What's so divine about a virgin birth?
Dec. 24, 1999
Tomorrow is reputedly the 1,999th birthday of Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified leader of Christianity, the globe’s largest creed. Many of the faithful followers of this man-Messiah believe that he was birthed from the womb of a virgin, despite scientists’ claim that this phenomenon, called parthenogenesis, occurs only in low-level species.
Many annoying insects such as ants, bees, wasps and aphids as well as some fleas and ticks create progeny in a manner similar to the legendary Virgin Mary, i.e., without any assistance from sperm. A few scaly fish and reptiles are also capable of immaculate conception.
Not content with either nature’s unimpressive displays of self-conception or religion’s high-flown spiritual romances, scientists have been trying to expand single-sex reproduction for the past century. Biologist Jacques Loeb first developed artificial parthenogenesis in 1899 when he developed sea urchin larvae. In 1900 he progressed to polliwogs, creating embryos in frog eggs by pricking their jelly-like shells with a needle. According to the Columbia Encyclopedia, American birth-control pioneer Gregory Pincus made the first miracle mammals in 1936, when he injected life into a rabbit ovum with chemicals and temperature changes.
Despite the New Testament’s assertion in Luke 1:35 that Mary was impregnated by an angel’s simple announcement, “The Holy Ghost shall come over thee, and the power of the Highest shall come over thee,” there is no scientific proof that human parthenogenesis has ever been achieved. Even so, the theory that Jesus’ embryo was created by a non-copulatory method remains staunchly defended by Catholics, Christian Scientists and numerous other sects.
Miraculous-birth narratives are not limited to Christian theology. Classical mythology teaches that sea foam spawned the Greek goddess of love Aphrodite; the avatar of India’s Jainism, Mahavira (aka Nataputta Vardhamana, 599 B.C. to 527 B.C.) was believed to have traveled straight from heaven to a spermless conception; and the Persian prophet Zoroaster was supposedly conceived when his parents drank a sacred infusion of milk and divine plants.
Hank Hyena is a former columnist for SF Gate, and a frequent contributor to Salon. More Hank Hyena.
More Related Stories
- Developers evict historic women's shelter to build luxury hotel
- Kaitlyn Hunt refuses plea offer, will go to court over high school relationship
- The secrets of cicada survival
- Nobody "needs" to rape
- Catholic Church in market for more exorcists
- Report: Nearly a quarter of all Americans struggle to afford food
- Louie Gohmert: Women should be forced to carry nonviable pregnancies to term
- This is what Guy Fieri looks like as a balloon
- Boy Scouts to members: Just don't be a gay adult
- Anonymous rallies behind Kaitlyn Hunt
- Mistrial in penalty phase of Arias case
- My text blew up in my face
- Boy Scouts end ban on openly gay boys
- Mississippi could begin prosecuting women for miscarriages
- Teenage girl claims she was beaten up for looking like Taylor Swift
- Billionaire hedge funder: Babies, breast-feeding "kill" focus, keep women from succeeding
- "Bookless library" set to open in Texas
- Man arrested for sending Craigslist sex party to neighbor's house
- Greek yogurt, toxic waste hazard?
- Glenn Beck: CNN interview with atheist tornado survivor was a setup!
- Incoming BBC news director on journalism gender gap: "We can do better"
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11