You know, they often say “you can’t make this up”. Yet, when such a statement is made one already knows it is often about something that is indeed made-up. Such appears, at least, to be the case with reference to the following. In this case I will not provide a book title or author’s name simply because I would prefer not to advertise either in any way. There is such a nyriad of “Christian” books, asserting wild and ridiculous claims out there already that it would only add to the already prevailing confusion. The information presented here will do enough toward that end.
But, how to even begin? The reason I ask that question is literally because the information to be presented here is so wild and “out there” that it is difficult to know where to begin to take any of it apart. But, let me first begin with one fact. For those who don’t already know, I studied theology for many years and hold multiple degrees in the subject. So, when I state (as I will) that I have never heard of this or that, I literally mean that not only have I never run across this or that piece of information in my years of study, but I also could not find it in a diligent search of the internet today.
OK, so there is now a book out that proposes to tell the real story of Christmas and the Nativity. Now, scholars, like myself, know that there are conflicting accounts of whatever may have taken place even in the gospels, not to mention in early Christian writings. These conflicts are not really so easily resolved. Yet, Christians generally have come up with a composit story to fit the narrative anyway. It basically goes like this; Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem to be counted in the census so that they could be properly taxed. While there, Jesus was born in a manger, a stable, a cave, or an inn, depending upon whichever version one prefers. The wise men, of Magi, arrived to find their king and give him gifts after which an angel told Joseph to flee into Egypt to get away from Herod. Oh, and angels showed themselves to shepherds in the field and announced the savior’s birth to them.
It gets all wrapped up into one story these days, and has for a long time. The one thing that the author in question gets right is that this narrative is generally false because all of these things did not happen at once, according to the gospels. So, obviously, he gets credit for pointing that out. Not that it matters a whit to anyone these days celebrating Christmas. But the reason I came up with the title to this piece is that the author literally expands the story into something that any reasonable observer would know could not possibly be true. The story he presents is so over the top that one might think that just about anyone would recognize this. And, this even though the biblical story itself is way over the top already. There is literally no need to add to it! But, that is what is taking place here, the author explaining that it comes from years of research on his part. Well, I already know the types of sources he would have to be using for this, if any, and they would mostly be considered unreliable among scholars mainly because their writings would not be anywhere close to contemporary with the gospel writings. But we don’t have to dwell on the author’s supposed sources here anyway.
Thus, the first glaring statement made by the author that I wish to present here is probably the wildest, and most ludicrous, of all. First, think for a moment about the gospel accounts. Any scholar today knows that the original texts did not use the term “wise men” for the men from the East who supposedly followed a star around until they found Jesus and presente him with gifts; gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The story goes that when they arrived in Jerusalem, they first went to see Herod and asked where the child could be found. Herod, not knowing, but being very suspicious, instructed them to continue looking for him and report back to him when they had found him. But, they didn’t report back to him and the family fled to Egypt until Herod’s death. So far, so good.
Now for the author’s expansion of the story acording to whatever sources he may have found, which he verbally told to Jim Bakker today. The author states – without alluding to the fact that the Magi were priests of the Zoroastrian religion – that these Magi, who could have been as many as twelve altogether (somehow three is preposterous) brought with them vast amounts of each of the three items in question and presented them all to Jesus because they had to give him wealth equivalent to his true status – they being able to afford this because they were the richest people on the earth at that time anyway. So, they didn’t present Jesus with just three small boxes of each item, but instead had so much that they had to have a virtual army to guard both them and the vast treasure on the way to see Jesus! And, so, finding Jesus and his parents in a cave which was used to shelter animals, they presented him with this untold vast amount of wealth!
Aside from the fact that it has always been problematic that Zoroastrian priests would somehow know and accept who Jesus was when everyone else on earth either rejected him, or had to be trained to understand who he was during his lifetime, the author expects the potential reader of his new book to accept that these Magi traveled a vast distance, laden with an untold amount of wealth through hostile territory, guarded by a virtual army, and first went to Herod asking where Jesus was and then presented him with all of this wealth while he lay in a cave! Oh, I forgot, the arrival of the Magi, according to the author, took place two years after Jesus’ birth, so he was no longer in the cave. So says the author anyway.
But the latter doesn’t really matter, does it? After all, no one today really cares exactly when this even took place when celebrating Christmas. Right? But the author continues by stating that Jerusalem was in an uproar over their arrival, and that Herod was greatly concerned too with so many people suddenly arriving in Jerusalem (he seems to have forgotten that if it was two years after the birth of Jesus it was during a time when Jerusalem would have been filled with people already, celebrating one of their holy times). Well, naturally he would be if this scenario was possible! But the author seems to miss something else here. If such a caravan was about to arrive in Jerusalem they would have been seen and known about while they were still very far away. Scouts would have seen them and Herod’s army would have been prepared to protect the city from them.
It’s bad enough to believe that “wise men” would go up to King Herod and ask him where the new baby king was to be found; but to believe that they brought a foreign army and untold treasure with them as they did it is beyond the pale. On top of that, to believe that Herod would have simply told them to search for the baby and bring back word of his location is just beyond outlandish! Herod would have been much more likely to have had them executed on the spot, and confiscated their treasure. No foreign army would have been allowed into the city!
Beyond all of this, the author continues that Joseph was already wealthy anyway because his work would have been in high demand. I’m not making this up. Regardless, we are to believe that the already wealthy Joseph, and his young wife, Mary, were therefore already wealthy and that they accepted a horde of treasure from priests of a foreign religion who understood somehow who Jesus really was when no one else but Mary did. Then they had to flee to Egypt with all of it and await Herod’s death. And, by the way, years later when one of the Apostles was traveling to India to spread the gospel he first found the Magi on his way and preached to them, converting them and baptizing them. Why this was necessary when they supposedly already knew who Jesus was to begin with is unclear. Again, I have never run across any of this in my years of study – none of it.
Oh, did I mention Mary? If the above scene is not bizarre enough let’s also have a Mary who fully understood practically all of her life what her role would be and, so, when the angel came to her and told her that she would bear the Messiah, she was ready and complied. How could this be the case, you ask? Well, see her parents knew, somehow, and instilled within her from an early age that she would be given some important spiritual task. So, when the time came she simply complied. Of course, the author repeatedly referred not only to Mary as a young woman of 12-14 years of age, which is probably accurate, but also referred to Joseph multiple times as a young man. But all accounts and scholarly concensuses have always referred to Joseph as just a bit older (around thirty, at least), probably already having children by a previous marriage, who were Jesus’ half-siblings.
I’m not quite sure why the author proposes that Joseph was a young man. However, the author does make a big deal about the supposed fact that both Joseph and Mary were of the Davidic line. Thus, in the author’s mind, this made Jesus the legitimate heir to David’s throne. The obvious problem with this, of course, is that any male child descended from David patrilineally would have had a legitimate claim to the throne. Oh, did we forget that Joseph was supposedly not the real father of Jesus? Descent from Mary only simply would not cut it. It would be helpful if there were none who could claim patrilineal descent, but that’s all. Regardless, somehow descent through both Jesus’ step-father and his mother made Jesus THE legitimate heir. And Herod would have somehow recognized this.
Oh, and now we can get to something that has always been one my favorite Christmas themes – swaddling clothes. Growing up I recall every year the reading of the Nativity account and the mention of Jesus being wrapped in swaddling clothes, as if that was cute and one should react, “awwww, isn’t that sweet!” In my studies later in life I came to understand, via scholarship, that swaddling clothes were pieces of cloth that ALL babies were wrapped in, sort of like a diaper plus some. Basically, they were meant to keep the newborn from squirming around too much. So, when the shepherds were told by the angels to look for a baby in a manger (still) wearing swaddling clothes, that made perfect sense. So, again, ALL newborns would have been wrapped in such bandages and, therefore, that would not have been in the least unusual. But that is what the shepherds had to look for.
How strange it would have been if it had been, say, unusual to wrap a baby in such strips of cloth and for shepherds to be told to look for that! But, that is exactly what some modern scholars (I found one on-line today), including this author, have proposed. Their alternate proposal is that the place where the baby Jesus was born was in a cave next to the field in which the shepherds brought up lambs for sacrificial slaughter. These lambs, when newborn, were supposedly wrapped in strips of cloth so that they would not thrash around as they were laid on the stone manger to be inspected by priests to see if they had any blemishes on them. Now, while this general scenario is indeed possible, I have never heard of animals being wrapped in anything referred to as “clothes” in ancient times. We dress up pets sometimes today in pet clothes, but they didn’t do that in ancient times. And, indeed, IF this scenario is to be seen as correct, then the shepherds would have seen it as quite crazy to find a baby wrapped in the same cloth strips they used for lambs! In fact, they would likely have accused the supposedly already rich holy family of theft! Need I say that I have never heard of this either before?
The real symbolism, if there is any here, that the author and some scholars have obviously missed, is that soon after birth Jesus was anointed and wrapped in swaddling clothes, i.e, strips of cloth, just as he would be anointed and wrapped in bandages, i.e, strips of cloth, after his crucifixion, both birth and death really being the same.
Finally, even though there is more, I will end with this. The author also proposes that, first, there were innumerable angels who came down and announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds. But he also gives us a reason why that was the case. See, apparently the angels were a bit curious themselves. The author sates that no angel had been allowed to see the face of god up to that point. So, once Jesus was born, they came down to see the face of god.
One thing I have learned throughout the years is that belief is almost always predicated on the sensational and the outlandish. The more ludicrous a story is, the more people will believe it. I mean, if it makes sense, no one wants to believe it. Trust me on that. And, happy holidays.