The following is part 1 of a response to a local newspaper blog which published this:
In the digital column, “The Christmas Story and Other Redeeming Myths” (ISJ, December, 2013), the historical nature of the Nativity of Jesus Christ was severely questioned and minimized. There are two angles of thought in this, one involving supposed historical and textual problems, and the other with the alleged “non-uniqueness” of orthodox Christianity, in which every possible parallel is made between Christianity and other religions. This is done in order to construct a sort of pan-humanistic myth that is a teaching tool only, and certainly not real history. Let’s first look generally at the idea of this “Parallelomania” with the textual/historical issues being addressed at a later date.
The idea of “comparative religions” to try and eliminate the unique features of any religion to make them all similar is described best by 20th century liberal historian Adolf Von Harnack: “We must reject the comparative mythology which finds a casual connection between everything and everything else… By such methods one can turn Christ into a sun god in the twinkling of an eye, or one can bring up the legends attending the birth of every conceivable god, or one can catch all sorts of mythological doves to keep company with the baptismal dove…the wand of “comparative religions” triumphantly eliminates every spontaneous trait in any religion” (Quoted in Reinventing Jesus, 227, by Komoszewski, Sawyer, and Wallace). Only by the loosest possible scenarios can such comparative “wand waving” even be feasible, and when the Triune God of classic Christianity is examined closely, there is simply nothing like orthodox Christianity.
No other faith in the world has the creator God of the universe, not “supermen” like Zeus, or Krishna, or Saoshaynt, or Buddha, or Mithras, or Zoroaster etc…But the God of which “that which nothing greater can be conceived,” actually taking on human flesh for the redemption of His creation because of our fallen condition. There is simply nothing like it. Any other “miraculous births,” “resurrections,” “communion meals” etc…that are supposedly held in common with the salvation history of Christianity, are modernist constructs that commit several historical fallacies. These fallacies include the “terminological fallacy” (taking Christian terms and concepts and reading them into other religions), the “dependency fallacy” (parallels do not inherently mean borrowing, and form and substance are different things), the “chronological fallacy,” (many of the religions that bear these features were reacting to the spread of Christianity, not the other way around), and the “composite fallacy” (lumping pagan religions together into a sort of narrative par excellence that never existed). Since we are in the season of Christmastide, speculation around the Virgin Birth is a good example of these fallacies in action.
Most of the candidates for “virgin birth” similarities are either pagan gods such as Perseus or Dionysus, historical/legend figures like Romulus, or actual historical figures of great importance such as Alexander the Great. In EVERY case, some sort of actual physical coupling takes place between a god (who is never the supreme ruler of the universe like the Christian God) and a usually mortal woman, with the physical union resulting in a pregnancy. For example, in the case of Perseus, Zeus takes form as a “shower of gold” and physically impregnates Danae. In the case of Heracles, Zeus takes the form of Alcmene’s husband and forms a union with her. When it comes to Romulus, one of the vestal virgins is “ravished,” and Mars is the implied father. Even the “divine” birth of Buddha occurs from one who is already married and has enjoyed “loves delights” with her husband beforehand, hardly comparable to the Virgin Mary. And of course, Buddha is not the creator of the universe taking on flesh.
20th century New Testament scholar Raymond Brown demonstrates the fallaciousness in such an approach when he writes, “Non-Jewish parallels have been found in the figures of world religions (the births of Buddha, Krishna, and the son of Zoroaster), in Greco-Roman mythology, in the births of the pharaohs (with the God Amun-Ra acting through the father) and in the marvelous births of emperors and philosophers (Augustus, Plato etc.). But these “parallels” consistently involve a type of hieros gamos where a divine male, in human or other form, impregnates a woman…They are not really similar to the non-sexual virginal conception that is at the core of the infancy narratives, a conception where there is no male deity or element to impregnate Mary…no search for parallels has given us a truly satisfactory explanation of how early Christians happened upon the idea of a virginal conception unless, of course, that is what really took place.” (Raymond Brown, The Virginal Conception and Bodily Resurrection of Jesus, 62-65).
It is true that every birth is celebrated as a gift from the Triune God, since He is the author of life, and every child is created in the image of God, which is one of the reasons orthodox Christians believe life to be “from conception to natural death.” However, the birth of the God-man, Jesus Christ, is wholly and completely unique, and perhaps the most momentous event in all of history. “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).