Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The marginality of the Virgin Birth (10): Marcus Borg

This is a quick summary of Borg's points to do with historical plausibility in the book he wrote with Tom Wright. To begin he writes "I do not think the virginal conception is historical... they are not history remembered but rather metaphorical narratives using ancient religious imagery to express central truths about Jesus' significance".

Borg has three main grounds for doubting the historicity of the narratives:
1. The narratives are late, only being mentioned in two places. It's clearly possible to write a gospel without it, so either the other authors "didn't know about it or didn't consider it important enough to include. Or the tradition didn't develop until quite late and the reason most New Testament authors do not mention it is because the stories did not yet exist".
2. Reinforcing the first point are 5 principal distinctions between Luke and Matthew:
- significantly different genealogies (Matthew emphasises Jewish Kingship and traces the lineage from Abraham through Solomon; Luke emphasises outreach to the gentiles and traces the genealogy from Adam through the prophet Nathan);
- different homes for Mary and Joseph (Nazareth in Luke, with trip to Bethlehem; Bethlehem alone in Matthew);
- different birth visitors (wise men in Matthew, shepherds and angels in Luke);
- Herod's plot (in Matthew, with accompanying flight to Egypt, but absent from Luke);
- use of the Hebrew Bible (Matthew uses prediction-fulfilment formulae five times; Luke echoes the language without treating it as the fulfilment of a prophecy).
In Borg's words "these are enough to make the point that we have two very different stories".
3. "The stories look like they have been composed to be overtures to each gospel". In other words they exemplify the themes which each evangelist wishes to emphasise, 'King of the Jews' for Matthew, mystical prophet reaching to the world for Luke. "In short, the stories look like the literary creation of each author."


I don't want to say much about Borg as I basically agree with him. I'll say more about Wright's chapter in the next post.

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