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What history really tells us about the birth of Jesus

What history really tells us about the birth of Jesus

The stories that we have heard and believed about Christmas are not entirely true neither are they false. It is a thin line that separates the two and highlights some other unknown facts that we all must know while we celebrate Christmas.

So there is a different aspect to our beliefs about the story of the birth of Jesus. Firstly, the real birthday of Jesus wasn’t December 25. The date we celebrate as the birthday of Jesus was adopted by the Christian church in the fourth century. Before this, people celebrated Christmas on different dates.

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The Inn

The story and account of Jesus’s birth have only been discussed in two out of the four gospels. Luke narrates the story of the angel Gabriel become visible to Mary, the couple’s voyage to Bethlehem and the coming of the shepherds. It narrates Mary’s famous song of praise (Magnificat), her trip to visit her cousin Elizabeth, her own manifestations on the events, angels and the well-known inn with no room.

The narration of the inn with “no room” is one of the widely misunderstood aspects of the Christmas legend. ACU scholar Stephen Carlson marks that the word “kataluma” ( translated as “inn”) means guest quarters. It is likely that Joseph and Mary resided with family but since the guest room was considerably small for childbirth, Mary gave birth in the central room of the house where animal managers could also be present.

Therefore, Luke 2:7 may be translated “she gave birth to her firstborn son, she swaddled him and lay him in the feeding trench because there was less space for them in their guest room.”

The wise men

Matthew’s gospel also narrates a similar story about Mary giving birth to her son but there is a different perspective to it. In this narration, the angel appears to Joseph and tells him that his fiancée Mary has conceived but he must still marry her as it is a part of God’s plan.

Where Luke has shepherds see the baby, as a symbol of Jesus’s value for ordinary folks, Matthew has magi (wise men) that come from the east and have bought Jesus royal gifts.  Probably there were no magi and neither were they, kings. In fact, there is no declaration of the magi’s number, so there could be two or 20 of them. The custom of three comes from the point about three gifts – gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

The Magi visit Jesus in a home (not an inn or stable) and they visit him as late as two years after his birth. Matthew 2:16 records King Herod’s commands to kill baby boys up to the age of two years on the basis of the report about Jesus’s age from the magi. This stoppage is why most Christian churches rejoice the visit of the magi on “Epiphany” or January 6.

Particularly not mentioned in the biblical accounts is Mary riding a donkey and animals clustered around the baby. Animals begin to come into view in nativity art in the fourth century AD, perhaps because biblical analysts at the time used Isaiah 3 in their anti-Jewish polemic to assert that animals understood the importance of Jesus in a way that Jews could not.

Today when Christians gather around a crib they continue a tradition that originated in the 12th century with Francis of Assisi.  He included a crib and animals into the church just so all those worshippings could feel themselves to be a part of the story. Thus a famous pietistic tradition was born. 

Hence, there are some speculations or rather keen observations that do not focus on medaling with any views or beliefs. But just a healthy viewpoint.

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