The Rape of Mary and the similarities to Greek and Roman mythology. Luke 1:27-38.
Every year during the Christmas season we hear the story or stories of Jesus’ birth from both the Gospel of Matthew and Luke. We hear how glorious his birth was and holy that his mother was and how she accepted this task of giving birth to a demigod was all so wonderful. Every Christmas when I hear the 1st line of the song Mary did you know, I often wonder when the angel came to her, did she know that would be pregnant with child and I often ask Mary did you really consent? In many ancient religions and mythologies for example those of the well known Greek and Roman mythology, there are gods and goddesses mating with mortals and having children either with special abilities or their children are beautiful and handsome. However in many of those stories of demi gods and demi goddesses, these children were products of rape and seduction more often than not. Jesus Christ is no different. Luke and Matthew were written during the time of Roman occupation and since the Romans adapted many of the Greeks religion, myths and culture, these writers may have been familiar with Greek and Roman mythology.
In the Matthew narrative the author does not go into detail of how the Holy Spirit impregnated Mary, Matthew 1:18 NIV translation states “This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about,His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit “. Matthew does not tell us if Mary consented or not , Matthew does not give much go on except that detail of it was the Holy Spirit or God who was Jesus ‘ father. Therefore I will use the Luke narrative to make my argument.
In Luke 1:28 the angel Gabriel goes to Mary and announces to her and says she will be pregnant with Jesus but before he does , he compliments her. Luke 1:28 states “The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Many people who are familiar with Greek and Roman mythology like I am can see a similar trend there. Whenever Zeus, Poseidon, Apollo, Hermes ,Aphrodite or whichever god wants to seduce, rape or mate with a mortal, the first thing , the writer or storyteller of which ever myth does is give compliments about the woman or in the case of Aphrodite the man either she/he is beautiful, handsome or is blessed by the gods in some way. For example Medusa who was blessed by the goddess Athena and a favorite of hers is raped by the sea god Poseidon or the Callisto who is an attendant of Artemis and one of her favorites but she is raped by the King of the gods Zeus. A pattern has been established by the ancient gods and goddesses. When I read this compliment to Mary, I think this will not end well for her , this god is going to invade her space and force himself upon her.
You could imagine Mary a young girl of fourteen or fifteen hearing this from the angel saying that she is highly favored and the Lord is with you. The author of Luke states in verse n 29 that Mary was greatly troubled by Gabriel word’s. The author of Luke which mostly likely would have been a Greek or Roman Jew may have been familiar with the mythologies of Greece and Roman and may have implied or prepare the readers that there is something troubling and wrong with this and implied to the readers this was not good. Luke tells us that when Gabriel tells Mary she will have a child, Luke states that Gabriel tells her not to be afraid and that she has found favor with God. What the author of Luke knows and what many readers do not know, that in ancient Mediterranean mythology when a woman has found favor with a god , that god is most likely going to force himself upon that woman. When Mary asked in verse 34 how could that be, the angel Gabriel in verse 35 tells her that The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you;therefore the child to be born “ There is a Greek myth that is very similar to this incident, its the story of Perseus , whose mother Danae was impregnated by Zeus. In that story Zeus came to her in the form of a golden shower of rain that steamed through the roof or ceiling if I remember correctly that went to her womb. Perseus was born without sexual intercourse but by a god who invaded his mother’s space just like Mary. Danae was also a virgin just like Mary. Luke states that the power of the Most High will overshadow Mary and after that Jesus will be born, it is more like the power of god over powered Mary and hence Jesus was a product of a deity raping his mother , seems like reading Greek and Roman mythology all over again. Just like many of these mythological heroines did not have a choice neither did Mary.
There are some who will say that I am way off base and that God could not have raped Mary because there was no sexual intercourse. I would say to that there was not any sexual intercourse but it was an invasion of space and he forced himself in her body without her consent. It is also can be said it is rape because the stories of other demigods at the time proves that a deity does not need to sexually mate with a mortal woman to have a child, the god can use their powers to do that. Zeus used a golden shower of rain and God used the Holy Spirit ( I believe sometimes if I am correct that we refer to the Holy Spirit as coming down like rain sometimes). It may not be rape but it is assault or molestation. We don’t give the ancient Greek god Zeus a pass, thus we should not give God a pass either.
It could also be argued that Mary consented because in Luke 1:38 “ Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her” This line in Luke can be taken as evidence that she consent however Mary consented after the she was told that she will be carrying her baby. What can she do against a god or an angel. Mary had no recourse but to go along with it after the fact because one she was dealing with a deity and two she was a woman in ancient Roman occupied Palestine. Women in the ancient region of Palestine and in the larger context of Rome had few to none rights. Hence Mary had no choice to accept the fact that she was pregnant with Jesus. I will also say that some people could say that word servant in that verse could replace with the word slave. Hence if I am right and word can be replaced with slave or should be slave, then most definitely Mary did not consent until after the fact. Mary like Danae was overshadowed or overpowered by a god who did not show his true form and gave her a child that she would or would not want to raise, we will never know for sure if Mary would have truly consented if she had a choice in the matter in the beginning.
Nevertheless in the end Jesus like Perseus was born and both demigods became great and powerful men. There are many similarities between the birth of Jesus and Perseus and many other heroes of Greek mythology but that’s for another essay, this one is about the rape of Mary.
I often wonder how Jesus reconcile the fact that his immortal father raped his mother so that he could be bought into this world. Did it affect his ministry or did affect his attitudes to women. Some will say yes, some will say no and others may say it’s complicated. And what happens to Mary? The Bible gives us few details on what happens to Mary,in one of the Gospels, it is said that Jesus makes sure she is taken care by giving her to his beloved disciple so that he can take care of her. From then on with a brief mention in Acts as being in the upper room. Mary the rape victim disappears from the biblical narrative. The Catholics and the Orthodox say that Mary was taken into heaven bodily by Jesus very similar to the Greek myth about the god Dionysus who takes his mortal mother Semele and brings her to Mount Olympus where she presided over the cult inspired by her son. Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans and Lutherans but especially Catholics and Orthodox honor Mary very much. She is part of their daily worship but most Protestants overlook Mary until Christmas time when we are celebrating the birth of Jesus. The dark side of this Lukan narrative despite how the world wants make Christmas a joyous occasion, is that a young woman is forced to carry a baby by some god who decides he can do whatever he wants and then after she can be discarded. I would like to believe that despite this cruel act of his birth that Jesus like Dionysus took his mother up to heaven with him and that the Catholics got it right and she is standing right besides him in heaven intercessing for us. I rather believe that , than the alternative that Mary like many of these women in Greek myths and like many women in Roman occupied Palestine and at large the Roman empire remains voiceless and oppressed and that her voice has disappeared like so many women in a world that is patriarchal.
One of the implications of this essay is that we have to take a greater look at the birth narrative of Jesus. Now not only we look at whether Mary was unwed, poor or whether Jesus was born in a stable, a manger or a house we must look deeply to see whether Mary consented at all. It also can be used as a narrative for young women who were raped and are carrying their rapist child. Many women are not raped throw violence but some are raped through older powerful men overpowering these women. The narrative of Mary’s rape could bring hope to these women saying that something good can come out of it. That their child if they chose to keep would bring joy and happiness to them.
Another implication is the question of whether is this God of the New Testament has the same personality of the God of the Old Testament, a violent and controlling God who ordered the killings and rape of many women and men in the ancient near east. A god who who places a curse on the house of David and says that his wives would be raped, a god who never showed up when David’s daughter Tamar has been raped because of that same curse he has placed on the house of her father. Can we say they are one and the same.
The last implication would be the questioning of Jesus’ motivation, if we are to believe that he is the son of a god, then most likely he knew that his birth may or may not have been consensual , is this why he identified with the oppressed people of his time, is this why he started treating women half decently? Is this why he adhered to the patriarchal attitudes of his time. Is this why he made sure that his mother was taken care of. And what of his relationship with his mother, the bible leaves us with few clues on the mother and son relationship. If Jesus knew anything about the circumstances of his birth, he sure seemed to have shown that either it didn’t matter or he didn’t care. In many Catholic, Orthodox and to a lesser extent Anglican and Lutheran cities and countries Mary is not a victim but she is almost honored as a goddess or should I say almost as important as Jesus himself. If we are to believe Catholic doctrine and Jesus took Mary to heaven bodily, then it must be assumed that was his way of making things right for her and making her no longer the victim and that he cared greatly for her. In that incident Mary the rape victim is no longer oppressed or silenced she has a voice and influence.
Mary was like many young, unwed Palestine girls, like many girls in the Roman empire powerless, all she had to look forward to in life marriage and children with the knowledge she had no rights whether it be mortal or god. The birth narrative of Jesus is as much as Mary’s story as it is Jesus’ . It is the story of a 14 year old girl raped by a powerful deity who did the best she could and the only thing she could do accept it and raise this child the best way she can. Christmas is really not about Jesus but his mother Mary who now thousands of Catholics adore