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The Birth of Jesus in Luke

As I indicated yesterday, I’m doing a series of posts leading up to Christmas, dealing with the accounts of Jesus’ birth in the New Testament.   Here’s a discussion of the one most familiar to people, found in the Gospel of Luke.


As I’ve indicated, it is only Matthew and Luke that tell the tales of the infancy narrative, and the annual “Christmas Pageant” that so many of us grew up seeing is in fact a conflation of the two accounts, making one mega-account out of two that are so different up and down the line. And so, the Annunciation to Mary is in Luke, the dream of Joseph in Matthew; the shepherds are in Luke, the wise men in Matthew; the trip to Bethlehem is in Luke, the Flight to Egypt is in Matthew, and so forth and so on. You can compare them yourself, up and down the line, and see the differences.

In this post I want to focus on Luke’s account. Then I will look at Matthew’s. And then I will compare the two in a couple of key points in order to show that the differences between them are not simply different aspects of the same story – the accounts in fact are at odds with one another in rather important ways.

Luke’s account begins with the announcement of the birth of John the Baptist to Elizabeth and Zechariah, followed by the Annunciation of Gabriel to Mary that she will conceive without having sex, through the Holy Spirit.  Mary visits Elizabeth, breaks into song, John the Baptist is born, and Zechariah speaks a prophecy.   All of that is in chapter 1, and a lot could be said about it (and *has* been said about it!).  But for the purposes of these posts, I’m more interested in what happens in ch. 2.

Starting in 2:1 we’re told that…

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The Birth of Jesus in Matthew
What Can We Know about Jesus’ Birth?



  1. Avatar
    AstaKask  December 10, 2018

    Are we counting only all-male line ancestors here? Because otherwise Joseph would have some 8000 ancestors to choose from.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 11, 2018

      I”d be interested in a genealogist’s view of this. Wouldn’t *most* Jews be from the line of David one way or the other (1000 years later)? I assume that the author must be speaking of strictly patrilinear descent.

      • Avatar
        AstaKask  December 11, 2018

        Yeah, and 8000 is the wrong number. I mixed up Luke and Matthew and got the number of generations wrong.

      • Avatar
        RSKICE  January 17, 2019

        I am a new to this forum and from Iceland and a Genealogist among other trades.
        The assumption that most if not all Jews would be from the line of David one way or the other 1000 years later. My answer is yes, it is very likely if not certain. I have of course not done any serious research on the subject. But if we look at the facts that are obvious to us, we can clearly come to that conclusion. Let me elaborate a bit.
        1. Jews were a very closed ethnic and religious group and still are. They lived in an area that geographically small i.e. Palestinia and close surroundings.
        2. It is hard to determine how many Jews were living in the region at the time of the so-called “census” according Lukas. Tactus says that there were about 600,000 Jews in Jerusalem at its fall in the year 70 CE. So, let’s just say that there were about one to two million Jews living in region.
        3. Now going back to my country Iceland. We are pretty much like the Jews a closed society. Most all 99.8 % from the same ethnic background. There is not much diversity. We are about 350.000 and all pretty much all related to each other. All ethnic Icelanders are descendants of the last catholic bishop in Iceland (Jón Arason) who was beheaded along with his two sons on the 7. of November 1550. For me personally he is my 13th ancestor. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J%C3%B3n_Arason)
        4. If we look at this from a mathematical and logical perspective. There are 30 generations in 1000 years. Now let’s say for the sake of this argument that David had 2 children that were fertile (he had 18+ children). This means that we are talking about 230 that equals to about 1.073 billion descendants. This means of course that everyone lived and was fertile and had two offspring that also lived and had offspring and so on. But this also means that every Jew should have gone to Bethlehem for the census. Especially when we take in to consideration the closed ethnic and religious group they are It should also be noted that they often married close relatives and still do. It not uncommon to find same great grandparents in the linage of today Rabbis.

        • Bart
          Bart  January 17, 2019

          Fascinating. Thanks. Two questions: (1) I didn’t understand your statement “This means that we are talking about 230 that equals to about 1.073 billion descendants.” 230 what? (2) what would the number of *patrilinear* males direclty related to David 1000 years later — ones who could trace their lineage through their father, grandfather, great-grandfather, etc, all males in direct line? Based on all the sons David actually did have.

          • Avatar
            RSKICE  January 17, 2019

            This was a copy / paste error. Should be “This means that we are talking about 2 to power of 30 equals about 1.073 billion descendants.” Sorry about that. I will answer question two later.

          • Avatar
            RSKICE  January 18, 2019

            The question about how many patrilinear males would be directly related to David 1000 years later? Well that would be a massive number. If we say David had six sons and all of them had one son. The number would be somewhere in the neighbourhood of 3.3 billion after 30 generation. So, every Jew at the time of Jesus birth could trace their family to the House of David (maybe that’s why there was no room in the inn 😊).
            People often don’t realize how related we are. Today all Jews can trace their family to David as they could do in antiquity. If they had the information. For example, I can trace my family to all the first settlers in Iceland and to the kings in Norway, Denmark, Ireland and so forth. Just for fun of it all Icelanders, the Faroese and people of Nordic origin in USA and Canada are related to Donald Trump whether they like it or not in the 20th-25th generation. All because his mother (Mary Anne MacLeod) is from Ireland her forefather whose name was Ljótur who had two sons whose name were Þorkell og Þormóður In Scottish manuscripts they are called Torquil og Tormod MacLeod (son of Leod).

          • Bart
            Bart  January 18, 2019

            Wow. Interesting. Thanks.

  2. Avatar
    Bamayorgo  December 10, 2018

    I like what Fr. O’Connor said, “the census is nonsense. Luke guessed and got it wrong.”
    Historical contradictions in the NT don’t phase me, nor do I feel like I, as a Catholic Christian, have to bend and shape it to refute the contradictions like most evangelicals.
    For us, it’s more than just the Bible, it’s Tradition too. If you only have the Bible, I can see why you’re so fierce to defend it.

    • Avatar
      godspell  December 11, 2018

      Well, call it a theory. An educated guess that wasn’t well-educated enough, and how could it be? It’s not like he could go to the library or use Google.

      We have all those things now, and more, and you constantly hear literate educated people talking all kinds of nonsense about fairly recent history–received truths that aren’t even remotely true. So we shouldn’t be surprised, or toss out the baby Jesus with the bathwater. Obviously if there was an adult Jesus there was a baby Jesus, and it’s not impossible somebody laid him in a manger once or twice, animals munching hay nearby, and there were stars overhead, and shepherds in the fields. Maybe there were even a few wise men around (there are never very many).

      We can treasure the story, know that’s exactly what it is, and understand the truth behind it that made it resonate over the centuries. And if that isn’t faith, what is?

      • Avatar
        TGeiger  December 14, 2018

        Saying that something was not impossible, is not the same as saying it happened. It is not impossible that Jesus was never near a manger at the time of his birth. Right? The wise men didn’t come to see an infant Jesus, so not sure how they even matter. The point is that the Bible is said to be the Word of God and infallible. Well the Word of God would be infallible (inherently?), but obviously the Bible is not.

        • Avatar
          godspell  December 18, 2018

          I don’t know how you got that I was saying that–I wasn’t. I was saying there was nothing terribly IMPROBABLE about it. It’s highly improbable the trip to Bethlehem of Judea took place. All the more since only Luke talks about it, and has many other elements in his nativity story that nobody else has. (But not the Wise Men, that was Matthew).

          But there’s nothing terribly improbable about laying a child in a manger when there’s no crib available and if there was a manger, there probably were farm animals around. (Incidentally, ‘manger’ is French, I don’t know what the word would be in Aramaic, or how they’d be designed).

          None of this is proof it happened, but nobody should feel like they’re flying in the face of reality to say it might have. As opposed to many other elements of the Nativity story, which require both a belief in the supernatural and an unwillingness to see that the two stories we have don’t agree with each other.

          Why the manger? Who came up with that? There’s nothing about that in Old Testament verses that are believed to prophecy the Messiah. Bethlehem, yes, virgin yes (because of a mistranslation), but there’s nothing that says the Messiah will be born in humble circumstances, laid in a feeding trough for animals.

          Don’t you think that did, in fact, sometimes happen with such poor people in such a rural setting?

          Maybe it’s just a reflection of the way these people saw Jesus–as a king who came from the humblest of places. A king who didn’t need thrones, or golden crowns.

          And is there not beauty in that? Is there not truth in it?

          Lincoln really was born in a log cabin. But there are many stories relating to his birth that are purest nonsense.

          He was still born in a log cabin. And there were animals nearby. And we can take joy in that. In how the great often spring from humble circumstances. And the truly great–those who are worthy of our reverence–don’t forget where they came from. Maybe Jesus did, in fact, tell people he was once laid in a manger as an infant. Maybe there’s where it came from.

          That’s all I was saying.

          • Avatar
            Clipse777  December 20, 2018

            It seems obvious that a picture of humility was what the writer was attempting to attract the reader to. It’s nothing new. The appeal to emotion/familiarity has always been a perfect merchandising tool to use on the masses. That doesn’t make it beautiful, true, or mean that someone should treasure the story.

            If our goal is truth (which it should always be) then emotional or familiar attraction should be recognized and countered during analysis. If those appeals did influence the conclusion in any way then the conclusion is fallacious and requires revisiting from a more objective position.

            //We can treasure the story, know that’s exactly what it is, and understand the truth behind it… and if that isn’t faith, what is?//

            First, “truth” is a clear presupposition in this case, especially considering the context of the post. What “truth behind it” is being referred to? Second, “faith” is the abandonment of reason, it’s not something to be proud of. There are thousands of “faiths”, one no less fallacious than the next. Neither emotion or faith are valid excuses for poor reasoning which is why we have designated fallacies for each.

            I feel forced to ask.. if sound reasoning isn’t the goal godspell, what is?

          • Avatar
            godspell  December 24, 2018

            Except the people who wrote these accounts were themselves part of the masses, not elites trying to manipulate them, so that argument doesn’t hold water. Christianity didn’t become a source of power and wealth until long after all the gospel authors were dead. And in fact there have always been Christians who not only came from humble origins, but remained humble. Or who came from wealth, and humbled themselves voluntarily.

            In recognizing the truth of one story, you don’t denigrate all the others from different faiths, often with very similar points to make. The differences matter, but so do the commonalities.

            Honestly, I don’t know who you think you’re talking to here. You seem to mainly be arguing with yourself.

            I don’t believe Jesus was God. I do believe he knew the truth better than most of his critics (or deniers) ever have.

          • Avatar
            Clipse777  December 25, 2018

            I don’t believe “elite” was ever deemed a requirement of an appeal to emotion so I’m afraid you’re up against the straw man there. It’s not an opponents burden to argue against a point that has somehow been conjured up and attributed..

            The point I’m making is;
            The stories were written.
            You’ve admitted to them having serious issues regarding historical authenticity- (“Well, call it a theory. An educated guess that wasn’t well-educated enough”).
            Then, attempted to fill in the blanks with conjecture- (“it’s not impossible somebody laid him in a manger once or twice, animals munching hay nearby, and there were stars overhead, and shepherds in the fields. Maybe there were even a few wise men around”)
            To eventually arrive at a “truth behind the story,” which has yet to be shared with the rest of us.
            All apparently in order to rationalize “faith”.

            -It could have maybe, possibly, kind of happened, therefor I have faith there’s truth to be found- is not sound reasoning.

            Humility and all other human qualities are irrelevant when determining likelihoods so I’m not sure why the appeal to emotion continues to occur.. unless determining likelihood isn’t the goal??

            What you’ve done though in large, and I have to say is a great example, is known as ad hoc rescue, or, ad hoc hypothesis.

            [Ad Hoc Rescue

            Description: Very often we desperately want to be right and hold on to certain beliefs, despite any evidence presented to the contrary. As a result, we begin to make up excuses as to why our belief could still be true, and is still true, despite the fact that we have no real evidence for what we are making up.

            Frieda: I just know that Raymond is just waiting to ask me out.
            Edna: He has been seeing Rose for three months now.
            Frieda: He is just seeing her to make me jealous.
            Edna: They’re engaged.
            Frieda: Well, that’s just his way of making sure I know about it.

            Ref. Logicallyfallacious.com]

          • Avatar
            godspell  December 29, 2018

            So who made up Lincoln being born in a log cabin?

            Probably the single most famous modern account of a great man coming from humble origins, and of course it really did happen, even though many of the supporting details were the result of posthumous mythologizing after a tragic martyrdom (that also really happened, and do you want to consider for a moment some of the nigh-supernatural elements introduced into that story, with uncertain veracity?).

            The rest of your post (which I lost track of, sorry to respond so late) is a lot of nonsense from somebody who studied logic and never really learned how to use it. Your objections are clearly emotional, not logical. You cover it up with a lot of rhetoric, but under the rhetoric is a clear dislike of the story itself, which makes objectivity impossible.

            I like the Nativity story, but believe most of it to be untrue. I can put my emotions aside and look at it objectively, see which parts might well have been true. The manger could be a fabrication, certainly. Whose fabrication, and to what end? You don’t know. Why does only Luke talk about it? You don’t know. What was the influence? You don’t know.

            In fact NONE of the mythological stories that supposedly gave rise to the Nativity of Jesus have a manger, or anything comparable, which only goes to show that probably none of those earlier stories had any influence on the story of Jesus. It is unusual, to say the least, to show a man who is supposed to be God depicted as having such a humble birth. So why, pray tell, couldn’t it be possible that his birth was, in fact, humble? And that Luke interwove things that were known about Jesus’ birth with things that were fabrications based around the need to prove he was Messiah, in spite of his humble origins?

            That is called an ‘argument.’ If I can find this thread later, I’ll see if you’ve managed to make one in response. 😉

          • Avatar
            Clipse777  December 30, 2018

            Stories of Abraham Lincoln are not evidence as to the historicity of the nativity narrative no matter how many times they’re repeated.

            There are many reasons why the writer might have chosen to portray a humble birth. As already stated prior to being written off by a grossly illogical strawman derailment, the most obvious and likely is the associative attraction that the target audience would have, and did have, and is still having as you are evidence of, with humble beginnings. It’s the same thing Rowling did with Potter, which I do love but don’t believe to be historically factual. Like I said, it is not a new tactic and it wasn’t 2000 years ago, or 2000 years before that.

            Again, it can be humility or arrogance, either is of no relevance to whether or not even a believable story holds any truth. It seems the only reason you believe what you do is because you are attracted to the picture being painted. That is not objective, it is the exact opposite. It is an outright confession to being manipulated by the appeal. These ancient stories, written many decades after they would’ve occurred, aren’t believed because they are likely true, they’re believed because people want to believe them, .. because they’re personally attracted to the ideas within,.. because they’re being controlled by unrecognized cognitive biases and wish thinking.

            We don’t know what we can’t know, and “faith” doesn’t get us any closer to knowing. It’s just desperate and irresponsible. I can see your position has pulled back from the faith angle, which is a good start. I dig your passion but be careful not to allow it to influence an analysis. If you don’t know, then simply state it, rather than opting for faith (abandonment of reason) in order to pretend you know. I don’t know.. therefor faith.. therefor I know, is impossible! I don’t know equals I don’t know 100% of the time. I don’t know doesn’t equal “truth behind a story.”

            I was never arguing for or against the legitimacy of a story, I was arguing your methods of attempting to legitimize a story that is up against self-falsification. Surely you can see that. Your “truth” isn’t proportioned to your evidence so there must exist some other form of motivation. Having faith and being objective are mutually exclusive, so please, make a choice.

          • Avatar
            godspell  January 1, 2019

            You’re really bothered by this. I make a common-sense statement that there’s no reason Jesus couldn’t have been laid in a manger as a baby–something no religion teaches as essential doctrine, btw–it’s not in the Apostle’s Creed–and you assume I’m some religious nut. I haven’t believed in the Virgin Birth, literal miracles, or the Resurrection since before I ever heard of Bart Ehrman. In no conventional sense am I a Christian. So you got that wrong.

            Also, you got Harry Potter wrong (never read the books, but I saw the movies on cable, googled some stuff)

            He’s not born in humble circumstances. He’s born into one of the most respected families of the Wizarding World, and what’s more (and more important, from his creator’s perspective) he’s born into the English Middle Class, and goes to a super-exclusive English public school that looks like something out of Lord of the Rings. From his earliest childhood, everybody calls him The Chosen One, and he’s the most famous person in his world.

            Yes, he has to live with his awful muggle relations (for reasons that don’t really make sense, but it makes him more identifiable) during the school holidays. But he’s treated like a little prince the rest of the time.

            It’s a terrible terrible analogy, and anyway, Rowling’s story doesn’t have the discontinuities of the gospels, because it’s fiction, and reasonably well-crafted fiction, and she made it all up, except for the stuff she borrowed.

            The gospels are so problematic because the authors all know Jesus was a real person, and they have real information about him, though it’s hard for them to know exactly which stories are factually accurate. None of them are 100% happy with the information they have. It doesn’t fit who they want him to be. So they fiddle with it. They add to it. They use stories that are well-known to be true, but also stories that were made up after the fact, and others that were heavily embellished. They have ideas of their own to get across. The puzzle is how to tell fact from truth, and those are not the same things. We all have truths to tell. And lies.

            And you really have to stop with the Latin. 😉

          • Avatar
            Clipse777  January 3, 2019

            I agree with you about the gospels but I think we have a very different definition of “truth.” It appears you’re referring to subjective truth, which to me isn’t truth at all. I would refer to it as an opinion, likelihood, probability, or potential. A subjective truth needs to be qualified or specified as such.

            It should go without saying.. if someone says they “know the truth,” they are claiming to have factual evidence of an occurrence, or to have a demonstrable, repeatable, explanation of an affirmed cause and effect, which in this case is admittedly impossible. We simply lack critical evidence. So you can see the objection. The distance between a concluded subjective likelihood, and a concluded fact, is insurmountable.

            That said, I think this can all be cleared up with a quick qualification and a retraction. It seems the comments in question aren’t accurately reflecting your overall perception so might I suggest.. Instead of “truth,” we qualify the position with “in my opinion the most likely scenario…” And instead of “faith,” well, we can never use faith in reasoning. Ever.

            Also, for fun, I stand by the potter analogy. The reference was “humble beginnings” not “humble birth”. Harry was forced to live under the stairs as an unwanted orphan from age 1-11. It is without question that Rowling painted Harry as a picture of humility within the story in spite of others knowing who he was. Don’t take my word for it though.

            Disregarding semantics, the parallel of both writers having successfully endeared readers to a character through the use of emotional appeal, was the point, and is made only in order to display the effectiveness of like appeals, not to distinguish definitive intent. It’s just one suggestion of many possible motivating factors to be speculated, from the writer’s point of view, and a believer’s.

            These appeals do work so we must acknowledge their potential influence and can’t write off the possibility that they are used knowingly for persuasive purposes. We know they have been used with great frequency throughout recorded history. They are equally effective in fiction or non, and aren’t limited to a single human quality, but rather, all qualities exist under the umbrella of physiological emotion, defined in reasoning as simply an appeal to emotion. It’s basic logic and I wouldn’t feel the need to explain it if the potential wasn’t being taken for granted.

          • Avatar
            godspell  January 4, 2019

            “The opposite of fact is fiction. The opposite of one great truth may be another great truth.” Susan Sontag.

            Let’s not spend years arguing over terminology, okay? To me, truth means a deeply held conviction. “Speak your truth.” “We hold these truths to be self-evident.” If they are not, then we have to factually prove all men are created equal, which I think you know would be really hard. Truths are ideas, really. We may with good reason believe that some things people accept as truth are really false, but that’s just a way of saying “That’s a bad idea.”

            We basically never have enough facts to draw all the conclusions we need to make in our lives. We speculate, we guess, we intuit, we take leaps in the dark. Because we have no choice. Science and math work in very specific areas, that do not comprise all of existence. And if you look at the best scientists and mathematicians, they also deeply believe in things that can’t be proven. If nobody had ever done that, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. There probably wouldn’t be any conversations.

            But for the record, I am not immovably wedded to the notion Jesus was lain in a manger as a baby. It’s just a speculation, based on the fact that I can’t think of any better reason for it to be there. A few equally good ones, sure.

            Poetry has no truth? Great fiction has no truth? Great paintings and sculptures have no truth? Music has no truth? None that can be established factually.

            You are seeking absolute unequivocal certainty where none exists. Nor ever could.

            And that, apparently, is your truth.


    • Avatar
      AlbertHodges  December 12, 2018

      Amen. So many unhappy Christians originate as fundamentalist-oriented Protestants and then when they realize their approach doesn’t work, they simply lose their faith and try to dissuade others from faithfulness.

      • Avatar
        godspell  December 14, 2018

        Pretty sure that goes just as much for disenchanted Catholics.

        There is, believe it or not, something called “Catholic Atheism.” Google it.

        Much as I agree that scripture should not be literally interpreted, I don’t think all problems with religion stem from that. Most stem from human nature, you ask me.

        The Sheep and the Goats. Jesus was on the money there. But most of us have both potentials inside of us.

      • Avatar
        Clipse777  December 20, 2018

        Or maybe.. So many Christians originate as Christians and then when they realize they were taught to sacrifice reason for self centric wish thinking, they recognize the consequent dangers, admit the faulty conclusion, and then help others get beyond the resulting dependency as well.

        Every time the word “faith” is used we can swap it for “abandonment of reason” and it will read the same. It is not a -get out of logic free card-. Sorry

        • Avatar
          godspell  December 29, 2018

          Except that everyone has faith. EVERYONE. We may not call it that, but that’s what it is, regardless. We all believe things that can never be proven–many atheists willfully believe things that have, in fact, been substantively disproven, and go on doing so, because they want to.

          “Love is better than hate.” “Life is better than death.” Why? There is no logical answer. There is no logic to any emotion, and yet we are all deeply emotional creatures, including those who try to suppress their emotions.

          It’s the pernicious urge to rationalize all of reality, including those parts that are inherently non-rational, that leads to the most irrational behaviors by humans. Theists and Atheists and everyone in-between.

          Some things you do just have to accept on faith, but you also have to accept that there are faiths other than yours. Respect them as much as you can, and accept that those people may know something you don’t. Or hey, maybe just accept that nobody knows a damn thing. That could work.

  3. Avatar
    JohnKesler  December 10, 2018

    >>> This is referring to a law in Leviticus 12, that after 32 days a woman >>>who has been made ceremonially impure by giving birth is to offer a >>>sacrifice for cleansing.

    It would actually be 40 days after the birth of a boy (7 + 33). Leviticus 12 says: “2…If a woman conceives and bears a male child, she shall be ceremonially unclean for seven days; as at the time of her menstruation, she shall be unclean…3 On the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. 4 Her time of blood purification shall be thirty-three days; she shall not touch any holy thing, or come into the sanctuary, until the days of her purification are completed.” (For girls, the times were doubled to 14 and 66 days.)

    It’s also worth noting that even though Luke 2:22 says, “When the time came for *their* purification according to the law of Moses…,” Leviticus 12 specifies that only the mother be purified, not the child also. The NIV attempts to smooth over this discrepancy by rendering Luke 2:22 this way: “When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses…”

    • Avatar
      TGeiger  December 14, 2018

      I don’t mean any offense, but it seems misogynistic to require a woman to attend a purification rite after she gives birth at all. Purification from what?

      • Bart
        Bart  December 16, 2018

        Yes, in modern terms it is. In traditional Judaism, though, a woman is made impure by discharges, e.g. during menstruation. Men too, though, e.g., thorugh emission of semen.

  4. Avatar
    fishician  December 10, 2018

    1. I was recently in a Facebook discussion of whether the impregnation of Mary constitutes sexual coercion. In Luke I don’t see that Mary is ever asked for permission; Gabriel tells her what is going to happen and she just voices her resignation. After all, how could a young woman resist the will of a God who is on record as having wiped out mankind in a flood, destroyed disobedient cities with fire and brimstone, ordered his people to slaughter unbelievers including women and children, and filled the Law and the Prophets with dire warnings about the consequences of disobedience? It’s like putting a gun to your head and then asking for your permission.
    2. One interpretation is that Joseph chose to take Mary to Bethlehem to avoid the embarrassment of registering his pregnant fiance at home in Nazareth, not that he had to return there; the text simply says, “each to his own city.” (I still think the story is legendary, not factual.)

    • Bart
      Bart  December 11, 2018

      1. I imagine that conversation didn’t go so well….

    • Avatar
      Bamayorgo  December 11, 2018

      Luke 1:38- “And Mary said, “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.”
      Mary’s “Fiat mihi secundum Verbum tuum“ isn’t coerced, and she could’ve said no! But she said yes! The Fiat is a big deal in most Mary-venerating Churches. Also how could it be “sexual” coercion if she never had relations?
      Just a thought

  5. Avatar
    JohnKesler  December 10, 2018

    >>>Starting in 2:1 we’re told that here was a decree that went out from Caesar Augustus that “all the world should be >>>registered,” and we’re told that this was the first registration, and that it happened while Quirinius was governor of >>>Syria.

    Why does Luke specify that this was the “first” registration taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria, especially since Acts 5:37 refers simply to “the census” at which time “Judas the Galilean” rose up, which would have been in 6-7 CE?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 11, 2018

      He seems to think there were severral censuses. But he doesn’t indicate that Quirinius ruled two different times. The tension with Acts ois probably because they come to the author from different sources.

  6. Avatar
    ask21771  December 10, 2018

    Does occam’s razor mean the bible is real

    • Bart
      Bart  December 11, 2018

      I don’t see how it possibly could. But in any event, the Bible is real. I ‘m looking at one right now!

  7. Avatar
    Hormiga  December 10, 2018

    > Eight days later the child is circumcised.

    Presumably Bethlehem had a resident or visiting mohel?

  8. Avatar
    Hormiga  December 10, 2018

    >“all the world”

    No chance, I suppose, that this was something like modern French and Spanish “tout le monde” and “todo el mundo”, which mean “everybody”? The idea being (yes, this stretching majorly) that the phrase applied to everybody in a certain understood but unstated set of people (Jews from Galilee, maybe?) rather than literaly to each and every person in the Empire.

    I probably should have been an apologist.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 11, 2018

      Yup, you missed your calling. (But I don’t think even tout le monde would work; surely not every Jew from Galilee was making a trek and no one ever mentioned it….) (and the point is that he locates this to the time of Augustus: no reason to do that if it’s not everyone under Augustus’s reign)

  9. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  December 10, 2018

    Really, really good! Thanks

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    mkahn1977  December 10, 2018

    Was there any significant historical event(s) that happened in between the writing of Mark and Matthew/Luke that the authors of Matthew & Luke felt the need to add birth stories?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 11, 2018

      POssilby some rumors about Jesus’ dubious birth-origins?

  11. Avatar
    b.dub3  December 10, 2018

    Dr. Ehrman, I’m a new member on this blog and I want to thank you so much for diligently writing posts each day and periodically responding to comments. I, like you, was a devout believer who then went on to receive a degree in theology but then began to realize that my earlier assumptions about the historicity of the early church were largely in error. Keep up the good work. It is a great encouragement to me to read these posts each day.

    Regarding the Quirinius question, apologists point to the Tivoli inscription to show the plausibility that he may have served twice as governor of Syria to overcome the ten year gap problem. I don’t find this compelling for a number of reasons. Is there anything noteworthy of mentioning on this issue?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 11, 2018

      I haven’t looked at or thought about this for a long time, but I don’t think even the Tivoli inscription indicates that Quirinius was the *governor* on two occasions. Someone else was a governor during the reign of Herod the Great.

    • Avatar
      gavriel  December 11, 2018

      The fragmentary Tivoli inscription may be interpreted to say that Quirinius was “legatus” twice in his lifetime. Most historians think this refers to different provinces. Josephus describes the presence of Varus during Herod’s last months. At that time Varus had been in office for three years at least.

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    darren  December 10, 2018

    A somewhat related question — historically, is it likely Jesus believed David was his ancestor? Or is it more likely something added later to bolster claims Jesus was the messiah?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 11, 2018

      My hunch is that David was just about *everyone’s” ancestor through one genealogical line or another. But Jews didn’t keep genealogical records (even though everyone seems to think they did), so if someone *said* Joseph was his direct patrilinear descendant, it would have been guesswork.

      • Avatar
        dankoh  December 11, 2018

        Sort of like half of Europe is descended from Charlemagne.

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      godspell  January 3, 2019

      There is a passage in Mark where Jesus talks about David, and dismisses the notion that David was a son of God. Says David referred to God as Lord, just like everyone else, which is not how a son addresses his father. It clashes with some other things Jesus says in that gospel. It’s unclear to me whether Mark’s Jesus is saying “David wasn’t a son of God but I am” or “There are no sons of God.” To be honest, the passage confuses me.

      Mark may have been confused on this point as well, but knew Jesus had said this, and felt compelled to include it.

      Jesus himself may have been confused at times.

      I’m sure Jesus didn’t think he was a miraculously begotten son of God through a Virgin Birth.

      But did he in fact believe God had adopted him after his baptism?

      Is he talking about David or himself?

      • Bart
        Bart  January 4, 2019

        It’s often thought that he was denying a link to David: the messiah could be non-Davidic. Not sure if that’s hisotrical or not; *might* be a later Christian attempt to show that the messiah was not *supposed* to be a warrior king like David.

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    joncopeland  December 10, 2018

    Is it possible that Jesus, as a child, witnessed the destruction of Sepphoris by the Roman governor Varus? Biblical texts don’t mention it, but with it being so close to Nazareth, I can’t help but think Jesus experienced that violence, if at a distance.

    Or maybe Josephus is just exaggerating about the city’s destruction.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 11, 2018

      I don’t think Josphus was exaggerating, but we don’t have any way of knowing of people living several miles away would have actually seen any of the action.

    • Avatar
      godspell  December 11, 2018

      Safe bet Jesus witnessed all kinds of human evil in his life, that inspired the philosophy that lies behind his theology. But to get any more specific would be pointless, with the information we have. Why do we need to know exactly what acts of greed, violence, and treachery he experienced? We’ve all experienced the same. Maybe not all to the same extent, but there are people alive now who have seen worse than him. It was his reaction to evil that distinguished him. His quest for an answer to that problem.

  14. Avatar
    doug  December 10, 2018

    Even just 300 years ago, I had ancestors scattered around in various cities and countries. In such a census, which place would I go to? I don’t know where my ancestors lived before that. Even if people didn’t travel as much in the BCE years, how would the “entire world” know where their ancestors lived long ago? And which ancestor’s town should they travel to?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 11, 2018

      Right! And we live in a day of massive data retrieval systems!

      • Avatar
        Eric  December 11, 2018

        Even the Romans would have been unclear on that. After all, Rome was supposedly founded only 773 years…not 1000 years…before.

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    ftbond  December 10, 2018

    Dr Ehrman –

    I’m no great “fan” of the Gospels, and although I am one who believes that Jesus was indeed resurrected bodily, I have never accepted the notion that the Gospels are somehow “the infallible Word of God” (or any other such notion). Such notions of infallibility or inerrancy were just somebody’s “pronouncement” about them. So, I don’t really do too much to defend the Gospels…

    But – having said that, you ask (in your post) “Are we supposed to imagine that everyone in the Roman empire had to register in the town of their ancestors, the way Joseph did?”

    Luke writes “And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David…”

    This simply says that everyone was going to “his own city”. Joseph, on the other hand, was going to Bethlehem, “Because he was of the house and family of David”. So, for *some* reason, Joseph, according to his family lineage, was going to Bethlehem. But, we don’t know *why*. It could have simply been that he happened to have property there. Or, it could have been that that’s where he had lived most his life, and where he had decided to return to, to live. All we can say is that Joseph had determined that “his city” was Bethlehem, and it had something to do with his family originating there. But, there is nothing in this verse that clearly states that everyone had to return to their ancestral homes…

    So, *are we* supposed to imagine that everyone had to return to their ancestral homes? I don’t see why we would. In fact, what I see is that to arrive to the conclusion that this verse somehow states that everyone was supposed to return to their ancestral homes takes quite a jump in logic. Clearly, it can’t mean *that*. That would be ridiculous. So, why do you interpret this to say that *everyone* had to return to their *ancestral homes* when that would literally have been an impossibility?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 11, 2018

      I think it does say why he went there. It was because he was from the lineage of David, and it is where David himself was born. It doesn’t say anything about his owning property there — or any other reason.

      • Avatar
        ftbond  December 11, 2018

        Yes, I do agree that the passage says nothing about Joseph having property in Bethlehem. But, neither does it say that everyone had to travel to their “ancestral” homes. It just says they went to their “own” cities.

        The fact that Joseph went to Bethlehem to register for the census could entirely have been a personal choice: he *chose* to go to Bethlehem for whatever his personal motivation was (ie, “because that’s the place of his ancestral family”) – but this may have been nothing more than his own preference for moving to Bethlehem. He may have simply been prompted by the alleged census to go ahead and make the move, in order to get established as living there (and no longer Nazareth),. But, there is not one thing in the passage that indicates that the Romans required everyone to return to their ancestral cities, going back to the very foundation of Israel.

        I’m simply saying that if that particular understanding of the passage as *you* present it *seems* ridiculous, then, maybe it is. And, therefore, there might be another, far less ridiculous conclusion to draw. I know I certainly never drew that ridiculous conclusion from this passage. But, that’s just me… *shrug*

        • Bart
          Bart  December 12, 2018

          I think you’re overlooking the key line, at the end of v. 4, explaining why he went to Bethlehem “because he was of the house and lineage of David.”

          • Avatar
            ftbond  December 12, 2018

            I get that. And, I’m just saying that maybe Joseph wanted to claim Bethlehem, not Nazareth, as his “own city”. After all *that’s* what the others were doing: They were just going to their “own cities”. He decided he wanted Bethlehem as his “own city” because that’s where his ancestral family was from…

            It’s OK that we differ on this. I just never – ever – have figured this passage was saying everybody had to move to some place according to where some ancestor, forty steps up the family tree, made their home – as if everybody could trace their family lineage that far back. Heck, I can’t get past the 1800’s with the Irish contingent of my own family, and dang, I even get to use ancestry.com…

    • Avatar
      godspell  December 11, 2018

      Or maybe it was an entirely different Bethlehem? Six miles away, instead of sixty?


      For what it’s worth, I don’t think Matthew or Luke were consciously lying. But that doesn’t mean they were telling the truth.

      • Bart
        Bart  December 12, 2018

        I’m afraid it doesn’t work. The point of Luke’s story is to say that they had to go to the birthplace of David (which is the Bethelehem near Jerusalem in the south) and even more explicit, both of them *explicitly* locate it in Judea.

        • Avatar
          godspell  December 14, 2018

          I wasn’t saying otherwise, Bart. I do read your posts, you know. Even your books! 🙂

          Sorry if I was unclear, but what I was saying was that the idea of Bethlehem of Judea as his birthplace could have arisen partly from a misunderstanding, relating to Bethlehem of Galilee (which has its own Wikipedia page, it’s not a made-up place).

          That’s not an original idea, and it’s almost too obvious. They are looking for some excuse to have him not be born in Galilee. Any reference by anybody to him being born in or even near a Bethlehem (six miles is pretty near) would be seized upon eagerly. And would they have even known there was a Bethlehem near Nazareth?

          Though I recognize that they wanted to say he was born in Judea AND of the lineage of David, there is no requirement that the Messiah has to be born in Bethlehem of Judea. Nobody was THAT anal about it.

          Luke wants to prove he was of David’s line by saying Joseph had to go there to register because he was of David’s line. I get that. But Matthew says they just lived there, and is content to manufacture an ersatz genealogy that differs from Luke’s. Why does he need Jesus to be from Bethlehem, specifically?

          Because there was a tradition he was born in or near a place called Bethlehem, and Matthew just assumes it’s the one in Judea, which makes the point he wants. It’s not like he can check Wikipedia.

          Luke takes it to the next level, by saying Joseph going to Bethlehem of Judea proves Jesus is of David’s line, even though Joseph isn’t his natural father.

          Which I’m sure made sense to Luke at the time.

          • Bart
            Bart  December 16, 2018

            Hey, I’m glad *someone* does!!

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    forthfading  December 10, 2018

    Dr. Ehrman,

    I know how fundamentalist scholars grapple with the issue of a worldwide census, but how do more moderate-liberal christian scholars deal with it? Do they think a real census involving the whole Roman Empire occurred?

    Thanks, Jay

  17. JulieGraff
    JulieGraff  December 10, 2018

    Thank you for these posts Mr. Ehrman!

    It’s nice to come back to some of those basics in the gospels.

    For my part I still haven’t figured out how much Jesus son of Joseph is related (if it is) to the fact that Josue (Yehoshua) was from the tribe of Ephraim, so could be called Josue (Yehoshua) son of Joseph in jewish tradition (as Ephraim is Joseph’s tribe)… and as Josue is the one who got the People of G.od to actually enter into Israël, well…

    Well as they say, the Torah is not a history book but a book of messages… I guess we have to figure out how much of the gospels is history, and how much is messages!

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    ask21771  December 10, 2018

    In the bible there are multiple prophecies that get fulfilled (such as book of isaiah predicting Cyrus or Jesus predicting the destruction of jerusalem and its temple) occam’s razor states that the simplest explanation is the most likely to be correct, the simplest explanation for these fulfilled prophecies is that the bible is most likely the word of god, so isn’t it most likely that the bible is the word of God

    • Bart
      Bart  December 11, 2018

      My occam’s razor says the easiest explanation is that the texts were written *after* the events they claimed they were allegedly predicting. The reason that is the easiest answer is becaause it doesn’t require a supernatural presupposition of a deity actively engaged in this world — i.e. it requires one less step (the whole point of occam’s razor)

      • Avatar
        ask21771  December 11, 2018

        I’m sorry but how is it that dozens of people all deciding to lie and write in prophecies after they happened a simpler explanation than the prophecies being inspIred by God

        • Bart
          Bart  December 12, 2018

          They didn’t see themselves as lying. They saw what happened to Jesus as a fulfillment of what had been predicted, and wrote their accounts accordingly.

      • Avatar
        dankoh  December 11, 2018

        Actually, Isaiah – Second Isaiah – isn’t predicting Cyrus; he’s speaking to Cyrus in the present (“to Cyrus, whose right hand I have grasped”). Starting with chapter 40 (Cyrus is mentioned in ch. 45), it’s clear that this is a new writer living in the time of the Persian conquest. He speaks about the exile in the perfect tense, indicating that it is now over (“You have paid double for all your sins”); where he makes predictions or prophecies, it is always about events after their return.

        For First Isaiah to have prophesied about Cyrus 200 years earlier, he would have had to explain who Cyrus was, which Second Isaiah never does. Otherwise his listeners of that time would have had no idea what he was talking about. Also, predictions about the future (even fake ones, like Daniel talking about Alexander and Antiochus) never use names, only descriptions.

  19. dschmidt01
    dschmidt01  December 10, 2018

    Really really great posts. thanx so much Dr. Ehrman

  20. Avatar
    hankgillette  December 10, 2018

    Even though I am now an atheist/agnostic (like you, I was once a fundamentalist), I still think the account of the birth of Jesus in Luke is a beautiful story. You just can’t think about it logically. I think the familiar King James version is especially beautiful:

    “And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.”

    That one sentence says so much.

    I guess all those descendants of David filled up all the inns in Bethlehem.

    • Avatar
      godspell  December 12, 2018

      Or they got a really bad Airbnb?

      I’ve heard of people having worse experiences. 😉

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