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Is the Virgin Birth Copied from Pagan Mythology?

Trent Horn

As Christmas draws near, Trent sits down with Cy Kellett to discuss the unique elements of the Incarnation and how to answer arguments that claim it is a myth borrowed from paganism.


Cy Kellett:

Hello and welcome to Focus, the Catholic Answers podcast for living, understanding, and defending your Catholic faith. I am Cy Kellett, your host. And one of the places you got to defend your Catholic faith is over there on YouTube where people will post things that debunk the Christian faith sometimes. They’re debunking. There’s a lot of good debunking going on over there, but sometimes the debunking needs to get debunked. And one of the things that you’ll find is some stuff about how the virgin birth of Jesus is actually just a ripoff from pagan stuff. Is that true? Well, if we want to know answers to questions like that, we asked Trent Horn. Trent Horn, of course, apologist extraordinaire, author of a whole bunch of books, including Why We’re Catholic for Catholic Answers and other publishers, and also the host of the Counsel of Trent that you can find at trenthornpodcast.com. Trent, thank you for being here with us.

Trent Horn:

Thank you for having me, Cy.

Cy Kellett:

And thank you for wearing a hoodie. I didn’t know we were both going to be wearing hoodies, but I [inaudible 00:01:03]-

Trent Horn:

[inaudible 00:01:03], December, it’s a little bit of a chillier time of the year, so you got to get your hoodie on.

Cy Kellett:

Yeah. Yeah, it’s in the 60s out there in Southern California. So I have my flannel and my hoodie on. Trying to stay warm.

Trent Horn:

It’s always weird to me, Cy, that in December, if you set your house to 73, you’re boiling. But then in the summer, if you set it to 73, you’re like, “This is a wonderful icebox that I’m in.”

Cy Kellett:

I know.

Trent Horn:

Never quite figured that out.

Cy Kellett:

It’s a conspiracy from big heat. Big heat is trying to get us to buy more heat. All right. So Trent, look, to many people, they just roll their eyes at this Jesus virgin birth thing. It’s obvious that this is just stealing from paganism, which has had a thousand virgin birth stories. Is that true?

Trent Horn:

Well, there are stories about men coming from intercourse between humans or virgin humans and divine beings, demigods or gods with a lowercase G. But when we look at the story of the incarnation, we find that it’s actually radically unique compared to many other alleged virgin birth stories in the ancient world, that it really showcases the unique historicity of the Christian faith, where it comes out of its Jewish background. When we look at the birth narrative, for example, when the Angel Gabriel tells Mary that the Holy Spirit will overshadow you.

Cy Kellett:

Yeah.

Trent Horn:

Now, we see here that this is actually… this is not some kind of a reference to some kind of crude intercourse with a pagan deity. It’s a reference to the Shekinah, to the glory of the tabernacle that’s described in the Book of Exodus, how God’s presence like a cloud would overshadow it. So we see a lot of these beautiful and unique elements within the story, the incarnation itself. And that’s why it’s important when this comes up, especially around the Christmas season when we celebrate the nativity, when we celebrate the virgin birth, there will be critics and naysayers, and there always have been, both outside the church and even within the church who have been skeptical of the miracle of the virgin birth saying that, oh, well, obviously these sorts of things can happen. It’s not scientific or obviously this is taken from pagan mythology. And many of that comes from a desire to try to find pagan parallels that don’t exist.

In the mid-1960s, the biblical scholar, Samuel Sandmel, publishing for the Society of Biblical Literature coined the phrase, Parallelomania. That you’ll try to say, “Oh, well, Jesus was born of a virgin. This pagan deity is born of a virgin as well. It’s basically the same story. The story of Jesus was just stolen from that episode.” And we find often that these similarities are really superficial and people are grasping at straws to try to find these sorts of parallels, hence Sandmel’s term, they engage in parallelomania.

Cy Kellett:

So these people are saying, “Well, Zeus comes down and has sex with a human woman, and Hercules is born. So basically Jesus is the same as Hercules.” But that’s clearly not the same story at all.

Trent Horn:

Right. I believe it would be Heracles, wouldn’t it in Greek? I think Hercules is the-

Cy Kellett:

Oh, you’re probably right.

Trent Horn:

… is the Roman version. It would be Jupiter. That’s the other problem [inaudible 00:04:25]-

Cy Kellett:

I don’t do the Roman or the Greek version. I do the Disney version. I’m entirely on the Disney track for ancient mythology.

Trent Horn:

Zero to hero, just like that.

Cy Kellett:

In no time flat.

Trent Horn:

That is a highly under… by the way, not to get on too much of a tangent here, but I think what really makes Disney Hercules such a great movie is the villain, James Woods, playing Hades, Lord of the Underworld. Originally he was supposed to be a dark and menacing villain, but Woods said he wanted to play him like a used car salesman and it absolutely makes the film.

Cy Kellett:

Yeah, yeah. That’s an underrated Disney movie. We’re off track now, but-

Trent Horn:

We’ll save that topic for Free for All Friday.

Cy Kellett:

Bless my soul, Herc was on a roll. That’s an actual line from the movie.

Trent Horn:

He is. So it’ll be important I think as we go through each of… when people will bring up these examples, oh, it’s just like… So they’ll have Greek and Roman deities and savior figures. You’ll have Phrygian, Egyptian, Mithraeun, and people will lump all these together, and what skeptics often do is they’ll just throw everything at the wall and see what sticks. And that can be overwhelming for someone who isn’t as familiar with the background, the literary and classical literature background related to these figures to show, wait, these parallels don’t actually stand up.

Cy Kellett:

Some of this is… there’s a little bit of flattery too to the person, like I’m letting you in on secret knowledge here that these Christians are suppressing or something, like we’ve been hiding the story of Horus or something all these years.

Trent Horn:

Right. Now, the thing is that Christians have been aware of this for a long time, and what’s actually fascinating is that in the ancient church, among the church fathers, you see the church fathers actually trying to do the opposite of what Christians are doing today, because what they struggled with in the pagan world were that pagans and others who believed in Greek and Roman religious traditions or mystery religions, what they valued was antiquity. And so to them, well, the religions of Greece and Rome, these are hundreds, if not thousands, of years old, depending on whatever mistaken timetable they had. And so these are the beliefs we ought to cherish, not your newfangled Christian religion. To them, novelty was a black mark against a belief system. So you have Justin Martyr actually saying that what we are saying about the incarnation happening, about God creating the world, and God becoming man, Justin actually overstretches his case to try to say, “This is actually similar to what you guys are saying.”

Cy Kellett:

Oh.

Trent Horn:

What’s as unfortunate now is that, and Justin obviously couldn’t have foreseen this, is that 1900 years later… sorry, 2000, [inaudible 00:07:09], 165… yeah, 1900 years later, second century on, you have mythicists, you have people who are defending the claim that Jesus never even existed at all, who will cite people, like Justin Martyr, making these kinds of claims, when really he is over exaggerating to try to reach the pagan critics that he’s speaking about. But in other cases, he’s very clear when he talks about the uniqueness of Christian religion, of Christian morality, about how pagan taunts against Christians are false, like the claim that we are cannibals, for example, because people are misunderstanding what the Eucharist is, that he’s trying to go through that balancing act, so to speak. But yeah, so it’s important to understand that while there are parallels here, it’s interesting you have the modern critics, and even people like Justin Martyr, making a similar error in being very superficial in pointing out the similarities without noticing the stark differences.

Cy Kellett:

Oh. One of the videos that I have seen online, as a matter of fact I got it from you, there’s just a list of this Horus, Attis, Krishna, all the-

Trent Horn:

Right.

Cy Kellett:

… like this is overwhelming evidence that the Christian story, there’s nothing special about this Jesus. He’s just another instance of these things. Tell us about that video and maybe we’ll listen to bits of it.

Trent Horn:

Yeah, so this is the documentary, Zeitgeist. It came out between 2007 and 2011. And I remember when it came out originally… Right so, okay, yeah, it was 2007, and then there was an addendum in 2008, and kind of a sequel in 2011. The 2007 original Zeitgeist by director Peter Joseph, one of these early YouTube films documentaries that were put out there. YouTube had only been around for about two years at this time. And I remember actually, so this would’ve been the end of college for me, but I was sitting with a friend from high school in his bedroom at his parents’ house, and he was telling me about this, dude, you got to see this. And I watched this and I’m thinking, “These are just a bunch of unfounded conspiracy theories.” And the film basically focuses on three, the new world order, September 11th conspiracy theories and the claim that Jesus never existed, and so those-

Cy Kellett:

That’s a weird group.

Trent Horn:

Yeah, so those are just [inaudible 00:09:28]-

Cy Kellett:

That’s a weird set of things to be obsessed with.

Trent Horn:

Although what’s interesting is that I think Joseph couldn’t have anticipated now, all of the wide array of conspiracy theories that are floated about on the internet, though many of them actually have an older pedigree going to those early, the golden age of YouTube during this time. It was around this time, I also remember sitting around with friends, once again, so these are my non-Catholic friends because I converted in high school, but I was still friends with these non-Catholics, and they wanted to show me David Icke, I-C-K-E. I think it’s Icke. Had a conspiracy called The Reptilian Agenda, that famous world leaders are replaced with shape-shifting reptilians, and sometimes when you freeze the frame of videos, you can see their eyes change color. So all kinds of fun.

So that one didn’t make the cut for Zeitgeist, but Jesus mythicism, it did, and a lot of people got taken in by this. And it’s very poor scholarship. Joseph’s film really relies on people like Acharya S, AKA D. M. Murdock and other mythicists who deny Jesus existed, who are so fringe, even other more academic mythicists, who deny Jesus existed, reject their arguments so poorly sourced.

Cy Kellett:

So the world is not run by reptilian replacements, you’re saying?

Trent Horn:

At least, definitely not reptilian.

Cy Kellett:

Okay.

Trent Horn:

I’m still doing research on whether they’re amphibian, but they’re definitely not reptilian.

Cy Kellett:

I saw a documentary about it called Men in Black and many of the world leaders are actually aliens. Did you know that? [inaudible 00:11:01].

Trent Horn:

There’s a distinct possibility for that. If you want Jimmy to come on, Jimmy Akin and I, we can always discuss what to do and how to pray for and evangelize these shape-shifting alien leaders.

Cy Kellett:

All right, let’s listen to some of what Zeitgeist has to say about these characters who are clearly prefiguring Jesus, and obviously debunk the idea that Jesus is unique. You got one for us, Darren?

Speaker 3:

Horus was born on December 25th of the virgin, Isis-Mary. His birth was accompanied by a star in the east, which in turn three kings followed to locate and adorn the newborn savior.

Cy Kellett:

That sounds exactly like Jesus.

Trent Horn:

Well, yes, it certainly does sound like Jesus, but the problem with this is that it’s just simply not true for Horus. When you look at Horus’s, the Egyptian mythology and actually go back to the historical sources, you see that he was not simply born of a virgin. His mother, Isis, was actually married to the God Osiris, however Osiris had been killed. So in order to conceive Horus, Isis gathered up the dismembered remains of Osiris and essentially reanimated him and became impregnated through either his zombified corpse or zombified reproductive organs, if you will. So that-

Cy Kellett:

I was wondering how you were going to phrase that.

Trent Horn:

Yes, let’s be as-

Cy Kellett:

It’s very graphic in the Egyptian myth, but yeah, okay.

Trent Horn:

It is, and you can see here that people will slap the word virgin on something just because it is not a traditional conception. And the critics will often just lump together every non-traditional… There’s either traditional conception or virgin birth and virgin conception, and so they’ll say, “Oh, if it’s not traditional, then it’s just one of those virgin birth stories,” when they’re all very, very different, that this arises from deities who engage in physical intercourse. It’s simply not like the story involved the Horus. The other details we see here, yeah, it does sound a lot like Jesus, the three kings, the star in the east. That’s not in the Egyptian literature that comes from Acharya S, the late, I think she’s passed away actually, Jesus mythicist who cited an amateur Egyptian mythologist from the 19th century Gerald Massey. And Massey was an amateur who didn’t really understand the material. It’s not something Egyptologists rely on today. Even back in the late 19th century, the British Museum and other scholars rejected Massey’s work on Egyptology. They called it rubbish, which is certainly a stern insult from a British academic that’s just [inaudible 00:13:53]-

Cy Kellett:

Rubbish is about as bad as you can get.

Trent Horn:

It’s rubbish indeed, sir.

Cy Kellett:

But her name was Isis-Mary. Come on. That’s what it said.

Trent Horn:

Yeah.

Cy Kellett:

It said, “Horus’s mother’s name was Isis-Mary.”

Trent Horn:

It’s too bad though that in the original Hebrew, of course, Mary’s name is not Mary. It is Miriam, which I believe it means bitter waters. It has no connection to the Egyptian, Meri, M-E-R-I. Sometimes just because pagans worship the sun god, S-U-N, and Jesus is the son of God, S-O-N, oh, yeah, well that does sound a lot like similar in English. It doesn’t sound similar at all in Hebrew, for example. Sometimes there are similarities there, but they’re just trivial similarities or [inaudible 00:14:38]-

Cy Kellett:

So you’re saying there could be a homonym that’s just a meaningless homonym. [inaudible 00:14:43].

Trent Horn:

It certainly could be the case, yes.

Cy Kellett:

All right, let’s hear another one, Darren.

Speaker 3:

Attis of Phrygia born in the virgin, Nana on December 25th.

Trent Horn:

Oh, okay, so first we don’t have evidence of Attis being… His birth does not take place on December 25th. And many of these clips talk about Jesus being born on, oh, they’re born on December 25th, just like Jesus. Well, the Bible doesn’t say Jesus was born on December 25th and in the early church, among the church fathers, there was a debate about what particular day Jesus was born on. December 25th was only settled upon later in church history as the time to celebrate the birth of Christ.

Cy Kellett:

Yeah, even now we don’t say Jesus was born on December 25th, we say, “That’s [inaudible 00:15:27] birthday.”

Trent Horn:

Right, no, we say, “This is when we celebrate the nativity of the Lord.”

Cy Kellett:

Yeah.

Trent Horn:

So that’s a problem there and then when you go back to these ancient sources, these deities weren’t born on December 25th either. So when we go to Attis, Attis was a god of the Phrygians, and he was a vegetation deity. So his death is symbolic, essentially of something like the crop cycle, and actually he mutilates himself. He castrates himself, and that’s why the priests of Attis, they are eunuchs. They’re called the Galli. This may have just been a myth that was perpetuated to explain why these particular priests made themselves eunuchs in the first place. But when you go to the actual birth story of Attis, say, born of a virgin. Well, what does that mean?

There isn’t an official birth story of Attis, but most of them relate to, it’s going to be hard to explain, but blood from a hermaphrodite being castrated or a god’s bodily fluid spilling on the ground. So even if there’s no intercourse, there is physical seed. In many of these pagan stories, there’s physical seed that comes from the deity that causes the impregnation in a human woman. So this spills on the ground, it causes a tree to grow, a fruit bearing tree, and then the fruit is eaten by or lands in the lap of a woman who becomes pregnant. So it’s Rube Goldbergian, Cronenbergian, body horror-esque way of getting someone impregnated. Still very different from the virgin birth and Mary’s Annunciation.

Cy Kellett:

A lot of Bergians in there. How about let’s go east. Let’s go to India, Darren.

Speaker 3:

Krishna of India, born of the virgin, Devaki with a star in the east signaling his coming.

Trent Horn:

Well, there is no star in the east in Krishna’s birth narratives, and Devaki is not a virgin in these birth narratives. She conceives the god Krishna through intercourse with her… Sorry, she conceives Krishna, but she herself is not a virgin. Her husband, Vasudeva, and her had already procreated seven other children before Krishna was born. So this also doesn’t fall under a virgin birth so [inaudible 00:18:01]-

Cy Kellett:

But there’s still a parallel. Jesus had a mother and Krishna had a mother.

Trent Horn:

Yes. Yes, that’s the other-

Cy Kellett:

Therefore, it’s virtually the same story, right?

Trent Horn:

Of course, anything that’s going to involve God or God interacting with human beings, there’s going to be these kinds of similarities. So if God becomes incarnate, for example, if God became man, we would expect that God would probably do something to vindicate his divine identity. If God the Son becomes Jesus, becomes the son of God who is incarnate, we would expect if God becomes man, he would do something to vindicate his divine identity. He wouldn’t just simply take up woodworking as a hobby and then go back to heaven. He would give divine revelation and then vouch for that divine revelation through some kind of miracle, for example, through something that demonstrates his bona fide divine credentials.

So the fact that Jesus performs miracles and other ancient deities perform miracles, oh, well, that just shows Jesus is obviously ripped off of these other individuals. Well, every kind of story is going to have these kinds of parallels. Cy, you’ve gone on Catholic Answers Cruises. You’ve gone on them, I’ve gone on them. There’s probably parallels between what we faced on a Catholic Answers Cruise, and when Odysseus has to go on a seafaring odyssey [inaudible 00:19:21]-

Cy Kellett:

Practically the same thing.

Trent Horn:

It’s basically the same.

Cy Kellett:

The buffet is better on our cruises, but it’s practically the same thing.

Trent Horn:

Yeah, it’s basically the same. We listen to [inaudible 00:19:29]-

Cy Kellett:

I’m a argonaut, basically.

Trent Horn:

… give a talk on the Cristeros, and then we had to fight the Cyclops. It was basically the same story.

Cy Kellett:

But what about Dionysus?

Trent Horn:

Oh, yes.

Speaker 3:

Dionysus of Greece, born of a virgin on December 25th.

Trent Horn:

Right, so Dionysus is the Greek god of wine, also called Bacchus. The Bacchanalia is associated with him. Once again, no source that places the birth of Dionysus on December 25th. And once again, the birth story of these ancient deities are often convoluted, involving multiple physical acts. They certainly don’t resemble how the incarnation is described, for example, in the Gospel of Luke. So when we look at Dionysus, we have that the god Zeus has relations with different women. We’re not even exactly sure who’s the mother, some say Demeter or Persephone. So once again, we have a god who engages in physical relations and then sires this child who is often killed and then placed in the womb of another woman, or is sewn into the thigh of the god Zeus to be born from him. Nothing like Jesus’s virgin birth. To call it a virgin birth is quite a stretch.

Cy Kellett:

You’re forgetting Mithra.

Trent Horn:

Oh, we saved the best for last. We got to have Mithra.

Speaker 3:

Mithra of Persia, born of a virgin on December 25th.

Cy Kellett:

Again, born of a virgin on December 25th. This is a busy day at the maternity ward.

Trent Horn:

Right. Yes, Mithraic scholars will not have the December 25th date. People also like to say that, Zeitgeist says, that he had 12 disciples and performed miracles. He doesn’t have 12 disciples. Those are drawings of Mithra that are connected to the zodiac, probably, or constellations. There’s nothing about them being his disciples.

The problem with Mithra, when people try to say, “Oh, well, Christianity is taken from Mithraism,” the problem here is that there are two Mithras. So there is a Mithra that was worshiped in ancient Persia about 1400 years before the birth of Christ, and this god was invoked to uphold things like treaties and contracts and things like that. But there’s no connection between that Mithra and then a later Mithra that was worshiped by Roman soldiers as part of a mystery religion, that this Mithra, this was the based, chad deity amongst all of the deities. He killed the cosmic bull. This is the one that the soldiers wanted to worship.

Cy Kellett:

Yeah.

Trent Horn:

And this Mithra, well, was it born of a virgin? The depiction of Mithra is that Mithra emerged fully grown from a rock, just came from stone and was fully grown. Was a rock, a virgin? It never had intercourse, but, come on, if you’re going to call that a virgin birth, you’d call almost anything a virgin birth at this point. It’s an abuse of language.

Cy Kellett:

Well, so much for Zeitgeist, but there are other pagan stories that people point to. Some of them maybe are even closer than these. You want to tackle some of those?

Trent Horn:

Right, so there are a few that get brought up, outside of the context of Zeitgeist, outside of the popular ones. Jesus mythicists will bring up saying, “Look, this is a story of a virgin birth. Christianity could have been derived from this as well,” but these also tend to be Greek or Roman mythological accounts that are only similar to the virgin birth story on a superficial level. So you have, for example, the Greek god Hephaestus, and Hephaestus is said to be born of a virgin. There are different accounts about Hephaestus’s birth. Once again, it’s also hard. They’re usually different narratives for each of these deities.

Cy Kellett:

Yeah.

Trent Horn:

But when you look, for example, Hesiod says that the goddess Hera, the jealous wife of Zeus, is always putting up with her philandering, divine husband. I always say, these are gods, by the way, with a lowercase G. People say, “Why don’t you believe in Zeus?” I say, “Well, because I believe in God, the infinite, uncreated, all powerful, all knowing, all good, indestructible, timeless, immaterial, purely actual creator of everything. That is God. That is what God is. I believe that is the creator of all things, is the ground of all reality. Zeus doesn’t fit that bill by a mile.” He’s finite.

Cy Kellett:

Right.

Trent Horn:

He’s fallible. He can be ignorant. He’s morally corrupt. He’s material. He has potentiality, he’s temporal, not God. Maybe a super powered being, but a god with lowercase G. [inaudible 00:24:23]-

Cy Kellett:

And even the ancient people knew, you have, like Cicero clearly talks about the gods and about God.

Trent Horn:

Right.

Cy Kellett:

And God to Cicero is not the same as the gods.

Trent Horn:

Yeah and Aristotle said that these myths might have some educational value, some didactic value, but they’re clearly false, but he still believed in one prime mover that created the entire universe. So the common story is that the goddess Hera essentially willed the creation of Hephaestus within her own womb in order to spite Zeus, because Zeus had fathered Athena without Hera. And so I think Athena sprang fully grown from the forehead of Zeus, according to the myth, and so this was Hera’s way of getting back at Zeus. But this is a case of a goddess creating life within. It’s not the story of God gratuitously allowing the miraculous, virginal conception and human birth of someone like Jesus Christ in the womb of Mary. So that would be one example. Let’s see if we can have a few others here. I guess two others that get brought up a lot are Romulus, who along with Remus is the founder of Rome. So the mythical founders of the city of Rome, Romulus and Remus, but especially Romulus. And then the Greek hero, demigod Perseus.

So Romulus, his mother was a Vestal Virgin, Rhea Silva, I believe was her name. And so she became pregnant and then was punished as a result of it. But when we look at the ancient sources, look at Plutarch, Dionysus, Halicarnassus and others, they show that in many of these stories that either the Roman god Mars had intercourse with her. And so you remember that these deities, they are essentially physical beings with superpowers, and so one of the things they like to do with their superpowers is often come down and impregnate human women in a very physical way. And so if Mars comes down and does this, and through his divine powers can find Rhea Silva and do it, well, that’s not a virgin birth. And there’s other claims that she merely claimed that Mars had done this, but she had actually had an affair or was the victim of an assault and that this was widely known. So that would be the story of Romulus. I would say that that is not a virgin birth, certainly not really any parallels there with the story of Jesus.

The last one would be Perseus. So according to this, so Perseus’s… Sorry, the father of Danae was a Greek king. The Oracle Delphi says, “Your son is eventually going to kill you… Your grandson, the son of your daughter.” So he has Danae locked up in a bronze chamber that she cannot escape from so that nobody can impregnate her. And it depends, once again, on the story that you look at, depends on the story. There’s a sixth century Greek author who records that the god Zeus looked upon Danae and fell in love with her. And people will say, “Oh, well, he becomes these golden flakes from the sky that land on her and she gets pregnant. That’s basically like the Holy Spirit coming upon Mary.”

Well, no, because it says in the accounts that Zeus becomes gold, either molten gold or golden flakes, in order to access the chamber Danae has been locked away in. And especially in the later sixth century account, the detail that’s added is that Zeus sees Danae and falls in love with her. This is a habit Zeus has with human women. He just can’t control himself. So he becomes liquid gold to enter the chamber and then resumes his corporeal form to engage in physical intercourse, because he’s not doing this simply to sire a child, he wants to have intercourse with a human female. Once again, taking us far afield from the truly virginal account of the conception and birth of Jesus.

Cy Kellett:

Well, let me just, before we conclude then, just ask you about a couple of ways in which people will look at the earliest Christian writings and say, “The virgin birth is not there.”

Trent Horn:

Sure.

Cy Kellett:

Therefore, they think it’s something that’s created. And I’ll just give you a couple examples. Paul, probably the earliest Christian writer, a New Testament writer, never once mentions the virgin birth. Mark, the first gospel writer, clearly, at least that’s what we take from modern scholarship, never mentions the virgin birth. So that would suggest that this is an add-on. This is not something that was in the consciousness of the earliest primordial church.

Trent Horn:

Right. Right, so a few responses here. What’s interesting with this example that’s brought up, this was brought up by liberal Protestants in the 1920s, which prompted other Protestants to reaffirm what they called the fundamentals of the faith and that gave rise to the fundamentalist belief system. And they wrote a book of theology called The Fundamentals. And during this period, they were offering these arguments in favor of the reliability of scripture and the reliability of the virgin birth accounts. And these Protestant authors say, “Look, arguments from silence, they can take us in really strange directions.” And they pointed out, back in the 1920s, if you were to argue this way that, oh, because Paul doesn’t mention the virgin birth, that didn’t happen. Well, Paul doesn’t mention Jesus’s ethical teachings, like the Golden Rule. He doesn’t talk about his life and much of his ministry, his earthly miracles. Does that mean it didn’t happen?

Well, modern mythicists who deny Jesus existed do say that. They take this liberal Protestant argument and run it to its conclusion that because Paul didn’t mention these other aspects of Jesus’s life, they didn’t happen either. So Jesus never existed, he was just a cosmic savior figure that Paul had a hallucination about. He was not a flesh and blood human being or person with a human nature who walked on the earth, or who was crucified on the earth. So we have to be careful with these kinds of arguments from silence. You have to show that an author would’ve definitely written about this, and there’s no guarantee that Paul would’ve done that. Some people interpret Galatians 4:4 as born of a woman. It means, born under the law, born of a woman, means virgin birth. I think that it can certainly mean that, but that’s not obvious from the text.

So I would say to critics who bring this up, for Protestants especially, note this, these are the same arguments from silence that get made among the Church Fathers and Catholic doctrine. We always have to be careful when we’re making arguments from silence in this way. So that’s what I would say when it comes to Paul and Mark. Though, what’s interesting, some scholars have said The Protoevangelium of James, which has a virgin birth narrative in it that some have dated to the first century, could actually have elements that are from a missing part of the beginning of Mark’s Gospel, since Mark’s Gospel starts very abruptly. So that’s just another hypothesis that is out there.

Cy Kellett:

So just in summary then, it’s very easy to kind of assert this Jesus is just another in a long line of… And then fill in virgin births, or resurrections from the dead, or miracle workers, or whatever.

Trent Horn:

Right.

Cy Kellett:

But Jesus is unique. Certainly part of the uniqueness of Jesus is that he’s given to us as a historical figure. He’s not given to us as a cosmic figure. He’s not given to us as the God of this or that, or the son or daughter of the God of this or that. He’s given to us as a man born during the reign of Augustus, died during the reign of Tiberius.

Trent Horn:

[inaudible 00:32:16].

Cy Kellett:

Names are associated with him, dates are associated with him. He is unique. He’s not like all these other figures.

Trent Horn:

Yes and in the earliest accounts, we see both specific historical names and incidental names. I remember when I was debating a mythicist named Richard Carrier, many years ago, on the existence of Jesus, Carrier has a hypothesis that the Gospel of Mark is a kind of allegory. It’s not meant to be taken literally. It’s an allegorical description of Jesus. So everything historical in there has some other kind of double meaning to it, that really Mark is talking about a cosmic savior figure. So then, but Mark has really weird incidental details that he doesn’t elaborate on. When people have incidental details that often attests to the truth of the account.

So Mark talks about Simon of Cyrene who carries the cross of Jesus. And he says that Simon was the father of Alexander and Rufus, and why would we say that? Well, because the logical conclusion is that Alexander and Rufus are prominent in the Christian community, and Mark is pointing this out. He may have known them at Rome when Peter was there, because Mark was a traveling companion to Peter. And Carrier tries to say, “Oh, well, it’s saying that Cyrenian philosophy, which Simon represents, gave rise to imperialism, like Alexander the Great, and flawed Stoic philosophy, like Musonius Rufus.” And what I said in the debate at that time, in pointing out this fanciful interpretation, is that when you hear hoofbeats in the distance, you should think horses before you think unicorns.

Cy Kellett:

Fair enough, fair enough. So this argument from silence then, the counter argument would be what? Why would Paul and Mark have left this out?

Trent Horn:

Yeah. Well, the counter argument would be that there, unless one can show they absolutely would’ve described this event, that they absolutely would’ve done, that we’re not justified in making a big deal about them not including this. That Paul is specifically focusing on the power of Christ’s resurrection, focusing on how Christ now dwells at the right hand of the Father, about the possibility of Christ’s second coming. That is what he is primarily focusing on, along with pastoral issues in his letters. So it’s not something that’s a pressing need for him to discuss. Same, when we look at Mark’s Gospel that Mark is in a rush. Mark is really focusing on Jesus as the true Roman hero. The true hero, someone who loves a good Roman hero story would want to follow. He uses the Greek word [Greek 00:34:58], immediately, over and over. Read the Gospel of Mark in English. Jesus immediately did this and immediately did that, and he goes here and heals this person, heals that person.

I call it the comic book gospel. It’s short, action packed and tons of stories in it. And so that was the purpose that Mark is doing. And in ancient biographies, are not like modern biographies, ancient biographers often just focused on the most edifying parts of a person’s life. So if Mark is showing that Jesus is this Roman action hero, he may have not had a need to talk about when Jesus was just a little baby, he wants to get right to the story and go at it. He doesn’t have a need to write about those other elements. Just like in the other gospels, the first 30 years of Jesus’s life, 98% of it is not told to us because it wasn’t relevant to their aim as ancient biographers, whose job was not to dispassionately record all of Christ’s life and equal intervals, but to write down the story of the gospel with an eye of how it would bring the message of salvation, the good news gospel, bring that good news of salvation to the entire world.

So I think these are important elements to add, and I’ve talked about this in my other books. There’s all kinds of ancient, and medieval, and other writings that don’t include strange details. Ulysses S. Grant’s history of the Civil War doesn’t talk about the Emancipation Proclamation. Marco Polo, in his travel diaries, never mentions the Great Wall of China. Sometimes it is curious absences, but it doesn’t mean that these historical events never happened.

Cy Kellett:

Thanks, Trent. I really appreciate that and I hope that people will share this with those who might be in the thrall of the mythicists, who often prey on those who don’t actually know their history or maybe are vulnerable to this in one way or another. The Christian argument is a strong argument because it’s the truth. Jesus Christ is the Son of God, born of a virgin, died for our sins, raised from the dead. All that is true, and it-

Trent Horn:

Oh, I think it’s also important to bring aside before we close out, the reason Christ being born of a virgin is so important. It is not because that sex is bad. It is not because of any of these trivial reasons that people will come up with. Because the reason that it’s important is that God chose this miracle to underscore the divine identity of Jesus Christ, that he has no earthly biological father. We have an adoptive father. He has no earthly father. That’s why we as Catholics, the perpetual virginity of Mary is such an important dogma because this essentially continues the miracle of the fact that Mary never engaged in intercourse prior to the conception of Jesus. Even after Jesus was conceived and Mary and Joseph were lawfully wedded husband and wife, even many Protestants will agree they did not engage in sexual relations during her pregnancy. And as Catholics, we would say that that miracle continues throughout Mary’s life, that she remains a virgin to continue this important and awe-inspiring sign that Jesus has no earthly father. His Father is our Father who is in heaven.

Cy Kellett:

Check out Trent’s work at trenthornpodcast.com. Thank you again, Trent.

Trent Horn:

Thank you, Cy.

Cy Kellett:

And that’ll do it for us. If you want to contact us, send us an email at focus@catholic.com, focus@catholic.com. If you are of a mind to support us financially because it does take a few dollars to keep doing this, you can do that over at givecatholic.com, givecatholic.com. And wherever you’re listening, if you would hit the five star button and then give us a few words of a good review that will help to grow the podcast, something that we would very much appreciate your help with. I’m Cy Kellett, your host, we’ll see you next time, god willing, right here on Catholic Answers Focus.

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