Tuesday, June 29, 2010

297: Christmas

Luke 2-3
"While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn." - Luke 2:6-7

The Christmas story in Luke is pretty much completely different from Matthew's account.

Caesar is taking a census, so Mary and Joseph go to Bethlehem to register (because Joseph is from the house of David). While they are there to register, Mary has Jesus and puts him in the manger because there is no room in the inn. Nowhere does this happen in Matthew.

Next, some shepherds nearby are visited by angels, who tell them that Jesus has been born and that they should go visit him. There are no Magi in Luke. More importantly, there is no Herod (hence no subsequent escape to Egypt). Isn't Herod's pursuit, and Jesus's escape to Egypt, a pretty big part of Jesus's life? Why would Luke simply leave this out (other than it didn't actually happen, or he's not an expert on Jesus's life)?

In fact, there is not just omissions, there are contradictions. After Jesus is circumcised, Mary and Joseph return directly to Nazareth. This is contradicted by Matthew's assertion that they went directly from Bethlehem to Egypt after Joseph was warned by an angel, in a dream, to flee. Only after Herod dies are they told that they can return to Israel.

The Christmas story I've always heard seems to be a mashing together of Matthew and Luke (e.g. the magi and the shepherds are usually both in the nativity scene). This is interesting, because some of Matthew and Luke's claims are mutually exclusive. I guess if the events don't contradict then they must be true, so they're all included.

Luke then gives us one small story from the childhood of Jesus (better than the nothing we got out of Matthew). Luke tells us that every year Jesus's parents went to Jerusalem for passover. When Jesus is twelve years old, he and his parents make the trip to Jerusalem. On the way back to Nazareth, however, Jesus stays behind in Jerusalem. His parents head home without figuring out that they're missing Jesus. In fact, they don't realize that they've lost him till they've traveled an entire day.

After one day's travel back to Jerusalem, and three days searching, they find Jesus in the temple. When they confront him and ask them why he's treated his parent's so badly (breaking a commandment?), he says that they should have known he would be in his father's house (i.e. the temple). For some reason they don't know what the hell he's talking about. Don't they know he's the son of God?

Chapter 3 is all about John's ministry, and his arrest. This is all very similar to Matthew except for the reason John was arrested. Matthew claims that he was arrested because Herod thought he was raised from the dead. Luke says that he was arrested because he said bad things about Herod's sister in law.

Luke then goes back in time and says that when all the people were being baptized, Jesus was also baptized. We are told that Jesus was about 30 when he began his ministry. Then Luke says, "He was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph", and goes on to give the entire lineage of Joseph (back to Adam). I'm still not sure why this is necessary (Matthew did it too). Especially when Luke himself is implying that Jesus is not, in fact, the son of Joseph. Why do we need the lineage of the adoptive father of Jesus?

I have good news (in my opinion, of course) on a story I talked about while ago.

The supreme court recently heard a case about a Christian campus group insisting that they bar gays from their organization (thus breaking their public school's policy). This was part of a "statement of faith". So, of course, atheists and people from other religions would also be barred from the organization. In a 5-4 ruling, the court ruled to uphold the lower court's ruling that the organization would have to change their policy in order to exist.

Of course, I'm not sure why you would want to join a group where you're clearly unwelcome. But it's good to see that, simply because you're a religious organization, that you're not exempt from non-discrimination policies.


  1. 2 quick comments. I'll give my usual verse-by-verse detailed ones later when I have the time.

    1. You are badly mistaken about why Herod had John arrested. The reason is the same in all 3 Gospels, and comes from Mark's. (However, Josephus, in his Antiquities, gives a different reason.)

    Mark 6:17-18: '[17] For Herod himself had given orders to have John arrested, and he had him bound and put in prison. He did this because of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, whom he had married. [18] For John had been saying to Herod, "It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife."'

    Matt 14:3-4. '[3] Now Herod had arrested John and bound him and put him in prison because of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, [4] for John had been saying to him: "It is not lawful for you to have her." '

    Luke 3:19-20. "[19] But when John rebuked Herod the tetrarch because of Herodias, his brother's wife, and all the other evil things he had done, [20] Herod added this to them all: He locked John up in prison."

    In abbreviating Mark's account, Luke does seem to have garbled the story a little, as Mark and Matthew say that (a) Herod married his sister-in-law, (b) John then complained about this marriage to Herod (whether this criticism was directed more at Herod or Herodias, if either, is not said), (c) which made Herodias angry, (d) so she got her new husband to lock him up, whereas Luke doesn't actually mention that Herod married Herodias or that it was Herodias who was angry at John and persuaded her husband to incarcerate him. Instead, Luke makes it seem as if Herod got angry because John criticized him, for some reason, because of his brother's wife. Luke also adds, "and all the other evil things he had done," perhaps inspired by Josephus. But still, it is obvious that Luke's version is almost entirely based on Mark's and has Mark's reasoning behind it.

    2. Didn't you notice that the genealogy in Luke 3 is radically different from that in Matthew 1?! Go back and look at it again - it's hilarious how little they overlap after David.

  2. Sadly that is not so in the UK. A Catholic adoption agency was given exemption from equality legislation, meaning it did not have to consider gay parents if it chose not to, excluding them purely based on their sexual orientation. Quite why a gay couple would choose to adopt from such an agency is beyond me. But the High Court in the UK thinks it's ok to discriminate against gays based on your own random theist ideals. Check out the story for more details at http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/catholic-group-granted-gay-adoption-exemption-1923222.html. It's depressing stuff.

  3. Luke 2

    Luke 2:1. there's no record of "the whole world" (known to the Romans) under any Caesar, let alone Augustus.

    Luke 2:2. Quirinius was governor of Syria a decade after Herod died.

    Luke 2:3-4. There is no known record of a census that required people to go to the town of their ancestors, nor would it make sense to conduct such a census. The purpose of a census is to determine how much tax one can collect from people who live in a location, not people who could live very far away and wouldn't be around to be paying tax. And how could it work practically to require people to return to the place where their ancestor of a thousand years' earlier lived? (David lived around 1,000 BCE.) This whole section is just an attempt by Luke to invent a reason why Jesus was born in Bethlehem (which Luke assumed to be true based on prophecy) when the records he was working with (Mark's Gospel) has him coming from Nazareth. Matthew, of course, also tried to do the same thing, in a completely different way, which is Luke's ad Matthew's accounts are entirely different and even contradictory.

    Luke 2:5-7. Why did Joseph bring his very pregnant wife with him for the trip? Only his presence would've been required.

    Luke 2:7. Note that they tried to stay at an inn (but ended up in a manger) because he didn't have relatives living there. So it's not like he had lived in Bethlehem recently. Moreover, this runs counter to Matthew, where the magi find the family in a house.

    Luke 2:21-23. The holy family goes to Jerusalem on the 8th day after Jesus was born, and then back to Galilee, whereas Matthew has the whole bit with the slaughter of the innocents and the flight to Egypt. (How did Luke overlook those incidents?)

    Luke 2:50. Why didn't his family understand? Weren't Mary paying attention when Gabriel told her all about Jesus in Luke 1:31-33,35?

    Luke 3

    Luke 3:1. Luke, unlike Mark, knows that Herod was a terarch, not a king. Matthew knew, too, but forgot to correct Mark consistently.



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