Jetlag does funny things to your biological clock, and so it was that I found myself pondering the Christmas story in the wee small hours of Christmas morning.
The traditional story has Joseph taking a very pregnant Mary from Nazareth to Bethlehem only to find there is nowhere to stay, except a stable, where Mary gives birth, and they are visited by shepherds, who have seen a choir of angels, and three wise men, who have followed a star and some specific directions from Herod’s advisers to arrive in Bethlehem.
A question popped into my awareness. What man in his right mind would put his near term, pregnant wife on a donkey for a four day overland trek? The ancients might not have understood the female anatomy like we do but the anatomy was still the same anatomy in those times. So, you can just imagine it, every couple of hours Mary would say, ‘Honey, can we stop? I need to pee.’ And, if that wouldn’t be enough, just think of all the lifting of her up and down from the donkey. Just making the trip would probably have been enough to induce a birth along the path. No, Joseph was the village carpenter, so he was no fool. I don’t think this trip happened.
Then, I thought about the supposed reason for this trip to Bethlehem – a census called by Caesar Augustus requiring everybody to somehow get to the town of his birth for the big count. I’m a public servant. I have some idea of how the government mind works and the reasons behind conducting a census. Mostly they are about tax collections and infrastructure planning, so you want to know how many people there are and where they are. Think about the last census form you filled out. In far away Judea, the likely representatives of the Emperor would be the local tax collectors. I can’t see the guy in Nazareth being all that impressed with his taxpayers wandering off to Bethlehem to register. The Romans paid their tax collectors by commission.
So, these two aspects of the story don’t ring true for me. The birth of Jesus stories, which appear in two of the four Gospels, are obviously fabrications. In modern terms they could be seen as marketing spin.
Consider the audiences Matthew and Luke were writing for. Matthew was writing for a predominantly Jewish audience, so his birth story is all about showing Jesus is the promised Messiah. He starts with a genealogy of Jesus to show how he is descended from King David through Joseph. That in itself is a telling point when you consider he then goes on with the virgin birth claim. For that genealogy to have any significance Joseph has to be the biological father of Jesus.
Luke on the other hand was writing for a predominantly Gentile audience, which needed its god figures to be more supernatural like the Greek gods, so the virgin birth, a choir of angels and a couple of prophecies were essential elements.
I reckon the facts of Jesus’ birth are that he was born at home in Nazareth to his biological parents Joseph and Mary. There was no choir of angels, no wise men from the east, no enraptured shepherds, no slaughter of the innocents and no flight into Egypt, let alone an overland trek by a pregnant Mary to Bethlehem.
It’s disappointng that the mainstream Christian Churches still tell this story as if it were the truth. This story obscures the humanity of Jesus and divine nature of us all.
I hope you had an enoyable Christmas, no matter which story you were following.
Thanks for dropping by, Peter