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Like a Virgin? The Controversial Account of Mary, Mother of Jesus

Like a Virgin? The Controversial Account of Mary, Mother of Jesus

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The Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus, is one of the key symbols of Christianity and a woman whose cult changed the world. However, she may be one of the most misunderstood biblical people. According to some researchers, the famous story of a woman who had never had sexual contact with a man yet gave birth was caused by a mistake in the translation of ancient text.

The Virgin Mary is well known from the Bible, but there are not too many pieces of archaeological evidence about her life. Through the centuries, the story of the woman whose real name was Miriam, has changed the world. Her greatest claim to fame was delivering a boy named Joshua, who became known as Jesus. As the Holy Mother in Christianity, she was described as a symbol of purity and humbleness.

Differing Stories About Mary, Mother of Jesus

The famous story from the Bible says that Miriam (Mary) was a young, perhaps single, lady who met an angel and discovered by a message from God that she would give birth to his son. However, the Toledot Yeshu , an ancient Jewish book, presents a very different version of this story.

‘Annunciation’ (1489-1490) by Sandro Botticelli. ( Public Domain )

The unknown Jewish writers claim that Miriam was married to a man named John, but met a Roman soldier named Tiberius Pantera (sometimes spelled Panthera or Pandera). She fell in love and betrayed John with the Roman warrior. When John discovered the lovers, she was already pregnant and John decided to divorce her.

Tiberius took the name Josephus and created a family with Miriam and their little son Joshua (Jesus). The boy was famous for completing all sorts of miracles, which he had learned from the old masters. Some of his abilities were said to be: walking on water, changing water into wine, and many more. But the scandalous story of Miriam and the two men may explain why some felt it was better if she was called ''the virgin''.

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph . ( DeVon /Adobe Stock)

Translations Revealing the Truth

The biggest misunderstanding in the Virgin Mary’s story comes from a mistake in translation. It is common for translations to be based on former translations and the meaning behind words is often decoded by specialists in specific languages. Moreover, many translations were made of this story based on dictionaries created by specialists in Latin - which is the key to the mystery behind the word ''virgin''.

The word ''virgin'' comes from the Latin ''virgo'', which means ''maiden'' or a sexually inexperienced woman. This word was the basis for the stories about Mary as a woman who had never had intercourse with a man.

However, historically the term virgin meant ''one-in-herself'' - a woman who didn't need a man. It didn't necessarily mean that she didn't have one, however. This interpretation better represents a woman who was independent, financially free, mentally strong, and not overly dependent on her lover or partner.

Woodcut illustration of the zodiac sign Virgo used by Alexander and Samuel Weissenhorn of Ingolstadt.

Woodcut illustration of the zodiac sign Virgo used by Alexander and Samuel Weissenhorn of Ingolstadt. ( POP/CC BY 2.0 )

In ancient times, women were sometimes believed to be very strongly attached or even mentally addicted to their first sexual partner. Therefore, to avoid this problem, an ancient society of the Mediterranean area (and also other parts of the Middle East and Persia) decided to create a custom which became a part of religious ceremonies.

It was once common for women in these locations to go to the temples of Ishtar or Aphrodite, for example, to have sexual intercourse with the priest. They could never meet again, but this act, which was seemingly approved of by the goddess of the temple, allowed the woman to avoid becoming too attached to her lover. The visit in the temple was usually a suggestion given by her family and it was not seen as a betrayal or scandal.

Fragment of a stone plaque from the temple of Ishtar as known as Inanna – goddess of love, beauty, sex, desire, fertility 2500 BC. (Xenophon / CC BY-SA 3.0 )

However, researchers also suggest that the word virgin could be applied by ancient societies to women who were independent in different fields. It is possible that Mary could have been autonomous in other ways, but neither the Bible nor other texts delve into this idea.

The Virgin Mary is a Symbol for Many Things

Mary became a symbol for many things, including the famous Ark of the Covenant . As the specialists from the website Catholic Bible 101 explain:

''The Old Testament Ark of the Covenant contained three items – The Word of God in the form of stone tablets (the 10 Commandments), manna (bread) from Heaven, and the rod of Aaron that resprouted and came back to life (Hebrews 9:4).  Just so, the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary contained Jesus Christ – The living Word of God (John 1:1), the bread of life (John 6:48), and the ruler with a rod of iron who also came back to life (Rev.12:5). At the Annunciation of Mary, Gabriel told her that the power of the most high would “overshadow” her (Luke 1:35).  The term “overshadow” is significant, because it was also used to refer to the cherubim “overshadowing” the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant (Hebrews 9:5).  The Ark was made with pure gold (Exodus 4ff), and was very holy, which parallels the Catholic teaching that Mary is also pure and holy.  The Ark of the Covenant was so holy, that no ordinary person could even touch it.  Uzzah reached out to steady it, and was instantly struck dead (2 Samuel 6:7).''

Moses and Joshua in the Tabernacle, bowing before the Ark, (1896-1902) By James Tissot.

Moses and Joshua in the Tabernacle, bowing before the Ark, (1896-1902) By James Tissot. ( Public Domain )

These suggestions support the idea that Mary was depicted as a symbolic holy vessel, which brought Jesus to life. But it also became the beginning of an interesting story. It may be nothing to do with being inexperienced as a sexual lover.

Mary could have been called a virgin because of her charisma, strength, and power to support her son. Ancient people living in the Middle East during her lifetime didn't see virginity in the same way as the Romans did , for example.

The Virgin Mary from the Ghent Altarpiece – called “The adoration of the lamb” (1432) by Jan van Eyck.

The Virgin Mary from the Ghent Altarpiece – called “The adoration of the lamb” (1432) by Jan van Eyck. ( Public Domain )

Is Mary Really Holy?

Over the centuries, some priests and bishops have wondered if Christians should worship Mary, the mother of Jesus. Perhaps they were aware of the mistake which appeared in the translations of the early texts, but felt that there was nothing they could do to change that error.

However, this doesn't change Mary’s position in history. Some maintain that the stories in the Bible cannot be read as real historical accounts, but as symbolic legends. This idea creates even more debate between religious people and some researchers. Nonetheless, as time passes by and new discussions reveal more about her, the story of Mary becomes even more fascinating.

Pavia, Italy. 2017/11/11. Painting of the Coronation of the Virgin Mary. XIV century. Currently in the Castello Visconteo (Visconteo castle). ( Adam Ján Figeľ /Adobe Stock)

Top Image: Verona - Coronation of Virgin Mary scene . Source: Renáta Sedmáková /Adobe Stock

By Natalia Klimczak

References:

W. Eichelberger, Kobieta bez winy I wstydu, 2015.

The Blessed Virgin Mary, available at:
http://www.catholicbible101.com/theblessedvirginmary.htm

Should we worship Mary, available at:
https://bible.org/question/should-we-worship-mary

Toledot Yeshu, available at:
http://jewishchristianlit.com//Topics/JewishJesus/toledoth.html

Comments

The first part of my response dealt with a reply that call the conception of Jesus a union of Mary and a dove (bestiality).

The second part dealt with an attack on Christian understanding. The writer said, "The greatest misunderstanding in the Virgin Mary’s story comes from a mistake in translation." Really, she does not reference this broad statement. Why would she assume that it is misunderstood? Does she think Christian theologians are idiots in the subjects of higher and lower criticism. This is lower criticism. She then continues, "It is common for translations to be based on former translations and the meaning behind words is often decoded by specialists in specific languages. Moreover, many translations were made of this story based on dictionaries created by specialists in Latin - which is the key to the mystery behind the word ''virgin''. However, the Bible was not written in Latin, the earliest text are in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Koine Greek. Searching Latin is a waste of time. The Latin Vulgate and all Latin versions are translations. She has to know this or she is totally unqualified to write on this subject. Other than being snarky concerning Christian understanding why else would she go down this line?

The bio says, "Natalia Klimczak is an historian, journalist and writer. She acquired a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in History, and a PhD in the Faculty of Languages at the University of Gdansk, and has spent the last 9 years working as a reporter, journalist and writer." I have no idea what it means by "a PHD in the Faculty of Languages." It may have nothing to do with linguistics and translations and especially dealing with ancient texts. Don't jump to conclusions over names of degrees.

Besides...one click on the Author’s name here will provide the information in question. Apparently Natalia has a PHD related to Linguistics...

Christians under attack. Really?

This is your personal opinion based in part on what you believe.

I do not see the articles author’s ‘intent’ being to ‘attack’ your faith. Rather someone providing information that many may not be aware of. What you choose to do with any information is of course your right.

Further, you do not need to be an expert in linguistics to be aware that for every translation of anything into another language- there will always be an inherent mis-translation. As our knowledge base increases with a better understanding of another language, mistakes are found and a ‘better’ translation is provided.

What was written, what is written is always written in context to the ‘time’ of the writing.

This is not the first time I have come across the possibility that the ‘mother’ of Jesus the Christ had an affair with someone other then whom she was betrothed to. Came across this in a book I read decades ago.

What I find interesting is that this book was one I had borrowed from my local library. Months later when I went back to re-read this book- low and behold it had become lost/stolen. To this day this book has never been returned. Nor have I ever been able to find another copy of this book anywhere nor any reference to this book.

It is also interesting that I have noticed this happening with a number of books at a number of libraries on a number of subjects over time.

The Bible nor any Christian theology ever has said that Jesus was "for from the union of a virgin and a dove." Is this a new teaching. In fact the Bible does not say that Jesus was born from the union of the Spirit and a virgin. The biblical version does not say any intercourse was involved. She became with child by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is God. Now you may not believe in God but for those who do, God created everything that is. If He can create the world, He can certainly be the agent of a virgin becoming with child without her ceasing to be a virgin.

My criticism of this article is that it is an attack on Christian belief and theology. It brings up stuff that it does not document with any kind of proof. The jest of the article is that Mary had illicit sex with a Roman soldier and that Christians have misunderstood this. Christians misunderstand the word virgin and even the name of Mary and Jesus. The word "Mary" is an anglicized shortened for of the word "Mariam." This of course does not indicate an Christian misunderstanding. Most of the biblical names in English are neither Hebrew nor Greek exactly but changed with time as is the habit of language. Example, Jesus or Jesu is from the Koine Greek from Hebrew "Yeshua." In the Old Testament "Yeshua" is translated Jacob (an English form of the word Yeshua), and that is the name that the article say that the name "Jesus" comes from. The article says the misunderstanding comes from translation. Wow, this article in no way covers this subject of translation and linguistics. The writer would have to have extensive knowledge of Hebrew, Koine Greek, and Latin to deal with what she has said. She gives no references on what she is saying in this matter, nothing to back up what she is saying. Are the readers to believe what she is saying just because she is saying it. No, the article is poorly written and is simply an attack piece asserting that Christians and theologians just simply are ignorant of the gnosis that she has. This of course is nothing new.

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