"...I AM THE WAY, and the truth, and the life.." (John14:6).
"I am the ALPHA and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and
the end. " (Rev 22.13).
Muslims believe that Jesus (called 'Isa in Arabic) was the son of Mary, and was conceived without the intervention of a human father.
The Qur'an describes that an angel appeared to Mary, to announce to her the "gift of a holy son" (19:19). She was astonished at the news, and asked: "How shall I have a son, seeing that no man has touched me, and I am not unchaste?" (19:20). When the angel explained to her that she had been chosen for the service of God, and that God had ordained the matter, she devoutly submitted herself to His will.
In the Qur'an and other Islamic sources, there is no mention of Joseph the carpenter, nor any recollection of the inn and manger legend. On the contrary, the Qur'an describes that Mary retreated from her people (outside the city), and gave birth to Jesus underneath a remote date palm tree. The tree miraculously provided nourishment for her during labor and birth. (See Chapter 19 of the Qur'an for the entire story. The chapter has aptly been named "The Chapter of Mary.")
"God sent Jesus [peace be upon him] as a prophet to the children of Israel after so many prophets were sent to them, some with miracles as in the case of Moses, but they [Israelites] did not observe and abide by God's laws and commandments. Jesus was the last prophet from the children of Israel to them and was sent in a miraculous way to prove to a people who expected miracles to believe that a person was a prophet from God. Previous miracles did not convince all the Israelites, therefore God sent Jesus [peace be upon him] in the virgin birth manner and bestowed upon him more convincing miracles that he performed by the will of God to convince the Israelites
OTHER STORIES OF VIRGIN BIRTHS
It may be thought that the story of a virgin birth is too wonderful to have been invented merely to show that a misunderstood prophecy had been fulfilled, and that so miraculous a doctrine could not, without some basis of fact, suddenly be created by any brain, however fertile. But a study of ancient literature discloses the fact that myths of virgin births were part of many if not of all the surrounding pagan religions in the place where, and at the time when, Christianity arose.
"The gods have lived on earth in the likeness of men" was a common saying among ancient pagans, and supernatural events were believed in as explanations of the god's arrival upon earth in human guise.
About two thousand years before the Christian era Mut-em-ua, the virgin Queen of Egypt, was said to have given birth to the Pharaoh Amenkept (or Amenophis) III, who built the temple of Luxor, on the walls of which were represented:-
1. The Annunciation: the god Taht announcing to the virgin Queen that she is about to become a mother.
2. The Immaculate Conception: the god Kneph (the Holy Spirit) mystically impregnating the virgin by holding a cross, the symbol of life, to her mouth.
3. The Birth of the Man-god.
4. The Adoration of the newly born infant by gods and men, including three kings (or Magi ?), who are offering him gifts. In this sculpture the cross again appears as a symbol.
In another Egyptian temple, one dedicated to Hathor, at Denderah, one of the chambers was called "The Hall of the Child in his Cradle"; and in a painting which was once on the walls of that temple, and is now in Paris, we can see represented the Holy Virgin Mother with her Divine Child in her arms. The temple and the painting are undoubtedly pre-Christian.
Thus we find that long before the Christian era there were already pictured in pagan places of worship virgin mothers and their divine children, and that such pictures included scenes of an Annunciation, an Incarnation, and a Birth and Adoration, just as the Gospels written in the second century A.D. describe them, and that these events were in some way connected with the God Taht, who was identified by Gnostics with the Logos.
And, besides these myths about Mut-em-ua and Hathor, many other origins of a virgin birth story can be traced in Egypt.
Horus was said to be the parthenogenetic child of the Virgin Mother, Isis. In the catacombs of Rome black statues of this Egyptian divine Mother and Infant still survive from the early Christian worship of the Virgin and Child to which they were converted. In these the Virgin Mary is represented as a black regress, and often with the face veiled in the true Isis fashion. When Christianity absorbed the pagan myths and rites it adopted also the pagan statues, and renamed them as saints, or even as apostles.
Statues of the goddess Isis with the child Horus in her arms were common in Egypt, and were exported to all neighbouring and to many remote countries, where they are still to be found with new names attached to them-Christian in Europe, Buddhist in Turkestan, Taoist in China and Japan. Figures of the virgin Isis do duty as representations of Mary, of Hariti, of Kuan-Yin, of Kwannon, and of other virgin mothers of gods.
And these were not the only pre-Christian statuettes and engravings of divine mothers and children. On very ancient Athenian coins such figures were stamped. Among the oldest relics of Carthage, of Cyprus, and of Assyria figures of a divine mother and her babe-god are found. Such figures were known under a great variety of names to the followers of various sects; the mothers as Venus, Juno, Mother-Earth, Fortune, etc., and the children as Hercules, Dionysos, Jove, Wealth, etc. In India similar figures are not uncommon, many of them representing Devaki with the babe Krishna at her breast, others representing various less well-known Indian divinities.
In Egypt we also find that "Apis, the sacred bull of Memphis, was believed to have been begotten by a deity descending as a ray of moonlight on the cow which was to become the mother of the sacred beast; hence he was regarded as the son of the god."
This miracle was said to be constantly repeated.
An Apis-so, according to Plutarch, said the Mathematici-was conceived every time a cow "in season" happened to be struck by a beam of light from the moon.
The Mathematici, of course, realized that the light of the moon was really the reflection of the light of the sun, and they therefore believed that the moon received her male generative power as proxy for the sun, the creator of all things.
Apis, the living calf, was regarded as a re-incarnation of Osiris, or at any rate as an emblem of the spirit or soul of Osiris.
It is difficult to assign the exact position in the divine hierarchy which polytheists believed their various gods to occupy. Their beliefs probably differed, and were certainly vague. The better-educated classes were doubtless then, as at all times, inclined to be sceptical, and to regard all these stories of different manifestations of divinity as more or less allegorical or symbolic; and, when they were not sceptical, their minds became so entangled in the complexities of metaphysical speculation that the stories they told grew very confused. On the other hand, the ignorant classes, both rich and poor, certainly believed in the most miraculous explanations of the pantheon which the priests could invent. By such people, the more improbable the alleged fact, the better was the story liked.
From this myth of a cow impregnated by a ray from the moon probably originated the story of the rape of Europa by Jove in the guise of a bull; the idea of a god incarnate in a bull easily giving rise to variants of that kind.
Perhaps the most curious and best known variant of the bull-lover theme is the story about Pasiphae, the wife of Minos. She was said to have conceived a violent passion for the bull which Poseidon (Neptune) had sent to her husband. So, with the aid of an artist, named Daedalus, she disguised herself as a cow, and resorted to the meadow in which the bull grazed. The fruit of her union with the bull was the celebrated Minotaur, partly human, partly bovine, which Minos shut up in the Labyrinth. The ancient superstition that monsters have been born from the union of human beings and animals survived until quite recently, and probably still exists among the uneducated and semi-educated. Exact, or comparatively exact, knowledge of the possibilities of hybridization is a science of quite recent growth.
It will be observed that the Minotaur was named after the husband of his mother, as well as after his real father the Tauros. That is a peculiarity of many of these stories.
Another Egyptian god, Ra (the Sun), was said to have been born of a virgin mother, Net (or Neith), and to have had no father.
In many other countries besides Egypt similar stories of the virgin birth of gods were told.
Attis, the Phrygian god, was said to be the son of the virgin Nana, who conceived him by putting in her bosom a ripe almond or pomegranate.
Dionysos, the Grecian God, was said in one version of the myth concerning him to be the son of Zeus out of the virgin goddess Persephone, and in another version to be the miraculously begotten son of Zeus out of the mortal woman Semele. He, according to this story, was taken from his mother's womb before the full period of gestation had expired, and completed his embryonic life in Zeus's thigh. Dionysos was thus half human and half divine, born of a woman and also of a god.
His myth, which was current long before the Christian era, is a remarkable example of the kind of story which could be, and was, invented about a man-god. He was said to have been persecuted by Pentheus, :King of Thebes, the home of his mother; to have been rejected in his own country; and, when bound, to have asserted that his father, God, would set him free whenever he chose to appeal to him. He disappears from earth, but re-appears as a light shining more brightly than the sun, and speaks to his trembling disciples; and he subsequently visits Hades. The story of his birth is alluded to, and the story of his persecution related, in "The Bacchae," which Euripides wrote about 410 B.C., when the myth was already very old and very well known.
Jason, who was slain by Zeus, was said to have been another son of the virgin Persephone, and to have had no father, either human or divine.
Perseus was also said to have been born of a virgin; and it is this story which Justin Martyr, the second-century Christian "Father of the Church," stigmatizes as an invention of the Devil, who, knowing that Christ would subsequently be born of a virgin, counterfeited the miracle before it really took place.
The "Fathers of the Church" frequently gave this explanation of the numerous pre-Christian virgin birth stories to which their rivals tauntingly referred
Adonis, the Syrian god; Osiris, the first person of the principal Egyptian Trinity; and Mithra, the Persian god whom so many of the Roman soldiers worshipped-all had strange tales told about their births.
At the time when Christianity arose all these gods were worshipped in various parts of the Roman empire.
Attis, Adonis, Dionysos, Osiris, and Mithra were the principal gods in their respective countries; and those countries together formed the greater part of the Eastern provinces of the Roman empire, and of its great rival, the Persian empire.
Classical mythology is full of kindred stories, and the idea of a virgin birth was familiar to all men of that time.
Of Plato it was related that his mother Perictione was a virgin who conceived him immaculately by the god Apollo. Apollo himself revealed the circumstances of this conception to Ariston, the affianced husband of the virgin.
Virginity, perhaps on account of its rarity in those days among women of a marriageable age, had always a halo of sanctity cast over it by barbaric and semi-civilized tribes; and even in civilized Rome itself the Vestal Virgins were looked upon as peculiarly sacred.
This reverence for virginity seems to have sometimes been contemporaneous with the institution of religious prostitution on a large scale. There is, indeed, no reason why this should not have been the case, incongruous though it seems to us, as such religious prostitution was looked upon very differently from the way in which it would now be regarded.
In origin it was an institution designed to bring fertility to the fields (by sympathetic magic). The sacrifice of chastity in the service of the goddess was an act of devotion, and not an act of licentiousness. Once again the reader must be reminded that when studying these customs we must remember that we are dealing with men and women brought up in an entirely different psychological climate from our own. A veneration for chastity was with them not incompatible with periodic orgies, nor with places set aside for sacred prostitution, asceticism and such prostitution being regarded as alternative ways of making a sacrifice for the public good.
Doubtless an historian of the future may find it difficult to reconcile our own professions and our own practice in kindred matters, and will be confused by the protestations of virtuous horror which he reads alongside of accounts given by the same authors of conspicuous lapses from virtue.
The conventions of romance are not always the same as the customs of the people. They reflect the theory rather than the practice. Extremes are always more conspicuous than the mean.
An old story which curiously illustrates this same reverence felt for virginity by the ancients, in romance rather than in reality, is the myth about the children of AEgyptus and of Danaus.
The former had fifty sons; the latter fifty daughters. The former ruled over Arabia; the latter over Libya. They quarrelled over the kingdom of Egypt which the former had conquered, and when AEgyptus tried to patch up the quarrel by sending his sons to marry the daughters of Danaus the latter pretended to consent, but provided his daughters with daggers and with instructions how to use them. On their wedding night all the daughters of Danaus, save one, murdered their husbands in their sleep. Hypermnestra spared her husband Lyncous because he had respected her virginity, and not availed himself of his marital privileges.
So Lynceus survived the slaughter of his brethren, and lived happily ever after with Hypermnestra, by whom he had at least one son.
It is not possible here to enter at length into the origin and history of the curious veneration for virginity which was current at this period, but it is of interest to note that the belief that some occult power was attached to this state of unblemished purity survived even up to the Middle Ages of our era.
For example, it was thought that virgins were peculiarly efficient as bait for Unicorns. The Unicorn, or rather his congener, the Monoceros-for it is of him that our present authority writes-was evidently a fastidious beast; only a virgin could attract him. On finding one tied up in the forest as a lure he was wont to kiss her, and then to fall asleep on her breast. Whereupon the brave hunter came up and slew him in his sleep. If the young woman was not really a virgin, the Monoceros immediately killed her, and disappeared before the hunter arrived.
This method of hunting the Monoceros is described in the "Bestiary" of Philip de Thaun, written in the twelfth century, and is but one of the many strange facts alleged by authors of that period in support of the theory that virginity had special virtues when dealings were had with animals, with demons, and with human beings.
It was a semi-romantic, semi-religious halo which was cast over this particular physical condition.
To the Vestal Virgins in Rome were attributed the faculty of prophesying and many sacred virtues. All virgins were immune from death at the hand of the executioner, and the Vestals enjoyed many other privileges so long as they preserved their chastity.
The same idea is found "in the histories of miraculous virgins that are so numerous in the mythologies of Asia. Such, for example, was the Chinese legend that tells how, when there was but one man with one woman upon earth, the woman refused to sacrifice her virginity even in order to people the globe; and the gods, honouring her purity, granted that she should conceive beneath the gaze of her lover's eyes, and a virgin-mother became the parent of humanity."
One of the legends which arose as Buddhism degenerated from its original lofty idealism was to the effect that the Buddha Gautama was given birth to by Maya, an immaculate virgin who conceived him through a divine influence.
Gautama, the Buddha, was the son of a Hindu rajah named Suddhodana, and was born, in the ordinary course of nature, in 563 B.C. He never claimed to be a god, neither did either he himself or his disciples claim that his birth was miraculous.
But in after years a myth arose among Buddhists to the effect that his mother Maya, having been divinely chosen to give birth to the Buddha, was borne away by spirits to the Himalayas, where she underwent ceremonial purifications at the hands of four queens. The Bodhisattva then appeared to her, and walked round her three times. At the moment when he completed his peregrinations the Buddha (the incarnate Bodhisattva) entered her womb, and great wonders took place in heaven, on earth, and in hell.
...But Jesus held his peace. And the high priest said unto him, I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us whether thou art the Christ, the Son of God.
Jesus said unto him,
Thou hast said: nevertheless I say unto you,
Henceforth ye shall see the Son of man sitting at the right hand of Power,
and coming on the clouds of heaven.
....nevertheless I say unto you, Henceforth ye shall see the Son of man
sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.
(Matt 26: 63 & 64)
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