Nativity: did it really happen?

Did you hear Professor Francesca Stavrakopoulou on 5Live Breakfast 20-12-12? (1.41mins in:

Francesca is Professor of Hebrew Bible and Ancient Religion at the University of Exeter.

Presenter Nicky Campbell was asking her 'what we really know about the nativity' and the Professor was giving her view on the historical likelihood of different parts of the story. 

So, for example, she suggested that Jesus having brothers and sisters 'looks very likely' but the idea that Herod ordered the slaughter of babies 'is really unlikely' and the three wise men are 'probably more like a literary device'. She also argued that 'basically, the virgin birth idea is a mistranslation'.

Whilst basic details of the nativity narratives are probably among the best-known bits of the Bible, debates about exactly what went on that first Christmas are less familiar.

In fact, there are many different perspectives on the nativity.  Scholars have asked whether the nativity narratives were written as history, whether events did or didn't happen as described in Matthew and Luke, and whether that even matters.

As just one example, here's NT Wright – historian, scholar and formerly Bishop of Durham – grappling with the nativity stories as an historian.

At Bible Society, we always want people to consider the Scriptures for themselves. Listen to loads of perspectives, ask tons of questions – just don't forget to actually check out the Bible for yourself and reach your own conclusions!

Here's the story in the gospel of Luke (chapters 1 and 2):

And here's how another gospel, Matthew, tells it (chapters 1 and 2):

Why not have a look for yourself?  Go in with an open mind (without deciding beforehand what 'must' be the case) and see what you find there...

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