Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Search for the Historical Christmas Story

Is there a better way between the dismissive arrogance of the sceptics and the naive fideism of the fundamentalist? I hope so.

My pet litmus test for a true interest in the historical Christmas (rather than the populist semi-pagan saccharine version) is the lack of room in the inn, which was of course no such thing but simply an overflowing guest room in the house of one of Jospeh's relations.

Generally the main sceptical complaint is the dissimilarity of the Christmas stories but they align in more ways than they disagree. The biggest stumbling block for most is the issue of Jesus' birth at Quirinius' census for which there is considerable evidence to the contrary. Not least that Quirinius was not governor of Syria until 6 AD. However even this is not as cut and dried a mistake as it appears.

There are various theories about what (known) astronomical event might explain the Magi's star, and one who connects the later Christian attachment to the fish symbol (Ichthus) to a a convergence with Pisces constellation at the time of Jesus' birth. It's an interesting theory, although the implications would be troubling: what does the horoscope have to do with Christ?

Personally I think Christians should be aware of the difficulty of establishing some of our beliefs as fact. Equally we should beware of taking traditional and popular interpretations, translations and accretions as gospel. On the other hand, the problem with archaeology is that most of the data is still underground. Just as many Bible events seem unlikely from the best historical evidence, so have many Biblical events previously thought to be improbable or false been corroborated by evidence later. Both the sceptic and the believer are better served by remaining humble, curious and open-minded.

If two gospels managed to miss the birth narratives out completely we probably don't need to iron out all the details of the story to know who Jesus was, is and why he is important.

Let me know what you think :-)

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