Birth- Rev Michael Barnes, 23/12/18
In the Ancient World, remarkable people were often credited with miraculous birth stories.
One was told about the Roman Emperor, Augustus by the historian, Suetonius. Augustus was known as ‘Son of God.’
Here is the story:
When Atia [Augustus’ mother] had come in the middle of the night to the solemn service of Apollo, she had her litter set down in the temple and fell asleep, while the rest of the matrons also slept. On a sudden, a serpent glided up to her and shortly went away. When she awoke, she purified herself, as if after the embraces of her husband, and at once there appeared on her body a mark in colours like a serpent, and she could never get rid of it; so that presently she ceased ever to go to the public baths. In the tenth month after that Augustus was born and was therefore regarded as the Son of Apollo.
In Priene in modern-day Turkey, the following inscription, dating to 9BC, was uncovered, ‘Providence, … has given us Augustus, … sending him as a Saviour, … that he might end war and arrange all things, and since he excelled even our anticipations, … not leaving to posterity any hope of surpassing what he has done, and since the birthday of the God Augustus was the beginning of ‘good tidings’ [we usually translate this word as ‘gospel’] for the world that came by reason of him.’ (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calendar_Inscription_of_Priene)
This inscription reminds me of the angels’ announcement to the shepherds in Luke 2:8-15.
Like Augustus, stories were told about Jesus’ birth. (Please note there are two birth stories in the gospels: Matthew’s version tells Joseph’s story, whereas Luke’s, much-better-known, tells Mary’s story.) Scholars date these stories to the 80s, fifty years after Jesus’ death. Mark and John know of no birth story, nor does Paul.
Regarding these birth stories, Borg and Crossan have noted, ‘It is the destiny of the child, not the biology of the mother that is at stake.’