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:


No matter what happened, I am absolutely certain that was not the way it went. Maybe G-d had tried before to rescue humanity, hence all the previous recorded virgin births fathered by a G-d. Perhaps he tried over and over until the right people for this message came along. There are no subsequent virgin birth of a son fathered by G-d since this one. Don't believe...ok. Don't make fun of or bully those who do. They are not hurting you, why do you want to hurt them.


What you wrote, no Christian I have ever known would have anyone believe. If that is how your read and process the account of the conception and birth of Jesus, you have quite an imagination and one that doesn't process the words that are actually used in the manuscripts, or their translations. Why are you falsely accusing Christians of things that they don't believe or teach other to believe rather than deal with the scholarship of this article?

Christians would have us believe that Mary and Joseph were asleep one night, and then came a knock on the door. Joseph gets up and asks "Who is it?".

The deep voice on the other side says "The Lord They God".

Joseph opens the door and is confronted by the blazing glory of the Lord.

Gawdamighty tells Joseph "Get lost. I am going to screw your wife".

Joseph runs off in his night shirt, while Mary gets the screwing of her life, as Gawd breaks his own commandment about adultery. Who is to say Joseph did not sneak back and peek at the goings-on through a crack in the door?



It is just as valid as any other scenario related to Mary being a virgin.

It is common knowledge that the Greek version of the Bible had a mistranslation of the Aramaic word describing Mary as an "almah", a young woman.

Not to mention the fact that this story is not unique.....virgins had been impregnated by "gods" long before Mary even existed....Ancient Greek mythology predates this fictional "virgin Mary" story by hundreds or thousands of years and is full of such tales.

Stories about Santa Clause and the Easter Bunny are just as real as any fairy tales about Mary kicking Joseph out of bed so she could have some god-cock.

Moonsong's picture

And by the way, if you treat the Bible as ‘historical’, then other myths such as the Lay of Gilgamesh or the Story of Cu Chulainn are historical too, aren’t they? Just because a fable was written 2,000 years ago does not make it factual, that is, something which really happened.

But people will believe what they want to believe. As long as it helps them fall asleep at night, comfortably dreaming that no matter what evil and mistakes they did during the day, someone, somewhere will forgive them...

- Moonsong
A dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world ~ Oscar Wilde

Merriam-Webster Dictionary, " a person who has not had sexual intercourse." Moonsong definition, "a person who gives birth tears apart that portion of skin which makes us ‘biological virgins’" Oviously you are not speaking standard English, maybe you speak Moonsongish and have been a bit moonstuck, try walking in the sun for a while and maybe you'll see more clearly. You keep trying to make what I have been talking about my "faith" which you know nothing about. My complaint about the article is simple. It is poorly written and treats as a fact the "Sefer Toledot Yeshu" of which earliest manuscripts date from the 11th century AC. Internal studies indicate that the earliest date that it could have been written is would be after the 4th century. It is an historical document, but is it authoritative on the subject??? The information just given you was not in the article and yet is pertinent to evaluating the information. Secondly, basing the etymology of the word "virgin" on Latin is again wrong. The etymology should be based on Hebrew and Koine Greek because Bible is written in those languages and Latin like English versions are translations of the Hebrew and Koine Greek. These are historical facts and are indisputable. For the author to say Christians have it wrong because of the "facts" that she presented is quite frankly wrong. Now am I defending my faith here, or am I just pointing out inaccuracies? You apparently think that anything that disagrees with secular "scholarship" must be done by some "touchy" person. Evidently you are a bit touchy concerning academic arguments and resort to ad hominem and vulgarity, using a vulgarity that it actually sexist. Why do you put women down? It is unnecessary and rude. Now concerning "Gilgamesh", "The Ramayana," "Ibn Batuta," and the "Koran," they are all historical documents. They are all studied for that reason. I am sorry that you mind is closed to reason. But if you think that I am wasting my time writing on this article, then why are you wasting your time reading it and answering? You continue to show that you don't follow your own advice. You just want to shut me up. I also noticed that you are too embarrassed to use your real name.


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