Was there an Adam? Part 2 … Ancient Chinese & modern-day Google

In my last post I introduced Chinese ideograms as a possible way to delve into the historicity of Genesis to see if there really was an Adam. When I first saw those ideograms many years ago I thought it was rather amazing. As you look at the ideograms and de-construct them you may notice what I did – seeming overtures to the early Genesis account.

But since we can only rely on the authors whose calligraphy images I reproduced some further questions need to be addressed.

  1. Are the characters really shaped that way or is this a case of creative calligraphy that is not really true to the script by over-imaginative people trying to make an ‘Adam’ connection?
  2. Perhaps there is a relationship between the elemental characters and the compound ones, but perhaps this is due to a phonetic relationship. The complex ones would then be built around the simpler ones because they take sounds from them – not because they are building concepts from them.
  3. Alternatively, could the relationships between the elemental and the compound characters simply be due to chance? After all, there could be many elemental combinations made into compound ones, some of which could hearken to Adam simply by chance.

Fortunately for us, modern-day Google can allow us to explore each of these questions in a way that would have required advanced Chinese dictionaries just a few years ago. Within the ubiquitous tentacles of Google technology are language translation engines. I use it quite regularly with European language translation and even with Arabic. But it also supports Traditional and Simplified Chinese translation. The website is at http://translate.google.com. I ran some tests to explore each of these questions. Let us look at each question in turn.

Is the ‘Adam’ calligraphy script accurate?

In the figure below you will see some of my tests. Google translate allows you to type your words in the textbox on the left and Google produces a translation in the right textbox.  I typed in single words in the English box on the left to see what Google would produce as the Chinese translation (in the traditional script). Following the lead from the words of my previous post I typed in ‘soil’ and on the next line ‘man’, and then ‘first’. The Google translations appear in the box to the right. I connected the word-to-word translation by dashed arrows so you can see the translation of each word. So did Google reproduce similar calligraphy as I had in my previous post? Would we ‘see’ the elemental characters in the compound ones as per the Adam hypothesis? I also have the same images from the previous post that were put forward by the Adam hypothesis authors. Slide1You can do this same test yourself since it takes only a few seconds to type in the English words and see the translation. You will notice that the Google script is amazingly similar to the Adam hypothesis script and that, like in the Adam hypothesis calligraphy you can see ‘soil’+’man’=’first’. There is no ‘alive’ or ‘motion’ like with the Adam hypothesis script but this is because that stroke is a radical, not a stand-alone character. You will also see that Google reproduces ‘eight’+’mouths’ in ‘boat’.

We continue on with some of the other calligraphy. Google reproduces ‘privately’+’garden’ (though Google ‘garden’ is slightly different than the Adam hypothesis one) as being part of ‘devil’. You can see that the Google ‘devil’ is equivalent to the Adam hypothesis ‘devil’ and ‘tempter’. When it comes to ‘righteousness’ Google and the Adam hypothesis  calligraphy is exactly the same.Slide2

In the next figure you will see that Google renders ‘talk’ like the Adam hypothesis script and has ‘talk’ as a component of ‘create’. ‘Covet’ is also reproduced by Google, though the ‘trees’ in ‘covet’ look slightly different, more like adjacent squares.Slide3

Having tested these words with Google I was satisfied that the script used for the Adam hypothesis was accurate and that indeed the complex characters contained the elemental characters as put forward by the Adam hypothesis.

Is the relationship due to phonetics?

We have established that there is indeed a relationship as put forward by the Adam-hypothesis. Now we need to ask why there is such a relationship. Could it be phonetic? We can also test this hypothesis since Google can ‘speak’ each word. Since I cannot record the sound I transcribed the phonetic reading.  The tables below give the phonetic reading for the words we are analyzing.

First=soil+man ? phonetics
Man Rén
First Xiān


Boat=mouth+eight ? phonetics
Mouth Kǒu
boat Chuán


 Devil=garden+Private phonetics
privately Sīzì
devil Móguǐ


 Righteousness= ? phonetics
Sheep Yáng


 Create =? phonetics
To talk Tánhuà
To create Chuàngzào


 Desire =? phonetics
Forest Lín
Want/desire Yào

It does not look like the compound words are built around the sound of the elemental words. You can easily listen to the words and determine for yourself if you detect the elemental sounds. But I had to conclude that the relationships were not primarily phonetic.  This explanation is not supported.

Are the relationships due to chance?

Could it be simply due to the fact that there are so many elemental characters combining into compound characters that some will have an ‘Adam’ link simply by chance. If it is by chance then we would expect to see similar connections with other Biblical words. If it is a random association this randomness should carry on with words. In the figure below I produced Chinese calligraphy of other biblical words and names. I cannot see any of the elemental characters in these words. Slide4What is more revealing is the phonetics. These words sound like they are Bible words that have been transliterated with a Chinese ‘y’ sound preceding them. They are Sino-translitered, probably being grafted into Chinese when the Bible was introduced to China only within the last two hundred years.

Biblical name Transliteration
Abraham Yàbólāhǎn
Canaan Jiā nán
Israel Yǐsèliè
Jacob Yǎ gè
Moses Móxi
Adam Yàdāng
Eve xiàwá
Noah Nuò yǎ
Jesus Yēsū

Or is there a logical/historical connection?

It is not very difficult to see a relationship between words where you expect a logical connection. In the image below you will see how ‘God’ is an element of ‘sacred’. An element of ‘sacred’ can be seen to be in the word for ‘Bible’. But ‘Bible’ also has an element of ‘news’ or ‘message’ in it. So it is like the word ‘Bible’ is comprised of elements of ‘God’ + ‘sacred’ + ‘news/message’. This makes perfect logical sense.  Similarly we see the element ‘water’ in both ‘ice’ and ‘steam’.  Knowing there was a logical connection between these words I typed them into Google translate to see if I could find a calligraphy connection. And we are not surprised when we see such a connection.Slide6

The words for ‘boat’ and ‘devil’ that we looked at in the previous post look like they have the same kind of connection between the elemental and the compound as exhibited here with Bible=sacred+news+God and water being in ice and steam. But what logical connection is there between ‘eight’ and ‘boat’, between ‘gardens’ and ‘devils’? There is none. Yet it seems like the ancient Chinese, when they developed their calligraphy had these connections in their minds. One might even think the Chinese read Genesis and borrowed from it, but the origin of their language predates Moses by 700 years. Since China and the Middle East are so distant from each other it is difficult to imagine there was much exchange of ideas.

The idea of a logical connection between ‘eight’ and ‘boat’ to the ancient Chinese makes sense if these events in Genesis were remembered by them as their recent history. Temptations in the Garden and eight people in a boat would make perfect sense to them. Shem, son of Noah, would be telling them these stories himself.

The Tower of Babel explains Chinese calligraphy

If this scenario is true we would expect this historical parallel to end with the Genesis account of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11) because it is at that point that the different linguistic and racial groups were separated. From that point on the Chinese had their own history. Before that point history was a common, universal experience – with one language. From this perspective the Chinese word for ‘Tower’ is intriguing. The figure below shows that ‘Tower’ is a compound of ‘one’+’mouth’+ ‘mankind’ (mankind in one language) +’grass’ (or ‘weeds’  – symbolizing frustration) + ‘clay’.

Chinese: mankind + one + speech = united; +grass/weeds

Chinese: mankind + one + speech = united; +grass/weeds

The image from Google translated below confirms this calligraphy. It is reminiscent of the opening account of Genesis 11 which says

Now the whole world had one language and a common speech… They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar.  Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, (Genesis 11:1-4)

Slide5It would seem that there is evidence that the ancient Chinese remembered these events as part of their history. From this point on their history diverged from that of the Hebrews and thus there are no logical or historical connections after this point. The accounts of Abraham and Moses are not embedded in their language since by that time they were separate nations.

At the very least I found these Google tests  to be intriguing and the Adam-hypothesis emerged even stronger than when I had started. The other possible explanations were not supported and so had to be rejected.  There is more that could be written about this, especially delving into the Chinese calligraphy that has been preserved on ancient bones. But that is a subject for another day. Before we leave this thread to consider the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus (we are in Lent after all) there are two final comments to add.

We were reading Genesis 6 with Chinese scholars last week. We were studying the story of the flood and they were reading it for the first time. We came to the account of Shem, son of Noah, when one of the Chinese scholars told me that ‘Shem’ was the name of the ancestor of the Chinese.  He had read it in an ancient Chinese book and it sounded just the same. I am hoping he can bring me some information about this book. Perhaps it will be worth a post one day.

Japanese Calligraphy too

And finally, it is not just the Chinese who have this Adam-echo in their calligraphy. The Japanese have it as well as you can see from my Google figure below.


Was there an Adam? The Testimony of the Ancient Chinese

A number of the posts I have written have largely rested on the assumption that an ‘Adam’ existed. The posts, ‘The Final Countdown: Embedded in the Beginning’, ‘The Signature of the Virgin Birth’, ‘Corrupted (Part 1) … like Orcs of Middle-Earth’, ‘Corrupted (Part 2) … missing our Target’, ‘Why Would God allow suffering and Death?’ all mention Adam directly as having been a real person, while the Post, ‘In the Image of God’, alludes to him indirectly. Clearly Adam is an important person in the Gospel narrative. But of course this begs the question: Did he really exist? Was he a historical person or not?

HG Wells and CK Chesterton agree: This is an important question

Many leading thinkers and writers opposed to the Gospel have centered their skepticism and criticism of the whole Gospel narrative on precisely this question. You can see a good example of this in the following quote from HG Wells. He was mentored by well-known agnostic TH Huxley and became a famous science fiction writer (War of the Worlds, The Time Machine etc.) who profoundly influenced popular thinking in the 1st half of the 20th century. Here is how he framed this question:

‘If all the animals and man had been evolved in this ascendant manner, then there had been no first parents, no Eden, and no Fall. And if there had been no fall, then the entire historical fabric of Christianity, the story of the first sin and the reason for an atonement, upon which the current teaching based Christian emotion and morality, collapsed like a house of cards.’

Wells, H.G., The outline of history — being a plain history of life and mankind, Cassell & Company Ltd, London, UK, (the fourth revision), Vol. 2, p. 616, 1925.

GK Chesterton was an equally influential writer in the 1st half of the 20th century. Taking the opposite view from Wells you will notice though how he, like HG Wells, makes the Garden and Fall the tipping point upon which his thinking pivots. He writes:

Darwinism can be used to back up two mad moralities, but it cannot be used to back up a single sane one. The kinship and competition of all living creatures can be used as a reason for being insanely cruel or insanely sentimental; but not for a healthy love of animals … That you and a tiger are one may be a reason for being tender to a tiger. Or it may be a reason for being cruel as the tiger. It is one way to train the tiger to imitate you, it is a shorter way to imitate the tiger. But in neither case does evolution tell you how to treat a tiger reasonably, that is, to admire his stripes while avoiding his claws.

‘If you want to treat a tiger reasonably, you must go back to the garden of Eden. For the obstinate reminder continues to recur: only the supernaturalist has taken a sane view of Nature. The essence of all pantheism, evolutionism and modern cosmic religion is really in this proposition: that Nature is our mother. Unfortunately, if you regard Nature as a mother, you discover that she is a stepmother. The main point of Christianity was this: that Nature is not our mother: Nature is our sister. We can be proud of her beauty, since we have the same father; but she has no authority over us; we have to admire, but not to imitate.’

Chesterton, G.K., Orthodoxy, John Lane, London, pp. 204–205, 1927.

Testimony of ancient Chinese calligraphy

The question of Adam can be a Great Divide where subsequent ideas built on this foundational one leads one to widely diverging viewpoints, but most of us think that there is no information or data to go on in deciding whether there was an Adam or not. Many years ago I was introduced to a fascinating series of discoveries showing a link in Chinese calligraphy with the Genesis account. I have been sharing this with Chinese speakers over the years with continued enthusiastic response and interest. So I thought I would explain it in this post and then put it to a Google experiment.  In our spirit of ‘considering’ join with me in taking the time to consider Chinese calligraphy and Adam as well as following my experiment that I put the whole theory to by using the modern Google tools at our disposal. If nothing else, it promises to be interesting.

To understand the significance of these calligraphy discoveries we must first understand some background about Chinese (references used are at end of post). Written Chinese arises from the beginning of Chinese civilization, which dates back about 4200 years. This means that the Chinese script was developed about 700 years before Moses edited the book of Genesis (ca 1500 BC). We can recognize Chinese calligraphy when we see it. What many of us don’t know is that the ideograms or pictures of Chinese ‘words’ are constructed from simpler pictures called radicals. It is very similar to how in English we take simple words (like ‘fire’ and ‘truck’) and combine them into compound words (‘firetruck’). Chinese calligraphy has changed very little in thousands of years. We know this from script that is found on ancient pottery and bone artifacts. Only in the 20th century with the rise of the Chinese communist party has the script been simplified.  Today there is a simplified script and a traditional script, with the traditional script going far back in time.

So, for example, take the Chinese ideogram for the abstract concept ‘first’. It is shown here.

'First' in Chinese is a compound of 'alive' + 'dust' (or soil) + 'man'

‘First’ in Chinese is a compound of ‘alive’ + ‘dust’ (or soil) + ‘man’

This ideogram is really a compound of simpler radicals as illustrated.  You can see how these radicals are all found combined in the ideogram ‘first’.   The meaning of each of the radicals is also shown.  So what this means is that a long time ago (around 4200 years ago) when the first Chinese scribes were forming the Chinese calligraphy they joined radicals with the meaning of ‘alive’+’dust’/’soil’+’man’ => ‘first’.  But why?  What innate connection is there between ‘soil’ and ‘first’ for example?  There seems to be little, if any.  However, reflecting on the connection alongside the creation account is striking.

The LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and the man became a living being  (Genesis 2:7).

The ‘first’ man (Adam) was made alive from dust!  But where did the ancient Chinese get this connection 700 years before Genesis was compiled?  Now consider the following:

Chinese: 'Dust' (or soil) + 'breath' + 'alive' = 'to talk'

Chinese: ‘Dust’ (or soil) + ‘breath’ + ‘alive’ = ‘to talk’

The radicals for ‘dust’ + ‘breath of mouth’ + ‘alive’ are combined to make the ideogram ‘to talk’.  But then ‘to talk’ is itself combined with ‘walking’ to form ‘create’.

Chinese: to talk + walking = to create

Chinese: to talk + walking = to create

But what is the innate connection between ‘dust’, ‘breath of mouth’, ‘alive’, ‘walking’ and ‘create’ that would cause the ancient Chinese to use this construction?  But this also bears a striking parallel with Genesis 2:7 cited above.

This parallel continues.  Notice how the ‘devil’ is formed from “man moving secretly in the garden”.

Chinese: Motion (or alive) + garden + man + private or secret = devil

Chinese: Motion (or alive) + garden + man + private or secret = devil

Garden!? What is the innate relationship between gardens and devils?  They have none at all.


Yet the ancient Chinese then built on this by then combining ‘devil’ with ‘two trees’ for ‘tempter’!

Chinese: 'Devil' + under 'cover' + '2 trees' = 'tempter'

Chinese: ‘Devil’ + under ‘cover’ + ‘2 trees’ = ‘tempter’

So the ‘devil’ under the cover of ‘two trees’ is the ‘tempter’. If I was going to make an innate connection to temptation I might relate it to a tempting woman, or a tempting vice. But why two trees? What does ‘gardens’ and ‘trees’ have to do with ‘devils’ and ‘tempters’? Compare now with the Genesis account:

The LORD God had planted a garden in the east… in the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:8-9)

Now the serpent was more crafty… he said to the woman, “Did God really say …” (Genesis 3:1)

To ‘desire’ or ‘covet’ is again connected with a ‘woman’ and ‘two trees’. Why not relate ‘desire’ in a sexual sense with ‘woman’? That would be a natural relation. But the Chinese did not do so.

Chinese desire=2trees+woman

Chinese: ‘woman’ + ‘2 trees’ = ‘covet’

To ‘desire’ or ‘covet’ is again connected with a ‘woman’ and ‘two trees’.  Why not relate ‘desire’ in a sexual sense with ‘woman’?  That would be a natural relation.  But the Chinese did not do so. The Genesis account though does show a relation between ‘covet’, ‘two trees’ and ‘woman’.

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband (Genesis 3:6)

Consider another remarkable parallel. The Chinese ideogram for ‘big boat’ is shown below. The radicals that construct this ideogram are also shown:

Chinese: Big boat = 'eight' + 'persons' + 'vessel'

Chinese: Big boat = ‘eight’ + ‘persons’ + ‘vessel’

They are ‘eight’ ‘people’ in a ‘vessel’. If I was going to depict a big boat why not have 3000 people in a vessel. Why eight? Interesting, in the biblical account of the flood there are eight people in Noah’s Ark (Noah, his three sons and all their wives).

The Ancient Chinese Border Sacrifice to ShangTi – Emperor in Heaven

The Chinese also had perhaps one of the longest running ceremonial traditions that have ever been conducted on earth. From the start of the Chinese civilization (about 2200 BC), the Chinese emperor on the winter solstice always sacrificed a bull to Shang-Ti (‘Emperor in Heaven’, i.e. God). This ceremony was kept up through all the dynasties that the Chinese civilization had. In fact it was only terminated less than a hundred years ago in 1911 when general Sun Yat-sen overthrew the last emperor of the Qing dynasty and China became a republic. This ceremony was conducted annually in the ‘Temple of Heaven’, which is now a high profile tourist attraction in Beijing. So for over 4000 years a bull was sacrificed every year by the Chinese emperor to the Heavenly Emperor. But why? Confucius (551-479 BC) asked this very question. He said:

“He who understands the ceremonies of the sacrifices to Heaven and Earth… would find the government of a kingdom as easy as to look into his palm!”

In other words, what Confucius was saying was that anyone who could unlock that mystery would be wise enough to run the kingdom. So from when the Border Sacrifice (as it was called) began (c.a. 2200) to the time of Confucius (c.a. 500 BC) the significance of the sacrifice had been lost to the Chinese – even though they kept up the tradition another 2400 years to 1911 AD.

Perhaps, if the significance behind the construction of their calligraphy had not also been lost Confucius could have found an answer to his question. Consider the radicals used to construct the word for ‘righteous’.

Chinese: 'dagger' + 'hand' + 'sheep' = 'righteousness'

Chinese: ‘dagger’ + ‘hand’ + ‘sheep’ = ‘righteousness’

Righteousness is a compound of ‘sheep’ on top of ‘me’. And ‘me’ is a compound of ‘hand’ and ‘lance’ or ‘dagger’. It conveys the idea that my hand will kill the lamb and result in my righteousness. The sacrifice or death of the lamb in my place gives me righteousness.

When one reads Genesis one is struck by the animal sacrifices that occur long before the Jewish sacrificial system is started. For example, Abel (Adam’s son) and Noah are offering sacrifices (Genesis 4:4 & 8:20). It seems that early humankind had an understanding that animal sacrifices were pictures to help them understand that a death to substitute for theirs was necessary for righteousness.  But though the ancient Chinese seemed to have started with this understanding, they had lost it by Confucius’ day.  This use of animal sacrifice as a picture to understand the eventual sacrifice of Jesus was forgotten except in the uniquely Mosaic patriarchal accounts of Abraham and Passover.

The parallels between the early Genesis chapters and Chinese calligraphy are remarkable. In my next post I look at some possible explanations and the results of my little Google experiment.

The calligraphy in this post is taken from:

The Discovery of Genesis.  C.H. Kang & Ethel Nelson.  1979

Genesis and the Mystery Confucius Couldn’t Solve.  Ethel Nelson & Richard Broadberry. 1994

What’s so Merry about Christmas?

Recently I had the chance to crash a Christmas dinner dressed as Santa Claus, and after being exposed by the kids, embark on a short but thought-provoking discussion about Christmas entitled What’s so Merry about Christmas?  A friend videoed it all and since it fits with this series of Christmas posts I thought I would share it in this one. (15 min)

YouTube Preview Image


For more in-depth treatment of historical and prophetic aspects of the Christmas story see the following posts

Where does ‘Christ’ in Jesus Christ come from?

Jewish Rabbinical Testimony: The Son of a Virgin from the line of David

Hold the Eggnog Christmas is in trouble!  Considering Dawkins’ claims against the Gospel accounts of the Christmas Story

The Subsequent Life Lived: Signature of the Virgin Birth



Jewish Testimony: Was Jesus the son of a virgin from the line of David?

In my last post I explained where the title ‘Christ’ came from, and I opened up an age-old can of worms: was Jesus of Nazareth the ‘Christ’ predicted in the Hebrew Old Testament? That’s a great question to mull over in the Christmas season.  I used Psalm 132 to show the origin of the prediction that the Christ was to come from the line of David.  You can see that it was not a Christian idea or invention since it has its source in the Hebrew/Jewish Psalms written 1000 years before Jesus was born and the controversy surrounding him exploded onto his world.

Was Jesus really from the line of David?

But the New Testament claim of ‘fulfilling’ this prophecy seems certainly suspect.  The reason that Matthew and Luke include the genealogy of Jesus in their gospel accounts is that they want us to see a fulfillment of this Jewish prophecy in Jesus.  But who is to say that they didn’t just make up their genealogies to get a ‘fulfillment’?  That would be a more natural explanation than ‘Divine’ fulfillment.  Many of us confronted with this question just leave it at that and either believe or not based on pre-existing biases.  But hold your verdict!  The case is not fully heard and the jury should still be out.

It helps when trying to find out what ‘really’ happened to seek the testimony of hostile witnesses.  A hostile witness was on-hand at the scene in question but does not agree with your overall belief or conclusion and thus has motive for contradicting or refuting the steps you take to reach your conclusion.  Suppose there has been a car accident between persons A and B.  Both blame each other for the accident.  But suppose person A says that he saw person B texting just before the accident.  Person B has no motive for agreeing with Person A on this point, and if he does admit that yes he was texting just before the accident then the judge and jury have good reason to at least bet that person B was texting since the hostile and eye-witness parties agree on this point, and person B has nothing to gain and only to lose by agreeing to this point.

In the same way, sifting through hostile historical sources can help move us much further along as to what really happened in the controversies and events of Jesus.  In that light I found it interesting when I studied the noted and distinguished scholar F.F. Bruce’s work Jesus and Christian Origins outside the New Testament. (1974  215pp.).  In that study, he identified and analyzed Jewish Rabbinical references to Jesus in the Talmud and Mishnah.  He noted the following rabbinical comments about Jesus:

Ulla said: Would you believe that any defence would have been so zealously sought for him (i.e. Jesus)?  He was a deceiver and the All-merciful says: ‘You shall not spare him neither shall you conceal him’[Deut 13:9]  It was different with Jesus for he was near to the kingship”  p. 56

FF Bruce makes this remark about that rabbinical statement

The portrayal is that they were trying to find a defence for him (an apologetic note against Christians is detected here).  Why would they try to defend one with such crimes?  Because he was ‘near to the kingship’ i.e. of David.  p. 57

In other words, the Jewish rabbis did not dispute the Gospel writers’ contention that Jesus really was in the line of David.  Though they did not accept Jesus’ overall claim to Messiah and were hostile to the Gospel claims about him, they still affirmed that Jesus was in the royal line of David.  So we know that the Gospel writers did not simply make that up to get a ‘fulfillment’.   The hostile witnesses agree on this point.

What about being born of a virgin?

Now we may not react too strongly against the claim that Jesus was from David.  After all, there is always a distinct statistical possibility of this being true ‘by chance’.  But born of a virgin?!  There is no possibility of this happening ‘by chance’.  It is one of: a misunderstanding, a made-up fraud, or a Divine Happening – no other option exists.

Luke and Matthew quite clearly state that Mary conceived Jesus while she was a virgin.  And Matthew ups the ante by quoting and claiming that this was a clear fulfillment of a prophecy from Isaiah (ca 750 BC) which said:

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel (i.e. ‘God with us’) Isaiah 7:14 (and quoted in Matthew 1:23 as a fulfillment)

Isaiah shown in historical timeline.  He lived in the period of the rule of the Davidic Kings

Isaiah shown in historical timeline. He lived in the period of the rule of the Davidic Kings

Virgin or Young Maiden

It is at this point where plausibly natural explanations come to mind.  If you dig just a little bit (as some do) you learn that the Hebrew (הָעַלְמָ֗ה transliterated haalmah) which is translated to ‘virgin’ above in English could also mean ‘young maiden’, i.e. a young unmarried woman.  Perhaps that is all that Isaiah ever meant to say, way back in 750 BC, and given some pious ‘need’ on the part of Matthew and Luke to venerate Jesus they misunderstood Isaiah to mean ‘virgin’ when he really meant ‘young woman’.  And given the untimely (yet convenient for the ‘fulfilled prophecy’ plotline) pregnancy of Mary before her marriage it neatly developed into a ‘divine fulfillment’ centerpiece in the birth story of Jesus.

Many have recounted some such explanation to me over the years, and on the one hand I can’t refute this explanation – after all proofs about being a virgin or not are difficult if not impossible to frame.  But, for a fact, the story is not this simple.  Because we saw in the last post that the Septuagint was a Jewish translation of the Hebrew into Greek that was done in 250 BC – two hundred fifty years before Jesus was born.  How did these Jewish

History of the MSSs that give us modern Bibles inc. LXX and Dead Sea Scrolls

Old Testament manuscript timeline: Septuagint (LXX) is translated ca 250 BC

rabbis translate Isaiah 7:14 from the Hebrew into the Greek?  Did they translate it as ‘young woman’ or ‘virgin’?  What amazes me is that though scores of people who I have talked to about this seem to know enough to dig into the fact that the original Hebrew can mean either ‘young woman’ or ‘virgin’, not one among these scores has ever brought up the witness of the Septuagint.  When you look there you see that it is rendered unequivocally and categorically as παρθένος  (transliterated parthenos), which means ‘virgin’.  In other words, the leading Jewish rabbis of 250 BC understood the Hebrew Isaiah prophecy to mean ‘virgin’, not ‘young woman’ – over two hundred years before Jesus came on the scene.

I find this so interesting because why would a group (seventy of them according to tradition) of leading scholars make such a seemingly ridiculous and far-fetched prediction that a virgin would have a son. If you think it is because they were superstitious and unscientific in that day then think again.  People in that era were farmers.  They knew all about how breeding worked.  Hundreds of years before the Septuagint Abraham and Sarah knew that after a certain age menopause kicked in and childbearing was impossible.  No, scholars in 250 BC did not know about the periodic table of elements or the complete electro-magnetic spectrum, but they understood how animals and people reproduced. They would have known it was out-on-a-limb, naturalistically-defying, to predict a virgin birth.  But they did not retreat, they did not hedge their bets and make it ‘young woman’ in the Septuagint.  No they inked it in black and white that a virgin would have a son.

And now consider the fulfillment part of this story.  Though it cannot be proven that Mary was a virgin, she was remarkably in the only and very brief stage of life where it could at least remain an open question.  This was an age of large families.  Families with ten children were not uncommon.  Given that, what was the chance that Jesus would be the oldest child? If he had had an older brother or sister then we would know Mary was not a virgin.  In our day when families have about 2 children it is a 50-50 chance, but back then it was closer to a 1 in 10 chance.  In other words, the chance was 9 out of 10 that the ‘fulfillment’ should just be dismissed by the simple fact that Jesus had an older sibling – but (against the odds) he didn’t.

And now layer the remarkable timing of the betrothal onto this.  If she had been married just a few days the virgin ‘fulfillment’ could again simply be dismissed.  On the other hand, if she had not yet been engaged and was found to be pregnant she would not have had a fiance to care for her.  In that culture, as a pregnant but unbetrothed woman she would have had to fend for herself – if she had been allowed to live.

Mary’s Context

It is these remarkable and unlikely set of ‘coincidences’ that make the virgin explanation impossible to disprove that strikes me. As I showed above these coincidences are not expected, but rather they exhibit that same sense of balance and timing, especially given the virgin prediction in the Septuagint, that show plan and intent – that of a Mind.

If Mary had been married for some time before Jesus was born, or if he had older siblings, then the hostile witness of his opponents would surely have brought that out.  Instead it seems that, once again, they defer to the gospel writers on this point.  FF Bruce notes this as he explains how Jesus is referred to in the rabbinical writings:

Jesus is referred to in rabbinical literature as Jesus ben Pantera or Ben Pandira.  This might mean ‘the son of the panther’.  The most probable explanation is that it is a corruption of parthenos, the Greek word for ‘virgin’ and arose from Christian references to him as a son of a virgin   (p57-58)

Today, as back in Jesus’ time, there is plenty of hostility to Jesus and the claims of the gospel.  Then, as now, there was significant animosity to him.  But the difference in hostility is that back then they were also witnesses, and as hostile witnesses they did not refute the very points that they should have been able to, had these points been made up or in error.

But the story does not even end there.  Even those hostile to the supernatural claims about Jesus admire him for the life he lived on a purely human level.  People may debate his divinity, but rarely do they argue about his morality.  And it is at this point, that once again the grudging acceptance of those hostile should cause us to pause and ask:  Where did he get this different morality from?  The acclaimed moral life lived is also a signature of that disputed Virgin Birth.