A special Christmas repost. Enjoy!
So Christmas is nigh. I’ve decided to depart from my usual Bible Project fun-ness to focus exclusively on the Nativity of Jesus. I’m still working on the next regular part of the project, which is Judges, but in the meantime, here’s this.
Oh, and as with the regular Bible Project, I’m not going to be capitalizing certain things. Words like that appear in the middle of sentences like, him, his, babe, child, etc, are not going to get caps just because they refer to Jesus. That’s just silly.
The birth of Jesus is documented in two places in the Bible; the New Testament books of Matthew and Luke. Both have some interesting differences between them.
We start with Matthew‘s account. First we go through the genealogy of Jesus, which is another of those fine Bible genealogies that are guaranteed to induce sleep in any insomniac. After getting past that we hit the meat of the story.
Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with the child of the Holy Spirit. – Matthew 1:18
Uh-HUH. Right. Ok. Well, yeah, I suppose if I was a scared girl of about thirteen who’d hooked up one memorable night with Levi, the merchant’s son and gotten knocked up as a result, I, too, might try the old “God did it!” schtick. I’m sure people before her and after her tried it, saying they “magically” got pregnant without having sex (Danae, I’m looking at you!).
In fact the virgin birth is actually a fairly common concept throughout the mythology of the Levant and other areas, so if there’s anyone out there who claims this is somehow unique to Christianity, you can feel free to argue with them.
Also to anyone who wants to disagree and say, “Well, why would Mary make up such a story?” I invite you consider hard the fact that she was growing up in a primitive, superstitious society that would’ve likely believed her claims much more than modern society and that would punish her much more harshly if they’d learned she’d had pre-martial sex.
Moving on, we get to the naming of Jesus.
“And she will bring forth a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” – Matthew 1:21
I’ll cover the whole “dying for our sins” thing later on, once I get to this part of the Bible in my normal course of business (at the current rate this will likely be in 2034). But to cover it briefly here: Jesus has to die for humanity’s sins. This is because God says he has to. God could change this rule but doesn’t want to. This mean God really, really wants Jesus to be tortured to death on the cross. Nice fellow, this God.
Of course according to some Christians, God and Jesus are the same beings, yet somehow distinct. Jesus is an avatar in this context. I actually have no problem with that concept, but it does mean that God basically sends himself to get tortured that he can allow himself to forgive humanity their sins. Once again, I’d love to see a psychiatrist get this guy on the couch.
Anyhow, I also find it depressing that the so-called “Prince of Peace” as the same first name (Yeshua, or ישוע), as one of the Bible’s more unsavory characters (Joshua), though this is apparently somewhat of a controversial notion.
Anyhow, Mary goes off to give birth. There’s no mention of a manager or there not being room at the inn; that comes later in Luke’s account. But we do get the Wise Guys Men.
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem,
saying, “Where is he who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the Easy and have come to worship him.”
When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled,and all Jerusalem with him. – Matthew 2:1 – 3
I’m sure all of Jerusalem was, because he’s certainly not the type to keep his emotional issues to himself. In fact, he gets very uptight about the idea of someone else being King of the Jews. He has certain plans for the boy.
The Wise Men schlep off to the place of birth and give their three presents of gold, frankincense and myrrh (it’s a valuable bomb balm, you know! But be careful with it around the baby; it might bite him!). No where is it mentioned there were only three wise men. Could’ve been there were two and one was being nice, or maybe there were four, and one was being niggardly. Either way, we don’t see there being three, and we certainly don’t get the names that later crop up in Christian mythology.
After the Wise Men leave, an angel appears to Joseph and warns him that it’s time to get out of Dodge.
Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise, take the young child and and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him.” – Matthew 2:13
Well, imagine that. Jews fleeing to Egypt for protection. Irony! I assume this was intentional on the part of whomever made up the story. It’s probably a way to evoking the image of Exodus and all that.
Needless to say, though, Herod is less than happy when he hears that Jesus and family have escaped his oily clutches.
Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he set forth to put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under; according to the time he had determined from the wise men. – Matthew 2:16
Well. How charming. Here again we have an evocation of Exodus as we have another slaughter of innocent children, though this time it’s a human that’s doing the job, not God. Progress for man? Perhaps.
Either way, there’s no mention of this happening anywhere outside the Bible. None. If Bethlehem was a town of any size, there would’ve been dozens, if not hundreds, of babies aged two and under. Surly having them all rounded up and killed would’ve aroused the notion of, say, the ruling Roman authorities, even if it was just in the context of, “Those wacky Jews! Wait until you hear what they’ve done now!” Think of the propaganda bonanza this would’ve been to them. But no, it doesn’t get any airtime outside the Bible. Odd, that.
Also it’s worth noting before we move on to Luke, that Herod’s reign ended in the year 4 BC. This is something of a problem for Luke, who puts the birth of Jesus around 6 or 7 AD. Oopsie.
Speaking of Luke, Matthew’s story of the birth of Jesus basically ends here, so let’s move on to Luke’s accounting.
Luke begins by telling us about the birth of John the Baptist. He goes on about this for quite some time and then moves on to Gabriel having a chat with Mary.
And having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!”
But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. – Luke 1:28 – 29
Yeah, I just bet she did. This shows Mary as being quite smart, actually. Anyone with half a brain back then would’ve been deeply suspicious of God’s motives, had they actually paid attention to much of what he’d done over the centuries.
But anyhow, she gets this news and is told she’ll get knocked-up by the Holy Spirit. Some other dialogue and stuff happens that I don’t care much about, and then we move onto more about the birth of Jesus.
And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered.
This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria.
So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city. – Luke 2:1 – 3
Hot diggity! This gives us some nice historical markers that we can go by for when this story happened. It’s not just “in the time of the elders, so long ago when Gilgamesh was king” or something like that. No, it contains mention of Augustus, Quirinius and a census. That’s three sources of data we can use to pinpoint when this happens.
Problem is, when that’s done, we get a date of around 6 or 7 AD, well past the reign of King Herod who, as mentioned before, died in 4 BC.
So this leaves a contradiction: either Jesus was born before the death of Herod, which would seem a requirement given Herod’s involvement in the story, or he was born later during a census which would’ve happened when Matthew’s version of Jesus was about ten or eleven years old. Both of these things cannot be true. This means the Bible is in error, yes? But it’s supposed to be infallible, I thought.
Then there’s the various problems history has with the census itself, including the fact that it’s unlikely people would have had to go to their ancestral homes to participate in the census (imagine the chaos that would cause in the modern world, much less 2,000 years ago when people were a bit less mobile).
But putting Joseph and Mary on the road gives Luke the chance to have the baby born in a manger because there was no room at the inn. This is why it’s a good idea to make reservations ahead of time and to not travel when you’re very pregnant.
And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. – Luke 2:7
This is the birth story we’re all familiar with. Here’s what we were missing in Matthew; the inn and the manger. Notice that there’s no mention of Herod, a trip to Egypt or the Wise Men. Then a few verses on and the shepherds show up and shortly thereafter, the story of the Nativity comes to an end.
Also, I can’t help but notice mention of this being her “firstborn” son. Now that implies that it’s at least possible there were others, right, like James. I know Catholic theology has this huge whopper of a stupid notion that she somehow never had sex with Joseph once she was married and remained a virgin for life, but come on. That’s just stupid.
So here we have it, the story of the birth of Jesus. Not that much of a story, actually, given all the mythology and story that’s been built up around it. It’s only a small handful of verses that take up only a couple pages. Frankly, before reading it, I thought it would be at least a couple chapters in Matthew and Luke, but no, not so much.
Oh, well. Coming soon, I get back to the Project proper with the start of Judges! Until then, merry Christmas for those as believes!