Just yesterday I posted a list of my favorite songs, one of which (Nemesis by Shriekback) gets considerable mileage out of the word “parthenogenesis”. It’s not often we get to hear this term used anywhere, let alone in a rock song. But also just yesterday I received my copy of Bird and Crossley’s How Did Christianity Begin?, in which Bird manages to use the word on page 21, almost as if to gratify my personal thrill for coincidence. Bird writes, in defense of Jesus’ virgin birth:
“What we can say for certain is that Jesus’ paternity was enigmatic from the start. That is the fact that Crossley must explain and yet he does not attempt to do so other than say that historians would consider the birth accounts ‘imaginative storytelling’… All I can say is that in early 2007 it was reported in the news that a female Komodo dragon named Flora conceived through parthenogenesis (i.e. reproduction without the aid of a male). I cannot help but think that if a Komodo dragon can do it, why not God?” (p 21)
Even in my richest fantasies as a devil’s advocate for evangelicals, I wouldn’t dream of appealing to the phenomenon of parthenogenesis (which occurs in certain plants, insects, and about 70 vertebrate species — mostly snakes and lizards, like our Komodo dragon) to imply that a human virgin birth isn’t so far-fetched. Really, Michael. I agree that Jesus’ paternity is problematic, but that’s easily enough accounted for by illegitimacy. (And yes, many human beings have been verifiably illegitimate.)
Well, back to the book. I’m enjoying it so far and will eventually have a review up. It turns out that Bird and Crossley each succeed in scoring zingers against each other (the above citation not being an example). Of the three chapters I’ve read, Crossley has the better case in chapter one (the historical Jesus), Bird and Crossley split the victory in chapter two (the resurrection) — Bird for a persuasive case for the historicity of the empty tomb, Crossley for the unhistoricity of the resurrection — and I’m honestly not sure who impresses more in chapter three (the apostle Paul), though I agree more with Bird about particulars, like the Antioch incident and the reasons why Paul persecuted the church. These guys are good debaters.