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The Historical Evidence For the Virgin Birth, The Angel Choirs, and the Bethlehem Star
[Actually, there is no biblical evidence of any singing angels — at Jesus’ birth annunciation or anywhere else. Ironically, that article doesn’t mention anything about singing angels either. The rest of the facts presented in the article, though, are scientifically and historically provable.]
Extra-Biblical Evidence For The Bethlehem Birthplace of Christ
“A tiny fraction of vertebrate species have ever been seen reproducing through parthenogenesis, the fatherless birth of offspring in which the embryo develops without fertilization by a male.“
[In other words, science proves that virgin births have happened to mammals.]
Five Common Christmas Misconceptions
1. There Was a Star the Night Jesus Was Born
“Scholars offer various explanations for the account of a Christmas ‘star.’”
The Christmas Star
Review of Rick Larson’s “The Star of Bethlehem“
The Star of Bethlehem
“Matthew appears to describe the star as moving, as leading the magi to Jesus… [but natural astronomical events such as stellar conjunctions and] nova do not move [across the sky — at least not over the course of days or weeks]… A comet[, though,] has the advantage of a tail that can appear to be pointing in a direction which may have guided the magi [and, over a period of days or weeks] a comet [does] move [across the sky]… [But] comets are cyclical with a predictable periodicity… If the star of Bethlehem were a comet, we would most likely have observed it again and been able to extrapolate back to the time of Christ to see if there is a match. Unfortunately, the only one to come close is Halley’s comet which appeared in 12 B.C., a date that is impossibly early [for Christ’s birth]. One could always claim that the comet was one with a very long periodicity or one that has since disappeared from our solar system. This is certainly possible, but it does not really help the discussion. One might as well appeal to a purely supernatural occurrence that cannot be verified scientifically… [Throughout the Scriptures, however, w]hen God was imminently present, a bright light was associated with His presence… What better way to announce the coming of Jesus, God’s Son, the second Person of the Trinity than by a special light that is not some mere improbable astronomical event, rather an expression of the Shekinah glory, God’s divine presence among men?”
2. There Were Three Wise Men
[ASND thanks Wintery Knight for that image.]
“Matthew’s brief description of the visit by the magi [ Mat 2:1-2 ]… [reports] these events take place after Jesus’ birth.”
“Matthew tells us the Magi presented their gifts to Jesus at his ‘home‘ [ Mat 2:11 , which ‘home‘ was almost certainly not in Bethlehem] where he was born. [Thus] the Magi [may have come] to Jesus not in Bethlehem, but after the family had returned to Nazareth.”
[Other essays cited on this page — especially in #3 below — evidentially support the idea that the location Jesus’ birth was not a stable or a cave (as is commonly taught) but the home of one of Joseph’s relatives in Bethlehem. That means the “home” visited by the Magi might well have been the same home in which Jesus was born — especially given the fact that in Jesus’ time — as is common even today — most women were attended for several days or weeks after giving birth by other women, usually relatives. The two “homes” of Jesus described in Matthew 2, therefore (see #3 below for considerable detail on those two “homes“), were very likely one and the same home and it was probably his birth place in Bethlehem.]
“[Christian t]radition pegs [the Magi’s] number at three. One is hard-pressed, however, to find that detail in Matthew 2. [The number t]hree, which dates back at least to Origen (AD 185–254), comes from ascribing the number of gifts (gold, frankincense, myrrh) to the number of men bringing them… [Regarding their arrival at Jesus’ “home” (Mat 2:11 ; not a cave or a barn)], Matthew 2:1 impl[ies] a time gap. Word reached King Herod [of their arrival in Jerusalem], who assembled his advisers, consulted the magoi [Magi], and dismissed them to Bethlehem ( Mat 2:4–9 ). It would be nearly impossible to fit these proceedings in the gap between the birth and the angelic appearance to the shepherds that night ( Luke 2:7–8 )… Further… [u]pon their arrival ( Mat 2:9–11 ), Matthew describes Jesus as a ‘child,’ not a ‘baby‘ as in Luke 2:12 … Finally, Herod decrees the death of boys 2 years old or younger, ‘according to the time ascertained‘ from the magoi [Magi] ( Mat 2:16 ). The magoi [Magi, therefore, probably] weren’t there that first [birth] night but sometime later. The combined Matthew/Luke sequence [of Jesus’ first months of life] runs: Jesus’s birth, angels/shepherds, circumcision, presentation at the temple, visit by the magoi [Magi], flight to Egypt, and resettlement in Nazareth (where the storylines reunite — Matthew 2:23 and Luke 2:39 ).
[A useful graphical timeline of those events is available here .]
3. There Was No Room for Them in the Inn
“Neither the Greek term ‘kataluma‘ in Luke 2:7 [usually translated as ‘inn’] nor even its Vulgate rendering ‘diversorium‘ necessarily means an ‘inn‘ as evident from the use of the same term in Luke 22:11 referring to an upper room. Moreover, there would have been no need for an inn… because Joseph had to return to his own town according to the decree, so he must have had family — if not his own house — in Bethlehem where he could stay… [T]here would [also not] have been a throng of census registrants descending upon Bethlehem because subjects did not need to register on a specific day… [T]he clue that Luke considered Bethlehem to be Joseph’s own town for census purposes tells us that the ‘kataluma‘ presupposed in the narrative is unlikely to have been a commercial inn. In accordance with contemporary norms of hospitality, Luke’s audience would have expected Joseph’s relatives in his own town to have provided a place to stay for him and Mary if he had no house of his own… [Joseph’s &] Mary’s accommodations did not have room for giving birth [which often involves multiple attendants to the mother], so the birth had to occur elsewhere, in a place that included a manger. This detail does not mean, as it would to Western Europeans, that Mary gave birth to Jesus in a stable or barn, because mangers were also found in the main rooms of first-century Judean village houses. Typically, the main room was divided into two sections at different elevations separated by about a meter. The animals were housed in the lower section, the people slept in the upper section, and mangers were located between them. These village houses, moreover, could have a small room [i.e. a ‘kataluma‘], either on the roof or on the side, which accommodated family members and guests… From the literary sources [available from the time of Jesus] and archaeological excavations [from that time] one finds that most houses [in Israel at that time] had at least two storeys… The upper floors were not always full storeys; sometimes they consisted of single rooms on a roof or an attic with its entrance from a ladder inside the house. These attics could be used for a member of the household or as a guest room… The most frequent reason [for the extra ‘storeys‘] was the expansion of a family; a newly married son customarily brought his wife to live in the family house. The father would set aside a room within the house for the couple or build a marital house on the roof… [T]he placement of the baby in a manger pointed out that this was hardly unusual because farmhouses often kept animals in the same part of the house where the people slept… Th[e] familiar translation [of ‘kataluma‘ as ‘inn‘] rests on a series of questionable exegetical decisions [and] many scholars recognize that this translation is unsatisfactory and [they] favor something more general such as ‘guest room‘ [as it is correctly translated in Luke 22:11 ]… A common exegetical pitfall plaguing the interpretation of ‘kataluma‘ in Luke 2:7 is that interpreters begin by being too specific as to its meaning… To ascertain the sense of ‘kataluma‘ it is important to consider its derivation, the word’s usage in Hellenistic Greek texts, how it was used in the Septuagint (LXX) to render the Hebrew, its NT usage, and ancient translations of it into Syriac, Coptic, and Latin at Luke 2:7. All of this evidence bears out the conclusion that ‘kataluma‘ was a generic term with the sense of ‘place to stay‘ or ‘accommodations‘… Due to its broad sense, the term has referred to various kinds of accommodations, whose particular identification can only be determined by examining the specific [cultural] context in which the term was used… At both Luke 22:11 and its parallel at Mark 14:14 , Jesus instructs his disciples to ask a man carrying a jar in Jerusalem about accommodations for eating the Passover… Translations usually render this instance of ‘kataluma‘ rather specifically as ‘guest room‘, but the generality of ‘kataluma‘ is evident from the further specification in both Luke and Mark that the place to stay is a ‘large, furnished upper room‘… Moreover, when Luke wanted to be specific about an inn, as in the parable of the Good Samaritan, the author used a precise [Greek] term, ‘pandocheíon‘ [which actually means ‘inn‘] ( Luke 10:34 )… [Correctly translating Luke 2:7, therefore,] means that Jesus had to be born and laid in a manger because the place where Joseph and Mary were staying [most likely an ‘upper room‘ in the ‘home‘ of one of Joseph’s relatives] did not have space for Jesus [in addition to both his parents and quite likely a frequent female attendant to the new mother Mary]. Luke’s point is not so much any inhospitality extended to Joseph and Mary [and certainly not by an innkeeper since no inn was even involved] but rather that their [‘upper room‘] was too small to accommodate [a family and frequent caregivers]… [ Luke 2:7 , therefore] does not say that Joseph had no place to stay in Bethlehem. To the contrary, it states that Joseph did have a place to stay (the ‘kataluma‘ after all), though it was inadequate to accommodate the newborn[, his family and his frequent attendants]… Accordingly, the element of Luke’s narrative that the place where Joseph and Mary were staying had no room to accommodate [an entire family, attendants and] a manger suggests to the reader that they had been staying in one of these small rooms built on top of, or onto the side of, a village family home, and that delivery [of baby Jesus] itself took place in the larger, main room of the house… [T]he detail that Joseph brought his betrothed to Bethlehem (v. 5) indicates that their apartment was a marital chamber built for the newly married men of the family.”
—Stephen C. Carlson (Ph.D., New Testament, Duke University)
4. Jesus Was Born in a Barn or Stable
[See #3 above.]
5. Jesus Was Born on December 25
[Actually, despite what Dr. Kruger suggests in his essay (which we have been affirming through the first four of his cited “misconceptions“), this fifth “misconception” is not a misconception after all (though for centuries it was thought to have been a misconception). It turns out that there is, in fact, considerable, credible, ante-Nicene evidence of winter soltice-oriented Christmas celebrations by Christians. This is not meaningless, trivial information. It is, instead, historically significant information. Below are several articles written by credentialed experts (or citing credentialed experts) explaining why that is true. Like many scholarly examinations of historical events, the articles do not all agree on every point (some sources, for example, are Jewish and reveal distinctively Jewish interpretations, some sources are Roman Catholic and reveal distinctively Roman Catholic interpretations, etc.). Regardless of the interpretive differences, though, the obvious similarities in the reporting of now well-known historical facts (many of which have been lost or ignored for centuries) reveal a distinctively real (i.e. fact-based) set of circumstances which support an actual late-December birth date for Jesus of Nazareth.]
How December 25 Became Christmas
“[A]s many scholars recognize… the first mention of a date for Christmas (c. 200) and the earliest celebrations that we know about (c. 250–300) come in a period [long before] Christians were… borrowing heavily from pagan traditions… [In fact,] in the first few centuries C.E. [or, as most Christians notate, “A.D.”], the persecuted Christian minority was greatly concerned with distancing itself from the larger, public pagan religious observances, such as sacrifices, games and holidays. This was still true as late as the violent persecutions of the Christians conducted by the Roman emperor Diocletian between 303 and 312 C.E [A.D.]. This would change only after Constantine converted to Christianity [i.e. the post-Nicene period]. From the mid-fourth century on, we do find Christians deliberately adapting and Christianizing pagan festivals… Thus, it seems unlikely that the date was simply selected to correspond with pagan solar festivals. The December 25 feast seems to have existed before 312 — before Constantine [i.e. ante-Nicea] and his conversion… Strange as it may seem, the key to dating Jesus’ [actual] birth may lie in the dating of Jesus’ [actual] death at Passover… [because, for at least a couple centuries after Jesus’ death,] Jesus was believed to have been conceived and crucified on the same day of the year… Around 200 C.E. [A.D.] Tertullian of Carthage reported that… the day of [Christ’s] crucifixion according to the Gospel of John [ch. 18-20]… in the year Jesus died was equivalent to March 25 in the Roman (solar) calendar… March 25th is, of course, nine months before December 25th.”
—Andrew McGowan, Ph.D., Dean and President, Berkeley Divinity School, Yale University
Calculating Christmas: The Story Behind December 25
“Many Christians think that Christians celebrate Christ’s birth on December 25th because the church fathers appropriated the date of a pagan festival… But… the choice of December 25th is [actually] the result of attempts among the earliest Christians to figure out the date of Jesus’ birth based on calendrical calculations that had nothing to do with pagan festivals… Rather, the pagan festival of the “Birth of the Unconquered Sun” instituted by the Roman Emperor Aurelian on 25 December 274, was almost certainly an attempt to create a pagan alternative to a date that was already of some significance to Roman Christians. Thus the ‘pagan origins of Christmas‘ is a myth without historical substance… It is true that the first evidence of Christians celebrating December 25th as the date of the Lord’s nativity comes from Rome some years after Aurelian, in A.D. 336, but there is evidence from both the Greek East and the Latin West that Christians attempted to figure out the date of Christ’s birth long before they began to celebrate it liturgically… [A] belief that seems to have been widespread in Judaism at the time of Christ, but which, as it is nowhere taught in the Bible, has completely fallen from the awareness of Christians [is t]he idea… of the ‘integral age‘ of the great Jewish prophets: the idea that the prophets of Israel died on the same dates as their birth or conception. This notion is a key factor in understanding how some early Christians came to believe that December 25th is the date of Christ’s birth. The early Christians applied this [‘integral age’] idea to Jesus, so that March 25th [was] not only the supposed date… of Christ’s death, but of his conception or birth as well… Add nine months [of Mary’s pregnancy] to March 25th and you get December 25th… [which] arose entirely from the efforts of early Latin Christians to determine the historical date of Christ’s death. And the pagan feast which the Emperor Aurelian instituted on that date in the year 274 was… almost certainly an attempt to give a pagan significance to a date already of importance to Roman Christians.“
—William J. Tighe, Ph.D. (History, Cambridge University)
Was Jesus Was Born on December 25th After All?
“When the angel Gabriel informed Mary she would bear the Christ, he also dropped the news that her relative Elizabeth was (miraculously) six months pregnant. ‘And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren.‘ (Luke 1:36)… This gives us a path to determining the date of Jesus’ birth. John the Baptist was six months older than his cousin Jesus. Therefore, if we can figure out when John the Baptist was born, we can know when Jesus was born… [Christian] tradition placed [and historian] Thomas J. Talley similarly calculated… John’s conception around the Autumn Equinox. That puts [John’s] birth at the summer solstice… The birth of Jesus, therefore, was six months later, at the winter solstice… [and] the winter solstice under the Julian calendar [which was used at the time] was December 25… [In addition to all of that, Mat 2:1 reports that the Magi came “after Jesus was born“, and] Matthew tells us the Magi presented their gifts to Jesus at his ‘home‘ [ Mat 2:11 , which ‘home‘ was almost certainly not in Bethlehem] where he was born. [Thus] the Magi [may have come] to Jesus not in Bethlehem, but after the family had returned to Nazareth [see bracketed, orange note on this hypothesis in #3 above]. The Holy Family [might have] returned to Nazareth after presenting Jesus at the temple 40 days after his birth. It’s a three day journey back to Nazareth from Jerusalem. That gives us 43 days. (Hold that number). Now, since Joseph and the Magi had been warned to steer clear of Herod, we know that Herod was still alive. Yet we also know from the Jewish historian Josephus that Herod was on his last legs and would die shortly before Passover… [It is most likely] the magi arrived after the presentation of the Christ-child at the Temple forty days following Jesus’ birth, but before Herod left Jerusalem and traveled to the mineral springs at Callirrhoe for treatment… Andrew Steinman [Ph.D., Near Eastern Studies] calculated there were 62 days between Herod falling ill and the next Passover. So, adding the 62 days to the 43 days means there are at a maximum 105 days between Jesus’ birth and the Passover following Herod’s death. That [year’s] Passover was calculated to be April 8. What comes 105 days before April 8? December 25th.”
[Much of the historical data and hermeneutical decisions responsible for the conclusions made in that article were published in a 2016 issue of the peer-reviewed Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society.]
4 Christmas Carols with Bad Theology
1. “We Three Kings”
2. “O Holy Night”
3. “Mary, Did You Know?”
4. “Away In a Manger”
[Many Christmas carols also proclaim that the angels who announced the birth of Christ to shepherds did so by “singing”. That is simply false. See the bracketed, orange note dealing with that fact in the very first citation on this page.]
Why We Say “Noel” at Christmas
“The French word nöel traces back to Latin and the word natalis, which means ‘birthday’ or ‘relating to birth.’ It’s also the root of English words like neonatal… ‘Nöels’ also began to be used to refer to Christmas-related songs, similar to ‘carols’ in English.”
9 Things You Should Know About Christmas Traditions
1. Christmas trees
2. Christmas lights
3. Candy canes
4. Christmas cards
5. Christmas stockings
7. Christmas carols
8. Advent calendars
9. Christmas presents
What are the “12 days of Christmas”?
Is it a Sin to Celebrate Christmas?
What Does the X in Xmas Mean?
“Modern pop culture has turned Santa into a figure almost completely removed from his origins…
… and it’s time to go back to the beginning and remember the real Saint Nick.”
Who Was St. Nicholas?
Saint Nicholas – A Christian life lived, a story told
[No, ASND is intentionally not very nice to “Santa Claus” because “Santa Claus” has nothing whatsoever to do CHRISTmas.]
A Special CHRISTmas post.
[Yes, that was a hyperlink, waiting to be clicked.]
A Christmas Quiz