Thursday, March 13, 2008

A Biblical Basis For Mary's Perpetual Virginity?

Something absolutely fascinating I found while reading the book of Numbers recently...

It is well-known that the Catholic Church teaches that the Blessed Virgin Mary not only conceived Jesus in a state of virginity but that she remained a virgin throughout her entire married life. This doctrine is known as the perpetual virginity of Mary (see CCC 499-501). It is also well-known that most of our Protestant brothers and sisters do not accept this doctrine, usually because the Gospels mention the "brothers" of Jesus such as "James and Joseph", who are assumed to be uterine siblings of Jesus, born of Mary (cf. Matt 13:55)

Now, I don't want to rehash the old arguments about whether these are Jesus cousins--Matthew himself tells you they are the sons of "the other Mary," not the Virgin Mary, a woman who was at the foot of the cross (Matt 27:56-61) and who in John is identified as the "sister" (GK adelphes) of the Virgin Mary (John 19:25). Instead, I want to focus on a more fundamental objection to the perpetual virgininty of Mary: namely, the plausibility of a married Jewish woman remaining a virgin in the first place. As one of my students put it so eloquently last week: "You don't expect me to believe that they were married and didn't have sex??" Well, yeah, that is what the Church expects you to believe; that is what Christians have believed for almost two thousand years... But is there any historical basis for this, apart from the later practice of Christian "spiritual marriages"?

Shortly after this in class discussion, I was reading the book of Numbers, and found an entire chapter I had never noticed before, regarding vows taken by women. What is fascinating about the passage is that, according to some commentators, it appears to specifically be concerned with vows of sexual abstinence taken by married women. Although this text is universally neglected in discussions of Mary's virginity, consider it closely. (I know it's long, but read it carefully, and then I'll break it down.) The question is: What kind of vows are in view? The answer is given at the end:

Vows Taken by A Young Woman in Her Father's House
[3] Or when a woman vows a vow to the LORD, and binds herself by a pledge, while within her father's house, in her youth, [4] and her father hears of her vow and of her pledge by which she has bound herself, and says nothing to her; then all her vows shall stand, and every pledge by which she has bound herself shall stand. [5] But if her father expresses disapproval to her on the day that he hears of it, no vow of hers, no pledge by which she has bound herself, shall stand; and the LORD will forgive her, because her father opposed her.

Vows Taken by a Married Woman
[6] And if she is married to a husband, while under her vows or any thoughtless utterance of her lips by which she has bound herself, [7] and her husband hears of it, and says nothing to her on the day that he hears; then her vows shall stand, and her pledges by which she has bound herself shall stand. [8] But if, on the day that her husband comes to hear of it, he expresses disapproval, then he shall make void her vow which was on her, and the thoughtless utterance of her lips, by which she bound herself; and the LORD will forgive her.

Vows Taken by a Widow or Divorced Woman
[9] But any vow of a widow or of a divorced woman, anything by which she has bound herself, shall stand against her. [10] And if she vowed in her husband's house, or bound herself by a pledge with an oath, [11] and her husband heard of it, and said nothing to her, and did not oppose her; then all her vows shall stand, and every pledge by which she bound herself shall stand. [12] But if her husband makes them null and void on the day that he hears them, then whatever proceeds out of her lips concerning her vows, or concerning her pledge of herself, shall not stand: her husband has made them void, and the LORD will forgive her.

Context: Vows to "Afflict Herself"
[13] Any vow and any binding oath to afflict herself, her husband may establish, or her husband may make void. [14] But if her husband says nothing to her from day to day, then he establishes all her vows, or all her pledges, that are upon her; he has established them, because he said nothing to her on the day that he heard of them. [15] But if he makes them null and void after he has heard of them, then he shall bear her iniquity."

All right: so what does all of this mean? The key is in the final section; the chapter is concerned with a woman's vows to "afflict herself," which, as the great Torah scholar Jacob Milgrom points out, was interpreted by ancient Jews as referring to fasting and refraining from sexual intercourse. Similar terminology is used in descriptions of the Day of Atonement, when Jews were expected to fast and refrain from sexual intercourse (see Milgrom, Harper Collins Study Bible n. Lev 16:29; citing Targum Pseudo-Jonthan; cf. also Exod 19:15). Once this terminology is clear, the whole chapter makes sense. It is discussion three kinds of vows:

1. Vows of sexual abstinence taken by a young, unmarried woman.
2. Vows of sexual abstinence taken by a married woman.
3. Vows of sexual abstinence taken by a widow or divorced woman.

In all three cases, the binding nature of the vow is dependant on whether the male party (whether father or husband), upon hearing of the vow, said nothing and in thereby consented to it. In each case, if he heard the vow and accepted it, the vow is perpetually binding.

Now, what this means is that if a young Jewish woman--say, Mary, in this instance--took a vow of sexual abstinence, and her legal husband--in our case, Joseph--heard of the vow and said nothing, then the vow stands, and she is bound to keep it. This provides a solid historical basis for Joseph and Mary having a perpetually virginal marriage: indeed, Numbers is very explicit in the final verse that if the husband changes his mind "and makes them null and void after he has heard of them," the the sin will be upon him: "he shall bear her iniquity" (Num 30:15). One can easily imagine a situation where some husbands would think better of deciding to accept such a vow! But as Matthew's Gospel tells us: Joseph was a "righteous man" (Matt 1:19), and obedient to Torah. If Mary took a vow of sexual abstinence--and her words "How can this be, since I know not man?" in Luke are evidence that she did (Luke 1:34)--and if Joseph accepted this vow at the time of their wedding, then he would have been bound by Mosaic Law to honor her vow of sexual abstinence under the penalty of sin.

However implausible it may sound to a sex-saturated Western culture that a man would ever do such a thing, the fact of the matter is that the Old Testament appears to assume it as a real possibility. Indeed, the fact that an entire chapter of the Bible is devoted to it appears to suggest that vows of sexual abstinence on the part of women must have been a visible enough part of the culture that a law was necessary to deal with the situation! (This should come as no surprise to students of antiquity; consecrated virgins were part of the religious landscape of the ancient world). Should there be any doubt about this, I would suggest in passing that the reader call to mind the controversy that faced Pauline churches about young widows renegging on their vows of sexual abstinence (1 Timothy 4) and the otherwise difficult and confusing passage in 1 Corinthians about what a man should do about marrying his "virgin" (1 Cor 7:36-38). If both these texts apply to the situation envisaged in Numbers 30, then Mary's situation is anything but unique in culture.

Anyway, love to hear your thoughts about this. It's just my take at this point. I'll need to do more research, but I thought I'd offer a little rose to Our Lady.

Totus Tuus, Maria.

Response to Objection
Note: I'd like to respond to one possible objection to this argument: "Couldn't a vow of abstinence be a temporary vow? I don't believe that those verses mentioned anything of a perpetual vow of abstinence." (tip of the hat to Billy for this great question!)
In response, I would certainly not deny that the text could be applied to temporary vows, but there are two things that make me think the primary context is permanent vows. (1) First, what meaning would a temporary vow of sexual abstinence have for an unmarried virgin in her father's house?!! This is the first category, and as far as I can see it must primarily refer to a permanent vow of abstinence, of which the father approves. To suggest otherwise would mean that Numbers envisions the unmarried woman having sexual relations outside of marriage. This makes no sense. (1) Second, what meaning would a temporary vow of abstinence have for a widow? If she was taking a vow of temporary abstinence for sexual relations with her husband, she would obviously be automatically be released from the vow by his death!
If a permanent vow of sexual abstinence is in view in both these cases, it makes sense to me to suggest that the primary meaning of the third category is the same: a permanent vow of sexual abstinence. In Mary's case, it is only a permanent vow that explains her response to Gabriel while she is betrothed to Joseph: "How shall this be, since I know not man" (Luke 1:34; present tense).


Michael Barber said...

WOW!!! I've heard a number of arguments in my life for the perpetual virginity of Mary, but this is totally new to me. Of course, this is just another bit of confirmation of the ancient tradition and of what is clearly implied in Mary's response to the angel. I mean, seriously, why would she--a woman about to be married--be surprised to hear news that she would give birth to a child unless?!

Great post!

billy v said...

Interesting thoughts, but couldn't a vow of abstinence be a temporary vow? I don't believe that those verses mentioned anything of a perpetual vow of abstinence.

Brant Pitre said...

Thanks, Michael (I thought you might like this one. Been holding out on you all week!)

Good question, Billy. I would not deny that the text could be *applied* to temporary vows, but there are two things that make me think the primary context is permanent vows. First, what meaning would a temporary vow of sexual abstinence have for an unmarried virgin in her father's house?!! This is the first category, and as far as I can see it must primarily refer to a permanent vow of abstinence, which the father approves of. To suggest otherwise would mean that the unmarried woman was having sexual relations outside of marriage. This makes no sense.

Second, what meaning would a temporary vow of abstinence have for a widow? If she was taking a vow of temporary abstinence for sexual relations with her husband, she would obviously be automatically be released from the vow by his death!!

If a permanent vow of sexual abstinence is in view in both these cases, it makes sense to me to suggest that the primary meaning of the third category is the same: a permanent vow of sexual abstinence. In Mary's case, this is the only vow that explains her response to Gabriel *while she is betrothed to Joseph*: "How shall this be, *since I know not man*" (present tense).

Tim A. Troutman said...

Good discussion. Also, one should take into consideration the possibility of the Proto-Evangelium of James being rooted in truth.

Perhaps Mary did indeed make this vow while in her father's house and then Joseph (an old widower) was chosen by the priests at the temple to marry and care for her lest she should remain in the temple and defile it (as she came of age).

I think the account fits perfectly with what has been examined in this discussion.

Paul Cat said...

Great find Dr. Brant! Though it is a streath, I've always wondered if her perpetual verginity can be tied back to her being the new ark in that the old ark was layered with a pure, sacred metal, that appears to never tarnish over time: gold.

Do you know if there is a tie in to this line of reasoning?

Leroy and Kari said...

Wow. Interesting. Have you gone through and tried to find anything in the Fathers on this? It seems like someone should make the connection somewhere.

Emily Byers said...

Thanks so much for posting this, Dr. Pitre! I am currently discerning a vocation to consecrated virginity, and it's always so affirming to find solid, Scriptural reflections on this unique vocation in the Church and of course, the example set for all consecrated virgins by Our Lady. Keep up the good work!

2dmountaintop said...

Brant, I get this argument from Protestants on Matthew 1:25. "He had no relations with her UNTIL she bore a son." HELP!

Fr. Terry Donahue, CC said...

A simple answer to the "until" argument is this:

"For he [Christ] must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet." (1 Cor 15:25)

Does that mean that Christ's reign ends once he has put all his enemies under his feet? Of course not!

So does "He [Joseph] had no relations with her until she bore a son" imply that Joseph did have relations with her after she bore a son? Of course not!

In both cases, the word "until" only makes a statement about what happened before the event.

Irenaeus said...

Fr. Donahue, although I believe in the perpetual virginity of Mary, I have a couple small issues with your statement:

(1) It's two different Greek words, heos in Matt 1.25 but achri in 1 Cor 15.25. It may not matter, of course.

(2) In 1 Cor 15.25, there *is* some indication that Christ in some sense doesn't reign supreme after he conquers death -- after he does so, he himself becomes subject to God the Father so that God might be all in all (15.28).

I think the point can be better made with certain references from the OT (Septuagint) which use the word from Matthew, heos: 2 Sam 6.23, and 1 Sam 15.35, for instance, which, along with other verses, imply that "heos" implies no necessary change of status after the period of time in question.

PT said...

Tim Staples has pointed out the non-uniqueness of of perpetual virginty by also referring to the Law.

I believe it is in Numbers (don't remember) where he showed that there are parts of the law that govern how a man is supposed to treat his wife who has already had sexual relations with another man. Basically, if the wife comes back to the husband and even if the man she had relations with dies, the law says the husband cannot have sexual relations with her. The woman has, in a sense, already been committed to someone else. Joseph, who obeyed the law, would then know that he could not have sexual relations with Mary because of this very law since she was already "committed to someone" i.e. the Holy Spirit.

I'm paraphrasing and don't have the chapters and verses in front of me but I can try and get them if anyone wants to investigate further.

Great post Dr. Pitre! Keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

Look at it from another view. Or at least it's pretty much the same view from the Orthodox perspective. It's worth the read.

PAX Christi tecum

DukeToma said...


St. Jerome answered that question pretty well a loooong time ago.

New Advent

some of his examples of until use the heos construction and others do not.

His best point is why would Joseph not have relations with Mary after being told "fear not to take unto you Mary your wife." Even though he was told that while she was still pregnant. The point scripture is making is only to argue against those who say that Jesus is Joseph's biological son. Outside of that Scripture is not trying to tell us anything, but in saying that Joseph did not have relations during the pregnancy then why didn't he when the angel told him to not be afraid to take Mary unto himself?

Anonymous said...

As a Protestant, with Orthodox and Catholics in my family, I really don't get the issue.

The inspired authors were selective as to what they said and what they didn't say in Scripture. So I always ask myself why did God include that and not something else.

They told us of Mary's betrothal and her virginity. And the fact that while awaiting the kingdom she was not at the time of the annunciation, begging god for a child. To me this make sense: building on all that was said before about Him through the Law and Prophets, and even with Sarah and Hannah and all, it underscores that Jesus was the son given to us of pure grace, pure promise. Mary's response, obedience, doxology...should be our response. Really, her perptual virginity is neither here nor there for me, even if I sometimes find attempts to "reason" for it based on far too much eisigeisis.

I think the Orthodox are more sensible not to have made it a matter of dogma.


Anonymous said...

You do know that things that aren't dogma are still part of fundamental Christian teaching, don't you? I mean, there's a lot of basic doctrine covered by "you definitely should believe this, even if it's not been declared absolutely essential to salvation".

artsippo said...

This is wonderful news. I expect to see a full blown article or lecure series on this topic from you guys in the near future. Congratulations on your fine work.

Art Sippo MD, MPH

Nick said...

I want to start off by saying Im Catholic and fully support the doctrine of Perpetual Virginity. My position thus far is that virginity was the perfectly logical course of life after having an Angel appear to Her telling Her the Holy Spirit will come upon Her. I suppose the "how can this be since I know not man" can kind of support the virginity vow however.

Im posting this comment however because I honestly dont see a strong enough case presented from this Numbers 30 situation. I dont see the vow suggesting virginity, though it could. The real problem is that I cant find in the Old Testament an example of someone taking a vow of virginity. I looked up the term for "afflict herself" and I didnt see any sort of abstinence in any of the verses which use it. The only clear things I could find regarding "afflict" was to fast and to abstain from was "work" but that doesnt necessarily include abstaining from relations.
The only time abstaining from relations I could find was on certain major holidays, but not as vows.

If there arent any examples of people taking vows of virginity/chastity then most Protestants wont be convinced with the Num 30 argument.

I would love to see some evidence if there is any, but if not I dont want to see Mr Brant expose himself to attacks by anti-Catholic Protestants by pushing this Num 30 issue.

annette said...

Just curious. AS a convert and one that discusses this with my still protesting mom...

I am curious how this fits with the Church's teaching that a marriage is valid only with consummation?

Larry Rogers said...

By looking at Mary's immaculate conception it is apparent that God wanted a pure vessel for His Son to be born. Once she wasconceived this way shewould be without stain of sin. It soesn't make sense to me that she would have done anything to tarnish the sinless body befor or after the birth of our Lord.

Also when Jesus is 12 and they go up to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover that there is no mention of brothers or sisters going with them.

Finally, at the foot of the cross, where were the brothers that should have been there to take their mother under their care? It is the Beloved Disciple John, instead.

Convert 1992

jeff said...

Larry, is having sex in a marriage a sin? Does it really "tarnish the body?" The Catholic answer is No.

election tv said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ngalia2 said...

The following website has speeches in which the fathers of the reformation actually preached on the perpetual virginity of our blessed mother. Makes it quite obvious that the Catholic position has always been the correct one. God Bless.

Cassandra said...

I would urge some caution on this line of argumentation. If this has not been used by any of the Fathers, especially those more familiar with the cultural environment of the Jews, then perhaps there are flaws in some of Dr. Pitri's assumptions.

If in the 21st century something is truly new, then it is usually not correct.

Anonymous said...

Virgin Birth of Christ
The dogma which teaches that the Blessed Mother of Jesus Christ was a virgin before, during, and after the conception and birth of her Divine Son.

Councils and Creeds
The virginity of our Blessed Lady was defined under anathema in the third canon of the Lateran Council held in the time of Pope Martin I, A.D. 649. The Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, as recited in the Mass, expresses belief in Christ "incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary"; the Apostles' Creed professes that Jesus Christ "was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary"; the older form of the same creed uses the expression: "born of the Holy Ghost and of the Virgin Mary". These professions show:

That the body of Jesus Christ was not sent down from Heaven, nor taken from earth as was that of Adam, but that its matter was supplied by Mary;
that Mary co-operated in the formation of Christ's body as every other mother co-operates in the formation of the body of her child, since otherwise Christ could not be said to be born of Mary just as Eve cannot be said to be born of Adam;
that the germ in whose development and growth into the Infant Jesus, Mary co-operated, was fecundated not by any human action, but by the Divine power attributed to the Holy Ghost;
that the supernatural influence of the Holy Ghost extended to the birth of Jesus Christ, not merely preserving Mary's integrity, but also causing Christ's birth or external generation to reflect his eternal birth from the Father in this, that "the Light from Light" proceeded from his mother's womb as a light shed on the world; that the "power of the Most High" passed through the barriers of nature without injuring them; that "the body of the Word" formed by the Holy Ghost penetrated another body after the manner of spirits.
Church Fathers
The perpetual virginity of our Blessed Lady was taught and proposed to our belief not merely by the councils and creeds, but also by the early Fathers. The words of the prophet Isaias (vii, 14) are understood in this sense by

St. Irenaeus (III, 21; see Eusebius, H.E., V, viii),
Origen (Adv. Cels., I, 35),
Tertullian (Adv. Marcion., III, 13; Adv. Judæos, IX),
St. Justin (Dial. con. Tryph., 84),
St. John Chrysostom (Hom. v in Matth., n. 3; in Isa., VII, n. 5);
St. Epiphanius (Hær., xxviii, n. 7),
Eusebius (Demonstrat. ev., VIII, i),
Rufinus (Lib. fid., 43),
St. Basil (in Isa., vii, 14; Hom. in S. Generat. Christi, n. 4, if St. Basil be the author of these two passages),
St. Jerome and Theodoretus (in Isa., vii, 14),
St. Isidore (Adv. Judæos, I, x, n. 3),
St. Ildefonsus (De perpetua virginit. s. Mariæ, iii).
St. Jerome devotes his entire treatise against Helvidius to the perpetual virginity of Our Blessed Lady (see especially nos. 4, 13, 18).

The contrary doctrine is called:

"madness and blasphemy" by Gennadius (De dogm. eccl., lxix),
"madness" by Origen (in Luc., h, vii),
"sacrilege" by St. Ambrose (De instit. virg., V, xxxv),
"impiety and smacking of atheism" by Philostorgius (VI, 2),
"perfidy" by St. Bede (hom. v, and xxii),
"full of blasphemies" by the author of Prædestin. (i, 84),
"perfidy of the Jews" by Pope Siricius (ep. ix, 3),
"heresy" by St. Augustine (De Hær. h., lvi).
St. Epiphanius probably excels all others in his invectives against the opponents of Our Lady's virginity (Hær., lxxviii, 1, 11, 23).

Sacred Scripture
There can be no doubt as to the Church's teaching and as to the existence of an early Christian tradition maintaining the perpetual virginity of our Blessed Lady and consequently the virgin birth of Jesus Christ. The mystery of the virginal conception is furthermore taught by the third Gospel and confirmed by the first. According to St. Luke (1:34-35), "Mary said to the angel: How shall this be done, because I know not man? And the angel answering, said to her: The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the most High shall overshadow thee. And therefore also the Holy which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God." The intercourse of man is excluded in the conception of Our Blessed Lord. According to St. Matthew, St. Joseph, when perplexed by the pregnancy of Mary, is told by the angel: "Fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife, for that which is conceived in her, is of the Holy Ghost" (1:20).

Whence did the Evangelists derive their information? As far as we know, only two created beings were witnesses of the annunciation, the angel and the Blessed Virgin. Later on the angel informed St. Joseph concerning the mystery. We do not know whether Elizabeth, though "filled with the Holy Ghost", learned the full truth supernaturally, but we may suppose that Mary confided the secret both to her friend and her spouse, thus completing the partial revelation received by both.

Between these data and the story of the Evangelists there is a gap which cannot be filled from any express clue furnished by either Scripture or tradition. If we compare the narrative of the first Evangelist with that of the third, we find that St. Matthew may have drawn his information from the knowledge of St. Joseph independently of any information furnished by Mary. The first Gospel merely states (1:18): "When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child, of the Holy Ghost." St. Joseph could supply these facts either from personal knowledge or from the words of the angel: "That which is conceived in her, is of the Holy Ghost." The narrative of St. Luke, on the other hand, must ultimately be traced back to the testimony of Our Blessed Lady, unless we are prepared to admit unnecessarily another independent revelation. The evangelist himself points to Mary as the source of his account of the infancy of Jesus, when he says that Mary kept all these words in her heart (2:19, 51). Zahn [1] does not hesitate to say that Mary is pointed out by these expressions as the bearer of the traditions in Luke 1 and 2.

A. How did St. Luke derive his account from the Blessed Virgin? It has been supposed by some that he received his information from Mary herself. In the Middle Ages he is at times called the "chaplain" of Mary [2]; J. Nirsch [3] calls St. Luke the Evangelist of the Mother of God, believing that he wrote the history of the infancy from her mouth and heart. Besides, there is the implied testimony of the Evangelist, who assures us twice that Mary had kept all these words in her heart. But this does not necessitate an immediate oral communication of the history of the infancy on the part of Mary; it merely shows that Mary is the ultimate source of the account. If St. Luke had received the history of the infancy from the Blessed Virgin by way of oral communication, its presentation in the third Gospel naturally would show the form and style of its Greek author. In point of fact the history of the infancy as found in the third Gospel (1:5 to 2:52) betrays in its contents, its language, and style a Jewish-Christian source. The whole passage reads like a chapter from the First Book of Machabees; Jewish customs, and laws and peculiarities are introduced without any further explanation; the "Magnificat", the "Benedictus", and the "Nunc dimittis" are filled with national Jewish ideas. As to the style and language of the history of the infancy, both are so thoroughly Semitic that the passage must be retranslated into Hebrew or Aramaic in order to be properly appreciated. We must conclude, then, that St. Luke's immediate source for the history of the infancy was not an oral, but a written one.

B. It is hardly probable that Mary herself wrote the history of the infancy as was supposed by A. Plummer [4]; it is more credible that the Evangelist used a memoir written by a Jewish Christian, possibly a convert Jewish priest (cf. Acts 6:7), perhaps even a member or friend of Zachary's family [5]. But, whatever may be the immediate source of St. Luke's account, the Evangelist knows that he has "diligently attained to all things from the beginning", according to the testimony of those "who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word" (Luke 1:2).

As to the original language of St. Luke's source, we may agree with the judgment of Lagarde [6] that the first two chapters of St. Luke present a Hebrew rather than a Greek or an Aramaic colouring. Writers have not been wanting who have tried to prove that St. Luke's written source for his first two chapters was composed in Hebrew [7]. But these proofs are not cogent; St. Luke's Hebraisms may have their origin in an Aramaic source, or even in a Greek original composed in the language of the Septuagint. Still, considering the fact that Aramaic was the language commonly spoken in Palestine at that time, we must conclude that Our Blessed Lady's secret was originally written in Aramaic, though it must have been translated into Greek before St. Luke utilized it [8]. As the Greek of Luke 2:41-52 is more idiomatic than the language of Luke 1:4-2:40, it has been inferred that the Evangelist's written source reached only to 2:40; but as in 2:51, expressions are repeated which occur in 2:19, it may be safely inferred that both passages were taken from the same source.

The Evangelist recast the source of the history of the infancy before incorporating it into his Gospel; for the use of words and expressions in Luke 1 and 2 agrees with the language in the following chapters [9]. Harnack [10] and Dalman [11] suggest that St. Luke may be the original author of his first two chapters, adopting the language and style of the Septuagint; but Vogel [12] and Zahn [13] maintain that such a literary feat would be impossible for a Greek-speaking writer. What has been said explains why it is quite impossible to reconstruct St. Luke's original source; the attempt of Resch [14] to reconstruct the original Gospel of the infancy or the source of the first two chapters of the first and third Gospel and the basis of the prologue to the fourth, is a failure, in spite of its ingenuity. Conrady [15] believed that he had found the common source of the canonical history of the infancy in the so-called "Protevangelium Jacobi", which, according to him, was written in Hebrew by an Egyptian Jew about A.D. 120, and was soon after translated into Greek; it should be kept in mind, however, that the Greek text is not a translation, but the original, and a mere compilation from the canonical Gospels. All we can say therefore, concerning St. Luke's source for his history of the infancy of Jesus is reduced to the scanty information that it must have been a Greek translation of an Aramaic document based, in the last instance, on the testimony of Our Blessed Lady.

Modern theology adhering to the principle of historical development, and denying the possibility of any miraculous intervention in the course of history, cannot consistently admit the historical actuality of the virgin birth. According to modern views, Jesus was really the son of Joseph and Mary and was endowed by an admiring posterity with the halo of Divinity; the story of his virgin birth was in keeping with the myths concerning the extraordinary births of the heroes of other nations [16]; the original text of the Gospels knew nothing of the virgin birth [17]. Without insisting on the arbitrariness of the philosophical assumptions implied in the position of modern theology, we shall briefly review its critical attitude towards the text of the Gospels and its attempts to account for the early Christian tradition concerning the virgin birth of Christ.

A. Integrity of the Gospel Text
Wellhausen [18] contended that the original text of the third Gospel began with our present third chapter, the first two chapters being a later addition. But Harnack seems to have foreseen this theory before it was proposed by Wellhausen; for he showed that the two chapters in question belonged to the author of the third Gospel and of the Acts [19]. Holtzmann [20] considers Luke 1:34-35 as a later addition; Hillmann [21] believes that the words hos enouizeto of Luke 3:23 ought to be considered in the same light. Weinel [22] believes that the removal of the words epei andra ou ginosko from Luke 1:34 leaves the third Gospel without a cogent proof for the virgin birth; Harnack not only agrees with the omissions of Holtzmann and Hillmann, but deletes also the word parthenos from Luke 1:27 [23]. Other friends of modern theology are rather sceptical as to the solidity of these text-critical theories; Hilgenfield [24], Clement [25], and Gunkel [26] reject Harnack's arguments without reserve. Bardenhewer [27] weighs them singly and finds them wanting.

In the light of the arguments for the genuineness of the portions of the third Gospel rejected by the above named critics, it is hard to understand how they can be omitted by any unprejudiced student of the sacred text.

They are found in all manuscripts, translations, and early Christian citations, in all printed editions — in brief, in all the documents considered by the critics as reliable witnesses for the genuineness of a text.
Furthermore, in the narrative of St. Luke, each verse is like a link in a chain, so that no verse can be removed as an interpolation without destroying the whole.
Moreover, verses 34 and 35 are in the Lucan history what the keystone is in an arch, what a diamond is in its setting; the text of the Gospel without these two verses resembles an unfinished arch, a setting bereft of its precious stones [28].
Finally, the Lucan account left us by the critics is not in keeping with the rest of the Evangelist's narrative. According to the critics, verses 26-33 and 36-38 relate the promise of the birth of the Messias, the son of Joseph and Mary, just as the verses immediately preceding relate the promise of the birth of the precursor, the son of Zachary and Elizabeth. But there is a great difference: the precursor's story is filled with miracles — as Zachary's sudden dumbness, John's wonderful conception — while the account of Christ's conception offers nothing extraordinary; in the one case the angel is sent to the child's father, Zachary, while in the other the angel appears to Mary; in the one case Elizabeth is said to have conceived "after those days", while there is nothing added about Mary's conception [29]. The complete traditional text of the Gospel explains these differences, but the critically mutilated text leaves them inexplicable.
The friends of modern theology at first believed that they possessed a solid foundation for denying the virgin birth in the Codex Syrus Sinaiticus discovered by Mrs. Lewis and Mrs. Gibson in 1892, more accurately investigated in 1893, published in 1894, and supplemented in 1896. According to this codex, Matthew 1:16 reads: "Joseph to whom was espoused Mary the Virgin, begot Jesus who is called Christ." Still, the Syriac translator cannot have been ignorant of the virgin birth. Why did he leave the expression "the virgin" in the immediate context? How did he understand verses 18, 20, and 25, if he did not know anything of the virgin birth? Hence, either the Syriac text has been slightly altered by a transcriber (only one letter had to be changed) or the translator understood the word begot of conventional, not of carnal, fatherhood, a meaning it has in verses 8 and 12.

B. Non-historical Source of the Virgin Birth
The opponents of the historical actuality of the virgin birth grant that either the Evangelists or the interpolators of the Gospels borrowed their material from an early Christian tradition, but they endeavour to show that this tradition has no solid historical foundation. About A.D. 153 St. Justin (Apol., I, xxi) told his pagan readers that the virgin birth of Jesus Christ ought not to seem incredible to them, since many of the most esteemed pagan writers spoke of a number of sons of Zeus. About A.D. 178 the Platonic philosopher Celsus ridiculed the virgin birth of Christ, comparing it with the Greek myths of Danae, Melanippe, and Antiope; Origen (c. Cels. I, xxxvii) answered that Celsus wrote more like a buffoon than a philosopher. But modern theologians again derive the virgin birth of Our Lord from unhistorical sources, though their theories do not agree.

The Pagan Origin Theory

A first class of writers have recourse to pagan mythology in order to account for the early Christian tradition concerning the virgin birth of Jesus. Usener [30] argues that the early Gentile Christians must have attributed to Christ what their pagan ancestors had attributed to their pagan heroes; hence the Divine sonship of Christ is a product of the religious thought of Gentile Christians. Hillmann [31] and Holtzmann [32] agree substantially with Usener's theory. Conrady [33] found in the Virgin Mary a Christian imitation of the Egyptian goddess Isis, the mother of Horus; but Holtzmann [34] declares that he cannot follow this "daring construction without a feeling of fear and dizziness", and Usener [35] is afraid that his friend Conrady moves on a precipitous track. Soltau [36] tries to transfer the supernatural origin of Augustus to Jesus, but Lobstein [37] fears that Soltau's attempt may throw discredit on science itself, and Kreyher [38] refutes the theory more at length.

In general, the derivation of the virgin birth from pagan mythology through the medium of Gentile Christians implies several inexplicable difficulties:

Why should the Christian recently converted from paganism revert to his pagan superstitions in his conception of Christian doctrines?
How could the product of pagan thought find its way among Jewish Christians without leaving as much as a vestige of opposition on the part of the Jewish Christians?
How could this importation into Jewish Christianity be effected at an age early enough to produce the Jewish Christian sources from which either the Evangelists or the interpolators of the Gospels derived their material?
Why did not the relatives of Christ's parents protest against the novel views concerning Christ's origin?
Besides, the very argument on which rests the importation of the virgin birth from pagan myths into Christianity is fallacious, to say the least. Its major premise assumes that similar phenomena not merely may, but must, spring from similar causes; its minor premise contends that Christ's virgin birth and the mythical divine sonships of the pagan world are similar phenomena, a contention false on the face of it.

The Jewish Origin Theory (Isaiah 7:14)

A second class of writers derive the early Christian tradition of the virgin birth from Jewish Christian influence. Harnack [39] is of the opinion that the virgin birth originated from Isaiah 7:14; Lobstein [40] adds the "poetic traditions surrounding the cradle of Isaac, Samson, and Samuel" as another source of the belief in the virgin birth. Modern theology does not grant that Isaiah 7:14, contains a real prophecy fulfilled in the virgin birth of Christ; it must maintain, therefore, that St. Matthew misunderstood the passage when he said: "Now all this was done that it might be fulfilled which the Lord spoke by the prophet, saying; Behold a virgin shall be with child, and bring forth a son," etc. (1:22-23). How do Harnack and Lobstein explain such a misunderstanding on the part of the Evangelist? There is no indication that the Jewish contemporaries of St. Matthew understood the prophet's words in this sense. Hillmann [41] proves that belief in the virgin birth is not contained in the Old Testament, and therefore cannot have been taken from it. Dalman [42] maintains that the Jewish people never expected a fatherless birth of the Messias, and that there exists no vestige of such a Jewish interpretation of Isaiah 7:14.

Those who derive the virgin birth from Isaiah 7:14, must maintain that an accidental misinterpretation of the Prophet by the Evangelist replaced historic truth among the early Christians in spite of the better knowledge and the testimony of the disciples and kindred of Jesus. Zahn [43] calls such a supposition "altogether fantastic"; Usener [44] pronounce the attempt to make Isaiah 7:14 the origin of the virgin birth, instead of its seal, an inversion of the natural order. Though Catholic exegesis endeavours to find in the Old Testament prophetic indications of the virgin birth, still it grants that the Jewish Christians arrived at the full meaning of Isaiah 7:14, only through its accomplishment [45].

The Syncretic Theory

There is a third theory which endeavours to account for the prevalence of the doctrine of the virgin birth among the early Jewish Christians. Gunkel [46] grants that the idea of virgin birth is a pagan idea, wholly foreign to the Jewish conception of God; but he also grants that this idea could not have found its way into early Jewish Christianity through pagan influence. Hence he believes that the idea had found its way among the Jews in pre-Christian times, so that the Judaism which flowed directly into early Christianity had undergone a certain amount of syncretism. Hilgenfeld [47] tries to derive the Christian teaching of the virgin birth neither from classical paganism nor from pure Judaism, but from the Essene depreciation of marriage. The theories of both Gunkel and Hilgenfeld are based on airy combinations rather than historical evidence. Neither writer produces any historical proof for his assertions. Gunkel, indeed, incidentally draws attention to Parsee ideas, to the Buddha legend, and to Roman and Greek fables. But the Romans and Greeks did not exert such a notable influence on pre-Christian Judaism; and that the Buddha legend reached as far as Palestine cannot be seriously maintained by Gunkel [48]. Even Harnack [49] regards the theory that the idea of virgin birth penetrated among the Jews through Parsee influence, as an unprovable assumption.

Publication information
Written by A.J. Maas. Transcribed by Douglas J. Potter. Dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary
The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XV. Published 1912. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, October 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York

[1] "Einleitung in das Neue Testament", 2nd ed., II, 406, Leipzig, 1900
[2] cf. Du Cange, "Gloss. med. et inf. latinitatis", s.v. "Capellani"; ed. L. Favre
[3] "Das Grab der heiligen Jungfrau Maria", 51, Mainz, 1896
[4] "A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel of St. Luke" in "The International Critical Commentary", Edinburgh, 1896, p. 7
[5] cf. Blass, "Evangelium secundum Lucam", xxiii, Leipzig, 1897
[6] "Mitteilungen", III, 345, Göttingen, 1889
[7] cf. Gunkel, "Zum religions-geschichtl. Verständnis des Neuen Testaments", pp. 67 sq., Göttingen, 1903
[8] cf. Bardenhewer, "Maria Verkündigung" in "Biblische Studien", X, v, pp. 32 sq., Freiburg, 1905
[9] cf. Feine, "Eine vorkanonische Ueberlieferung des Lukas in Evangelium und Apostelgeschichte", Gotha, 1891, p. 19; Zimmermann, "Theol. Stud. und Krit.", 1903, 250 sqq.
[10] Sitzungsber. der Berliner Akad., 1900, pp. 547 sqq.
[11] "Die Worte Jesu", I, 31 sq., Leipzig, 1898
[12] "Zur Charakteristik des Lukas nach Sprache und Stil", Leipzig, 1897, p. 33
[13] Einleitung, 2nd ed., ii, 406
[14] "Das Kindheitesevangelium nach Lukas und Matthäus" in "Texte und Untersuchungen zur Gesch. der altchristl. Literatur", X, v, 319, Leipzig, 1897
[15] "Die Quelle der kanonischen Kindheitsgeschichte Jesus", Göttingen, 1900
[16] Gunkel, "Zum religionsgesch. Verst. des N.T.", p, 65, Göttingen, 1903
[17] Usener, "Geburt und Kindheit Christi" in "Zeitschrift für die neutest. Wissenschaft", IV, 1903, 8
[18] "Das Evangelium Lukä", Berlin, 1904
[19] Sitzungsberichte der Kgl. preuss. Akad. der Wissenschaften zu Berlin, 1900, 547
[20] "Handkommentar züm Neuen Testament", I, 31 sq., Freiburg, 1889
[21] "Die Kindheitsgeschichte Jesu nach Lukas kritisch untersucht" in "Jahrb. für protest. Theol.", XVII, 225 sqq., 1891
[22] "Die Auslegung des apostolischen Bekenntnisses von F. Kattenbusch und die neut. Forschung" in "Zeitschrift für d. n. t. Wissensch.", II, 37 sqq., 1901; cf. Kattenbusch, "Das apostolische Symbol", II, 621, Leipzig, 1897-1900
[23] Zeitschrift für d. n. t. Wissensch., 53 sqq., 1901
[24] "Die Geburt Jesu aus der Jungfrau in dem Lukasevangelium" in "Zeitschr. für wissenschaftl. Theologie", XLIV, 313 sqq., 1901
[25] Theol. Literaturzeitung, 1902, 299
[26] op. cit., p. 68
[27] "Maria Verkündigung", pp. 8-12, Freiburg, 1905
[28] cf. Feine, "Eine vorkanonische Ueberlieferung", 39, Gotha, 1891
[29] Bardenhewer, op. cit., 13 sqq.; Gunkel, op. cit., 68
[30] "Religionsgeschichtl. Untersuchungen", I, 69 sqq., Bonn, 1899; "Geburt und Kindheit Christi" in "Zeitschrift für d. n. t. Wissensch.", IV, 1903, 15 sqq.
[31] Jahrb. f. protest. Theol., XVII, 1891, 231 sqq.
[32] "Lehrb. d. n. t. Theol.", I, 413 sqq., Freiburg, 1897
[33] "Die Quelle der kanonisch. Kindheitsgesch. Jesus", Göttingen, 1900, 278 sqq.
[34] Theol. Literaturzeit., 1901, p. 136
[35] Zeitschr. f. d. n. t. Wissensch., 1903, p. 8
[36] "Die Geburtsgeschichte Jesu Christi", Leipzig, 1902, p. 24
[37] Theol. Literaturzeitung, 1902, p. 523
[38] "Die jungfräuliche Geburt des Herrn", Gutersloh, 1904
[39] "Lehrb. d. Dogmengesch.", 3rd ed., I, 95 sq., Freiburg, 1894
[40] "Die Lehre von der übernatürlichen Geburt Christi", 2nd ed., 28-31, Freiburg, 1896
[41] "Jahrb. f. protest. Theol.", 1891, XVII, 233 sqq., 1891
[42] Die Worte Jesu, I, Leipzig, 1898, 226
[43] "Das Evangelium des Matthäus ausgelegt", 2nd ed., Leipziig, 1905, pp. 83 sq.
[44] "Religionsgesch. Untersuch.", I, Bonn, 1889, 75
[45] Bardenhewer op. cit., 23; cf. Flunk, Zeitschrift f. kathol. Theol.", XXVIII, 1904, 663
[46] op. cit., 65 sqq.
[47] "Zeitschr. f. wissensch. Theol.", 1900, XLIII, 271; 1901, XLIV, 235
[48] cf. Oldenberg, "Theol. Literaturzeit.", 1905, 65 sq.
[49] "Dogmengesch.", 3rd ed., Freiburg, 1894, 96

Besides the works cited in the course of this article, we may draw attention to the dogmatic treatises on the supernatural origin of the Humanity of Christ through the Holy Ghost from the Virgin Mary especially: WILHELM AND SCANNELL, Manual of Catholic Theology, II (London and New York, 1898), 105 sqq.; 208 sqq.; HUNTER, Outlines of Dogmatic Theology, II (New York, 1896), 567 sqq.; also to the principal commentaries on Matt., i, ii; Luke, i, ii. Among Protestant writings we may mention the tr. of LOBSTEIN, The Virgin Birth of Christ (London, 1903); BRIGGS, Criticism and the Dogma of the Virgin Birth in North Am. Rev. (June, 1906); ALLEN in Interpreter (Febr., 1905), 115 sqq.; (Oct., 1905), 52 sqq.; CARR in Expository Times, XVIII, 522, 1907; USENER, s. v. Nativity in Encyclo. Bibl., III, 3852; CHEYNE, Bible Problems (1905), 89 sqq.; CARPENTER, Bible in the Nineteenth Century (1903), 491 sqq.; RANDOLPH, The Virgin Birth of Our Lord (1903).

Cassandra said...

Annette said:
I am curious how this fits with the Church's teaching that a marriage is valid only with consummation?

A marriage is valid when valid consent is given (can 1057). It is then a ratified marriage. Validity does not depend on consummation (cf can 1061). If a marriage is both ratified and consummated it cannot be dissolved. However, a non-consummated marriage can be dissolved by the Pope at the request of one of the parties (can 1142).

Anonymous said...

This is absolute nonsense from the Jewish point of view. For a marriage to be a marriage under Jewish law it must be consummated. It is the Romans who cherished virginity not the Jews. Absolute nonsense.

Danny Garland Jr. said...

Excellent stuff!

Keil and Delitzsch in their commentary on numbers confirms:
"The second case (vers. 6-8) was that of a vow of performance or abstinence, made by a woman before her marriage, and brought along with her into her marriage. In such a case that husband had to decide as to its validity, in the same way as the father before her marriage. In the day when he heard of it he could hold back his wife, i.e. dissolve her vow; but if he did not do this at once, he could not hinder its fulfillment afterwards."

Brant Pitre said...

Thanks everyone for the comments.
Just one response for "anonymous":
If you are correct and "This is absolute nonsense from a Jewish point of view," then why is it that I learned that to "afflict herself" means to abstain from sexual intercourse from the *Jewish* scholar Jacob Milgrom, and why is it that the ancient *Jewish* Targum Pseudo-Jonathan interpreted and translated Numbers 30 this way? My whole point was that Gentile readers often miss the Hebrew idiom. Please explain your comment.

Danny, thanks for the Keil and Delitzsch confirmation!

Cassandra, what do the Fathers say about Numbers 30? Could you look into it? It would be interesting.

John C. Hathaway said...

Very interesting! Hagiographic tradition regarding Sts. Anne and Joachim, via the Proto-Evangelium and the "Infancy Gospel of Mary" tell us that they were infertile before her birth, and, just as the mothers of Sampson and Samuel consecrated their ons, they consecrated Mary as a virgin. I always questioned this as having no basis I knew of in the Old Testament.

TIm Troutman,
My understanding is that the Proto-Evangelium is generally regarded as a credible historical text (as, for example, it's our main source concerning Sts. Anne and Joachim). The main concerns about it are authorship and the question of St. Joseph. The Eastern Fathers accepted the view that Mary was Joseph's second wife, and the "brothers" mentioned in Jesus' adulthood were much older, while the Latin Fathers rejected that idea.


It probably isn't "new". Just something that most people today don't realize. There's a lot of knowledge out there in he rch history of the Church. AND even if it's not specifically mentioned in the Fathers, they have have taken it for granted.

After all, it *was* in the hagiographic tradition that Mary was a consecrated virgin. The Fathers may have felt no need to explain the idea that Israel *had* consecrated virgins.

Again, the point of the post is that consecrated virginity is an alien concept to modern Americans, but there were plenty of Medieval Catholic couples who did the same thing--heck, even Jacques and Raisa Maritain.

Anonymous said...

I agree with 'anonymous' who said: "This is absolute nonsense from the Jewish point of view. For a marriage to be a marriage under Jewish law it must be consummated. It is the Romans who cherished virginity not the Jews. Absolute nonsense."

To connect Numbers 30 with Mary's question "how can this be..." is drawing an extremely long bow and goes against the whole flavour of Jewish culture.

Mary's question had nothing to do with virginity at all but was in direct response to the angel's promise that her son would "sit on the throne of his father David."

Mary did not know - was not acquainted with - a man who could father a child entitled to sit on the throne of David.

Danny Garland Jr. said...


Actually, St. Joseph was from the tribe of Judah and was a descendant of David, ergo, what you say does not hold up one bit. Joseph's son would be entitled to sit on the throne of David.

One should not go write something off if they have no idea what they are talking about.

Anonymous said...

Danny Garland Jnr,
I agree with your statement "One should not go write something off if they have no idea what they are talking about."

Did you have any idea that Joseph's Davidic line was debarred from kingship forever - debarred by God?

Yes, it's true - neither Joseph, nor any son of Joseph, could reign over Israel, or be given the title 'Messiah.'

Matthew did not write his genealogy to record the fulfillment of a non-existent prophecy of virgin-conception/birth, but to demonstrate that Jesus could not be the son of Joseph - as he was commonly supposed to be during his lifetime.

If he had been the biological son of Joseph, Jesus would not have been able to claim the title "Messiah" or fulfil any of the promises made to Mary by Gabriel.

The Quilting Student Nurse said...

Great article Dr. Pitre! I would've loved to have been in your class again instead of my other classes! I'm going to share this with some other people that I know. :)


Anonymous said...

In the interests of furthering Brant and Michael's hobby of recovering ideas and theories of unjustly neglected Catholic biblical scholars of the past, can I recommend "The Gospel of the Infancy" by one Eric Burrows S.J. from over 60 years ago, when he argued for "Johannine" motifs in the Lukan infancy narratives, and suggested that the Beloved Disciple was the (oral rather than textual) intermediary between Our Lady and St. Luke. It's a fascinating piece, albeit somewhat of its time: I imagine it would give Gerd Ludemann et al a fit of hysterics. (Apparently he's gone in to print to bash the Pope's book, although I haven't seen what he's written).

The book was published by Burns, Oates, and Washbourne in 1940, although the copy I have seen was obviously brought out early enough in WWII not to feature the mark of a serenely recumbent imperial lion above an inscription informing the reader that their book had been produced to the official British War Economy Standard, thus alerting the reader to thin paper and the need to handle it with care!

Bread From Heaven Unlimited said...

This was fascinating. I am going to post a link to this article on by website.

Cassandra said...

Brant Pitre said...
Cassandra, what do the Fathers say about Numbers 30? Could you look into it? It would be interesting.

That's absolutely appalling! Why should I need to check? Wouldn't the demands of Scholarship place the burden of checking on you before advancing it publicly? Very disappointing. I guess this is what passes for modern biblical scholarship.

John C. Hathaway said...
It probably isn't "new". Just something that most people today don't realize.....

But Dr. Pitre isn't just "people". He is supposed to be a scholar. So check first, then speak.

if it's not specifically mentioned in the Fathers, they have have taken it for granted.
That's a very weak case. Unsatisfactory.

Jay said...

I was introduced to Dr. Pitre's "wow" moment by a friend and am fascinated by the "apparent" discovery. Apparent because it, the material, not the discovery, has been there for a while.

I am not a biblical scholar by anyone's imagination: I just thought I could add some anecdotal evidence of Dr. Pitre's hypothesis.

In "The Life of Mary, As Seen by the Mystics" (Tan Books & Publishers, Inc., Rockford, IL 611051951 & 1991) on pages 68 & 69, Anne Catherine Emmerich or Ven. Mother Mary Agreda had visions of a conversation between Mary & Joseph at their new home after their wedding. There, both inform each other of their vows of perpetual virginity and both, being filled with the grace of God, delight in each others feelings. Joseph is even quoted as saying "... I gladly ratify this vow..."

Now we all know what the Church has to say about private revelation but I just had to throw this in in light of the Numbers commentary.

Not a bad thing to believe in.

Anonymous said...

I personally took such a vow around for a serious personal reason seven years ago with the consent of my spouse and the approval of my parish priest. All is possible with God. And this is truth the modern culture is sex-driven and people like myself are considered nuts. It is very sad.

Brant Pitre said...

Dear Cassandra,

I didn't mean to appal you by my suggesting you look into the Church Fathers. I actually thought you were interested in what they might have to say about the passage. I also wasn't suggesting you bear the "burden of checking," as you put it. One of the great things about blogging is that you can air ideas and get feedback, criticisms, and *help* from others who are interested in similar topics. I'll gladly look into the matter when time permits, but I am currently doing detailed research on other projects. This was just something I discovered in my daily spiritual reading, and wanted to share it with others.

For the time being, however, I have a question: If Numbers 30 is NOT related to a vow of sexual abstinence, then **why did the most ancient Jewish interpreters (in this case, the Targum) interpret it that way?** Don't you think they (writing at the same time as the Fathers) would have understood the Hebrew text? If you can explain this (and, along the way, explain what Numbers 30 IS about if it's not about sexual abstinence), I'd be more than willing to rethink my suggestion.

bilbannon said...

Vynette is intimating and will probably be bringing up here or at some point later the problem of Joseph having Jeconiah in his background and thus being disqualified from leading to the Messiah. I did some work on this allegation some time ago and include it here and all posters can feel free to copy and use it freely should this come up again...there is no copyright:

"It was said the other day that since Matthew in his genealogy of Christ said “Josiah became the father of Jechoniah and his brothers” that therefore Christ could not be the Messiah because Jeremiah 22:30 says of Jechoniah: “Thus says the Lord: Write this man down as one childless, who will never thrive in his lifetime. No descendant of his shall achieve a seat on the throne of David as ruler again over Judah.”

Firstly, keep in mind that many threats of God are conditional as that very same Jeremiah notes in NAB Jeremiah 18:7-10…”Sometimes I threaten to uproot and tear down and destroy a nation or a kingdom. 8 But if that nation which I have threatened turns from its evil, I also repent of the evil which I threatened to do.”

But from another angle, the Encyclopedia Judaica states that Jeconiah was forgiven and references:
. Sanhedrin 37b-38a states:
”R. Johanen said: Exile atones for everything, for it is written, ‘Thus saith the Lord, write ye this man childless, a man that shall not prosper in his days, for no man of his seed shall prosper sitting upon the throne of David and ruling, anymore in Judah.’ Whereas after he[the king] was exiled, it is written, ‘And the sons of Jeconiah,’- ‘the same is Asir, Shealtiel his son etc.’ (1) [He was called] Asir, because his mother conceived him in prison. Shealtiel, because God did not plant him in the way that others are planted. We know by tradition that a woman cannot conceive in a standing position, [yet she] did conceive standing. Another interpretation: Shealtiel, because God ordained [of the heavenly court] absolution from his oath.(2)”
Further The Jewish Encyclopedia (KTAV Publishing house) states: “…he was pardoned by God, who revoked the decree to the effect that none of his descendants should ever become king (Jer.22:30;Pesik.,ed.Buber,xxv.163a,b)…he even became the ancestor of the Messiah (Tan.,Toledot,20 (ed.Buber,I,140).
Evidence of his prospering e.g. are in Jeremiah itself when his captor dies and his son, Evil-Merodach releases Jehoiachin who then eats at the royal table for the remainder of his life.
NAB…Jeremiah 52:31
5 In the thirty-seventh year of the exile of Jehoiachin, king of Judah, on the twenty-fifth day of the twelfth month, Evil-merodach, king of Babylon, in the inaugural year of his reign, took up the case of Jehoiachin, king of Judah, and released him from prison.
6 He spoke kindly to him and gave him a throne higher than that of the other kings who were with him in Babylon.
Jehoiachin took off his prison garb and ate at the king’s table as long as he lived.
The allowance given him by the king of Babylon was a perpetual allowance, in fixed daily amounts, all the days of his life until the day of his death.

It seems from what I can gather that Christian writers seem to regard this prior mentioned portentous prophecy of Jeremiah as a literal one regarding simply the descendants literally not ruling Judah literally ( Dictionary of the Bible by John L. Mc Kenzie, p.416 and Fr. Raymond Brown’s total ignoring of the issue at all). The reason for that I would suggest is the insignificance of Jeconiah’s capacity for evil given that according to 2 Kings 24:8 “ Jehoiachin was eighteen years old when he began to reign, and he reigned three months in Jerusalem” (at which point he surrendered to Nebuchadnezzar). True “he did evil in the sight of the Lord” but contrast that description with that of his father, Jehoiakim from 2 Kings 23:36, “ Jehoiakim was 25 years old when he began to reign, and he reigned 11 years in Jerusalem”...likewise he did evil in the sight of the Lord and Jeremiah 22:11-18 charges him with extravagance, oppression and murder. He had sacrilegiously torn up the scroll of Jeremiah (read by Baruch); had Uriah tracked to Egypt and killed; the attack on Jeremiah’s temple discourse was in the beginning of his reign.

In short, Jeconiah’s father seems to have been worse than Jeconiah and reigned a significant number of years in which to be evil and in addition contrasted greatly with his own father, Josiah, so that Jehoiakim would have been a far more likely catalyst to a major not minor prophecy. Jeconiah seems so insignificant with his 3 month reign and no litany of his evils that perhaps many commentators can’t take this prophecy of Jeremiah as anything more than literal…i.e. Jeconiah’s sons would not literally rule over Judah (“childless” may be key here as specifying his own sons as the parameter of “descendants”).

If Jeremiah 20:22 is the beginning of a description of Jeconiah’s evils, only “lovers” are mentioned which would fit with an 18 year old selfish king who reigned 3 months and put up no fight against his enemy. Therefore fittingly and in proportion to his being a rake, his sons won’t rule over Judah.


Now for those of you who wish to see this prophecy of Jeremiah’s as major, let’s proceed on that basis but other problems lie in wait. To make life more complicated, Raymond Brown, a major if sometimes too skeptical scholar within Catholicism, shows that Jeconiah’s being in Matthew’s genealogy is itself a surface mistake. Let’s go to Raymond Brown’s Birth of the Messiah to see the complexity caused in this matter by word/historical problems. Here are some excerpts that will begin to give you a sense of the technical surface mistakes that can occur in such passages…from page 83 of Brown’s book:

“ ..instead of saying ‘Josiah was the father of Jechoniah and his brothers,’ Matthew would have been true to history if he said , ‘Josiah was the father of Jehoiakim and his brothers [ King Jehoahaz II and Zedekiah]; Jehoiakim was the father of Jechoniah.’ Once again we may be dealing with an omission caused by confusion between similar names,viz., the name of Jehoiakim, the son of Josiah, and that of Jehoiachin (Jechoniah), the grandson of Josiah. The fact that both Jehoiakim and Jehoiachin had a brother named Zedekiah ( the former’s brother was King Zedekiah; the latter’s brother never ruled) already caused confusion in antiquity as we see in II Chr 36:10 which incorrectly identifies King Zedekiah as Jehoiachin’s brother. The confusion between Jehoiakim and Jehoiachin (Jechoniah) may have been facilitated by Greek orthography since occasionally the Septuagint uses the same spelling ( Ioakim) for both names.”

Brown’s point is substantiated by at least my NAB version of I Chr. 3:15-16:

“ The sons of Josiah were: The first born, Johanan; the second, Jehoiakim; the third, Zedekiah; the fourth, Shallum. The sons of Jehoiakim were : Jeconiah, his son; Zedekiah, his son.”

Therefore Brown was right Jeconiah/Jehoiachin/Coniah only had one brother…and Matthew had said, “ Josiah was the father of Jeconiah and his brothers”.
So we can take Jeconiah off Matthew’s list as a scribal error of sorts predating Matthew but that leaves us with a problem as to Shealtiel since Jeremiah’s words had ruled out Jeconiah’s descendants from being on the Davidic throne and Matthew has Christ coming distantly from Shealtiel and then his descendants. If we go by the Massoretic Text, Brown notes that I Chr 3:19 makes Pediah not Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel but Pediah is also a son of Jeconiah so what have we gained here on the Christian side of this. Quite frankly, when you get done reading Brown on the genealogies, you wonder who your own father was and you start talking to that Microsoft magenta headed Assistant in Word. In short, are there more scribal errors injecting Shealtiel and Zerubbabel in the line since Matthew goes on to say that Zerubbabel was the father of Abiud and that name is not given as one of the 8 children of Zerubbabel in I Chr 3:19-20 according to Brown who would have known of alternative names to that list?
Also as to the Jeremiah threat passage, you have the existence in the Bible of conditional threats mentioned in part I. As Aquinas pointed out, in Isaiah 38:1 God addresses Ezechias, “ Put your house in order, for you are about to die; you shall not recover ”…yet as Aquinas said, “ this did not take place, since from eternity, it was otherwise disposed in the divine knowledge and will, which is unchangeable…hence Gregory says ‘The sentence of God changes but not his counsel’” (ST 1.19.7). God telling Adam that in the day that he ate of the fruit, he would die is a similar threat that is not so absolute as it first sounded. Here’s the extended Jeremiah passage on that matter:

NAB Jeremiah 18:7-10…Sometimes I threaten to uproot and tear down and destroy a nation or a kingdom.
But if that nation which I have threatened turns from its evil, I also repent of the evil which I threatened to do.
Sometimes, again, I promise to build up and plant a nation or a kingdom.
But if that nation does what is evil in my eyes, refusing to obey my voice, I repent of the good with which I promised to bless it.

In Book II of the Ascent of Mount Carmel, chapter 20, the mystic, St. John of the Cross mentions others: Jonah 3:4, “ Forty days more and Nineveh will be destroyed ”; and I Kings 2:30 wherein God reverses not a threat but a “forever” promise and installs a threat addressed to Heli, “ Certainly I have said before that your house and the house of your father will continually minister to me in the priesthood and in my prescence forever yet this proposal is very far from me; I shall not bring it about.” Note that here the word “forever” was used in the original promise to Heli as implicitly as in our above Jeremiah threat about the descendants of Jeconiah. John of the Cross’s point is that God is often silent about the conditional nature of a threat or of a promise.

Noteworthy also is Brown’s contention that the three legs of 14 generations each in Matthew skip quite a few people in the historical line and that the last leg only has 13.
Brown goes into a host of possibilities of a non-literal nature to the genealogy and if this structure is very symbolic, that for me would explain the 13 generations of the last leg leading up to Christ as falling short of perfection due to the missing and inconsequential Jeconiah once the scribal error is fixed and Jehoiakim is placed where he should be and is given Shealtiel as his son in line with the Hebrew device of sometimes ascribing the grandfather as father ( Babylonian Talmud, Kiddushin 4a [Brown’s footnote,ibid, p.75]). Jeconiah then causes the last leg to be 13 rather than 14 due to the pettiness of his 3 month reign in which he seems to have simply been a typical rake which means in a sense that there is a level in which for community purposes, he didn’t even exist. The 13 as symbolic would fit in with the 3x14, non-historical approach which Brown points out leaves certain people out: “ …in fact there were 18 generations of kings of Judah in the four hundred years that separated David from the Babylonian Exile (footnote,ibid, p.75)…the spans of time covered by the three sections of the genealogy are too great to have contained only fourteen generations each, since some 750 years separated Abraham from David, some 400 hundred years separated David from the Babylonian exile, and some 600 years separated the Babylonian exile from Jesus’ birth …OT evidence shows that Matthew omits names in the monarchical and pre-monarchical periods (ibid, p.74-75).”

Brown gives as precedent in these uneven genealogies (Matthew’s and Luke’s) the fact that “I Chr.2:19-20 gives Bezalel the builder of the Tabernacle, more ancestors than does Exod. 31:2.” Brown by the way sides with genealogies being done through the father’s side not the mother’s citing the Babylonian Talmud, Baba Bathra, 109b: “ The family of the father is regarded as the proper family, but the family of the mother is not regarded as proper family.” (footnote 66, p.89)."

Anonymous said...

I have encountered all the objections put forward by bilbannon before. It is an acceptable practice to take into account the ideas of commentators if they enhance our understanding of biblical texts. But when commentators try to explain away or NEGATE the plain intent of biblical texts, then we are entitled to suspect ulterior or doctrinal motives.

For instance, it is in Jewish interests to insist that the established line of Davidic kings continued because it was assumed (wrongly) that the Messiah must derive from this line. In the case of Christian commentators, the doctrinal imperative to demonstrate that Jesus was a "legal" son of David through Joseph's line must be preserved. Otherwise, they are faced with asserting Jesus' descent from David is through his mother Mary, an assertion they recognise has no foundation in the biblical texts whatsoever. Brown rightly "sides with genealogies being done through the father’s side not the mother’s..."

Regardless of what commentators say, the witness of history is in perfect accord with the decree announced against Jeconiah in Jeremiah 22:24, 29-30 - no son of Jeconiah ever sat on the throne of David and ruled as King in Judah again.

Matthew adjusted his generations to suit his own purposes. We are not dealing with accidental omissions or scribal errors at all. As Richard Bauckham says in Gospel Women: Studies of the Women named in the Gospels, page 20 - "Matthew 1:11 is a masterly compressed evocation of the end of the rule of the house of David in Israel." Jews term all kinsmen "brethren" so Matthew's use of the word "brethren" in 1:11 is not an indication of his imperfect state of knowledge. It could just as easily refer to all Jeconiah's royal kinsmen and not just his one known brother issuing from the same womb.

The suggestion that we should blithely "take Jeconiah off Matthew's list" is astonishing. It suggests that our state of knowledge two thousand years further removed from events is somehow more comprehensive than his. It also sets us on a very slippery slope indeed. Perhaps other passages of the New Testament could be removed if they do not serve the interests of doctrine.

The bottom line is...does the bible have the authority...or not?

bilbannon said...

It would be better if you informed sites from the get go that you do not believe Christ is God;that you seek the deconstruction of Catholicism inter alia and you have a book to that effect which authorship itself is a temptation to having the vested interest that you accuse the Jewish books cited of having herein. I will pray for you but I feel scripture itself orders me away from direct engagement with your responses since you are not a separated brethern in my view.

kentuckyliz said...

Yikes! Apostate theology?! What a waste of time, aren't there better things to do? Why spin your wheels?

I totally understand Mary and Joseph's marriage with her vow of virginity. It was much more common in the early Church--the continentes and virgines.

And, in spite of our modern sex-obsessed culture, I have an aunt and uncle in a Josephite marriage.

I am single for the Lord in the world, and my vocation shocks and appalls many Christians who think all Christians are obligated to marry and breed. There are a lot of sex-obsessed Christians too!

areopa said...

The following reply would be worth Pitre responding to (and is an excellent rejoinder):

Of course, this all amounts to an extreme argument from silence since there is no direct evidence that Mary made such a vow within the pages of Holy Writ (or the corresponding idea that Joseph or her father somehow approved of it). So, even if Pitre is correct about how he interprets Numbers 30, there is no evidence from the Scriptures that Mary took it upon herself to make such a vow.

Additionally, one must also deal with the statement of Matthew 1:25 which seems (prima facie) to go well against the idea that any such vow was put in place by the Mother of our Lord.

Given that this argument works from silence rather than hard evidence, it really leaves Protestants and others with little to no reason to embrace the Perpetual Virginity of Mary as anything other than a Catholic tradition well in need of reform--especially given the abuse present in Roman Catholic and other circles regarding the cult-like status of the Virgin Mary.

Kevin D. Johnson

areopa said...

Excuse me, the hyperlink is:

Claude Mariottini's comments

John and Francie said...

Regarding the Jeconian curse:
Joseph is a unique in that he is a blood descendant of David through Solomon by his father Jacob, and a legal descendant of David through Nathan by his father Eli.
So how can Joseph have two fathers?
After Eli was born, his father died and his mother remarried Matthan and gave birth to Jacob. Thus Eli and Jacob were brothers with the same mother but different fathers.
Eli, of the tribe of Nathan, married but died before producing a child, so his brother Jacob of the tribe of Solomon, according to the law, raised up seed for his brother Eli. Thus Joseph was born, by blood the son of Jacob, but legally the son of Eli, thus passing over the Jeconian curse.

tmr beste said...

Just found this, thank you. anyone who ends with 'Totus Tuus, Maria' in my book is a keeper !

Josh Lowery said...

There are a lot of comments here, and this article is old, so I'll count myself lucky if a) I don't repeat an observation already made and b) I should receive a response from the author(s).

So here it is...

You seem to be brushing over a clear aspect of the Numbers passage you cited, namely, that any of the aforementioned vows are considered innately "foolish" and in need of God's "forgiveness." The problem, to me, seems less of establishing her perpetual virginity but in preserving her supposed sinlessness.