Like flood legends, legends of heroes of virgin birth and/or virginal conception are not uncommon in faiths across the world. For example, the Bhagavata Purana tells that Krishna was conceived without sex. There are many others.

When I was coming up in sunday school and reading Christian literature as a young adult, I remember that the virginal conception was taught to be a pretty special thing about Jesus. I don't believe I ever heard that this concept was found in other faiths. It was as if the very uniqueness and absurdity of this claim was enough to show it was true and proved Jesus was divine.

With the flood stories or other ideas which are found in other faiths, the other faiths' stories are often seen as corroborating the biblical account. This could make sense because those stories could be seen as coming after the biblical event or concept. But since most of the stories of sexless conception pre-date Christ (though of course not all), they are somewhat different.

Is there anything a Christian might take away from the fact virgin births are found in other beliefs? Perhaps some kind of global prophecy? Or is it no more relevant than the fact faith healing and resurrection are also found in other faiths?

(also, didn't find very good tags for this, help if you can)

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    Immaculate Conception refers to Mary's conception, if this is a term borrowed and misapplied in Protestant theology then I'm sorry for the indignation. – Peter Turner Nov 15 '11 at 15:26
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    This question isn't really related to Christiainity. There are no Christian doctrines (that I know of) that state that Christians should look towards other beliefs for their source of inspiration or knowledge. As such, this is more of a philosophy question or sociology question than a question regarding Christian doctrines, traditions, and living. Therefore, I'm closing this as Off Topic for this site. You may also find this post interesting, as it clarifies the quality standards for questions. – Richard Nov 15 '11 at 15:50
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    @richard regarding Catholic views towards other religions: vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/… I agree in principle that we don't look to other religions, but you only attempt to deny that there were ancient religions that have anything to do with Christianity, it's very hard to deny it altogether. – Peter Turner Nov 15 '11 at 15:57
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    @Richard - if the answer is "there is no relevance" that must still be on topic. I specifically phrased the question from the POV of what a Christian might make of this. How is this more off topic than the Flood question for instance? And I specifically phrased it not as "what can Christians learn from those faiths" but instead "what can Christians learn from the fact those faiths believe similar things" which is a pretty different concept... I dispute this close as off topic. – zipquincy Nov 15 '11 at 17:50
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    @Richard - actually, based on my participation in other SE sites, I have to agree with you. i understand why they designed it that way, but it seems to cause problems... peace – zipquincy Nov 15 '11 at 21:50

On other "virgin births" predating the concept of a virgin birth in Christianity:

The notion of the virgin birth in Christianity predates the actual birth of Christ too; it was prophesied explicitly some centuries earlier. Certainly in Isaiah, we have:

Isaiah 7:14 (MSG):

So the Master is going to give you a sign anyway. Watch for this: A girl who is presently a virgin will get pregnant. She'll bear a son and name him Immanuel (God-With-Us)

In addition, the fact that this verse in Genesis (known as the Protoevangelium*) talks of "her offspring" when it was/is more usual to refer to the offspring of a couple as being of the father rather than the mother, is interpreted by some theologians as a prophecy, or at the very least a hint, of a virgin birth:

Genesis 3:15 (MSG):

God told the serpent: "Because you've done this, you're cursed, cursed beyond all cattle and wild animals, Cursed to slink on your belly and eat dirt all your life. I'm declaring war between you and the Woman, between your offspring and hers. He'll wound your head, you'll wound his heel."

Because this happens right at the beginning of the human race, arguably this reference to virgin birth predates all others (although it is of course less explicit in meaning than the Isaiah prophecy).

Relevance of other virgin birth stories to Christianity

Because there is that hint of a virgin birth right at the beginning of things, the comparison you draw to flood legends is a good one. It is logical that any culture with a collective recollection of the Flood may also have a collective recollection of the events before it; the Creation and the Fall, in which we find the Protoevangelium. In that respect the relevance of legends of virgin births to Christianity is similar to the relevance of flood legends to Christianity.

*Not to be confused with the Protoevangelium of James

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    If, as per the question, the discussion is comparing to other religions, the "Because this happens right at the beginning of the human race" note is suspect, as is the explanation that this therefore accounts for the commonality - for the simple reason that the other religions involved won't agree with you on those points. Otherwise it is circular, i.e. (over-simplified for emphasis) "the Christian view is accurate... look, it says so right here in the Bible!". Comparative theology is... hard. – Marc Gravell Nov 15 '11 at 14:29
  • @MarcGravell Of course the other religions won't agree. If this is purely a comparative theology question it is off topic here; we're not a comparative theology site. The question is asking for a Christian perspective; I'm not convinced the fact that other religions disagree with it invalidates the answer. I'm not attempting to argue the case for the "Christian view" here, just to state what that view is. – Waggers Nov 15 '11 at 14:54
  • Arguably, that could be used to explain all similarities.... Not sure it is a strong argument though. – Marc Gravell Nov 15 '11 at 15:04
  • @Waggers - I am with you but I think Marc's argument stands from a biblical perspective which is what I'm asking about. Also Waggers - I am having a hard time seeing a prophesy the virgin birth in Genesis 3:15 - what am I missing? – zipquincy Nov 15 '11 at 15:20
  • @zipquincy It's very tenuous. It's the fact that the offspring ("seed" in some translations) is of the woman (Eve) whereas normally offspring would be expressed as being of a man. The implication is that no man was involved in producing the offspring. – Waggers Nov 15 '11 at 15:41

Chesterton notes this assumption in the "Ball and the Cross"

With a smart journalistic instinct characteristic of all his school, the editor of The Atheist had put first in his paper and most prominently in his window an article called "The Mesopotamian Mythology and its Effects on Syriac Folk Lore." Mr. Evan MacIan began to read this quite idly, as he would have read a public statement beginning with a young girl dying in Brighton and ending with Bile Beans. He received the very considerable amount of information accumulated by the author with that tired clearness of the mind which children have on heavy summer afternoons--that tired clearness which leads them to go on asking questions long after they have lost interest in the subject and are as bored as their nurse.

The streets were full of people and empty of adventures. He might as well know about the gods of Mesopotamia as not; so he flattened his long, lean face against the dim bleak pane of the window and read all there was to read about Mesopotamian gods. He read how the Mesopotamians had a god named Sho (sometimes pronounced Ji), and that he was described as being very powerful, a striking similarity to some expressions about Jahveh, who is also described as having power. Evan had never heard of Jahveh in his life, and imagining him to be some other Mesopotamian idol, read on with a dull curiosity. He learnt that the name Sho, under its third form of Psa, occurs in an early legend which describes how the deity, after the manner of Jupiter on so many occasions, seduced a Virgin and begat a hero. This hero, whose name is not essential to our existence, was, it was said, the chief hero and Saviour of the Mesopotamian ethical scheme. Then followed a paragraph giving other examples of such heroes and Saviours being born of some profligate intercourse between God and mortal.

And this is our natural reaction to such statements:

Then followed a paragraph--but Evan did not understand it. He read it again and then again. Then he did understand it. The glass fell in ringing fragments on to the pavement, and Evan sprang over the barrier into the shop, brandishing his stick.

The Catholic doesn't think about these things unless provoked, he knows that the Virgin Mary is his mother and recognizes that other religions have other mothers and leaves it at that.

The prophecy that "A virgin (or even a young woman) shall bear a son and he will be called God with Us" (Isaiah 7:14) may be a prophecy that is not unique as a prophecy to Christianity or Judaism. But it is unique as a matter of fact, in that it came true.

Christianity is about covenants and renewal, God's part of the covenant is that He keeps His promises. How He fulfills them is purely up to Him. Nobody expected wisemen to come looking for Jesus following a star, except maybe the wisemen and God. Catholics also believe that whereas Christianity is the fullness of truth, other religions have hints of it and sometimes more than hints.

That these things should happen throughout history is just a foreshadowing of the goodness of God which is written on our souls when we're created. It's unavoidable that things which are the same should bear some similarity, it doesn't mean everyone looks at them the same way or everyone is right about how they look at them.

  • So your "natural reaction" to having your assumptions challenged is outraged and outrageous violence, consisting of criminal damage and threats of assault? – TRiG Jun 13 '12 at 21:42
  • As well it should be. – Peter Turner Jun 13 '12 at 22:01
  • I have no words. – TRiG Jun 13 '12 at 22:02
  • @Trig has anyone ever insulted your mother before? I wouldn't go out of my way to do so. It's my understanding that those who insult mothers are really begging for a fight and may actually need to learn the hard way not to do so. If it came to that, would you actually fight a man in defense of your words, which are so very insulting to the true faith? – Peter Turner Jun 14 '12 at 3:50
  • Well, I honestly don't see where I've insulted anyone in this exchange, but since you've both insulted and slandered me before, let's call it quits, shall we? – TRiG Jun 14 '12 at 9:58

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