Unashamed commercialism…

Pantera, a Roman legionary, remains a plausible biological father for Jesus

You have only minutes left to get an interesting gift – a stocking-stuffer for an intelligent, literate, argumentative teen, say.

You could order them a copy of The Gospel According to the Romans for $14.95 here, or from Amazon.com

or you can send it to them as an e-book for 86p in the UK, or 99 cents in the US, or EUR 0,99 at one of Amazon’s main European websites (for example Germany, but you can substitute other country letters for the ‘de’), where you/they can also get a free Kindle app for reading it (look on the right-hand side)

or you can simply point them at this blog, http://robinhl.com, where they can enjoy random religious rants and sniping year-round!

(Discussion of Pantera is at https://robinhl.com/2011/11/06/jesus-son-of-pantera/, fyi. And Merry Christmas!)

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Gabriel and the birth of Jesus

Angels had sex with Earth women, says Genesis 6: 1-4

Here’s the Christian story: The angel Gabriel came to Mary and told her she was pregnant. She hadn’t had sex with a man.

How could this be? The Old Testament provides an answer: In Genesis 6: 1-4 it is told how the angels found the daughters of men attractive and had sex with them, and produced powerful men (or heroes, or giants, depending on your preference).

So Jesus can presumably claim descent from God through Gabriel. This is all so logical. I wonder why it isn’t a standard part of the Christmas story?

 

Jesus, Mary and Afghanistan – the death sentence for being raped

Would Mary, the mother of Jesus, have been sentenced to death if her pregnancy was caused by rape or by other sex outside marriage?

Afghan woman in a buqa, Herat, 2010

Consider the case currently unfolding in Afghanistan, whose sharia law is based on the same male-dominated monotheist tribalism as religious Judaism: An Afghan woman, Gulnaz, complained of being raped by a relative. We have good news and bad news:

  • Good news: she wasn’t sentenced to death for adultery
  • Bad news: she was given three years in jail, and after she gave birth to a daughter in jail she was given a second trial, and the sentence was increased to twelve years.

We have more good news and bad news:

  • Good news: in the second trial, the judge told the convict that she could be released…
  • Bad news: … if she married the rapist (regardless of her feelings toward him – or of his toward her, which would likely result in further abuse and quite likely death).

Stay tuned for further developments in the exciting world of 21st century religious jurisprudence. In the meantime, consider what Mary would have faced if she had been raped by a Roman soldier, or had had an affair at 14 – and got pregnant – if she hadn’t married Joseph before he knew she was pregnant, back in the late 1st century BC… Best bet: death by stoning.

Things we know Jesus wasn’t

He wasn’t born December 25th. The shepherds and flocks would not have been out in the fields overnight.

He wasn’t a Christian. Christianity was the invention of St. Paul in the decades after Jesus’ execution. Jesus was a rabbi, and outspokenly strict on upholding Jewish religious laws.

Did Jesus look European, or African? Who knows...

He wasn’t a pacificist. He said “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” and, shortly before the Romans caught him, “If you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.” He attempted to take over the Temple in Jerusalem and he was crucified by the Romans (the punishment for armed insurrection) between two (other) Zealots.

He wasn’t born in 1 BC or 1 AD (or the legendary “Year Dot”). He was born a couple of years before Herod the Great died in 4 BC.

He wasn’t born of a virgin, if by “virgin” you mean “girl who had never had sex”. Why not? Because that doesn’t happen. Get real. The word should be more correctly translated as “young girl of marriageable age”.

As for the rest, you can read into it what you like.

Did he look like a European? Maybe – depending on who his biological father was. The Romans and Greeks were all over Palestine, and the Roman troops included Germans and Gauls. We don’t know. He might equally have looked African.

Was he gay? Maybe – he doesn’t appear to have been married, and there are various ambiguous statements and situations in the Gospels suggesting he was gay. He might have been gay, straight, bi, asexual…

What happened to his corpse? We don’t know for sure. Someone took it when it had been entombed for 36 hours (Friday evening to Sunday morning). Jewish rumor at the time was that his followers stole it.

Lots of room there to create stories about him! Have fun – I do.

Best guess at Jesus’ family

When she married Joseph, Mary was pregnant with Jesus by someone else. Rumor had it that the father was a Roman soldier called Pantera, but the rape (or affair) was covered up. Joseph originally intended to divorce her (Matthew 1: 19), but changed his mind and left Galilee to go back to his family in Judea for Mary to have the child.

Joseph and Mary on the way to Bethlehem

The couple subsequently had several more children. In his 30s Jesus preached in his hometown of Nazareth, and people dismissed his claims to authority, saying “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas?
Aren’t all his sisters with us?” (Matthew 13: 55-56). None of Jesus’ half-brothers should be confused with other followers of his with those names, other than James who became the leader of the disciples in Jerusalem some time after Jesus’ execution.

Some Christians deny that “brothers” and “sisters” means that they were Mary’s children – though clearly from the context it’s a nuclear family. Catholic and Orthodox Christians, especially, profess the perpetual virginity of Mary, and have created a backstory of Joseph having had an earlier marriage to a woman named Salome. She died, leaving Joseph with half a dozen children for him to raise. You have to wonder why the older kids are never part of the creche scenes of the baby Jesus in the manger… Mary, Joseph, Kings, Angels, Shepherds, farm animals… but no brothers and sisters?

No, Jesus had at least six siblings, and they were all younger.

“Jesus, son of Pantera”

About 177 AD the Greek philosopher Celsus, in his book ‘The True Word’, expressed what appears to have been the consensus Jewish opinion about Jesus, that his father was a Roman soldier called Pantera. ‘Pantera’ means Panther and was a fairly common name among Roman soldiers. The rumor is repeated in the Talmud and in medieval Jewish writings where Jesus is referred to as “Yeshu ben Pantera”.

Pantera's gravestone is the one on the left

In 1859 a gravestone surfaced in Germany for a Roman soldier called Tiberius Iulius Abdes Pantera, whose unit Cohors I Sagittariorum had served in Judea before Germany – romantic historians have hypothesized this to be Jesus’ father, especially as ‘Abdes’ (‘servant of God’) suggests a Jewish background.

Tib(erius) Iul(ius) Abdes Pantera
Sidonia ann(orum) LXII
stipen(diorum) XXXX miles exs(ignifer?)
coh(orte) I sagittariorum
h(ic) s(itus) e(st)
Tiberius Iulius Abdes Pantera
from Sidon, aged 62 years
served 40 years, former standard bearer (?)
of the First Cohort of Archers
lies here

The gravestone is now in the Römerhalle museum in Bad Kreuznach, Germany.

It appears this First Cohort of Archers moved from Palestine to Dalmatia in 6 AD, and to the Rhine in 9 AD. Pantera came from Sidon, on the coast of Phoenicia just west of Galilee, presumably enlisted locally. He served in the army for 40 years until some time in the reign of Tiberius. On discharge he would have been granted citizenship by the Emperor (and been granted freedom if he had formerly been a slave), and added the Emperor’s name to his own. Tiberius ruled from 14 AD to 37 AD. Pantera’s 40 years of service would therefore have started between 27 BC and 4 BC.

As Pantera would probably have been about 18 when he enlisted, it means he was likely born between 45 BC and 22 BC. He could have been as old as 38 or as young as 15 at the time of Jesus’ conception in the summer of 7 BC.

In 6 AD when Jesus was 12, Judas of Galilee led a popular uprising that captured Sepphoris, the capital of Galilee. The uprising was crushed by the Romans some four miles north of Nazareth. It is possible (and appealing to lovers of historical irony) that Pantera and Joseph fought on opposite sides. As Joseph is never heard of again he may well have been killed in the battle, or have been among the 2,000 Jewish rebels crucified afterwards.

So Tiberius Iulius Abdes Pantera is indeed a possibility as Jesus’ father. The only thing we know for certain is that Mary’s husband Joseph wasn’t the father, and that Mary was already pregnant when they married. It could have been rape, or Mary may have been a wild young teen who fell for a handsome man in a uniform, even if he was part of an occupying army. It happens.

No room in the kataluma

In ancient farm households in many parts of the world, animals are kept under the house in the winter or at night. The advantages are that it keeps them safe, and that they provide heat for the family above.

Sheep kept under the house in a modern small farm

In the ancient Greek world, the upstairs living and dining area was called the ‘kataluma‘. This is the word used in the story of Jesus’ birth in the Gospels, but commonly translated into English as ‘inn’.

When Joseph went to visit his family in Bethlehem towards the end of Mary’s pregnancy, there was ‘no room in the kataluma‘ – and no privacy for childbirth either – so naturally Mary had the baby downstairs and put him in a manger. Again, the manger was a logical choice: off the ground, and away from the animals that were out in the fields with the shepherds (and angels…) It wasn’t winter, or the sheep would have been inside; it was the spring lambing season, or the shepherds wouldn’t have been so attentive.

A fairly substantial traditional farming house: kataluma upstairs, manger in a room underneath

And if anyone has better pictures of a kataluma, please share!