The random witterings of Jonathan Morris, writer.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

I Was Born On Christmas Day

So this is Christmas. And the story of the nativity.

A story so dramatic it’s only mentioned in two of the gospels; two very contradictory accounts. Both gospels seems to be awkward attempts to reconcile the Old Testament prophecy about a Messiah born in Bethlehem with the idea that it’s Jesus of Nazareth. Luke has Jesus’ parents of Nazareth travelling to Bethlehem for the birth; Matthew has Jesus’ parents of Bethlehem relocating to Nazareth after his birth.

Of course, these solutions create more continuity problems than they solve; according to Luke, Mary and Joseph are attending the census of Quirinius at the behest of the Emperor Augustus (which means it happens ten years after the recorded death of Herod, who is still King is Matthew’s version of events). And the Romans did not conduct censuses of non-Roman citizens, requiring them to return to the town of their birth; if you think about it, it’s a rather impractical way of going about it – all you would have to do is stay at home and you wouldn’t have to pay any taxes!

The miracle of the virgin birth. Assuming you’re okay about the fact that the word ‘virgin’ is a mis-translation of the original descriptor for Mary (something closer to ‘maiden’ or ‘young woman’). Bizarrely, both gospels give detailed (but differing) accounts of how Jesus is descended from David via his father Joseph, even though both gospels make it clear that Joseph is not actually his father. Of course, this is all about trying to make the ‘story’ fit the various ‘facts’ established in the Old Testament.

So an angel – possibly Gabriel, possibly not – comes to either Mary or Joseph in a dream (but not both). They either travel to Bethelehem for a Roman census or reside there already. Mary then gives birth in a stable (according to Luke only – Matthew has Jesus as a home-birth). An unspecified number of shepherds or an unspecified number of Magi attend the child (but not both). Magi being, of course, the term for priests of the Zoroastrian religion of Persia (Zoroastrian translating as ‘followers of the star’). A giant lobster may have also have been in attendance, according to the Gospel of Richard Curtis.

After which, either Mary and Joseph flee to Egypt to escape King Herod’s Massacre of the Innocents (copy and pasted from accounts of Moses’ birth – I hardly need say there is no record of any such massacre in any reliable or remotely contemporaneous historical account) before eventually ending up in Nazareth, or they take the baby to Jeruslam to have its penis pointlessly mutilated according to Jewish tradition before returning happily to Nazareth.

And was there a magic star? Not according to Luke’s version of events (the shepherds were summoned by an angel, or possibly by a travelling spaceman, according to the gospel of Chris De Burgh). It might have been a comet (though the dates don’t match) certainly wasn’t a conjunction of planets – there wasn’t a significant one around then, and even when they do happen, they are barely noticable).

The greatest story ever told? Possibly. But with the emphasis very much on the word ‘story’.

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