Over the years I’ve been asked to write short articles on the meaning of Christmas for various news magazines.  Looking back at some of these articles makes me realize how many different views of the season seem to be competing with each other inside my head.  Or maybe I’ve just been in different moods!

I thought I would reproduce a couple of these articles on the blog.  The following is one I wrote a few years ago for the British journal The New Statesman.  I called it “The Myth of the First Christmas.”  (Apologies to those with better memories than mine: I just checked after posting this article and see that I did so earlier — three years ago!  But no matter, I didn’t remember what was in it, and so probably you won’t either!)


Once more the season is come upon us. At its heart stands a tale of two-thousand year vintage, the Christmas story.  Or perhaps we should say the Christmas myth.

When Post-Enlightenment scholars turned their critical tools on the tales of Scripture, the birth of Jesus to a virgin in Bethlehem was one of the first subjected to skeptical scrutiny.  Not only was the notion of a virgin birth deemed unhistorical on general principle.  The other familiar aspects of the story were seriously called into question.

The story comes to us as…

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