Saturday, December 17, 2005

"Christmas is Cancelled" - Gerd Lüdemann

In a recent letter concerning Christmas Gerd Lüdemann writes:
The biblical accounts of the birth of the Jesus, the supposed Son of God, are mere inventions and have little relation to what really happened. Historical research has demonstrated this once and for all. Ten unquestionable facts argue against their historical credibility:

1. Written centuries earlier, the quoted words of Old Testament prophets did not predict the coming of Jesus, but referred to events and persons in their past or immediate future. They would have been shocked by the notion that Jesus' birth was the fulfillment of their prophecies.
2. The New Testament authors derived most events of the Christmas story from prophecies of the Old Testament and misrepresented their original intent in order to make them seem to point to Jesus.
3. The notion that Mary's pregnancy did not result from intercourse with a male is a canard. The claim of a virgin birth has two sources: the mistranslation of "young woman" by "virgin" (in a passage that clearly did not refer to Jesus!), and the desire of Christians to place their revered leader on the same level as other ancient "sons of God" who were likewise born without participation of a male.
4. The reported worldwide census ordered by Caesar Augustus did not occur.
5. The reported murder of children in Bethlehem ordered by Herod the Great did not occur.
6. Jesus was born in Nazareth, not in Bethlehem.
7. The angels in the Christmas story derive from primitive mythology.
8. The shepherds who kept watch over their flocks are idealized representatives of the poor and outcast, persons emphasized by Luke. They do not appear in Matthew's story.
9. The magicians from the East are idealized representatives of the Gentiles and of eternal wisdom. They do not appear in Luke's story.
10. The story of the star of Bethlehem is a fiction intended to emphasize the importance of Jesus - and, of course, to provide an entrance cue for the magicians from the East.

The logical conclusion is unavoidable: the Christmas stories recounted by the Bible and those Christian churches that present them as actual events have lost all historical credibility. Surely Jesus of Nazareth would not wish Christians to spread lies about him!

(My thanks to Jim West for first posting the letter on his site)

It appears that we have all been jipped and Christmas (the nativity scene, "a child born unto us", and even harking ages) is all a rort. Why did I buy all those Christmas presents?

I don't mind some of Lüdemann's earlier works on Acts, Paul's Opponents and Pauline Chronology (though his book on the resurrection is aweful). But to be honest, Lüdemann strikes me as bit of an iconoclaust who likes to poke fun at the Christian faith and do so with a very condescending tone (e.g. "supposed Son of God").

Mark Goodacre offers a good response at NT Gateway on his entry Lüdemann on Christmas. Suffice to say, Lüdemann is not holding all the aces and things are not quite so black and white as he would like us to believe.

Books I've found helpful on the birth narratives are: Raymond Brown, The Birth of the Messiah , Robert H. Gundry, Matthew, and Markus Bockmuehl, This Jesus.

Now I'm not denying that Lüdemann raises some interesting issues, in particular Christian Midrash of 1 Samuel, parallels with birth stories in the greco-roman world, and Christian exegesis of Isaiah 7.14, etc. But I do take exception to the mocking tone of Lüdemann and he seems a little too sure of himself. It is scholarship like this that reminds me of Percy Shelley's poem of the ruins of the ancient fictive kingdom of Ozymandias.

I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read,
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed,
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look upon my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away

Now I'm no English literature guru (please consult Ben Myers for that) but some of those "supposedly" learned scholars who claim that Christianity is so obviously false, so historically spurious, and only pious fools cling to its beliefs, remind me of Ozymandias. They both make great boasts, but ultimately they shall be remembered only for their arrogance.

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