Which nativity story?
Hollywood directors would sell their mother if they could make a profit at it. And the new kick for “Christian” films is no exception. The assumption is that anything “religious” will sell to the Christians in America no matter how badly produced. And considering the crap that Christian filmmakers produce, such as the laughable Left Behind series, the assumption may not be off the mark.
The newest entry in this genre is The Nativity Story which CNN called “The greatest ‘Story’ ever dulled. Every since Crazy Mel “the Jews did it” Gibson put his bloody torture film out in Aramaic the desire for authenticity abounds. In this new film: “We are treated to scenes of Nazarene farming, food preparation and religious instruction that have the faint mustiness of an old National Geographic about them.”
The film is described as a joint project of “an evangelical screenwriter and Presbyterian director.” Oh, there is an exciting combination.
The Boston Globe headlined: “Film focuses on bringing accuracy to biblical tale.”
Ah, but it just isn’t so. Nor can it be so. The reason is that there is scant evidence that the biblical account is accurate. In fact it is contradictory and problematic.
The film starts out with Herod’s alleged slaughter of the innocents at the time of the birth of Jesus. Here are two problems. One is that there is no indication anywhere that it happened. If Herod had gone out and slaughtered all the new-born infants it certainly would have been noticed by someone. Other than in the gospels there is no mention of it.
Josephus gives the story of Herod in his Antiquities of the Jews but never seemed to be aware of any mass infanticide. In fact no document of any kind, outside of the gospel of Matthew takes note of this. Not even the other gospels mention it.
Christians have tried to justify the absence of this from any records by saying that the number of infants in Bethlehem could have been just half a dozen so this was not a big deal. But the Bible says that Herod “slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, AND in ALL the coasts thereof, from two years old and under...” The slaughter was alleged to be far more widespread than just Bethlehem. Is it a big deal now?
And it is not likely that Herod did anything at this time. He died before Jesus was born. Even the gospels disagree with each other regarding this. Matthew and Luke say Jesus was born “in the days of Herod the king.” But Luke also says that "It happened in those days that a decree was issued by Caesar Augustus that a census be taken of all that was inhabited. This census first came to pass when Quirinius was governing Syria."
Here is the problem, Herod the Great died 10 years before Cyrenius (or Quirinius) became governor of Syria. One reason no document anywhere mentions the infanticide is because Herod was not alive when Jesus was born.
Josephus wrote of this census for the purpose of taxation. He wrote: “Archelaus's country was assigned to Syria for purposes of paying tribute, and Quirinius, a man of highest rank, was sent by Caesar to take a census of things in Syria and to make an account of Archelaus's estate.” And: “Quirinius was a man of the Senate, who had held other offices, and after going through them all achieved the highest rank. He had a great reputation for other reasons, too. He arrived in Syria with some others, for he was sent by Caesar as a governor, and to be an assessor of their worth. Coponius, who held the rank of knight, was sent along with him to take total command over the Jews. And Quirinius also went to Judaea, since it became part of Syria, to take a census of their worth and to make an account of the possessions of Archelaus.”
Now note what happened. Herod the Great had been the king of Judea. But when he died he was replaced Archelaus. But Josephus writes that Caesar exiled Archelaus in his tenth year because “the leading men in Judaea and Samaria could not endure his cruelty and tyranny and accused him before Caesar” who “went into a rage” and “sent Archelaus into exile” and who was then replaced by Quirinius at which time Judea was put under his control. Herod had died. In-between the reign of Herod and the census of Quirinius, who the gospels specifically mention, there was the ten year reign of Archelaus.
But the gospels say that Herod was king when Jesus was born and they say that when he was born the census of Quirinius was taking place. That was one hell of a long delivery -- ten years in fact. Either the inerrant word of God is wrong about the census by Quirinius or it is wrong when it says Herod was king at the same time. Both can not be correct. In addition the Romans never required everyone return to the place of their birth for a census. The gospel of Luke was wrong on that as well.
Luke wrote that Jesus was born in Bethlehem where Joseph and Mary went to be taxed. They found no room at the inn and were staying in the barn. We have all seen the images of this as it is the famous crèche scene that Christians duplicate every Christmas. You get the baby lying in the manger surrounded by various animals and the Wise Men. But Matthew says the Wise Men did not see Jesus in a manger. “And whey they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him.”
Matthew says Joseph and Mary lived in Bethlehem and moved to Nazareth. Luke says they lived in Nazareth and went to Bethlehem to be counted in the census.
Matthew said that after the birth of Jesus that Joseph “took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt.” Luke says nothing about Egypt at all instead claiming “they returned into Galilee, to their own city Nazareth.”
The virgin birth issue has some problems other than the obvious one. The gospel of Mark completely misses this detail. And the writings of Paul, many of which are considered older than the two gospels that do mention the virgin birth, skipped this claim entirely. Both Matthew and Luke argued that Jesus is descended from David but the genealogies they use to prove this are through Joseph, who if the virgin birth is correct, was not related to Jesus at all. And there is really no need to point out that the genealogies contradict each other as well.
An accurate account of the Nativity story would be a difficult task to undertake since the only written sources for this story don’t agree with each other. And the contradictions here are such that one account or the other (if not both) has to be false.