Joseph McCabe (1867-1955) was one of the most prolific authors of all time. He was brought up as a Roman Catholic, worked on Latin documents, and made himself very well-informed about Christianity, but turned against it. But he was extremely naive about Jews; bear this in mind.

Click for Detailed notes on McCabe - scroll down for selections from A Rationalist Encyclopaedia (1948).

Here's the full A Rationalist Encyclopaedia (about 1.3 MBytes; Word format; includes notes on some of its limits)

Virgin Birth

J. McCabe, Rationalists Encyclopaedia

Virgin Birth, The. The dogma that Mary conceived Jesus by a miracle, without male contact. It must not be confused with the Immaculate Conception [see], which means that Mary's mother conceived her without transmitting the guilt of Adam's sin, and it does not include any explicit theory of the actual birth of Jesus, though this is assumed to have been miraculous and to have left the virginal membrane intact. Childish as the idea of an embryonic and foetal development of a god-man seems to the modern mind, quite apart from the question of miracle, it was familiar in the ancient world. Egyptians believed that their queens were impregnated by the gods, and the Japanese still believe that the first emperor was born of a goddess - a part of the collusion of kings and priests in order to sustain the power of both. The amorous adventures of Zeus with mortal women were so generally believed in the Greek-Roman world that the apologist Justin, of the second century, appeals to the pagans (Apology, Ch. XXII) to see the reasonableness of the Christian belief in the light of their own belief in the divine impregnation of Leda, Semele, Danae, etc., by Zeus. Diogenes Laertius ("Life of Plato") says that the Greek philosopher's nephew, Speusippus, claimed that Plato's mother conceived him by a god, and later Buddhist literature says the same of Buddha's mother. Plutarch gives and defends the legend of Plato, and the Christian writer, Lactantius, claims plausibility for the Christian legend by quoting the Roman belief (in Vergil's Georgics) that mares can be impregnated by the wind. In collecting these parallel legends we have, if we suggest that they inspired the Christian legend, to consider carefully if they were known to the unlettered Christians of the first century. Justin says, in his Dialogue, that the Jews of the second century charged the Christians with having borrowed their legend from the Greeks, and the Greek stories of Zeus and his human offspring would be well known to the followers of Christ when the faith spread beyond Palestine. Other than Greek parallels are irrelevant, and the Greek stories had the effect of causing considerable hesitation in the mind of the early Christians. The evidence suggests that some of the Greek or Hellenizing Jews of the first century applied the pagan story to Jesus on the general ground that he was greater than ordinary men, and found confirmation in their Greek translation of the Old Testament, in which the Hebrew word "girl," or "young woman," in Isaiah vii, 14, is mistranslated "virgin." Justin says that very many Christians of his time—the middle of the second century—refuse to admit the Virgin Birth. Paul and Mark, the earliest Gospel, and even John, know nothing of it, and Biblical theologians (other than Catholic and Fundamentalist) find the story a late interpolation in Luke. When the bishops of the Protestant Episcopal Church of America tried to enforce the belief in the Virgin Birth, the professors of their chief Theological School (Cambridge) issued a work Creeds and Loyalties (1923) in which they pointed out that the legend was a late interpolation in the New Testament, and to be rejected. This interpretation is confirmed by several references in the Gospels to the "brothers" of Jesus, and the apologetic reply that this means cousins is strained and arbitrary. In several early manuscripts of Matthew, moreover, the genealogy (Ch. I) ends: "And Joseph Begat Jesus." See Conybeare's Myth, Magic, and Morals (1909, Ch. XII), one of the best discussions of the whole question. A passage in Judges (xiii, 2-3) probably helped in the composition of the myth. It is now generally rejected by Modernists and the more liberal members of the Churches, but the overwhelming majority (Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, etc.) strictly adhere to it.

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