Tag Archives: Christmas

Once more (final time) on Gospel Nativity Harmonization. Meanwhile, back in Bethlehem today . . . .

What a slew of Christmas themed posts have bedecked Vridar this year. I feel a bit bad and wonder if I should apologize. It’s not my usual form. But no, there’s one more, another follow up to the two posts we’ve had here on the question of harmonizing Matthew’s birth narrative with its magi and flight into Egypt with Luke’s shepherds and babe in a manger scenario.

This one is another collation of web discussions or debates on the question: Can the Christmas Stories be Reconciled?

Meanwhile, I seem to have read very little about the current activities among the present day inhabitants of Bethlehem and its refugee camp. Christmas seems to be that wonderful time when we turn our backs on everyday reality and lose ourselves in hopes for happy memories of another time. Meanwhile, back in Bethlehem . . . .

A Palestinian dressed as Santa Claus stands in front of Israeli troops during a protest in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, December 23, 2017. REUTERS/Ammar Awad TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY – RC17AECC9740

 

 

Why Is Christmas on the 25th of December?

The Catholic Liturgical Year

While researching this post, I came upon an item from 2015 about the sad and untimely death of Acharya S. on Christmas Day. Readers of Vridar may have noticed that I’ve avoided writing about Acharya’s theories or writings, mainly because they did not and do not interest me, but secondarily, because I’d rather not tangle with her fans, many of whom take any critique of her brand of mythicism as a personal attack.

I must decrease

Recently, however, I recalled something I heard on a podcast featuring Robert M. Price and Acharya. I suppose we’re allowed to call her Dorothy Murdock now. Murdock was explaining to Price that the role of the Forerunner helped to determine when in the liturgical calendar to commemorate the birth of John the Baptist. She reminded Price that in the Fourth Gospel, John the Baptist is confronted by his disciples about what to do concerning this upstart Jesus fellow. He says:

[28] “You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ [29] The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. [30] He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:28-30, ESV)

A typical reader would look at that last sentence and take it at face value. In other words, John the Baptist realizes his role must diminish as Jesus takes on the mantle of Messiah, Son of God, Son of Man, Savior of the World. The Baptist is signaling the winding down of his business, having fulfilled his purpose.

But Murdock said it was a mysterious thing to say, and that it had to do with the days getting shorter after the solstice. And this is precisely why John’s birth was commemorated near the first day of summer, while Jesus’ was celebrated near the winter solstice. When Christ is “rising,” I am “falling.” Hence, the notion that John was born on 24 June, six months away from Christmas.

The virgin . . . tomb?

At the time I did a little research, which fell by the wayside as other subjects took my attention. I recall coming across some early discussions about the incarnation and how some early Christians believed it had to have occurred on the same calendar date as the death of Jesus. For example, Augustine wrote: read more »

Another reason not to harmonize the gospel nativity narratives

In nice timing with my earlier post on one problem that arises when we try to harmonize Matthew’s and Luke’s accounts of Jesus’ arrival on planet Earth, Deane Galbraith has posted a clear explanation of why the two accounts don’t harmonize anyway:

The Two Stories of Jesus’ Birth in Bethlehem

And since Christmas is a time for reminiscing, here are some older posts addressing the differences from yet another perspective:

 

Finding “unbelievable fullness of meaning” in the Christmas stories?

Very strange. I don’t understand how an atheist or agnostic (Bart Ehrman in this instance) can “absolutely adore” the Bible’s stories of Jesus’ birth and find them “so deep … and so unbelievably full of meaning”.

Is the Christmas Story a Myth?

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Even so, I have to say that I absolutely adore these stories. They are simultaneously so simple and so deep, so matter-of-fact and so unbelievably full of meaning. As is this season. Even for me as one who personally stands outside the Christian tradition. Or do I? I suppose I’ll always be inside it. It’s in my DNA. I completely resonate with it. I relate to it. In my own secular way I embrace it. I’ll say more about that in my next post.

What deep meaning can there possibly be in those stories unless it is one for those who believe God became incarnate? That message has no meaning, surely, for anyone who is not a Christian, certainly not one for any atheist.

To me the stories have no meaning at all except as part of our cultural heritage, like May Day or having weekends off. Christmas is certainly no part of my DNA. I suppose I am expected to find the answer in the next post Bart Ehrman promises. Since I refuse to play his game of justifying the maintenance of a paywall around access to his knowledge I guess I’ll remain in ignorance. Maybe a kindly disposed reader who does have access will be able to pass on the message of how a secular-minded person can bring absolute adoration to the bible stories and find unbelievable fullness of meaning in them. Very strange.

Harmonizing the the Gospel Birth Narratives Raises A Problem

Professor Jim West brought back memories of my fervently believer days (when I “knew” that the gospels, being words of Truth, could and did not contradict themselves) with his post, There are No Contradictions Between the Matthean and Lucan Birth Narratives: It’s a Matter of Time. West recycles the old assertion that in Luke we read of the birth of Jesus (the angels directing the shepherds to cause a commotion in the village until they eventually found the babe in the manger) while in Matthew we read of the magi visiting Jesus two years later when he was more securely resided in a solid house. See? No contradiction at all. It’s only a matter of time.

Except . . .

The general idea among many biblical scholars today seems to be that the gospels are ancient forms of biography. That is, the authors, like other biographers of the day, were devoted to writing what they knew about the life and teaching and significance of their subject.

Matthew’s gospel is generally said to have been written around 80 CE. How likely is it that its author (we’ll call him Matthew) at such a late date apparently had never heard of the angelic circumstances surrounding the actual birth of Jesus? If there is one detail ancient biographers loved to seek out and narrate about famous persons (e.g. Apollonius of Tyana, Julius Caesar …) was some great prodigy that marked the moment of their birth and another at their death. How plausible is it that Matthew by around 80 CE had never heard (presumably made very little effort even to seek out!) of the “tradition” that was surely circulating by then about the circumstances of Jesus’ birth?

After all, Luke, we are told, knew only that tradition of the miraculous circumstances of Jesus’ birth and had never even heard of the dramatic events only two years later — the slaughter of the innocents, the state visit of prominent persons from the East, the miraculous star that presumably hovered only meters above the earth so as to point out a particular house, etc — even though he was writing, again we are assured, only ten years or so after Matthew.

And we know, don’t we, that Luke insisted that he knew “everything” that had been written and rumoured about Jesus before he started to write and that his biography was going to be the one to set out everything “in order”.

(By the way, for another view of what Luke’s prologue actually does say, see What Did Luke’s Eyewitnesses See? and “Eyewitnesses” in Luke-Acts: Not What We Think.)

A harmonization of the two narratives, the events of Jesus’ birth and of two years subsequently, are exactly what we would expect of a genuine ancient biography written a generation or two after the biographee. Biographers are interested in recording what they know about their subject and believe their readers will find both entertaining and profitable. It is very difficult to imagine both Matthew and then Luke somehow deciding that either the birth details or the details two years later would not have been of interest or potential instruction for their audiences.

Totally different accounts, each with their distinctive theological flavour and themes, is exactly what we would expect from a form of literature that Roger Aus labels “etiological haggada”¶, or from creative theology.

No doubt scholars have pondered this question in their literature. If anyone knows of some of the more interesting critical discussions addressing the problem I have raised here do feel free to add a comment.

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Merry Midrash

pharaoh killing baby males

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Annunciations and Holy Conceptions

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annunciation-mid

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The Josephs’ Dreams and Moves to Egypt read more »

Atheist Christmas

Incarnation of Vishnu/Krishna
Image by ellenm1 via Flickr

I was going to keep this a Christmas-free zone but the quiet here today is screaming at me to say something. I can understand atheists in Western countries who feel uncomfortable with Christmas. There it is closely tied up with religious associations.

The strength of these religious trappings varies, I am sure, with each cultural locale. There are many who can and do love Christmas without giving a thought to its religious origins.

While living in Asia I could not resist asking some Chinese whom I knew were either Buddhists or Taoists, if anything, why they were wearing Santa hats and wishing all and sundry Merry Christmas. Their answer: “It’s Christmas. Everyone loves Christmas.”

I even saw a Moslem girl happily wearing a Santa cap over her head-scarf.

But seeing Christmas being celebrated alongside the Chinese New Year alongside Deepavali alongside Hari Raya and a half dozen others it drove home to me that it just one of many social rituals that would have to be invented if it did not exist from time immemorial. Humans are social creatures and rituals are important to us as social creatures and that’s that. There’s always room for the odd individual to bow out for a time, shorter or longer.

The fact that it has religious associations probably has more to do with the centrality of religion in the lives of people than with the festival itself, if that makes sense.

Here are a couple of other views: read more »