TRUTH or FICTION? …Let us examine the evidence.
There are four gospels in the New Testament but only Matthew and Luke include reference to the virgin birth. The gospel of Mark was the first to be written but not until about sixty years after the supposed event. Paul, writing in the fifties, also was unaware of a virgin birth.
Surely it is significant that these two first Christian writers knew nothing about something that looms so largely in Christianity today.
With Mark’s gospel in hand, Matthew and Luke introduced the virgin birth though they disagree in regard to the father of Joseph. They followed the same sequence of later events, though they certainly embellished the story.
The first chapter of Luke tells of the miraculous impregnation of Mary’s cousin Elisabeth to produce John the Baptist. Six months later the angel Gabriel informed the Virgin Mary that the Holy Ghost would ‘come upon’ her and make her pregnant also. Not ‘by your leave’ or ‘may it be so’ – just ‘this is how it will be’ without any option.
How did Mary, or how does anyone, identify an angel? Have they wings or special clothing? By a remarkable coincidence these two acts of annunciation and impregnation of a virgin and the birth and adoration were portrayed sixteen centuries earlier, when Egypt was ruled by Amenhotep III and can be seen today in the Temple of Amen at Luxor.
As Matthew says, Mary was engaged to Joseph and, when it became evident that she was pregnant, he was upset to find that he was a cuckold, but an angel explained the situation to him in a dream. No doubt Mary explained the source of her pregnancy to her parents and friends, as a virgin would do today. ‘Virgin’ births were common in those far away times but not so now.
Luke pin-points the time of the birth as when Augustus ordered a census of the ‘whole’ world. There was a limited census of the Roman citizens in 8 AD but that would not apply to the Jews. There was no reason for Joseph to go to Bethlehem and certainly none that made it necessary for Mary to go.
Joseph had trouble finding accommodation in Bethlehem. Probably his relatives had died out or were swamped by the influx, for even the inn had no room, so Jesus was born in a stable and laid in a manger.
Today the birth is celebrated on December 25th but Luke says it occurred when there were shepherds attending their sheep by night, so it could not have been in mid-winter.
An angel announced the event to the shepherds and suddenly there was with the angel a heavenly host praising god (Yahweh). When the performance ended the shepherds proceeded to Bethlehem, found the infant Jesus and made known what the angels had told them. Obviously the angels were close to the earth because it is necessary to have air for the transition of sound. Angels must have special means of propulsion through the void to ‘heaven’ as wings are useless without air.
We return now to the version of Matthew who says that Jesus was born in the days of Herod, the king, who died in 4 BC (this is a discrepancy of 12 years from the birth date given by Luke.)
Wise men came from the east to worship Jesus, for they had seen his star. This troubled Herod, who demanded to be told where Jesus should be born and, when told, he instructed the wise men to go, confirm the news and report back. Guided by the star, the wise men went to Bethlehem and the star now stood precisely over the place of the birth. It must have been a very little star and only about 100 metres above the stable to be directly above it.
The wise men worshipped Jesus and presented their treasures of gold, frankincense and myrrh. They did not undertake a long arduous journey to present trifling gifts so the substantial bounty intended for Jesus must have been dispersed while he was a baby, for he claimed to be poor and he advocated poverty.
Being warned in a dream by Yahweh, they did not report to Herod and returned home by another route. After they had departed, Joseph was warned by an angel in a dream to flee to Egypt with his family. This he did by night.
Herod ordered the slaughter of all the infants two years old and under throughout the area. The Jewish historian at that time, Josephus, records the barbarous acts of Herod but, strangely, does not mention this one.
When Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying: Take the young child and his mother into the land of Israel. This Joseph did but when he heard that Herod’s son, Archelaus, was now the ruler, he was afraid. Notwithstanding, being warned by Yahweh in a dream, he turned aside and came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth. There is no reliable record of Nazareth existing in that period. Joseph was ignorant that Galilee was also ruled by another of Herod’s sons.
It goes to show just how important angels and dreams were to Yahweh as a means of imparting vital messages to human beings.
Since the days of Sigmund Freud, Yahweh has not been using dreams but concentrating on visions of the Virgin Mary or her image to deliver his messages.
The winter solstice has always been a time for celebration in the Northern Hemisphere. Christians just took over the Roman Saturnalia festival.
Let us still celebrate this time, not as a Christian festival, but in its original context.
By Keith S Cornish