Some skeptics claim that Christians copied the Virgin Birth doctrine from pagan religions which told of virgin-born gods and heroes. This article will examine whether or not this charge is true.
One occasionally hears the claim that the Buddha was born of a virgin. But an examination of the legend surrounding his birth will reveal a different story.
Buddhist legend tells us that the mother of the Buddha was a queen named Mahamaya. She and her husband, King Suddhodana Gotama, had tried for many years to have a child, but could not. One night, she dreamed that a white elephant holding a white lotus flower in its trunk, circled around her three times, striking her on her right side. The elephant then disappeared (some versions of the legend say that it entered her body through her side).
When Queen Mahamaya awoke she told her husband about the dream. He asked the seers to interpret it, and they told him that the gods had chosen his wife to be the mother of a great, pure being. After that it was found that she had conceived, and later gave birth to Prince Siddhartha Gotama, who would later be called "the Buddha", or "enlightened one".
As you can see, this is not a "virgin birth", for his mother was not a virgin! She had been married for many years and tried unsuccessfully to have children. Queen Mahamaya's dream could indicate something miraculous about the conception of the Buddha, or it may just be a "portent" of the birth of an extraordinary being. The version of the dream where the white elephant enters her body need not signify a miraculous conception either. Buddhists believe in reincarnation; the white elephant may signify a very pure, exalted life force entering the child in her womb.
At any rate, the story does not explicitly teach that Siddhartha's mother conceived him without intercourse. In contrast, Sacred Scripture clearly teaches that Mary had no relations with any man before Jesus' conception:
"And Mary said to the angel, "How shall this be, since I know not man?" (Luke 1:34)So the early Christians certainly did not get the idea of a virgin birth from Buddhism.
"Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 1:18)
Krishna is another personage sometimes said to have been born of a virgin. But once again, the story of his birth does not bear this out.
According to Hindu legend, at the time of Krishna's birth a wicked tyrant named Kamsa was the king of Mathura. He had a sister named Devaki, who was married to a nobleman named Vasudeva. One day, Kamsa heard a voice from heaven telling him that his reign was almost over, because the eighth child of Devaki would kill him. Enraged and frightened, Kamsa imprisoned his sister and her husband. Devaki gave birth to seven children in jail, and Kamsa killed them all right after birth.
When the time came for the eighth child to be born, Kamsa put more guards at the jail, to be sure this infant would also be killed at birth. But the guards fell into a deep sleep. When the baby Krishna was born at midnight, the god Vishnu miraculously released Vasudeva from the cell, telling him to go to the town of Gokul and exchange his newborn son for another baby.
With Vishnu's help, Vasudeva made his way to Gokul, to the house of his friend, Nanda. There he found a woman named Yashoda asleep with her newborn girl by her side. He quickly switched babies and returned to the prison, where the guards were still asleep. The door of the cell locked behind him. The baby started to cry, which awoke the guards. Kamsa rushed to the jail to kill the infant, but was surprised to find that she was a girl....
The story goes on from there, but I think I've cited enough to establish that Krishna is not said to have been born of a virgin. The legend clearly states that his mother had seven children before him, all obviously sired by her husband, who for some reason was imprisoned with her. Like the Buddha's mother, Devaki was clearly not a virgin.
The Bible, however, tells us that Jesus was Mary's "firstborn son" (Mt 1:25; Lk 2:7). So the myth of Krishna cannot be a source of the virgin birth doctrine either.
The Zarathustri (Zoroastrian) religion looks forward to the coming of a future savior called the Saoshyant. Unlike the Buddha and Krishna, the Saoshyant is actually supposed to be born of a virgin. But how does this compare to the Christian belief in the Virgin Birth of Christ?
(The information in the next two paragraphs has been culled from various Zarathustri websites, most noteably this article. I have paraphrased it.)
Some Zarathushtris (Zoroastrians) believe there will be only one Saoshyant, while others believe there will be three. Each of these saviors is believed to be a future son of Zarathushtra (Zoroaster), the founder of their religion. According to the Zarathushtri religion, after his marriage to his wife Havovi, the prophet Zarathushtra had relations with her three times. The seed from these unions was miraculously preserved in the holy waters of Lake Kans (in modern day Iran). In the future three virgins will, during three different millenia, bathe in or drink these waters, and so miraculously conceive the sons of Zarathushtra.
The first virgin's name will be Shemik-abu. She will conceive the first Saoshyant, Ukhshyat-ereta, by bathing in the waters of the lake at the age of fifteen. A millenium later, a virgin named Shapir-abu will bathe in those same waters and conceive Ukhshyat-nemangh, the second Saoshyant. Finally, at the end of time, the last virgin, named Gobak-abu, will conceive by drinking the sacred waters. She will give birth to Astvat-ereta, the final savior and true Saoshyant, who will defeat evil and bring righteousness to the earth This last savior is anticipated by all Zarathushtri; those who believe in only one Saoshyant believe that this is he.
The differences between these virgin births and that of Christ are numerous:
"In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!" But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be.So the Christian concept of the virgin birth is clearly quite different from the Zarathushtri one. Reading both together, it is hard to see how one could be derived from the other.
"And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end."
"And Mary said to the angel, "How shall this be, since I know not man?" And the angel said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, your kinswoman Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible."
"And Mary said, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word." And the angel departed from her" (Luke 1:26-38).
Heros and Kings
Finally, skeptics will point to the (alleged) miraculous births of Greco-Roman heroes like Perseus, Heracles and Romulus, or of defied kings like Alexander the Great, Caesar Augustus and the Pharaohs, as alleged pagan parallels of the virgin birth of Christ.
But an honest study of these myths will show that these are actually cases of a male god taking some physical (possibly human) form and impregnating a woman, either through actual intercourse or by some other physical penetration. This is not a true virgin birth either, for it involves sexual reproduction, and even intercourse! In contrast, the God of Christianity is not male (despite being called "Father") and does not have relations of any sort with the Virgin Mary. Jesus is not conceived by intercourse of any kind; instead, the creative power of the Holy Spirit causes Mary to conceive miraculously, in a non-sexual manner. Jesus is born of a woman without the seed of man - or god!
So the common claims of "virgin births" in non-Christian mythology are mistaken. Most of them are not virginal conceptions at all, and the only true example of parthenogenesis among them (the Zarathushtri one) bears little resemblance to the biblical account of Jesus' conception. No, Christianity did not steal the concept of the virgin birth from any other religion. We believe in it because God has revealed it to be true in His word:
"I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel" (Gen 3:15).
"All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: "Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel" (which means, God with us)" (Mt 1:22-23; see Isaiah 7:14)
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