The Stories of Christmas

After Thanksgiving, the real advertising for Christmas will commence. I love Christmas, and all of the wonderful things it brings. I am going to buy a Peanuts Nativity this year, and if I had a bigger house, I would have a Christmas Room where it would be Christmas every day. “The Little Drummer Boy” is one of my favorite shows at this time of year. There will still be problems in the world, and the Nay-sayers will be out in force working hard to undermine it as much as possible, but it can be a magical time.

If you have read my previous posts, you have determined by now that I will be giving you a description of Christmas, in an attempt to enlighten, so that, when you hear all of this again, you can nod and say, “Yes, I already knew that. Merry Christmas.”

Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, and the event is referred to as the Nativity. It is only mentioned in two of the four Gospels of the New Testament. Although the authors names are never mentioned in the text of the Gospels, the two in question are The Gospels of Luke and Matthew. What is important to keep in mind is the target audience for each of the Gospels; Luke was written for a Greek/Roman one, and Matthew was for a Jewish one.

Conservative estimates put the writing of Luke sometime after 80 AD and Matthew 10 – 50 years later. They were composed from oral traditions and the earlier Gospel of Mark, which does not mention the Nativity.

There are a number of contradictions and historical errors in the two stories, although the traditional Christmas celebration tries to combine the two.

Neither narrative mention a date, and there is much contradiction in the New Testament. Luke mentions Herod the Great, who died in 4 BC, while Matthew mentions a census which happened 10 years later in 6 AD. Luke later mentions that Jesus started his ministry in the 15th year of the Emperor Tiberius, which would place him closer to 1 AD, and which was used in the current dating system.

The first part of the story said in church each year is From Luke 2:1 “Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth.” Each person was required to go to their ancestral home to be counted. This statement is accepted as a fabrication by most bible scholars. First, if it had been done, there would be records of it in other parts of the Empire, which there are not. Also, millions of people forced to travel to places of their ancestors would have been a transportation nightmare; the census takers would be the travelers. If Herod was still alive, the Romans would not be doing a census of his citizens, as he was a client king.

This is a confusion with the census of Quirinius, in which the Romans counted the taxable population in Syria and Judea after they took over. However, once again, it was the census takers who traveled.

The reason this was done is to establish that Jesus, who was claimed to be of Nazareth, fulfilled biblical prophecy in being born in Bethlehem, which is approximately 80 miles away by road.

Luke says that upon arriving in the town, Mary gave birth to Jesus in a stable and laid him in a manger, since there was no room in the crowded city. Matthew implies that they were already living there. The Church of the Nativity, said to be the birthplace of Jesus, is built over a cave outside of what would be the town at that time.

Jesus’ birth was originally celebrated closer to Easter, but was moved to the festival of Saturnus, king of the Roman gods (and the guy Saturday is named after) over three hundred years later. This is one of the favorite things Nay-sayers mention, but it does need a date, so why not this one? King of the Gods, at a time when all social barriers were dropped each year. Good choice.

Luke mentions next that an angel appeared to some shepherds tending their flocks. If it was December, they would not have been out there; too cold most years. Shepherds were hard-working, humble folk in the Greek/Roman world, well respected in the literature of the time. It would be very appropriate that such people would be the first to see Him, especially if He were born in a cave away from town. Jesus is often referred to as a shepherd, and priests still are. It is a very well chosen idea.

Matthew ignores the shepherds, and mentions a group of astrologers. This event could have been up to 2 years later, and is celebrated each year after Christmas on January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany, a date where Christmas is also celebrated in some parts of the world. From my previous writings, you know that the word used is “magic-users”, not Wise Men. Herod is definitely mentioned here. The group (traditionally three because of the number of gifts, but no number is given in the bible), are following a star, but stop to visit King Herod, and foolishly ask him if he knows the birthplace of the person who would be King of the Jews, thus replacing Herod. (Not too wise to me). They sneak off, and the star leads them the rest of the way. The idea that they were kings was invented in the Middle Ages, but even very minor kings would have had a good size entourage and it would have been difficult to get away. Most likely, they were Zoroastrian astrologers from Persia, giving the traditional gifts of a new king/astrologer.

In Matthew, Joseph and Mary take the child and flee into Egypt to avoid Herod’s wrath (mirroring Moses since Jesus is to be the new Moses), eventually settling in Nazareth, while in Luke they simply move back.

There are many similarities to the birth of Buddha, which I have discussed before. Matthew worked very hard to show Jesus as the New Moses, while Luke was writing to a non-Hebrew audience of the New Man.

The birth of Christ was not celebrated for some centuries officially in the church, and the first nativity scene did not appear until 1223.

Written decades later, with so many errors , many bible scholars feel that the events were a mere allegory, while others see the errors all on the part of the authors.

For me, it doesn’t matter. Fact or fiction, I make it my reality. When I give gifts, I emulate the Magi, giving to those I love. Wars have stopped, and people reach out more to those in need. It has changed the world, for the better.

Happy Birthday, Jesus.

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