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Jesus was not born in a stable, says theologian

Rev Ian Paul writes on his blog that birth of Christ story is based on a misreading of the New Testament

A 15th century nativity scene by Paolo Schiavo. Photograph: Philadelphia Museum of Art/Corbis

The birth of Christ may be the most famous Bible story of all, reprised annually in nativity scenes across the world each Christmas: Jesus was born in a stable, because there was no room at the inn. But evangelical scholar Rev Ian Paul has argued that the entire story may be based on a misreading of the New Testament, reviving an ancient theory that Jesus was not, in fact, born in a stable.

“I am sorry to spoil your preparations for Christmas before the Christmas lights have even gone up,” Rev Paul, a theologian and former Dean of Studies at St John’s theological college, Nottingham, has written on his personal blog. “But Jesus wasn’t born in a stable, and, curiously, the New Testament hardly even hints that this might have been the case.”

Paul argues that the Greek word, kataluma, usually translated as “Inn” was in fact used for a reception room in a private house – the same term is used to describe the “upper room” where Jesus and his disciples ate the last supper. An entirely different word, pandocheion, is used to describe an “Inn” or any other place where strangers are welcomed.

Even if there were an inn in Bethlehem, Paul argues, Joseph and Mary would not have been staying there. The only reason for them to travel to Bethlehem for the census was because he had family there and if he did, the customs of first-century Palestine required him to stay with relatives and not with strangers.

In that context, the kataluma where he stayed would not have been an Inn, but a guest room in the house of the family where Joseph and Mary were staying. That could very well have been full with other relatives who had arrived before them.

“The actual design of Palestinian homes (even to the present day) makes sense of the whole story,” Paul writes. “Most families would live in a single-room house, with a lower compartment for animals to be brought in at night, and either a room at the back for visitors, or space on the roof. The family living area would usually have hollows in the ground, filled with straw, in the living area, where the animals would feed.”

So Jesus would not have been born in a detached stable, but in the lower floor of a peasant house, where the animals were kept.

This interpretation is hardly new. The earliest scholar to put it forward was the Spaniard Francisco Sánchez de las Brozas, in 1584. He was denounced to the inquisition for his pains and reprimanded by them, though not actually burned, tortured or imprisoned as might have happened to heretics.

Since then the theory has repeatedly been raised by New Testament greek scholars aware that kataluma does not actually mean “Inn”. Paul himself first wrote about the misinterpretation of the word in 2013, and re-posted his theory this year “because I have been struck again how often the message of Christmas is summed up as ‘Jesus was born in a stable’, both within and beyond the church.”

For Paul, the significance of his reinterpretation of the story is that it undercuts the idea that what made Jesus remarkable was that he was born to humble, outcast parents. “In the Christmas story, Jesus is not sad and lonely, some distance away in the manger, needing our sympathy. He is in the midst of the family, and all the visiting relations, right in the thick of it and demanding our attention,” he writes.

“This should fundamentally change our approach to enacting and preaching on the nativity.”

Paul says that what is extraordinary about the birth of Jesus is that it shows God shifting from the divine to the human. If that happened in a crowded family home, the message is preserved. If it happened in an isolated stable, “that just shows that the descent was from a respected human to a disrespected human,” he argues.

Source: TheGuardian

Christmas is over, but…

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The Nativity (scientifically accurate version)

The nativity is the classic Christmas story still told and performed in schools all over the UK. However, to reflect that we live in a modern, secular society, a new and more scientifically accurate update of the story is needed

Evidence suggests that, despite modern interpretations, most of those present at the original nativity were actually adults. Photograph: Murdo Macleod for the Guardian

The nativity is the traditional Christmas story of the birth of Jesus Christ. It is still regularly performed by schoolchildren in the UK, despite the apparent war on Christmas. However, it being an obviously religious story, it’s not very scientifically accurate. But just because you’re a fan of science it shouldn’t mean you miss out on the Christmas spirit. So if you are a keen scientist or science enthusiast who wants to embrace the true meaning of Christmas without compromising your rational world-view, here is the nativity story, updated and edited for scientific accuracy.

Enjoy!

The Nativity (scientifically accurate version)

According to many scholars, the events of the nativity took place around 7 BC. Given that “BC” stands for “before Christ [was born]” and the nativity is the story of the birth of Christ, this means that Christ was born around 7 years before Christ was born.

This is actually one of the least illogical things to happen during the birth of Christ.

The Virgin Mary was betrothed to the carpenter Joseph. However, the Virgin Mary was pregnant with the Messiah. This occurred when Mary was visited by a heavenly angel named Gabriel who told her that she would become pregnant with a child who would be called Jesus, which is something of a self-fulfilling prediction; if an angel appeared and told you that an all-powerful God wanted your baby to be named Jesus, you’d probably go along with it. I recently met a child named “Audi”, so it doesn’t take much to influence this decision.

According to the Bible, Mary asked the angel how she could become pregnant when she was a virgin, and the angel Gabriel said to Mary that the Holy Spirit would “come upon you”.

In fairness, that’s surprisingly close for a book written by old celibate men 20 centuries ago.

Mary then told Joseph what had happened and that she was now pregnant. Scientifically, there are three possible explanations here:

  • The thing with the Angel and Holy Ghost is genuinely what happened.
  • Mary was actually some form of hitherto unknown human-plant or human-Komodo Dragon hybrid, capable of undergoing self-fertilisation.
  • Mary wasn’t a virgin and had fallen pregnant after sleeping with someone who wasn’t her partner Joseph, and came up with this fantastical story to explain it to Joseph rather than admit she’d been unfaithful, and Joseph subsequently believed her.

In truth, any one of these options would still count as a miracle, so the story is still intact.

Mary and Joseph then had to travel from Galilee, where they lived, to Bethlehem, where they needed to be. Reasons for why they had to make this journey remain unclear. Some say it was because of a tax, some say it was for a census, others say it never actually happened so why give a damn? But let’s ignore those humourless killjoys, and continue with this scientific critique of the nativity.

The distance between Galilee and Bethlehem is around 80 miles, according to Google maps, which takes around 2 days to travel on foot. Of course, Mary was heavily pregnant so her average speed would have been reduced. Of course, this is an optimistic estimate. Mary and Joseph wouldn’t have had google maps. They would have had to use some primitive equivalent like Streetmap or the AA Route Planner.

Upon arriving in Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph found that there were no rooms available. This casts doubt on the reason for their being there that they had to pay a tax. If everyone were in Bethlehem for a census then, judging by past observations, around 1% of the people there would be practising Jedi. As unlikely as it sounds, this would make for an even more exciting nativity. And of course, Anakin Skywalker was also the result of a virgin birth.

Mary and Joseph were unable to find somewhere to stay, which posed something of an issue because around this point Mary went into labour. They eventually ended up in a stable, surrounded by domesticated farm animals, which violates any number of health and safety protocols. When the baby was born, they swathed him in cloth and placed him in a manger.

For those who don’t know, a manger is somewhere where food for farm animals is kept. Ergo, Mary and Joseph placed their newborn baby, believed to be the saviour of mankind, in a container that animals eat out of, in front of the animals that usually eat out of it. At this point you have to wonder whether God almighty, in all his infinite wisdom, had chosen poorly when selecting potential parents.

While this happened, an angel appeared to some shepherds on a mountain near Bethlehem and told them a baby had been born and they should go and worship it. We can’t prove that this didn’t happen, but it’s probably worth mentioning that sparsely populated mountainous regions in the Middle East are ideal locations for growing opium, and shepherding can be a very boring job.

Also, three wise men from an unspecified Eastern country saw an unspecified bright object in the sky that led them to Bethlehem, where they somehow predicted they’d meet a messiah, as you do. They took gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Frankincense and myrrh are two fragrances used in aromatherapy and funerals respectively.

So, basically, three men followed an unspecified bright object over hundreds of miles of desert in order to meet a baby, about whom all they knew was that it would have a nose, might need money and would eventually die. For this they were considered “wise men”. This goes to show that wisdom is clearly a subjective term.

As everyone gathered around the stable, a brightly lit host of angels appeared above it, starting a tradition of needlessly gaudy brightly lit decorations on domestic dwellings at Christmas that endures to this day. It is also traditional to have highly educated wise people at births too, but they’re known as “medical professionals”.

The end.

Dean Burnett ruins many things with science

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Cat Among the Pigeons

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‘Wife of Jesus’ reference in Coptic 4th Century script

The text reveals early Christians’ concerns about sex and marriage, Harvard scholar Karen King says

An ancient scrap of papyrus makes explicit reference to Jesus having a wife, according to a renowned expert in Christian history.

Harvard divinity professor Karen King unveiled the 4th-Century Coptic script at a conference in Rome.

She said researchers had identified the words “Jesus said to them, ‘my wife'”, which might refer to Mary Magdalene.

Christian tradition holds that Jesus did not marry – but Ms King said in early years it was subject to debate.

The provocative find could spark debate over celibacy and the role of women within Christianity, she added.

But the announcement sparked scepticism from some theologians.

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