In a splurge of post-Christmas curiosity, a friend of mine recently asked me a bunch of kinda-theological questions about: 1) Mary & the Virgin Birth; 2) the years of Christ’s life between ages 15 & 30; & 3) why don’t we have angels appearing to us now & why are there no more Virgin Births?
Well, my Catholic upbringing informed me of many odd things, but I don’t believe that the Baltimore Cathechism covered any of these particular inqueries.
The first thing that I blurted out was the old standby that the Hebrew word for virgin actually translates as “young woman,” hence Mary was not necessarily a virgin mother. True enough…but then I got to thinking…. The New Testament of the Bible was written entirely in Greek, so where did the Hebrew gloss in translation come from?
And I admit it, I’m a geek, and so I was obsessed for a whole day about the Virgin Mary before I had a chance to do a bit of research on her unique situation.
My first realization was that it was not the New Testament that held the answers. I was going to have to back to the original source, the Hebrew Bible or the “Old Testament.”
When Matthew and Luke wrote their stories about the “Virgin Birth” (neither John nor Mark mention it), they were basing their tales on what was considered a prophecy in the book of Isaiah. Specifically, Isaiah 7:14: “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” (KJV)
So here’s where it gets tricky.
￼When the OT was originally written in Hebrew, the word “virgin” was not used…the Hebrew word “almah,” meaning an unmarried, betrothed or newlywed woman was used. But when the OT was translated into Greek between the 3rd and 2nd centuries BCE — the Septuagint — the Greek word “parthenos” (virgin) was substituted for almah.
So when Matthew and Luke wrote their gospels based on the Greek translation of one sentence of Isaiah, they perpetuated the virgin thing with a typo.
And it was a rather convenient typo for the proponents of Christianity as that belief-system evolved through the years and centuries into a full-blown institutionalized religion.
The simple message of “Love your neighbor” kind of got lost in the translation, so to speak.
Another interesting thing is that in all of his (sometimes exasperating) Epistles or letters, Paul of Tarsus never once spoke of a “virgin birth.” In Galations 4:4 he wrote: “But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent his Son, made of a WOMAN, made under the law.” (KJV))
As for those missing 15 or so years, well, who knows? There are some who believe that Jesus (Greek for Joshua) went to India to study.
But I kinda like to believe that he pretty much did what most other young men of his generation did: He learned his father’s carpentry trade, married at a young age (17 maybe?), had kids, studied the Torah.
And when the kids were old enough, maybe then he decided to take his show on the road. A lot of women followed him around — maybe one of them was the missus.
And as for angels…well, I believe they’re still all around us. It’s just that life is so chaotic and distracting most of the time, that folks forget to look around for them.
And another virgin birth? Well, how could there be another if there was never a first one to begin with? But, of course, translating foreign languages is an imprecise task at best…and…just like Matthew and Luke, each of us is free to believe that which suits us.
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