Still other historians, like Hazleton, suggest that there was a sort of dual paternity, with Joseph the human father and the Holy Spirit the divine one, a scenario similar to birth legends about Helen of Troy or Alexander the Great, both sired by the god Zeus and human fathers. Certainly, in cults across the Middle East, goddesses like Isis, Ishtar, and Diana who were both virgin and fertile exemplified a commonly accepted paradox.
Strengthening faith. Whatever the literal or metaphysical truth surrounding the virgin birth, the mystery rests intact. The very fact that the concept goes "against nature and against proofs" invests the faith with its power, according to the 17th-century French philosopher Blaise Pascal.
Soon after the Annunciation, Mary visits her pregnant elderly cousin Elizabeth. Her husband, Zechariah, has also had a vision of Gabriel foretelling the birth of a son, later known as John the Baptist. When Mary greets her cousin, Elizabeth feels the child leap in her belly in joyful recognition of the holy infant growing in Mary. "My soul magnifies the Lord," rejoices Mary, beginning the Magnificat. Repeating themes and language used by Hannah in the Old Testament to give thanks for the birth of her son Samuel after years of infertility, Mary prophesies the revolutionary kingdom to come. In the future, the Lord will act as he has in the past when he "put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree...filled the hungry with good things, and the rich...sent empty away." In this 27-line poem, Mary prefigures "virtually every theme in Jesus's teaching and ministry," Scot McKnight asserts in his book The Jesus Creed.
After staying with Elizabeth for three months, Mary next appears at the Nativity, a miracle of humility enacted in countless Christmas pageants and an amalgam of accounts from Luke and Matthew. Biblical historians now set Jesus's birth sometime between 6 B.C. and A.D. 6.
Summoned to Judean Bethlehem for a census, Mary gives birth in a manger because there are no more rooms at the inn. Shepherds flock to see the newborn child along with three regal wise men bearing gold, frankincense, and myrrh. In Matthew, the couple flee with their baby to Egypt to avoid the massacre of infants ordered by Herod to eliminate the future ruler of Israel foreseen by Hebrew prophets.
In a polemical interpretation, Hazleton maintains that Jesus was born in A.D. 6, not in Judean Bethlehem but in Galilean Bethlehem. Like other scholars, she thinks Judean Bethlehem was named in the Gospels because it was the birthplace of King David and the new Messiah needed to be viewed as his divine successor. Hazleton argues that the Syrian governor Quirinius mentioned in Luke as ordering the census was not appointed until A.D. 6, when, in fact, a census did take place, according to the Jewish historian Josephus. The Bible's "Herod the king" is not Herod the Great, who died in 4 B.C., but his son Herod Antipas, she asserts. According to this reckoning, Jesus was 23 years old when he was crucified and resurrected in A.D. 30, not 33 as commonly thought, and Mary was 36, not 46.