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My personal musings about anything that gets on my radar screen--heavily dominated by politics.
Cover story of this week's Time Magazine: "Secrets of the Nativity."
Cover story of this week's Newsweek Magazine: "The Birth of Jesus."
This seemed a little TOO coincidental to me, so I bothered to read the Newsweek article (I couldn't get to the Time article because, to be honest, it isn't worth subscribing).
And the point of the story? To cast a suspicious eye on the story of the virgin Birth, the Star of Bethlehem, and many other aspects of the birth of Christ, as told in the Bible.
First, to deal with some of the people Jon Meacham quotes as "experts". Working back from the end of the article, he quotes from Elaine Pagels, a "professor of religion at Princeton and the best-selling author of "The Gnostic Gospels". . . From that description, you might infer that Ms Pagels is merely a historian with a specialty in religions. But a quick Google search of Ms Pagels reveals a slightly different type of scholar:
[from an October, 2003 PBS interview] Ms. Pagels: I realized that conventional views of Christian faith that I'd heard when I was growing up were simply made up -- and I realized that many parts of the story of the early Christian movement had been left out.
And further, from the same interview:
Do you think that belief in Jesus as God has been overemphasized in Christianity?
Ms. PAGELS: I think it has. Most people think that if you're talking -- if you and I are talking about religion, we're talking about, "Do you believe in God?" "Do you believe in Jesus as the son of God?" It's not all about what you believe. It's about what values we share. It's about what commitments we have to the sacredness of life, for example.
So right off, Meacham is quoting as a source and expert someone who has a history of being, at best, skeptical of traditional Christianity, if not completely hostile to it. So who else does he talk to?
How about Raymond E. Brown, a "distinguished scholar and Roman Catholic Priest who taught at Union Theological Seminary." Do his credentials hold up?
[from the American Catholic]
Brown, a Sulpician priest, was Auburn Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Biblical Studies at Union Theological Seminary, New York. He was twice appointed a member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, by Pope Paul VI in 1972 and by Pope John Paul II in 1996. He wrote extensively on the Bible
Okay, I'll grant Fr. Brown his bona fides. Anyone else?
No. Sure, there are a handful of others quoted for various purposes in the text, but they do nothing to move the argument forward. For instance, one John P Meier notes that Jesus himself did not refer to his birth in his teachings. Not exactly groundbreaking, that one, but perhaps it does serve to place a little more doubt on the accuracy of the Nativity story. Never mind that Jesus does, on more than one occasion, claim his mantle of "savior and redeemer" and refers to God and God alone as "father."
One other source widely quoted in this article is the 2nd century A.D. Roman author Celsus. Among his highly credible contributions to the article:
As startling as the allegation is for many, it dates from at least the second century, and maybe as early as Jesus' lifetime. "It was Jesus himself who fabricated the story that he had been born of a virgin," Celsus wrote in A.D. 180. "In fact, however, his mother was a poor country woman who earned her living by spinning. She had been driven out by her carpenter-husband when she was convicted of adultery with a soldier named Panthera. She then wandered about and secretly gave birth to Jesus. Later, because he was poor, he hired himself out in Egypt where he became adept in magical powers. Puffed up by these, he claimed for himself the title of God."
I'm not sure what that 1800 year-old quote does for the real debate here, considering the strong history of Roman openness to Christianity.
So why write this article? In my opinion, having read it a couple times, Meacham is trying to, in a very public way, use dubious research and history to reduce this central tenet of Christianity to the status of myth--on a par with tales such as Hercules' birth when Zeus got a little randy with a mortal woman.
It may be the first in what I think we should expect is a long string of efforts by the MSM to discredit Christians--and all people of faith--as simple, dull-witted, incurious people. Having acknowledged the importance of this voting bloc in the last election, it is now time to make them ashamed of themselves for coming out to vote in numbers.
As I acknowledged earlier, I did not read the Time article. If anyone out there has, I'd welcome a little insight into it. I'll admit, I'm pretty much expecting a parallel sort of work.