While no reliable details are available about the life of the historical Jesus there is no doubt about the positive impact which his life has had upon us and upon the ancient world. This has given rise to the invention of multiple unsubstantiated Christianities and mythologies which include birth stories about him. These birth stories were only composed AFTER the wonderful characteristics of his adult life had impacted his followers. One of those attributes was his undoubted humility. He would have freaked out at the suggestion that he was divine. Unfortunately, the insistence that he was the Son of God has been mindlessly endorsed by the modern world. Rather than having been conceived of the Holy Ghost, a credible image of this infant is that, as a new born baby, he arrived in a country occupied by a merciless foreign power, under threat of persecution, having been conceived out of wedlock, of doubtful parentage, with no satisfactory shelter, unsuitably clad, and being guarded by an honourable partner in an unhygienic makeshift crib. But the New Testament writers were so impressed by his transforming life as an adult that first Mark, then Matthew, and then Luke tried to say something significant and sacred about how he came into the world.
Matthew’s birth story about the immaculate conception of Jesus is recorded in chapter 1 verses 22-25. Matthew must have been searching in his Jewish scriptures for endorsement of his theory that his hero was divine. He thought he had succeeded by quoting from the prophet Isaiah as recorded in the revised interpretation of the Greek Septuagint, chapter 7: 14. “Behold, a virgin shall be with child and shall bring forth a son.” But he made two mistakes – one was his misunderstanding of the Greek word, PARTHENOS used for virgin and, the second was his failure to use the correct context in which Isaiah made his prophetic statement.
Isaiah’s original use of a word for the mother of the child is in his own language, the Hebrew, ALMAH which is found in his Jewish scriptures called the Torah from which the original Greek Septuagint was translated. ALMAH does not mean virgin. It is a Hebrew description of a young woman of child bearing age. There is no Greek equivalent for this word; the nearest Greek word is PARTHENOS which the original translators of the Septuagint had to use. It was only later in Matthew’s lifetime, when the memory of unequivalence was lost, that it came back to be understood as meaning virgin. So with apologies to Matthew and to the King James version of the Bible, my birth story in my first paragraph above makes a lot of sense to me.
Secondly, Isaiah’s prophetic utterances in chapter 7 were addressed to the decadent King Ahaz of Israel. At that time, the powerful Syrian army was advancing upon Israel and Jehovah’s people were in fear of being defeated and taken captive. Isaiah challenged Ahaz to repent of his godless ways and trust Jehovah for deliverance from the invading Syrian forces. In effect, he said to Ahaz, “Before the time taken for one of Israel’s young women to conceive and bring up her son to the age of accountability, Jehovah will have destroyed the Syrian threat and the Lord will be with you. As a sign, she will call her boy Immanuel, which means God is with us. “ So once again, with apologies to Matthew, Isaiah was not talking about a golden age to come; he was giving a sign of his present day assurance of peace and deliverance for God’s faithful people in his day and in accordance with their current culture and belief.
Therefore my birth story resonates strongly with my (unsubstantiated) image of an historical Jesus of Nazareth. He is an exemplary model for the millions of people in identical circumstances of poverty throughout the world and an icon of hope that out of their abject condition, inspired by Jesus they can rise above their circumstances and live a fulfilling life.