Is It Really Christmas?

Image by Michelle Scott from Pixabay 

Jeremiah 31:7-14 
Psalm 84

Ephesians 1:3-19 
Matthew 2:1-12 

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem village, Judah territory— this was during Herod’s kingship—a band of scholars arrived in Jerusalem from the EastPhillips

The word after indicates more than a few days, or even weeks. These scholars were likely Persians (modern Iran) who studied all kinds of texts as well as astrology to gain an understanding of the “whole” world. When people in the Greek world—which included Israel—spoke of the East, they were generally meaning Persia.

In Luke 2:21-24, we read about Jesus being presented at the Temple in Jerusalem 8 days after his birth. It is unlikely that the scholars could have been at Herod’s at that time, or even close to that time. If they saw the star on the night of Jesus’ birth, they would have needed weeks to put together a caravan. I hate to burst the bubble, but they may not have used camels. Horses and donkeys would have done the job. But camels could have been used.

The time of Jesus’ birth is most likely April to June. Again, Luke has the clue. And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at nightNIV The shepherds had taken the flocks up the mountains to the fresh grass found in the spring after the hard winter of rains—sorry, no snow, usually. If it had been December, the sheep would have been herded into rock enclosures at night just outside the town.

While the flocks feeding is not clear proof, it should be noted that the spring months were considered the time of Jesus’ birth for the first two or three centuries. Only in the Fourth Century was December 25 officially determined as the birth date. There is much debate about the Roman celebration of Saturnalia and the Norsemen’s celebration of solstice in late December. Harriet Beecher Stowe has a character in her 1878 novel Poganuc People explain why his family doesn’t observe Christmas: “Nobody knows when Christ was born, and there is nothing in the Bible to tell us when to keep Christmas.” So….

No matter when it occurred, the scholars would have traveled six months or more to get to Jerusalem, not counting the prep time. They couldn’t wait for the invention of jet planes. That would mean they were talking to Herod when Jesus was crawling around their house in Nazareth.

I know, the star could have appeared months before the birth. But consider the following.

On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped himNIV I marked his mother because it seems strange to leave Joseph out of this event. Surely Matthew knew every creche would have old Joe there.

The Greek is specific that the scholars visited a house. It could have been a house in Bethlehem where a room was often attached for the animals to enter at night. They had a built-in manger in that room where grain was placed for them.

That, however, does not explain the use of the Greek word for child. The word used is paidion, generally meaning a child of either gender. Brephos is generally used for a baby or infant and is the word found in the Luke reading in v. 12. The Greek usage was like our American usage where baby means a child up to crawling stage (4-6 months), certainly not used by age one or more.

If you haven’t noticed by now, there is a lot of speculation and confusion regarding the birth of Jesus.

And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another routeNIV You will remember that the scholars went to Herod to find out where the king was to be found. He told them to go to Bethlehem and then report directly to him when the boy was found.

But…the star returned and lead them to a house, presumably not in Bethlehem. There are two reasons to assume they ended up in Nazareth, OK, three reasons. One is the necessity of the star to lead them after they were told where to go. Second was that Joseph and Mary would have traveled back home after presenting Jesus in the Temple. Third was the fact that the scholars took another route to go east.

If you look at a map and find Bethlehem, you will notice first that it is about five miles south of Jerusalem and secondly that there are no roads going east from there. They could go south to eventually cross over to the coast road or they could go through Jerusalem. Either way, a caravan of the size they needed to make the trip would have been spotted by Herod’s spies.

From Nazareth, they just go east, and they are out of Israel before Herod learns of it. That explains why Herod ordered the execution of all male children under the age of two.

When Herod saw that he had been fooled by the wise men he was furiously angry. He issued orders, and killed all the male children of two years and under in Bethlehem and the surrounding district—basing his calculation on his careful questioning of the wise men. Phillips

This quote does mess with some of what I’ve already written. If only the boys in and around were to be killed, why did Jesus have to be hidden in Egypt? He would have been safe in Nazareth. And wouldn’t it be harder for Joseph to lead them past Herod’s troops to get To Egypt?

Back to the speculation and confusion. The Persians, Chinese, and others have records of every solar and celestial event over the past four thousand years. No one has any idea about the star that matches anything we know either historically or scientifically. Remember that the star is seen briefly in the East and reappears months later over Israel, AND moves to hover over one house. The best most Christians and come up with is… it’s a miracle.

There is no record of a census anywhere around the time of Jesus birth, and we have great records of Rome from those centuries.

Any mass killing of thousands of male children would have made all the newspapers and TV reports. More importantly, it would have been reported in Rome where Augustus would have exploded and Herod would have died a couple of years earlier than he actually did.

Those three “events” really make it difficult to defend the Gospel accounts of the birth of Jesus. In fact, non-Christians love to make the most of this muddle.

On the other hand, the earliest church Fathers—those who replaced the Apostles—agree that Genesis 10-11 is a prophecy of the coming of the Messiah. The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he to whom it belongs shall come and the obedience of the nations shall be his.He will tether his donkey to a vine, his colt to the choicest branch; he will wash his garments in wine, his robes in the blood of grapesNIV

As they saw it, Herod and his sons were neither of the line of Judah nor even Jewish, so it was the proper time for the Messiah to claim his rightful throne.

What should we Christians believe? The basic facts are not in dispute. Jesus is a real person who was born about 6 BCE. Mary carried him for nine months until his birth, even as she was accused by her neighbors of being a ____, fill in the blank for women giving birth before marriage. (She could have been stoned to death.) Joseph was the hero in those early years by accepting her version of the pregnancy and marrying a fallen woman. We will never know what Joseph really thought, but he did show courage.

There is really nothing else from Matthew and Luke that matters.

Jesus, born of woman, is the Son of God.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

The Ambassador’s Daughter

Jenoff has a number of books to her credit, many of them set in the WWII period. I have not read any of her others but was drawn to this one because it was set in Paris at the end of the Great War.

The lead character is Margot Rosenthal, daughter of Professor Rosenthal. The Professor had been invited for a year of teaching at Cambridge in 1914. When war broke out, he and Margot could not get home to Berlin. When the armistice ended the killing, the Professor received an urgent message from his brother that he wanted him in Paris to represent their interests and the interest of Germany.

Margot, multi-lingual and well educated, made friends with a Polish woman, Krysia who encouraged her to use her skills to bring peace to war-torn Europe. When the German delegates arrived, Margot became enamored with the navel captain, Georg.

There are several layers to this story, with Margot in all of them like the victim in a spider web. With all her education, she had trouble thinking of herself as a capable person. At age 20, living in the confines of social norms of the day, she could not see her way out of becoming someone’s wife.

This is a coming of age story, a love story, a slice of history story, and a societal changing story. The writing is excellent, even with Margot doubting herself at every turn.

Jenoff credits this book as the prequel to her earlier books, The Kommandant’s Girl and The Diplomat’s Wife.

Mike Lawrence