The familiar Nativity story –you know, that part of history with the Shepherds, Magi, Mary, Joseph, and Jesus as depicted in countless manger scenes, may have us convinced that all the elements of the story are true. However, like many other holidays, Christmas has become a product of the overlapping aspects of religion and folklore that even scholars have cast a doubt on several parts of the Christmas story.
Here are a few:
Jesus was born on December 25.
First, despite what billions today believe, December 25 isn’t actually Jesus’ birthday. The Bible doesn’t indicate the time of year Jesus Christ’ birth. It was only in the fourth century that the Roman Catholic Church finally decided upon a Dec. 25 Christmas. According to the Gospel of Luke, shepherds were watching their flocks at night at the time Jesus was born — suggests that Jesus’ birthday was not in the winter, as shepherds would have been watching their flocks only during the lambing season in the spring. In the colder months, the sheep probably would have been corralled. In 2008, astrologers studying the appearance of the so-called Star of Bethlehem pinpointed a June 17 birthdate.
The wise men have met Jesus as a newborn.
The wise men did come. However, one of the more common — but still often overlooked — debates around Christmas time is when the wise men visited Jesus. A close reading of Matthew 2: 1-12 reveals that the wise men visited Jesus in the “house.” Scholars believe Jesus was already between one and two years old when they arrived. Additionally, verse 16 notes that after the wise men told King Herod of their plan to visit the little “king”, they never returned. Threatened by the birth of Christ, Herod ordered all children under two years old killed, suggesting that Jesus was not a baby at the time, and that even Herod thought he could be older.
Three wise men visited Jesus.
The typical manger scene includes three wise men, right? The Bible, however, makes no mention of how many wise men there were though it does note, that they presented three kinds of gifts to Him—gold, frankincense and myrrh. In Matthew 2:1-11, they are referred to as “magi from the East” (magi means wise men or priests who studied the stars). You’ll notice here that “magi” is a plural word, but the holy book never claims that there were only three wise men — it simply says that there was more than one. And nothing about the story’s language suggests that these visitors were monarchs!
Animals being present at Jesus’ birth.
People assume the presence of animals due to the fact that Mary “placed him in a manger,” or feeding trough. Finding an ox or donkey in a modern-day Nativity scene is easy but not during Jesus’ birth. Clearly, there’s no mention of animals being present.
Jesus was born in a manger.
Well, he was. It was just that when people talk about a manger scene, it’s not clear they always understand that “manger” refers not to a barn but to Jesus’ makeshift crib.
Derived from the French verb manger, meaning “to eat”, a manger is a trough used to feed animals. The typical Judean houses during Jesus’ time had mangers both outside and inside their homes, sometimes separating an interior space for people from a space where animals were kept. The traditional site in the Nativity story seems to have employed this strategy. Therefore, Mary may have had one at her disposal, despite not being in the immediate vicinity of a stable.
Despite what Nativity plays and Hollywood epics would have us believe, and how it is wildly different from what the Gospels have to say, Jesus Christ, remains to be the reason for the season. No matter what the world says, He is the Son of God not because Christians believe that He is but because He said so (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity).