Yesterday I gave Part 1 of my Newsweek article on Christmas, published in 2012.  Here is Part 2!


Most modern readers who are not already familiar with these stories [in the apocryphal Gospels such as the Proto-Gospel of James] tend to find them far-fetched.   That’s almost always the case with miraculous accounts that we have never heard before – they sound implausible and “obviously” made up, as legends and fabrications.   Rarely do we have the same reaction to familiar stories known from childhood that are also spectacularly miraculous, and that probably sound just as bizarre to outsiders who hear them for the first time.  Are the stories about Jesus’ birth that are in the New Testament any less far-fetched?

It depends whom you ask.   This past November, Pope Benedict XVI published his third book on the life of Jesus, this one focusing on the New Testament accounts of his birth, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives.  Before his ascent to the head of the Catholic Church, Joseph Ratzinger was best known as a leading German theologian, and he does bring his training to bear on the narratives of Jesus’ birth.   But this is not a scholarly book written by a scholar to advance the purposes of scholarship.  Instead, as one would expect, it is chiefly a pious reflection highly suitable to the faithful members of the Pope’s very large flock.   As such it will be widely welcomed – not only among Catholics but also, one might suspect, among conservative Christians of whatever stripe, for its affirmation of the Gospel accounts not only as theologically valuable but also as historically accurate.

The book will not be as well cherished, however, among those who…

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