From the "War on Christmas" department

21 12 2007

Three Wise Men are just a legend, says Archbishop of Canterbury | the Daily Mail: “During an interview on Radio Five, the Archbishop of Canterbury dismissed the well-known version of events as legend saying: ‘Matthew’s Gospel doesn’t tell us there were three of them, doesn’t tell us they were kings, doesn’t tell us where they came from.

Oh, really?

‘It says they are astrologers, wise men, priests from somewhere outside the Roman Empire, that’s all we’re really told.’

Oh, really?

Turning to the topic of when Jesus was born, he said it was ‘very unlikely’that there was snow.

Oh, really?

He said there was no evidence of animals present – a popular theme of Christmas cards.

Oh, really?

He dismissed the idea that the star of the North stood still in the night sky – because stars just don’t behave like that.

Oh, really?

For good measure, he added Jesus probably wasn’t even born in December. He said: ‘Christmas was when it was because it fitted well with the winter festival’.

Oh, really?

Next time the good Archbishop will tell us that maybe the virgin birth is a legend too… oh wait, he alredy did! What’s left then, the resurrection? After all, there’s just as much proof that Jesus rose from the dead as there is for his birth in a manger. It’s all a bunch of unsubstantiated myths, so why not get over it once and for all?

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5 responses

21 12 2007
James Tauber

I think you misunderstand. He’s not calling anything in the New Testament account a myth. He is pointing out the additional nativity mythology that is not to be found in the gospel accounts.

21 12 2007
ugo

James, you are nominally right in saying that.

It’s not the archbishop calling anything in the new testament a myth (let us put aside for a moment the fact that what was and what wasn’t included in the canon is partly a matter of arbitrary choice). It’s _me_ who’s saying that.

I just wanted to point out that if he starts calling out the silly myths surrounding the Christmas story, then, just maybe, he could also start seeing through other silly myths like the virgin birth (it’s not pointed out in the article I linked, but from reading other accounts he seems not to be so certain about it), the resurrection, transubstantiation and all the other hocus-pocus.

OK, I know I’m only dreaming, and it will never happen in my lifetime, but one can always hope, especially at Christmas time 😉

27 12 2007
Depa

Ugo,
the position of the archibishop is not so new: the distinction from canonic Gospels and myth (or, better, Gospel and Tradition on one side – uppercase ‘T’, which makes sense both for the Catholic Church, and the Anglican one to which the archibishop belong, but not for other Christians – and apocryphal gospels, tradition – lowercase ‘t’ – and myth on the other side) is as old as Christianity (and it is the problem of canon, as you correctly pointed out).

And the final canon is _not_ a matter of arbitrary choice, but follows some well-known criteria (I know a very good source in Italian – http://www.murialdo.it/didaskaleion/matcorsi/base/03.pdf -, but a simple search in Google will lead to some good links in English too – for example: a simple schema – http://catholic-resources.org/Bible/NT_Canon.htm – and some further insights – http://www.ntgreek.org/SeminaryPapers/ChurchHistory/Criteria%20for%20Development%20of%20the%20NT%20Canon%20in%20First%20Four%20Centuries.pdf).
Just to remember, the 1st known form of the canon comes from the II century (more or less about 80 years after the S.John Gospel, just the time to rise seriously the canon problem – you have to wait for the death of all the apostles, because they could stop it with authority) and it is the so called Muratorian canon (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/10642a.htm). It is almost in the actual form, with 23 of the actual 27 books.

Coming back to the archibishop interview:
– “Matthew’s Gospel doesn’t tell us there were three of them, doesn’t tell us they were kings, doesn’t tell us where they came from.” Absolutely correct, but Matthew’s Gospel tells that _some_ Magi went to the Child, bringing presents and the archibishop doesn’t tell otherwise.
– “it was ‘very unlikely’that there was snow”. We don’t really have any indication about this, in reality. It’s a complex matter and recent studies show that even December, the 25th date could be not so impossible (it’s true that the great part of the scholars agree that that date has been choosen to substitute the Sol Invictus
festivity). The snow is unlikely because of the shepherds and flocks mention (Luke Gospel) and because the temperature goes very low in those places.
– “there was no evidence of animals present”. True: no ox, no donkey. But there were flocks. Ox and donkey (I hope these are the correct names in english) mention is more recent than the Gospels.
– “stars just don’t behave like that”: Mattew’s Gospel speaks about a star, but it is a very simple way to tell this story, maybe because at that time they could not understand a nova or a conjunction of planets as Keplero, for example, did several years after.

So, what the archibishop says and James pointed out, is just something well known and far from being revolutionary or even revisionist. It’s just that we know only what the media tell us, and it’s easy not to study the historical position of the Church (and this is true, above all, for the believers, so you are partially forgiven).

I hope I will succeed in finishing a post (in italian, I’m sorry, it’s too complex for me also in my mother tongue, I know I did a lot of mistakes also in this comment, I’m sure I cannot bear a complex discussion on this matter in english) about this topic (with some more details) before the end of these holidays (I planned to finish it before Christmas, even before reading your post, but it’s too heavy even to copy&paste – with just a little bit of criticism – and it will take longer than my expectations).

However, all these details have nothing or very few to do with faith, while, as even you may know, “all the other hocus-pocus” you mention, are at the very center of it (but there are some important differences about Mary, in the Catholic and Anglican Church…).

27 12 2007
Depa

BTW: can you enable some form of preview in the comment, as Blogger let you do? In the comment above, the 3rd attempt to leave the same comment, with different syntax (in the last one I stripped out all the html tags – all allowed in Blogger) I left a quote, which makes an url invalid and I could see it only after posting 😉
Thanks in advance. 😉

27 12 2007
ugo

Not with this version of WordPress I’m afraid. Maybe if I upgrade to a newer version, it will, I’m not sure.

By the way, I’ve fixed the URL in your comment.

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