Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

TX 21/02/2010

Gerry Adams, yes that Gerry Adams, searches for the historical Jesus as opposed to the Biblical one.

A common thread throughout this TV series of personal perspectives on the Bible is that pretty well everything and everyone in the book gets disbelieved by someone. Again and again interviewees keep telling us that such and such a Biblical event probably isn’t true. That’s cool with me – I’m always interested in understanding what the actual truth is better - but it is becoming increasingly unlikely that all of these negative theories are correct.

I don’t know how much Helen Bond of Edinburgh University has been edited-down in this one, but her argument here for the non-birth of Jesus in Bethlehem seems wishful at best.

Adams: (narrating)"So was Jesus really born in Bethlehem?"

Bond: "Historically, I don’t think it’s likely at all. The difficulty is that these traditions are only found in Matthew and Luke’s gospel. Nowhere else in the New Testament… I think what’s happening here is that towards the late first century, Christians want to say now that Jesus is the messiah – the son of David - and what better way to prove that than to have him born here, in the city of David, in Bethlehem…

Matthew for example wants Jesus to be a second Moses, and so his birth story is very much modelled on the birth of Moses. So in exactly the same way that the Egyptian Pharaoh killed all the boys under two at the birth of Moses, so Herod the Great – the bad king – kills all the boys under two at the birth of Jesus."

Adams: "Which means that Joseph and Mary didn’t come to Bethlehem? In fact, it could also mean that Jesus wasn’t born in a manger and he wasn’t born in a stable?"

Bond: "That’s right, but you know those traditions are only found in Luke. They’re not in Matthew."

Adams: "You’ve just ruined Christmas."

Bond: (chuckles)"I don’t think it means ruining Christmas, I think for practicing Christians there’s a lot in those traditions… but if you’re asking about the historical Jesus, I don’t think he was born here, I think he was born in Nazareth."

Adams: (narrating)"The gospels are not history in the modern sense. For me the important fact is not where Jesus was born, it’s the fact that he was born, and lived, and died in the way he did. Whatever about their historical shortcomings, the gospels are our only major source for the story of Jesus. But there is another book which tells us a great deal about the world he lived in."

Bond: "Just about everything we know of first century Judea comes from the works of Josephus. He’s a first-century Jewish aristocrat, who’s born in Judea just slightly after the time of Jesus, but he’s really important…"

Adams: "But I see here just in his little bible he was a Jew, he fought against Rome, then he defected to Rome, so…"

Bond: (chuckles)"So how trustworthy is he? …Basically he’s the only person we’ve got. I mean if it wasn’t for Josephus, we’d know virtually nothing, so we have to use him with caution, but I think he’s a very good witness."

Adams: (narrating)"Jesus gets barely a mention in Josephus. He has much more to say about a travelling preacher who according to the gospels prepared the way for Jesus. I’m heading to the Jordan river, and the place where John the Baptist is said to have baptised Jesus."

Well, several problems with all of that:

1. Despite acknowledging that two records corroborate Jesus’ birthplace as Bethlehem, Bond offers no source for her counter-theory that he was actually born in Nazareth.

2. If Jesus was not born in Bethlehem, that doesn’t mean that Joseph and Mary didn’t travel there.

3. No gospel records that Jesus was born in either a manger or a stable. Luke merely states the following:

While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

- Luke 2:6-7 (NIV)

Given the culture of welcoming guests, it seems much more likely that Mary and Joseph would have been put-up in someone’s house, with the improvised cot being brought in to help after the event.

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.

- Luke 2:16 (NIV)

On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.

- Matthew 2:11 (NIV)

4. How can ‘just about everything we know of first-century Judea’ come from the book of Josephus, when we also have the four gospels and Acts? The author of Luke and Acts claims to be a contemporary.

5. If Josephus was ‘born in Judea just slightly after the time of Jesus’, then how come he has so much to say about John the Baptist, who is recorded in Matthew (14:1-12), Mark (6:14-29) and Luke (9:7-9) as having died before Jesus did?

I applaud the challenging of the Biblical records in order to better understand how well they stand up, if at all, but there’s little point in disregarding them without a good reason, and then replacing them with an alternative document that is not similarly tested.

I’m certain there’s a lot more to the claims made in the above extract from the programme, but if there isn’t the time to convey enough of it to make a reasonable case, then there’s little purpose in including it.

The second half of the programme concentrates more on the long-term effects of Northern Ireland’s recent history, which I understand very little of. I was impressed by the timeless words of grace spoken by two bereaved victims though:

Alan: "I’m not Hell-bent on revenge. I don’t think I have one bone in my body which is about taking revenge. I think we need to be more like Jesus and maybe not so religious. That sounds like a contradiction in terms, y’know. I think the religious aspect sometimes can keep us apart."

Geraldine: "I will never to my dying day forgive anyone who was involved in Pat’s murder. From the gunmen, right to the people, perhaps at cabinet-level, who orchestrated this. I will never forgive them. They changed my life forever.

But that doesn’t mean to say that I want revenge. I don’t want to harm them, but I do want to make them accountable for what they did, for their actions. Their actions have given me a life that I didn’t want."

Adams: "Do you have any sort of affinity with Jesus, with the gospel stories, with any of that?"

Geraldine: "I would follow Christian principles, but I couldn’t go so far as to say I’m a Christian."

Adams: "And one of the big challenges in those teachings is the little one which says ‘Love thy enemy’. Y’know, I mean it’s easy to love your friends, but, what’s your take on that?"

Geraldine: "I might not be able to love my enemy, but I can learn to live with them."

Adams: (narrating)"Faced with the grim truths of war, loving your enemy is a lot to ask. Alan and Geraldine may never forgive the men who murdered their partners, but they don’t want revenge."

Click here for review of programme 1 - Creation.
Click here for review of programme 2 - Abraham.
Click here for review of programme 3 - Moses and the Law.
Click here for review of programme 4 - The Daughters of Eve.
Click here for review of programme 6 - St. Paul.
Click here for review of programme 7 - Revelation - The Last Judgement.

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2 comment(s):

At 8:56 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In regards to the statement you made regarding the Jewish custom of inviting people in, you are exactly right. That is precisely what should have happened. Not to mention the fact that Joseph and Mary were returning to their hometown (which gives us another reason to believe Jesus was indeed born in Bethlehem-we can prove historical that Caesar Augustus sent to the decreed-so not wanting to be hassled by the Roman authorities it makes sense that they would obey the equivalent of the IRS)

So-coming home why would they not be invited into the home of a family member? Why would they go looking for a hotel, especially since Mary was so far along?

Answer: Their respective families weren't buying the "virgin birth" story either. Her own family more than likely shunned her and believed that she had gotten herself knocked up in a more earthly manner.

I like delving into the mysteries as well, but you just have to laugh when people are so certain about their own theories 2,000 years after the fact and refuse to even consider the validity of the Bible. All the while claiming to be open-minded!

At 1:23 pm, Blogger Steve Goble said...

Thanks again Pastrami - those are interesting thoughts. It hadn't occurred to me that Joseph might have family in Bethlehem.



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