2012-07-07

Hoffmann’s Mamzer-Jesus Solution to Paul’s “Born of a Woman”

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

In a recent blogpost, “Born of a Woman”: Paul’s Perfect Victim and the Historical Jesus, Joseph Hoffmann argued that as early as the 50s C.E. the apostle Paul was so disturbed by gossip about Jesus being born of an adulterous relationship that he had a “need to deal with it” in his letter to the Galatians. And that’s why he wrote in chapter 4 verse 4

. . . . when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law . . . .

It is easy to dismiss his explanation as “not persuasive” or “speculative” but it is also important, I think, to be able to put one’s finger on precisely why a proposition is “not persuasive” or insubstantial. The effort of thinking it through may even lead one to appreciate that perhaps there is more to the argument than first appears on the surface. But even if one finds nothing of value in it, the exercise of examining it methodically can only be a good thing. Scoffing, saying something is bunk or absurd, relying on a vague feeling that something is “not persuasive”, are cheap substitutes for argument.

So primarily for my own benefit I undertook to examine methodically Hoffmann’s view of Galatians 4:4. The post became very long so I have no illusions that it will be read by anyone except obsessive-compulsive personality types.

I will discuss the points of Hoffmann’s argument in the order he presents them.

Cover of "The Jesus Legend"

Cover of The Jesus Legend

But before he offers his own explanation he curiously asserts that “mythicists have a special antipathy” for this verse. I am sure this charge is news to (erstwhile) mythicist G. A. Wells, for whom Hoffmann once wrote a foreword (The Jesus Legend). Aren’t most mythical persons understood to have been born of women? A couple of Greek characters were born from father Zeus directly — one from his thigh and another from his head. Some Egyptian myths have hermaphrodites giving birth. But these are the exceptions. The family trees of mythical persons being born of women in Greek, Roman and a host of other cultures are labyrinthine.

Likewise Earl Doherty has written that the concept of Christ “coming into existence” or “being made” from a woman was surely derived the same way Paul says he acquired all his other information about Christ — from revelation, in particular revelation from the scriptures (Isaiah 7:14).

And don’t forget the Book of Revelation’s depiction of a woman giving birth in heaven. Indeed, one of the themes in the letter to the Galatians itself is the contrast between Jews who have a mundane birth and those they persecute who had a different kind of birth.

So let’s move on to Hoffmann’s actual arguments. He begins by establishing the security of the passage.

.

No serious suggestion of interpolation?

. . . . there is no serious suggestion that it is interpolated or “unoriginal” to the letter.

Cover of "The Orthodox Corruption of Scri...

Cover via Amazon

The first time I was introduced to the plausibility of a case for interpolation was some years ago when I read Bart Ehrman’s Orthodox Corruption of Scripture. In that book Ehrman does not argue for interpolation but what he does say certainly opens the door to its possibility.

For the orthodox, Jesus’ real humanity was guaranteed by the fact that he was actually born, the miraculous circumstances surrounding that birth notwithstanding. This made the matter of Jesus’ nativity a major bone of contention between orthodox Christians and their docetic opponents. Marcion, as we have seen, denied Jesus’ birth and infancy altogether. In response, Irenaeus could ask, “Why did He acknowledge Himself to be the Son of man, if He had not gone through that birth which belongs to a human being?” (Adv. Haer. IV, 33, 2). The question is echoed by Tertullian, who cites a number of passages that mention Jesus’ “mother and brothers” and asks why, on general principles, it is harder to believe “that flesh in the Divine Being should rather be unborn than untrue?” (Adv. Marc. Ill, 11).

In light of this orthodox stand, it is not surprising to find the birth of Christ brought into greater prominence in texts used by the early polemicists. I can cite two instances. In both cases one could argue that the similarity of the words in question led to an accidental corruption. But it should not be overlooked that both passages proved instrumental in the orthodox insistence on Jesus’ real birth, making the changes look suspiciously useful for the conflict. In Galatians 4:4, Paul says that God “sent forth his Son, come from a woman, come under the law” (γενόμενον ἐκ γυναῖκος, γενόμενον ὑπὸ νόμον). The verse was used by the orthodox to oppose the Gnostic claim that Christ came through Mary “as water through a pipe,” taking nothing of its conduit into itself; for here the apostle states that Christ was “made from a woman” (so Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. Ill, 22, 1, and Tertullian, de came Christi, 20). Irenaeus also uses the text against docetists to show that Christ was actually a man, in that he came from a woman (Adv. Haer. V, 21, 1). It should strike us as odd that Tertullian never quotes the verse against Marcion, despite his lengthy demonstration that Christ was actually “born.” This can scarcely be attributed to oversight, and so is more likely due to the circumstance that the generally received Latin text of the verse does not speak of Christ’s birth per se, but of his “having been made” (factum ex muliere).

Given its relevance to just such controversies, it is no surprise to see that the verse was changed on occasion, and in precisely the direction one might expect: in several Old Latin manuscripts the text reads: misit deus filium suum, natum ex muliere (“God sent his Son, born of a woman”), a reading that would have proved useful to Tertullian had he known it. Nor is it surprising to find the same change appear in several Greek witnesses as well, where it is much easier to make, involving the substitution of γεννώμενον for γενόμενον (K f1 and a number of later minuscules). (Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, pp. 238-239, my highlighting. — The second instance Ehrman addresses is found in Romans 1:3-4)

Ehrman’s surmise that Tertullian overlooked the passage because his version spoke of “being made of a woman” rather than “being born of a woman” strikes me with underwhelming force. Did not Ehrman just explain that the concept of “having been made from a woman” was even weightier than “having been born from a woman” since the latter allowed for a docetic or gnostic vision of Jesus slipping hermetically sealed through the body of Mary and into the world? Have not some scholars suggested that “made from a woman” may have been a deliberate counterpart to Eve being “made from” — not born — from Adam?

Although Ehrman does not argue for interpolation he nonetheless has given us:

  1. potential motive for interpolation (christological disputes)
  2. potential evidence for interpolation (Tertullian’s “odd” failure to quote the passage)

Surely we should add a third point here that opens the door onto interpolation just a little wider and that is alluded to by Hoffmann himself:

As it is generally agreed that Paul has no special interest in arguing any particular doctrine about the birth of Jesus, this single phrase is unparalleled in his genuine letters.

Earl Doherty has written up a statistical survey of Paul’s uses of the various words translated as “born” and demonstrated that uniqueness of the expression and context of Galatians 4:4. Although this was not part of an argument for interpolation I would think that the uniqueness of the Greek expression in Paul’s letters does tilt the question of authenticity another notch towards interpolation.

.

Paul needed to address the rumour that Jesus was a mamzer?
.

(Mamzer: In the English use of the word, a child neither born nor begotten in lawful wedlock; an illegitimate child. There is no Hebrew word of like meaning. The mamzer, rendered “bastard” in the A. V., is something worse than an illegitimate child. . . . Jewish Encyclopedia)

So when Hoffmann argues that Paul felt a need to address a scandalous rumour about the circumstances of the birth of Jesus, we naturally wonder how it might be that Paul would be content to “deal with” this rumour so tangentially (and only once) in a passage contrasting liberating spiritual works with subjection to material customs and rituals. Hoffmann does have an answer to this that we will examine shortly.

Till then, note the situation facing Paul according to Hoffmann:

By the fifties of the first century, Paul’s Jewish opposition included the well-known slander that Jesus himself was illegitimate, that his mother had been a prostitute.

A single verse, “God sent his son made from a woman under the law”, said by Hoffmann to be a digression from Paul’s main theme, does not indicate that Paul considered the rumour all that much to worry about. A mere “by the way” remark would suffice to scotch the rumour supposedly doing the rounds that Jesus was a bastard? And this nonchalance in a letter where he dedicates two chapters to squashing a rumour that he owed his apostleship to Jerusalem authorities?

Hoffmann later refers to this light response of Paul to such a rumour as “almost spasmodic”. Why such a low-key response? Why no outraged polemic?

The answer, to Hoffmann’s way of thinking (hopefully I have understood him correctly), is that Paul only knew the Jewish side of the rumour — presumably he knew no other counterclaim by way of historical tradition. The reason Paul objected to the unsavoury report was that it conflicted with his theological need for sacrificial victim who was perfect according to the Jewish law. That is, the sacrifice had to be born according to the law and not outside the law.

Hoffmann does not raise the obvious question that follows from his reconstruction. Why on earth did Paul exalt one he only knew to have had an illegitimate birth to the status of divine saviour if all he could muster against that common Jewish understanding was nothing more than his own theological belief that it must not be so?

But what does the evidence itself say? Which came first? The son of a harlot or the son of a virgin?

.

The most plausible explanations for the Talmud innuendo
.

One needs “formal training” in biblical studies in higher institutes of learning in order to be able to write seriously that bad puns are a plausible criterion for historicity.

According to Frank Zindler:

Even scholars who believe in the historicity of Jesus generally agree that even if the so-and-so of our passage

[m. Yebam. 4:13: Rabbi Shim’on ben ‘Azzai said, “I have found a scroll of genealogies in Jerusalem; thereon was written: “That so-and-so . . . is a bastard [mamzar] born of an adulteress’; to confirm the words of Rabbi Yehoshua.”]

refers to Jesus, it cannot be accepted as an actual primary witness of his historicity, for the simple fact that the mamzer reference would have to be a reaction to an already developed theological doctrine, viz., the dogma of the virgin birth. That would put the passage as later than the edition of the Gospel of Matthew that first contained the genealogy of Jesus as traced through Joseph.

At earliest, the passage would date to the time the genealogy in Matthew was altered to allow for addition of the virgin-birth tale [Matt 1:18-25].

Furthermore, since the first rabbinical contacts almost certainly were with Jewish Christians such as the Ebionites and Nazoreans — who generally did not subscribe to the pagan notion that gods might occasionally couple with human females — and not the Hellenized Christians who used gospels such as those now found in the Greek New Testament, it must have been quite late before the rabbis would have had occasion to retort to Greek idiosyncrasies. By just about anybody’s reckoning, that would have been far beyond the time of any eye witnesses to Jesus himself.

An early Syrian manuscript of the Gospel of Matthew, known as the Codex Sinaiticus Syriacus, still preserves a genealogy in which Joseph is the father of Jesus. It makes it clear that the canonical gospels went through a three-stage evolution:

  • (1) No ancestry or birth origin given for Jesus (as in the present gospels of Mark and John);
  • (2) Adding a genealogy of Jesus traced through Joseph back at least to David to establish his messianic potential;
  • and (3) Adding an account of a virgin birth and altering the previously invented genealogy to be compatible with it.

(The Jesus the Jews Never Knew, pp. 113-115, my formatting)

Such a model — from no ancestry, to a Davidic ancestry, to a virgin birth — offers the simplest explanation for the name of Mary’s paramour being a pun on the word “virgin”. The “Panther/Pandira” pun necessarily appears in response to the doctrine of the virgin birth. As Hoffmann earlier wrote:


The most plausible explanation of the name Ben Pandira (Pandera, Pantira) is that the Greek panthera (panther) was a pun on the Christian belief that Jesus was the son of a virgin (Greek, parthenos).
(Jesus Outside the Gospels, p. 42, my emphasis. Hoffmann ventures to opine, without reference to any contrary evidence, that “since the pun is such a poor one we cannot rule out the possibility that there is a kernel of historical truth to the tradition that Jesus’ real father was known as Pandira.” (One needs to undergo “formal training” in biblical studies in higher institutes of learning in order to be able to write seriously that bad puns are a plausible criterion for historicity, even for historicity of an event supposedly occurring 150 years earlier.)

But note that the virgin birth narrative is not found in Paul. Nor does it appear in the earliest Gospel (Mark). The evidence we have testifies that it was not known until the late first century at the earliest — though recall that the earliest version of Matthew does not appear to know of the teaching either. So the available evidence is against the virgin birth being known as early as the time of Paul. We first encounter the Pandera response to it in Origen‘s writings against the Jewish critic of Christianity, Celsus.

.

The gossip about Mary
.

If the evidence for our hypothesis is not there then, as long as one has had the specialist training, one is free to say, without further rationale, that the evidence we do have is an attempt to hide the evidence that is missing.

Hoffmann next considers the gossip about Mary, the mother of Jesus, whom he suspects was really Mary Magdalene.

The basis of this surmise is that

clues concerning the “multiple Mary” conundrum of the gospels might be found in seeing the confusion as an effort to write around (or write out) the tradition that it was Jesus’ mother rather than a woman acquaintance—Mary Magdalene—who had the scarlet reputation (keeping in view that the floating tradition of the woman taken in adultery, usually assigned to Luke, is unnamed).

If the evidence for our hypothesis is not there then one is free to say, without further rationale, that the evidence we do have is an attempt to hide the evidence that is missing. Alternative hypotheses that draw on the evidence that is available — that the evangelist was drawing together conflicting literary traditions (see “What was Matthew struggling over?” below) — is not considered.

One does have to admire the courage of a scholar who can advance such baseless speculation — fed largely from Talmudic passages centuries later and that arguably never originally referred to Jesus or his parents at all — as worthy of serious contemplation. Again, one requires specialist training in New Testament scholarly studies to appreciate the gravitas of such a hypothesis.

He appears to draw upon the Catholic Encyclopedia when he writes that the Talmud itself testifies that Magdala (the hometown of Mary, presumably the same mother of Jesus) was notorious for the immorality of its inhabitants, although Hoffmann narrows this travel advice down by gender to “notorious for the looseness of the lives of its women.” He does not provide a Talmudic source for this assertion and I have not been able to track one down yet, either. Nor does he refer to any evidence that Magdala back then was even a Galilean toponym, another detail I have never been able to verify.

.

Examining and evaluating two Talmud passages
.

The Talmud from the land of Jesus and his earliest disciples contains not a single reference to Jesus the Nazarene or his disciples.

Hoffmann refers to a couple of passages from “the Talmud” that are widely thought to be about Jesus. However, it is worth noting the distinction between the Palestinian and Babylonian Talmuds whenever they are used in a discussion of Jesus and early Christianity in order to avoid the mistake of thinking there was a singular Jewish tradition supposedly about Jesus.

  1. The Palestinian Talmud is generally thought to have been completed around 395 C.E. As Frank Zindler points out, this Talmud, from the land of Jesus and his earliest disciples contains not a single reference to Jesus the Nazarene or his disciples.
  2. The Babylonian Talmud is variously said to have been completed one or two centuries later. It is only in this Iraqi set of documents that we find the name that has been identified as a reference to Christianity’s Jesus.

Surely this state of the Talmudic evidence for our Jesus is not what we would have expected if the Jesus traditions originated in Palestine.

English: Photo of Exhibit at the Diaspora Muse...

English: Photo of Exhibit at the Diaspora Museum, Tel Aviv – Beit Hatefutsot Babylonian Talmud, manuscript, copied by Solomon ben Samson, France, 1342 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Five to six centuries after the narrated time of Jesus the rabbis of Iraq apparently created various (and conflicting) biographies of Jesus just as the Christians were supposed to have done centuries earlier. Their lives of Jesus varied even more than those we find in the canonical Gospels.

  1. One Talmudic (Babylonian) Jesus lived around 100 B.C.E. in the time of Alexander Jannaeus. (Bishop Epiphanius seems to have known the same source for this datum and likewise dated Jesus 100 B.C.E. This belief was all perfectly natural and in accord with Bible prophecy that made it clear that the Jewish kings would cease to reign when the Christ appeared. Alexander Jannaeus was overthrown by the Roman general Ptolemy.)
  2. Another Jesus lived 100 years “after Christ” and was hanged in Lydda instead of being crucified in Jerusalem.
  3. The rabbis also gave “Jesus” a certain parentage and birth legend quite different from those in our Gospels. One Jesus was allowed five disciples.
The lateness of the manuscripts prevents us from knowing if any of the “Jesus” references originated with the earliest edition or were inserted much later.

This topic is a large one so I will only discuss here to the two Talmudic passages Hoffmann mentions in his blogpost.

b. Shabbat 104b: “HE WHO CUTS UPON HIS FLESH.” (i.e. the passage being discussed in the following. . . .)

It is a tradition that Rabbi Eliezer said to the Wise, “Did not Ben Stada bring spells from Egypt in a cut which was upon his flesh?” They said to him, “He was a fool, and they do not bring a proof from a fool.” Ben Stada is Ben Pandira. Rab. Hisda [217-309 CE] said, “The husband was Stada, the paramour was Pandira.” The husband was Pappos ben Jehudah,* the mother was Stada. The mother was Miriam the dresser of women’s hair, as we say in Pumbeditha, “Such a one has been false to her husband.”

* Pappos ben Jehudah lived a century after the time of the Gospel’s Jesus, so those who identify Jesus with either Ben Stada or Ben Pandira must place Jesus around 100 CE.

b. Sanhedrin 67a: . . . . And thus they did to Ben Stada in Lydda, and they hanged him on the eve of Passover. Ben Stada was Ben Padira [sic]. R. Hisda said: The husband was Stada, the paramour Pandira. But was not the husband Pappos b. Judah? — His mother’s name was Stada. But his mother was Miriam, a dresser of women’s hair? (. . . megaddela neshayia):- As they say in Pumbaditha, This woman has turned away from her husband, (i.e. committed adultery).

It is the rumours reported in these passages that Hoffmann suggests were circulating among the Jews and churches known to Paul in the 50s C.E. He does not explain how setting for this rumour is to be reconciled with the Talmudic setting of 100 C.E. and with this “Jesus” being hanged, not crucified, in Lydda.

Contrast the critical evaluation of Frank Zindler of these and related passages. He compares the two passages above along with another, b. Sanhedrin 43a, that introduces the name Yeshu the Nazarean.

Now that the passages relating Ben Pandira to Ben Stada have been examined, we can proceed to try to figure out their meaning and significance. The reader will note, first of all, that neither the Shabbat nor Sanhedrin passages mention Yeshu or Yeshua’ at all: they deal exclusively with the names Pandira, Stada, and Miriam. The Christians’ Jesus comes to mind simply because of the tradition that his mother too was named Miriam (Mary) and that he was executed (but not hanged!) on the eve of the Sabbath – which, according to John 19:31, was also the eve of Passover.

It cannot be doubted, however, that the substitution of Yeshu – and then Yeshu ha-Notzri – for Ben Stada in Sanh. 43a was done by scribes who had come to believe that Ben Stada was actually the Jesus whom the Christians had elevated to godhood. (It seems to me highly unlikely that the original version of this passage made any mention of Yeshu, given its great similarity with the Ben Stada passage Sanh. 67a.) Of course, there is an embarrassing problem in identifying Jesus with the ben Stada of Sanh. 67a. Jesus is supposed to have been crucified in Jerusalem, not hanged in Lydda – a town 23 miles NW of Jerusalem!

How could rabbis writing at least as late as the fifth century of the common era have made such a mistake? It would seem impossible that they should have been ignorant of such basic Christian ‘facts’ at a time when Christianity was thriving so con­spicuously. The answer, I believe, lies in the likelihood that rabbis living in Babylon (Iraq) probably had little interaction with adherents of the ‘Great Church’ which had achieved theological and political hegemony in the core regions of the Roman Empire but had not been able to supplant early competitors still thriving in the imperial periphery. As late as the time of Mohammed [570-632 CE], holdout primitive forms of Christianity were the only sects known in Asiatic regions outside the realm of the Great Church. The New Testament gospel traditions we take for grant­ed may have been completely unknown or at least sparsely disseminated in regions such as Iraq and Arabia. Instead, gospels now lost and differing sharply from our canonical gospels* may have been the main source of Christian information available to Babylonian rabbis and Mohammed alike. (It is unlikely that they would actually have read any of these gospels, but would have learned their details from frequent discussion and disputation with local Christians who used them as scripture.)

Even though the actual interpolation of the Pandira/Stada discussion into the Talmud Gemara must have been quite late, it may nevertheless have been conditioned by traditions going back to a period even earlier than the time when the canonical gospels were concocted. Potentially, it might provide information on the process by which the Jesus biography coalesced from the rumors and tittle-tattle of the late first century, even though it can be of no use in reconstructing the biography of an actual man.

If we refer back to the bolded text in either the Sanh. 67a, or Shabb. 104b) passages, we see at once that material must be missing. The blunt statement that “Ben Stada is Ben Pandira” looks like a marginal note that has been inserted into the text. If that is not the case, we have the peculiar problem that in Shabbat the equa­tion must be attributed to R. Eliezer, but in Sanhedrin it must be attributed to R. Papa! It seems clear that this equation must be viewed as an unattributable insertion into both texts. . . . The statement that “The husband was Pappos ben Jehudah, the mother was Stada” contradicts Hisda’s claim that the husband was Stada and the paramour was Pandira. We are missing an attribution here. The remaining sentence – “The mother was Miriam the dresser of women’s hair, as we say in Pumbeditha, ‘Such a one has been false to her husband’ ” – is obviously an attempt to etymolo­gize the name Stada as applied to a woman.

It is altogether possible that this haggadah was constructed with the Christian doctrine of the virgin birth in mind, even though the Jewish Christians of Babylonia are not likely to have believed that doctrine. It certainly seems to be grist for an anti-Christian, Jewish propaganda mill – a mill that substituted a banal bastardy for the preternatural parthenogenesis of Christian dogma.

Is it possible to draw any conclusions from this passage beyond the obvious, viz., that the rabbis who wrote it were in a state of total confusion and had no knowledge of any historical Jesus? What part of this would historical Jesus apologists have us believe is true?

  • That Stada was Pandira, or that they were two different men?
  • Should we believe that Stada and Pandira were two men, or a man and a woman?
  • Can any of the Ben Stada pas­sages we have examined . . . support the possibility that Ben (‘son of’!) Stada was a woman? (That is, after all, the conclusion to be drawn from this passage.)
  • Are we to believe that Mary’s husband was actually Pappos ben Jehudah – a man who flourished during the first third of the second century?
  • Should we believe that St. Joseph was Ben Stada?

That at least some rabbis equated Ben Stada with Jesus by the time the bolded text was inserted into the Babylonian Talmud is obvious from the parallel passage in b. Sanh. 43a, which says that Yeshu the Nazarene, not ben Stada, was hanged on the eve of Passover. Unfortunately, we cannot determine when the equa­tions were inserted into the Babylonian treatises Shabbat and Sanhedrin. . . . (The Jesus the Jews Never Knew, pp. 238-241, my formatting and bolding.)

Given the nature of the evidence covered thus far, surely only the demands of dogma can persuade anyone to find in the above Talmudic passages any relevance to a study of Paul’s letters.

.

What was the author of the Gospel of Matthew struggling over?
.

The evidence that exists points to Matthew’s Gospel being crafted out of conflicting literary interpretations — the messiah as a son of Joseph versus a prophecy of a virgin birth.

Hoffmann interprets the author of the Gospel of Matthew “struggling” to counter a scandalous rumour about the parentage of Jesus when he writes in 1:18

Now the birth of Jesus Christ happened this way: When his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit.

But we saw in the manuscript evidence above that a pre-canonical version of this gospel wrote that Joseph was the father of Jesus. If there is really any “struggle” here, is it not engaged in the author’s/redactor’s effort to displace a the fatherhood of Joseph — which some manuscript evidence indicates was in an earlier Gospel of Matthew — with the virgin birth in order to fulfill his prophecy of Isaiah 7:14?

See How Joseph was piously invented to be the “father” of Jesus for the evidence for the literary derivation of Joseph as Jesus’ “father”. The evidence that exists points to Matthew’s Gospel being crafted out of conflicting literary interpretations (the messiah as a son of Joseph versus a prophecy of a virgin birth).

.

Hoffmann’s challenge and response

Hoffmann has committed himself to entertaining no doubts as to the authenticity of Galatians 4:4 as the words of Paul. So he must explain

  • why Paul drops in this passage out of the blue, contrary to the interests he expresses in the rest of his writings,
  • digressing from the thought of the immediate passage,
  • why Paul supposedly responds to a widespread belief that Jesus’ birth was illegitimate in such an uncontentious and spasmodic manner.

Hoffmann’s answer? Paul’s opposition to the scandal is not indignation but only academic — or theological. The rumour contradicts his need for a sacrifice who was born according to the law. Some readers might wonder such a thesis has lost touch with reality.

Paul requires a spotless victim, and for that reason it becomes necessary that Jesus is born according to the law, untainted by “unusual circumstances.” . . . .

But the crucial thing for Paul is to dispose of the historically inconvenient tradition that Jesus was born outside the law–a tradition that would have made his entire theological enterprise suspect: Only a victim who was born according to the law could die in accordance with the scriptures. . . .

This almost spasmodic reaching into and beyond history for meaning is one of the more difficult aspects of Paul’s theology, but it seems to me that there is no other explanation for why the “birth” of Jesus intrudes, in just the way it does, into his letter to the Galatians.

Hoffmann reasonably explains that “only a victim who was born according to the law” could qualify as the required sacrifice. But Galatians 4:4 does not say that Christ was born according to (“kata”) the law. It says he was made of a woman (the way Eve was “made” from Adam?) “under the law” — that is, under the authority and power of the law. He was subject to its penalties. One born under Sharia law is not by definition obedient to that law nor are they by definition born in wedlock.

Further, why do we see none of Paul’s well-known form for indignation? Hoffmann explains further:

Far from being ignorant of the Miriam-tradition, Paul needs to deal with it. It is possible, in fact, since he does not reflect anything like a developed apologetic stance toward the polemical Jewish tradition, that the only bit of historical information he knows is the Jewish side. Paul, in this case, becomes the inventor of the “fatherhood of God”-motif later exploited in the gospels This however is sufficient to explain why Paul refers to Jesus’ legitimacy “under the law” as a fact believed by Christians, denied by Jews, but absolutely vital for his theological agenda.

Did Paul never encounter a view opposing such a Jewish rumour when he visited Jerusalem and the leaders of the church?

If I am right, it means that the notion Paul knew “nothing” about the historical Jesus tradition is false; it means that not only did he know a strongly antagonistic tradition that remained a live issue for the gospel writers, but that his early theology pivoted on sweeping it aside. It is also rather explicit proof of the way in which Paul could dispose of problematical historical tradition in the interest of getting on with his work.

.

Raising more questions than have been answered

1. So why did Paul become a follower and worshiper of Jesus at all if all he knew was that he was a mamzer who had been crucified for sedition?

2. How did Paul come to attribute to Jesus a theology (that he was qualified to be a perfect sacrifice) that flew in the face of what everyone (as far as he knew) knew about Jesus’ birth?

3. If Paul knew nothing other than this “antagonistic tradition” about Jesus and that it attacked the very foundation of his theology, then why was he so muted and calm about it? Why, out of all his surviving words, do we have only this one verse matter-of-fact digression addressing such a critical factor?

4. And why did Paul not even say in that one verse that Jesus was born “according to the law” if that was the most important thing to point out? Note the verse says that the Son of God was born “under the law”. Not “kata” or “according to” the law. Under the power and authority of the law is not the same concept as being in accord with the requirements of the law. (The Greek words carry similar distinctions as their English counterparts.)

And IF Paul did indeed mean that Jesus was born “according to the law”, then note exactly what this accordance was. What was in accordance with the law was the fact that Jesus was born of a woman! “Born of a woman [in accordance with] the law” is how we must read Galatians 4:4 if we are to be guided by Hoffmann’s interpretations without letting his interpretation displace the verse entirely.

But Paul does not say “kata” or “in accordance with” but “(h)upo” or “under” the (power of the) law.

In reality, however, Hoffmann’s thesis would predict that Paul would unambiguously state that Jesus was born “according to the law”, that is, not born to an adulteress or prostitute as the common rumour was supposed to have it.

The thesis that the expression “born of a woman under the law” is a response to scandalous rumours about Jesus’ mother may have little to commend it by way of evidence, method or reason, but it does testify to considerable courage and optimism on the part of the scholar who is hoping it will contribute towards setting the historicity of Jesus on a secure footing.

.

36 Comments

  • David Hillman
    2012-07-07 01:36:34 UTC - 01:36 | Permalink

    I don’t think there is any evidence that this late Jewish Mary the hairdresser stuff comes from Christian traditions. Was it not Gregory the Great (in 591) who first equated Mary Magdelene with the women who had sinned, for his own reasons calling her a prostitute? In the Gospel tradition she seems to be a respectible woman, out of whom Jesus had cast seven devils.

    • 2012-07-07 02:57:00 UTC - 02:57 | Permalink

      I think you’re right. I had overlooked that point. Must do a refresher on the history of MM’s reputation through history.

  • Brett
    2012-07-07 04:00:02 UTC - 04:00 | Permalink

    Thanks for your article here; which is far more scholarly than my own lengthy conversation with Hoffmann.

    My own conversation with Hoffmann of course, centered on a simpler idea: the simple notion that much of the Bible, and especially the writings of Paul, are very “spiritual” (almost Marcionian/Gnostic) in orientation. So that Paul ultimately did not mean to emphasize the material physicality of Jesus, or his mother, at all.

    Any single momentary, apparent emphasis in Paul, on Jesus being “born of woman” is indeed, simply typical of many myths. And looks quite, quite interpolated, compared to Paul’s prevailing spiritual/Heavenly/”cosmic” orientation.

    Likely Gal. 4.4 was interpolated to rescue Paul from (probably deserved) charges of Marcionism or Gnosticism.

  • maryhelena
    2012-07-07 05:52:15 UTC - 05:52 | Permalink

    Nice try by Hoffmann – but no cigar this time!

    An old quote from Dawkins is well worth repeating:

    “Among all the ideas ever to occur to a nasty human mind (Paul’s of course), the Christian “atonement” would win a prize for pointless futility as well as moral depravity.”

    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/guest_contributors/article7007065.ece

    Paul could not, morally, use a flesh and blood human death for his atonement or salvation theories. That would be, morally, an illegitimate thing to be doing. The only way forward for Paul was to change the context. From a flesh and blood, no value, death, to a context in which ‘death’ does have value. And that is an intellectual or spiritual or philosophical context. A context in which it is ideas that are the subject of that dying and rising god mythology. Interpreting Paul is akin to peeling the skins off an onion. Layer upon layer of philosophical musings.

    As to the illegitimate birth story and it’s connection with Joseph Pandera – and Hoffmann’s suggestion that this is what is behind Paul’s ‘born of a woman, born under the law’, ( i.e. Paul is trying to squash such rumours because his theology cannot function on such an illegitimate birth for his JC) well now, that is a great contribution to the ahistoricist/mythicist argument! Paul, according to Hoffmann, is acknowledging that the stories about an illegitimate birth were doing the rounds in his time! And depending on how one is dating Paul – if the usual pre 70 c.e. date is being put forward – then the Joseph Pandera story is far older than any dating of the manuscripts of the Toledot Yeshu story. It’s a story preceding Paul. How early? It’s context goes back to the time of Alexander Jannaeus. Hardly a historical context in which to place a parody of the gospel JC story – particularly after gLuke, with its specific dating, was written.

    Whatever the interpretations one can give to that Toledot Yeshu story – one thing is very clear. It’s figure of Yeshu was illegitimate. That figure could not be used as a base upon which to build an atonement/salvation theory. Paul knows the story – and it’s moral implications – he can’t use it – but he can turn that story on it’s head by changing it’s context from pseudo-historical to philosophical speculations. Paul’s JC is born under a very different ‘law’ – the ‘law’ of freedom from the Law. Under the ‘law’ of intellectual freedom – sacrifice of ideas can have positive, ‘salvation’ value.

    That’s all philosophising on Paul’s philosophical musing…..;-)

    On another level – on a historical level – the illegitimate birth story takes the JC storyline way back to the time of Alexander Jannaeus. That is the real issue here. And it’s an issue that brings up multiple questions of its own. Questions that revolve around the JC storyboard being a moving story; not a static story but a story that is fluid. And if we are dealing with a JC story that is fluid as to time and place, a story that moves along with relevant Jewish history – then we are not dealing with a flesh and blood JC figure but with a symbolic or figurative JC figure that is being used by the gospel writers to reflect their interpretations, their prophetic interpretations, of Jewish history.

    Perhaps it’s been a long time coming – but it looks as though Joseph Pandera is about to hit prime time…..

    http://ntweblog.blogspot.com/search/label/Verhoeven%20Jesus%20Film

    The Paul Verhoeven Jesus Film is to go ahead

    Roger Avary is to script the film and already there are some preparing for a fight, not least because it may feature the line that Mary was raped by the Roman soldier Panthera, a story that features in Verhoeven’s book and which is derived from Origen’s quotation of Celsus in Contra Celsum. (Celsus was a pagan critic of Christianity writing in the mid second century whose work the third century Origen is refuting).

    • Brett
      2012-07-07 06:27:57 UTC - 06:27 | Permalink

      A related theory I am working on: Mary was a local human “lord”‘s mistress. The “Lord” had admired Mary from afar – and then sent his messenger (the meaning of “angel”), to tell her that “the Lord” her god would lie with/over her. And she would have a child by him.

      Some might say that lord in question was possibly Pandera; others might suggest one of the Herod family, or someone similar.

      Hearing bits of this from his mother, Jesus would have at times hoped he would be one day recognized as a legitimate heir, a christened son of a lord god.

  • ROO BOOKAROO
    2012-07-07 05:53:40 UTC - 05:53 | Permalink

    5,656 words. Nothing to frighten off veterans of Doherty’s articles (10,000, 20,000 up to 66,400 words!)

    Hoffmann declares ““mythicists have a special antipathy” for this verse (Gal. iv, 4).
    I was curious to check how this was substantiated, or whether it was just the result of Hoffmann’s flippant way to produce his “piquant” and “clever” comments (“eloquent satire”), which in fact are nothing more than systematic distortions of sources.

    Arthur Drews confronts the issue twice in “The Christ Myth” (1909), once in the “Witness of Paul” (1912); William B. Smith once in “Ecce Deus” (1912), Paul-Louis Couchoud in “The First Edition of the Paulina” (1928), where he argues for the priority of Marcion’s Apostolikon of 10 letters over the canonical version of Paul’s much expanded 13 letters, and sees the line “born of a woman, born under the law,” as an interpolation in the original by the Christian editor. Same point revisited in “The Creation of Christ” (1939), etc..

    So the “special antipathy” is no more than a concoction in Hoffmann’s brain that he splashes on the classical writers of the Christ Myth Theory to enhance his own argumentation.
    This style of mislabeling is so characteristic of Hoffmann that it becomes tiresome and self-defeating and undermines the credibility of his critique.

    • Brett
      2012-07-07 06:56:16 UTC - 06:56 | Permalink

      Hoffmann loves to get lost in his own grandilloquence, I think. And if he picks arguments, that is because he likes the attention.

      Curiously though, I have always felt that Hoffmann should deep down, be far more sympathetic to Mythicists that he currently appears. Apparently he himself pursued this thesis for many years with the Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion, the “Jesus Project,” c. 2007-9. Before he to be sure, bitterly abandoned it.

      Still, at times I see common ground with this potential ally. For example? In his latest article on Paul and the “mother” of Jesus, Hoffmann seems quite willing to agree that a very flawed Paul, who was “jealous” of Christ, was willing to twist Christianity all around. And Hoffmann is willing to suggest that the momentary concentration on Jesus born of a “mother” might have had dark motives. (Like trying to efface persistent claims of the illegitimacy of Jesus).

      Hoffmann seems quite willing to engage in very, very Critical studies of Jesus. And to note many, many a-historical elements in it. Therefore, I’ve always thought Hoffmann was convertable, to an ally of Mythicism. Though to be sure he presently seems to enjoy the attention he gets, from spectacularly disagreeing with those who by rights would be his allies. And he enjoys prominently displaying his own credentials relating to all this.

      Or then too, many an older atheist allows himself to go through a “deathbed conversion,” to cover his bets with a last minute reprieve. If as they say in the Church, even after a lifetime of atheism, even after a lifetime of agnosticism, still just five or ten minutes of a final conversion to CHristianity can save you? It would seem foolish to many, to not take Pascal’s Wager at least in the last minutes of life; to covert in the last second. When it doesn’t matter much otherwise.

      Or finally? Historicism is all-too convenient politically: it 1) allows a religious scholar to be almost as critical as you could want to be, about traditional Christianity; but 2) at the same time, you’ll still look good – and employable – to traditional seminaries. Because technically, in the last minute, you are saying that “Jesus actually existed,” after all.

      Historicism among scholars in fact may be mostly hypocritical, a mere expediency. In many, it may be mostly about maintaining a smooth and pretty face. About remaining critical – while still looking good, looking like some kind of believer, to traditional religious employers.

      • ROO BOOKAROO
        2012-07-07 08:22:39 UTC - 08:22 | Permalink

        Yes, at heart, Hoffmann is a showman. He needs a public and the attention.
        He’s just announced his new team for the “Jesus Process”. No big name in there. Nobody with a sound reputation to salvage is going to throw in his/her lot with another speculative Hoffmann venture.

        Conversion to Christianity on one’s deathbed is a classical theme. If it happens, it probably is more the result of surrounding pressures around the dying man’s bed than a gambler’s bet on Pascal’s wager. When you’re dying, oxygen intake is declining, and the brain is not functioning clearly any more.

        Constantine was driven by the lust for power, not religiosity. He got baptized on his deathbed. Theodosius fell seriously sick during his first year as an Emperor, and near death, decided to get baptized. As Gibbon described it “he received the sacrament of baptism from Acholius, the orthodox bishop of Thessalonica: and, as the emperor ascended from the holy font, still glowing with the warm feelings of regeneration, he dictated a solemn edict, which proclaimed his own faith, and prescribed the religion of his subjects. ” (Ch. XXVII, Part 1).
        This was the famous Edict of Thessalonika (380) which put the Catholic Church on the map and gave it the keys to the immense ready-made market of the Roman Empire, establishing it as the only legal form of Christianity, and branding all other sects as heretics. Theodosius, unknowingly changed, the course of history in the West. This was the only miracle in Christian history.

        Voltaire, the most ferocious enemy of the Christian Church, was also subject to pressure on his deathbed. The Church propaganda claimed that he accepted last rites. But he was refused a Christian burial, a proof that the old fighter didn’t give in.

        Catholics tried a similar trick after Paul-Louis Couchoud’s death. Jean Guitton, a famous Catholic apologist declared in his eulogy that Couchoud had “died in the faith”, due to his meeting with a female mysticist called Marthe Robin.
        Considering Couchoud’s intransigent denial of Jesus’s historicity, lifelong quarrels against the Christian Church establishment, and his solid rationalism, it is not easy to imagine him giving in to the blandishments of a female lunatic. This seems to be another one of those French religious scams, too frequent in Catholic-infused cultures.

        • 2012-07-07 19:39:00 UTC - 19:39 | Permalink

          Granted, deathbed conversions are a scam. And Pascal’s Wager likewise, is not entirely correct either: there is great harm in embracing a false god. So that even deathbed conversions to simple, traditional, believing Christianity, are dangerous.

          So, given all that … what can we do, in a positive way, to return Hoffmann, even in his later years, to sanity?

          Hoffmann is far closer to the Mythicist position than anyone would think from the interneccine battles we see here. He once seriously and systematically entertained the Historicist vs. Mythicist idea specifically, in the original Jesus Project of 2007-9. And? He did not absolutely come out against Mythicism at that time, some say. Instead Hoffmann is usually characterized as merely coming to the Agnostic conclusion: that there simply was not enough evidence to conclusively say that there was – or was not – an Historical Jesus.

          Hoffmann therefore, is not far from The Truth. Is there any argument we can use to persuade him? And end divisive bickering?

          Most Historicists in fact, acknowledge many myths in coventional Christianity. Most Historicists acknowledge that many elements of what came to be thought of as “Jesus Christ” were invented, mythical; even Hoffmann firmly suggested in my conversation with him that many Pauline ideas, Pauline elements of Christianity, were myths and personal motives (like “jealousy” of Jesus), added to the original gospels.

          So our views are not THAT far apart. Can Mythicists and Historicists therefore agree on some common credo? Among other things, I’ve proposed this credo, that might be acceptable to both Mythicists and Historicists alike. Something like this formula: “Jesus, at least in the form that he has been described to us by most churches, did not exist.”

  • Badger3k
    2012-07-07 09:30:35 UTC - 09:30 | Permalink

    Just a minor point – haven’t read this yet but will – is it a “blogpost” or an “essay”? We wouldn’t want to remove the taint of scholarship from Hoffman and actually say he would post to something so common as a blog, would we?

    • 2012-07-07 09:49:00 UTC - 09:49 | Permalink

      What? Did I call a post on a blog a blogpost? How careless of me. I will have to be more careful next time when speaking about the New Oxonion, won’t I! 😉

    • Badger3k
      2012-07-07 10:02:26 UTC - 10:02 | Permalink

      Ok, read it – very informative. I’m still learning more about all the related works (Talmud, etc), so this is all pretty new to me. I appreciate the effort and the arguments, and it wasn’t that long.

  • Bob Carlson
    2012-07-07 09:53:31 UTC - 09:53 | Permalink

    Concerning Paul, Kenneth Humphries says:

    If, as seems likely, Marcion created what would become the New Testament Paul as a messenger for his own ideas, he almost certainly used biographical material from his own life, particularly the power struggle he waged with the collective in Rome. Marcion, like “Paul”, alone knew the truth, a mystery made manifest to him by revelation.

    It seems almost certain that “born of a woman” would not have been a creation of Marcion or his followers, which is all the more reason to suppose it is an interpolation.

  • 2012-07-07 19:20:12 UTC - 19:20 | Permalink

    It’s controversial – and very hard to prove – that Paul was a direct fictional creation of Marcion, or of countless other docetic, gnotistic, ascetic groups around at the time of early Christianity.

    But? It’s very, very easy to prove that Paul’s writing manifested in spades, the chief characteristic of these movements: dualistic spirituality. Platonistic/Manichean dualism. Dualism was a very, very common idea in ancient philosophy. The idea was that the whole universe was divided into two things – crass material things, vs. ideal spiritual forms. And that only the spiritual side of life, spirit, was good, because it was immortal.

    There were many, many dualistic schemes out there; not just Marcion. In most of them, the fundamental idea was thist it is asserted that the whole universe is divided into two things, “Spirit”s and Crass Material Matter. And of the two, spirit is said to be better; immortal. Spirit is said to be immune to the fate of all material, “flesh”ly and “worldly” things, that get old, and rot or “perish.” Therefore, it is better to be “spiritual,” than materialistic, it was said by countless ascetic monks and priests.

    Clearly one or more of the dozens of Dualist movements around in Paul’s time, greatly influenced Paul. But most likey, it was Paul’s exposure specifically to the hierarchial dualism of Plato’s Theory of Forms. Paul in fact closely quotes the basic vocabulary used by Plato. When Paul spoke of things here on this “earth,” being mere “imperfect” and “perish”able “copes” of the ideal, spiritual forms, or models – or “paradigms” – in “heaven.”

    Christianity was created by Paul, surreptitiously modifying Judaism in an essentially Hellenistic – and more specifically, Platonistic – direction.

    No doubt though, Plato’s dualistic, spiritual Theory of Forms, from c. 350 BCE, was the original source of many of Marcion’s ideas too. So that Paul could have come by Plato’s Theory of Forms, in part by way of (even being created by?) Marcion.

  • Bob Carlson
    2012-07-07 22:36:32 UTC - 22:36 | Permalink

    It’s controversial – and very hard to prove – that Paul was a direct fictional creation of Marcion, or of countless other docetic, gnotistic, ascetic groups around at the time of early Christianity.

    If there is no evidence for Paul beyond the words of the New Testament, the existence of Paul is no more provable than that of Jesus. Hence, it seems all the more ironic that the writings attributed to Paul are used to argue both for and against the historicity of Jesus

    • Anna Nimus
      2012-07-07 22:52:56 UTC - 22:52 | Permalink

      Paul being non-existent outside of the NT, or even being non-historical, would not by default make him “a direct fictional creation of Marcion” would it? Don’t lose track of the point that was being made.

      • Bob Carlson
        2012-07-08 04:08:51 UTC - 04:08 | Permalink

        The point that was being made is that it is very hard to prove that Paul was a direct fictional creation of Marcion. Rather than being hard to prove, I think it is impossible to prove, just as I think it is impossible to prove that either Paul or Jesus had or had not existed.

        • 2012-07-08 04:31:13 UTC - 04:31 | Permalink

          My point being next, that since it is difficult to prove that Paul existed, or was the creation of Marcion … why not simply hold in suspension the real existence of Paul. While simply suggesting that, real or not, the character we know as “Paul” in the New Testament, was perceived to be real by many; and so words issued in his name were very influential. So that we might examine what this character said.

          Specifically, what was this “Paul” taken to be saying? He was very oriented toward “spirit”uality. And this character often mounted a very, very gnostic, spiritual attack on material existence; the “flesh” and the “world.” And therefore, this character – which was very influential on believers, whether he was historically real or not – cannot be taken to be supporting the material reality of Jesus.

          • Bob Carlson
            2012-07-08 11:32:10 UTC - 11:32 | Permalink

            Okay, but doesn’t that lead to the question of when the writings of this character called Paul came into existence? Usually, they are presumed to have come into existence in the first century, but if the story about him is fiction, then it is likely that it wasn’t until the middle of the second century. To me, that seems like an important question.

            • 2012-07-08 16:44:04 UTC - 16:44 | Permalink

              Yes, that is an important consideration: maybe Paul himself did not exist, but is a fiction. This is ultimately a useful consideration; and helps further to demonstrate problems with the Bible in general. While in the recent past, many scholars questioned Paul’s authorship of at least one or two books, and even the entire corpus.

              To to be sure though, it’s a slightly tougher argument today. Most scholars today agree that the Pauline corpus is so uniform, as to suggest a very consistent author; suggesting the same individual wrote most of it. Though we might suggest that the same cultural tradition – a church – is responsible for its uniformity?

              I agree that it’s an important argument. But difficult as it is, and as “radical” as your suggestion seems to everyday believers, I usually prefer to simply suspend the question, as an explosive issue. And to for the moment simply speak of Paul (and for that matter, Jesus) as characters, legends, who are commonly taken as real, and whose words are given much weight. Addressing their words therefore at more or less face value. For purposes of discussion.

              But the interesting thing here is that, even without considering deeper questions and doubts like those you properly raise here, I find that the Bible, taken just in itself, turns out to be a far, far more flexible, literary, and studiously, deliberately ambiguous document, than most churches know. Famously, even The Church acknowledges that the Bible can be read in at least two major ways: 1) literally, and 2) metaphorically, or allegorically. So that the Church itself allows the possibility that the events of the Bible – even Jesus’s mother, and Jesus himself – were not necessarily as physically and historically real, as many thought.

              In particular, Paul’s writings seem to lean very, very heavily toward an “allegorical” reading, as he himself at least once indicates; Paul himself suggesting specifically reading him not “literal”ly as he says, but as a “spiritual” “allegory. ”

              So finally Dauherty it seems, and certainly I, suggest this, here and in my several conversations with Hoffmann: since the Church and Paul constantly invite a spiritual reading, in effect I suggest they and much of the Bible were all rather heirarchially dualistic, or “spiritual.” To the point that any apparent solid materiality to anything in especially Paul’s writings – like the apparent materiality of Jesus’ mother, or of jesus himself – is far, far less solid than many Historicists assert.

              Specifically? Even when we just limit ourselves to what the biblical texts themselves apparently said, the Pauline corpus especially is “spiritual” enough, dualistic enough, to dismiss any notion that a few references to a Jesus “born of a woman,” prove that Paul thought of Mary and Jesus, as very physical, historical beings.

  • Anna Nimus
    2012-07-07 22:47:41 UTC - 22:47 | Permalink

    Neil wrote: “The evidence we have testifies that it was not known until the late first century at the earliest — though recall that the earliest version of Matthew does not appear to know of the teaching either.”

    What version is this that you are referring to? Is it a particular manuscript? If so, which one? Or are you going by quotation/reference to Matthew by the early father? Etc.?

    Neil also wrote: “So the available evidence is against the virgin birth being known as early as the time of Paul. We first encounter it in Origen‘s writings against the Jewish critic of Christianity, Celsus.”

    I’m a little confused. It sounds like you are saying the virgin birth is first mentioned by Origen. Is that true, or did you still have the Ben Pandira story in mind when you mentioned Origen here?

    Because if you are indeed saying Origen was the first to mention the virgin birth, did not Ignatius mention the virginity of Mary? And I’ll have to go back and reread, but it seems unlikely that it was never mentioned by Irenaeus or Tertullian.

    • Anna Nimus
      2012-07-07 22:49:52 UTC - 22:49 | Permalink

      One more question, did you mean to write “Galatian” rather than “Genesis” when you wrote:
      “Earl Doherty has written up a statistical survey of Paul’s uses of the various words translated as ‘born’ and demonstrated that uniqueness of the expression and context of Genesis 4:4.”

    • 2012-07-08 01:28:02 UTC - 01:28 | Permalink

      Codex Sinaiticus Syriacus — as per the preceding Zindler quote.

      My Origen/Celsus reference was to the Pandera story in response to the virgin birth narraive. The virgin birth is first found in our canonical Matthew. (Ignatius — as per Roger Parvus’s posts here — was quite likely a name attributed to an Apellean writing in the 140s.) (Writing a lengthy post in fits and starts over several late evenings seems to have resulted in something not fully clear here. I have tried to re-edit it a little now.)

      Genesis should be Galatians of course. Have corrected it, thanks.

      P.S. I am also intrigued by Zindler’s pointing out that even Luke’s nativity account is not as unambiguous about the virgin birth as commonly assumed. Mary and Joseph appear to be co-habiting in his account. The angel appears to Mary while she is still with Joseph. She then leaves to visit Elisabeth and returns 3 months later 3 months pregnant.

      • Anna Nimus
        2012-07-08 10:49:33 UTC - 10:49 | Permalink

        Ah, thanks for clearing that up.

        Yeah, it is conspicuous that in both Matthew and Luke, if I recall correctly, Mary is only referred to as a “virgin” prior to the annunciation, and NEVER after that point, not even during her pregnancy. Hmmm…

        • 2012-07-09 04:48:02 UTC - 04:48 | Permalink

          Then too? 1) It’s commonly suggested by scholars that “virgin” just meant in effect, a “young girl.” Not so many girls were examined by OB/GYNS in those days, to confirm literal virginity; it was just assumed that most young girls were. While for that matter, 2) if Mary was impregnated by a human “lord,” the ambiguities in the word “lord” could lend themselves to the confused idea that it was all about disembodied spirits – or The Lord God Jehovah, and so forth.

  • Andrew
    2012-07-08 00:16:07 UTC - 00:16 | Permalink

    “Likewise Earl Doherty has written that the concept of Christ “coming into existence” or “being made” from a woman was surely derived the same way Paul says he acquired all his other information about Christ — from revelation, in particular revelation from the scriptures (Isaiah 7:14).”

    The simplest explanations are often the most plausible in biblical problems. Paul found a verse in the Septuagint about a Messiah figure who was born of a woman, and just inserted that into one of his essays. There were no rumors of “Mamzer” Jesus to deal with, but even if there were, “born of a woman, born under law” would hardly have been an effective counterstrike, particularly from such a skilled polemicist as Paul.

  • John
    2012-07-08 02:11:45 UTC - 02:11 | Permalink

    The similar expression “born of woman” is used in the OT to describe a mortal man: “Man born of woman is short-lived and sated with trouble” (Job 14:1); “What is man that he can be cleared of guilt, one born of woman, that he be in the right?” (15:14); “How can man be in the right before God? How can one born of woman be cleared of guilt?” (25:4).

    This is similar to the way it is used in the NT: “Among them that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist” (Lk. 7:28; Mt. 11:11).

    Perhaps this is also what Paul (or an interpolator) means in Gal. 4:4.

    • John
      2012-07-08 02:36:23 UTC - 02:36 | Permalink

      Additionally, though Paul doesn’t say “born” or “made” in 1 Cor. 11:12, he uses similar language to describe mortal men there: “For as the woman is of the man, so is the man also by the woman …”

      • 2012-07-08 04:38:47 UTC - 04:38 | Permalink

        Likewise, we are also told by many scholars that “son of Man” was also a common term, meaning simply, “mortal.” A son of men … rather than being an immortal son of immortal gods. The term was widely used for mortals, even in the Bible itself; where for example, Ezekiel is constantly referred to as the “son of Man.’

        “Born of a woman,” born as “the son of a man”; in either case the intent was usually to say that the being in question is as yet still a mortal, with at least partially normal human parentage. And not a god.

  • Pingback: On Not Explaining “Born of a Woman” « The New Oxonian

    • Brettongarcia
      2012-07-08 19:32:08 UTC - 19:32 | Permalink

      My position is that it was actually the briefest comment by Neil, that has been the most telling criticism of taking “born of a woman” seriously. Neil’s comment simply noted that after all, many myths often speak of mythic characters being born of a woman; but that does not mean that the myth is based on historical, material facts. It just means that the myth told a lie, when it claimed to state real, material, historical roots behind the story.

      Myths often lie. Therefore? When an alleged myth claims real roots, that claim should not be taken seriously, at face value.

      When a liar says he is telling the truth, do you believe him? When Paul or a myth insist they are telling the truth, that they are citing real historical reality … we should take that as being possibly, just another lie, from just another liar.

  • Pingback: The Lost Half of Christianity « Vridar

  • Pingback: Reply to Hoffmann’s “On Not Explaining ‘Born of a Woman’” « Vridar

  • Pingback: Conversations around the Blogosphere

  • Pingback: Was Paul’s Jesus an Historical Figure? — ‘Is This Not the Carpenter?’ ch. 8 « Vridar

  • Pingback: Vridar » The “Born of a Woman” / Galatians 4:4 INDEX

  • Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *