OCALA, Fla., December 19, 2013 — As the now-widely accepted birthday of Jesus Christ approaches, some must wonder how much of his story is true. Others would likely find this question horrific at best, and blasphemous at worst.
The reason is simple: According to New Testament history, Jesus simply isn’t God’s son, but all of humankind’s personal savior.
It has long been the goal of academics and historians to track the life of Jesus in a scientifically sound fashion. With our society’s recent technological advances, this has become more feasible, but no less controversial.
One man who has written much about the times and legacy of Jesus is Dr. Richard Carrier, a freethinker who authored, among other works, Proving History: Bayes’s Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus.
Dr. Carrier has unorthodox views about Jesus — specifically that the man did not exist and is a religiously-inspired myth.
Speaking of Jesus, what about his mother, Mary? In the Roman Catholic tradition, she is considered to be a virgin, even after Jesus was conceived. What is the history of this perspective?
“We only start to hear about a belief in Mary’s perpetual virginity centuries after Christianity started,” Dr. Carrier explains to The Washington Times Communities. “Some authors, like Tertullian (of the late second century) believed she conceived children by Joseph after Jesus, in the normal way, those being the brothers and sisters of Jesus mentioned in the Gospels. Other authors, like Irenaeus (of the same time), believed Mary remained a virgin and therefore Jesus’s brothers and sisters were from another wife of Joseph’s before he was betrothed to Mary.
“There is no evidence anyone actually knew either to be true. It was just a matter of what different Christians wanted to believe.”
Dr. Reza Aslan works at the University of California, Riverside as an associate professor of creative writing. He believes that Jesus was real and is most well known for his nonfiction book, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. His emphasis on Jesus’s role as a sociopolitical revolutionary has contributed new ideas to our national dialogue.
“It is difficult to say when exactly the tradition of the virgin birth arose in Christianity,” he says to TWTC. “It is not mentioned in the earliest Christian writings – the letters of Paul, written between 48-60AD. It does not appear in the first gospel, Mark, written sometime around 70AD. Its first appearance is in the gospels of Matthew and Luke, written sometime between 90-100AD, some 70 years after Jesus’s death. Most historians would argue that the virgin birth is early Christianity’s answer to a theological problem: original sin.
“In other words, if all human beings are born in sin, then the only way for Jesus to avoid that same fate is to have been born outside of the normal bounds of nature. Hence, the virgin birth. Many Roman Catholics take this notion one step further and claim that Mary remained a virgin even after Jesus’s birth. However, this belief is contradicted by the New Testament itself, which repeatedly mentions Jesus’ brothers and sisters.”
Moving beyond Mary, from where did the story of King Herod, who ruled present-day Israel under Roman autonomy, and the three magi, who supposedly brought gifts to baby Jesus, originate?
“Matthew probably made it up,” Dr. Carrier claims. “A magus at the time was a priest of Zoroastrianism, a pagan religion originating in Persia, now known as Iran. Matthew is the first to imagine such pagan priests visited the baby Jesus, and in his account they visit Jesus at his home; Luke deletes these priests from the story, yet only in Luke’s story is Jesus left in a manger and not safe at home.
“So combining the manger with the magi is a non-biblical conflation of two incompatible stories.
“Matthew also makes no mention of the magi numbering three. Later Christians simply assumed there were three because they brought three gifts, but Matthew does not say each magi brought one gift, so there is no reason to believe he intended there to be three of them.
“That Matthew put magi in his story at all may have to do with the fact that Matthew equates the risen Jesus with Daniel, since Matthew’s empty tomb story emulates the story of Daniel in the Lion’s Den….and Daniel is the only book of the Old Testament that mentions magi, there as Daniel’s opponents, so Matthew corrects the historical record by having them bow down to Jesus, establishing Jesus is greater than Daniel.”
Dr. Aslan explains that “(t)he story of Herod’s massacre of all the sons born in and around Bethlehem in a fruitless search for the baby Jesus is, like much of the nativity stories (including the story of the magi), historically inaccurate. Herod the Great was the most famous Jew in the Roman Empire.
“In all of the countless words written about him – by Jews, Christians, and Romans alike – there is absolutely no mention ever of such a memorable crime outside of the single mention in the gospel of Matthew. Yet, as with Luke’s story of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, Matthew never intended his story about Herod to be read as what we would now call ‘history.’ Matthew’s story is an allegory. It is an obvious reference to the Pharaoh’s massacre of the Israelite’s sons in a fruitless search for Moses.
“Like Luke, Matthew is making a theological statement: that Jesus is the new Moses who survived the Pharaoh’s massacre and emerged from Egypt with a new law from God.”
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