Most of the material is drawn from Robin Lane Fox's _The Unauthorized Version: Truth and F

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From: rjl@sei.cmu.edu (Robert Lang) Most of the material is drawn from Robin Lane Fox's _The Unauthorized Version: Truth and Fiction in the Bible_. All quotes, (except the Biblical ones) are from this book. Another book to check out, for those interested, is _The Birth of the Messiah_ by Raymond E. Brown (New York: Doubleday, 1993). -------------- Two of the four gospels discuss the birth of Christ: Matthew and Luke. Both gospels date Jesus' birth by the reign of King Herod. Matthew says, "...Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of king Herod... (Matth. 2:1). Similarly, Luke dates the annunciation under the reign of Herod (Luke 1:5). ---- LUKE In addition to dating the birth by the reign of Herod, Luke also dates it by the rule of the governor Quirinius. It's known independently that Quirinius and Herod were not contemporaries; Herod died at least 10 years before Quirinius was governor. I'll come back to this in a minute. Luke's story starts like this: In those days, Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary... (Luke 2:1 - 2:5). Note that this census is said to have occurred under Quirinius. Recall that Luke dates the annunciation during the rule of Herod--i.e., Luke thinks Herod and Quirinius are contemporaries. They are not. The ramifications of this inconsistency are clear: if Herod was king, there was no census, since we know independently that the census under Quirinius was the first in that region. If there was no census, this takes away Luke's reason for Mary and Joseph going to Bethlehem. Note that it does not *necessarily* mean that Jesus (if he existed at all :-) was not born in Bethlehem. It does suggest strongly, however, that the story of the trip to Bethlehem is a fairy tail. Here's why: Early Christian tradition did not remember, or perhaps ever know, exactly where and when Jesus had been born. People were much more interested in his death and its consequences. As the messiah, Jesus was connected to the line of King David.... In Hebrew scriptures, Bethlehem was famous as the home of the young David, the future king; the town was also the subject of a prophecy by Micah.... After the Crucifixion and the belief in the Resurrection, people wondered all the more deeply about Jesus' birthplace. Bethlehem, home of King David, was a natural choice for the new Messiah (p. 31-32). The author of Luke was writing 30 or more years after Jesus' death. He knew that Jesus and Mary were from Nazareth, but had heard that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. The author, quite simply, needed a way to get Joseph and his pregnant wife from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Hence the story of the census. I said earlier that if Herod was king there was no census. Let's say for the sake of argument that this was simply a mistake--that Herod was not king, but that there was a census under Quirinius (we know there was one). It was not a "worldwide" census, as Luke says. It was a local one, in Judea. In addition, "Roman censuses were based on ownership of property by the living, not the dead" (p. 31). The fact that Joseph had ancestors in Bethlehem would have been irrelevant; thus they had no reason to go there. *Even if they had,* Roman law allowed that "one householder could make the return for everyone in his care" (p. 31). Surely, Joseph would not have taken his heavily pregnant wife on such a trip if he didn't have to. ------- MATTHEW The author of Matthew discusses the annunciation by the angel, Mary's visit to Elizabeth, then the birth (as an aside, Elizabeth's pregnancy is curiously similar to Sarah's [Abraham's wife] in the OT: "look, God allowed this old woman, supposedly past child-bearing years, to become pregnant"). Matthew's story goes like this: Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Joseph, Mary and Jesus fled Bethlehem to Egypt when an angel told them that Herod wanted to kill the infant Jesus. Since we know Herod was dead by this time, the event could not have happened as described (how could Herod have wanted Jesus dead if Herod himself was dead?). What Matthew accomplished by putting Joseph, Mary and Jesus in Egypt was to fulfill another prophecy: "Out of Egypt I called my son" (Hoseah 11:1). Notice that this story "conflicts hopelessly" with Luke's. Like Matthew, the author of Luke knew that Joseph and Mary lived in Nazareth but that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. So his story simply starts out in Bethlehem; although it is not explicitly stated, the implication is that Joseph and Mary had lived there (in Bethlehem) all the while, leaving for Egypt only when it became dangerous (Herod had every child under the age of two killed. This was called the Massacre of the Innocents). He also knew that the Messiah was supposed to be from Egypt. The Massacre of the Innocents gave him a good reason to get Joseph, Mary and Jesus out of Bethlehem and into Egypt. They left Egypt and went to Nazareth after Herod died (an angel, of course, told them this). So while Luke's story takes them from Nazareth --> Bethlehem --> Nazareth, Matthew's goes from Bethlehem --> Egypt --> Nazareth. Furthermore, Luke mentions nothing about the census, Egypt, or the Massacre of the Innocents. Luke's story is both internally inconsistent and inconsistent with Matthew's. Matthew's story conflicts with Luke's. In addition, both authors added to knowledge (which itself may have been wrong) they already had about Jesus in order to make their stories internally consistent (they didn't succeed). Finally, they added information in order to be consistent with prophecies that were supposed to be fulfilled. -Bob Bob Lang | Advice n., the smallest current coin. rjl@sei.cmu.edu | (Ambrose Bierce)

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