The short answer for why Jesus inherited seemingly later attributes such as the virgin birth is because some of those attributes were reserved for leaders in Christian communities. Jesus tells his disciples in the Gospel of Thomas:
Jesus said, “When you see one who was not born of woman, prostrate yourselves on your faces and worship him. That one is your father.”
The modern reader is inclined to assume Jesus was talking about himself in the Gospel of Thomas, but he was actually talking about the Paraclete – the person who would inherit the Spirit and take up Jesus’s cross after he died.
This misdirection was an example of what I have come to refer to as a “head fake” – these head fakes were common in early Christian writings. For example, the Gospel of Mark contains such a head fake: the reader (or audience member – Gal 3:1) consumes a story centered around Jesus; meanwhile, a lone-wolf messiah mentioned in Mark 9:38 was working in parallel to cast out demons despite the fact that only Jesus and those with his authority (Mark 6:7) were supposed to possess such ability. As I have argued in previous posts, this lone wolf was Simon of Cyrene, who showed up in Mark 15 to inherit the Christ Spirit from Jesus prior to his crucifixion; this explains why Basilides and other early Mark consumers believed Simon of Cyrene played the role as future cross-bearer, which would have been synonymous with the later-named Paraclete. It also explains why the seemingly earliest Christians, the Ebionites and Cerinthians, were adoptionists (believed the Spirit descended onto Jesus after his baptism), and why inklings of this story still survive in modern Islam.
Those attributes which a later version of Jesus inherited in extant versions of Matthew and Luke are given as inklings in Paul’s (authentic) writings. For example, Galatians 4:4 implements a “head fake”, while telling how Paul imagined himself:
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, constructed (genomenon) from a woman, born under the law,
This notion of construction Paul alluded to in Gal 4:4 (genomenon) is presumed to be about Jesus, but I think Paul was referring to himself. Paul’s phrasing gives insight into abnormal attributes of his own birth in that he was constructed, rather than the typical term used for born, something like egennēthēsan. Paul makes a similar reference to his awkward birth in 1 Corin 8:
Last of all, as to one born of a miscarriage (ektroma), he appeared also to me.
There are other odd Pauline childbirth passages, notably Galatians 4:19, where Paul tells his readers that he is once again feeling pains from child birth:
My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you
Paul claimed to possess attributes which were prophesied in early Christian texts (notably the Gospel of Thomas); references to this Paraclete transference concern manifest in various Christian texts including the Acts of John when John granted his spirit to a young man (I speculate this young man was intended to be Polycarp, who tradition remembers as taking John’s torch, passing it to Irenaeus, and subsequently giving rise to Catholic Orthodoxy):
And yet holding the young man by the hand he said: I say unto thee, child, go and raise the dead thyself, saying nothing but this only: John the servant of God saith to thee, Arise. And the young man went to his kinsman and said this only…and entered in unto John, bringing him alive. And John, when he saw him that was raised, said: Now that thou art raised, thou dost not truly live, neither art partaker or heir of the true life
References to the transient spirit are also found in Acts of the Apostles, such as Acts 8 when the arch-heretic Simon Magus attempts to buy the Spirit from Peter.
What I have described here is a framework which is agnostic to the matter of whether Jesus existed; yet the inclination, based on Jesus Christ’s presence, is to presume he did exist. Yet, along with notable historical silence, specifically the fact that Josephus did not notice Jesus despite noticing other messianic figures with similar stature and followings as Jesus (specifically Theudas and the Egyptian), there is a passage in 2 Esdras 9-10 which leads me to believe the Jesus figure was entirely fictional.
In 2 Esdras 9-10, Ezra encounters a grieving woman with ashes in her hair whose son had recently died. This encounter occurs in a field (Mark also makes reference to a field from which Simon of Cyrene emerged prior to carrying Jesus Christ’s cross). At the end of this encounter, the woman transformed into the new Jerusalem, which was in “the field”. An angel accompanying Ezra later reveals that the woman was the Spirit of Zion, and her dead son was Solomon’s temple.
The emerging formulation was that the new Jerusalem would be in “the field”; an expansion of this motif was that seeds must be planted in the field. This might help to explain such references throughout Christian texts (mustard seeds, Mary mistaking Jesus for a gardener, etc).
The earliest Ebionite and Cerinthian Christians believed that human encapsulation of the Spirit/Christ was impermanent and transferable. A diverse group of early Christians, including Ebionites, believed that the Spirit and the Christ were feminine/masculine polarities which were 96 mile tall beacons in the sky (see Elxai in Hippolytus and Epiphanius). In these theologies, the Christ was never intended to be human. Rather, the Christ was the gift which God gave to humanity, which people who had undergone proper initiation (baptism, etc) could receive.
The fact that a transferable Spirit is detectable in extant Christian literature, notably Acts and the Gospel of Mark, is not inconsequential; it is an artifact of this earlier Christianity.
My conclusion is that Jesus was a literary device: a representation of what the Christ (or the Spirit of the temple), who inherited authority from the mother Spirit, would have wanted his followers to do.
Those later attributes, originally reserved for the Paraclete, but later assigned to Jesus himself, injected humanity, via literature, into an otherwise metaphorical spirit. The most likely reason later redactors chose to give those attributes to Jesus was so that existing power hierarchies could be preserved without undue influence from an outsider claiming to be the Paraclete, as was the case with Mani the Manichean, found throughout Manichean literature:
Let us worship the spirit of the Paraclete (comforter).
Let us bless our Lord Jesus who has sent us the Spirit of Truth…Honor and Victory to our Lord Mani, the Spirit of Truth, that cometh from the Father and has revealed to us the Beginning, the Middle, and the End.
An earlier Christianity is detectable throughout the literature. For instance, we see the Christ receiving authority from his mother in the Gospel of John; later, Jesus turned over his mother to the disciple:
When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”
“Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”
His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her,“Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.”
Another reference to Jesus’s “true mother” can be found in the Gospel of Thomas saying 101:
Whoever does not hate [their father] and mother as I do cannot be my disciple, and whoever does not love father and mother as I do cannot be my disciple. For my mother [For my mother is of this world*], but my true mother *gave me life*
*Note: This is my speculative interpolation – actual text is lost
The Gospel of Thomas makes reference to Jesus’s “true mother” who gave him life. He distinguishes his true mother from his earthly mother. The paradox Jesus creates, where a person must simultaneously hate and love their mother and father, is well-explained when one recognizes that Jesus was referring to hating their earthly father and mother, while loving their celestial father and mother. In this case, it was his celestial mother who provides life.
There is an equation between the Spirit and the temple in Paul in 1 Corin 3:16-17
Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple
Paul again equates this temple Spirit as an item which lives within Christian hearts in 1 Corin 6:19:
Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?
This a religion obsessed with secret messages from God which manifested as two distinct spirits – the feminine mother/city Spirit and the masculine temple Spirit Christ. Early Christianity was concerned with the temple, and how that temple could deliver messages to adherents, even if the temple is no longer on Earth. One consequential aspect of this religion, along with several other parallel Jewish-sourced religions of the day, was an increasing antipathy towards Jewish (Pentateuch) scripture.
It was from this emerging antipathy, coupled with the aftermath of bar Kokhba, where most Jews were expelled from Judea, that many early Christians were motivated to create a “New Jerusalem” which is indicated in Revelation 21. To the once popular (later heretical) group known as the Montanists, the New Jerusalem was in Central Turkey.
My speculation is that the pre-existing theology which gave rise to Christianity was the Nasaraene movement.
We learn from Epiphanius that the Nasaraeans rejected the Pentateuch, believed they had secret writings from Moses, yet who lived among Jews and practiced their customs.
In Hebrew, Nasar means to keep, guard, or preserve; therefore, any references to such preservation in Christian literature is likely a reference to this group of “keepers”. We find such a reference in Revelation 12:17
Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring—those who *keep* God’s commands and hold fast their testimony…
As I have described in earlier posts the woman mentioned in Revelation 12 was The Queen of Heaven. In Revelation, she gave birth to the son, who was taken up to heaven and later came to purge evil from the earth. Here, we have a paradigm which is better explained as metaphorical prophesy, rather than post-Jesus poetic fiction.
Prior to King Josiah’s Deuteronomic reform in the 7th century BCE, where his high priest claimed to have found a (still extant) book of the law which purports to have been written by Moses, described in 2 Kings 22-23, temple worshipers burned incense for the Queen, and she was represented as the Asherah, which was a sacred tree or pole, a likely reference to the tree of life found in Genesis (remember, Jesus’s celestial mother gave him life in the Gospel of Thomas), and perhaps manifested in Kabbalah as the Sephirot.
The Queen of Heaven, along with the older faith which produced her, is detectable in Jeremiah 44
But ever since we stopped burning incense to the Queen of Heaven and pouring out drink offerings to her, we have had nothing and have been perishing by sword and famine.”
The women added, “When we burned incense to the Queen of Heaven and poured out drink offerings to her, did not our husbands know that we were making cakes impressed with her image and pouring out drink offerings to her?”
Consider the late 1st/early 2nd century quasi-Christian Elxai, and his Nasaraene, Ebionite, Essene, and Nazarene followers. A likely speculation is that all four of these groups were doing roughly the same thing: practicing a religion which had evolved from this pre-Deuteronomic Judaism.
Cerinthus, an early Christian who much-resembled the Ebionites, was linked to Revelation, via several disparate groups evidently claiming Cerinthus wrote Revelation. Therefore, another likely speculation is that Cerinthus was, like the Ebionites and Essenes, a member in this Nasaraene conglomeration.
Following King Josiah’s Deuteronomic reform, the Queen and all other references to heavenly hierarchy and Monolatrism were thrown out of the temple, burned, and otherwise destroyed. Within a few decades, Solomon’s temple was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar II and Jews were expelled from Judea.
Though the 2nd Jewish temple was rebuilt in the late 6th century BCE, there were probably many who worshiped the Queen of Heaven who saw the Queen-less temple as illegitimate. Scribal re-workings which purged the Queen from scripture would have made the Queen’s adherents likewise untrusting of the new Jewish Orthodoxy.
In 70CE, the 2nd temple was destroyed, and not long after, Jews were expelled from Judea. Theological solutions for Christians and Nasaraeans in a temple-less world manifested in 2 notions:
- New Jerusalem (which represented the Queen/mother/city)
- The Spirit of the Temple (which represented the Christ/son)
The New Jerusalem is found in Revelation 3:12 and Revelation 21:2. This New Jerusalem was the place in which the Spirit of the Queen of Heaven could live, as was alluded in 2 Esdras 10. It would have been necessary because the Queen’s followers needed a place to welcome their queen, and because Jews were no longer welcome in the original Jerusalem.
If Jesus did not exist, why did people think he did?
There likely were people who resembled Jesus a great deal; further, those people might very well have been leaders within the Nasaraene communities. For example, there was a James, who in the mid-60s was stoned to death at the hands of an unpopular high priest named Hanan ben Hanan; James’ death caused such an uproar that the people of Jerusalem pleaded with the recently-appointed Roman governor Albinus to punish Hanan.
There was also a prophet named Theudas who took his followers to the Jordan River, claimed he could divide the river (note the Moses reference), implored his followers to sell or take their possessions, and was beheaded and had his remains flaunted around Jerusalem. Theudas’s resemblance to John the Baptist is significant, and his death preceded James’ death by about 20 years.
A few years after Theudas’ death, following increased tensions between religious movements in Judea and the Roman authorities, there was an Egyptian who took his followers to the Mount of Olives and who claimed he could knock down the wall of the temple. The local governor made war against him and his followers, but the Egyptian escaped, and was not heard from again. This Egyptian bears striking resemblance to both Jesus and Paul – Acts of the Apostles even links Paul to the Egyptian in Acts 21:31.
If the prerequisite for leadership in Nasaraene communities was a claim to the Spirit, the likely result would have been many people claiming to have inherited the spirit, and thus possess the appropriate attributes to be the Christ.
The solution for an evolving, maturing church with increasingly defined power hierarchy was to merge these early attributes into a single person which became Jesus Christ.