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As Christmas draws near, many Christians will display Nativity scenes featuring Joseph, the virgin Mary and baby Jesus. The virgin Mary? How authentic is this article of faith, and how far back does it go?
These questions are raised in The Virgin Birth: Mystery or Myth (AuthorHouse, 66 pp., ISBN: 1-4140-6795-X (e-book); ISBN: 1-4140-6796-8 paperback) by J. R. Longsdorf, an ordained minister for more than 30 years who has published internationally, including articles and studies published through his denominations literature. He graduated first in his class at Park University with a master of arts in religious studies and religious leadership. He has taught seminars across the United States and the Caribbean, focusing on emerging doctrines in the early Christian church.
As the book title suggests, this author does not necessarily accept the virgin birth of Jesus, stated in the Apostles Creed, as factual. He takes the reader on an intriguing intellectual journey exploring various possibilities for the doctrines origin. This concise, yet thorough, book is divided into four chapters covering the infancy narratives (in the gospels of Matthew and Luke); parallels in other religious movements; literary development; and the virgin birth as taught in the second century.
Longsdorf notes apparent contradictions between the two accounts in Matthew and Luke, and he speculates on the reasons for the differing genealogies through King Davids line of descendants. He suggests that the virgin birth stories were later additions to the original gospels (most biblical scholars think about 80 A.D.), and he asks why St. Paul made no mention of it in his epistles. He also notes that Matthew includes four women in his genealogy, at a time when women were rarely included in these records. Why? What did these women have in common?
The book comes with a bibliography, and numerous footnotes are listed throughout the text. Longsdorf dissects the original meaning of Isaiah 7:14, usually quoted as the main Old Testament prophecy of a coming prince to be born of a virgin. He also makes comparisons with other virgin birth stories of mythological Greek and Roman heroes, and explores parallels in the pagan mystery religions. He even draws parallels with emperor worship and quotes a poem, the fourth Eologue of Virgil, known as the messianic eologue, which is a paean to the birth of Augustus Caesar.
Longsdorf quotes various writers such as Paul Lobstein, who said, Myth, no less than history, can serve as a means and channel of the revelation from above… Speaking for his own view, Longsdorf says, nearly every religion of the first century was exposed, to some degree, to the ideas of miraculous conceptions, or even, virgin births of their heroes, saviors, man-gods, and emperors… There is a strong argument that supports the idea that the virgin birth tradition was not prevalent in Christianity for several decades, even after the death of Jesus. He points to the silence of our other gospels, Paul, and the rest of the New Testament writers as evidence.
He states unequivocally, Christianity has always been a missionary religion, and adds later as an example, In Antioch, where the Christian movement early spread, is a specific situation which would have made a virgin birth conception a very useful bit of Christian propaganda.
Still, in matters of faith, each one must make his or her own decision. As Jesus said, Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed. You may or may not agree with this authors explanation, but you may be encouraged to look into it further, as in any of the numerous references cited.
There is one mystery, however, that the book makes no attempt to answer. To which denomination does the author belong?
AuthorHouse is the premier publishing house for emerging authors and new voices in literature. For more information, visit www.authorhouse.com.
From the Dec. 20-26, 2006, issue