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Re: Birth narratives

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  • Mike Myers
    First of all, a very important distinction should be made between 1) mamzer (sometimes translated bastard ) and 2) an illegitimate child, at least as that
    Message 1 of 3 , Nov 30, 1998
      First of all, a very important distinction should be made
      between 1) 'mamzer' (sometimes translated "bastard") and
      2) an "illegitimate" child, at least as that last is
      understood today. The mamzer, of course, is the child,
      sired by another man, of a married woman. Adultery,
      full-blown.

      A child conceived or even born of a woman who was not
      married was not a 'mamzer'.

      Steven Davies wrote:
      <Apologetic need is obvious. Question is apologetic need
      <for what? My point is that there does not appear to be an
      <apologetic need for "Son of God" to be accounted for by
      <divine insemination.
      <Romans 1:3-4 "the gospel concerning his Son, who was
      <descended from David according to the flesh and
      <designated Son of God in power according to the Spirit of
      <holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ
      <our Lord...." and so forth show that human generation
      <and divine sonship were easily combined and that divine
      <generation was not an apologetic necessity.

      Divine sonship was compatible with human generation to
      JEWS, but apologetic necessity could well be a factor to
      reaching non-Jews. Also, besides these marketing
      considerations, there is the possibility that Jack K. has
      mentioned-- misunderstanding of midrashic creativity by
      those unfamiliar with this mode of sermon. To the extent
      that the audience grew increasingly non-Jewish, and that
      no doubt happened early on, competitive marketing strategy
      is key. The Greek gospels target market is one marinated
      in sonofgods myths. Is it possible that we today do not
      realize just how crucial such paternity credentials were?
      And if divine credentials were sine qua non then this
      explains a whole lot of special pleading _in the texts_
      themselves, and some related clever indirection and
      innuendo there as well. That this would be seized upon and
      then spun pruriently for polemic reasons by some later
      rabbinic commentators and oral traditionists and then
      cited in patristics like Tertullian and Origen isn't a
      surprise, is it?

      You wrote:

      "If we look at all of this one way, that Jesus was
      illegitmate, it all hangs together. If we look at this the
      other way, that he was the legitimate son of Joseph, an
      awful lot of special pleading has to be done to account
      for the fact that WE know that but THEY didn't."

      I'm not sure who you mean by THEY. The only THEY whose
      testimony counts historically would be HJ's contemporaries
      in his native region, and there isn't any such testimony.
      All the textual evidence that exists can be viewed as
      skewed by the putative apologetic necessity and the
      various reactions to that, arising from many motives,
      about as easily as it can be seen as historical evidence
      for HJ's mamzerhood or his being the fruit of a centurion
      rapist. To many of US it is incredible that HJ was
      divinely conceived. In the ancient world of course this
      genealogy was more credible, at least among the non-Jewish
      consumers of mythoi. This subset of THEY who didn't know
      (were told pious frauds) is at least cancelled out by the
      above mentioned subset of WE who do (the biologically
      illuminated). THEY were, after all, merely the consumers
      of the accounts. The ones who actually knew the historical
      facts aren't talking to us in any sense.

      Mike Myers



      ------------------------
      From: Stevan Davies <miser17@...>
      Subject: Re: Birth narratives
      Date: Mon, 30 Nov 1998 17:12:24 -0400
      To: crosstalk@...



      > >Ian wrote:
      > >> If Jesus had been illegitimate, he would not have
      been "admitted to the
      > >> assembly of the Lord", Deut 23:2.
      > >
      > >What on earth is that? When was Jesus admitted and what

      > >tests were administered to determine his fitness?
      >
      > It means, Steve, that either you are right and that he
      was known to have
      > been illegitimate and therefore excluded from places
      like the temple and
      > synagogues or that he was not illegitimate. I opt that
      the writer has to
      > deal with the extraordinary position of Jesus who in
      tradition was not
      > fathered by a man and therefore couldn't be called son
      of Joseph or
      > whatever. It gives no direct support for your
      illegitimacy theory.

      Frankly, I find it impossible to believe that this
      commandment could
      have been taken seriously. It reads "No one illigitimate
      nor any of his descendants may enter the assembly of the
      LORD,
      even down to the tenth generation." Assuming two
      descendants per
      bastard and two descendants per generation that will give
      us 1,024
      in the tenth generation who would not be allowed into the
      assembly.
      I'd be curious to know if there's mishnah on this, or even
      talmud.
      My great great great great great great great grandfather
      was a
      bastard and so I can't come in? Impossible to imagine. But
      if that
      part of the commandment is impossible, how is it that the
      rest would
      be enforced?

      Jesus "known to have been illigitimate" probably applied
      in Nazareth
      and maybe in the region, but surely not in Jerusalem
      where,
      famously, the authorities didn't even know what he looked
      like.

      > You merely assume that due to certain gospel rhetoric
      that Jesus must have
      > been illegitimate, but if that knowledge was such open
      information there
      > could not have been a Galilean ministry in and out of
      synagogues.

      How do we know that synagogues = canonical assemblies of
      the Lord so that Deuteronomic law applied to them in
      Galilee?
      We're not sure there were Galilean religious synagogues
      and we
      certainly doubt that they were operated on strict
      principles of
      Judean deuteronomic law.

      > GMatt has the parents married before Jesus was born,
      therefore illegitimacy
      > was excluded in the eyes of that writer.

      If your parents were married before you were born and you
      were
      fathered by somebody other than your mother's husband you
      would
      be illegitimate. ... But this is getting silly as surely
      none of us
      are thinking that Matthew's report of Jesus' parents'
      activities and
      legal circumstances are based on actual facts.

      > >If we do not
      > >assume the veracity of the divine insemination thesis,
      we are left
      > >with the double story that Mary was inseminated by
      somebody other
      > >than Joseph.
      >
      > I am not arguing the "veracity" of the "divine
      insemination thesis", but the
      > centrality of it in tradition, ie it was the tradition
      that was held.

      Which, sigh, is a tradition that gives us an illegitimate
      Jesus.
      He was fathered by someone other than his mother's
      husband.
      That someone may have been GOD or not, doesn't make any
      difference
      legitimacywise.

      > >> There is not one thing in the logic of early
      > >> >Christologies that demands a "virgin birth." That's
      a motif that
      > >> >comes out of nowhere, christologywise. I think it's
      solving some
      > >> >other problem entirely. "Born of a woman" says Paul.
      And, while
      > >> >John's gospel can have Jesus showing up fully formed
      and mature
      > >> >from the extraterrestrial it doesn't... it gives him
      a mom.
      > >
      > >I think this is strong... the "virgin birth" is not
      something that
      > >grows out of Christology per se and so quite probably
      grew out of some
      > >other apologetic need.
      >
      > Apologetic need is your assumption. How about the idea
      that the Jesus birth
      > narrative adhered to the larger Mediterranean cultural
      environment where
      > women were inseminated by the gods? Just that Mary was
      inseminated by the
      > Hebrew God.

      Apologetic need is obvious. Question is apologetic need
      for what?
      My point is that there does not appear to be an apologetic
      need for
      "Son of God" to be accounted for by divine insemination.
      Romans 1:3-4 "the gospel concerning his Son, who was
      descended from
      David according to the flesh and designated Son of God in
      power
      according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection
      from the dead,
      Jesus Christ our Lord...." and so forth show that human
      generation
      and divine sonship were easily combined and that divine
      generation
      was not an apologetic necessity.

      Jesus in Mark 6:3 is "son of Mary". Morton Smith wrote:
      "In
      Semitic usage, to refer to a man as the son of his mother
      was to
      indicate that his father's identity was uncertain." J the
      M 26,
      marginal note by Smith in my copy "cf. Lieberman, *Greek
      in
      Jewish Palestine* 164. Can anybody look this up for me?
      Also
      "Matthew's geneology of Jesus refers only to four women
      besides Mary:
      they are Tamar, whose children were born of incest; Rahab,
      the madam
      of a brothel; Ruth, a non-Israelite, who got her second
      husband by
      solicitation, if not fornication.... and Bathsheba the
      wife of Uriah
      whose relations with David began in adultery.... That the
      author of a
      genealogy for a Messiah should have chosen to mention only
      these four
      women requires an explanation. The most likely one is that
      Matthew
      wanted to excuse Mary by these implied analogies." J the M
      26.

      Following is said, with some doubt, to be the only
      reference to Jesus
      in the Mishnah:
      B. Yebamoth 49a, M. Yebamoth 4.13
      Simeon ben Azzai has said: I found in Jerusalem a book of
      genealogies; therein was written: That so
      and so is a bastard son of a married woman.

      Tertullian, De Spetaculis 100.30 shows that he knows Jesus
      was accused of being a "harlot's son."

      Origen, Contra Celsum 1.28
      Jesus had come from a village in Judea, and was the son of

      a poor Jewess who gained her living by
      the work of her own hands. His mother had been turned out
      of doors by her husband, who was a
      carpenter by trade, on being convicted of adultery [with a

      soldier named Panthera (i.32)]. Being thus
      driven away by her husband, and wandering about in
      disgrace, she gave birth to Jesus, a bastard.

      > You might propose that the donkey had had the foal
      illegitimately and that
      > she was burdened with the sin unable to repent, as
      symbolism of the
      > relationship between Mary and Jesus.

      This is not the usual interpretation of the passage so far
      as I can
      tell.

      > Would you hazard to supply a more rational explanation
      for the Matthean
      > approach to Jesus's entry on those animals, Steve?

      I distinguish between OT references given in the NT from
      OT
      references not given but asserted now to have been in the
      mind
      of the author. The latter I find dubious unless very
      obvious or very
      well argued.

      > >This is another topic entirely. I've no information
      about the Jewish
      > >people in the area ca. 200 BC. Do you?
      >
      > We have reports in 2Maccabees regarding Jews in Galilee.

      ALL of whom left after having been attacked by Galileans
      it says in 2 Macc.

      > >> I don't think you have a strong case for Mary's moral
      levity, Steve.
      > >
      > >Yes I do. If the previously and briefly mentioned cites
      aren't enough
      > >I can go into more detail. Let me know if this is
      required.
      >
      > You are simply bending the data, Steve. You have a story
      that says Mary was
      > pregnant and not from her husband to be; she had had a
      visit from an angel
      > to tell her what was happening; and you wanna turn this
      into a case of
      > illegitimacy.

      Ahh. Ummm. Well, it IS a case of illegitimacy. I think you
      overlook
      that rather crucial fact. "Mary was pregnant and not from
      her husband
      to be" unambiguously specifies this.

      See, here's how it goes.
      We have the first bio of Jesus bar Joseph never telling us
      the
      patronymic of the hero, much less mentioning his father.
      This
      is odd. He is "Son of Mary."
      Then the two revised versions, after the birth narratives
      and geneologies... they don't mention his father either.
      Nowhere else in NT is his father mentioned or Jesus'
      patronymic
      given except in two passages of John. This is prima facie
      not
      to be expected. It is to be expected that he will be known
      as
      Jesus bar Joseph throughout for that would have been his
      name.
      Calling one's hero by his name is to be expected.

      We find in John the accusation "We are not born of
      fornication"
      directed, it seems, toward Jesus in 8:41. We have Jesus
      saying,
      in Thomas, that he who knows father and mother will be
      called
      "son of a harlot" which evidently is a self-reference.
      We have, outside the Christian circle, nonChristian
      statements
      that Jesus was the son of a harlot and the like.
      We have in the birth narratives the assertion "Jesus'
      mother
      was not impregnated by her betrothed/husband"
      apologetically
      explained as divine insemination.

      If we look at all of this one way, that Jesus was
      illegitmate,
      it all hangs together. If we look at this the other way,
      that he
      was the legitimate son of Joseph, an awful lot of special
      pleading
      has to be done to account for the fact that WE know that
      but
      THEY didn't.

      Steve


      ---------------End of Original Message-----------------

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      E-mail: Michael David Myers <mmyers@...>
      11/30/98
      19:49:39

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    • Stevan Davies
      ... 1. Of course they were crucial. That s why the glaring lack of paternity credentials for Jesus is so striking. 2. As for sonofgod paternity credentials,
      Message 2 of 3 , Dec 1, 1998
        > Steven Davies wrote:
        > <Apologetic need is obvious. Question is apologetic need
        > <for what? My point is that there does not appear to be an
        > <apologetic need for "Son of God" to be accounted for by
        > <divine insemination.

        Mike Myers wrote:
        > Divine sonship was compatible with human generation to
        > JEWS, but apologetic necessity could well be a factor to
        > reaching non-Jews.

        > To the extent
        > that the audience grew increasingly non-Jewish, and that
        > no doubt happened early on, competitive marketing strategy
        > is key. The Greek gospels target market is one marinated
        > in sonofgods myths. Is it possible that we today do not
        > realize just how crucial such paternity credentials were?

        1. Of course they were crucial. That's why the glaring lack
        of paternity credentials for Jesus is so striking.

        2. As for sonofgod paternity credentials, weren't emperors
        regularly sons of god without any suspicion that virgin birth
        was required? Historical characters could be sons of god
        without much problem and without the requirement that they
        be literally sired by gods.

        > And if divine credentials were sine qua non then this
        > explains a whole lot of special pleading _in the texts_
        > themselves, and some related clever indirection and
        > innuendo there as well.

        But they weren't. In fact Christians generally were Sons of God
        or Children of the Father with no literal sireing necessary.
        Do you, or anybody, know anybody else who was Son of God
        AND virgin born apart from folks in ancient myths? Heck, it would
        be hard to buy an ass with an as back then without handing over
        a coin inscribed with the name of a Son of God.

        > That this would be seized upon and
        > then spun pruriently for polemic reasons by some later
        > rabbinic commentators and oral traditionists and then
        > cited in patristics like Tertullian and Origen isn't a
        > surprise, is it?

        It's a commonly stated theory. As usual, the directionality is not
        as sure as it's oft supposed.
        Because Jesus was said to be born of a virgin therefore
        his mother was accused of fornication.
        Because his mother was accused of fornication therefore
        he was said to be born of a virgin.
        I'm saying the latter has better support than the former,
        in earlier texts.

        > You wrote:
        >
        > "If we look at all of this one way, that Jesus was
        > illegitmate, it all hangs together. If we look at this the
        > other way, that he was the legitimate son of Joseph, an
        > awful lot of special pleading has to be done to account
        > for the fact that WE know that but THEY didn't."
        >
        > I'm not sure who you mean by THEY. The only THEY whose
        > testimony counts historically would be HJ's contemporaries
        > in his native region, and there isn't any such testimony.

        THEY are the biographers of Jesus whose knowledge of
        Jesus' paternity from Joseph is virtually non-existent... and
        their denial of it is significant.

        > All the textual evidence that exists can be viewed as
        > skewed by the putative apologetic necessity and the
        > various reactions to that, arising from many motives,
        > about as easily as it can be seen as historical evidence
        > for HJ's mamzerhood or his being the fruit of a centurion
        > rapist.

        It's historical evidence for his illegitimacy. And, like all
        the rest of our historical evidence from back then, it's
        skewed.

        > To many of US it is incredible that HJ was
        > divinely conceived. In the ancient world of course this
        > genealogy was more credible, at least among the non-Jewish
        > consumers of mythoi.

        Can't let you get away with this. It is the practically universal
        consensus that Matthew was writing to Jewish consumers.
        [And I'd guess that the percentage of US who believe in the
        virgin birth is a heck of a lot greater than the percentage back
        then, especially if US is U.S.] I'd guess the virginal conception
        should not be thought an advertisement to outsiders but a
        legend for insiders. The appeal of Christianity did not IMO
        have any need of it at all.... cf. Luke 3:1 through Acts where
        it is so trivial as never to be mentioned.

        Steve
      • Mike Myers
        ... From: Stevan Davies Subject: Re: Birth narratives Date: Tue, 1 Dec 1998 17:50:26 -0400 To: crosstalk@info.harpercollins.com ... 1. Of
        Message 3 of 3 , Dec 1, 1998
          ------------------------
          From: Stevan Davies <miser17@...>
          Subject: Re: Birth narratives
          Date: Tue, 1 Dec 1998 17:50:26 -0400
          To: crosstalk@...


          > Steven Davies wrote:
          > <Apologetic need is obvious. Question is apologetic need
          > <for what? My point is that there does not appear to be
          > <an apologetic need for "Son of God" to be accounted for
          > < by divine insemination.

          Mike Myers wrote:
          > Divine sonship was compatible with human generation to
          > JEWS, but apologetic necessity could well be a factor to
          > reaching non-Jews. To the extent that the audience grew
          >increasingly non-Jewish, and that no doubt happened early
          >on, competitive marketing strategy is key. The Greek
          >gospels target market is one marinated in sonofgods
          >myths. Is it possible that we today do not realize just
          >how crucial such paternity credentials were?

          1. Of course they were crucial. That's why the glaring
          lack of paternity credentials for Jesus is so striking.

          *******************************************************
          I was unclear. I meant only that divine paternity was
          crucial, not human, for marketing purposes, and also
          didactic ones. Silence or denial regarding human paternity
          would then be simply tactical, in keeping with those
          purposes.
          *******************************************************

          2. As for sonofgod paternity credentials, weren't emperors
          regularly sons of god without any suspicion that virgin
          birth was required? Historical characters could be sons of
          god without much problem and without the requirement that
          they be literally sired by gods.

          *******************************************************
          All the more reason then to distinguish The Son of God
          somehow from all the sons. (The idea of virgin birth has
          to be kept separate from the idea of divine paternity of
          course.) If in fact a woman gave birth, in history, to a
          man actually fathered by God (or to a Greco-Roman mind, by
          Zeus or Jupiter), he would be someone to listen to. This
          is something unique.
          *******************************************************

          > And if divine credentials were sine qua non then this
          > explains a whole lot of special pleading _in the texts_
          > themselves, and some related clever indirection and
          > innuendo there as well.

          But they weren't. In fact Christians generally were Sons
          of God or Children of the Father with no literal sireing
          necessary. Do you, or anybody, know anybody else who was
          Son of God AND virgin born apart from folks in ancient
          myths? Heck, it would be hard to buy an ass with an as
          back then without handing over a coin inscribed with the
          name of a Son of God.

          *******************************************************
          Yes, Christians were Children of the Father. But if one
          may assume something, namely that one purpose for the
          gospels, besides 'teaching' the converted, was to convert
          the seeking, then, again, the credentials of divine
          paternity might be necessary apologetically--this Son of
          God is the real thing, his Father is God. Hear him.

          The ancient myths wouldn't have been so ancient then.
          Think it's fair to say their resonance was stronger among
          many then than now. Coherence, at least, with antiquity is
          another credential anyway for a "new" religion.
          *******************************************************
          > That this would be seized upon and
          > then spun pruriently for polemic reasons by some later
          > rabbinic commentators and oral traditionists and then
          > cited in patristics like Tertullian and Origen isn't a
          > surprise, is it?

          It's a commonly stated theory. As usual, the
          directionality is not as sure as it's oft supposed.
          Because Jesus was said to be born of a virgin therefore
          his mother was accused of fornication.
          Because his mother was accused of fornication therefore
          he was said to be born of a virgin. I'm saying the latter
          has better support than the former, in earlier texts.

          *******************************************************
          I for one would be interested in a complete catalogue of
          these earlier texts you cite. I confess to knowing only a
          couple cases.
          *******************************************************

          > You wrote:
          >
          > "If we look at all of this one way, that Jesus was
          > illegitmate, it all hangs together. If we look at this
          the
          > other way, that he was the legitimate son of Joseph, an
          > awful lot of special pleading has to be done to account
          > for the fact that WE know that but THEY didn't."
          >
          > I'm not sure who you mean by THEY. The only THEY whose
          > testimony counts historically would be HJ's
          contemporaries
          > in his native region, and there isn't any such
          testimony.

          THEY are the biographers of Jesus whose knowledge of
          Jesus' paternity from Joseph is virtually non-existent...
          and their denial of it is significant.

          *******************************************************
          THEY deny it because by the time the gospels are written
          it is tactical to claim divine paternity. You want to see
          the denial as cover-up of illegitamacy of some type, but
          again it seems at least as possible that it results from
          marketing and propaganda motives. And anyway, isn't there
          an essential truth in this marketing guise--the salvation
          being offered is a new birth for all. Adoption by God--out
          of the swamp of human history, into the Kingdom of God now
          beginning to break into time. This starts with the Son of
          God, but is available now to all through him. This is a
          core message of the gospel, and it is neatly summed up in
          the myth, which happens to have great appeal for many
          reasons. Perhaps our disgust with the consumer society and
          its advertising priesthood sours our ability to
          uncynically appreciate a very astute and succesful (and
          MEANINGFUL) ad campaign. And this appreciation gets
          eclipsed by focus on artificially? dirty laundry that was
          only hung out by polemicists after? the (textual,
          confessional) fact? A very clear possibility to me.
          *******************************************************

          > All the textual evidence that exists can be viewed as
          > skewed by the putative apologetic necessity and the
          > various reactions to that, arising from many motives,
          > about as easily as it can be seen as historical evidence
          > for HJ's mamzerhood or his being the fruit of a
          centurion rapist.

          It's historical evidence for his illegitimacy. And, like
          all the rest of our historical evidence from back then,
          it's skewed.

          *******************************************************
          It can certainly be seen that way, as evidence for
          illegitamacy. It can also be seen, through lenses of other
          kinds than simply historical, as evidence of mythmakers
          making a point with a myth. I used the word skewed, but
          its use appears to have had an unfortunate side-effect --
          by appearing "objective," rhetorically conceding for the
          sake of argument that historicity is the only foundation
          of "fact" (altho search for such "fact" divorced from
          meaning can be a very reductive and arid enterprise, and
          can of course miss how the force of psychological "fact"
          drives history), and then noting how this foundation has
          been "skewed" by Christian and anti-Christian apologists,
          for various motives, I've managed to imply evidently I
          think there is something inescapably underhanded about
          this "skewing". I dont though, not at all. I would
          elaborate with saying that there is skewing and skewing.
          Some types of reportage, admittedly a little free with the
          facts, could conceivably be richer in meaning and in some
          ways "truer" about the psychology of its principals and
          more resonant to readers than types that are fastidiously
          accurate in detail but devoid of interest beyond that. It
          would be nice of course to have some dry as bones and
          fastidiously-accurate-about-words/deeds/dates docs. Alas,
          we do not. Looks like we have Rorschach tests instead.
          *******************************************************

          > To many of US it is incredible that HJ was
          > divinely conceived. In the ancient world of course this
          > genealogy was more credible, at least among the
          non-Jewish
          > consumers of mythoi.

          Can't let you get away with this. It is the practically
          universal consensus that Matthew was writing to Jewish
          consumers. [And I'd guess that the percentage of US who
          believe in the virgin birth is a heck of a lot greater
          than the percentage back then, especially if US is U.S.]
          I'd guess the virginal conception should not be thought an
          advertisement to outsiders but a legend for insiders. The
          appeal of Christianity did not IMO have any need of it at
          all.... cf. Luke 3:1 through Acts where it is so trivial
          as never to be mentioned.

          *******************************************************
          I did say at least among non-Jews -- but then again, I
          often wonder just how 'Jewish' these consumers were at
          this point. Matthew WAS written in Greek, and by
          definition almost its audience would have been Hellenistic
          Jews. I think one could cautiously assume significant
          tropism toward all that glamorous Hellenism, among even
          these Jews. And there IS that ambiguous passage in Isaiah
          about an almah conceiving...anachronism wasn't invented
          yesterday...

          Your 2 bracketed guesses are just that of course, as you
          admit. With the first one I can go along amicably. I
          clearly disagree with your second one. I think it was both
          ad and legend. I think explanation of the obviously quite
          broad appeal of Christianity may require taking into
          account all its marketing assets, in spite of one?
          author's (Luke/Acts) apparent poo-pooing of this one.
          *******************************************************

          Mike Myers

          Steve


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          12/01/98
          14:58:13

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