Sunday, September 11, 2005

The Christmas Criticism Season Has Arrived

Christmas comes only once a year, but media criticism of the Bible's infancy narratives lasts longer than the Christmas season. It's only the middle of September, and the misinformation is already underway.

This upcoming Wednesday, the National Geographic Channel will be running a program titled "Science of the Bible", and we read the following in a description of the program at their web site:

"But only two of the four gospels in the Bible provide an account of Jesus’ birth and a closer look at them reveals some surprising inconsistencies."

While the National Geographic Channel is "surprised", none of this is new to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Their periodical, The Tidings, recently ran a story on this National Geographic Channel program. We read the following about this publication:

"The Tidings is the weekly newspaper of the Los Angeles Archdiocese. The Los Angeles Archdiocese covers Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties in the state of California. A total of four million Catholics reside in the area, making the Los Angeles Archdiocese the largest archdiocese in the United States. Begun in 1895, The Tidings is the only weekly Catholic newspaper in Southern California, and is the oldest continuously published Catholic newspaper on the West Coast of America."

Here's what this newspaper of the one true and infallible church founded by Jesus Christ tells us about the National Geographic Channel program on the birth of Jesus:

This does not, of course, undermine the reality of the Bible as the divinely inspired Word of God. The series doesn't even touch on that part of our understanding of sacred scripture. It's looking for facts, which are not the same as truth. And the fact is that what the scholars and archaeologists find doesn't mesh with what St. Matthew and St. Luke wrote about the birth of Jesus, the subject of the first episode. Of course, as the program points out, the accounts that St. Matthew and St. Luke wrote don't really agree with each other either.

For example, if you place the date of Jesus' birth according to what St. Matthew wrote, Our Lord was born in 6 B.C., right before the death of King Herod. If you place the date of Jesus' birth according to what St. Luke wrote, Jesus was born 10 years later. One of the points made is that both St. Matthew and St. Luke were writing almost 90 years after Jesus was born. Because of the fall of Jerusalem and the fact that most of the eye-witnesses were dying off, it would have been very hard for them to get a clear picture of what actually transpired. What it doesn't mention (and possibly should have) is that in those days, history was written to make a point, not necessarily to tell the facts....

The film is respectful and uses knowledgeable sources, including Dr. Daniel Smith-Christopher, of Loyola Marymount University and perennial Religious Education Congress speaker. Where it works best, however, is in its recreations of how scholars think the birth of Jesus might have come about, and the basic finding is that it was probably a pretty ordinary event overall....

So even though it questions the factual accuracy of the Gospel narratives, oddly enough, by stripping away the extraneous elements of those stories, the program gets to the heart of what the narratives are all about -- the humble birth of a child who would change the world.

Later this year, I'm going to be doing a lot of segments on issues related to Christmas in my Apologetics Log series on the NTRM Areopagus forum. I'll go into much more detail there, but I'll make a few general comments here.

The gospels were intended to record history. They're Greco-Roman biographies. They have the characteristics that allow us to reach that conclusion. They were interpreted as historical accounts by the earliest Christian interpreters. They were interpreted as historical accounts by the earliest non-Christian interpreters as well. I think that a writer addressing the Bible for a publication of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles ought to know more about the genre of the gospels.

And I'd like to know where this writer, Anne Louise Bannon, gets the concept that we can date Jesus' birth in Matthew at 6 B.C. and His birth in Luke ten years later. There are multiple years that are plausible for both gospels, and the timing of Luke's census has multiple plausible dates.

Bannon's late dating of the gospels is unlikely to be true, and her reference to eyewitnesses "dying off" doesn't support the conclusion she associates with it. If some eyewitnesses with relevant information were still alive, as they surely would have been during the earliest decades of church history, then eyewitness testimony was a factor. Adding the qualifier that they were "dying off" does nothing to change the fact that people were available. And questions about Jesus' background would have been asked before even Jesus Himself had died. Jesus probably discussed such issues with His disciples and other people. The issue here shouldn't just be eyewitness testimony. A man like Jesus' brother James, who was bishop of Jerusalem into the 60s, probably would have significant and reliable information, and so might many other people, such as Jesus' cousin Symeon, who apparently lived even beyond the late date of the gospels suggested by liberal scholarship. Hostile witnesses would have been available as well, and some of the events of the infancy narratives were of a highly public nature.

There are many reasons to trust the infancy narratives, and I'll be going into more detail later this year (here and in the Apologetics Log series). But it would be good if liberal academia and the liberal media weren't being assisted by proponents of the one true and infallible church founded by Jesus Christ.