The Virginal Consensus

Question from Kaitlyn:
I need some help with a question that is really confusing me. I just watched a video regarding Jesus in the Bible. It said that Matthew and Luke wrote about how Jesus was born, his miracles, and his resurrection. It also was said that they may have not known each other. How were they able to write about the same thing, for example that Jesus came from a virgin? Even though they don’t have the exact same story, how could they both all of a sudden think he came from a virgin? I am an atheist, but I question all theories because I would rather be 100 percent about everything before completely crashing it down. This question is one I can’t find myself to answer on my own, and is really making me question what to believe. Please, some help would be awesome! Thanks.

Answer by SmartLX:
There’s quite a lot going on here. Your question touches on several different issues of Biblical authorship, so I’ll address them separately.

If the Gospels according to Matthew and Luke were in fact written by the apostles Matthew and Luke who knew and followed Jesus, then of course they knew each other and could collaborate on their accounts. As you probably know, though, these gospels were written years or even decades after the given timeframe of Jesus’ crucifixion, and very possibly by other people.

Though the authors might not have known each other, they could have had access to the same accounts from earlier on. As it happens, a popular hypothesis is that the authors of Matthew and Luke shared two principal sources, which explains much of the overlap: the Gospel according to Mark, and an as-yet-undiscovered and therefore hypothetical second document known as the Q source. To summarise, there are credible alternative explanations for the claims made by Matthew and Luke ‘independently’ to the false dilemma of pure coincidence or divine advice.

When the Book of Isaiah, which contains the prophecy relating to the Messiah’s birth, was translated from Hebrew to Greek, the word almah regarding the mother was translated to parthenos. The easiest way to explain the significance of this is that the equivalent of the word maiden, which might mean ‘virgin’ in some circumstances but otherwise just means ‘young woman’, was changed to the word virgin and all ambiguity was eliminated. (The literal Hebrew word for ‘virgin’ is betulah, which wasn’t used.) The Greek translation was made around 200 BC(E) and was therefore available to all the authors of the Gospels if they did basic research. Even if the above hypothesis is wrong and ‘Matthew’ and ‘Luke’ had no common direct sources for the life of Jesus, they both knew that the Messiah’s life had damn well better match the centuries-old prophecy’s call for a virgin mother.

The “Special” Saviour

Question from Meg:
So why don’t you believe in God? I’ve always found that with most real atheists there is an actual reason rather than just a lack of interest.

And also,
In previous discussions I’ve noticed that there has apparently been other stories of saviours with twelve disciples etc. I have never heard of these parallels, so I can’t say whether or not they are true but I do know one thing for sure. Not one of these could forgive sins. Does this not mark Jesus as special?

Answer by SmartLX:
It’s certainly not a lack of interest. Religion as a whole is not only interesting but fascinating. It is rather a lack of evidence or convincing arguments. At a certain point enough time had passed since my early indoctrination into Catholicism that the emotional connection had faded, so I was able to look at it with no strong bias, as a real agnostic. As I did I realised I didn’t buy into it at all anymore, and had not replaced it with any other faith, and was therefore an atheist.

While it’s been established that the individual features of Jesus’ story are all fairly common in mythology, Jesus does apparently represent a unique combination. For instance, while many gods have spent time in human form and many gods forgive sins, I know of no other story in which the earthly avatar himself was personally responsible for forgiving sins. Here is a list of other crucified saviours, and the reasons for several have to do with sin, but none of them appear to be quite the same.

I suppose you could call Jesus special based on that, but it would mean that all comparable figures are also special in their own ways. They’re all unique combinations, because they’re all at least slightly different. The Hindu god Indra, for instance, is probably the only one who had to get wasted on the liquid essence of another god (Soma) before fighting a serpent to get Earth’s water back.

Ultimately, even without devaluing the word “special” like this, the idea that Jesus was special among religious figures does not in itself support the idea that he was really a god, or rose from the dead.

A Grain of Truth?

Question from Casey:
In a previous question about the birth of Christianity the answer detailed the many links between the story of Jesus and other ‘myths’. It was then suggested that the story of Jesus was stolen. My question, however is that if so many other ‘myths’ exist that are so similar doesn’t that imply that there is more truth to Jesus’s life as even non Christians are stating His story? All ‘myths’ tend to have a basis in truth. Just something to think about.

God Bless.

Answer by SmartLX:
The myth of centaurs has a basis in truth. The basis is that people have ridden horses for thousands of years, but not everyone has. Some tribes and races unfamiliar with horses, when seeing them ridden for the first time, have failed to immediately realise that the human riders were separate from their mounts, and identified the two as a single creature until they became familiar with the utility of horses.

The point is, just because you can easily see where the myth came from doesn’t mean that there was ever a real horse-man hybrid. Not even P.T. Barnum tried to fool anybody with that one, and he once exhibited a carefully crafted mermaid.

In the story of Jesus we see claims which have been repeated throughout history at the foundation of different religions, and this is the likely basis for the similarity of those claims. In what’s now known as the early-to-middle first century, there was definitely a group of people trying to convince everyone that their now-absent leader not only spoke for God but was God. They went about it in the usual manner of people in their position: they told a story which was amazing and yet satisfyingly well-aligned with prophecies and symbolic numbers (and I use “well-aligned” deliberately, given the possible Zodiac connections).

The fact that others had tried this before says little or nothing positive about the veracity of the claims about Jesus. It just tells us that his chroniclers might have been reassured by historical precedent that people would believe them.

Answer by Andrea:
The fact that the myth of the sun god Horus preceded the tales of Buddha, Christna, Jesus, etc. by about one to two thousand years shows that the latter myths all stemmed from one source.
The main reason the Christ mythology still survives today is because Christians had the luxury of slaughtering the opposition,e.g. the Crusades.

I don’t know that it is true that all myths tend to have a basis in truth. I have yet to see a jolly guy dressed in red drop presents down my chimney, for example.

Of course, you’re entitled to believe whatever you choose to believe — provided it doesn’t hurt anyone else or you don’t try to shove your beliefs down the throats of others. If your beliefs make you feel better, I’m all for it.

Thank you for your question.

The women at the tomb, and other conundrums

Question from Mr Brown:
This isn’t so much an atheist question but a question concerning the validity, or lack there of, of the resurrection.
In Matthew 27:65-66 the author tells us how several women who went to Yeshua’s (Jesus) tomb to anoint his body with spices after he was crucified.
My first question is how did two women (three in the gospel of Mark) plan on unsealing a sealed tomb guarded by Roman guards and sealed by a large stone tomb?
Second question: Why didn’t his disciples go to anoint his body, particularly his brothers James and his twin Jude?
Third question: After Jesus’ resurrection in Luke 24:36 Jesus is able to walk through walls (appear in sealed rooms John 20:19) why was there a need to roll the stone from his tomb?

One last question not concerning the resurrection.
If the accounts of Jesus are true how could both his family and disciples doubt he was the messiah after seeing, people brought back to life, angels, the ability to control nature, healing the blind, terminally ill, crippled, and other unearthly phenomena?

Answer by SmartLX:
The thing about asking obvious questions about the resurrection story is that people have had two thousand years to plug holes in the narrative through re-translation, re-interpretation or plain old guesswork. Of course, if you assume temporarily that certain parts of the story were true and others weren’t, other reasons practically suggest themselves.

– When the women set out to anoint Jesus, they might not have known about the stone. They would probably have expected the guards to let them access the body, as long as they didn’t try to steal it. (As it happened in the story, the women were left alone with the open tomb after the tremor, and the Romans hadn’t checked inside, so if the body were still there that would have been a great time to move it.)
– Perhaps anointing was women’s work (it certainly didn’t take a holy man, or the women wouldn’t even have tried) or the eleven remaining disciples were too afraid of their own disillusioned followers to go near the place. (They didn’t yet have the resurrection story to redeem themselves in the eyes of true believers, and avoid getting lynched.)
– Apologists get a great deal of mileage out of the mere existence of the Empty Tomb (assuming that even that existed). If the stone hadn’t been moved, the tomb might not have been found empty – and without prior knowledge of an empty tomb, appearances of Jesus might have had less impact. (To view it more cynically, if the stone hadn’t been moved it wouldn’t have been possible for anyone besides an undead Jesus to empty the tomb.)
– You’ve got me on that last one. I haven’t heard a good reason why Jesus’ prior miracles seemed to account for so little if they actually happened.

Look, if I don’t tell you, someone else will: you’re asking the wrong guy if you actually want to hear the accepted answers to these questions. Go ask some Christians. (Better yet, see how many different rationalisations you can collect from different Christians.)