Item description for Born Divine: The Births of Jesus & Other Sons of God by Robert J. Miller...
In this compelling study of the birth and infancy of Jesus, Robert Miller separates fact from fiction in the gospel narratives and relates them to stories about the miraculous births of Israelite heroes and of Greek and Roman sons of God. "Born Divine analyzes the Christian claim that the birth and childhood of Jesus fulfilled Old Testament prophecies. The historical and theological dimensions of the virgin birth tradition are discussed with honesty and insight. This wide-ranging book also presents additional infancy gospels from the second century through the Middle Ages.
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Studio: Polebridge Press
Est. Packaging Dimensions: Length: 9.02" Width: 6.24" Height: 0.72" Weight: 1.05 lbs.
Release Date Jan 1, 2003
Publisher Polebridge Press
ISBN 094434495X ISBN13 9780944344958
Availability 0 units.
More About Robert J. Miller
Father Robert Miller is Pastor of St. Dorothy Church in Chicago. He is the author of five other books, the most recent of which is Surprised by Love.
Reviews - What do customers think about Born Divine: The Births of Jesus & Other Sons of God?
The Gospels as Hellenistic Biographies Jun 28, 2007
Miller's central thesis is that the Gospels of the New Testament were part of larger genre of literature known as Hellenistic biographies and so shares a number of common characteristics with them. Hellenistic biographies were shaped by the two beliefs. The first is that the achievements of heroes so surpassed the achievements of ordinary people that heroes cannot be merely human. The second belief is that "human life is determined by Fate." So heroes were the sons (daughters) of a god, whose greatness was discernible early in life and it was an essential function of a Hellenistic biography to reveal this greatness.
Quite often the biography would portray events which announced the coming/birth of a hero. These events could be in the form of a genealogy, a message from a god in a dream or in a vision, or supernatural signs which heralded the coming of the hero. Then Hellenistic biographies moved rapidly from birth to adulthood often spanning those years with a single event. People in the ancient world believed that heroes were the children of gods because of the extraordinary events of their adult lives. So stories about divine paternity/maternity were not informational but symbolic.
Infancy narratives are found in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Each uses elements of a Hellenistic biography to tell its story. Both Gospels identify the divine sonship of Jesus. Both use lengthy genealogies. Both have angelic messengers which reveal the coming birth of Jesus. And both have celestial signs; Matthew has the story of the magi and Luke has the glorious radiance in the night sky. Most Christians are aware of the fact that the only event from the childhood of Jesus is Luke's story of Jesus impressing the teachers in the Temple.
Miller draws comparisons with such sources as Plutarch's Life of Alexander. Alexander the Great was a descendant of Herakles (Hercules) and son of Philip of Macedon and his wife, Olympias. On the night before they were to be married, Olympias had a dream that foretold of the birth of Alexander. Apollonius of Tyana was a holy man born a couple of decades after Jesus. He was a healer and a teacher who traveled from city to city going as far as India. He taught the teachings of Pythagorus and strict morality. Many miracles are attributed to him including raisings from the dead. Prior to the birth of Apollonius his mother had a vision in which the Egyptian deity Proteus appeared to her. Apollonius was to be the incarnation of the shape-shifting Proteus. Miller includes Hellenistic biographies of Theagenes (an Olympic champion), Caesar Augustus, Plato, Cyrus the Great, Pythagorus, Herakles, and Josephus who writes a precocious childhood story about himself. (When he was 14, the leading men of the city consulted him for his learning.)
Origen once wrote that it was not absurd to use Greek historiai when talking to the Greeks in order that Christians might not seem to be the only ones using such incredible historiai as Jesus being born of a virgin. For it seemed proper to record that Plato was born while his mother was prevented from having sexual intercourse. However these stories are mythos. People fabricate such stories about a man they regard as having greater wisdom or power than most others. So they say that at his composition, he received a superior and more divine sperm as if this were appropriate for those who surpass ordinary human nature.(Paraphrased from _Against Celsus_ I.37. See _Documents for the Study of the Gospels_, p 130.)
Miller writes much about the Virgin Birth. He includes a mini commentary on the Gospel of Luke which demonstrates "step parallelism." John the Baptist was born of an old woman. This was uncommon but not unheard of. (Abraham and Sarah.) But Jesus was born of a woman who had know not a man. That was really something. Miller addresses the question of whether Jesus fulfilled prophecy. Miller finds that the Gospel of Matthew commits such errors as ripping verses out of context such as Isaiah 7.14. Could Matthew have been fascinated by Emmanuel rather than by parthenos/virgin? Miller points to Romans 1.3ff and argues that Paul understood Jesus as having a biological father descended from David and that Jesus became God's son by "virtue of his resurrection, not his birth." Had Jesus had a Virgin Birth, Paul would have heard of it from James and Peter when they met in Jerusalem. Mark has Jesus becoming God's son at his baptism. It is Matthew and Luke who extend this idea by introducing the idea of the Virgin Birth. John extends it further by having Jesus as God's son before his conception. Later Christian theological reflection blended these ideas and developed the composite doctrine of the Trinity.
There is a very interesting question that should be raised here. Each of these historical figures has a handful of stories which portray their greatness. For example, the mother of Augustus asserted that he had been fathered by Apollo. But these stories do not compare to the number of stories about Jesus. Most of the New Testament was written within two generations (Miller likes later dating) after the death of Jesus. These include at least the four Gospels, the Pauline epistles, and the Epistle to the Hebrews. Why was there such as explosion of stories about Jesus?
One might remember Robert Miller as the editor of _The Complete Gospels_, a collection of canonical gospels, non-canonical gospels, and gospel fragments, which is also a noteworthy book.
My favorite book on the infancy stories of Jesus May 14, 2007
I am a seminary student writing a paper for a class on the gospels. I chose to write on the virgin births and I found this to be a great book to really dig into the details of this in an acessible manner. Its more detailed than Tatum's The Quest for Jesus or Borg and Wrights The Meaning of Jesus. (Although both are good resources for more basic overviews on the issue) and it is more acessible than Raymond Brown's commentary on The Birth of The Messiah (although that is a great resource for material with more depth if you are doing research on this kind of subject). It is easy to read and has good detail. If you are new to the historical crtical method of looking at the Bible, it may be a difficult book to start with. Consider taking a course or reading a more basic book as an introduction if you do not have a background iin this. However if you are a college or seminary student or a church worker in a tradition that honors the historical critical tradtion this is a valuable resource.
Refreshing, crtical analysis of the birth stories of Jesus Feb 28, 2007
Born Divine: The Birth of Jesus & Other Sons of God by Robert J. Miller questions popular Christian understanding regarding the birth and life of Jesus. Miller's honest and critical insight concerning the biographies of Jesus challenges and refutes conservative thought that views Jesus as a God conceived, divine-human hybrid who fulfilled Jewish Bible prophecies that were seemingly foretold about him many years before his birth. He argues that stories told about Jesus, particularly those concerning his birth and childhood, are not unique when compared to those of other prominent and celebrated figures of ancient civilizations from the Hellenistic and Roman periods. He claims that the infancy narratives found in Matthew and Luke are not example of historical-factual accounts, but rather created myth used to convey Jesus' greatness. Miller's Born Divine is a refreshing presentation of historical evidence not tainted by religious belief.
Miller's attempt to separate historical evidence and religious belief is well executed. Scholarly work regarding Jesus and the Bible is often tainted by personal presuppositions regarding the faith. Historians generally agree that the history of a particular period or set of events is best left to those on the outside because these outsiders usually possess little bias. I believe it to be same for the study of religion. Furthermore, the study of the history of Christianity should especially not be carried out by apologists. Miller's work is not a work of apologetics. He examines the evidence and draws conclusions. Miller's paradigm of the Bible is much different than the more conservative scholars however. Miller apparently does not feel obligated to defend popular Christian doctrine, biblical infallibility, or the divine origin of the Bible. This freedom allows for a clear examination of the material through critical thought; he does not intend to reconcile error and discrepancy because of preconceived beliefs about the status of the text.
I appreciate the work of Miller and his very detailed and critical examination of the birth stories of Jesus. I enjoyed his focused analysis on the gospel writers and their agendas, and his analysis of the similarities between the Christian and Hellenistic infancy narratives. Born Divine is an example of critical scholarship not tainted by traditional religious views regarding theology, biblical origins and doctrine.
The organization of this book is poor. It could be more concise in a few areas such as prophecy. I also would like to have seen more evidence to support the claim that Luke and Matthew were influenced by Hellenistic biographers aside from the fact that the biographies share a distinct pattern.
Don't waist your money Mar 17, 2006
This book is just like the Jesus Seminar. A sham. It is a bunch of egotistical atheists trying to rid the world of Christianity. They like to pick and choose what is true from the Bible based of their great wisdom of the first century. They really like to remove anything that would convict them of any wrong doing in their lives. If you enjoyed the Davinci Code; IE. You are easily entertained and like to believe lies rather than the truth, this is a book for you. If you want the truth about Jesus try, "More than a Carpenter," by Josh McDowell or "The Case for Christ," by Lee Strobel.
Could have been better Dec 13, 2005
The viewpoint of this book is obvious from its subtitle: The Births of Jesus & Other Sons of God. Miller compares the biblical infancy narratives with similar stories that were extant in the time of Jesus, and concludes that the virgin birth didn't happen. Of course, anyone who can view the narratives with even a bit of detachment will come to the same conclusion. Miller also concludes that the prophecies in Matthew aren't prophecies at all. Although these conclusions are not novel or surprising (and Miller doesn't claim that they are), the discussion is interesting and often lively. However, I can only give this book three stars, for several reasons:
1) The book is poorly organized. The chapter topics jump around, and the chapter that reads like the main summary of the book (chapter 16) isn't the last one.
2) The book is a scholarly lightweight compared to Raymond Brown's "The Birth of the Messiah."
3) In the book's Introduction, Miller states that the reader will have no doubt about where he stands on a given issue. Although he usually doesn't mince words (an admirable trait, in my opinion), he nevertheless states (p. 257) that "one can take the virgin birth seriously, and believe in it with integrity, no matter what one thinks about Jesus' biological origins." In this part of the book he uses the words "believe" and "true" in a subjective way --- as Bertrand Russell wrote about William James, his "... doctrine is an attempt to build a superstructure of belief on a foundation of skepticism ..." If Miller had been content to say, "The virgin birth isn't true, but it symbolizes something important," I might disagree with his assertion but I wouldn't argue with the way he expressed it. But for some reason he feels compelled to imply that because the myth of the virgin birth symbolizes something important to him, it is "true". I suspect he would adopt a more mundane definition of "true" if the issue at stake were whether he had received his paycheck for the month.