An Archbishop, and a baby in a manger


The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, was asked on BBC radio if "the baby Jesus in a manger" was "historically and factually true".

His answer, alas, was "I should think so." He then goes on to explain that "the Gospel tells us he was born outside the main house, probably because it was overcrowded because it was pilgrimage time or census time; whatever; yes; he's born in poor circumstances, slightly out of the ordinary."

Of course, when Williams asserts that "the Gospel" says that Jesus was born in a manger, he really means Luke. Since Matthew's and Luke's accounts of Jesus's birth are quite different and irreconcilable, then on what basis can he say "I should think so" when he refers to just one of those two Gospel accounts and then asserts that it was "historically and factually true"? There is no such thing as the Gospel when it comes to describing Jesus's birth--there are two Gospel accounts. He then fudges a little on the matter of the census, as if almost to acknowledge that Luke's invented story of a census pilgrimage was perhaps just a tad questionable, although of course he doesn't come close to coming right out and saying that. In fact, the business of the census was completely ahistorical, and surely someone of Williams's stature in the faith should know that. It doesn't make him a very credible Christian leader or a theologian to treat such mythology as if it were historical truth. This is how religion gets dumbed down.

In reality, we know absolutely nothing about the circumstances of Jesus's birth. The two birth narratives that we have were written some 80 to 90 years, give or take, after Jesus was born. They are mythology, pure and simple, meant to express a theological interpretation of the meaning of Jesus's life and message. The most likely scenario is that Jesus of Nazareth was born--well, in Nazareth. It is entirely possible that he had lowly origins--carpenters were not exactly in the upper echelons of society at that time, and peasant society was having the squeeze put on it by Roman authority. But all of that is reasoned speculation, and the details of Jesus's birth are entirely unknown, and Rowan Williams does a great disservice to Christianity by asserting otherwise.