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Re: Birth narratives

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  • 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 1 of 3 , Dec 1, 1998
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      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

      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
      > 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
      > in his native region, and there isn't any such

      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
      > 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

      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


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