I read two interesting articles from the latest Journal for the Study of the New Testament this evening and wanted to pass them along.
Our hypothesis is that Luke was sensitive to the pagan overtones of associating prophecy and virginity. Specifically, two related concerns may underlie the avoidance of the terms προφῆτις and προφητεύω with respect to Mary. First, explicitly designating Mary as both virgin and prophetess might imply that a sexual act was involved in her being endowed with the Holy Spirit. As seen above, ancient descriptions of the prophetic inspiration of women often had sexual overtones. This was a very real liability with Mary given that her reception of the Spirit is directly related to her conception of a divine child! Secondly, the explicit convergence of virginity and prophecy might imply a causal, or at least facilitating, connection between the two, that is, that Mary’s virginal condition enhanced her receptivity to the divine. Although this idea was popular in antiquity, it is not clear that Luke subscribed to it.
“Mantic Mary? The Virgin Mother as Prophet in Luke 1.26-56 and the Early Church,” by N. Clayton Croy and Alice E. Connor.
The provisional conclusion of this article, then, is that the revised reading [that Jesus was conceived illegitimately] needs to be taken seriously as a minority report that raises significant questions about the traditional reading [the virgin birth], questions that should cause the latter’s adherents to re-think its justification, but that, on balance, it is not compelling enough to make them abandon it. Matthew, though obliquely, probably remains a witness to a virginal conception. But, with apologies for the puns, the article will have succeeded in its aim if it has raised suspicions about the legitimacy of both the revised and the traditional readings of Jesus’ conception in Matthew and planted the seed for further reflection and discussion.
“Contested Paternity and Contested Readings: Jesus’ Conception in Matthew 1.18-25,” by Andrew T. Lincoln.