by Professor R.P. Oliver
I continually have to marvel at the rarity of common sense in our people generally and particularly in Christians, including, of course, the Marxist and "Liberal" sects. The latest example is the "Christian News" for 1 December.
"Christian News," by far the best single source of information about all developments in the salvation-business, is the one Christian publication which I respect for its editor's sincerity and self-sacrificing devotion to principle. Although I cannot understand how he can believe that the Bible is the "infallible word of God," I recognize the integrity of a publication that is free of the oleaginous equivocation and sneaking evasions that are the stock in trade of Christian dervishes today.
The greater part of this issue of the "Christian News" is devoted to defending the reading in the King James version of the Jew-Book, "Isaiah (Hesaias)," 7.14: "The Lord himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son." The operative word in the Hebrew text is 'LMH, now usually vocalized as "'almah" or "'alemah," which is rendered as "virgin," where most modern translations, following Jewish authorities, translate, "a young woman shall conceive."
Note that the only point at issue here is the meaning of the word in the context in which it occurs. All of the vexed and alembicated controversies centered about that text by theologians and scholars are irrelevant to that one point. It does not matter who wrote the ravings attributed to "Isaiah" (probably three, possibly four, forgers), when the book was written (probably around 400 B.C., possibly later), why it contains statements about Cyrus the Great as the only "goy" whom the Jews called a christ (45.1, covered up in the King James version, but honestly translated in the Vulgate), or to whom the purported "prophecy" was intended to apply. The one point to be decided is the meaning of the passage.
A moment of logical thought suffices to make the meaning obvious to anyone who has not put his common sense in cold storage. According to the text, old Yahweh himself is promising a (probably fictitious) king named Ahaz or Achaz that he, Yahweh, will produce a miracle to convince him that he should obey his god. Now hundreds of young women become pregnant every hour of the day and approximately half of them will bear male offspring. There is nothing more commonplace and unremarkable than a pregnant woman, and if the word means 'young woman,' the promise is a bad joke, and Yahweh is a jackass as well as a four-flusher – and surely the pious author of the story cannot have intended that. If the meaning is 'virgin,' Yahweh is promising a real miracle, something contrary to nature and therefore necessarily the work of a supernatural power. Now that is something that should impress Ahaz, and Yahweh thereby will prove that he's got as much divine power as the hundred other gods and demigods throughout the world who make virgins pregnant with godly offspring. That is precisely the meaning that a priest peddling holiness would want to convey, so there can be no possible doubt about the meaning which the author intended when he wrote 'LMH.
In the foregoing paragraph I have labored the obvious and wasted space on explaining what anyone with a modicum of common sense would perceive at once as a datum about which there can be no question. But shiploads of paper and hogsheads of printer's ink have been wasted on that nugatory question, as well as, in the aggregate, decades of scholarly effort that could have been devoted to useful tasks. Christians can be erudite, but that does not stop them from having Faith and trying to rake the moon out of a pond.(1)
But let's waive common sense on the first try and try again. The meaning of 'LMH is made obvious by the Septuagint, which translates the word by "parthenos," and that word in Greek indubitably means 'virgin.(2) Now the Septuagint is so called because, as is certified by a prefatory letter written by Aristeas, a Greek official at the court of Ptolemy Philadelphus, who ruled from 285 to 247 B.C., seventy-two "(septuagina duo)" learned rabbis were immured in separate cells with copies of Holy Writ, all of which each translated into Greek, and when the seventy-two independent versions were compared, they were found to be identical, with no jot or tittle of difference. That proves that old Yahweh was supervising the work and the translation "parthenos" must be really his; and we have to suppose that Yahweh knew what he was talking about and was proficient in at least "koine" Greek.(3) That's as good a story as any in Holy Writ, and I don't know why Christians who want to exercise their ability to stop thinking and have Faith now disbelieve it.
To be sure, everyone knows that the letter of Aristeas is just a crude forgery, like "Anne Frank's Diary," and that the whole story about the LXXII rabbis is just a characteristic Yiddish hoax, like the Holohoax that venal "educators" are ramming into the minds of Aryan children today in the boob-hatcheries that we are taxed to support so lavishly. And that racial characteristic should make reasonable men doubt other incredible hoaxes in the Jew-Book, such as the tales about Joseph in Egypt, and about an "armed" invasion and military conquest of Canaan. But although the story about the divinely inspired "septuaginta duo" Yids is just a hoax, the reading in the Septuagint is conclusive proof of what the Jews in the first century B.C. thought the verse in "Isaiah" meant. Whence it follows that in attributing another meaning to it in the Third Century, when they were trying to differentiate themselves from their auxiliary for "goyim," they were just perpetrating another hoax, in keeping with their racial instincts. The evidence of the Septuagint fixes the meaning in "Isaiah" for anyone whose common sense has not been muzzled, and there should be no more ado about it.
But let's try for another simple solution. The appendix to the Jew-Book called the "New Testament" consists of a few selected gospels about a christ named Jesus. Now if these gospels are veracious and infallible, the question is summarily settled by the quotation from "Isaiah" in the gospel attributed to Matthew, 1.24, where the translation is again "parthenos." If these gospels are not veracious, and that passage is just a folk-tale or an outright lie, nothing in the gospels warrants belief. Except for other gospels (many of which flatly contradict them), the gospels included in the "New Testament" are our only evidence that the Jesus who appears in them ever existed, since we have no valid historical evidence about him. In pseudo-historical fiction, such as Forester's well-known novels about Midshipman, later Admiral, Hornblower, the historical record enables us to distinguish between historical and imaginary events, but when we consider the stories about Sherlock Holmes, for whom Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is our only authority, the recognition that one character or incident is fictitious creates a presumption that none of the events reported actually occurred. If the "New Testament" is part fact and part fiction, we have no means of distinguishing one from the other, and the only reasonable and safe attitude is to accept no part of the story as factual. But that again is irrelevant to the question at issue. The text of "Matthew" is incontrovertible proof of what the author of that gospel thought the passage meant, and he was presumably a literate Jew, probably of the Second Century, making a statement he thought his contemporaries would accept. So here, for the third time, a simple criterion and common sense suffices to settle the question. But Christians have to keep their common sense in abeyance.
Theologians, proud of their immunity to common sense,(4) have squandered paper and ink on all sorts of intricate figments of their imagination. Some, for example, have contended that the author of that part of "Isaiah," whoever he was, meant 'LMH to designate his own wife! That would logically mean that he was trying to put over a hoax, and make him comparable to the eunuch, mentioned by Jospehus, who tried to get into the christ-business by claiming that his pregnant wife was a virgin, whose fetus must have a superhuman father. There is no evidence of that, but it is possible, of course, and would make the scribbler a scoundrel and swindler. What is almost incredible is that the theologians who believe it also claim that they take Christianity seriously and think it more than a collection of vulgar impostures. (4. It is part of a theologian's business to disregard common sense, but I do not mean to imply that such obtuseness is limited to their profession. The subject of my comments above reminded me that a month or so ago I examined the latest edition of Horace. The editor is a very learned man, but he was at times carried away by a desire for novelty to make his edition differ the more from earlier ones. On the basis of flimsy palaeographic and flimiser lexical evidence, he wants to emend "Carm." III.6.22 to read "innupta virgo" ("unmarried virgin") instead of the traditional and accepted reading, "matura virgo where "matura" = "nubilis," i.e., she is no longer a child but of an age to be married, as before long ("mox") she will be, according to the next stanza, which describes her conduct when married. Now obviously, "unmarried virgin" is simply a tautology and a grotesque one of which no poet or even moderately intelligent versifier would be guilty. So we have here a violation of common sense that is astonishing in a scholar who is not in the holy business.)
After so much theological ado about nothing, the pages of the "Christian News" are perforce filled with idle discourse. They include, however, a reduced but still legible reprinting of a scholarly article by Dr. John E. Steinmueller, who examines philologically all occurrences of 'LMH in the Bible, and a comparable article by the late Dr. William F. Beck, printed, it seems, for the first time. They, by the way, convinced me that the Hebrew word 'LMH had the specific meaning 'virgin,' and that I was wrong in my "Postscript" in February 1986, in which, apropos of the story of Jesus ben Pandera, who claimed to be born of a virgin in fulfillment of the "prophecy" in "Isaiah," I suggested that the Jews tampered with the Hebrew text some two centuries after they had endorsed the Septuagint as divinely infallible. What they did was change the meaning of the word when they wanted to make the Roman government discriminate between them and their Christian dupes.
Incidentally, since the Fathers of the Church made much of the virgin birth, which, of course, is a prerequisite for Saviours, I have always thought they blundered when they did not include in their collection a gospel by James commonly called the "Genesis Mariae." (An early papyrus of this gospel is now in the Bibliotheca Bodmeriana and was published in volume five of that library's papyrological series.) According to the Apostle James, shortly after the birth of Jesus, Salome refused to believe that Mary was still a virgin. So she insisted on thrusting her finger into Mary's vagina to ascertain whether or not the hymenal membrane was intact. It was, but the residue of divine energy burned Salome's finger to a crisp, and she was in quite a fix until an angel popped into the cave and told her to touch the divine babe; she did, whereupon her finger became every bit as good as new. That gospel, you see, would have settled the matter once for all – unless some wicked person perversely insisted on using his common sense. But only nasty skeptics would do that, so the Fathers would have had an ace in the hole when they played theological poker.
(1) Not long ago I mentioned the village of Fatima in Portugal, where the shy Virgin Mary, having made sure that no one was watching, sidled up to some adolescent Portuguese peasant girls and whispered to them the secret of what awful things were going to happen to the earth. A correspondent kindly informs me that in 1941 one of them, then an old woman, remembered Mary had told them an extra-big secret that was to be disclosed to the world in 1960. Now it wasn't made public for some reason, and since Mary hasn't done anything about the disregard of her instructions for a quarter of a century, True Believers are just dying of curiosity to know the worst. My correspondent tells me that a learned French monk, Pere Michel de la Sainte Trinite, has tried to surprise the secret by research and ratiocination, and has published the evidence and his conclusions in "three" volumes, evidently imposing tomes, for the third, the only one my correspondent has examined, contains "six hundred" pages. As Weishaupt used to say, "O, marvellous mind of man!"
(2) The Greek word always means 'virgin.' The latest edition of the standard Greek-English lexicon (Liddell-Scott-Jones) lists a few passages as apparent exceptions, but in these the word is used retrospectively, e.g., in the "Trachiniae," 1219, where, as the context shows, the dying Hercules wants his son to understand that Iole was a virgin before she became his concubine. Cf. the term "parthenios aner," which designates the man whom a woman married when she was a virgin. The Latin equivalent is rare because Latin had a special term, which many women, especially under the Empire, proudly had inscribed on their tombs, "univira," i.e., a woman who was a virgin when she married and never committed adultery or remarried. (I apologize for transliterating Greek, but a transliteration is readily intelligible when only one or two words are concerned and the use of Greek types would unnecessarily burden the printer.)
(3) Impious persons wonder why Yahweh didn't take the trouble to write Greek as good as Xenophon's or Plato's. Even his "koine" is marred by Jewish dialect, but that may be because he is a Jew himself. (As Maurice Samuel remarked, Jews always think of him a member of their own race, and they should know; they created him.)