Pope’s book on Jesus challenges Christmas traditions
By Laura Smith-Spark, CNN
(CNN) — It’s Christmas, but not as you know it: a new book released this week by Pope Benedict XVI looks at the early life of Jesus — and debunks several myths about how the Nativity unfolded.
In “Jesus of Nazareth — The Infancy Narratives,” the pope says the Christian calendar is actually based on a blunder by a sixth century monk, who Benedict says was several years off in his calculation of Jesus’ birth date.
ccording to the pope’s research, there is also no evidence in the Gospels that the cattle and other animals traditionally pictured gathered around the manger were actually present.
He also debunks the claim that angels sang at the birth, a staple theme of Christmas carols.
The book, which is being published in multiple languages in time for Christmas, is the third in a series by the pontiff. The previous two volumes dealt with Jesus’ adult life and his public ministry.
Alessandro Speciale, Vatican correspondent for the Religion News Service, told CNN the pope was not so much aiming to debunk myths as trying to show that the Jesus depicted in the Gospels is a real historical figure, who walked on earth and talked to people like anyone else.
The pope also looks at scholarly studies of the Bible, some of which have indicated for decades that the traditionally accepted birth date for Jesus is wrong, Speciale said.
But while the book points out that the Gospels do not support the presence of animals at Jesus’ birth — a detail apparently added in later centuries — the pope does not suggest they should be thrown out of the Nativity scene, Speciale said. Read further in CNN.
Complementing CNN story with BBC:
The book is signed “Joseph Ratzinger Benedict XVI”, meaning that it is an academic work, rather than papal dogma that cannot be contradicted.
Pope Benedict reaffirms the importance of the Christian belief in the virgin birth, that Jesus was not conceived through sexual intercourse but through the Holy Spirit.
He argues that it, together with the resurrection, are “cornerstones of faith” because they demonstrate God’s power over matter.
But he debunks several Christmas traditions, including the year of Jesus’ birth, which the Pope argues was miscalculated by a monk.
Another sacred cow he tackles is the presence of animals at the birth in a stable in Bethlehem.
He argues there is no evidence in the Gospel for that, but says images of oxen and donkeys have become such a staple part of the Nativity that they are now accepted. Read further in BBC.
The Muslim Times’ Editor’s Comments
According to the Pope Benedict’s own admission, the timing and many of the details of Christmas are based on blunders or innovations made centuries after Jesus’ birth. This opens flood gates to other inferences and speculations. Just like many of the details of Christmas or Nativity story are make belief including Santa Claus, many of the details of the resurrection or Easter story are also make belief. Here, I will link some materials including debates about resurrection: