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What Diverse Views of the Date and Place of the Birth of Jesus?
THE date was in A.D. 525, arbitrarily set at the year of Rome 753. But Herod the Great had died early in 750 U.C. Perhaps most Biblical students now place the birth in the spring of 4 B.C.* The putting of the day at December 25 was perhaps an adaptation to the Roman festival of "the Unconquerable Sun," just after the winter solstice. The same day had been similarly observed among the Greeks, Persians, and Egyptians; and pre-eminently so might be the rise of "the light of the world" on the long night of sin, the warmth and life of good-will shed into hearts of men the world around.
As to the place of the birth, two theories have been adduced : (1) Bethlehem; (2) Nazareth. The latter theorists urge that the words of Jesus himself indicate that he was a native of Nazareth; that local names were given to men from the place of their birth, but their residence was changeable; that the presumability of the alleged journey to Jerusalem depends chiefly on the probability of the alleged occasion therefor, and, had there been a simultaneous coming up of everybody in the land, a census of Syria, as parenthetically averred by Luke, or of the whole Roman world,— it would have been mentioned in profane history, whereas, although Publius Sulpicius Quirinus (Cyrenius), pro-consul, when governor of Syria, made a registration in Judea and Samaria when they became a Roman province, this was not until nearly ten years after the death of Herod the Great, and did not extend to Galilee nor concern Joseph's family; † that, at the probable time of the birth, the
*In Harper's Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, and in Canon F. W. Farrar's Life of Christ (App. of the Cassel ed.), the conflicting theories are fully considered.
† See Dr. Davidson's Introduction, ii., p. 68.
governor of Syria was not Cyrenius, but Saturninus; that Mark and John, while not directly mentioning the place of the birth, confirm the primitive tradition of early residence at Nazareth; that Matthew virtually confesses that, to make out his case that Jesus is the Messiah, he adapts his location to Micah v., 2,-out of Bethlehem Ephratah shall come a ruler, etc.; that this suspicious bias is also disclosed in Matthew's misapplication of Hosea xi., 1, "When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt"; and that there are some discrepancies in Matthew's minor details,— "the revolving-light behavior of the star at Jerusalem," etc.
The Gospel of the Infancy* says Jesus was born on the road before his parents reached Bethlehem, according to the Protevangelion, three miles distant,—and adds that, when he was born, "wise men came from the East to Jerusalem, as Zorodascht† (Zoroaster), had predicted; and there were with them gifts," etc. The account adds that Mary gave them a swaddling cloth instead of a blessing, and on their return they cast it into a fire, and it remained unharmed; also that they were guided by an angel in the form of a star. Another account
stated that Jesus was born in a cave.‡
*See ante, chap. ii.
† In the ante-Nicene copy, "Zeruduscht." See (in Du Perron's translation of the Zend-Avesta) the Life of Zoroaster, vol. i., Part II., p. 45.
See Judge Waite's History, etc., to the year 200, passim.
What Three Views concerning the Paternity of Jesus?
(1) THAT he was supernaturally "conceived by the Holy Ghost," and had no natural human father.
(2) That all the natural conditions necessary to an ordinary human birth were present, but to these there was added "an absolutely creative act which did away with the traducian sinful influence."*
(3) That Joseph was the father, in the most natural sense; that before the conception he had been lawfully married to Mary. For this view, some have argued that the thesis inducing the attempt of the Ebionite redactor † to adapt the paternity to a record of words addressed to Ahaz ‡ is absurd, and contrary to the preponderance of evidential data of the four canonical Gospels. It has also been argued that the Hebrew word for "spirit," being of the feminine gender, the saying that the Holy Spirit was the father of Jesus must have arisen among the Greeks, and not among the first believers, who were Jews; that, even if the story did not so arise, it would be very natural for the figurative tendency of Oriental expression to have so pure a character as Jesus created of a holy spirit, and for tradition, along down the years following the crucifixion, to enhance this appropriate simile to the present metaphor or hyperbole.§
Matt. i., 22, 23.
A Virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil and choose the good, for before the child shall know to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land that thou abhorrest shall be forsaken of both her kings. ... A man shall nourish a young cow and two sheep.. For the abundance of milk that they shall give, he shall eat butter."-Isaiah vii., 14, 22.
For a rather incisive review of the patristic ideas of the paternity, see Mr. Savage's Talks about Jesus, pp. 57-59.
It is also argued that the thesis of the author (or of the redactor) of the Fourth Gospel is unquestionably Gnostic; * that, from the doctrine of Pythagoras and Plato,—that all natures, intelligible, intellectual, and material, are derived by successive emanations (æones) from the infinite fountain of Deity, the transition was easy, by a little revision of the traditions of the Jewish Christians, to that of the Neo-platonic Christians, concerning the pre-existence of the soul of Jesus: "The Word was made flesh." †
In support of this view, it is asserted that the New Testament, and especially the Fourth Gospel, is covered with fingermarks of the Gnostic belief,- namely, that the original and supreme God dwelt apart and afar from the operations of the material universe, and had nothing whatever to do with matter; and the world was created by a sub-deity, Demiurgus; and that a corresponding allowance must be made for the stand-point of a writer saying Christ created the world. Pope's lines have pretty general indorsement:
All are but parts of one stupendous whole,
In this connection, after adverting to the Trinitarian view and certain technical distinctions essential thereto, Dr. J. F. Clarke says:
We find more of God in Christ, not less, because we do not embarrass ourselves by these technical and theological distinctions, but accept him as he appears everywhere to be, a simple man; a man who, by the divine gift and help and inspiration, was able to rise till he came so near to God that, when we see him, we catch something of the reflected light of the Deity shining in his face. An old English religious poet has said :
A man who looks on glass,
On it may stay his eye,
Or if he pleases through it pass,
*See Dr. M. Arnold's God and the Bible, chap. v., "The Fourth Gospel from Within."
† John i., 14; after a personification of the idea in Prov. viii., 22-30,— “The Lord possessed me in the beginning," etc.; also Wisdom vii., 25-27.
Christ as a man is the glass. If we please, we can look on the glass, stay our eyes on that. Then, we see his human character. Or we can look through the glass, and see that he is a mediator of God who shines through his mind and heart, and so fills us with a sense of the great Deity.- Discourse on Acts xxiv., 14, American Unitarian Association Tracts, Series 4, No. 28, 1878.*
Egyptian paganism still insisted on three gods; philosophy demanded unity: the compromise was a triune godhead.-M. D. Conway (Idols and Ideals, App. Essay, p. 54).
According to the three synoptics, Jesus made no allusion to any miraculous circumstances connected with his birth. He looked upon himself as belonging to Nazareth, not as the child of Bethlehem; he reproved the scribes for teaching that the Messiah must necessarily be a descendant of David, and did not himself make any express claim to such descent.— Albert Réville (History of the Doctrine of the Deity of Christ).
Arius, of Alexandria, excommunicated by Bishop Alexander, but recalled by Constantine, taught that the Son was created out of nothing by the will of the Father, and hence was inferior to the Father in nature and dignity; and that the Holy Spirit is created by the power of Christ. Sabellius, of Libya, in the third century taught that the Son and Holy Spirit are only different powers, operations, or offices of the Father. Socinus of Sienna, in the sixteenth century, taught that Christ was an inspired man.
The animating motive of Arius was apparently to steer the ship of dogma clear of the rock of ditheism, the notion of two Gods. Two beings, one unbegotten, the other eternally begotten, seemed to him no better than two Gods. As for himself, he would not say that "there was a time when Christ was not," but "there was when Christ was not. He was before time, but God was before him. How clear this is; how palpable; how wholesome; how nutritious! Then, too, Arius stuck at the word "begotten." If Christ was begotten, then, as begotten from the unbegotten, he must inherit the unbegottenness of his begetter!-John White Chadwick.
Joseph Cook, in his Boston lecture of March 26, 1877, adduced four theses: (a) The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are one God; (b) Each has a peculiarity incommunicable to the others; (c) Neither is God without the others; (d) Each with
*See also discussions between Messrs. Clarke and Joseph Cook on the "Triunity," the "At-one-ment," etc., 1877. Also a pamphlet, The Doctrine of the Trinity defended against the Attacks of "I. F. C.," by John H. Eager, B.D. Also Channing's Works, vol. iii., p. 70. Also Swedenborg's Brief Exposition,