Tuesday, December 27, 2005

After Christmas: Where Do We Go From Here?

Since we have just celebrated Christmas, I thought it might be appropriate to return just briefly to my initial string of posts discussing some of the problems in the Bible. (I am curious to know how Ernie views this kind of problem, and why apparent deceitfulness on the part of at least one of two biblical authors should not be condemned by Christians.)

The difficulty this time is a discrepancy between Matthew and Luke, the only two gospels that contain accounts of Jesus' birth. Specifically, read Matthew 2:13-23 and Luke 2:21-40.

Briefly, Matthew says that the magi visited Mary, Joseph and Jesus in Bethlehem, and that immediately after that, Joseph takes Mary and Jesus to Egypt to escape Herod's slaughter, where they stay for some time. They eventually return to Israel, but when they hear that Archelaus is reigning over Judea, they decided to go to Galilee, ending up in Nazareth. Matthew does not say that Nazareth was the hometown of Joseph and Mary; rather it appears the choice to go there was due to the political situation and in order to fulfill a (nonexistent) prophecy.

Luke, on the other hand, has Mary and Joseph bringing Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem where they meet Simeon. After completing whatever was necessary there, they returned to Nazareth, which Luke describes as their own city.

Even ignoring the differences in reason for ending up in Nazareth, the two accounts are plainly inconsistent regarding how and when they arrived there. Matthew, as usual, has arranged things so as to fulfill as many prophecies as he can, even prophecies that do not exist. (These false fulfillments were the subject of one of my first posts.)

In reviewing these two accounts, I noticed a couple of other oddities. For instance, in Matthew 2:19-20, an angel tells Joseph in a dream that he can take Mary and Jesus back to Israel. But when he gets there and learns of the situation there, he gets afraid and is warned, this time by God, to go somewhere else. It seems like God and his angel could have gotten by with just one dream here and saved Joseph and his family some trouble.

Matthew tells the story of the magi, who are from the east, and who say they saw Jesus' star in the east. I have to wonder how they were able to tell, from a star to the east of the east, that a baby was born in the west. Maybe there is something to astrology after all.

By the way, if you are following along with my discussion with Ernie, note that I did post my latest contribution earlier this evening, which you can read below.

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