we see fit will have to start thinking about colonizing Mars (the only planet in the solar system that could conceivably be adapted to supporting life.

Posted by: Patrick at December 24, 2005 6:45 PM

The Jesus story, as Chris noted, is, indeed, a reworking of previous mythology. Plagiarists in high places were rampant, long, long, long before Joe Biden took to speech-copying.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at December 24, 2005 11:50 PM

Avoid Trader Joe's: Too much sodium

Posted by: Crid at December 26, 2005 12:24 AM

Actually, as for denying the life of Jesus, there are more non-Christian, ancient documents referring to him than most other historical figures from the same time period and earlier. You may not believe he was God, but please try to stay historically accurate.

Posted by: BlueWater at February 9, 2007 6:11 PM

Sorry, there weren't teams of fact-checkers around then. And Chris is right. Perhaps some guy named Jesus did live, but it seems he was conveniently retrofitted into already existing mythology.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 9, 2007 7:26 PM

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