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

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


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


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

The Blessed Virgin Mary, available at:

Should we worship Mary, available at:

Toledot Yeshu, available at:


And that's the truth.


I’m sorry if you misunderstood my comment. I did not mean to infer that a new recruit is God. Although I do not want to get into a theological debate, I do feel that I need to clarify my comment. I do not think the Bible is untrustworthy. I meant that it is not historically accurate. Nor is it meant to be. It is an allegorical work and is meant as a guideline on how to live one’s life.

As for my belief the Jesus is the Son Of God, I believe that Jesus was born a mortal man but became the Son Of God when he was baptized by John the Baptist. I know that this is not a fundamentalist view but this was the only way I could retain for my unshakable belief in Jesus which I had instilled in me as a child and still meet my need for facts that grew out of my education. I didn’t invent this theory, I read it while in college but I can't remember who the author was.

The “facts” I stated are not meant to sway anyone’s belief. I was merely repeating what others have written in the hopes that a discussion would occur. That is what I understood this site to stand for.

"I am of the opinion that Mary was raped by a new recruit into the Roman army ." "I believe that Jesus is the Son Of God" therefore kitnkaat believes that a new recruit into the Roman army is God. Kitnkaat gave a lot of information but then goes into her personal belief and opinions to defend herself. What she has written is nothing new. But since she doesn't believe the Bible is necessarily the Word of God then what does she have to go on in believing that Jesus is the Son of God and that through Him she will reach salvation. She apparently accepts everything else that she has put forth as being true but the Bible is the untrustworthy book, though, it is the book most scrutinized of them all. Amazing, the work of illogic at work in the world. But then she says, "don't criticize me because I believe in Jesus but the truth is what the Bible says but rather what I have determined is orthodox." Absurd. She must be a church of one or a unitarian.

I have done much research into the birth of Jesus and the formation of the early Church. Some of what I have discovered in my readings is this:


For centuries, scholars have discussed at length why Jesus was so regularly called ben Panthera in many contemporary writings without coming to a consensus.

The discovery of the “Panthera Tombstone” at Bingerbrück in Germany has reignited the question of the paternity of Jesus.

The engraving reads:

Tiberius Julius Abdes Panthera, an archer, native of Sidon, Phoenicia, who in 9AD was transferred to service in Rhineland (Germany).  (translation via Jesus the Magician, Professor Morton Smith, 1978, Dea. Lea. 1973-1974.)


Even during his lifetime,  it appears that there was some question as to the legitimacy of Jesus’ birth. In John Chapter 8, the religious leaders ask Jesus if he was born of fornication and if his father is a Samaritan. And, in the third Chapter of Luke, it states that Jesus was the supposed son of Joseph. The gospel of Mark calls Jesus and Judas the sons of Mary (not Joseph).


Also, Joseph’s reaction to Mary’s pregnancy indicates that he was not the father. Matthew clearly states that Joseph did not want to shame her and made arrangements to end the engagement. Only a dream convinced him to go through with the marriage. (Matt. 1:18-19)

John states in verse 8:48 that the Jewish leaders doubt his parentage calling him  “a Samaritan and demon-possessed.” could it be that they were recalling the rumors surrounding Mary’s pregnancy?


Other Christian writers made reference to the birth.

The earliest Christian historian to mention Panthera was Church Father Origen who was refuting the 2nd-century Greek philosopher Celsus who was an opponent of Christianity. He stated that someone who was anti-christian, as Celsus was, would be unable to accept the miraculous birth of the Jesus and would look for an alternate explanation. He claimed that  a man born of unhallowed intercourse would have been a teacher of licentiousness, wickedness and other evils and not of temperance, righteousness and other virtues.  (Origen, Contra Celsus, book 1, chap. 28, 32, 38 )

In passage 1:32, Origen says :

“ when she was pregnant she was turned out of doors by the carpenter to whom she had been betrothed, as having been guilty of adultery, and that she bore a child to a certain soldier named Panthera.”

passage 1:323:

“ a body produced, as Celsus thinks, by an act of adultery between Panthera and the Virgin?”

passage 1:64:

“He was begotten by one Panthera, who corrupted the Virgin,”

Granted, Origen states that Celsus was anti-Christian, but one must still wonder where the original information came from. According to Origen, Celsus originally received the information from an “unidentified Jew”. Unfortunately, Celsus’ works did not survive but I have often wondered if Celsus did not ever mention the Jew’s name or if Origen just did not include it.


The traditional church writings of St Epiphanius, the Bishop of Salamis also covered the ben Panthera story and his information was of a startling nature. This champion of Christian orthodoxy and saint of Roman Catholicism frankly stated:

“Jesus was the son of a certain Julius whose surname was Panthera” (Heresies, Epip., Haer, Epiphanius, lxxvii, 7)


he ben Panthera legend was so widespread that two early stalwarts of the Christian church inserted the name in the genealogies of Jesus and Mary as a matter of fact.(Heresies, Epip., Haer, Epiphanius, lxxvii, 7)


There are other references to Pantera (or Panthera). One must wonder why they felt the need to explain the Panther legend. It must have been widespread at the time and perhaps many believed it.


Personally. I am of the opinion that Mary was raped by a new recruit into the Roman army (he would have been a member of the auxiliary), most likely urged on by fellow soldiers as a type of hazing.


And, before those commenters who will view this as an attack on Christianity can say anything, I would like to say that I consider myself a Born Again Christian in that I believe that Jesus is the Son Of God and that through Him I will reach salvation. However, I do not consider the Bible to necessarily be the Word Of God. I view the Bible as a resource on how I should live my life. Hopefully, this will not be seen as a threat to anyone.



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