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Virgin Birth

(Text as at 19/03/2011 17:18:14)

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I received the brief email below from Australia, presumably because the correspondent had come across my "Todman (Theo) - The Virgin Birth" and thought I might be interested (or might be persuaded, more likely):-


My response was as follows:-
  1. Thanks for the references. I'm afraid my booklet on this topic was written nearly 20 years ago, and that since then my interests and affiliations have changed somewhat. It was about the time of writing that booklet that I was losing the conviction that a fundamentalist approach to Christianity could be maintained with intellectual integrity, though signs of this struggle didn't show in the booklet itself. The use of Isaiah 7:14 was a case in point, and I now agree with you that (if this is what you think) the text doesn't refer to the first century, but to a time hundreds of years earlier. However, it was standard sectarian exegetical practise in the first century to apply texts out of context to the then present time, so I don't think it was an underhand practise, just an unsound one.
  2. I haven't studied the debate on the links you gave me (Web Link and Web Link (http://www.wallsofjericho.info/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=14) Defunct and & Web Link) in any detail, but from a quick look I have three objections, or maybe two and a question.
  3. Firstly, isn't the argument that Mary was a Levite unsound? If Mary really was betrothed to Joseph, and Joseph was of the Tribe of Judah, and (for the sake of the argument) assume that Mary really was of the Tribe of Levi, then the tribes can intermarry. At least I can take it that you believe that they can. But if the tribes can intermarry, then presumably Elizabeth needn't be a Levite, but could also be of the tribe of Judah and yet be married to a Levite. And - the important point - she could be of the tribe of Judah and yet still have Aaron as an ancestor; all it needs is for one of her (male) ancestors to have married a Levite. So if that's the case, then both Mary and Elizabeth could have been of the Tribe of Judah. How does that sound?
  4. The important point is that is that tribe-membership is dominant on the male side, so some of your descendants can be "kidnapped" by another tribe - eg. if you are a Judahite, and your daughter marries a Levite, her children, and therefore some of your grand-children, will be Levites. So, even if Elizabeth was a Levite, she could still be the first cousin of a Judahite. Similarly, you can have ancestors belonging to different tribes to the one you yourself belong to - at least if inter-tribal unions are allowed.
  5. I suppose you might argue that inter-tribal marriage is illegal. In that case, Mary - if a Levite - was acting illegally by trying to marry Joseph - a Judahite. And maybe in its own terms this is sustainable - who knows what a Levitical hussy already pregnant by some other Judahite might do? But Joseph is described as a righteous man, and wouldn't stand for any of that. But of course inter-tribal marriage wasn't illegal - Israelites were even allowed to marry non-Israelites (though not Canaanites; and the kings weren't supposed to marry foreigners, even though Solomon notoriously did). And there's that odd passage in Judges 21 where the other tribes swear an oath not to give their daughters as wives to Benjamites, which they wouldn't have had to swear unless such practices were normal; and then there's the continuation of the tale whereby the Benjamites get their non-Benjamite wives anyway, to avoid extinction.
  6. Secondly, the bracketing in Luke 3:23 "He was (the son, so it was thought of Joseph,) the son of Heli, ...". That seems a text-wrench, if ever there was one. You could make Jesus the son of any of the unknowns in the list by appropriate bracketing (eg. "He was (the son, so it was thought of Joseph, the son of Heli,) the son of Matthat ..." would make jesus the son of Matthat. And I don't think the Greek will bear this construction anyway. The first "son" is the usual Greek word "huios", but the other occurrences are just the definite article in the genitive - "tou" - "the one of". This presupposes you know what sort of thing you're talking about, and if the clause was bracketed, you wouldn't - or at least not as clearly. I'm not an expert, so don't know, but it seems rather odd. And in any case you'd have thought that Luke would have been a bit more explicit if he was suggesting that Jesus really was conceived out of wedlock by a human father, and not just initially supposed by Joseph to have been (as Matthew 1:19 suggests).
  7. Finally, what's all this about descendants of Jeconiah (Jehoiachin) not being eligible for kingship? I could only see some vague reference to something Ambrose wrote. Do you have any evidence?
  8. As a matter of interest, why do you try to get the texts to say something other than what they appear to be saying (if not particularly stressing). Why not adopt the usual humanist line that it's a load of old superstition, or the cultural-relativist line that it was all sensible stuff in its context, but now we know better, or at least think differently? Is Jesus still important to you in some way, so that you need the New Testament to tell you something about him as there's so little attestation elsewhere? What sort of person do you think he was?

I also wrote to my usual contacts asking for an opinion on some of the above themes, but the correspondence didn’t get anywhere:-
  1. I've just received an email from some eccentric Australian who's preserving the memory of some other even more eccentric Australian. Their beef seems to be that the Bible doesn't teach the doctrine of the Virgin Birth. They think that Matthew's account is indeed of Joseph's lineage, but claim that descendants of Jeconiah (Jehoiachin?) are debarred from kingship, so a descendent of Joseph couldn't be the Messiah. They don't give evidence for this claim, not that I could see on a quick skim anyway - there's only some vague allusion to something Ambrose wrote, but no reference. Have you ever heard of this idea? They agree that Joseph is indeed only the supposed father of Jesus, because of his disbarment, but claim that the real father isn't the Holy Spirit, but Heli.
  2. They get this by bracketing in Luke 3:23 "He was (the son, so it was thought of Joseph,) the son of Heli, ...". That seems a text-wrench, if ever there was one. You could make Jesus the son of any of the unknowns in the list by appropriate bracketing (eg. "He was (the son, so it was thought of Joseph, the son of Heli,) the son of Matthat ...". And I don't think the Greek will bear this construction anyway. The first "son" is the usual Greek word "huios", but the other occurrences are just the definite article in the genitive - "tou" - "the one of". This presupposes you know what sort of thing you're talking about, and if the clause was bracketed, you wouldn't - or at least not as clearly. I'm not an expert, so don't know, but it seems rather odd. And in any case you'd have thought that Luke would have been a bit more explicit if he was suggesting that Jesus really was conceived out of wedlock by a human father, and not just initially supposed by Joseph to have been.
  3. But their interesting point is about Mary. It's often claimed that the Lucan genealogy is that of Mary. Yet Mary is the relative of Elizabeth who is a Levite (or at least Luke 1:5 says she's a descendant of Aaron). So, they claim Mary must have been a Levite too. What do you think of that argument?
  4. It strikes me that the argument is internally inconsistent. If Mary really is betrothed to Joseph, and Joseph is of the Tribe of Judah, and Mary of the Tribe of Levi, then the tribes can intermarry. If that's the case, then presumably Elizabeth could also be of the tribe of Judah and yet be married to a Levite. And she could be of the tribe of Judah and yet still have Aaron as an ancestor - all it needs is for one of her (male) ancestors to have married a Levite. How does that sound?
  5. But I'd be interested in the allegation about Jehoiachin - is this some prophesy, or something in Chronicles, or just a loud of bull? I'll ask the chap.
  6. They don't like the use of Isaiah 7:14, and nor do I, but that's another story.



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Table of the Previous 2 Versions of this Note:

Date Length Title
18/12/2010 19:58:05 8678 Virgin Birth
29/04/2010 09:51:50 5193 Virgin Birth



Note last updated Reference for this Topic Parent Topic
19/03/2011 17:18:14 864 (Virgin Birth) None



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