Sunday, December 25, 2016

Five Myths About the Nativity

Not to play the role of Scrooge, but as Christians around the world celebrate today the supposed birth of Jesus - including falsely pious Christofascists and hate filled evangelicals who betrayed the Gospel message they pretend to honor by voting for Donald Trump - it is necessary to remember that much of the day's celebrations are based on myths that have little or no historic basis. Even the day December 25th was picked by Pope Julius I in the 4th century most likely to in an effort to adopt and absorb the traditions of the pagan Saturnalia festival and/or other pagan festivals held in December around the time of the Winter Solstice.    More troubling yet to the Christmas story is the fact that the human genome project has proven that Adam and Eve never existed as historic persons, so the myth of the Fall due to Adam and Eve's sin is purely fabricated. No Fall, then no need for a savior. I find it disturbing in the year 2017 that so many base their lives on and justify their hatreds based on myths and legends. A column in the Washington Post by a historian reminds us of myths surrounding Christmas.  Here are highlights:
[T]he story of the birth of Jesus is more complicated than many people think. Between the difficulty in reconciling different versions of the tale and the 2,000 years of popular interpretation and culture layered on top of them, much of what people commonly know about the story of Jesus’ birth, from the date to where it took place, is wildly different from what the Gospels have to say. MYTH NO. 1Jesus was born on Dec. 25.The overwhelming majority of Christians mark the birth of Jesus on Dec. 25. But there’s no biblical reason to celebrate Christmas on this particular day.
According to the Gospel of Luke, shepherds were watching their flocks at night at the time Jesus was born. This detail — the only clue in the Gospels about the timing of the birth — suggests that Jesus’ birthday was not in the winter, as shepherds would have been watching their flocks only during the lambing season in the spring. In the colder months, the sheep probably would have been corralled.
As late as the 3rd century, Christians didn’t celebrate the birth of Jesus. The earliest discussion of the birthday is found in the 3rd-century writings of Clement of Alexandria, who raises seven potential dates, none of which correspond to Dec. 25. The first record of a celebration of the birth of Jesus on Dec. 25 comes from a 4th-century edition of a Roman almanac known as the Philokalia. Alongside the deaths of martyrs, it notes that on Dec. 25, “Christ was born in Bethlehem of Judea.”
Some have argued that the date of Jesus’ birth was selected to supplant pagan festivals that were held at the same time. But while Pope Julius I set the date of Christmas (for Western Christians) in the 4th century, Christians did not deliberately adapt pagan rituals until the 7th century, when Pope Gregory the Great instructed bishops to celebrate saints’ feast days on the days of pagan festivals.
MYTH NO. 2Jesus was born in a stable.As depicted in Nativity creches and Renaissance paintings such as Giotto di Bondone’s Nativity scenes and Sandro Botticelli’s “The Mystical Nativity,” Jesus was born in a simple stable. Generations of pastors and priests have used this notion as evidence that Jesus had a humble birth. As a theological argument, that’s true. But this particular detail of the story isn’t in the Bible.
The more likely interpretation, as New Testament scholar Stephen Carlson has argued, is that Joseph and Mary intended to stay with his relatives in Bethlehem and that there wasn’t enough room in the guest quarters — typically located in the upper level of a house — to accommodate an imminent delivery. So, Mary had to give birth elsewhere, most likely in the main room of the house, on the lower floor. There’s no mention of animals being present, but the detail of the manger seems to be what has led to the image of a stable — and many live Nativity scenes featuring farm animals. MYTH NO. 3‘Manger’ is another word for ‘stable.’When people talk about a manger scene, or Jesus being born in a manger, or a star shining down on the manger, it’s not clear they always understand that “manger” refers not to a barn but to Jesus’ makeshift crib. . . . In 1st-century Judean houses, mangers were found both outside and inside the home, sometimes separating an interior space for people from a space where animals were kept. Thus, in the Nativity story, Mary may have had one at her disposal, despite not being in the immediate vicinity of a stable.
MYTH NO. 5Three wise men attended Jesus’ birth.According to the Christmas creche on display in St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City, the best-dressed attendees at the birth of Jesus were the three wise men. Often mistaken for kings — think of the Christmas carol “We Three Kings” — these visitors from the east are described in the Gospel of Matthew with the Greek word “magoi,” or wise men. Nothing about the story’s language suggests that these visitors were monarchs or even that they were three in number. People commonly think there were three because of the gifts enumerated in the Gospel of Matthew: We are told that they brought gold, frankincense and myrrh, but there could as easily have been two, four or eight wise men as three.
There’s also no indication that the wise men visited Jesus as He lay in the manger, as is often shown on Christmas cards. When King Herod anxiously meets with them in Matthew 2:16, he thinks his reign might be threatened by the child they’ve come to visit, so he orders all boys 2 years old and younger slain. Thus Jesus could have been as old as 2 — a walking, talking toddler — when the wise men arrived.

I fully support Christmas as a time for family and loved ones and for charity for towards others, but this behavior can - and should - fully exist without reliance on myths.  To me, it is telling that those who bloviate the most about Christmas the most and shriek about the "war on Christmas" are the Christofascists and evangelicals who in their daily lives do not reflect Jesus' purported values but instead resemble the Pharisees that the Gospels say he so harshly condemned. Better to stay home away from church and do an act of kindness to someone less fortunate than go to church and be filled with hate and bigotry throughout the year. 

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