'Tis the Season to Debunk Ridiculous Claims . . .

'Tis the season to debunk ridiculous claims to Jesus’ supposed historical divine conception and virgin birth!

After Alexander's vast conquests to the East, his successors governed what came to be known as the Hellenistic kingdoms. Thus, under these empires came the "Greekification" or, in the parlance of historical study, the Hellenization of the Mediterranean East (including the present regions of Asia Minor, Syria, Palestine, Egypt, and Iraq). Until the Christianization of the Greek East, Alexander's towering legacy defined the very tenets and codes of power in the region.

This sweeping cultural phenomenology of "Greekification" (i.e., Hellenization) of the region came to characterize most all significant cultural production in that region for the eight centuries following Alexander. Hellenization essentially entailed the deliberate imitation (or "mimesis") of classical Greek forms and symbols, and Alexander himself understandably stood as the single most potent symbol in all of classical antiquity. With regard to this heavily mythologized emblem, the ancient historians customarily embellished his story with legends of divine exaltation. In imitation of the chief demigod of Geek mythology, that is, divine Heracles, the historians fashioned Alexander's divine birth myth. Following prior now non-extant historians (Satyrus and Pompeius Trogus from the 3rd century B.C.E.), Plutarch wrote:
That Alexander, with regard to his lineage, on his father’s side was a descendent of Heracles through Caranus and on his mother’s side was a descendent of Aeacus through Neoptolemus, is among those things entirely trusted. And it is said that Philip, after being initiated into the mysteries on Samothrace together with Olympias, and while he was but a youth and an orphan, fell in love with her and so betrothed her, having persuaded her brother Arymbas. Then, the night before they were to consummate the marriage, the bride thought, while there was lightning, that a thunderbolt had fallen upon her womb. From the blow, a fire was ignited; thereby, as it broke into flames, the fire scattered in all directions. Later after the wedding, Philip saw himself in a dream placing a signet impression on his wife’s womb. The emblem of the signet, as it seemed, had the image of a lion. While the other diviners were distrusting the vision, namely that they needed a more careful guard for Philip of those who attended the wedding, Aristander of Telmessos said that she conceived a man, for nothing seals those things that are empty, and that she conceived a child who was courageous and as a lion by nature. There then appeared a serpent, as Olympias slept, stretched out alongside her body. They say that this most of all quenched Philip’s love and fondness [for her] such that with her he did not often have sexual rela- tions as he lay with her, either because he feared that some of his wife’s spells and enchantments may come upon him, or because he avoided the curse of intercourse, since she was joined to one greater than himself.

Now, following the tradition of Hellenization, how might one imitate and adapt this story to further mythologization of a messianic figure in first-century Jewish Palestine? I provide a full study of this by way of excursus in my own Resurrection and Reception in Early Christianity (p. 122-29). As a teaser, allow me to offer the following table from my book:

Plut., Alexander 2.1–4 and Matthew 1.1–25 Compared

Both contain. . .

1. A parental genealogical description placed at the beginning, aimed at signifying the respective hero via an established pedigree.
2. A betrothed, juvenile couple who are in love.
3. The interruption by the deity of the wedding/betrothal process, impregnating the bride through his signature, principal element, namely, Zeus’s thunderbolt of fire or Yahweh’s sacred wind.
4. The virginal conception and birth of the hero child; the surrogate father abstains from sexual relations until the womb is opened through the birth of the child, namely, the breaking of the “seal.”
5. Drama over the sexual fidelity of the bride and the legitimacy of the conception.
6. A distrust of the woman’s account of the child’s conception, precipitating the need for the groom’s divine dream, thus restoring confidence in the bride’s story.
7. A prophetic description of the child given in the groom’s dream, establishing supreme expectation regarding the destiny of the child.
8. A later association with magic, though perhaps applied differently.

As I trace in the study, these unmistakable mimetic traits inherit from Heracles and variously find their way into the divine birth myth of Jesus and, as a Roman analogue, the divine birth myth of Caesar Augustus. The argument runs much deeper still . . . including magi, divine homage, and a journey to Egypt. Mine is the first published work to have exposed these mimetic signals and to provide a full methodological analysis of the meaning of such Hellenistic adaptation in earliest Christian myth-making. See Resurrection and Reception in Early Christianity (London: Routledge, 2014).

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