Was Jesus Born in Bethlehem?

Let's take a look at a few details in the Gospels with regard to the birth of Jesus.

Consider the Star of Bethlehem:

Craig Chester, the President of the Monterey Institute for Research in Astronomy, offers a detailed and elaborate understanding of the rising star in the Bethlehem sky at Jesus’ birth, in “The Star of Bethlehem” [Imprimis (Dec. 1993)]. He claims it was Jupiter, the planet known to represent kingship to astrologers in the ancient East, which came into conjunction with Regulus, the star of kingship, which is located in the constellation of Leo, also known as the constellation of kings. But think about this. E. P. Sanders asks, “Why take the star of Matthew’s story to be a real astral event and ignore what the author says about it?” [The Historical Figure of Jesus (p. 55)].
Matthew 2:9-10:After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.
How is it truly possible for the star that Chester describes to lead the Magi from Jerusalem to a specific inn located in Bethlehem less than five miles away? H. R. Reimarus (A.D. 1768) observed long ago that even if it were some sort of comet with a tail, “it is too high to point to a specific house.” If it were a miraculous star, then why didn’t everyone in the vicinity see it? Pope Leo I (A.D. 461) proposed that the star was invisible to the Jews because of their blindness. But then why did it appear to pagan astrologers? Surely the whole reason Matthew believed stars/planets could move like this is because of how the ancients viewed the universe.

Consider the other problems inherent with the story:

Jesus was not born in Bethlehem, if Luke is taken literally, according to E. P. Sanders [The Historical Figure of Jesus (Penguin Press, 1993, pp. 84-91)]. What husband would take a nine-month pregnant woman on such a trek from Nazareth at that time when only heads of households were obligated to register for a census when the census would’ve been stretched out over a period of weeks or even months? But if he did, why did he not take better precautions for the birth? Why not take Mary to her relative Elizabeth’s home just a few miles away from Bethlehem for the birth of her baby? According to Luke’s own genealogy (3:23-38) David had lived 42 generations earlier. Why should everyone have had to register for a census in the town of one of his ancestors forty-two generations earlier? There would be millions of ancestors by that time, and the whole empire would have been uprooted. Why 42 generations and not 35, or 16? If it was just required of the lineage of King David to register for the census, what was Augustus thinking when he ordered it? He had a King, Herod. “Under no circumstances could the reason for Joseph’s journey be, as Luke says, that he was ‘of the house and lineage of David,’ because that was of no interest to the Romans in this context.” [Uta Ranke-Heinemann, Putting Away Childish Things, (p.10)]. The fact is, even if there was a worldwide Roman census that included Galilee at this specific time, there is evidence that Census takers taxed people based upon the land they owned, so they traveled to where people lived.

According to Robin Lane Fox, “Luke’s story is historically impossible and internally incoherent.” But he says, “Luke’s errors and contradictions are easily explained. 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 consequences.” “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. There was even a prophecy in support of the claim which the ‘little town’ has maintained so profitably to this day.” So, “a higher truth was served by an impossible fiction.” [The Unauthorized Version: Truth and Fiction in the Bible(Knopf, 1992), p. 31-32]. “Luke’s real source for the view that Jesus was born in Bethlehem was almost certainly the conviction that Jesus fulfilled a hope that someday a descendant of David would arise to save Israel,” because the Messiah was supposed to come from there (Micah 5:2). [E. P. Sanders, The Historical Figure of Jesus (p. 87.)].

In many other places we read that the people of his time called him "Jesus of Nazareth" (Matthew 26:70-72; Mark 1:23-25; Mark 10:46-48; Luke 4:34; Luke 18:37; Luke 24:20; John 1:45; John 18:6-8; John 19:19; Acts 2:22; Acts 6:14; Acts 10:38; Acts 22:9; Acts 26:9), so scholars conclude it's more likely that Jesus was born and raised in Nazareth. They think this because the NT writers quoted OT verses from Psalms and the prophets out of context to point to Jesus. The NT writers were intent on making Jesus' birth, life, nature and mission to fit anything in the Old Testament that could be construed to speak of him, as proof he was who they claimed him to be. But any Christian today who uses the Bible to argue for their views without taking into consideration the context of the passages in question, would be laughed at even in their own academic circles! So I challenge Christians here. Use these same ancient hermeneutical standards (like pesher and Midrash), and see what happens? Go ahead. I dare you.

Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth fares no better. Robin Lane Fox: “Bethlehem was not Jesus’ birthplace but was imported from Hebrew prophecies about the future Messiah; the Star had similar origins (Numbers 24:17). Matthew’s story is a construction from well-known messianic prophecies (Bethlehem; the Star), and the Wise Men (Magi) have been added as another legend.” “Where the truth had been lost, stories filled the gap, and the desire to know fabricated its own tradition."

There are even discrepancies between the Gospels themselves:

"Luke told a tale of angels and shepherds, bringing some of the humblest people in society to Bethlehem with news of Jesus’ future. Instead of shepherds, Matthew brought Wise Men, following a star in the East and bringing gifts…In one version, there are simple shepherds, the other, learned Wise Men: the contrast sets our imaginations free, and perhaps like the Wise Men we too should return by ‘another way.” [The Unauthorized Version: Truth and Fiction in the Bible (Knopf, 1992), pp.35- 36].

Luke has Joseph and Mary living in Nazareth from where they traveled to Bethlehem for the Roman census (Luke 1:26; 2:4). After Jesus was born, Joseph took his family from Bethlehem to Jerusalem for up to 40 days (Luke 2:22), and from there straight back to Nazareth (Luke 2:39). But Matthew says Jesus was born in a "house" where Joseph’s family lived in Bethlehem. And after the birth of Jesus they lived there for up to two years (Matt 2:16)! After the Magi leave them, Joseph is warned in a dream to flee to Egypt and stay there until Herod died (Matt. 2:15). After Herod died, Joseph was told in a dream to return to the land of Israel, and he headed for his home in Bethlehem of Judea. But since he was afraid to go there, he settled in Nazareth (Matt. 2:21-23), for the first time!

Consider the Date of the Nativity and the so-called Roman Census:

Richard Carrier deals with all of the above problems in a discussion of the date of the Nativity here.

First posted 12/16/06.

25 comments:

John W. Loftus said...

One final comment. If the gospels can be shown to be unbelievable in the areas which we can check for ourselves, then how much more so are they unbelievable in those areas we cannot check out for ourselves, like their claim that Jesus was born of a miraculous virgin birth?

Glenn Dixon said...

John, very nice synopsis! Every time I think I have that darn story figured out I learn I was wrong.

I just got a brainstorm for a great Christmas play though! It's sort of "Best Little Christmas Pageant Ever" meets Neil Simon - a small church or school attempting to harmonize all of the nativity accounts into one. The screenplay would be hilarious!

Steven Carr said...

After such an auspicious start to his life, why were his family suprised when Jesus started his ministry? Didn't those events give them a little clue that Jesus was special?

The answer is that such scepticism is only in Mark, who does not have a birth narrative.

Anonymous said...

I have always thought Mark poses the biggest obstacle for those who want to believe the infancy stories. If there was a virgin birth, major astronomical sign, slaughter of all the toddler boys, angels appearing to shepherds, etc., that would seem to be so "unusual" that no self-respecting author (particularly one taking dictation from the spirit of god) would omit them.

The virgin birth needs to go the way of Santa and his sleigh - nice story to retell every year, but no one over the age of 9 believes it.

Jim OC (jimoc92647@aol.com) said...

There's an interesting little clip on YouTube that discusses the birth of Jesus from another angle. Essentially, based on the timeline given in The Bible, the time between Jesus was conceived and when Jesus was born was 10 years.

I don't know enough about The Bible or history to say whether or not what the person is saying is correct.

Here's a URL to the clip:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=69vNr1Z-1hM

Anonymous said...

Dr. Paul Maier, professor of ancient history at Western Michigan University, will be in Toronto on Wednesday (Dec. 20) to appear on the telecast "100 Huntley Street". Maier is one of the world's leading authorities in first-century Near-Eastern history. He is the author of "In the Fullness of Time: A Historian Looks at Christmas, Easter, and the Early Church" (1998, Kregel). In 2004 Maier co-authored "The Da Vinci Code--Fact or Fiction" (Tyndale House) with Hank Hanegraaff, president of the Christian Research Institute, which addresses the historical and theological inaccuracies in Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code".

http://www.crossroads.ca/broadcas/100upco.htm  

Wednesday - 20 Dec  2006
On Air Team: Ron Mainse, Ann Mainse, Moira Brown, Norm Maclaren

Paul Maier 
Dr. Maier is Professor of Ancient History at Western Michigan University and Campus Chaplain to Lutheran students. In the past, he has discussed the controversial film "The Da Vinci Code" that was released in theatres on May 19, 2006.  Today, he will share his insights taken from his book The Very First Christmas".
 
Watch the program online
http://www.crossroads.ca/broadcas/program.htm

Home Page for Paul Maier
http://www.wmich.edu/history/facultystaff/facultyprofiles/maier.html

http://www.wmich.edu/wmu/news/2004/08/002.html

Books penned by Paul Maier
http://www.tobiascom.com/

(http://www.4truth.net/site/apps/nl/content3.asp?c=hiKXLbPNLrF&b=784399&ct=1740233)

Did Jesus Really Exist?
By Paul L. Maier
===
I wish Dr. Maier had been invited to appear on:

The Real Nativity Story [ABC News, 20/20, Dec. 15/06]
'20/20 IN TOUCH' WEBCASTS

The Real Nativity Story [ABC News, 20/20, Dec. 15/06]
How much is fact and how much fiction? Elizabeth Vargas reports on the first Christmas.
Those interviewed: Darrell Bock, David O'Connell, Paula Fredriksen, Marvin Meyer

http://abcnews.go.com/Video/playerIndex?id=2726910

http://i.abcnews.go.com/Video/playerIndex?id=2726910
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Elizabeth Vargas: The word "gospel" means "good news" and they were written, it is believed, 70 to 100 years after the event, to spread the good news about Jesus to an audience waiting for the Savior, predicted in Old Testament prophecies.

http://www.leaderu.com/theology/mcdowell_davinci.html

McDowell: When it comes to dating the New Testament books (our primary source of information about Christ), there are differences between conservative and liberal scholars but only in terms of decades, not centuries. For example, the conservative dating for the Gospel of Mark is between A.D. 50-60, with more liberal scholars placing it around A.D. 70. This is remarkable, when you consider that Jesus died somewhere around the year A.D. 30; these are authentic eyewitness accounts. Generally speaking, Paul’s letters were written between A.D. 50-66, the gospels between A.D. 50-70, with John’s gospel being written sometime around A.D. 80-90. If you can believe it, we actually have a fragment of John’s gospel dated just after the end of the first century.

Do we have any of the original New Testament documents?

McDowell: If we did they would be beyond priceless. What we have is early manuscript copies of the originals.

Then how do we know for sure what was in the original documents?

McDowell: To discover the accuracy of copying for the New Testament material and see whether or not it has been “changed,” you have to look at two factors: One, the number of manuscripts existing today; and two, the time period between the original document and the earliest manuscripts still in existence today. The more manuscripts we have and the closer the manuscripts are to the original, the more we are able to determine where copyist errors happened and which copies reflect the original.

For example, the book Natural History, written by Pliny Secundus, has 7 manuscript copies with a 750-year gap between the earliest copy and the original text. The number two book in all of history in manuscript authority is The Iliad, written by Homer, which has 643 copies with a 400-year gap. 

Now this is a little startling: the New Testament has currently 24,970 manuscript copies, completely towering over all other works of antiquity. In addition, we have one fragment of the New Testament (NT) with only a 50-year gap from the original, whole books with only a 100-year gap, and the whole NT with only a 225-250-year gap. I don’t think there is any question from all of these early copies that we know exactly what the original documents said.
===
Paula Fredriksen: The material we have about Jesus grows backwards. We have the thickest amount of evidence for his death, and as we move earlier in his life we have less and less evidence. By the time we get to the birth story we're plain out of evidence.

http://www.mtio.com/articles/bissar24.htm

http://www.mtio.com/articles/bissar41.htm

http://www.mtio.com/articles/bissar71.htm

Elizabeth Vargas: Do we have any historical record that that slaughter [of the innocents] actually happened?

Marvin Meyer: There is no record whatsoever among all of the records that we have of that period of something like that except for the account that we have in the gospel of Matthew.

http://www.markdroberts.com/htmfiles/resources/nativitystory.htm

[snip]

Herod is perhaps most infamous for the so-called "Slaughter of the Innocents," the killing of all the babies in Bethlehem under two years of age. In this way, according to the Gospel of Matthew, Herod sought to protect his power and that of his sons by killing off the newborn king. This is a feature of the New Testament narrative that is frequently disputed by critical scholars, largely because we have no record of this slaughter besides what we find in Matthew. If it really happened, some have argued, we'd know about it from other sources. Therefore Matthew (or his sources) must have made it up.

This scholarly conclusion reflects, among other things, a skeptical bias concerning the historical accuracy of the New Testament gospels. I've written a great deal on this: see Are The New Testament Gospels Reliable? and The Birth of Jesus: Hype or History? And, in fact, I have a book coming out next June that is based on the gospels blog series. It's called Can We Trust the Gospels? Nevertheless, it's certainly fair to ask two questions about the Slaughter of the Innocents:


1. Is it reasonable to believe that Herod would have ordered such a thing?

2. Is it reasonable to believe that this incident would not be recorded in other writings, especially the histories of Josephus?


The response to the first question is surely "Yes." Any man who would murder his own relatives, including his wife, in order to preserve his power wouldn't think twice about killing a bunch of babies in hopes of disposing of the Messiah who would dethrone him (or one of his sons). In fact, we can be almost certain that if Herod actually believed the future king of Judea was a baby in Bethlehem, he'd try to kill that baby. This doesn't prove that it happened, of course. But it does prove that it's possible.

The response to the second question is also "Yes." Although the killing of babies in Bethlehem was surely traumatic for those involved, it wasn't big news beyond this small town. Not too long after Herod's death, some Jews revolted and 2,000 were crucified at one time by the Romans. This event is recorded in the writings of Josephus, but it merits only one sentence (Antiquities 17.10.10). Given the small size of Bethlehem in the time of Herod, his order impacted perhaps a dozen children. Please understand that I'm not trying to minimize the horror of this for those involved. But, given the sort of things that happened under Herod's (and Roman rule), the killing of a few children might easily be overlooked.

If this seems unlikely, consider the case of modern-day Iraq. After Saddam Hussein was deposed, we discovered many mass graves filled with the bodies of people who had been killed by Saddam's regime. Many of these graves and the massive killings that preceded them were unknown earlier. Now surely they were known to the relatives whose loved ones had been murdered. But even in our day of mass media, a tyrant's killings could be hidden. No doubt if Saddam had killed a dozen babies in a remote village peopled by his enemies, it would easily have been overlooked by journalists and historians. Similarly, how many innocents have been slaughtered in Sudan, people whose experiences will never be widely known even in our day?

Since I take Matthew to be a trustworthy historical source, given the propensities and limitations of his culture, I find it reasonable to believe that the Slaughter of the Innocents did, in fact, occur. The timing of this event as portrayed in The Nativity Story may be a bit inaccurate, however, since it's not likely that the slaughter happened so close to Jesus's birthday. Yet the portrayal of this event, and of its author, King Herod, shows, once again, that the writer of The Nativity Story did his homework. His portrayal of Herod rings true.

Book Recommendations

If you're looking for more information on the history behind the birth of Jesus, let me recommend two fine books. The first I've mentioned before: The Real Mary by Scot McKnight. The second is a very readable discussion of the events concerning the birth of Jesus written by a highly-regarded professor of ancient history, Paul L. Maier. Maier's book In the Fullness of Time is a sane and sober examination of the historical dimensions of the Nativity story. This book also contains Maier's insights on the Easter story and the early church.
---
Elizabeth Vargas: Would it [the census] have been ordered that people would have to travel to return to the town of their birth? [to be taxed]

Paula Fredriksen: The Romans would never have given an order like that because Rome was very good at collecting taxes and you tax people where their property is.

http://www.issuesetc.org/resource/archives/maier3.htm

History, Archaeology and Jesus

Hard evidence from the ancient world dramatically supports the New Testament record on Jesus.

by Paul L. Maier

[snip]

The existence of Nazareth in Jesus’ day had been doubted by critics—until its name showed up in a first-century synagogue inscription at Caesarea. Augustus’ census edicts (in connection with the Nativity) are borne out by an inscription at Ankara, Turkey, his famous Res Gestae ("Things Accomplished"), in which the Roman emperor proudly claims to have taken a census three times. That husbands had to register their families for the Roman census was mandated in census papyri discovered in Egypt.
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Paula Fredriksen: I suspect she [Mary] wasn't a virgin.
---
If one accepts the New Testament scripture as accurate, Mary was a virgin but did not remain a virgin after she gave birth to Jesus, for Matthew 1:25 clearly states:

"But he [Joseph] had no *union with her _until_ she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus."

* union refers to sex/sexual union

That said, it seems more likely that Jesus' brothers and sisters were his siblings: Mary's children fathered by Joseph.

Mary's virginity and Matt. 1:25
http://www.carm.org/catholic/mary_Matt1_25.htm

The word "virgin" in the New Testament is "parthenos" and it occurs 14 times.  However, the word does not occur in Matt. 1:25.  Instead, the literal Greek says, "and he knew her not until she gave birth to a son and called his name Jesus." 
     This would seem pretty straight forward that Joseph had no sexual relations with Mary until the birth of Christ and that after the birth of Jesus, they had relations.  The word "until" is a preposition and means, "up to that time, before a specified time, to the extent that." 

Mary, full of grace, and Luke 1:28
http://www.carm.org/catholic/fullofgrace.htm

http://www.josh.org/apologetics/prev_quest.asp?Subject=Jesus%20Christ#122001

Q. Was Jesus born of a virgin?

A. The miracle of the virgin birth of Jesus Christ has perplexed many people, and has actually kept them from accepting the truth of Christianity. However, the Bible declares that God decided that His Son would have a miraculous entrance into humanity.
Seven hundred years before the birth of Christ, the prophet Isaiah said, "Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold , the virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel" (Isaiah 7:14, NASB).
"and the angel said to her, 'Do not be afraid, Mary: for you have found favor with God. and behold, you will conceive in your womb, and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus.'
"And Mary said to the angel, 'How can this be, since I am a virgin?'
"And the angel answered and said to her, 'The Holy Spirit, will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy offspring shall be called the Son of God. ... For nothing will be impossible with God' " (Luke 1:26, 27, 30, 31, 34, 35, 37, NASB).
The virgin birth is set down in the Bible as a historical fact. The writers who recorded the story were Matthew — an eyewitness to the events in the Life of Jesus — and Luke, the doctor, who presents things in the life of Christ from the viewpoint of His mother, Mary.
The passages in both Matthew and Luke are authentic, with no evidence at all that they were later additions to the text. The doctrine of the virgin birth has been believed by the church from its beginning.
Ignatius, who lived at the beginning of the second century, wrote to the Ephesians and said "For our God, Jesus the Christ, was conceived in the womb by Mary, according to a dispensation, of the seed of David but also of the Holy Ghost."
There are several reasons why the virgin birth was a necessity. The Bible teaches that the Word who became flesh was with God from the beginning (John 1:1). The fact of the pre-existence of Christ is testified many times in the New Testament (John 8:58, Philipians 2:5–11, Colossians 1:15, 16).
When Jesus came into the world, He was not a newly created individual such as we are, but was rather the eternal Son of God. To be born into this world of the virgin Mary required divine intervention, and this is exactly what the Gospels record.
Another reason why Jesus needed to be virgin-born was because of His sinless nature. A basic New Testament teaching is that from the day He was born until the day He died, Jesus was without sin. To be a perfect sacrifice, He must Himself be perfect — without sin. Since our race is contaminated with sin, a miraculous entrance into the world would be required, hence the virgin birth.
Moreover, if Jesus had been sired by Joseph, He would not have been able to claim legal rights to the throne of David. According to the prophecy of Jeremiah 22:28–30, there could be no king in Israel who was a descendant of King Jeconiah, and Matthew 1:12 relates that Joseph was from the line of Jeconiah. If Jesus had been fathered by Joseph, He could not rightly inherit the throne of David, since he was a relative of the cursed line.
The virgin birth of Christ is not only a historical fact, but it was also a necessary historical fact when one considers all the data.
Taken from Answers to Tough Questions Skeptics Ask About the Christian Faith. Josh McDowell and Don Stewart. Tyndale House Publishers, 1980.

The Virgin Birth of Christ
Lesson 3: Evidence of Its Historicity

http://www.themoorings.org/apologetics/VirginBirth/evid.html
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Marvin Meyer: There is much more evidence I think to suggest that Jesus was likely born in Nazareth; that he came from Nazareth and that's why he's called Jesus of Nazareth.

http://www.mtio.com/articles/bissar71.htm

Some critics doubt that Jesus was born in Bethlehem and argue instead for Nazareth or elsewhere. Such opinions, however, are based only on scholarly conjecture, and no source has been discovered to date that disproves Jesus' birth in Bethlehem.
---
http://www.issuesetc.org/resource/archives/maier1.htm
http://www.issuesetc.org/resource/archives/maier2.htm
http://www.issuesetc.org/resource/archives/maier3.htm
http://www.issuesetc.org/resource/archives/maier4.htm
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http://www.christmasarchives.com/cribs.html

DATE OF NATIVITY
Various theories on when Christ was actually born - from 12BC to 1AD have been bandied around over the years. Having worked on these scraps of evidence and theoretical arguments, my son, Kazimir, and I support the 5-4BC theory because it matches the times when we know that:

1. Herod the Great was friends with Mark Antony, who was a trusty of Julius Caesar, and also an intimate friend of Caesar Augustus (who set the census)

2. Herod died in 4BC, which means that Jesus had to be around some time during the 33 years of Herod's reign.

3. There are several theories about the date of the census. The most probable being the Imperial Citizens Census which was decreed in 8BC. This would have taken several years to complete, reaching Palestine around 6-5BC. so if we say that Jesus was born in the winter of 6BC, he would have been a child approaching two when Herod had the Innocents slaughtered before he himself died of a horrible disease in the Spring of 4BC.

Or, one could say that Jesus was born in 5BC & was a baby still when taken off to Egypt to escape the slaughter.

25th December
The precise date is more difficult to pinpoint, the calendars having changed so often since then. One argument which often comes up against winter is that shepherds would not have their sheep out then. This is cancelled out by at least two points:

1. Even today, Christmas pilgrims report seeing the shepherds in the fields outside Bethlehem.

2. Some sheep were usually kept close to the city all year, for sacrificial purposes at the temple.

The 25th was observed in the Western Church as early as the 3rd century. the 6th January in the Eastern Church. Certain theories relate to the celebrations of Saturnalia, and Winter Solstice, both during the last week of December.

Another theory is that the Church arranged the commemoration of festivals not on any special date relating to that festival but to the cardinal points of the year. Thus The Annunciation at the time of the Spring Equinox, St. Michael at the Autumnal Equinox and Christmas at the Winter Solstice.

Yet another relates the date to that of the Dedication of the Temple, a Jewish feast of great significance held on the 25th of Cisleu (December 20th) easily mis-scribed.

Perhaps they are all wrong theories, and someone actually remembered the date of Jesus' birth to have been on the 25th December after all!

We are all so busy trying not to make wrong statements about historical facts, that we may be overlooking the simple facts that it is not impossible for someone in , say 100AD to have had a relative- grandparent, great-grandparent who actually remembered the event and passed on the accurate date. But both Historians and Theologians would boo me off-stage as being a romantic for saying so!

THE STAR & THE MAGI
Again, many theories . The story of the wise men following the star is probably the easiest to explain. There is nothing unusual about such men wanting to investigate an astral phenomenon.

The Magi were probably the star studying Zoroastrians from Persia. Certainly their headdresses as portrayed in an early image(some say mosaic some stone, it may have been both) at the place of the Nativity, saved the holy site from destruction by the Persians in the 6th century, because they thought that it must be a shrine to Mithras, which portrayed their own people coming to worship.. Mithraism & Zoroastriaism were much the same at that time.

THE STAR
Probably more theories and suggestions have been made for this than any other. There are two most probable:

1. In 7BC (I personally think too early to match up to the other events) there was a configuration of Jupiter and Saturn in December. But by February 6BC Mars had joined it. Astrologically, the sign of Jupiter meeting Saturn in Pisces - Fishes would have indicated to the Stargazers that a very important Ruler was to be born. Jupiter represented the greatest of the gods.

Bearing in mind again that one did not just hop on a plane in those days, it could easily have taken up to two years in fact for these wise men to complete their journey and finally end up at the stable in Bethlehem.

2. There was also a Comet which was around at the right time. The Greek term for Star is 'Aster' which can be interpreted as any heavenly phenomenon, so a Comet is a possibility. There is record of a Comet which appeared for about seventy days in the late winter/early spring of 5BC-4BC. This would have been visible from the Far East, and appear to be travelling Westwards. Another such Comet appeared the following year in March of 4BC.

3.I like the theory of the American Dr.Paul Maier who suggests that the Jupiter Saturn configuration alerted the Magi to the event in 7-6BC; then they followed the Comet of 5BC, which would have given a very bright light. He believes that when the Magi encountered Herod, and he asked them when they first saw the Star, that although that answer is not given in the Gospel, the Magi must have answered with the sighting of Jupiter two years previously, as Herod had infants under two slaughtered. This, I feel is very plausible.

PLACE OF NATIVITY
How do we know that the Holy site is the site?

There was enough evidence from the time from people who remembered the events. These were documented early.

Origen, the Christian Theologian 185-254AD wrote that he saw 'the Grotto and in it the manger where He (Jesus) was swaddled'.

It is thought that the manger was made from rough hewn stone. Several of these stone feeding troughs have been excavated in contemporary stables in Bethlehem. Though later belief had it as a wooden manger made from five or six planks of wood.

The place has been saved from destruction several times. The first was because Emperor Hadrian, 117-138 AD in an attempt to destroy the new Christian tradition, had a temple to Adonis built there. But he achieved the opposite, because thus was the place preserved and its position and identity recorded!

Early 1st C.Christians were remembering the Nativity, proof of which is to be seen in the Catacombs where they met secretly. The first full account of a Christmas Service at the Grotto was written in the 4th century by a nun called Aetheria. She refers to the hangings of silk, and the gold and jewels, the many lamps and candelabra, the hours of chanting of the psalms, and the Sacrament of the Mass.
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What Killed King Herod?
http://www.newswise.com/articles/view/?id=KIDNEY.VAR
---
http://www.equip.org/free/JAR011.pdf

RECENT PERSPECTIVES ON THE RELIABILITY OF THE GOSPELS 
by Gary R. Habermas 
===
Dr Paul Maier vs. Tom Harpur
(From an interview on 100 Huntley Street, Tuesday, Mar 30/04)
http://www.crossroads.ca/archives/maier_harpur.htm

Anonymous said...

I "Next Blog"ed to this site and would like to invite you to read what I just posted on mine about the Nativity accounts.

Straight up, I am a Christian and a minister, but you are welcome to consider what I wrote and respond if it is not flaming, harsh or offensive.

Thanks,

Pursuing Answers to Questions of Faith & Life,

Kelly Reed

www.pursuing-faith.blogspot.com

Anonymous said...

Well, I guess we all have our reasons, don't we? As for myself, I became a follower of the Lord at the age of 51. I'm now 63 and have read many stories written for and against what I have come to believe is the truth.
I truly have come to a position of deciding not to debate as it seems an exercise in futility. In the end, all of us believe in something, and that belief sustains us in our lives, through the struggles we face and ultimately, finally, and hopefully will sustains us in the last moments of our deaths.
I have come to the conclusion that a belief is only as good as it's truth. There is a reality we live in and a reality outside of that called Truth. Hopefully, a person's reality will match the truth. If the truth one enters when that person dies matches Truth then that person will be fine. What matters is that what you BELIEVE to be truth is Truth. I believe in the reality and veracity of the Bible. I believe it is God's word, that Jesus is God in the flesh who suffered and died and rose from the dead so that I might be saved from eternal death, justified, and given eternal life. If my belief is not true and I die, I'm still ok. If, however, what I believe matches Truth, I'm ok but you're not. The clock is ticking and every beat of your heart brings you closer to that moment of thruth. In other words, what we believe to be true only matters if it is the Truth.

Heather R. said...

Here are some responses I have to this blog post that you may want to consider (sorry it's long):

1) Regarding Mary going with Joseph while in her third trimester.
There may have been other circumstances that may have caused Mary to *want* to come with Joseph, even though she was pregnant. (Let's assume that the rest of the story is true...) First, she may have known about the prophecy of the Messiah and where the birth place was to be and saw it as a sign. She may have learned about the prophecy from Joseph and decided that if she indeed saw Gabriel and if Gabriel was speaking the truth, the unborn child would survive the trip and so would she; God would see it through. Second, she may have been dealing with extreme stigmatism... there's good reason to believe that she and Joseph may have been outcasts because of a) her being pregnant before they got married, b) the son wasn't even of Joseph's biological line (ie, a "bastard"), c) suppose her story was "God made me pregnant"... even if she mentioned this to one person who then spread around the gossip, this would be absolutely humiliating. Third, if Joseph went without Mary, he would not be able to defend her if the neighbors decided to "take the law into their own hands" and stone her for adultery. There are other reasons I can speculate, but I don't think the reasons I've listed so far are too implausible. There are many reasons why couples move, even in the most difficult of times.

2) Regarding Luke's account of Joseph going to Bethlehem, the town of David, because he was a descendant of David.
First, we ought to consider why Luke would even include this. If he thought this information may have been incorrect, why would he then even include it? This information is highly unnecessary for the main point of the story. As CS Lewis had stated in God in the Dock, "And the art of inventing little irrelevant details to make an imaginary scene more convincing is a purely modern art". IOW, people back in Luke's time did not add irrelevant details to a story just to make it more convincing. So again, let's ask, "what's the best explanation for Luke's adding that bit of information?" Was he mistaken? Perhaps, but first he states he's done his research. And we'd assume he'd aim to make sure all his facts were correct given the material available to him. Second, if he was wrong, wouldn't someone have pointed that out to him? People back then would have been fairly familiar with the type of census that was taken. Are there any records from that time that contradict Luke's info? The opponents of Christianity would have had a hay-day with this, wouldn't they? So there must have been another reason for Luke writing this, and I can give many hypotheses for this, but if you're interested, then I'll write on them.

3) Regarding the quote: “Under no circumstances could the reason for Joseph’s journey be, as Luke says, that he was ‘of the house and lineage of David,’ because that was of no interest to the Romans in this context.” [Uta Ranke-Heinemann, Putting Away Childish Things, (p.10)]
Sure, the line of David would be of no interest to the Romans, but the Romans would have left it up to the leadership of the regions to carry out the census. It is clear from various verses that Jewish customs were taken seriously when conducting Roman affairs. Pontious Pilate released a prisoner on the Passover, Herod was king & was an Edomite (from Esau) and did many things to please the Romans and the Jews to get what he wanted, there was still Jewish currency for temple and Roman currency for tax (IOW, Jewish currency wasn't completely outlawed). So, although the Romans wouldn't have cared about the line of David, the leadership would have probably used their knowledge of Jewish customs and culture to help run things as smoothly as possible.

John W. Loftus said...

I'm sorry if I disappoint people from time to time by not interacting with each person. Usually I have written something about it elsewhere.

The truth is my time is limited and I know discussions like this are never ending. I state how I see things. That's all I can do. For me it's all about seeing things differently. It's not about more and more knowledge. It's about viewing what we know in a different light. I've done that here on this issue, and I provided a link to read more.

For me it's not about more and more knowledge. It never has been. It's about seeing the knowledge we already have in a different light. So I shed light on how I see things. That's all I can do. You'll either see it, or you won't. And I must share how I see things on a host of topics before I hit pay dirt where you'll at least consider how I see everything differently than you do. And when that critical junction happens, if it happens at all, you'll see how I see things and maybe it'll make some sense. No one sees things differently in bits and pieces. It's an all or nothing happening. But before you can see the whole, I must share how I see things on a wide variety of the bits and pieces. So just add this bit and piece to the other bits and pieces I've shared here (that make no sense to you whatsoever), but at some point, if I keep on doing this, and if it'll happen at all, you will catch a glimpse of how I see the total set of things.

I don't know what you know, and you don't know what I know. But how we view that which we know is the difference that makes all the difference.

Heather R. said...

I completely understand that your time is limited, as is mine as well... but I do hope that my main points were noted (no response required):

-EP Sanders and Uta Ranke-Heinemann gave reasons why some aspects of the Luke account seem implausible to them.
-I gave a few reasons why I think Sanders' and Ranke-Heinemann's reasons are a bit weak. (I haven't read their books - only your posts - so that's all I have to go on.)

dalibor said...

In response to the Author.

"Consider the star of Bethlehem"

I have no doubt of Craig Chester's authority when he talks about Jupiter movements around the time that Jesus was born...I have not read his book but I can imagine that its position was exactly as he describes. However, the claim that this is what Magi followed is merely a claim, which does not mean it is true just because is plausible. The story speaks of a star and that is the only information we have...it could be a ball of fire or merely an experience that could best be described as seeing a star above the path you need to follow (Yellow brick road as it were).

There are other examples of this kind of poetic language throughout the bible...Book of Isiah talks about a pillar of fire above the settlement by night and a cloud by day...Israelites had to follow it as this was the way God was telling them where he wanted them to go. For this reason I would argue that there is coherency in the method by which individuals are guided where to go, but with regards to what the star was, that will without a doubt be an open to debate way beyond our lifetimes...I say it is probably irrelevant.

"Consider the other problems inherent with the story"

I am surprised that the author is even trying to bring this up as a credible evidence for errors in the gospel writings. "What husband would take a nine-month pregnant woman on such a trek from Nazareth at that time when only heads of households were obligated to register for a census when the census would’ve been stretched out over a period of weeks or even months?". This is an observational statement made on intellectually shaky grounds and would not stand any kind of scrutiny. The author (obviously) knows very little about the circumstances of the couple, and there could be many other reasons like being under threat from the authorities or maybe had some more family members there...this is nothing more than speculation.

When the author discusses the Luke's account of the birth of Jesus and suggests that Luke has twisted the story to try and match it to prophesies of the OT, I find very little substance in his argument. Luke was a Greek physician, possibly a methodical kind of personality just like doctors of today, and he was writing to his mentor. What would be the real motive for him to lie to his master.

Let's for a moment assume that the author is right and that both Matthew and Luke have lied about this event. I know that Orthodox and Catholics celebrate Christmas on two different dates and that Jesus was probably not born on either of them...Does this make me doubt his birth...No it does not, because there is an overwhelming amount of scientific and secular evidence which suggests that he existed. The reason for differences is not due to the intention misslead, but down to Church politics and the fact that Church is run by human beings and they sometimes try to be compliant (not perfect) to suit different groups of people. This makes each denomination of people interpret the bible in its own way, and I believe that this is exactly what God wants us to do...he wants us to live and breathe the gospel so that we may hear him speak to us.

"There are even discrepancies between the Gospels themselves"

Angels or Shepperd's, Wise men or humble? The question is does it really matter within the context of these gospels? This is a very common type of discrepancy found in any witness statement from two or more individuals...Chinese whispers as it were. I find this comforting in that two different individuals have the same story described from a slightly different perspective.

This blog points out few inconsistencies between the two said gospels, but it presents them completely out of context and does not considder why they might still be valid....for an argument to be valid, I would expect to see an equaly plausable alternative interpretation of the text. The debate on this blog is fruitless on both sides, as it relies on physical evidence being put forward, which in many instances does not exist. The site claims that "We are ex-Christians, ex-ministers" and so on, but I sense a distinct lack of depth in authors familiarity with these texts which I think is fundamental if this is to become a debate which will stand a test of time as the bible has.

My main point to anyone new to this discussion would be: Study the gospels thoroughly for yourself and test the authority of the author for false teaching, just as Christians are instructed by God, to test anyone preaching the word of God.

tyler said...

THE REASON WHY JOSEPH DIDNT TAKE MARY TO HER RELATIVE ELIZABETH WAS BECAUSE HE WAS SUPPOSE TO BE BORN IN BETHLHEM TO FULL FIL PROCPHECY.

Johnny P said...

i really have to concur with john's sentiments, and state that christians who defend the nativity narratives (aand there are many who don't) do so from a special pleading point of view. the harmonisation of the census and herod is a great example of laughable logic, where the truth of the gospels is the sarting axiom, rather than using the evidence to form an open conclusion. what happens is that poeple believe what is logically possible (at a massive stretch) rather than what is more evidentially prbable.

if you want to believe it plausible for a 9 month pregnant woman to ride on a donkey for an unnecessary census (give me 1 good reason why quirinius would want to uproot an entire working nation for a census of that magnitude to their ancestral homes - logistically and economically impossible, in THIS DAY let alone 2000 years ago!!!) and if you want to believe you can harmonise two events 10 years apart, accept poor tranlsations by gospel writers of ot texts, look over clear mosaic echoes in events, allow for astronomical impossibilities that would have the magi going in the wrong direction, not have any reference to the miraculous nature of jesus birth by his family or disciples in any later writings, accept these narratives from the less historically viable later authors [than mark], allow for an arbitrary 42 generation cnesus demand, explain away the genteic heritage of jesus (who picked his partilineal genes, and on what basis, and how was this possibly biologically, assuming he is truly man)...if you want to believe all this over a far more plausible explanation that these nativity accounts simply aren't true, then there is absolutely nothing you won't believe.

whatever you do, don't read the mormon texts, because there is every chance you'll believe tham without ruling out the logically possible in favour of the far more probable.

DM said...

Looks like your website is under attack from supernatural forces…


http://isgodimaginary.com/forum/index.php/topic,40909.0.html

you really need to add comment moderation to your blasphemy…

Christian said...

"If my belief is not true and I die, I'm still ok. If, however, what I believe matches Truth, I'm ok but you're not. The clock is ticking and every beat of your heart brings you closer to that moment of thruth. In other words, what we believe to be true only matters if it is the Truth."

Oh for crying out loud, Pascal's Wager? Seriously?

Gandolf said...

Anonymous -->"If my belief is not true and I die, I'm still ok. If, however, what I believe matches Truth, I'm ok but you're not."

If the lottery was a fraud and a total sham, meaning other folks got burned as witches for nothing.

To bloody bad!! who give`s a fuck... im still ok!, freaking enjoyed the ride having fun doing the gambling.

So.....Quick

Roll up Roll up and be saved.Hear yee! repent of your sins

Rob R said...

I'm really not overly concerned as to whether all the historical problems here can be solved or not. I have a lot of sympathy with Barth's attitude that it doesn't matter whether the snake spoke, the the importance is in what the snake said.

The argument goes, if we can't trust it in what we can verify, why should we trust any of it. And to that, I ask, why is it that we are supposed to trust the gospels for an exact historical recording to begin with. The history is told to emphasize theological points, not what specifically happened when and where (which isn't even the essence of modern history as the significance of the events is what really matters in terms of why we study to begin with, and so the ancient could've took liberties to craft the telling of those events to emphasize a theological significance).

I don't think the virgin birth is the most important doctrine. God could've worked through normal human reproduction if he wanted as God often works through natural and normal workings of society and nature even in scripture. But the virgin birth certainly does make theological sense since it emphasizes in the flesh that Jesus is God's son. And the only reasons that I have to doubt it involves views of God and nature that I don't hold, views that are purely philosophical, that God could not operate on nature on a deeper level than we can (and there is nothing unbelievable about that since we know that there are a variety of ways to manipulate nature from what animals can do to ancient man all the way to modern man. There's no reason to think there aren't levels that are far beyond our abilities and our doctrine of God is that he can work at the highest level of manipulatability.

Course, I believe it is mostly or entirely historical and some of the problems about the Christmas story are either solvable with what we know or solvable due to what is simply not disclosed.

I think some of the things Heather said for example are reasonable, such that the requirement for peoples to return to their cities of their family was a local way of handling the census. And who says it had to go all the way back 42 generations just because that is the seperation of Joseph and David? If one had to return to the place of origin of more recent family, and if that was in Bethlehem for Joseph, that more specific family is still in the house of David but it is by the house of David by which that family was designated in the gospel because it isn't just truthful in a more general way but also

And if this hasn't been said, why would Joseph risk taking Mary with him to Bethlehem? Both he and Mary were informed that this baby was extremely important and thus it is very reasonable that both Mary and Joseph wanted very much for Joseph to be present at the birth. And the divine purposes may have indicated to them that God would protect them and see to their well being in this risk.

As has sometimes been the case, I don't intend to attempt answering all the issues any more than I have in some of the general statements I have made so that is where I will leave it.

Johnny P said...

being such a special baby, it would be more sensible to make sure it is not miscarried, and that would mean not enduring an impossibly dangerous journey across terrain that would induce trecherous childbirth.

still no one has answered this simple point:

for what good reason would a governor ask that all people return to ancestral homes?

there simply is no sensible reason, other than to fulfil random ot prophecies.

and before the only census that has something vaguely similar, that is invoked by most apologists, the egyptian census that required immigrant workers to return to their homes...it was exactly that - workers that were working elsewhere on building projects etc, having to return to their actual homes.

for the whole of israel / judah to return to their ancestral homes, you are actually asking something that is completely impossible. imagine joseph - a builder / carpenter. to go to bethlehem is about 80 miles on donkey back. now, that would take at least a week. it would therefore mean a week back. that is at least 2, probably 3 weeks for both people not to be working. plus they would have to feed themselves and their donkey for that long, paying for inns and what have you on their journey.

for a subsistence couple, this is actually impossible. no one could afford that. now extrapolate that across an ENTIRE NATION. you would have a country (or similar) grinding to a complete halt over 3 weeks. some might need to travel further. this would totally crippple a province. this has never happened anywhere ever - no one has had to undergo such a census in the history of the world.

this is why census takers travel to the areas needed for each part of the census etc. there would be no logical, economic or logistical reason for a governor to ask this impossible errand of his people.

i reiterate: the nature of the biblical census is completely an utterly unfeasible, unharmonisable and impossible. anyone who thinks otherwise should try giving evidence or good reason for any similar such census, or should try to organise one themselves in a subsistence or working culture that simply cannot allow its entire populace to take 3 weeks off at the same time...

Rob R said...

being such a special baby, it would be more sensible to make sure it is not miscarried, and that would mean not enduring an impossibly dangerous journey across terrain that would induce trecherous childbirth.

Or it could be exactly as I suggested and your point here doesn't disprove my suggestion.


Johnny, I can't say that I'm certain of your ancient middle eastern economics or that Joseph and Marry were a subsistence couple. As a previously single man, he may have had money saved up. Clearly that people made pilgrimages, to Jerusalem at that time indicated that people where mobile for such purposes.

Course John Loftus noted that if it had to go back 42 generations, half the empire would have been uprooted. And I already described why it wouldn't have to go back that far hence it would not have been as much as an upheaval (and has already been noted earlier than my participation, need not extend outside palestein.

Another option yet is that there was not general rule for every one to return to the place of their ancestors. Luke says that that everyone returned to their town. What was it that made a town someone's town the suggestion here is that economics, the place of ones livelyhood is what mattered, but is this the same for everyone? We don't know, but if you are in the line of david, maybe you want that reflected in the official record and registering in the home town of david is one way to do that. And that is not a small thing to the Jews who were looking for the Messiah in that line.

It's speculation but the idea that this is all incoherent is to me equally speculative.

And it's possible that you are right, and yet, it doesn't matter that much as I have described in my last post.

Anebo said...

An important piece of evidence left out is the parallels for the infancy narratives in the Roman historian Suetonius. e.g.: Just at the time the Gospels were being written (in the 60s), Nero was visited by magi from Armenia and proclaimed a god by them; Suetonius says that at the time of Augustus' birth, the Roman Senate received a prophecy that the future ruler of the world had just been born in Italy. Since Rome was still a Republic at that time, a motion was put to kill every male child in Italy under 2 years old. But every Senator voted against it, secretly hoping that the future king was his own son or grandson. The first is a real event that must have entered Matthew's Gospel as gossip. The second, no historian thinks has any validity whatsoever; rather it proves the story was an urban legend making the rounds in the late first century that was picked up by Matthew and Suetonius independently. But as has been pointed out, most of the infancy narratives were composed out of recycled bits of the OT.

Anebo said...

Also, since there seems to be much misunderstanding about the census:

Augustus' censuses are described in great detail in his official autobiography, the Res Gestate Divi Augusti. There were three of them, and they all came at the wrong time for an event near the BC/AD divider. They recorded people where they lived and worked, for the purpose of determining the population and wealth distribution for establishing taxing districts. Augustus had no interest in where anyone's ancestors lived, and there was no movement of population for any census. (this simple fact is leaving aside the question of why Bethlehem would be considered the city of David instead of Jerusalem, or why, if he was going to the City of some ancestor, why Joseph would pick David--who has as much claim to reality as king Arthur by the way--rather than his father, his grandfather, David's father, or anyone else).

Anebo said...

I can't see why you linked to Carrier's site. It is riddle with bad reason, mishandled evidence, and what looks to me like Christian apologetics (though I by no means took the time to read through the whole site.

To deal with just one example, Carrier has this to say about the census: "The second "mistake" lies in supposing that people would be called back to ancestral towns to be counted, rather than be counted in the actual towns they were in. This charge has been formulated a dozen ways, but none of them really carry much force...We do know that censuses could have such requirements for travel, not only from papyri..." Here is a link to the <a href="http://www.kchanson.com/ANCDOCS/greek/census.html>text he cties</a>. It says exactly the opposite of what Carrier claims. It requires people to go back to their own homes where they usually live and work, not some place where some ancestor supposedly lived a thousand years ago.

Johnny P said...

i think in that carrier essay, he cites arguments against, and quotes against, his point of view before critiquing them, so you may have actually picked out a counterpoint. i would possibly read it again in more detail.

gabrielle said...

If siblings write about their own parents birth story, the accounts will differ depending on which events have impressed them.
The 60 mile or so journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, just beyond Jerusalem, would have been a familiar and busy route to Joseph who travelled to Jerusalem along with many others, annually for the passover. The route with Mary would have probably been shared by many of their family and friends who also had to travel to Bethlehem/Jerusalem for the same reason.
There was no donkey for Mary, she walked - read the accounts! She was young and well able to walk. The journey may have been done over weeks and funded by Josephs carpentery job-probably fairly well paid. The account says that she was obviously pregnant(but not necessarily due to give birth). As they were as yet unmarried, she may have been at risk of stoning if Joseph had left her. As this was a special child, Joseph would never have abandoned her and so took her with him. We only know what was recorded about what the angel told him. It is possible that the angel informed him of all the trouble ahead and therefore the need for them to stay together.
Would the disciples lie when Jesus taught truth was important. Many of them died for their beliefs, would you if it was a fairy story?
Gabrielle. Manchester.