Jesus Nativity Legends
Susceptibility to suggestion is one of
the consequences of man's gregariousness.
He tends to accept statements and opinions that are constantly repeated,
whether there are grounds for believing them or not. - Giles St. Aubyn
Only two of the four gospels say anything about the origins of Jesus' birth: Matthew and Luke. I call them legends because if we assume that Jesus was in fact an historical person, both gospels share the quality of being exaggerated to legendary proportions. If we treat them as two separate witness accounts of the same event, they contradict each other where they should agree. Private conversations took place for which there were no witnesses. If one argues they were revealed by God, then why do they disagree with each other at critical junctions? Why do they disagree on matters of historical fact from sources outside the Bible? The argument by revelation doesn't satisfy how a so-called perfect God could make so many mistakes. In brief, this is why.
Matthew: In a dream, an angel told Joseph who the father was after Mary found herself pregnant.
Luke: An angel named Gabriel told Mary she was to get pregnant.
Time of birth
Matthew: 6-4 BCE based on Herod's death 4 BCE and his search for a child up to two years old.
Luke: 6 CE based on a census in Judea when Quirinius became its governor.
That leaves about a ten year difference.
Place up to birth
Matthew: Joseph and Mary lived in a house in Bethlehem where Jesus was born.
Luke: Joseph and Mary lived in Nazareth and traveled to Bethlehem just before Jesus' birth to register for a tax census. Jesus was born in a manger because there was no room in the inn.
Mathew: Wise men, presumed to be three astrologers, followed a bright star to Jesus' birthplace.
Luke: Shepherds in the field went to Bethlehem after being told by an angel.
Place after birth
Matthew: They immediately fled Bethlehem for Egypt to escape Herod's death threats. When Herod died they returned to Israel (Galilee) but they had to go around Judea (and Jerusalem) to avoid Herod's cruel son Herod Archelaus.
Luke: They left Bethlehem forty days later to visit the temple in Jerusalem for the required cleansing rituals, returning to their home town of Nazareth.
Matthew: Herod's attempt to have children two years and younger killed goes unmentioned by his most scrupulous biographer, Josephus.
Luke: There was no worldwide census, only a local census in Judea 6 CE when Quirinus became governor. It did not affect Galileans who were ruled by Antipas until 39 CE. The Romans had no interest in Jewish ancestry; they were interested in taxable property.
Legitimate predictions should be specific enough to avoid confusion with other events. The prophecies cited to support their prescience have no such qualities. They are not even predictions.
Isaiah 7:10-14 is supposed to predict the coming of a king born to a virgin. Instead, it was addressed to King Ahaz over 700 years ago who was supposed to see a child named Emmanuel born to a young woman.
Micah 5:2 is supposed to predict the birthplace of Jesus in Bethlehem. Instead, it described the origins of the Davidic dynasty.
Jeremiah 31:15-17 is supposed to predict Herod's attempt to kill Jesus. Instead, it described the sadness over the Babylonian exile.
Hosea 11:1 is supposed to predict Jesus flight to Egypt. Instead it describes the Israelite exodus from Egypt.
By any reasonable standard, there is nothing historical about the accounts of Jesus' early life. The mention of two historical characters, Herod and Quirinus, does not inspire confidence when their names place the birth of Jesus ten years apart. Like the cliché about the left hand not knowing what the right hand was doing, Matthew didn't know what Luke was doing and Luke didn't know what Matthew was doing.
It follows that Matthew and Luke did not work from eyewitness accounts of a real walking talking Jesus. As unreliable as oral accounts may be when retold for several decades, Matthew and Luke are too far apart to accept that thesis. So what does that leave?
As the four prophecies above illustrated, they had no predictive value. The terms "word of God" and "prophecies" can mislead us if we rely on assumptions without understanding what they meant to the gospel writers. The short answer is that in practice those two terms applied to a practice of stripping Old Testament verses from their context (word of God), and reinterpreting them to suit the subjective bias of the author (prophecy). Conclusion: Jesus is an avatar defined by false interpretations of the Old Testament.
Skeptical readers would want more proof for the last statement, so they are: Messianic Prophecies provides twenty four examples of the ancient method of extracting prophecies from the word of God by a method called Midrash. Paul inadvertently confesses his ignorance of a real Jesus by boasting his knowledge did not come from human sources. What he knew about Jesus came from the OT. See also Paul's mystery and Paul's Mythology. Paul came on the scene shortly after Jesus allegedly died, but never speaks of him as if he was a real man. I rest my case. Detailed commentary follows.
The Gospel narratives
The miraculous birth
1. When Mary was engaged to Joseph, while she was still virgin, she was impregnated by the Holy Spirit. Joseph didn't want to shame her so he resolved to break the engagement quietly.
the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary
had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to
be with child of the Holy Spirit;
19and her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. (Matt. 1:18-19)
Christians see no shame since the Holy Spirit impregnated her, but I do. Joseph had no knowledge of what happened, nor was he given a chance to grant permission. Nor are we told if Mary had advance knowledge. All of a sudden, she found herself pregnant for no apparent reason. The Holy Spirit just snuck in and did the deed. There is no escaping Jesus was born out of wedlock.
2. As Joseph was considering breaking off the engagement, an angel appeared to him in a dream to tell him she was conceived by the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son to be called Jesus who will save his people from their sins.
as he considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a
dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your
wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit;
21she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." (Matt. 1:20-21)
The realistic explanation is not flattering. We could argue that the angel was just that, a dream. Mary was impregnated by a lover she couldn't or wouldn't name. Out of love for Mary, Joseph claimed to be the real father; but no matter how you look at it, Jesus was a bastard child.
3. All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet.
this took place to fulfil what the Lord had
spoken by the prophet:
23"Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel" (which means, God with us). (Matt. 1:22-23)
A Bible footnote lists the prophecy as Isaiah 7:14, but I am going to quote verses 10-14 to explain the context: 1) Accordingly, king Ahaz was to receive a sign. Ahaz was the king of Judah from 745-715 BCE. It has nothing to do with events to take place hundreds of years after his death. 2) The King James Bible calls "young woman" "virgin" from a mistranslation of the Hebrew almah. According to Strong's Dictionary, almah is synonymous with damsel, maid or virgin. Young women were assumed to be virgins until they were married. This young woman, who was to call her firstborn Emmanuel, would have conceived him by a human father, not Jesus by a divine father.
1011 12 13 14 (Isaiah 7:10-14)
As another piece of evidence to how Matthew fabricated a fiction. Being Greek, he depended on the Septuagint which had many mistranslations from the Hebrew. The Septuagint uses parthenos (physical virgin) in place of almah.
4. When Joseph awoke he did as the angel commanded and accepted her for a wife. They had no intercourse until she bore Jesus. -That Joseph was commanded, suggests he felt obligated to obey.
Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him;
he took his wife,
25but knew her not until she had borne a son; and he called his name Jesus. (Matt. 1:22-25)
From the above we would think that Joseph and Mary would be in awe of their precocious son. Other verses suggest quite the opposite.
57And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, "A prophet is not without honor except in his own country and in his own house." (Matt. 13:57)
21And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for people were saying, "He is beside himself." (Mark 3:21)
4And Jesus said to them, "A prophet is not without honor, except in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house." (Mark 6:4)
The wise men
5. Jesus was born in Bethlehem where his parents lived. Wise men came to Jerusalem from the East looking for the king of Jews.
when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king,
behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying,
2"Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East, and have come to worship him. (Matt. 2:1-2)
According to Strong's Dictionary, "wise" translates to magos in Greek. By implication they were magicians or sorcerers, or in the colloquial we would call them astrologers. Astrologers in those days were considered learned men.
6. When Herod heard this, he was troubled and all Jerusalem with him. He asked his priests and scribes where the Christ was to be born. They told him that according to prophecy, it was to be in Bethlehem.
Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with
4and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.
5They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it is written by the prophet:
6'And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will govern my people Israel.'" (Matt. 2:3-6)
If Christ had come to save Jews, we might ponder why all Jerusalem would be troubled. We take note for later that Herod knew where Jesus was to be born. According to John 7:27 below, no one knew where he would come from.
27Yet we know where this man comes from; and when the Christ appears, no one will know where he comes from." (John 7:27)
Bible footnotes reference that prophecy from Micah 5:2.
Christian apologists typically read Micah out of context. Micah was a sixth-century prophet expressing his hopes for a Judean monarchy destroyed in 586 BCE. Bethlehem (1 Sam. 16:1) and Ephrathah (1 Sam. 17:12) was the home of David's father Jesse and thus of David. Micah was not predicting a future birthplace; he was describing the origins of the Davidic dynasty. The phrase, "whose origin is from of old, from ancient days," even reflects on a past event. The phrase, "from you shall come forth for me," expresses hope for a ruler in Micah's time, not over 500 years later.
7. Herod summoned the wise men to learn at what time the star appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem to find the child so he may come and worship him. They saw the star in the East before them and went to the place where the star was resting over. They went into the house, and when they saw the child they worshipped him, whereupon they offered gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Instead of returning to Herod, they departed home by a different route.
Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time
the star appeared;
8and he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, "Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him bring me word, that I too may come and worship him."
9When they had heard the king they went their way; and lo, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came to rest over the place where the child was.
10When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy;
11and going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.
12And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way. (Matt. 2:7-12)
How can the wise men come from the east and follow a star in the east? The answer is apparent if we look to the evening sky. Stars rise from the east and set in the west. Sirius is the brightest star in the heavens. It is followed by the constellation Orion which has three stars at its belt. As they set in the west, Sirius appears just above the horizon with the three stars in the belt of Orion above it in alignment with Sirius. The three gifts are yellowish in color, symbolizing the three stars. See Star of Bethlehem.
There are issues for which there is no reasonable answer if this story is to be taken at face value. 1) The light from a star could not possibly guide anyone with the pinpoint accuracy of a GPS satellite. Yet they went to Jerusalem to ask of his whereabouts and not directly to Bethlehem. 2) Herod's advisors knew in what town and about when, yet they couldn't track the star for themselves.
Slaughter of the Innocents
8. An angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and told him to flee to Egypt, for Herod is about to search for the child to destroy him. So he took the child and mother and departed to Egypt.
when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph
in a dream and said, "Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to
Egypt, and remain there till I tell you; for Herod is about to search
for the child, to destroy him."
14And he rose and took the child and his mother by night, and departed to Egypt, (Matt. 2:13-14)
In Biblespeak "angel" is a pun for "angle." This is the language of an astrologer. See Bible Astrology.
This was a common legendary motif of the period: the evil tyrant receiving an oracle of a coming king and then seeking to kill the newborn, but being thwarted somehow. Oedipus and Cypselos of Corinth, Krishna, Moses, Sargon, Cyrus, even Romulus and Remus, were just some the most famous examples.
9. He remained there until Herod died. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, "Out of Egypt I called by son."
15and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, "Out of Egypt have I called my son." (Matt. 2:15)
Bibles reference Hosea 11:1 as the source of the prophecy, but we are going to examine Hosea 11:1-2 to show the falsity of such an interpretation. Hosea was referring to Israel as his son and how they sacrificed to other gods and idols. He was referring to the Exodus from Egypt. Jesus was taken to Egypt.
2 , and burning incense to idols. (Hosea 11:1-2)
10. When Herod realized he was tricked, he ordered for all male children in Bethlehem and the surrounding region within two years old to be killed.
16Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, was in a furious rage, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time which he had ascertained from the wise men. (Matt. 2:16)
Historians fix the date of Herod's death at 4 BCE. If he was looking for children born within two years, that would place Jesus' birth around 6-4 BCE. We might wonder why Herod couldn't pin the date of Jesus' birth more precisely.
The account closely parallels when the life of baby Moses was under similar threat from Pharaoh. (See Moses' Sun Signs under Capricorn.) Herod was guilty of many monstrous crimes, including the killing of several members of his own family. The Jewish historian Josephus devoted himself to cataloging every detail of his hated subject, does not mention what would have been Herod's greatest crime. Plus, Herod did not take Scripture seriously. If he did, he would not have tried to change destiny. It never happened!
11. This event fulfilled a prophecy by Jeremiah.
was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:
18"A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they were no more." (Matt. 2:17-18)
Bible footnotes reference Jeremiah 31:15 but I will add verse 17 for understanding context. 1) Rama is a village several miles north of Jerusalem and far from Bethlehem which is five miles southwest of Jerusalem. 2) Ramah was a prisoner-of-war camp during the Babylonian exile. 3) It was Rachel who bore Joseph and Benjamin (Gen. 30:22, 35:18), whose kingdom of Israel descendents were captured and assimilated by the Assyrians. 3) The verse is written in the present tense of the time the event took place hundreds of years before Christ. 4) The weeping is for the Judeans about to be taken into exile and has nothing to do with the slaughter of children hundreds of years later. 5) Verse 17 voices hope for a return.
17 (Jer. 31:15, 17)
If Herod's priests knew exactly where and when the star appeared, it makes no sense that he would search the surrounding region looking for children two years and under.
12. When Herod died, an angel told Joseph to leave Egypt and to go Israel. But when they arrived in Israel, they found out that it was not safe because Herod's son Archelaus reigns there. So they went to Nazareth in the district of Galilee.
when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to
Joseph in Egypt, saying,
20"Rise, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child's life are dead."
21And he rose and took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel.
22But when he heard that Archelaus reigned over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee.
23And he went and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, "He shall be called a Nazarene." (Matt. 2:19-23)
To avoid Judea, they would have had to go northeast around the Dead Sea to get to Galilee. Archelaus did reign over Judea after the death of his father Herod, from 4 BCE to 6 CE. According to Josephus he was removed by Caesar because of his cruelty and tyranny. The territories were placed under the governorship of Quirinius.
Luke 1:5, 1:26-38, 2:1-24
1. Luke too dates the birth of Jesus in the days of Herod, but in the next chapter he relates events that took place after the death of Herod.
5In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah; and he had a wife of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. (Luke 1:5)
2. Gabriel visited Mary in Nazareth, a city in Galilee. She was a virgin engaged to marry Joseph, a descendant of David.
the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee
27to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. (Luke 1:26-27)
3. Gabriel told her God has found favor with her. She will conceive a son whom she shall call Jesus. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever.
he came to her and said, "Hail, O favored one, the Lord is with you!"
29But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be.
30And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.
31And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.
32He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David,
33and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end."(Luke 1:28-33)
4. Mary was confused because she had no husband.
34And Mary said to the angel, "How shall this be, since I have no husband?" (Luke 1:34)
Up to this point a soon to be married Mary would not have reason to ask that question. It was contrived by Luke.
5. Gabriel informed her that the Holy Spirit will come upon her and the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.
35And the angel said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.(Luke 1:34-35)
In Matthew, an angel visited Joseph in a dream. In Luke's scenario we might wonder what Joseph would have thought in the real world if his future wife told him she was pregnant by the Holy Spirit.
6. Mary was related to Elizabeth who was of Levitical descent (Luke 1:5).
behold, your kinswoman Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a
son; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren.
37For with God nothing will be impossible."
38And Mary said, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word." And the angel departed from her. (Luke 1:36-38)
Christians who think Jesus' genealogy traces through Mary might wonder how her lineage can trace back to David if she is a Levite.
7. Mary and Joseph lived in Nazareth and traveled to Bethlehem just before Jesus' birth to register for a universal tax census decreed by Augustus when Quirinius was governor of Syria.
those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world
should be enrolled.
2This was the first enrollment, when Quirinius was governor of Syria.
3And all went to be enrolled, each to his own city.
4And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David,
5to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.
6And while they were there, the time came for her to be delivered.
7And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. (Luke 2:1-7)
There was no need for Mary, now late in her term, to go to Bethlehem because she was of Levitical descent (Luke 1:5, 27, 36).
When Herod died in 4 BCE, his kingdom was split between his two sons; Herod Antipas ruled Galilee until 39 CE and Archelaus ruled Judea until 6 CE. Quirinius became governor of Syria with authority over Judea in 6 CE when the province was taken from Archelaus. Thus, there was a ten year difference between Herod's death and the beginning of Quirinius' governorship and the census. Apologists suggest Quirinius had an earlier governorship, but there are no records of it.
There was a local census in Judea in 6 CE at the beginning of Quirinius' term. But it did not affect Galilee under Antipas. The first universal census wasn't conducted until 74 CE by Vespasian and Titus. Roman censuses cared nothing for genealogies; they were based on property ownership for tax purposes. Augustus did invoke a new tax on inheritances, but it only affected Roman citizens. Something of the magnitude of a worldwide census would not likely have escaped the historians of that time. Conclusion: Luke contrived the census to place strong emphasis on Jesus' Davidic genealogy. The script from Micah 5:2 had to fit into the nativity.
8. An angel came to shepherds in the field, telling them the good news that a savior, Christ the Lord, was born on this day in the city of David (Bethlehem).
in that region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over
their flock by night.
9And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear.
10And the angel said to them, "Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people;
11for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:8-11)
The description of shepherds in the field suggests to many Christians that Jesus was born in the spring. Considering all the other errors, it's a weak assertion.
9. You will find a babe in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.
this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in
swaddling cloths and lying in a manger."
13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
14"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!" (Luke 2:12-14)
The "swaddling cloths" was supposed to be prophecied by Solomon. Never mind that Solomon was writing about himself.
5 (Wisdom of Solomon 7:3-5)
The so-called prophecy that supports the manger comes from Isaiah. Crib translates to ebus, meaning mange or stall. Isaiah was talking about Israel.
10. When the angels left, the shepherds went to Bethlehem to see for themselves. There they found Mary and Joseph and the babe lying in a manger. They made known what they had been told concerning the child and left praising God.
the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one
another, "Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has
happened, which the Lord has made known to us."
16And they went with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.
17And when they saw it they made known the saying which had been told them concerning this child;
18and all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.
19But Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart.
20And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. (Luke 2:15-20)
2 Samuel 7:8 provided the godly inspiration to work the visiting shepherds into the narrative. The problem is, it is about David.
8(2 Sam. 7:8)
Conclusion: Luke borrowed the shepherd and manger motifs from the above sources and called them prophecies come true. They have nothing to do with Jesus.
Circumcision and Purification
11. He was circumcised at the end of eight days and given the name Jesus, as prescribed by the angel.
21And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. (Luke 2:21)
12. Jesus was brought to Jerusalem and purified according to the Law of Moses.
when the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses,
they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord
23(as it is written in the law of the Lord, "Every male that opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord")
24and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord, "a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons." (Luke 2:22-24)
According to the purification laws below, a woman is unclean for seven days after bearing a child. Something is not quite right when the Mary and Jesus go through the purification process when both are supposed to be free of sin.
to the people of Israel, If a woman conceives, and bears a male child,
then she shall be unclean seven days; as at the time of her
menstruation, she shall be unclean.
3And on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised.
4Then she shall continue for thirty-three days in the blood of her purifying; she shall not touch any hallowed thing, nor come into the sanctuary, until the days of her purifying are completed. (Lev. 12:2-4)
when the days of her purifying are completed, whether for a son or for a
daughter, she shall bring to the priest at the door of the tent of
meeting a lamb a year old for a burnt offering, and a young pigeon or a
turtledove for a sin offering,
7and he shall offer it before the LORD, and make atonement for her; then she shall be clean from the flow of her blood. This is the law for her who bears a child, either male or female. (Lev. 12:6-8)
Bibles footnote Exodus 13, 2 & 12 for Luke 2: 23, but Luke misquoted and misinterpreted them. First, it is not every male, but only first-born. Second, the association with animals shows that this has to do with child sacrifice. It was to redeem God for bringing them out of Egypt, not to redeem for Adam's sin.
1"Consecrate to me all the first-born; whatever is the first to open the womb among the people of Israel, both of man and of beast, is mine." (Ex. 13:2)2
14 (Ex. 13:11-13)
If Herod was out to kill children two years and younger as Matthew suggests, it would have been suicidal for Mary to bring Jesus to a temple in Jerusalem.
Americans believe virgin birth, a recent survey on how widely Americans accept this legend as truth.