Are we right about the virgin birth? (Which I do affirm) Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
Sit back boys and girls. It’s time for some fun. We’re now going to look at the topic of the virgin birth. (Which I do affirm) At the start of this section, it’s not a shock that Campbell jumps straight to “The Hebrew word is Almah.” Yes. Everyone and their mother knows that. Does it necessarily mean virgin? No. Can it refer to a virgin? Yes. How did the translators of the LXX understand it? They understood it to be a virgin, hence they used the word Parthenos.
Of course, Campbell does not hold to traditional authorship, so the author of Matthew may have in using the Greek translation thought the original Hebrew had the same meaning and just says that it didn’t. Well, call me crazy if you will, but I think I’ll side with the Hebrew scholars of the time who translated the text into the Greek that Matthew used. They were under the impression that Isaiah was talking about a virgin.
Campbell also says it’s clear that Isaiah was referring to his own wife and child in the immediate context. It’s true he could have been referring to that, but that is far from clear. After all, there are a number of people who think the child spoken of is Hezekiah, and I’m pretty sure the king was not the son of Isaiah.
As for context, Campbell nowhere attempts to interact with the scholarship on the New Testament usages of the Old Testament. Do a search for Longenecker and you will come up empty-handed. There is no attempt to look at how a group such as the Dead Sea Scrolls interpreted the Old Testament to see if they used similar methodology.
It wouldn’t be a complete look at the virgin birth (Which I do affirm) without bringing up the pagan copycat theory. He says that a virgin birth (Which I do affirm in the case of Jesus) was a common feature of pagan gods at the time. Miraculous births I can grant, and even then those are by their reading far and away from what we see in the New Testament. He also says this would raise Jesus in the eyes of the pagans Paul was reaching. Nothing about how that would be dropped down radically by a crucifixion.
Here is a list of those “virgin births”.
Alexander the Great, Romulus, Augustus, Zoroaster, Horus, Mithra, Perseus, Hercules, Apollo)
This is what Plutarch says of Alexander:
It is agreed on by all hands, that on the father’s side, Alexander descended from Hercules by Caranus, and from Aeacus by Neoptolemus on the mother’s side. His father Philip, being in Samothrace, when he was quite young, fell in love there with Olympias, in company with whom he was initiated in the religious ceremonies of the country, and her father and mother being both dead, soon after, with the consent of her brother, Arymbas, he married her. The night before the consummation of their marriage, she dreamed that a thunderbolt fell upon her body, which kindled a great fire, whose divided flames dispersed themselves all about, and then were extinguished. And Philip, some time after he was married, dreamt that he sealed up his wife’s body with a seal, whose impression, as be fancied, was the figure of a lion. Some of the diviners interpreted this as a warning to Philip to look narrowly to his wife; but Aristander of Telmessus, considering how unusual it was to seal up anything that was empty, assured him the meaning of his dream was that the queen was with child of a boy, who would one day prove as stout and courageous as a lion. Once, moreover, a serpent was found lying by Olympias as she slept, which more than anything else, it is said, abated Philip’s passion for her; and whether he feared her as an enchantress, or thought she had commerce with some god, and so looked on himself as excluded, he was ever after less fond of her conversation. Others say, that the women of this country having always been extremely addicted to the enthusiastic Orphic rites, and the wild worship of Bacchus (upon which account they were called Clodones, and Mimallones), imitated in many things the practices of the Edonian and Thracian women about Mount Haemus, from whom the word threskeuein seems to have been derived, as a special term for superfluous and over-curious forms of adoration; and that Olympias, zealously, affecting these fanatical and enthusiastic inspirations, to perform them with more barbaric dread, was wont in the dances proper to these ceremonies to have great tame serpents about her, which sometimes creeping out of the ivy in the mystic fans, sometimes winding themselves about the sacred spears, and the women’s chaplets, made a spectacle which men could not look upon without terror.
At best we have a miraculous birth. Nothing indicates a virgin here. Even if that is granted, this is hardly comparable to the accounts in the New Testament and is also written AFTER those accounts. (Keep in mind that if it’s contested that this was oral and was handed down reliably, it’s strange that a tradition like this can be handed down for about 500 years, but the New Testament can’t last one generation.)
For Romulus, we have the following from again, Plutarch:
Some again say that Roma, from whom this city was so called, was daughter of Italus and Leucaria; or, by another account, of Telaphus, Hercules’s son, and that she was married to Aeneas, or, according to others again, to Ascanius, Aeneas’s son. Some tell us that Romanus, the son of Ulysses and Circe, built it; some, Romus, the son of Emathion, Diomede having sent him from Troy; and others, Romus, king of the Latins, after driving out the Tyrrhenians, who had come from Thessaly into Lydia, and from thence into Italy. Those very authors, too, who, in accordance with the safest account, make Romulus give the name of the city, yet differ concerning his birth and family. For some say, he was son to Aeneas and Dexithea, daughter of Phorbas, and was, with his brother Remus, in their infancy, carried into Italy, and being on the river when the waters came down in a flood, all the vessels were cast away except only that where the young children were, which being gently landed on a level bank of the river, they were both unexpectedly saved, and from them the place was called Rome. Some say, Roma, daughter of the Trojan lady above mentioned, was married to Latinus, Telemachus’s son, and became mother to Romulus; others that Aemilia, daughter of Aeneas and Lavinia, had him by the god Mars; and others give you mere fables of his origin. For to Tarchetius, they say, king of Alba, who was a most wicked and cruel man, there appeared in his own house a strange vision, a male figure that rose out of a hearth, and stayed there for many days. There was an oracle of Tethys in Tuscany which Tarchetius consulted, and received an answer that a virgin should give herself to the apparition, and that a son should be born of her, highly renowned, eminent for valour, good fortune, and strength of body. Tarchetius told the prophecy to one of his own daughters, and commanded her to do this thing; which she avoiding as an indignity, sent her handmaid. Tarchetius, hearing this, in great anger imprisoned them both, purposing to put them to death, but being deterred from murder by the goddess Vesta in a dream, enjoined them for their punishment the working a web of cloth, in their chains as they were, which when they finished, they should be suffered to marry; but whatever they worked by day, Tarchetius commanded others to unravel in the night.
I have tried to find accounts of the miraculous birth of Augustus. So far, that is not being successful, and it is worth noting that Suetonius has nothing like that.
For Zoroaster, the best I can find is that he was said to have come out of the womb laughing and even that was on a wiki on miraculous births that says a citation is needed.
For Horus, there is much confusion and a number of myths. If, however, Horus is the son of Osiris and Isis, that is hardly a virgin birth.
Mithra was born out of a rock wearing a cap and carrying a knife. Well, to be fair, that rock was probably a virgin.
Perseus was born when Zeus had sex with his mother in the form of a shower of gold. Miraculous? Yes. Virgin? No.
Hercules’s mother was the wife of a king. (Willing to bet she wasn’t a virgin then) Zeus came to her once disguised as her husband and had sex with her. Again, not a virgin birth.
Apollo is the son of Zeus and Leto. Notice again, two people there having sex. Not a virgin birth.
Of course, if you’re an internet atheist, you’ll eat up this stuff.
If you bother to look it up, it’s hardly convincing.
And I do affirm the virgin birth.
(And I affirm the virgin birth)