In a blog from December 2014, New Testament scholar and ex-evangelical Christian Bart Ehrman tries his hand at comparative religion and mythology, which is clearly not his forté. Indeed, Ehrman demonstrates abundantly his non-expertise in the subject by making blatantly false claims, so we must wonder why he is pretending to be an expert?
After a few paragraphs purporting to be pertinent to the subject of ancient “virgin births,” Ehrman forces the reader to join his blog through payment, so I can only comment on the public excerpts below, including in the comments section. However, even this selection will suffice to demonstrate his blunders.
Miraculous (Not Virgin) Births in Ancient Pagan Texts
In my previous post I pointed out that there do not appear to be any instances in the other religions of antiquity of a virgin birth – where a woman gives birth without having sex. In this post I’ll lay out the more typical view of how a “son of God” came into the world. It very much does involve sex. Most of the post will deal with one (very funn [sic]) story in particular which is emblematic of the rest. For this post I will quote a section from my recent book, How Jesus Became God.
Ehrman’s previous post is apparently one in which he discusses the Greek figures of Dionysus, Hercules and Asclepius, but, of course, the article is for members only, so I can only comment that, if he didn’t find Dionysus’s virgin-mother myth, he is revealing once again his non-expertise. Using his typical methods as demonstrated in his libelous book Did Jesus Exist?, Ehrman apparently could not even be bothered to do a search of the internet, where he would have encountered my article with the citations concerning the Dionysian virgin birth.
Zeus the Virgin
Ehrman goes on to relate a largely irrelevant story about the ancient sage Apollonius of Tyana and to discuss the Greek god Zeus, obviously to focus on the sexual nature of the latter’s dalliances and assorted tales of impregnation of mortal women. He then emphasizes the tale of Alexander the Great’s miraculous birth, again misdirecting the conversation towards stories that include what seems to be sexual activity. His conclusion, therefore, is that all such stories involve sex and, while miraculous, cannot be deemed “virgin births.”
Here Ehrman reveals a near-total lack of comprehension of ancient myth, in which gods and goddesses were considered “virgin” – or parthenos in the Greek – regardless of various sex acts or manner of impregnation. Even the randy Zeus himself – about whom Ehrman makes much – is deemed parthenos or “virgin!”
“Even the randy Zeus himself – about whom Ehrman makes much – is deemed parthenos or ‘virgin!'”
As mythologist Robert Graves says, “Thus the Orphic hymn celebrates Zeus as both Father and Eternal Virgin.” (Graves, The White Goddess, 361) Virgin-mother/birth expert Dr. Marguerite Rigoglioso also discusses Zeus as virgin creator, as in Orphic fragment 167:
Zeus’s parthenogenetic capacity is expressed here in the idea that all existence was “created anew” in the moment of his ingesting of the older god [Phanes]. (Rigoglioso, Virgin Mother Goddess of Antiquity, 46)
Because he is not an expert, Ehrman is oblivious to this parthenos genre, as he was ignorant of the phallic priapus gallinaceus genre I briefly discussed in my book The Christ Conspiracy, which Ehrman pretended to review but did not even read.
Virgin Mother Goddesses of Antiquity
Ehrman is oblivious also to the in-depth studies of the pre-Christian virgin birth by scholars such as Dr. Rigoglioso. Further illustrating this fact, in the comments section of Ehrman’s article, a reader asks:
Your point that that there do not appear to be any instances in the other religions of antiquity of a virgin birth and that many people have claimed the opposite is born out by a tract from the FFRF [Freedom from Religion Foundation] (which I generally support), written by Kenneth F. Taubert, Sr. The tract, called a non-tract by FFRF, includes the following examples of gods claimed to be born of a virgin: Mithra, Attis, Buddha, Krishna, Quexalcote, Horus, Adonis, Quirinus, and Indra.
Can you comment on any of these?
Again, not knowing ancient mythology to any significant degree, Ehrman simply and erroneously answers:
None of these was born of a virgin.
Ehrman is ignorant of the Persian myth surrounding Mithra’s birth to the virgin goddess Anahita. He knows nothing of Attis’s virgin mother, Nana, or the Buddha’s birth through the side of his mother, explicitly called a “virgin” by Church father Jerome (Adversus Jovinianum 1.42):
Among the Gymnosophists of India, the belief has been handed down from generation to generation as authentic that a virgin gave birth to Buddha, the founder of their religion, out of her side.
Apud Gimnosophistas Indie, quasi per manus huius opinionis auctoritas traditur quod Buddam, principem dogmatis eorum, e latere suo virgo generarit.
Ehrman also does not know the controversy concerning Krishna’s “chaste” mother, Devaki, and he likely didn’t know of the Mexican god Quetzalcoatl, whose virgin mother was Coatlicue. Nor does he have any idea about the virgin-mother status of the mother of Horus, Isis:
There are many more pre-Christian virgin mothers, including the Canaanite goddess Anat, wife of El who gave birth to twin sons of God in myths dating back over 3,000 years.
As Rigoglioso thoroughly demonstrates in Virgin Mother Goddesses, other ancient parthenogenetic female creators include:
- Chaos, Nyx and Ge/Gaia
- Demeter and Persephone/Kore
- Gnostic Sophia
Parthenogenetic Creator Deity
This very common pre-Christian theme of a virgin mother/birth is based significantly on the idea of parthenogenesis or creation from a goddess without consort. As Rigoglioso (15) remarks:
…a Virgin Mother [is one] who produced life from within herself without a male consort.
In this regard, Rigoglioso (29-30) analyzes especially the role of the Egyptian goddess Neith, precursor of Isis:
As a divinity of the First Principle, Neith was an autogenetic goddess who, in the ultimate mystery, created herself out of her own being. Budge notes…that an inscription on a statue of Utchat-Heru, a high priest of Neith, relates that she “was the first to give birth to anything, and that she had done so when nothing else had been born, and that she had herself never been born.” We see her autogenetic aspect echoed in both Egyptian and Greek texts. Plutarch…refers to an inscription on her statue in Sais…: “I am everything that has been, and that is, and that shall be, and no one has ever lifted my garment (peplos).”… That in the above-noted Saitic inscription Neith’s “garment” remained perpetually “unlifted” is also a sexual reference… The inscription therefore communicates that Neith never engaged in any kind of sexual union; that is, she was eternally a virgin. Yet, as the primordial Being, she was also generative. Thus, in Neith we have one of the earliest appearances of the archetype of the Virgin Mother, the Holy Parthenos, in her original, unadulterated form.
“Neith never engaged in any kind of sexual union; that is, she was eternally a virgin. Yet, as the primordial Being, she was also generative. Thus, in Neith we have one of the earliest appearances of the archetype of the Virgin Mother, the Holy Parthenos, in her original, unadulterated form.”
The worship of Neith, a sometime mother of the solar deity Horus, is traceable to around 7,000 years ago, according to Dr. Wim van Binsbergen, chairman of the Foundations of Intercultural Philosophy at Erasmus University, who calls her an example of “female parthenogenetic cosmogenesis.” (van Binsbergen, 35)
Other reasons for this pre-Christian motif of the virgin mother include the daily “birth” of the sun from the dawn goddess, as found in Greek and Indian myth, for example. The constellation of Virgo was yet another source of virgin-mother myths.
As we can see, Ehrman’s statements are erroneous and reveal he is not an expert. It is unfortunate that he is misleading people who clearly trust his word without questioning and who also apparently do not know about the numerous fallacious and calumnious remarks he included in Did Jesus Exist?
Ancient Astral Religion
Further displaying his lack of knowledge about ancient mythology, Ehrman also says in the comments of his article:
[T]he Gospels show no interest in astrology. (Though some interpreters read astrology *into* the Gospels; they can’t, though, read it *from* the Gospels)…
This fallacious claim is based on a literal reading that refuses to acknowledge or is ignorant of the mythology behind the gospel story. Contrary to this contention, there is astrology, astral mythology or astrotheology in the New Testament, not the least of which can be discerned in various of Jesus’s supposed deeds and words. Christ’s solar nature is abundantly represented both within the gospel story and in commentary by ancient Christian authorities, as can be seen in my video below:
There is much more information regarding Christ’s solar nature in my ebook Jesus as the Sun throughout History. Another pertinent example occurs in the mysterious interaction in the New Testament between Christ and John the Baptist, explained in my articles “Christianity and the summer solstice” and “New research exposes hidden relationship between Jesus and John the Baptist,” which show that Jesus is the winter-summer solstice sun, while John is the summer-to-winter sun.
The bottom line is that Bart Ehrman is not a mythologist and not an expert on comparative religion or Jesus mythicism, and he should not be pretending to be one or promoted as one. Such perpetuation of ignorance is frankly an embarrassment to the freethought community.
Moreover, it is odd that the Freedom From Religion Foundation (“FFRF”) would host Ehrman, as in the video below, because his dismissals of the pre-Christian virgin-birth motif and solar Christ refute what they themselves have publicized in the past, as in this article (April 7, 2004):
Note also that when the FFRF says “Jesus Christ is a fable,” they are essentially relating Jesus mythicism or the idea that Jesus is a mythical figure, a field with a massive body of literature that Ehrman not only hasn’t studied but also disparages, remarking:
I think that atheists have done themselves a disservice by jumping on the bandwagon of mythicism because, frankly, it makes you look foolish to the outside world.
Hence, according to Ehrman, the FFRF is passing along false information and adheres to a foolish viewpoint; yet, they endorse his work and present him as a public speaker.
It would be refreshing if, instead of promoting people with erroneous information, organizations interested in religious origins and comparative mythology would publicize the fascinating material I bring to light, so that it, rather than the errors, would gain more currency. I have little doubt, however, that such errors will continue to be circulated simply because they come from a recognized “person of authority,” due to rampant and fallacious credentialism.
Virgin Mother Goddess of Antiquity
Neith, Virgin Mother of the World
Mithra’s Virgin Mother, Anahita
Isis, Virgin Mother of Horus
Dionysus Born of a Virgin on December 25th
Attis Born of a Virgin on December 25th
Was Krishna’s Mother a Virgin?
Star Worship of the Ancient Israelites
Mythicist book about Bart Ehrman and the Christ myth
What is the mythicist?
Bart Ehrman’s Did Jesus Exist?
Bart Ehrman caught in lies and libel?