Monday, December 7, 2009

Why We Shouldn't Get Our Theology From the Nativity Scene

We're probably all in the thick of the hustle and bustle of Christmas by now. One of my favorite topics this time of year is to poke a few jabs at the historical inaccuracies of the traditional manger scene. Ben Witherington III had a great commentary on this issue today on his BeliefNet blog.

"Star-Studded Wise Men: Rethinking the Christmas Story"

Here are some of Witherington's provocative analysis regarding the traditional manger scene:
The story very clearly tells us that they do not arrive in Bethlehem until after Jesus was born, indeed possibly well after because we are told that Herod was concerned with infants up to two years of age, and we also have the story of the parents taking Jesus to the Temple on the eight day, the proper day for circumcision. In other words, they seem to have stayed in Bethlehem after the birth of the child for a while.

So enough with the barn scenes with both shepherds and wise men present simultaneously, and this word also just in--- there is no mention of any animals being present or very near the Christ child when he was born or thereafter. This whole barn, manger, animals tableau we owe largely to St. Francis of Assisi who came up with the idea. You will remember he loved all creatures great and small.

And one more thing--- there is probably no 'inn' in Luke 2.7-- the correct translation of the Greek word there is 'guest room' not inn. Its the very word Luke uses elewhere to speak of the room where the last supper transpired. He uses a very different word for Inn, in the parable of the Good Samaritan. So enough with the sermons entitled "No Room in the Inn" all about the world making no room for Jesus. Jesus was likely born in a relative's home in the back of the house where they kept the prized beast of burden, hence the manger or corn crib. And it is likely they continued to stay with their relatives there when the Magi showed up.
For me, the more I have learned about the historical background of the first century, the more I have come to appreciate Jesus as a real historical person, not an over-sentimentalized myth.

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