December 17th, 2010
04:50 PM ET

The Nativity story, as told through social media

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN and Damon Brown, Special to CNN

A popular new video takes the Immaculate Conception into the 21st century. Designed by Excentric, a Lisbon, Portugal-based digital marketing company, "The Digital Story of the Nativity" tells the familiar biblical story through Google searches, e-mails, tweets, Facebook "Likes" and Foursquare "check-ins."

Miguel Figueiredo, president of Excentric, challenged his creative team a few weeks ago to show traditional companies how they could harness social media.

"This is something very powerful for brands. In Portugal, there is a lot of step back to this. People are afraid to do this sort of thing. So we decided to do this for our sake," Figueiredo told CNN.

Read the full story of how one company is using social media to tell the Nativity story.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Art • Bible • Catholic Church • Christianity • Christmas • Europe • Holidays • Technology

soundoff (29 Responses)
  1. Violeta

    Thank you for sharing this word! It rdemnis me of so many other good words I've heard in the past such as Would you do for the truth what others will for a lie? or To pray without labouring is to mock God. … Robert HaldaneOur level of commitment as followers of Christ should be based on our awareness of His great love and sacrifice for all of us! THAT makes serving God a joy!I appreciate how you broke it down into simple everyday examples of sharing Gods love!

    July 31, 2012 at 11:29 pm |
  2. Workawhorlic


    Show me a historian that disagrees with this story and I'll show you a historian that agrees with it.
    Oh please. Save your 'brilliance', your efforts at debunking this and use it to do some good in the world.
    It's sooo funny that you seem more persistent in your dogmatic pursuit of convincing others of their stupidity than right-winged Evangelicals trying to convince 'sinners' of their sin..
    and throwing the 3 Bs at people is known by psychologists as 'labelling'.
    Also, if you don't like this story, then please read 'A Christmas Carol' instead – you will definitely be able to identify strongly with one Character – that of Ebenezer Scrooge.

    December 19, 2010 at 11:26 pm |
    • Reality

      Some references to review to catch up with contemporary NT and historic Jesus exegetes:

      o 1. Historical Jesus Theories, earlychristianwritings.com/theories.htm – the names of many of the contemporary historical Jesus scholars and the ti-tles of their over 100 books on the subject.
      2. Early Christian Writings, earlychristianwritings.com/
      – a list of early Christian doc-uments to include the year of publication–
      30-60 CE Passion Narrative
      40-80 Lost Sayings Gospel Q
      50-60 1 Thessalonians
      50-60 Philippians
      50-60 Galatians
      50-60 1 Corinthians
      50-60 2 Corinthians
      50-60 Romans
      50-60 Philemon
      50-80 Colossians
      50-90 Signs Gospel
      50-95 Book of Hebrews
      50-120 Didache
      50-140 Gospel of Thomas
      50-140 Oxyrhynchus 1224 Gospel
      50-200 Sophia of Jesus Christ
      65-80 Gospel of Mark
      70-100 Epistle of James
      70-120 Egerton Gospel
      70-160 Gospel of Peter
      70-160 Secret Mark
      70-200 Fayyum Fragment
      70-200 Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs
      73-200 Mara Bar Serapion
      80-100 2 Thessalonians
      80-100 Ephesians
      80-100 Gospel of Matthew
      80-110 1 Peter
      80-120 Epistle of Barnabas
      80-130 Gospel of Luke
      80-130 Acts of the Apostles
      80-140 1 Clement
      80-150 Gospel of the Egyptians
      80-150 Gospel of the Hebrews
      80-250 Christian Sibyllines
      90-95 Apocalypse of John
      90-120 Gospel of John
      90-120 1 John
      90-120 2 John
      90-120 3 John
      90-120 Epistle of Jude
      93 Flavius Josephus
      100-150 1 Timothy
      100-150 2 Timothy
      100-150 T-itus
      100-150 Apocalypse of Peter
      100-150 Secret Book of James
      100-150 Preaching of Peter
      100-160 Gospel of the Ebionites
      100-160 Gospel of the Nazoreans
      100-160 Shepherd of Hermas
      100-160 2 Peter
      3. Historical Jesus Studies, faithfutures.org/HJstudies.html,
      – "an extensive and constantly expanding literature on historical research into the person and cultural context of Jesus of Nazareth"
      4. Jesus Database, faithfutures.org/JDB/intro.html–"The JESUS DATABASE is an online annotated inventory of the traditions concerning the life and teachings of Jesus that have survived from the first three centuries of the Common Era. It includes both canonical and extra-canonical materials, and is not limited to the traditions found within the Christian New Testament."
      5. Josephus on Jesus mtio.com/articles/bissar24.htm
      6. The Jesus Seminar, mystae.com/restricted/reflections/messiah/seminar.html#Criteria
      7. Writing the New Testament- mystae.com/restricted/reflections/messiah/testament.html
      8. Health and Healing in the Land of Israel By Joe Zias
      9. Economics in First Century Palestine, K.C. Hanson and D. E. Oakman, Palestine in the Time of Jesus, Fortress Press, 1998.
      10. 7. The Gnostic Jesus
      (Part One in a Two-Part Series on Ancient and Modern Gnosticism)
      by Douglas Groothuis: equip.org/free/DG040-1.htm
      11. The interpretation of the Bible in the Church, Pontifical Biblical Commission
      Presented on March 18, 1994
      12. The Jesus Database- newer site:
      13. Jesus Database with the example of Supper and Eucharist:
      14. Josephus on Jesus by Paul Maier:
      15. The Journal of Higher Criticism with links to articles on the Historical Jesus:
      16. The Greek New Testament: laparola.net/greco/
      17. Diseases in the Bible:
      18. Religion on Line (6000 articles on the history of religion, churches, theologies,
      theologians, ethics, etc.
      19. The Jesus Seminarians and their search for NT authenticity:
      20. The New Testament Gateway – Internet NT ntgateway.com/
      21. Writing the New Testament- existing copies, oral tradition etc.
      22. The Search for the Historic Jesus by the Jesus Seminarians:
      23. Jesus Decoded by Msgr. Francis J. Maniscalco (Da Vinci Code review)jesusdecoded.com/introduction.php
      24. JD Crossan's scriptural references for his book the Historical Jesus separated into time periods: faithfutures.org/Jesus/Crossan1.rtf
      25. JD Crossan's conclusions about the authencity of most of the NT based on the above plus the conclusions of other NT exegetes in the last 200 years:
      26. Common Sayings from Thomas's Gospel and the Q Gospel: faithfutures.org/Jesus/Crossan3.rtf
      27. Early Jewish Writings- Josephus and his books by t-itle with the complete translated work in English :earlyjewishwritings.com/josephus.html
      28. Luke and Josephus- was there a connection?
      29. NT and beyond time line:
      30. St. Paul's Time line with discussion of important events:
      31. See http://www.amazon.com for a list of JD Crossan's books and those of the other Jesus Seminarians: Reviews of said books are included and selected pages can now be viewed on Amazon. Some books can be found on-line at Google Books.
      32. Father Edward Schillebeeckx's words of wisdom as found in his books.
      33. The books of the following : Professors Marcus Borg, Paula Fredriksen, Elaine Pagels, Karen Armstrong and Bishop NT Wright.
      34. Father Raymond Brown's An Introduction to the New Testament, Doubleday, NY, 1977, 878 pages, with Nihil obstat and Imprimatur.
      35. Luke Timothy Johnson's book The Real Jesus

      December 19, 2010 at 11:44 pm |
    • Bruce

      Funny how we Christians have quoted our Bible to support our belief. Now atheist seem to do the same thing to try to prove their god is found in other human beings and the discredits of the Bible. Atheist do have a god, but they don't know who he or she is.

      December 20, 2010 at 8:24 am |
    • Bob

      > Funny how we Christians have quoted our Bible to support our belief. Now atheist seem to do the same thing to try to prove their god is found in other human beings and the discredits of the Bible. Atheist do have a god, but they don't know who he or she is.

      Our God? In human beings? You have no idea what an atheist is.

      December 20, 2010 at 10:34 am |
    • Bruce


      What I have been seeing in atheist is that they use thier belief in what others have said to try to disprove God. If you turn it around you will find that Christians use their belief in what others have said to try to prove to atheist that God exists. What is the difference in "who" you believe in. Certainly, none of the atheist on this comment stream have any authority to claim that God does not exist. They quote others most of the time.

      December 20, 2010 at 11:11 am |
    • Bob

      > What I have been seeing in atheist is that they use thier belief in what others have said to try to disprove God.

      No, disprove your religion. God is unknowable and therefore cannot be proven or disproven.

      They're showing you why your religion is wrong, which can be subjectively shown to be inaccurate, silly and not consistent with reality and the nature of the universe as we know it today.

      December 20, 2010 at 11:15 am |
    • Bruce


      God is knowable to whom He reveals Himself. Therefore, some He has not revealed Himself think He does not exist. I thought I knew Him until He revealed Himself to me. Not dramatic like Hollywood depicts it, either.

      December 20, 2010 at 11:54 am |
    • Reality


      a.Perception of visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory, or gustatory experiences without an external stimulus and with a compelling sense of their reality, usually resulting from a mental disorder or as a response to a drug.

      b.The objects or events so perceived.

      2.A false or mistaken idea; a delusion.

      Read more: http://www.answers.com/topic/hallucination#ixzz18idRqvZ7

      December 20, 2010 at 11:54 pm |
  3. Paul Willson

    This was fun to watch . Thanks to who ever put it together

    December 19, 2010 at 1:14 am |
  4. Bruce

    I am seeing a common thread with the atheist on all their comments. As long as everyone is forced to use words they keep repeating and those same words are defined by them they have the upper hand, or so they think. This Christian can see through their hypocracy and I have their number.

    Some of the words and phrases used are: TOLERANCE, REASON, EVIDENCE, FACTS, WHAT DID YOU CALL ME?, BRAINWASHED, EMBELLISHMENT, SEMI-FICTION and many more that I intend on exposing and defining for them in future comments.

    December 18, 2010 at 11:54 pm |
    • Reality


      Obviously, your Three B Syndrome runs deep. A cure:

      From that famous passage: In 1 Corinthians 15 St. Paul reasoned, "If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith."

      Even now Catholic/Christian professors of theology are questioning the bodily resurrection of the simple, preacher man aka Jesus.

      To wit;

      From a major Catholic university's theology grad school white-board notes:

      "Heaven is a Spirit state or spiritual reality of union with God in love, without earthly – earth bound distractions.
      Jesus and Mary's bodies are therefore not in Heaven.

      Most believe that it to mean that the personal spiritual self that survives death is in continuity with the self we were while living on earth as an embodied person.

      Again, the physical Resurrection (meaning a resuscitated corpse returning to life), Ascension (of Jesus' crucified corpse), and Assumption (Mary's corpse) into heaven did not take place.

      The Ascension symbolizes the end of Jesus' earthly ministry and the beginning of the Church.

      Only Luke's Gospel records it. The Assumption ties Jesus' mission to Pentecost and missionary activity of Jesus' followers The Assumption has multiple layers of symbolism, some are related to Mary's special role as "Christ bearer" (theotokos). It does not seem fitting that Mary, the body of Jesus' Virgin-Mother (another biblically based symbol found in Luke 1) would be derived by worms upon her death. Mary's assumption also shows God's positive regard, not only for Christ's male body, but also for female bodies." "

      The single Step continued:

      "In three controversial Wednesday Audiences, Pope John Paul II pointed out that the essential characteristic of heaven, hell or purgatory is that they are states of being of a spirit (angel/demon) or human soul, rather than places, as commonly perceived and represented in human language. This language of place is, according to the Pope, inadequate to describe the realities involved, since it is tied to the temporal order in which this world and we exist. In this he is applying the philosophical categories used by the Church in her theology and saying what St. Thomas Aquinas said long before him."

      The Vatican quickly embellished this story with a lot CYAP.

      Of course, we all know that angels are really mythical "pretty wingie talking thingies".

      With respect to rising from the dead, we also have this account:

      An added note: As per R.B. Stewart in his introduction to the recent book, The Resurrection of Jesus, Crossan and Wright in Dialogue, ( Professors Crossan and Wright are On Faith panelists).

      "Reimarus (1774-1778) posits that Jesus became sidetracked by embracing a political position, sought to force God's hand and that he died alone deserted by his disciples. What began as a call for repentance ended up as a misguided attempt to usher in the earthly political kingdom of God. After Jesus' failure and death, his disciples stole his body and declared his resurrection in order to maintain their financial security and ensure themselves some standing."

      So where are the bones? As per Professor Crossan's analyses in his many books, the body of Jesus would have ended up in the mass graves of the crucified, eaten by wild dogs, with lime in a shallow grave, or under a pile of stones.

      December 19, 2010 at 12:30 am |
    • Bruce


      I guess you will believe anything except that Jesus was the Christ, lived the life acceptable to His Father and that it was His sacrifice that satisfied the Fathers judgement of sin. That, by an eternal element called "faith" (unlike common faith) provided by God Himself to the human, man can place that faith in the final judgement of God that He had toward Christ on the cross(an eternal being capable of paying the eternal condemnation made for the devil and his angels) and receive forgiveness of sins that make man unholy before God. In addition to the forgiveness, we shall rise again just like Jesus did.

      Tolerance is B-R-O-A-D-M-I-N-D-E-D-N-E-S-S & L-I-B-R-A-L and basically acceptes every thought or idea. Unfortunately, you have become intolerant and closed-minded like you accuse us because you do everything to discredit religion. You have become what you think we are. If I used your reasoning I would conclude that you are a religion of yourself.

      December 19, 2010 at 8:58 am |
    • Reality


      Obviously, you have not paid attention to the conclusions of the many NT and historic Jesus exegetes noted in the comments about the history of the first to third century Palestine and the rest of the Roman Empire.

      December 19, 2010 at 11:30 am |
    • Bruce


      If that was enough to snuff out Christianity it would have done so. It's not about what a false prophet tried to get started. If you really look at what Jesus expected of His followers you would see that there shouldn't be anyone left from that day. Take your reasoning and see if just loving others is enough to make a religion grow to such magnitude. This way of life is not appealing to anyone. When you make people try to live that way it eventually dies out when the leader dies. Nothing about Christianity stands up to reason. I think you know that in your heart of hearts.

      December 19, 2010 at 2:51 pm |
  5. Reality

    What some of the experts have concluded about John 14:26

    "John Dominic Crossan

    Item: 62
    Stratum: I (30-60 CE)
    Attestation: Triple
    Historicity: –

    Crossan [Historical Jesus, 352f] notes that this is one of a small group of sayings that express the "opposition, hostility, rejection, and danger involved in accepting either the vision or the mission of Jesus:" 38. Serpents and Doves, 44. Carrying One's Cross, 54. Dogs and Swine, 63. Saving One's Life, 72. Fire on Earth, and 81. Strong One's House. While some of these sayings could have originated within the lifetime of Jesus, Crossan points out that the promised Spirit who will speak in their defence indicates [that there has been a] development from casual opposition to juridical prosecution.

    Jesus Seminar – 81% voted the passage to be non-historical.

    The commentary in The Five Gospels (p. 110) observes:

    The sayings in Mark 13:9-13 all reflect detailed knowledge of events that took place—or ideas that were current—after Jesus' death: trial and persecution of Jesus' followers, the call to preach the gospel to all nations, advice to offer spontaneous testimony, and the prediction that families would turn against one another are features of later Christian existence, not of events in Galilee or Jerusalem during Jesus' lifetime.

    Gerd Luedemann

    Luedemann [Jesus, 89] sees this saying as coming from the community after Easter."

    December 18, 2010 at 11:58 am |
  6. Reality

    The Nativity and associated myths debunked:

    Christmas, the embellished story of the birth of a simple, preacher man named Jesus:

    As per most contemporary NT exegetes, his parents were Mary and Joseph although some say Jesus was a mamzer, the result of a pre-marital relationship between Mary and a Roman soldier.


    Jesus was not born in Bethlehem at least the one we are familiar with and there were no pretty wingie thingies singing from on high, no slaughter of the innocents by Herod, no visiting wise men and no escape to Egypt.

    The Three Kings/Wise Men myth was developed from all types of analogous legends and OT passages pre-Jesus. See faithfutures.org/index.php?t-itle=369_Star_of_Revelation for a lenthly review.

    An excerpt:

    Gerd Luedemann

    "Commenting on the infancy narratives overall, Luedemann [Jesus, 124-29] concludes that Luke and Matthew represent "two equally unhistorical narratives." He cites the occurrence of a miraculous heavenly sign at key points in the life of Mithridates VI in a history written by Justinus (active in the reign of Augustus, 2 BCE to 14 CE). "

    John P. Meier (Notre Dame professor)

    "Meier [Marginal Jew I,211ff and 376] considers these traditions to be "largely products of early Christian reflection on the salvific meaning of Jesus in the light of OT prophecies" and concludes that their historicity is "highly questionable."

    Conclusion: Christmas is historically a non-event. Ditto for the Feast of the Magi and the solemnity of Mary aka New Years day.

    December 18, 2010 at 1:23 am |
    • Bruce


      In Jesus' day, when the Chief Priest would speak they would reference other high ranking and well known priest in their sect like you have referenced Gerd Luedemann and John P. Meier above. This is used frequently to support an idea or topic. I'm sure you have used these well educated men to support your view of the Nativity. You have done some extensive research of what others have said. However, the interesting thing about Jesus was what people said of Him. One of the things that was very interesting to me is that He never used references like most false prophets and false messiahs. They said of Him, "He speaks as one having authority" Matthew 7:29 When you go back and look at what Jesus said, He never had to use references to support His ideas or topics. He did, however, reference other scripture which is the Word of God. So, I guess he did reference Himself occasionally.

      December 18, 2010 at 6:59 am |
    • Reality

      Some continue to be affected by the Three B Syndrome, i.e Bred, Born (reborn) and Brainwashed in the embellishments of the semi-fiction authors of the NT. e.g. Matt 7: 29 was simply another embellishment.

      December 18, 2010 at 8:50 am |
  7. Bruce

    It was a great presentation. Well done. Light hearted. Hope they do one on the Easter Bunny instead of the Crucification.

    December 17, 2010 at 9:45 pm |
  8. jeff

    Uh, guys, the immaculate conception refers to the conception of Mary, not Jesus...

    grace and peace,


    December 17, 2010 at 5:18 pm |
    • Peace2All


      Hey Jeff...!

      BTW, you would probably know this... Are there any biblical references to Mary, and her immaculate conception...?

      Just curious...


      December 17, 2010 at 6:45 pm |
    • CatholicMom


      If I may answer your question about Mary’s Immaculate Conception………………

      The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin, as Pope Pius IX proclaimed in 1854.

      Mary has been redeemed by her Savior, Christ, in a more exalted fashion by reason of the merits of her Son. She is the very ‘tabernacle’ who brings our Lord to us…a pure and perfect vessel.

      Pope Pius IX, as are all Popes, was promised the Advocate as in the following two verses; and there are other similar verses….so we understand that we will receive the fullness of Truth as the Holy Spirit provides…

      John 14:26
      The Advocate, the holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name–he will teach you everything and remind you of all that (I) told you.

      John 16:1313
      But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth. He will not speak on his own, but he will speak what he hears, and will declare to you the things that are coming.

      I hope this helps in understanding how the Church came to proclaim Mary’s Immaculate Conception.
      Merry Christmas to you and your loved ones!

      December 17, 2010 at 11:07 pm |
    • Peace2All


      Hi CM...!

      I hope that you have been well...?

      Thanks for jumping in with your thoughts on this.

      As for your response, well... it actually does answer my question to -Jeff..."Are there any biblical references to Mary and her Immaculate Conception...?"

      So, from what I am reading from you is... the answer is NO. There are no biblical references 'anywhere' proclaiming Mary and her Immaculate Conception. Unless there are others, that I am not aware of other than your 2 references from -John in the bible, which make no mention in any way.

      You mentioned Pope Pius IX in 1854 'proclaiming' in his opinion, it was so...yes...? "How the 'Church' came to proclaim Mary's Immaculate Conception"...So, it was the Church...Not the bible.

      An additional question or maybe as-sumption on my part is then: If (using those 2 verses from John) is that how all of the Pope's are seen as proclaiming *the truth*...? Does it basically come down to these 2 verses, in that only His Holiness, the Pope can get these messages...? Is that how you and other followers of the RCC trust and see how the Pope gets these special messages as truth...?

      Thanks CM... and Happy Holidays... and for 'you' a Merry Christmas.


      December 18, 2010 at 1:41 am |
    • CatholicMom


      We are well, and happy to hear from you, sounding well yourself….if I may read between the lines.

      When Pope Pius IX proclaimed the Immaculate Conception of Mary he did so in conjunction with the Bishops and from the chair of Vicar of Christ. They take into consideration many things. All Popes in history that have proclaimed Truths from the Chair of Peter in this way have never failed in delivering the Truth to the people, not even a Pope that was otherwise not a holy Pope; this can only happen because the Holy Spirit is doing exactly as He promised…protecting His Church from evil and guiding Her into the fullness of Truth ‘as we can bear it’. This is not to say that every word from the mouth of our Holy Father is a Truth that we must believe to be Truth, no; he may say that anchovy pizza is the best…that is just his personal opinion and we can agree with it or not.

      The Bible tells us that Jesus was sent by the Father with Authority; Jesus surprised the people with His Authority and they exclaimed how amazing ‘that God had given such power to ‘men’’. This power/Authority was given to Jesus’ Apostles by Jesus but not before He had established His Church and inst!tuted the Sacraments.

      I don’t know exactly how other followers of the Catholic Church trust and see the Pope but I would guess it is very much the same way that I see it. Because we believe that the Bible is the Word of God and because we understand that for nearly 400 years people lived without the Bible as we know it today, they must have thrived on Tradition which is what the Apostles had HEARD from Jesus and passed on to other ‘good’ men who would carry on the mission as Jesus had SENT them to do. Jesus knew these men would need to pass on the mission as they could not accomplish it in their own lifetimes.

      We have the Church Fathers and Church Doctors writings to examine, too. Not to mention the Truth that is written on our hearts to begin with. That seed is grace aplenty to grow in Faith if we only desire it. I can also say that Faith is something that grows just like a lovely flower with nurturing. Do you expect a flower to grow without its needs…sunlight and water, at least? No. We cannot expect our Faith seed to grow without proper nourishment. For me, my needs are met in the Church…being fed by the Sacraments I not only kept my Faith alive but it has flourished; it is by the grace of God and all I have to do is bask in his goodness offered freely to me. God has never given up on me even when the world showed its temptations to me and I caved. That cave was dark, but little by little I chose to come out into the Light again which saved my everlasting life; and now I plan to persevere and endure to the end!

      So to answer your question…no, it is not just two verses that proclaim how the Church arrives at Truth…it is by Tradition and the Magisterium and the Bible which holds us all together by the grace of God.

      Do I run on too long?

      December 18, 2010 at 9:49 am |
    • jeff

      @Peace2All, there are other verses that are referenced by Catholics – one in a promise in Genesis 3:15, and also in Luke 1:28, "And he [Gabriel] came to her and said, "Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!" The Greek used there is often translated as "Hail Mary, full of grace", the idea being that Mary possessed an extra measure of grace.

      I am not Catholic, so CatholicMom is the better one to address this. The "immaculate conception" is not a doctrine of the presbyterian/reformed tradition (to which I belong), perhaps because it does not seem as well supported by scripture as other doctrines.

      grace and peace,


      December 18, 2010 at 12:04 pm |
    • jeff


      There are a number of important Greek manuscripts from the second and third century containing over half of the new testament, and there are other smaller fragments as well. It was not an oral tradition for four hundred years. As early as 140 AD, Marcion was listing all of Paul's letters, Acts, and one of the Gospels as his "canon", and 20 of the 27 books of the NT were never in dispute, and no books NOT in the NT now were given serious consideration. The list of authoritative books was well established long before the Council of Nicea.

      grace and peace,


      December 18, 2010 at 12:11 pm |
    • CatholicMom


      Yes, ‘Hail Mary, full of grace’ is from the Bible and Catholics pray the Bible every time they say the ‘Hail Mary’ prayer. Being full of grace is more than just an extra measure..full is full. So Mary was full of grace from God.

      Perhaps I should have said it was a Catholic Tradition for almost 400 years, because there were many heresies that the early Church had to contend with. Of course, there were those who from the very beginning turned their back on Jesus and said to themselves ‘those are hard teachings…who can accept them’, and walked away. They do it still today.


      December 18, 2010 at 12:33 pm |
    • Reality

      More on Luke 1:26-38 via some contemporary experts:

      "Jesus, son of Joseph

      The GJohn is well-known for its complex and highly-developed theology. Less recognized is the same Gospel's capacity to preserve historical nuggets that would otherwise be lost to us. One of those may be surfacing here in the reference to Jesus as the "son of Joseph" and the comfort with which the Johannine story-teller can describe Jesus' opponents as saying they know his "father and mother."

      In chapters 6, 7 and 8 we find casual references to Jesus' parentage or birth place that are at odds with the later Christian tradition:

      son of Joseph, we know his father and mother ...
      6:42 They were saying, "Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, 'I have come down from heaven'?"

      not born in Bethlehem
      7:40 When they heard these words, some in the crowd said, "This is really the prophet."7:41 Others said, "This is the Messiah." But some asked, "Surely the Messiah does not come from Galilee, does he?7:42 Has not the scripture said that the Messiah is descended from David and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David lived?"7:43 So there was a division in the crowd because of him.7:44 Some of them wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him.

      at least we know our father!
      8:39 They answered him, "Abraham is our father." Jesus said to them, "If you were Abraham's children, you would be doing what Abraham did,8:40 but now you are trying to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did.8:41 You are indeed doing what your father does." They said to him, "We are not illegitimate children; we have one father, God himself."

      not yet 50 years of age
      8:56 Your ancestor Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day; he saw it and was glad."8:57 Then the Jews said to him, "You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?"8:58 Jesus said to them, "Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am."

      It is not clear just what the tradition behind GJohn knew about Jesus' family origins, but it is hard to imagine that a Christian author who was familiar with either Matthew or Luke could have written these words. It may simply be that we need to acknowledge that within the first 100 years there were Christians who had no trouble speaking of Joseph as Jesus' biological father, and did not know (or did not accept) the tradition of Jesus being born at Bethlehem. In GJohn the most complex Christology and the simplest biology stand side by side.

      Even in Luke we find casual references to Joseph as Jesus' father, as at (6) above: Luke 2:27,33,41,48.

      Bruce D. Chilton

      In Rabbi Jesus: An Intimate Biography (2000), Chilton develops the idea of Jesus as a ma-mzer; someone whose irregular birth cir-c-umstances result in their exclusion from full participation in the life of the community. He argues for the natural paternity of Joseph and finds no need for a miraculous conception. In his subsequent reconstruction of Jesus' life, Chilton suggests that this sustained personal experience of exclusion played a major role in Jesus' self-ident-ity, his concept of God and his spiritual quest.

      John Dominic Crossan

      Item: 26
      Stratum: I (30-60 CE)
      Attestation: Multiple

      In Historical Jesus [p. 371] Crossan treats this cluster, like 7 Of David's Lineage, as an example of the interplay of prophecy and history in the development of the Jesus traditions.

      In Birth of Christianity [pp. 26-29] Crossan uses Luke's account of Jesus' conception and birth to explore ethical issues concerning the public interpretation of the past. He notes the tendency of Christian scholars to disregard "pagan" birth legends while investing great effort in the defence of biblical birth narratives. He concludes:

      I do not accept the divine conception of either Jesus or Augustus as factual history, but I believe that God is incarnate in the Jewish peasant poverty of Jesus and not in the Roman imperial power of Augustus.

      The Jesus Seminar

      The Seminar reported its findings on the "Birth & Infancy Stories" in The Acts of Jesus (1998) and in a thematic issue of Forum (NS 2,1. Spring 1999).

      The following ancient parallels to Jesus' miraculous conception should be noted:

      Birth of Moses (Exod 2:1-10)
      Birth of Plato (Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers, 3.45) [see Acts of Jesus, p. 507]
      Birth of Alexander the Great (Plutarch, Parallel Lives, 2.1-3.5) [see Acts of Jesus, p. 502f]
      Birth of Apollonius (Philostratus, Life of Apollonius, I.4) [see Acts of Jesus, p. 505]

      The commentary relevant to the conception of Jesus reads as follows:

      The Seminar doubted, without denying, the possibilities that Jesus was conceived while Mary and Joseph were betrothed and that she was a virgin at the time she conceived. The account in Matthew seems to reflect the marriage customs of first-century Palestine where marriage took place in two stages: first, the engagement, or betrothal, during which time se-xual inter-course and co-nception might occur; and secondly, the marriage proper, which involved the transfer of the bride to her husband's home.

      With regard to the manner of Jesus' co-nception, the Fellows were unequivocal. With a virtually unanimous vote, the Fellows declared that the statement "Jesus was conceived by the holy spirit" is a theological and not a biological statement. They accordingly rejected the notion that Mary conceived Jesus without se-xual intercourse with a man. That Jesus was generated by God without human male involvement goes beyond what historical, or scientific, reason allows. Jesus certainly made no such claim about his origin; and there exists no first-person testimony by Mary his mother. Furthermore, not even the theological confession of Jesus as "son of God" requires a virginal conception: Paul, Mark, and John affirm Jesus' divine status without recourse to a miraculous conception. The confession of Jesus as "God's son," in association with Old Testament stories of God's control of the womb, may have been influential in the development of the belief that Jesus was miraculously conceived, in tandem with pagan stories in which one divine parent unites with a human counterpart. The New Testament birth stories appear to walk a fine line between the crass pagan versions, such as Plato's conception by Apollo, and the Hebrew accounts in which an infertile womb is somehow made fertile by divine decree, such as Sarah's conception of Isaac. In any case, the Fellows of the Jesus Seminar consider Jesus to have had a human father.

      The Fellows of the Seminar were divided on who that father was. Roughly half of the Fellow think it probable that Mary conceived by the agency of Joseph, in spite of the explicit denial in the stories themselves. The logic of the genealogies supports the paternity of Joseph. The other half held the view that Mary conceived by some unnamed man through ra-pe or seduction. The latter possibility is suggested by some evidence that the birth stories were designed to cover up some scandal regarding Jesus' paternity. The stories themselves insist that Joseph was not the biological father of Jesus and there is the strange inclusion, in the genealogy of Matthew, of the four disreputable women: Tamar, who conceived twins of her father-in-law after seducing him (Gen 38); Ruth, the Moabite woman who claimed Boaz as her husband under dubious circ-umstances (Ruth 4); Rahab, the Jericho prost-itute who aided the Israelite spies when prospecting for the invasion across the Jordan (Josh 2); and Bathsheba, who was ra-ped by King David (2 Sam 11). There is also the old Greco-Roman and Jewish tradition that Jesus was the son of a Roman soldier named Pantera. [Acts of Jesus, 504-506]

      Gerd Luedemann

      Luedemann [Jesus, 122-24] presents four (4) reasons for regarding the miraculous conception of Jesus as unhistorical: (1) Numerous parallels in the history of religion; (2) it represents a rare and late NT tradition; (3) Synoptic descriptions of Jesus' relations with his family are inconsistent with such an event; and (4) scientific considerations.

      More positively, Luedemann concludes that we can extract as a historical fact behind Matt 1.18-25 the existence of a hostile rumor about the illegitimacy of Jesus. Luedemann suggests that ra-pe by an unnamed man, possibly even a Roman soldier, is the most likely explanation. He notes that while such an event would have disqualified Mary from marriage to a priest, it would not have prevented from marrying and have other children.

      Luedemann [Jesus, 261-63] discounts Luke's account as a legend deriving from Jewish Hellenistic circles that were concerned to hold together the procreation of the Spirit, the authentic sonship of the Messiah and the virginal conception

      December 18, 2010 at 5:11 pm |
About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.