Books and Authors, New Testament

The Birth(s) of Jesus – Conclusion


Bethlehem

Bethlehem - Polenov

“Investigate carefully and you will see that no prophet comes from Galilee!”
John 7:52b – NETBible

When reading the two birth narratives of Jesus in GoMatthew and GoLuke side-by-side, a few things stand out with prominence.  One is that these are not two versions of the same story at all; they are two completely different stories.  Almost all the events narrated in GoMatthew are absent in GoLuke.  Likewise, almost all the events described in GoLuke are absent in GoMatthew.

There are, however, two specific points that are shared by both narratives.  The first is that the mother of Jesus was a virgin and that Joseph was not actually the father.  Mary was impregnated by supernatural means.  The second is that while it may have been commonly understood that Jesus had been from Nazareth in Galilee, he had been born in Bethlehem in Judea.

Both of these points are made clear in both GoMatthew and GoLuke in different yet contradictory ways, but neither of them can be found anywhere else in the New Testament except for one reference in GoJohn chapter 7.

Regarding point number one:

There are no prophecies in the earlier Hebrew writings that even hinted that a messiah would be born of a virgin.  The supposed prophecy used by GoMatthew (Isaiah 7:14) was a misquote by the author, perhaps intentional.  Neither Paul nor GoMark ever bring up the idea of divine conception, neither does the later GoJohn.  There is also something else not relayed by the earlier sources, Paul or GoMark; the name “Joseph”.

Perhaps one of the early questions about the identity of Jesus was the rumor that he was illegitimate and in response to that rumor, the tradition began that Jesus was like the other legendary divine-men of the Greco-Roman world, sired by a deity but with a human mother.  This would have seemed completely rational to first century CE pagans and would serve to dispel rumors that Jesus was Mary’s bastard son.

Regarding point number two:

The author of John relayed that even at the end of the first century; Jesus’ place of origin was still being debated.

Others said, “This is the Christ!” But still others said, “No, for the Christ doesn’t come from Galilee, does he? Don’t the scriptures say that the Christ is a descendant of David and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David lived?” So there was a division in the crowd because of Jesus…  Investigate carefully and you will see that no prophet comes from Galilee!”
John 7:41-43, 52b

“So there was a division in the crowd because of Jesus.”

The earliest Gospel of Mark had apparently firmly established the tradition that Jesus was from Nazareth, a small town a few miles from Sepphoris in Galilee.

“And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in Jordan.”
Mark 1:9

Perhaps the reason for inventing the idea that Jesus had been born in Bethlehem was a response to this point of contention which early Christians would have certainly had to overcome when debating the person and significance of Jesus with Jews.

“To get Jesus born in Bethlehem but raised in Nazareth, Matthew and Luke independently came up with solutions that no doubt struck each of them as plausible.”
“Jesus, Interrupted”, Bart D. Ehrman, 2009, p. 35

“…the fact that Jesus was known to be a Galilean from Nazareth is central to all the Gospel narratives, especially the Passion tradition.  This fact would seem to be incontrovertible on historical grounds.  Thus, the two localities, Bethlehem and Nazareth, geographically anchor the story of Jesus’s birth.  Yet each author has chosen to create his “dual citizenship” by different, and even contradictory, narrative devices.  Within each Gospel the continuity of the story and the itinerary is rather seamless, as the remainder of the narrative is adjusted accordingly.  In each case, the narrative supports the themes and theological motifs of that particular author.  The problem arises only when one compares the two accounts both at the level of narrative and in the light of known historical facts.”
“Scripting Jesus”, L. Michael White, 2010, p. 241

So where was Jesus born?

No one actually knows, but he was probably born and raised in a small community called Nazareth, about an hours walk from the city of Sepphoris in Galilee.

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Discussion

11 thoughts on “The Birth(s) of Jesus – Conclusion

  1. One of the most tantalizing puzzles for me, as I’ve mentioned before, is why in the world Luke, having all previous traditions before him, according to his own testimony, would choose to diverge from what went before, and go off in his own direction. There is certainly an insight, a porthole into certain windowless rooms, if we could know what was happening contemporaneously for this to occur.

    Posted by HipGnosis | December 18, 2010, 9:19 pm
    • “There is certainly an insight, a porthole into certain windowless rooms, if we could know what was happening contemporaneously for this to occur.”

      I hear it’s up on YouTube. Damn gladda see ya big brother.

      I just don’t think that Greco-Roman authors had a loyalty to their sources that we in the 21st century wish they had, but a masterpiece is a masterpiece, and Luke/Acts is a masterpiece. The fault doesn’t rest with them, I think we own it when we attempt to make those writings something that they are not. But, of course, that’s what we’re taught in the Christian world, that these are reliable stories. As a comparison, have you read the earliest birth narrative of Apollonius of Tyana by Philostratus in “The Life of Apollonius 1.4-5“? I am speculating here, but I think that an inspiring story was much more of a concern than accuracy, even when using and modifying earlier sources.

      Excerpt from above link:
      Now he is said to have been born in a meadow, hard by which there has been now erected a sumptuous temple to him; and let us not pass by the manner of his birth. For just as the hour of his birth was approaching, his mother was warned in a dream to walk out into the meadow and pluck the flowers; and in due course she came there and her maids attended to the flowers, scattering themselves over the meadow, while she fell asleep lying on the grass.

      Thereupon the swans who fed in the meadow set up a dance around her as she slept, and lifting their wings, as they are wont to do, cried out aloud all at once, for there was somewhat of a breeze blowing in the meadow. She then leaped up at the sound of their song and bore her child, for any sudden fright is apt to bring on a premature delivery.

      But the people of the country say that just at the moment of the birth, a thunderbolt seemed about to fall to earth and then rose up into the air and disappeared aloft; and the gods thereby indicated, I think, the great distinction to which the sage was to attain, and hinted in advance how he should transcend all things upon earth and approach the gods, and signified all the things that he would achieve.

      Posted by Xcntrik | December 19, 2010, 2:42 pm
      • “The fault doesn’t rest with them, I think we own it when we attempt to make those writings something that they are not.”

        True true. They were just telling a story. They had no idea that some future zealot would bundle these all together and package them for sale, much less for the odd reason as attributed to Iraneus. From Adversus Haereses:

        “The Gospels could not possibly be either more or less in number than they are. Since there are four zones of the world in which we live, and four principal winds, while the Church is spread over all the earth, and the pillar and foundation of the Church is the gospel, and the Spirit of life, it fittingly has four pillars, everywhere breathing out incorruption and revivifying men. From this it is clear that the Word, the artificer of all things, being manifested to men gave us the gospel, fourfold in form but held together by one Spirit. As David said, when asking for his coming, ‘O sitter upon the cherubim, show yourself ‘. For the cherubim have four faces, and their faces are images of the activity of the Son of God. For the first living creature, it says, was like a lion, signifying his active and princely and royal character; the second was like an ox, showing his sacrificial and priestly order; the third had the face of a man, indicating very clearly his coming in human guise; and the fourth was like a flying eagle, making plain the giving of the Spirit who broods over the Church. Now the Gospels, in which Christ is enthroned, are like these.” (3.11.8)

        Iow, we’ve got four gospels because it’s a cool number.

        Posted by HipGnosis | December 20, 2010, 7:29 pm
      • It is a cool number, AND it is completely different from any other number. Good thing Ezekiel’s cherubim didn’t have 5 faces or that would have really ruined everything.
        The significance of 4 is pretty clear; it is the only number that comes after 3 but before 5 and following Hebrew gematria, 4 is represented by a dalet. A dalet looks like a lean-to shed, and the shed has been known to safely protect not only the lion, the ox and the eagle, but man as well, during severe storms. The logic is impeccable once you add that bit about the 4 winds and 4 pillars. I imagine the Marcionites just threw the first Christian bible into the fire and knelt in awe to Ireneaus’ divine inspiration, and they lived happily ever after until that bastard Martin Luther showed up with his friggin’ hammer, I think.

        A’course, I could see where it might be a slight problem for Ireneaus if he couldn’t force-fit any other Gospels into his Johannine book cover.

        Now on to some serious theology:
        A recently uncovered Gnostic creation narrative written by Hortonius of Prax.

        Posted by Xcntrik | December 21, 2010, 3:41 am
      • I was just re-reading something that I hadn’t read in quite some time and thought about this conversation.

        It’s from the Jesus to Christ site, “The Gospel of Rome vs. The Gospel of Jesus Christ” and here is a tidbit.

        “It now appears that Luke’s solution to the historic problems presented to the predominantly Gentile Christian communities of his generation was remarkably similar to that applied by Virgil to the problems and challenges of Augustan society. That is to say, just as Virgil had created his foundational epic for the Roman people by appropriating and transforming the works of Homer, so also did Luke create his foundational epic for the early Christian churches by appropriating and transforming the sacred traditions of Israel’s past. In Luke’s two-part narrative, the story of Jesus and the birth of the church become the surprising and miraculous fulfillment of God’s long history with Israel. That Luke should ground his presentation of Christian origins within the context of ancient Jewish biblical traditions is, of course, what one would expect. But what is somewhat surprising is the degree to which Luke adapted his presentation to imitate the narrative style and accommodate some of the artistic forms commonly associated with contemporary Roman epic.”

        Merry Christmas, Bro.

        Posted by Xcntrik | December 24, 2010, 2:30 am
  2. Enjoyed this a lot, too. Wish I had learned these things years ago. Every Christian should be exposed to information like this, even though it is from an opposing viewpoint. Christian apologists especially should interact with things like this, and be asked the rather obvious question that naturally arises, “Why does the available evidence seem to contradict rather than support Christianity?” An omnipotent, omniscient God who sovereignly deceives is one possibility (but raises moral questions of character in my view and is seldom chosen that I’ve seen), while there is always the “God’s ways are so mysterious we cannot understand them” defense. That particular defense has gotten more than its fair share of mileage in my opinion, and no longer has that shiny chrome look and “new car” smell. Frankly, it’s getting rather dull.

    Posted by Byroniac | December 14, 2010, 12:24 am
  3. So, what, in your opinion, is the most obvious contradiction in the two versions, since they did not speak of the same things? What is it that keeps them from being two different accounts by people presenting different perspectives to different audiences?

    Posted by Wonderer | December 13, 2010, 6:21 pm
    • What an Xcellent question, especially the part about “my opinion”, because on that particular topic, I am the ultimate authority.

      The two narratives are filled with mistakes and contradictions from the beginning to the end, but you asked about the most obvious one, in my opinion. This one is kind of a two-fer.

      The one that stands out like a sore thumb to me would have to be the fact that in GoMat, the author is very specific in stating that [[after]] the flight and return from Egypt, first the family came back to Judea but was afraid to go thither (and no I don’t have a lithp) and decided to [[then]] move to Nazareth [[during]] the reign of Archelaus, one of Herod’s sons. It is stated quite clearly.

      “But when he heard that [[Archelaus was reigning over Judaea]] in the room of his father Herod, he was afraid to go thither; and being warned of God in a dream, he withdrew into the parts of Galilee, and [[came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth]]; that it might be fulfilled which was spoken through the prophets, that he should be called a Nazarene.”
      Matthew 2:22-23 ASV

      But of course, GoLuke has the couple traveling from their home [[in]] Nazareth, with Jesus in utero for a Census during the time of Quirinius, the same Quirinius who was ordered to liquidate Herod’s estate in Judea [[after]] the deposition of Archelaus, which didn’t apply to Galilee. So there is not only an impossible contradiction in the origin of the Joseph family, there is also an anachronism regarding when these things occurred.

      Many will try to argue that “perhaps” Quirinius was doin’ his thing in Syria during an earlier time, like when Herod was king, or when Archelaus was ethnarch over territory including Judea. But here’s the rub, Greco-Roman history provides us with plenty of information.

      I will let the biblical historian Mike White address this since he has the credentials. I highly recommend his new book “Scripting Jesus” where he dedicates about 30+ pages to the birth narratives and genealogies of GoMatthew and GoLuke.

      “During this entire period of forty years, the name of the governor is not known in only two intervals totaling four years, as shown above [[list of names and dates]]. In both cases, however, it is impossible for Quirinius to have been the “unnamed” governor, since his appointments and whereabouts are known to be elsewhere. In the period 13-11 BCE, he was serving as consul in Rome, and in the period 4-2 BCE, he was serving as governor of Pamphylia-Galatia and leading the campaign against the Homanadenses, for which he won a “triumph” in Rome. Thus Quirinius cannot have held an earlier governorship in Syria.” p.238

      Posted by Xcntrik | December 13, 2010, 7:24 pm
    • That is an excellent question, Wonderer. I’m guessing you are aware that this is exactly the “defense” that apologists will use in explaining away, with wide-eyed (or hostile) innocence.

      This is a fascinating defense, in which they act as if we’re talking about what kind of sandals Jesus wore. No, we’re talking about the seminal events in the alleged life of God on Earth – no, it is not acceptable that these salient details be “recalled’ at such odds to each other.

      Posted by HipGnosis | December 18, 2010, 9:30 pm

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