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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Was Jesus Born In a Caravanserai?

Christmas is coming! Christmas is coming! Rudolph is coming! Hear the Jingle Bells? This is the day we exchange gifts, put up trees, decorate our homes to an extent that would make the famous Las Vegas Strip seem austere.

We do all this because this is the day Jesus Christ was born in a manger (or a cave in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem) because there was no room at the inn. The date? December 25, A.D. 1.

We know all this, have known it all our lives; or do we? As Will Rogers was fond of saying, 

It isn't what we don't know that gives us trouble. It's what we know that ain't so.

Sorry, but all this just ain't so.

The Date

In Luke 2:8 we read
 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
Why would the sheep be kept outdoors in the cold and rainy winter? Perhaps they had a shelter of some kind. And how about the people, traveling on sandaled feet on rough, and in winter often muddy, roads? Joseph and Mary are reported to be going to Bethlehem to be counted in the census. Surely the Roman Empire could have survived without a census until springtime. And it probably did.

It is part of Mormon mythology, widely accepted but never actually declared by the Church, that Jesus was born on April 6, A.D. 1.

But in the Mortal Messiah, by Bruce R. McConkie, we read,

We do not believe it is possible with the present state of our knowledge — including that which is known both in and out of the Church — to state with finality when the natal day of the Lord Jesus actually occurred. James E. Talmage takes the view that he was born on April 6, 1 b.c., basing his conclusions on D&C 20:1, which speaks of the day on which the Church was organized, saying it was "one thousand eight hundred and thirty years since the coming of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ in the flesh." April 6 is then named as the specific day for the formal organization. Elder Talmage notes the Book of Mormon chronology, which says that the Lord would be born 600 years after Lehi left Jerusalem. (Talmage, Jesus the Christ, pg 102-104.)Elder Hyrum M. Smith of the Council of the Twelve wrote in the Doctrine and Covenants Commentary: "The organization of the Church in the year 1830 is hardly to be regarded as giving divine authority to the commonly accepted calendar. There are reasons for believing that those who, a long time after our Savior's birth, tried to ascertain the correct time erred in their calculations, and that the Nativity occurred four years before our era, or in the year of Rome 750. All that this Revelation [D&C 20] means to say is that the Church was organized in the year commonly accepted as 1830, a.d." Rome 750 is equivalent, as indicated, to 4 b.c.
 The Place: No Room in the Inn

"Inn" at that time and place probably meant "caravanserai." These were the places where camel caravans stopped along the way; people stayed in rooms on the second floor, while the animals were housed at ground level. Note that Luke 2:7 says,
And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
  Caravanserai -- water trough front and center.

The operative word here is room, not space.

All the rooms upstairs were taken, but there was still space on the ground floor among the animals and in the courtyard. Mangers (actually water troughs) would naturally have been where the animals could get to them

We might read the above as: [Mary] wrapped him in swaddling clother, and laid him in a watering trough; because all the rooms in the caravanserai were occupied.

I won't comment on the Christmas tree, the holly, the candles and all the accoutrements of Christmas in our day and time. Much has already been written, and is easy to find on the Net. Christmas is a day for prayer and thanksgiving, but it is also a day for the delight of children (and sometimes for the child within ourselves). So don't feel guilty about the gift-giving, or about the sweets we will all consume. Just enjoy. 
The exact date, especially considering the various changes in the calendar, is really of no importance.  As Joseph Smith wrote,
The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it. ( Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith [1976], 121).

Wishing everyone a slightly more realistic Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

"Christmas" Is About Christ

These are pictures I took in Jerusalem and the surrounding areas in 2003 and 2005.

The music is from Internet royalty free sites; the scriptures are KJV.

Merry Christmas to all!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Jesus Was a Jew

A friend told me of a long-ago friendship with a Jew. Her only regret, she said, was that she wouldn't see him in Heaven.

Why not?, supposing for the moment that he had later committed some terrible crime.

She gave me that pitying look members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are accustomed to receiving, and pronounced "Jews don't go to Heaven, you know."

After taking amoment to absorb this information, I asked, "So you're looking forward to a Heaven where Jesus won't be admitted? Jesus was a Jew."

The conversation came to a standstill.

Another comment I've often heard (not from Mormons) is that one need only study the New Testament; the Old Testament has been fulfilled and done away with.

My personal feeling is that you can't begin to grasp the New Testament without a pretty thorough knowledge of the Old Testament (the Hebrew Bible or the Tanakh. ) The Book of Mormon, too, is ultimately grounded in Old Testament history and doctrine.

Comes now a new book by Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler, The Jewish Annotated New Testament. Amazon's description reads:

Although major New Testament figures--Jesus and Paul, Peter and James, Jesus' mother Mary and Mary Magdalene--were Jews, living in a culture steeped in Jewish history, beliefs, and practices, there has never been an edition of the New Testament that addresses its Jewish background and the culture from which it grew--until now. 
An international team of scholars introduces and annotates the Gospels, Acts, Letters, and Revelation from Jewish perspectives, in the New Revised Standard Version translation. They show how Jewish practices and writings, particularly the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, influenced the New Testament writers. ... In addition, thirty essays on historical and religious topics--Divine Beings, Jesus in Jewish thought, Parables and Midrash, Mysticism, Jewish Family Life, Messianic Movements, Dead Sea Scrolls, questions of the New Testament and anti-Judaism, and others--bring the Jewish context of the New Testament to the fore...

Note: "Click to Look Inside" must be accessed through I sorry 'bout that; I'd remove it if I could!
About the Authors: Amy-Jill Levine is University Professor of New Testament and Jewish Studies, E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Professor of New Testament Studies, and Professor of Jewish Studies at the Divinity School, College of Arts and Science, Graduate Department of Religion, and Program in Jewish Studies at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN
Marc Z. Brettler is Dora Golding Professor of Biblical Studies at Brandeis University.
Other books by Levine and Brettler:

I was introduced to Amy-Jill Levine through the Teaching Company and their DVD: Old Testament, Taught by Amy-Jill Levine.
 It has meant more to more people than any other book in history. The influence of ancient Israel's religious and national literature is evident in everything from medieval mystery plays to modern novels, art, music, theater, film, and dance. ...The Old Testament is endlessly fascinating,because it offers everything to explore:myth, saga and history;tragedy, comedy, and farce; economics and politics; literature and poetry of surpassing beauty; court intrigue and prophetic morality; heavenly miracles and sometimes heavenly silence; questions of theodicy; answers that satisfy and answers that may not; destruction and rebuilding; despair and hope."
Disclaimer: I'm not a rep of The Teaching Company, just an admirer and occasional customer as the budget allows.

Mormons believe in the Bible and study it regularly. By this I don't mean that we pick a subject like "love" or "humility" and cherry-pick verses here and there to support our conclusions. We read it thoroughly, both for doctrine and for its historical content. We believe that in the last days, out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. Isaiah 2:3 (KJV).

We understand that Jesus was a Jew.