jupe and his dang religious reading

I’m grateful to have had a day off yesterday.

I spent it reading,


and chatting online with my grandson in California.

Today I have a full day planned. Pick up the car from the Muffler Man parking lot before Eileen goes to work. Choose prelude and postlude for this Sunday. Then I plunge into four and half hours of ballet classes interrupted only by a lunch hour.

I’m enjoying Diarmaid McCulloch’s Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years. He quickly gets through the first thousand in the first two chapters. He has some interesting insights into how Greek and Jewish history is necessary to the birth of Christianity.

Later in his chapter on Jesus, “A Crucified Messiah,” he explains the origin of the virgin birth of Christ:

“This tangle of preoccupations with Mary’s virginity centers on Matthew’s quotation from a Greek version of words of the prophet Isaiah in the Septuagint: ‘Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel’. this alters or refines the meaning of isaiah’s orginal Hebrew: where the prophet  had talked only of ‘a young woman’ conceiving and bearing a son, the Septuagint projected ‘young woman’ into the Greek word for ‘virgin’ (parthenos).” Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:23

I looked in my standard Bible reference, The Complete Parallel Bible, which lines up four translations: New Revised Standard Version, Revised English Bible, New American Bible, and the New Jerusalem Bible. All of them translate Matthew’s use of the word, “virgin.” I assume that’s because it’s the word which was used in the original.

However in Isaiah, three of the four restore the phrase, “a young woman.” Two of these footnote that it was “virgin” in the Greek. One of them, the New American Bible, simple writes “virgin” with no footnote. The New American Bible was an authorized Roman Catholic translation last time I looked. Not sure what they are using now.

There is a lot of Catholic theology based on Mary’s virginity. I can see how an accurate translation might not help that.

I love McCulloch’s lens of language that he constantly uses. Here’s a lovey example of how the word Christianity blends a lot of history into one word.

“The name ‘Christian’ has a double remoteness from its Jewish roots. Surprisingly in view of its origins in the Greek eastern Mediterranean and amid the Semitic culture of Syria, the word has a distinctively Latin rather than Greek form, and yet it also points to the Jewish founder, not by his name, Joshua, but by that Greek translation of Messiah, Christos. With its Latin development of a Greek word summing up a Jewish life-story, this very name ‘Christian’ embodies a violent century which had set Rome against Jerusalem, and the world has resonated down nearly two thousand years, during which Christianity in turn has set itself against its surviving parent, Judaism. ‘Christian’ embodies the two languages which became the vehicle for talking about Christianity within the Roman Empire: Latin and Greek, the respective languages of Western Catholicism and Greek Orthodoxy.”

This is probably more than any clear thinking reader wants to know about this stuff, but it’s what’s on my mind this morning.

That and the stifling heat which is already throbbing outside. Thank goodness for air conditioning.


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3 thoughts on “jupe and his dang religious reading

  1. Actually, I think that the notion of a virgin birth has very little to do with the Isaiah passage. Caesar Augustus was said to have been born of a virgin. The stories surrounding Jesus’ birth are intended to show a dichotomy between the reign of God and the reign of Caesar. This contrast is found throughout the scriptures. At least that’s what I’ve read and think. (Cf. JD Crossan)

  2. Jonny, there’s much more to Christianity than your point of view of Christ as sinless only because he was born of a virgin. Sorry about that.

    Mark, I am aware as I am sure McCulloch is of the precedent of other stories of virgin births outside of Christianity and I’m sure they have had a strong influence. What I enjoy is the way McCulloch points out these little word things in the history since I like words so much. The Isaiah passage is misquoted in Matthew with an addition of the use of “virgin” instead of “young woman.” I think this Matthew passage is sort of important in Christianity. But maybe that’s just because I can hear Herb Thompson’s tinny voice coming over the speaker on the roof of the live nativity pageant at West Court Street Church of God in Flint. Or dang Handel’s Messiah: “Behold a virgin shall conceive….”

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