Friday, March 30, 2018

The "virgin birth" of Perseus

The Egyptian Neith’s literally spontaneous, totally virginal birthing of the God Ra, for example, well known across the Empire at the time the Gospels were written, had already likewise inspired attributing magical insemination by spiritual forces in other virgin goddesses, such as Danaë, inseminated by God’s golden rain, or Olympias, inseminated by God’s celestial bolts, or Nana, inseminated by touching a magical almond. Which adaptations are not meaningfully different from God’s insemination of Mary by a magical fluid called the Holy Spirit. She was “found with child by the Holy Spirit” (ek pneumatos hagiou: Matthew 1:18), as even said by the Lord’s angel to Joseph (in Matthew 1:20), or to Mary (in Luke 1:35): “the Holy Spirit shall come on thee” (epeleusetai epi se) “and the power of the Most High shall cover you” (episkiasei soi) and that’s why “the Holy Thing you give birth to” will be “called the Son of God.” The obsessive removal of any literal implication of sex is the Jewish addition to the adopted mytheme. Yet even that had precedent—in Egypt’s Ra, most clearly, a culture neighboring Judea’s; but even in Olympias, where a bolt of lightning is not in ancient religious conception any meaningfully different from a magical dove flying into Jesus. Either way, it’s just a manifestation of “the power of the Most High” entering in to transform the blessed. And when the one entered is a virgin, and remains so even unto birth (as with Danaë and Nana), the parallel is sufficiently complete.

But even the absence of sex is attested in pagan mythology. Most famously, in the case of Perseus, a golden shower (drops of gold falling from the ceiling into his mother’s vagina) is far closer to Mary being overshadowed by the Holy Spirit (just as magical a substance, which just as surely went into her womb to impregnate her).

Perseus was most famously conceived by golden rain falling from the ceiling into the womb of the virgin Danaë, who remained a true virgin, never penetrated by any sexual organ anywhere, all the way to the god’s birth. 

Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, understood in antiquity to be a magical substance, the pneuma, that could enter and fill people, and effect changes in the world. What material element the god used to effect the conception could not be a relevant distinction. The conceptions are otherwise effectively identical.

A better example is Alexander the Great, whose “mythical” conception came either by a snake (in presumably sexual fashion) or in the form of lightning from heaven, striking the virgin mother Olympias as she slept before her groom consummated their marriage, a decidedly sexless conception, and one much closer in model to Justin’s idea of Mary being impregnated by “the Spirit and Power of God,” a description assignable to a thunderbolt, since lightning is an ephemeral substance like the pneuma, and a very manifestation of the power of god. But here, though we have sexless conception, Olympias is not a virgin by the time she gives birth. So we only have half the idea in place. Similarly in the myth of Io’s impregnation by a “light touch and breath” from Zeus (Aeschylus, Suppliants 16-18), a sexless conception, though still of a non-virgin (although curiously this is exactly the same way Jesus impregnated the Disciples with the Holy Spirit: John 20:22, 25, 27).

Ra, Hephaestus, and Perseus thus remain the most secure exemplars. And Perseus was the most familiar, which is why Justin names him as his prime example of a widely known virgin birth before Jesus. Apart from the method being golden raindrops rather than an infusion of pneuma, all the elements are identical: the mother conceives sexlessly and is a virgin still when she gives birth to the god.

So much wrong. Where to begin?

i) Jesus "impregnated" the Disciples with the Holy Spirit? Carrier has a very strange mind.

ii) Carrier admits that Olympias doesn't count since she wasn't a virgin. In addition, wouldn't she be electrocuted rather than impregnated by a thunderbolt?

iii) The dove flew "into" Jesus? Where does Carrier come up with that interpretation? What does it even mean to say the dove flew "into" Jesus? The text never says that. 

iv) The Holy Spirit is "magical fluid?" Carrier has such a peculiar mind.

Evidently, the source of Carrier's bizarre identification is his wooden grasp of figurative speech. Scripture uses a variety of metaphors to describe the Holy Spirit and his activity, viz. wind, breath, fire, bird, oil, pouring, filling, washing, new birth, temple, fruit-bearer. 

v) Apropros (iv), Carrier's biblical illiteracy blinds him to the fact that when Luke says the Spirit will "overshadow" Mary, he's alluding to the Shekinah (e.g. Lk 9:34-36; Exod 40:34-38; Num 9:18; 10:34; Isa 4:5; Deut 33:12 [LXX]). It resembles a incandescent cloud. 

vi) By his own admission, the conception of Perseus is Carrier's closest parallel. That's his best example. But does that stand up to scrutiny?

One of Carrier's deceptive habits is that he so often fails to cite or quote his sources. Instead, readers are treated to Carrier's tendentious summary of what the source(s) allegedly said. Let's quote from the primary sources. Here are three examples I'm aware of:

The hero Perseus…was the son of Zeus, who descended to Danae in a shower of gold. Aeschylus, with an English translation by Herbert Weir Smyth, Ph. D. in two volumes. 1. Persians. Herbert Weir Smyth, Harvard University Press. 1926.

When Acrisios consulted an oracle about fathering male children, the god told him that from his daughter a male child would be for who would kill him. In fear of this, he had a bronze chamber constructed under the earth and put Danae under guard. According to some, Protios seduced her…but others say Zeus transformed himself into gold, flowed down through the ceiling into Danae's lap, and had intercourse with her. Apollodorus, Library, 2.4., in Stephen Trzaskoma, R. Scott Smith, & Stephen Brunet. Anthology of Classical Myth: Primary Sources in Translation (Hackett Publishing, 2nd. ed., 2016), 31. 

When Acristos consulted the oracle about having male children, the god of Pytho responded that he would have no male child, but his daughter would have a son by whom he would be killed. Upon his return to Argos, he had constructed in the courtyard of his home an underground bronze chamber and placed Danae in it with a nurse. He had her guarded in this chamber so that no son might be born of her. But Zeus fell in love with the girl and flowed through the thatched roof in a form like gold; she caught him in her lap. Zeus revealed himself and had sex with the girl. Pherecydes, The Histories. Ibid, 313. 

i) These say Zeus took the form of liquid gold to seep into the chamber where Danae was held. That's how he got past the barrier. 

There is, however, no implication that he remained in that inanimate mode to ravish her. Indeed, the wording indicates that once inside, he resumed corporeal form.

ii) Keep in mind that Zeus's objective wasn't to impregnate Danae. That's a side-effect. Rather, his objective was sexual pleasure. But metal is insensible to physical passion. For the liaison to be physically enjoyable, Zeus would have to revert to corporality, including the stimulus provided by the sex organ. Isn't that how heathen readers envision the sex life of Zeus? Insemination isn't the goal; rather, sexual intercourse is an end in itself, due to the unique intensity of erotic ecstasy. That's what motivates Zeus. 

1 comment:

  1. >Jesus "impregnated" the Disciples with the Holy Spirit? Carrier has a very strange mind.

    > The Holy Spirit is "magical fluid?" Carrier has such a peculiar mind.

    The sad thing is, I believe that, elsewhere, Carrier did actually confess to being some kind of fetishist with regard to semen.