There’s an allegation of rape, and as usual, the cynics don’t believe the alleged victim. After all, she says she consented, and we’d rather she hadn’t.
I am a Christian, the kind who believes in the literal virgin birth of Christ, as well as his literal death and bodily resurrection. But I’m far less offended as a Christian by unbelieving than I am as an English professor by misreading.
Here is the account of Mary learning that she’ll be the mother of Christ, as told in the first chapter of Luke’s gospel:
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”
And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
The literal words in the Bible (across various translations) make clear that the angel Gabriel’s words at the Annunciation convey to Mary what will happen, not what has happened, a future conception not a past one. The Annunciation—which is celebrated in the Christian liturgical calendar nine months before Christmas, on March 25, and has been the subject of countless works of art through the ages—is the commemoration of God’s choice of a woman to bear the Savior of the world and of her willing acceptance of that role.
As it turns out, the Annunciation offers an invitation to Mary to give a very modern turn to a very pre-modern event: verbal consent.
Yet, some things don’t change: then as now, the woman’s word is given too little credence. But if we take the woman at her word, Luke’s account of Mary’s testimony portrays a God—whether real or mythical—who was way ahead of us. And with us, too.
(Karen Swallow Prior at The Atlantic, responding to the slovenly sophomoric slander that “God raped Mary.”)
The crypto-Nicene assumption of this “God raped Mary” notion could be hilarious were it not for the sacrilege. The accusation assumes that Jesus was indeed “incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and became man.” But in its incoherent rage against God, it makes Him a rapist.
Weird. Sick. Stooooopid.
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I first published this 12/24/14, but since Karen Swallow apparently is an Evangelical or Fundamentalist (she teaches at Liberty University), she missed that this is an Annunciation story, not a Christmas story. And the Feast of Annunciation falls, by remarkable coincidence, 9 months before the Feast of Nativity. As a “low Protestant” in the local letters to the Editor might say, “the chance of that happening is one in 365 followed by eighty-four zeros.”
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“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)