I’m having a terrific time with my undergraduate course this semester, a first-year seminar that I call “Jesus in Scholarship and Film.” Last month I posted my syllabus for the class on the blog. This past week was the first time we’ve done any film in the class, and it was very interesting.

For the class I had the students do a writing assignment, in which they compared the infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke in detail (Mark and John, of course, don’t *have* anything about Jesus’ birth). They were to find both similarities and differences, and then they were to decide if any of the differences were irreconcilable. This was to set up what they were going to see in the film clips that I was set to show.

The similarities are pretty interesting if you come up with a full list: Jesus is born in Bethlehem; his mother Mary is a virgin; after his birth he is visited by a group of men (shepherds in Luke; wise men in Matthew) who have been alerted to his birth by a heavenly sign (an angel in Luke; a miraculous star on Matthew); eventually he is taken to Nazareth where is where he is raised.

The differences are even more interesting, as I pointed out in a post from last December. Of course some of the differences are simply … differences, not “contradictions.” As an obvious example, the fact that Luke mentions the shepherds but not the magi (wise men) and that Matthew mentions the magi but not the shepherds is not a contradiction. If both groups visited the infant Jesus, then Luke mentioned one group and Matthew the other: no contradiction.


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