...a blog by Richard Flowers

Friday, October 03, 2008

Day 2832: Thirty Second Naïvety


A Church group has launched a COMPETITION to tell the story of CHRISTMAS in thirty seconds or less.

So here goes:

"Once upon a time, there probably was a person called Jesus who said some good and wise things.

But the Church thought that that wasn't MAGICAL enough to convince ignorant poor people, so they made up a FABULOUS story about parthenogenesis, comets, astrologers, inadequate motel accommodation, and the alien abduction of sheep."
Mind you, it's not REALLY a fair question because even the Bible has TWO goes at it and manages to get different versions that don't agree.

Mr Luke has Mr Joseph and wife-to-be Ms Mary living in Galilee until the decree comes from Mr Caesar Augustus that they have to go to Bethlehem to get taxed. No room at the inn, away in a manger, while shepherds wash their socks by night and Hark the Herald Angel does go on a bit.

Mr Matthew, on the other fluffy foot, after some genealogical numerology to prove that Mr Joseph is descended from Mr King David – which shouldn't make a hoot of difference because Mr The-Little-Baby Jesus is very specifically NOT Mr Joseph's son – Mr Luke has Mr The-Little-Baby Jesus born in Bethlehem and apparently it's because Mr Joseph lives there. In this version we get We Three Kings of Orient Are, one in a Taxi One in a Car… they blow the gaff to King Herod who slaughters the firstborn while Mr Jesus, Ms Mary and Mr Joseph escape to Egypt where they live until Herod is dead, but on coming home discover that Herod Junior has taken over so they make a diversion and that's when they end up living in Galilee instead.

UNFORTUNATELY there's a bit of a CONTINUITY ERROR between the two stories, because if Mr Caesar DID order all the world to be taxed (and there's no evidence that he did – which is surprising because the tax records of the Roman Empire are actually quite good) if he DID do that, and specifically if this was when Cyrenius was governor of Syria, like Mr Luke says, then it would have to be after 6 A.D. when Mr Cyrenius got MADE governor of Syria… except that Mr King Herod the Great, assassin of babies, was dead by 4 B.C. a decade earlier, at the latest.

This is the sort of problem you get when… well, actually you get this problem when your book of eternal verities is cobbled together by a committee three-hundred years after the fact, by which time there are countless different factions, all sold on different traditions, and you're trying to please everyone in spite of the obvious self-contradiction… but you ALSO get this sort of problem when you want your chap to be a MAGICAL MESSIAH, and not just a BLOKE with a line in GOOD ADVICE.

Being a messiah means ticking all of the prophetic boxes. Specifically: Mr Isaiah says that he'll come from Galilee while Mr Micah insists that he will be born in Bethlehem and Mr Hosea claims he shall be "called out of Egypt". Meanwhile, Mr Jeremiah wants him to be descended from King David… AND drops in the lamentation of Rachel for her lost children, taken to mean the slaughter of the innocents. But Mr Daniel talks about the child being born within weeks of a decree to rebuild Jerusalem… and it seems Caesar Augustus's decree will do.

You would ALMOST think that the early STORY-TELLERS were just making up the details to make sure that THEIR messiah scored more messiah-points than their rivals!

Besides, nowadays EVERYONE knows that Mr Jesus was really born in SEPTEMBER, and not at Yule Tide at all!

Apropos of nothing, we watched the "Life of Brian" on Blu Ray disc when we got back from conference. It is very funny.


Costigan Quist said...

Your biblical scholarship is excellent. I might even go a little further and suggest that the only bits of the two nativity stories that agree are those that are fulfilling Old Testament prophecies.

The Bible has a good line in blatantly putting in two entirely different versions of the same story.

It's done in Genesis with the creation (The second version starts at Genesis 2:4)) and again with Noah's flood (where the compilers brilliantly just don't give a toss and mix the versions together almost at random, so the length of the flood suddenly jumps from 150 days to 40 and the numbers of animals saved varies wildly).

Jennie said...

You're not the messiah, you're a very naughty elephant ;)

Joe Otten said...

Of course there is a reason that the gospels can agree on "fulfilling prophecy", or, more accurately, history repeating itself - that they continued the grand syncretic tradition of the time of recycling old religious stories around the latest religious characters.

Feeding of the 5 thousand also happened in 2 Kings 4; the massacre of the innocents also happened in Moses time. The healing of a man who fell from a window in Acts 20 is copied from Homer's Odyssey.


Homer's Odyssey

Recycling miracles

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