Beyond Tradition

As the Ancient World Turns

 by Sean D. Harmon 

I noted in my previous articles (starting here: Jesus Christmas) that the virgin birth was not only uncharacteristic of first century Judaic theology, but the virgin birth "copy-cat myth" theory raises a number of implausible and historical difficulties and as a fabrication that render it an untenable fabrication. However, another ongoing theory for its existence that was proposed -- one of the earliest theories -- was a Nativity scandal. That Mary really became impregnated by a Roman soldier named Pantera or Panthera, was banished from Joseph's household (and undoubtedly the community) and fled to Egypt where Jesus was born and raised as the bastard son of this illicit affair, where he acquired mystical powers and insight before he returned to Judea many years later to start his messianic campaign. Thus, the Judeo-Christians made up the virgin birth to cover up this potentially disastrous scandal. It seems that this story only came to our attention in the second century through the church father Origen with his Contra Celsus rebuttals,[1] yet rumors also seem to be hinted at in 2-5th century additions of the Talmud and may or may not (depending on it's legitimacy and accuracy) be a rather interesting attestation to the unusual circumstances surrounding Jesus' birth and the alternative explanation used by his opponents to discredit it. Unfortunately, Celsus' records were lost, so not only can we not prove whether the story came from a source earlier than the second century, but can't prove how reliable the source actually was, or if Celsus had embellished it with some of own contra Christian spin. It certainly appears that a Jewish source was in fact used by Celsus, evident by the way Origen seems to heave continuous insults at Celsus and his sources in a rather nasty (what some might view as antisemitic) way.

Depending on the reliability of these sources, however, this may also be another logical explanation as to the lack of discussion about it in any other canon records of the New Testament other than Matthew and Luke. From the previous article (here: Jesus Christmas, Church collusion), we know that the tradition common to both Matthew and Luke was unquestionably circulating among Jewish Christians as early as pre-70 CE. However, if this tradition had been invented for the sole purpose of a conspiratorial cover-up, it is odd that Mark and John did not include the story, particularly John who was clearly unabashed about expressing Jesus' divine origins (discussed here: My Logos is Better Than Yours). A story invented to cover a scandal would have either been proclaimed unceasingly from the rooftops to effectively counter such a scandal, or would have been refuted as being an obvious sham and possible heresy.

In either case, as an invention, we would have heard something more about the story by writers in the New Testament around the turn of the century other than Matthew and Luke. In light of this strange and stark collective silence, it would instead seem to logically imply two things:


  • The virgin birth was not that important to first century Christian evangelism apart from Jesus' death and resurrection necessary for salvation that was at the very core of the movement.
  • If early rumors about the suspicious nature of Jesus' birth did exist, Christians were forced into a catch-22 -- damned if they tried to dispute the rumors and damned if they didn't -- so their attention to other more essential evangelistic issues seemed like a natural option.


Judaic reality check

Assuming the story is indeed historical and if we look at this realistically, we certainly could speculate that rumors inevitably spread in the community that Joseph and Mary lived in at some point since this is typical human nature. After all, if terms like "bastard," "illegitimate," "adulteress" can be found in modern secular sources to describe Jesus and Mary, imagine the nastiness and skepticism this family faced from their own contemporary conservative peers, within an environment that was as fundamentalist as most Islamic theocracies today (discussed here: The Body Snatchers, Potential martyrdom). And since Joseph himself thought that the pregnancy was the result of Mary's unfaithfulness, it's certainly not a stretch to assume others thought so as well.

The gospel of Matthew (1:18-19) indicates that Joseph didn't want to make a scene and made plans to "privately" cancel the engagement when he at first heard the news (the irrationality of it all even had Joseph so convinced that apparently an angel had to intervene), either so the assumed suitor could properly take her hand in marriage,[2] or he was actually preventing her from being charged with a capital offense (i.e. Deuteronomy 22:20-21).

The gospel of Luke (1:38-39; 38:56) indicates she was at least in her third term of pregnancy before she and Joseph left for Bethlehem, and considering Elisabeth and Zacharias (John the Baptist's parents), whose baby came from natural conception, knew about the pregnancy, the story would have naturally leaked to someone, somewhere prior to them leaving, thus speculative whispers would have inevitably sparked in the neighborhood at some point. Naturally, not everyone would have bought into this miraculous claim, particularly being that these people were Jews and not at all readily open to such a foreign concept of such an astounding Jewish birth. Moreover Joseph, being a Jewish man, would have been given the benefit of the doubt in this case. The unusual birth would have undoubtedly been the primary cause that sparked rumors in the first place for those very reasons (could this be the reason Joseph felt the need to take Mary on the journey to Bethlehem -- to protect her?). This was not the 21st century. This was a conservative Jewish setting that existed in the first century Near East. Since Mary and Joseph were not yet married, in the context of Judaic culture, the situation would have been extremely difficult and awkward.[3] Joseph would have been forced to claim Jesus as his adoptive son, unless he simply claimed Jesus as his own. Had the latter been the case, Joseph faced shaming himself as a sexual deviant who couldn't control his urges, which is something that would have been difficult in light of the religious formality and conduct of the culture. If Joseph declared to be an adoptive father, then questions of who the real father was would have been inevitably left open. If they had been honest about how the birth came about, they faced almost certain skepticism and the unpredictable repercussions of that situation.

What's worse is that scholars speculate that since Joseph is mentioned nowhere else in canon scripture, he may have died sometime while Jesus was still young, and there's a good possibility Jesus' parentage would have been left lingering unresolved among outsiders. James Charlesworth suggests that Jesus may have even been labeled a mamzer (illegitimate) at some point by his peers.[4] Since Joseph would have been the only one who could validate Jesus' legitimacy in a court of law, this would have been an exceptionally volatile situation, especially in the context of such an honor-shame society as this was.[5]

According to references in the Talmud, he may also have been identified as a foundling or "silent one" or even kasher if his genealogical status could not be confirmed. Though in some cases this wasn't as severe, particularly if proper legalistic protocols were followed,[6] we could imagine a potential for obvious social stigmas at play here. And of course, with antagonists watching Jesus' every step throughout his ministry, you better believe they would have been able to sniff this issue out about his origins, and though he may have been accepted as legitimate under certain legal guidelines, had Joseph not been around at the time, no one else would have been able to contest any rumors or accusations of infidelity on behalf of Mary and her family from the local gossipers.

The point to all this is that, even in spite of the miraculous, rumors about infidelity is a stark reality we'd expect in this situation, which actually bolsters the virgin birth story. The rumors about his birth that popped up in ancient Jewish writings later on is par for the course had his birth been unusual, and something we would expect his opponents to refute instead of just ignoring, yet less likely something one would expect to find based on a fictional virgin mythology. In other words, if the virgin birth was just a fiction, it's less likely his opponents would have had reason to take the issue seriously. Thus, the actual reality of rumor and defamation are all indicative of something unusual about the birth of Christ that couldn't be satisfactorily explained. The earliest implication of rumor seems to be as early as the gospel of John, where an interesting verbal exchange between Jesus and the religious leaders takes place (note: Jesus is referring spiritually to God as his "Father" in this discourse)…


John 8:18-49 "(Jesus speaking) 'I am he who testifies about myself, and the Father who sent me testifies about me."' So they (the Jewish leaders) were saying to him, 'Where is your Father?' Jesus answered, 'You know neither me nor my Father; if you knew me, you would know my Father also… 'I speak the things which I have seen with my Father; therefore you also do the things which you heard from your father.' They answered and said to him, 'Abraham is our father' Jesus said to them, 'If you are Abraham's children, do the deeds of Abraham. But as it is, you are seeking to kill me, a man who has told you the truth, which I heard from God; this Abraham did not do. You are doing the deeds of your father (Satan).' They said to him, 'We were not born of fornication; we have one Father: God.' Jesus said to them, 'If God were your Father, you would love me, for I proceeded forth and have come from God, for I have not even come on my own initiative, but he sent me… Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I speak truth, why do you not believe me? He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God.' The Jews answered and said to him, 'Do we not say rightly that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?' Jesus answered, 'I do not have a demon; but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me.'"


The interesting nuggets are in bold. We should first note here that there is no justifiable reason to assume John made this up even though this incident is recorded only in his gospel. First of all, it clearly doesn't reflect too positively on Jesus. Moreover, if this is in fact a hint that there were indeed early rumors about Jesus' birth, John certainly would not have had any motive to make up a story that would have only exacerbated the problem, particularly since he didn't include the Nativity story. The key clues in this passage apparently imply three things:


  • They believed Jesus did not know who or where his true human father was.
  • They believed he may have been conceived in fornication.
  • They accused him of not being a true Jew, or from Abraham's lineage, and that his father may have been a Samaritan (considered an inferior race of Jews or "half breeds").


As was pointed out earlier, such rumors are certainly inevitable, which would lift this above just speculation. Jesus and his followers proclaimed he was the Messiah, the Son of David. There were undoubtedly quite a few people who would have snooped around and investigated his background and history closely, especially because of such a claim, and this is indeed a certainty in light of this culture being obsessed with parentage and genealogies for the purposes of determining royal and priestly legitimacy (discussed here: Vain Genealogies). Had they found anything fishy or unusual about his birth, they would have liked nothing better than to start such rumors or even add fuel to keep them inflamed not only to stop his ministry by discrediting his reputation, but to undermine his claim to the Davidic throne.

How convenient it would have been to achieve such a likely goal if his birth was questionable or unusual, particularly with Joseph not been around to defend Mary's honor against inevitable suspicions. If John's incident is in fact a result of such rumors, this would not only attest to John's blatant honesty for including this incident, but self-evident that the virgin birth tradition was already known even before Jesus was crucified. Once again, John logically would not have included this account if there was in fact a cover-up involved, because this was counterintuitive to his obvious religious goals. John excluding the virgin birth story yet including this account would have only perpetuated those rumors with nothing as a counter against it, and it would have been impossible for Jesus' disciples, particularly John, not to have known such potential rumors about his birth existed at the time.

The externals

Of course, you'll find Celsus' story delightfully twisted and exploited all over skeptic sites, yet what intrigued me about the Pantera story personally was the fact that a specific name was used as the culprit in the alleged affair, and I wanted to find out just where this story came from. However, in researching it closely, what I found was a hopeless tapestry of speculation on top of speculation, wrapped in more speculation on all fronts of this subject, particularly the accounts found in the Talmud. Since the externals are hopelessly inconclusive, bias and based on arbitrary views, I won't bother getting into it. One only needs to do a search for it on the Internet to find a slew of sites about the subject. Therefore, we'll focus instead on the internals of the cover-up itself from Celsus' point of view, which should come as no surprise, is once again racked with illogic.

The internals

Assuming Mary indeed had an affair and was banished in disgrace, as Celsus argued, the question that would naturally arise is why they would create an even more controversial story to cover up another? However, before we specifically get into that, we must first assume a couple of things beforehand. We must believe that religious fervor was enough for early Judeo-Christians to outright lie and invent such a cover-up in the first place. It's a common view to think that all Christians in every century lived in the same environment and had the same characteristics, ideals, appeals and agendas as Christians in the subsequent centuries who engaged in scripture tampering, cover-ups, scandals, inquisitions, bloody holy wars, persecution all for religious agendas, which is simply an erroneous and naive way to assess history. These weren't the days of Roman Catholic churches and nefarious power-hungry Popes, and it seems unlikely that first century Judeo-Christians would have had anything to lose or even cared enough to take it to the point of a desperate cover-up by inventing a wild virgin birth story.

Modern church scandals typically engage in cover-ups to protect their interests, which is usually based on prestige, political power or financial factors. Christians had no political prestige until the 4th century, and obviously had no way of knowing how huge Christianity would become in the proceeding centuries, Moreover, many of them probably expected the Lord's return in their generation, thus Judeo-Christians certainly never anticipated the movement past the turn of the first century. So, here we have an absurd notion that a movement -- based on a disgraced Messiah who had died one of the worse and most humiliating executions one could die, thus miserably failed in the political expectations they were expecting of the Messiah previously -- willing to continue his legacy regardless, and willing to even fabricate a farfetched virgin birth story to cover up even more humiliating facts about his life and his family.

Secondly, these also weren't the days of paparazzi and media technology, thus, there was no real means for this so-called scandal to have been broadcasted enough to do any significant damage that would have required such a drastic cover-up. In other words, if rumors were prevalent in the local Judaic community, this wouldn't have been much of a factor to those in the rest of the Mediterranean and Roman Empire who never even heard of the family.

Thirdly, there was essentially nothing for the first century Christian to achieve or protect in the way of prestige or political and financial gain apart from persecution; in fact, even though the early movement somewhat thrived before persecution ran most of those in the movement outside Jerusalem (Acts 8:1), the main Christian headquarters located in Jerusalem suffered poverty as a result (Romans 15:25-26). Hence, a so-called scandal such as this doesn't have much of a motivating necessity in the first century.

Bypassing these issues, however, we must then assume that all four authors Matthew, Mark, Luke and John lied. Though the gospel of Mark and John did not include the virgin birth story, as we pointed out in a previous article (here: My Logos is Bigger Than Yours), not only did John take the story for granted, accentuating it by adding theological elements that would have likely been associated with it, or at least complimented it, but John recorded that Jesus' father Joseph was thought of as his "true father" by the community (John 6:42).

Mark also confirmed that Mary and her siblings were known and presently living in the Galilean community as well (Mark 6:3). If Celsus' story is true about Mary banished by her husband in disgrace and then fleeing to Egypt where she had raised Jesus, then they both obviously made this up. But why, unless we assume all four knew of the rumors, thus attempted to cover it up, hence, we have a full blown conspiracy theory here? This implies collusion, which conflicts with evidence that the authors were either independent (at least in the case of Luke and Matthew), or were more independent from the others in their own particular goals than this theory allows. In any event, with those issues aside, we can now move on and basically look at four options we have as a cover-up:


  1. Matthew and Luke made up the story themselves as a cover-up, or Matthew invented it as a cover-up and Luke copied him (knowing what he was doing), and purposely wrote it differently to avoid detection or just got carried away with his own creativity.
  2. Matthew invented it as a cover-up; Luke copied him not knowing it was false.
  3. Matthew and Luke independently drew it from a separate traditional source, which was the cover-up source, and both not knowing it was meant as a cover-up.
  4. Matthew and Luke independently drew it from a separate traditional source, which was the cover-up source, both somehow knowing that it was indeed a cover-up.


Options #1-2 are not at all tenable since not only did I make a firm case against either one inventing it, but an even stronger case that the story as a collaborative invention between the two, or one copying the other is simply not plausible (here: Jesus Christmas, Church collusion). This becomes even more of a factor in the case of conspirators with the intent to cover something up. Conspirators usually don't think to deviate their stories, but make them as agreeable as possible.

Since this tradition would have been circulating widely enough to be accessible to two independent authors, it would also be quite unrealistic to believe that either Matthew or Luke would not have been aware of the fact that the story was false, as well as cognizant of the controversy surrounding the birth of their Lord that made the story necessary in the first place, in addition to the inevitable contentions that would have been raised in the church and the communities about the story. This rules out #3. Option #4 seems the best choice, which isn't saying much, because it too is plagued with complications.

One of the things that makes this problematic is the sheer implausibility that a cover-up story like this, which was obviously circulating wide enough to have been independently accessible to both Matthew and Luke, faced no contentions or discussions about it from any other outside Christian source (i.e. Paul, Peter, John, James, Jude, Clement I, Ignatius, etc) earlier than the second century (discussed in more detail here: Jesus Christmas: The very quiet controversy). The later church fathers of the second century themselves (Polycarp, Irenaeus, Clement II, Justin Martyr, Eusebius, Tertullian, etc.), who never hid anything in the way of controversies and schisms that had occurred in the early church, never pointed out any such controversies with the story, something they would not have been ashamed to do had such controversies existed from the first century. In other words, the silence about the virgin birth story among Judeo-Christians in the first century and Christians of the second century aware of the history of the first century is probably the single greatest factor that bolsters its authenticity. But moving on....

A cover-up in comedy

If it was a cover-up story, it would have been one of the most harebrained attempts at a cover-up ever in the history of ancient literature and would have been as logical as trying to put out a fire with gasoline. Origen definitely saw right through this ridiculous argument in regards to this issue,[7] but let's elaborate. According to Matthew's account, Joseph found Mary pregnant, naturally assumed she had been unfaithful and arranged a private annulment. The angel, however, intervenes in Joseph's dream and tells him to take Mary as his wife and that her child was conceived by the Holy Ghost. Matthew himself also confirms that the child was produced before she and Joseph "came together" and was "of the Holy Ghost." So, in Matthew's account, we're essentially to take Matthew's word for it and a dream that Joseph had.

Luke actually takes it a step above Matthew and has the angel himself tell Mary in person that the "Most High" will "overshadow her." However, this isn't saying much either, because this vague reference could have been interpreted in any number of ways, such as God simply assisting in the birth somehow or merely blessing or sanctifying the birth. In fact, the Greek phrase "will overshadow you" in other areas of the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament) simply implied being empowered and protected by God.[8] In both stories, there was no God/Mary mating, no graphic illustration of how the incarnation itself took place that was prevalent in most other ancient birth fables, nor was there any theological explanation why the process was even necessary, elements that are typically present in fabricated stories, and is especially odd had this been an invention in order to vanquish any misconceptions or convince an ancient audience of doubters that the miraculous had indeed occurred.

Celsus argued, according to his unnamed source, that Joseph banished Mary from his house (she undoubtedly would have also fled from the community in shame and fear of persecution), but then there should have been no point for Joseph to actually keep her as his wife in the cover-up story if Celsus' story was in fact what actually occurred. Joseph was a nobody in the eyes of the early Christians, in fact, not only is he an irrelevant iconic Christian figure, but not even mentioned again after the birth anywhere in the canon New Testament, except an incident in the gospel of Luke (2:41-50) when Jesus is twelve; a brief incident where Joseph's name is mentioned only, has no significance to the story whatsoever which was primarily focused on Mary and Jesus -- and could have easily been dropped from the scene entirely.

Moreover, if Markan priority is true (Mark's gospel was written first, and the others used it as a reference), then it was certainly not a problem to exclude Joseph because Mark does not mention Joseph at all. Thus, it would have made more sense and less conflicting to Celsus' story if the cover-up story pointed out that the birth was divinely induced, but Joseph thought Mary had cheated and went through with the annulment, then Mary could have fled from the community if this is what actually happened. In other words, after Joseph banishes her (according to Celsus' account), Joseph could have conveniently disappeared from the records, thus they are done with him. Yet this was not the case.

Matthew and Luke further complicate the issue by recording Joseph's genealogy (which itself is racked with unending controversy). This was just another pointless complication since Mary's Davidic line through her own father would have been more than sufficient for Jesus' Davidic (Messianic) claim, which was the genetic line. If Mary's father (Jesus' grandfather) was of the Davidic line (an easy implication the virgin birth inventors could have pointed out or fabricated, whichever the case), and had no immediate sons, this would have automatically passed down to Jesus through Mary from his grandfather according to the Levirate inheritance clause in the Old Testament (Numbers 27:1-11).

Some might argue that Joseph was needed as a justification to bring them to Bethlehem, David's birthplace, in order to fulfill the Bethlehem prophecy about the Messiah being born there (Micah 5:2 ), and Joseph, who was of the descendancy of David, was obviously required to register in Bethlehem at the time Mary was conveniently due (Luke 2:4). Yet, ironically, Luke does not mention the Micah prophecy and Matthew does not mention the census, so neither one needed a justification here, and either one could have simply had Mary flee to Bethlehem to escape the persecution and scorn from her countrymen or just traveled with anonymous family members. Point being, keeping the Bethlehem connection without Joseph was not a problem that couldn't have easily been solved.

Matthew's story is based on adoption anyway since he points out emphatically that his genealogy came directly from Joseph (Matthew 1:16), who obviously wasn't the biological father since Matthew records the miraculous birth. Hence, anyone from the same lineage could have sufficed for adoption. Joseph is not only unnecessary, but clearly an inconvenience, forcing Luke to state that Jesus "was the supposed son of Joseph" (Luke 3:23), attempting a justification for Joseph's involvement, yet both going out of their way to point out that he was not the biological father. In Celsus' story, assuming this is the real story, Joseph banishes Mary. In Matthew's story, Joseph thought Mary had cheated, which is why he presumably banished her, yet Matthew strangely shows Joseph in an honorable light. Making Joseph the obvious villain would have been the logical course for Matthew to take.  

Matthew actually admitted that Joseph thought Mary had cheated and was ready to privately banish her which, supposing the scandal to be true, was an actual admission of the scandal. Thus we would have to assume Matthew was either really dumb or really smart. If the former is true, it seems likely that someone not too bright would have avoided any and all hints of the original account in order to skirt any unnecessary suspicion. If the latter is true, then Matthew was very clever to craft a story similar to the original in order to make his version seem as genuine as possible. However, this contradicts Matthew's next harebrained creation, where he puts the problematic spotlight on it even more by peppering it with an unconventional "virgin" scripture he pulled out of the Old Testament book Isaiah, touting it as a fulfillment of this event (discussed here: Jesus Christmas, The virgin controversy). At this point, this is as ridiculous as an unfaithful wife using an alien abduction story as a cover-up for her pregnancy during an affair, then arguing it was a fulfillment of prophecy that was found in a secret code embedded within the U.S. Constitution as proof. In other words, you don't cover-up scandals by inventing things that are more fantastic, controversial and even less believable.

Oddly enough, Matthew again showed conservatism with the story by not having the angel himself verify the prophecy of Isaiah in order to give it that extra weight of confirmation. Once again, we are left to take Matthew's word for it and his ability to interpret scripture properly. Matthew (2:16) also records a bloody massacre of children in Bethlehem by Herod the Great, something that would have certainly been known and easy to verify, and quite frankly dangerous had any of Herod's cohorts gotten a hold of this story. Luke further runs wild with it, recording an account of Joseph and Mary venturing off to Bethlehem for registration because of a national census; a major historical and political event everyone would have known wasn't true.

So, what we're essentially left to believe is that Matthew and Luke went to great lengths to dissuade detractors, yet ridiculously twisted historical and circumstantial events surrounding the birth that could have been facts and figures any of the detractors were in a position to refute, yet both abstained from embellishing any divine illustrations of the actual miraculous birth itself which was something that would have been impossible to refute and would have added more visual emphasis and confirmation that the miracle happened. James Tabor states…

"Generally speaking such tales tend to be alien to most forms of ancient Judaism."

Uh… ya. So, why go to such a ridiculous extreme?
Matthew (1:18) and Luke (1:27) point out that Joseph was espoused or betrothed to Mary, which was a binding pre-marital contract in Jewish culture.[10] If we assume Celsus had either gotten the facts wrong or peppered some of the account with his own contra Christian rhetoric, but the actual account of infidelity with Pantera was true and Joseph did in fact keep her as his wife anyway, then the virgin story would have been pointless all together. They could have simply suggested Joseph impregnated Mary before they officially married and Joseph denied it afterwards out of shame. If Matthew's account about Joseph wanting to keep the whole thing private was true, why didn't Joseph and Mary just declare this themselves, let alone someone else? Considering Mary had other siblings, and something that is undeniably the case, which was confirmed by Mark (3:31, 6:3), Matthew (12:46-47, 13:55), Luke  (8:19-20), John  (2:12, 7:3-10), Acts (1:14) and even Paul (1 Corinthians 9:5; Galatians 3:1), this nullifies any reason to perpetuate Mary's virginity. Furthermore, since Mary's assumed infidelity could have caused major problems for them in the community, let alone put her in danger of ostracization, persecution or even death (see Leviticus 20:10), making up a ridiculous cover-up story would have only made it worse. Surely, a little sexual escapade between two people already engaged to cover up infidelity, instead of raising more suspicion with a ridiculous refutable story would have been the only sensible solution here.


A cover-up, or rumors of a cover-up?

Interestingly, while most modern critics use the virgin "myth" argument to debunk the story, or that it was a myth-influenced story, you would think that Celsus, who was one of the closest skeptics to the actual environment where these mythological stories of miraculous births thrived, would have found this argument adequate, but apparently this was not the case. Celsus also did not use the historical and political aspects of the story to shoot it down; things that modern skeptics, 2,000 years removed from the history of it readily refute today. In other words, how far do you think an individual would get if, in 2010, they tried to pass off an incredible story that wasn't true and that they claimed occurred in the 1900s, yet got all their facts about president Theodore Roosevelt, Thomas Edison, and World War I completely wrong? There's certainly no sensible reason to assume Celsus, an educated Greek, would have been anymore ignorant about these general facts than we are about our general historical facts. It would seem that Celsus, who didn't see myth plagiarism or historical discrepancies adequate enough to debunk the story, saw the best argument he deemed the most plausible to refute the story... local rumors.

Nonetheless, on dissecting this theory internally, it simply falls apart at the seams with illogic. Since a supposed scandal and cover-up drowns in comedy, and since it's based on ridiculously speculative, bias and unreliable documented sources -- the Talmud and Celsus himself -- as its external foundation, then something else less arbitrary and less unnatural must be deduced from this scenario. Clearly, either Celsus made the whole thing up himself or got it from another Jewish source or a combination of both. If the latter is true (most likely the case), then this source undoubtedly came from a rumor that was a result of the virgin birth story, not the virgin birth story as a result to cover up a rumor. If this rumor goes as far back as pre-70 CE, then it's just another attestation to an incredible situation surrounding Jesus' birth, which was most likely a result of a story that sounded so far-fetched to some of his contemporaries that it inevitably led some to conclude that it must have been a cover-up of something else…

Doris: "Hi Mary"

Mary: "Hello Doris"

Doris: "You have a beautiful baby. What's his name?"

Mary: "Jesus"

Doris: "Joseph should be proud"

Mary: "Oh, Joseph's not the actual father. He was sent from God"

Doris: "I see."

: "Hi Susie"

Susie: "Hello Doris"

Doris: "Did you see Mary's new baby?"

Susie: "Yes, isn't he beautiful?"

Doris: "Well, according to Mary, Joseph isn't the father."

Susie: "Oh?"

Then on cue, the rumors started swirling. The rumors were fueled, most likely intentionally, by jealously, skepticism, indignity, animosity from Jesus' opponents with more speculation, compounded by the possibility that his unusual birth labeled him illegitimate after the death of Joseph; and like typical rumors, it later evolved into wild tales of affairs, sexual lasciviousness, banishments and even a wild story of rape (
Toledot Jeschu). As I mentioned before, these stories actually work in favor of the virgin story's authenticity and is something we would indeed expect from such a volatile situation. A virgin story mythology about Jesus that came decades after the fact would have been irrelevant to Jews, thus no need of a counter rebuttal of his birth or even discussion about it. However, the fact there are rumors about his birth indicates they were undoubtedly swirling when news of his birth first became known to others (possibly backed by John's recorded incident we mentioned earlier in this article), thus such slanderous rumors under the circumstances would be expected.

The Christian silence about the virgin birth now makes sense in this case. If these rumors were in fact present at this early stage, it would undoubtedly have forced most Judeo-Christians to take an unnecessary defensive stand against skeptics who simply did not believe in irrational ideas about Yahweh inducing such pregnancies, and nothing would convince them otherwise. Matthew and Luke recorded it because it was a fact, but since Jesus never argued in his own defense about it, Judeo-Christians simply chose not dwell on the issue much either because not only was it a lost cause defending it against skeptics, but it wasn't that essential apart from the primary evangelistic message that was the primary thrust and focus of the movement: "salvation through the death and resurrection of Christ," not his birth.

Next article, I'll explore the theological necessity of the virgin birth. 

Click here for that article, or go home


Source References

1. Origen, Contra Celsus, book 1, chap. 28, 32, 38 (

2. Bruce J. Malina, Richard L. Rohrbaugh, Social Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels, p.25; 2003.

3. Craig A. Evans, The Bible Knowledge Background Commentary, p.51; 2003. 

4. James H. Charlesworth , The Historical Jesus, p.70; 2008.

5. Malina, Rohrbaugh, ibid., p.230.

6. Peter Schäfer, Klaus Herrmann, Margarete Schlüter, Giuseppe Veltri, Jewish Studies Between the Disciplines, pp.13-15; 2003.

    Hari Dev Kohli, Law and Illegitimate Child, pp.5-6; 2003.

7. Origen, Contra Celsus, book 1, chap. 32 (

8. Malina, Rohrbaugh, ibid., p.228.

9. James Tabor, An Unnamed Father of Jesus? (

10. Marcus Jastrow, Bernard Drachman, Betrothal, Jewish Encyclopedia (