The birth of Jesus

Jesus >> The birth of Jesus


Church of the Nativity

"It is in Bethlehem, not far from Jerusalem, that many believe that, with the cooperation of an immaculately conceived virgin, god was delivered a son.

     Now the birth of Jesus Christ was in this wise. When his mother, Mary, was espoused to Joseph before they came together she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.” Yes, and the Greek demigod Perseus was born when the god Jupiter visited the virgin Danaë as a shower of gold and got her with child. The god Buddha was born through an opening in his mother’s flank. Catlicus the serpent-skirted caught a little ball of feathers from the sky and hid it in her bosom, and the Aztec god Huitzilopochtli was thus conceived. The virgin Nana took a pomegranate from the tree watered by the blood of the slain Agdestris, and laid it in her bosom, and gave birth to the god Attis. The virgin daughter of a Mongol king awoke one night and found herself bathed in a great light, which caused her to give birth to Genghis Khan. Krishna was born of the virgin Devaka. Horus was born of the virgin Rhea Sylvia. For some reason, many religions force themselves to think of the birth canal as a one-way street ...” (Hitchens, 2007, pp. 22-23)

     Beyond the mythological similarities, there are at least four problems with the birth of Jesus: (1) the dates from the Bible do not reconcile with history, (2) the two gospels that document Jesus’ birth contradict each other, (3) it appears that the historical Jesus was not born in Bethlehem but rather Nazareth, and (4) it appears that the virgin birth aspect was incorporated into the New Testament due to a mistranslation of the Old Testament.

Problem 1

Problem 1 is explained by Christopher Hitchens (2007, p.112), “The Gospel according to Luke states that the miraculous birth occurred in a year when Emperor Caesar Augustus ordered a census for the purpose of taxation, and that this happened at a time when Herod reigned in Judea and Quirinius was governor of Syria. That is the closest to a triangulation of historical dating that any biblical writer even attempts. But Herod died four years “BC,” and during this rulership the governor of Syria was not Quirinius. There is no mention of any Augustan census by any Roman historian, but the Jewish chronicler Josephus mentions one that did occur – without the onerous requirement for people to return to their places of birth, and six years after the birth of Jesus is supposed to have taken place.”

Problem 2

Problem 2 is explained by John P. Meier (1991, pp. 213-214), “Matthew’s basic geographical plot in his Infancy Narrative moves from original home in Bethlehem to adopted home in Nazareth (necessary for political reasons), Luke’s plot moves in the opposite direction: from original home in Nazareth to temporary stay – hardly a home – in Bethlehem (necessary for political reasons), and then back to “their own home” in Nazareth … Matthew’s and Luke’s Infancy Narratives largely diverge from and even contradict each other.”

Problem 3

Problem 3 is explained by John P. Meier (1991, p.216), “While Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem cannot be positively ruled out … The somewhat contorted or suspect ways in which Matthew and Luke reconcile the dominant Nazareth tradition with the special Bethlehem tradition of their Infancy Narratives may indicate that Jesus’ birth at Bethlehem is to be taken not as a historical fact but as a theologoumenon, i.e., as a theological affirmation (e.g., Jesus is the true Son of David, the prophesied royal Messiah) put into the form of an apparently historical narrative."

Problem 4

Problem 4 is explained by Ibn Warraq (1995 p.145), “Some scholars, such as Adolf Harnack (1851-1930), believe that the Virgin Birth legend arose from the interpretation of a prophetic passage in the Old Testament, namely Isa. 7.14, according to the Greek text of the Septuagint, a translation made in 132 B.C. On this occasion, Ahaz, King of Judah, fears a new attack by the allied kings of Syria and Israel, who have just failed to take Jerusalem. The prophet reassures Ahaz and says:

“Therefore the Lord shall give a sign. Behold the Virgin shall conceive and give birth to a son, and thou shalt call him Emmanuel. Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know how to refuse the evil and choose the good. But before this child shall know how to recognize good and evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings though abhorrest shall be forsaken.

The Christians, while searching for all the prophetic sayings concerning the Messiah, discovered this passage from Isaiah and, taking it out of context, gave it a messianic meaning. Most important of all, the Hebrew original does not contain the word “virgin” (“bethulah”) but the word “young woman” (“halmah”); in Greek, “parthenos” and “neanis,” respectively. As Guignebert says,

The orthodox theologians have made every effort to prove that “haalmah” might mean virgin, but without success. The prophet had no thought of predicting a miracle, and the Jews, as soon as they began to attack the Christians, did not miss the opportunity of pointing out that the term to which their opponents appealed was nothing but a blunder”.



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