Myths, Misconceptions And Misinformation About Christmas
Let’s begin with an explanation about cultures in the Middle East that most in the West seem to be unaware of. Two thousand years ago–and even today–what we call the Middle East was populated largely by people who identified themselves as being part of a tribe, not of a mega-society of the type many of us are familiar with today.
Tribal values are much different from those of mega-societies. The most obvious is that tribes battle each other frequently, violently and often to the death, even to extermination. Violence is a way of life as tribes vie for dominance in a region. Within each tribe families contend for status as leading families. Leading families gain the most favours. And wealth.
When the great Prophet of Islam–himself a tribal leader who led his followers into many battles–died, two parts of his family formed their own separate religious groups, each with its own leader. These two Muslim groups today are known as Sunnis and Shi’ites. Even today the two battle each other–often to the death as we see from Sunni-dominated Islamic State–rather than coming together as one religion.
Middle Eastern language groups tend to speak in what we might think of as metaphors. Speech was and is peppered with comparisons, what we in the West would consider to be flowery language. Read a translation of the speeches of Osama bin Laden and you might think he spoke in poetry all the time.
Information was, two millennia ago and is often today, conveyed in these languages by metaphor, even to the extent of including little stories. Today we might call some of that kind of story a parable. Jesus of Nazareth was known for his parables, but they would have been very common in his day.
Keep this in mind when thinking about Christmas, Jesus and the whole concept of the celebration. Some parts of the story were intended to be understood as metaphor, not as fact.
Jesus was a Jew for his entire life. He was not the founder of Christianity. That would be better attributed to (St.) Paul. He disputed corrupt Jewish leaders, not the principles of his religion.
Nowhere in the Bible does it say that his mother Mary was a virgin. Nowhere. That was an invention of the later Christian church. What the Bible does say is that Mary’s mother, (St.) Anne, was born of Immaculate Conception. That means that Anne was not born with the burden of Original Sin (Adam, Eve and the apple story that supposedly has followed all of Adam’s descendents until today, if you believe the Old Testament). Immaculate Conception has to do with freedom from sin from birth, nothing to do with virginity.
The Bible does not say that Mary and Joseph were not married. In those days a young unmarried woman who got pregnant would have been stoned to death–tribal law. Even today it is common for a young woman (Mary would have been about 13 or 14) in the Middle East to be married to an older man who can support her. Young women who were old enough to procreate were often married as soon as possible. At the time of our story Joseph may well have been in his early 30s.
By the way, Joseph (the carpenter) would have been a stone mason, not a worker with wood. In Aramaic and ancient Hebrew the word for the two trades was the same. There was lots of work for stone masons building Roman cities (in this case Sepphoris), not much work for a wood worker in a desert environment.
Jesus would have been Mary’s first born, but not her only child. It is highly likely that some of his male siblings were among his Disciples, though some question this. Joseph may not have had enough stone work for so many sons, but there was always work for fishermen. In an arid environment it was easier to catch fish from a lake than to grow veggies in your garden.
Mary and Joseph went to Bethlehem for the Roman census. Really? It is convenient for Christianity to claim that Jesus came from the family of David (conqueror of Goliath) which was the most prominent family in his tribe.
But which Bethlehem? Though it no longer exists today, there was a village called Bethlehem in Galilee 2000 years ago. Galilee was the area of northern Israel (of today) where Jesus grew up and where he did most of his preaching. How convenient to link the former village of Bethlehem with the modern day city of Bethlehem (David’s home town) which is close to Jerusalem.
When was Jesus of Nazareth born? Likely during the night of September 26-27, in the year 4 BCE. That was the year of the Roman census. December 25 was a convenient time for early Christians to celebrate the birth of Jesus during the time when they would have been persecuted by the Romans because the Romans were already celebrating their own Saturnalia on that date.
But the Bible does not state specifically the date of the birth of Jesus. No, but the date may be calculated by clear statements about his birth from other sources in the New Testament. Read about that here: https://www.scribd.com/document/45877440/When-Was-Jesus-Really-Born
Why would Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus on December 25 when they should be made aware that he was born on September 26-27? Hmmm. Maybe Christians should ask themselves why they spend so much money buying presents for themselves when their supposed role model, Jesus, was a poor man who disavowed wealth during his whole teaching career. In fact, he clearly stated that a rich man could never make it into heaven (an odd statement given the Judaism does not have a clear concept of heaven even today).
The birthplace of Jesus–a cave stable, not a wooden stable structure–would not have been visited by three kings. The Magi, if they came at all, would have been sages and astronomers and it would have taken months (maybe a year) before they arrived to see Jesus as a toddler.
The cave birthplace would have been warm from the body heat from the animals and, if necessary, they would have provided milk for the family.
Did King Herod really want to learn the location of the baby so that he could send troops to kill the child? This part of the story is so absurd that I do not feel the need to address it. Herod died shortly thereafter so it is highly unlikely he would fear a Jewish baby.
What about those shepherds? Sure enough. Farmers commonly kept sheep in an arid area so shepherds simply returning home on their nights off could have accounted for that gathering. How many shepherds would it take to make a cave crowded?
And the shining star in the east? Nope. If it existed at all it would have been in the west because the Magi supposedly came from the east (west was the Mediterranean Sea). People in that area in those days referred to directions differently than we do today. Even today a wind that blows to the east is called a west wind.
Why would the family of Jesus (necessarily that of the father, Joseph) have been forced to have birth in a cave? Inns and hotels would have been rare and overloaded with people needing to have their census records updated, so Joseph and Mary would have been forced to stay with relatives. The home would have been so crowded that Mary would have had more space to give birth (and more privacy) in the stable than in a crowded bedroom in the house above.
If the above is true, why would Christianity not have made these facts known? Religions are notorious for sticking with their interpretation of stories no matter what. Like political parties, they will twist facts out of shape just to maintain that what they said in the past is still correct.
Jesus of Nazareth is considered an important prophet in Judaism and a saint in Islam–he is mentioned by name in the Qur’an, his mother is mentioned twice. Jesus is a person of great importance to all Abrahamic religions.
Finally, did the birth of Jesus really mark the birth of the Son of God? In the Bible Jesus never says he is the Son of God. What he does say to Pilate (Easter story) who asks that question is, so to speak, that is just a story that is going around.
Jesus said that each of us can find God within ourselves. That is the only place we should look for God. God is within each of us, we only need to look for him. That makes each of us children of God. Yup, that includes you.
Christian churches may disagree with some or all of the above. But even they can’t agree on what is true and real. When they feel the need, they make stuff up.
Jesus said not to do that. He positioned himself as a role model, not as a leader or as a deity to be worshipped. If you doubt, read the Bible. Don’t listen to religious leaders who make stuff up.
Bill Allin is the author of Turning it Around: Causes and Cures for Today’s Epidemic Social Problems and hundreds of articles that are available free on the internet. Yes, misunderstanding of the Jesus story and abuses that result from it is a social problem.
Learn more at http://billallin.com