What better day than Christmas to clear up some religious misconceptions?

Courtesy of The Conversation:

It took 400 years, but sometime in the early fifth century Christians transformed a tradition about Jesus’s miraculous virgin birth into a doctrine that inextricably connected sex with sin. It has plagued the church ever since, doing untold damage to generations of women in particular.

In its original context, the claim that Jesus was born to a virgin mother places his birth in a long line of miraculous biblical births. The Bible tells of numerous old women, barren women and young unmarried women (“virgins” in ancient terms) who surprisingly bore children. Their offspring were seen as a sign of God’s blessing of new life, often in the midst of suffering or hardship

The idea of original sin and its connection to sexual intercourse was popularised by African theologian Augustine. Not without controversy at the time, Augustine argued that humans were not born innocent, but rather sinful. His rationale was that sexual intercourse involves lust or sexual desire (a negative for him).

While Augustine tied this “original sin” back to Adam and Eve, the parallel focus on Mary’s perpetual virginity is relevant. If sexual intercourse produces sinful offspring, it was essential Mary be and remain a virgin so Jesus could, uniquely, be born sinless.

Such logic might seem absurd to many modern readers, but Augustine’s influence on Christian tradition cannot be overstated. In her book, Adam, Eve, and the Serpent, Princeton Professor Elaine Pagels argues Augustine has left a legacy of problematic and complicated attitudes towards sex in the Christian tradition.

As it turned out the virgin birth also provided a patriarchal society with a bludgeon:

In the 1990s, conservative American churches started focusing on a radical abstinence from sex, the nature of which would likely have appealed to Augustine. Known as “purity culture,” both men and women were expected to remain “pure”.

Women, however, inevitably bore the brunt of this teaching. Girls pledged their virginity and were given promise rings by their fathers, a placeholder for an engagement ring when their virginity would be promised to another man. Young women were taught that the most important thing they could offer their future husband was a body untouched by another male.

Much has been written about the culture of shame and sexual ignorance that has resulted from such an emphasis on sexual purity. There were two notable outcomes: sex outside of marriage became the worst form of sin and women who experienced sexual assault were often additionally traumatised by their church’s teaching about purity and shame.

And this has been the attitude directed almost solely at women for the last two thousand years. 

And it is not just within the Christian religion that this superstitious nonsense has caused incalculable harm. 

In Islam young women who are raped are often blamed for their assault and that possibility is why in some Islamic cultures young women are forced to dress in burqas lest they accidentally “force” some man to defile them and destroy their lives forever. 

But here is the main problem with all of that. 

As it turns out the “virgin birth” in the Bible is a bunch of hooey. 

Courtesy of Bible Odyssey

The original Hebrew text of Isa 7:14 is not about a virgin. Rather, the Hebrew used to describe the woman in Isa 7:14 is almah, a word that means “young woman.” But then the Septuagint, an early translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek, took the Hebrew almah and rendered it as the Greek parthenos, which means “virgin.”

This inadvertent shift from “young woman” to “virgin” is typical of the Septuagint, and it occurs elsewhere, too. For instance, the Hebrew text of Gen 24:16 describes Rebecca as a “young woman [who was] a virgin” (using na’arah, another Hebrew word for “young woman”). But the Greek in the Septuagint changes that into “a virgin [who was] a virgin.” These errors are not surprising, because the Septuagint translators tended not to focus as closely on individual words as some modern readers might like.

In most contexts, calling a “young woman” a “virgin” in the days of the Septuagint would be only a minor translation mistake, hardly even noteworthy, because most young women were virgins, and most female virgins were young women. In modern terms, it would be like mixing up “high schooler” and “teenager”—imprecise perhaps, but good enough for most purposes.

But in one situation, obviously, turning a young woman into a virgin rises to the level of a serious gaffe. And that’s when the young woman is pregnant. This is how the Septuagint, through lack of precision, turned an ordinary birth into a virgin birth.

Now don’t worry Christianity would still have been a thing without the miraculous virgin birth in the bible, but if it had been translated correctly it would have saved women thousands of years of shame and sexual violence. 

So on that note, Merry Christmas everybody. 

And if you are a young woman who wants to have sex outside of wedlock, go for it. 

After all if it was good enough for the mother of Jesus…….