Virgin birth myths
Though the Christmas season these days has more to do with the art of giving, rest and celebrations and less about Jesus's birth, there are many who still hold on to the belief that his birth was special. Those who do must have a very difficult time reconciling their belief with historical facts.
Top of the list is the very false claim that Christ was born of a virgin. The claim that he was born of a virgin wasn't around when Jesus himself was alive -- and for a very good reason. Everybody who knew Jesus's family was fully aware that his mother was Mary and his father was Joseph. Jesus himself never claimed that he was divinely conceived. The idea of a virgin birth came long after Jesus's death.
When Jesus was alive, his close associates wanted to give the impression that he was some sort of messiah. So, unable to use anything except local traditions, we have them trying to link Jesus to David, one of Israel's great kings, through genealogies that were supposed to be true. Even this genealogy attempt didn't work. The two cases listed in the gospels disagree with each other. Plus, as the Hebrews at the time thought little of Jesus, these "impressive" genealogies clearly didn't make much of an impression at the time.
However, the fact that Jesus was supposed to have been linked to King David, through Joseph, proved that they all accepted that Joseph was indeed the father of Jesus. Why the later change?
It must be understood that the early Christian fathers were eager to win new converts for their then struggling faith. After making little headway with their own people, they decided to try and sell Christianity to the Romans.
However, the early Christian fathers were fully aware that the Romans would not be impressed with a god who was born of simple Hebrews. As such, they had to come up with something that would impress the Romans. You know what they say: "when in Rome: do what the Romans do".
Rome was bursting at the seams with supermen and demigods being born of virgins. Several of the emperors themselves were supposedly fathered by gods. Well, if these could be fathered by gods and they were supposed to be less than Jesus, Jesus would need a god as his father if the Romans were to believe. I suppose that if anyone is to be blamed or credited for this virgin birth claim it's the Romans.
There is one more myth that is being spread in modern times. Joseph and Mary are always pictured as mature people. This is a good example of how myths can be "dressed up" to suit contemporary morals. The real truth is that at the time of Jesus's conception, Joseph was most likely in his late thirties of even forties, while Mary was most likely around age fourteen or even younger.
While some of us today might be disturbed by this, back then and in that culture and space, such unions were legal and morally acceptable. Life expectancy for men wasn't very long either. That is why nothing more is heard of Joseph after Jesus was lost in the temple, at around age twelve.
Like the claims of his resurrection, those of his birth were manufactured for one primary purpose -- not necessarily to tell the truth, obviously, but to covert as many people as possible to the new faith.
Michael A Dingwall