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Maryam at the checkpoint — the Story of Christmas

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on 34 Comments

1.

Jesus of Nazareth, who would grow up to become an amazingly inspirational teacher, was a Jewish Palestinian who was born at a time when Palestine was under the brutal rule of a foreign military occupation. Because of some completely arbitrary regulations imposed by the occupiers, his mother Maryam (Mary) was forced, when she was heavily pregnant, to take a difficult ride by donkey from where they were living, Nazareth, in Galilee, to Bethlehem in the distant hills south of Jerusalem.

Nazareth is the present-day Palestinian city of Nasera, which is in the north of the present-day Israel. Many of the Palestinian Christians who live in and around Nasera today are descendants of some of Jesus’ first-ever followers, many of whom came to him from that whole area of Galilee.

Back when Maryam and her fiance, Joseph, were forced to make the trek from Nasera to Bethlehem, you can imagine how many difficulties they encountered along the way, what with the checkpoints and the bullying foreign soldiers harassing everyone who needed to cross them…

Then, when they got to Bethlehem, they found the city packed with other people who’d also been ordered to go there by the foreign soldiers, and the innkeepers in Bethlehem didn’t want to provide any rooms to these migrants. Maryam was about to give birth! Where could they go?

Some farmwomen in the area offered them refuge in a stable, which was better than nothing, and Maryam was able to have the baby there. And so Jesus (known in their language, Aramaic, as Issa) was born in a stable, to a not-yet-married mother. He was an outsider from the very beginning.

2.

The Jewish people– and others– in Palestine at that time were having a very hard time of it because of the military occupation they lived under, which was run by the Roman Empire. But the Jews had some longheld traditions that they would one day be saved by someone born in Bethlehem, a town located about six miles southwest of Jerusalem.

After Jesus was born, some of the shepherds and other people from around Bethlehem started to think that Jesus might be the one who was sent to save them. And the word soon got out that this was indeed the baby who’d been sent to save the world. (Interesting to think how that happened in the days before Youtube… but word-of-mouth has always been a powerful force.) Some months later, there were even three very wise men who lived in countries further East—perhaps in present-day Iran, or Oman—who said that they too had heard about this miraculous baby and they wanted to come to visit him.

But the three wise men made a bad mistake. You see, the Romans didn’t rule over Palestine directly, but they’d installed a powerful local contractor to rule over Palestine in their name. He probably made a lot of money from doing this. He was named Herod, and he called himself the King of Judea. He was very cruel. Some historians say he even murdered three of his own sons.

So when the wise men came from the east to look for the miraculous baby, they asked some of Herod’s officials where this baby might be. That immediately got Herod and his officials concerned. They worried that the baby might grow up to challenge Herod and the very lucrative deal he had with the Romans. So the officials said to the wise men: “When you find this baby, be sure to come back and tell us where he is!”

These wise men, like many people back in those days, were really good at finding their way to places by looking at the stars at night and figuring out from them which direction to travel in. They had seen one unusually bright star, and decided maybe if they went toward it they could find the miraculous baby. And it worked! The star led them straight to where Maryam, Joseph, and the baby were.

When the people there in Bethlehem saw the wise men visiting Jesus, and giving him some super-special (and expensive) gifts, this strengthened their belief that Jesus was indeed the promised one. But when the wise men told Maryam and Joseph about the conversation with Herod’s officials, they were very scared. They told the wise men absolutely not to report to Herod’s officials–which they didn’t. They left Palestine soon after, going back to their own countries.

Herod pretty speedily figured that the wise men had double-crossed him. He also learned from the many spies he had all around the country that the wise men had found the baby they were looking for– in Bethlehem. He was really angry! He told his soldiers to go to Bethlehem and kill every baby there who was under two years of age.

Maryam and Joseph had already decided that their baby was attracting too much attention for them all to be safe, and that they needed speedily to leave not just Bethlehem but the whole of Palestine. Once again, they had a difficult journey to make, still with their trusty donkey. This time, once again dodging the checkpoints, they went to Egypt; and this time they had a baby to take with them, too.

Meanwhile, in Bethlehem, Herod’s soldiers went to work, going house to house to kill all the babies. It was such a horrible scene. No-one knows how many babies were killed, but it was really, really sad for everyone in the city.

3.

A few years later, Herod died. Maryam, Joseph, and Jesus traveled quietly back to Palestine, going to Nazareth where they both had families. That’s where Jesus grew up and went to school. As a teenager, he started preaching to people about such important things as the need to be kind to everyone, especially people poorer or weaker than yourself… and the need not to demonize your enemies but to find peaceful, respectful ways to end your conflicts with them, instead.

Over the years, his teachings attracted a wide following, and he became known as “Jesus Christ.” (“Christ” is a Greek word for “the promised one.”) His early followers were all, like him, Jewish Palestinians who were looking for a way to live an ethical life even under the violent rule of the Romans. Still, to this day, there are strong communities of Christians in that area—in present-day Palestine, Israel, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Egypt—whose families and traditions date back to some of Jesus’s earliest followers.

But one of the earliest teachings of the young Christian community was that their new religion was not just for these dissident Jews, but rather for everyone who wanted to follow Jesus’s teachings, whatever their ethnicity. Because of this, very soon there were Christian communities in Turkey, Iraq, Iran, India, and even China. Christian beliefs spread from Egypt into Ethiopia and right across North Africa. This all happened, by the way, long before there were any Christians at all in Western Europe—or, of course, in America. Many of those other very ancient Christian communities still exist today.

One of the things the early Christians did was start to organize their calendar based on events in Jesus’s life. The first of the seven key events they chose for this new calendar was the “Nativity”, that is the birth of Jesus. That is the origin of what we now call Christmas. The word “Christmas” means that this was the day on which those early Christians held a special “Mass”, which was a ritual they had developed, to celebrate the coming of Christ.

No-one knows at all whether Jesus was actually born in December, or even in winter at all. But pegging his “birthday” to round about the shortest day of the year (in the Northern Hemisphere) made some sense because then people could say “At least from now on we’ll start having a bit more light every day!” And so, Christmas became sort of joined with many other rituals pegged to the shortest day of the year, which is called the Winter Solstice.

4.

For a long time, the Romans who ruled over Palestine and most of the Mediterranean didn’t like the Christians at all, and they continued to persecute them horribly whenever they could. But in around 400-500 CE, a number of things happened that changed the Christian religion into something like what we know today.

Firstly, a Roman Emperor called Constantine himself became a convert to the Christian religion! Well, that was a huge change. Almost overnight, in the Mediterranean region, Christianity changed from being the belief of a string of separate and nearly always persecuted groups of people to being the religion of the Empire itself.

Lots of things about the religion itself started to change, too. One big change was that, with Christianity overnight becoming the religion of empire, leading thinkers in the church, led by a bishop from North Africa called Augustine (later “Saint Augustine”), suddenly started to argue that some wars could be okay to fight—or, as he said, “just”. That was very different from the commitment to pacifism of the early Christian communities.

Over the centuries that followed, lots of supposedly “Christian” leaders in Europe led wars against other countries—including, against countries led by other supposedly “Christian” leaders. (Go figure.) And after 1450 CE or so, supposedly “Christian” leaders of many West European countries led wars against many non-European countries as they tried to enslave those countries’ people and steal their wealth. They also often worked hard and used the very destructive modern weapons they’d developed to force people in many of those countries to convert to the Christian religion. And they used a fake form of Christian teaching to try to justify not just war but also slavery and colonialism.

Several Christian preachers also started to teach that getting rich was a good thing to do, without thinking much at all about the needs of our fellow humans who don’t have enough to eat, or a decent home to live in.

All of that was very, very different from the original teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, who said things like, “Blessed are the peacemakers”, and “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven.”

Similarly, the way many people celebrate Christmas today is very different from the way that Jesus and his family, and their friends among the sheepherders of Bethlehem so long ago experienced Jesus’s birth.

Today, it seems that a lot of “Christmas” celebrations in many countries are all about shopping and buying and eating lots of unnecessary things. So it’s good to go back and try to learn and remember as much as we can about what happened at the time that Maryam and Joseph gave birth to their little boy in Bethlehem, so long ago.

Their lives were hard. They lived under a foreign military occupier whose local contractor, Herod, was brutal and could boss them around exactly as he wanted. His officials forced Maryam, Joseph and countless other Jewish Palestinians to make dangerous trips. And even though Maryam and Joseph escaped from Bethlehem with Jesus before Herod’s massacre of the children there, so many of the people who had helped them during their time in Bethlehem were unable to save the lives of their own children. The whole community was probably traumatized by the atrocities Herod inflicted.

And yet, when Jesus grew up he taught that only love can melt hatred and violence. He taught that people should love all other people, including those who do harm to them. He taught that everyone should look after the poorest and neediest people in society.

By the way, Bethlehem is still there. It’s a large, crowded city in Palestine. (The Arabic-language name for it is “Beit Laham”, which means “House of meat.”) Its people once again live under the brutal rule of a foreign military occupation force—and they’ve been living like that for over 50 years now.

This post first appeared on the Just World Educational site three years ago

Helena Cobban

Helena Cobban is the President of Just World Educational (JWE), a non-profit organization, and the CEO of Just World Books. She has had a lengthy career as a journalist, writer, and researcher on international affairs, including 17 years as a columnist on global issues for The Christian Science Monitor. Of the seven books she’s published on international affairs, four have been on Middle Eastern topics. This new series of commentaries she’s writing, “Story/Backstory”, will have an expanded audio component published in JWE’s podcast series. They represent her own opinion and judgments, not those of any organization.

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34 Responses

  1. Citizen on December 24, 2019, 10:52 am

    Thank you, Ms. Cobban.

  2. echinococcus on December 24, 2019, 6:19 pm

    Without wanting to enter in any discussion re history and / or myth, just one minor quibble: “promised” and “anointed” are not synonymous at all, not in Greek and not in English, or any other language that I know.

    • RoHa on December 25, 2019, 9:52 pm

      Exactly. “Christ” is a translation of “Messiah”, and they both mean “anointed”.

  3. Elisabeth on December 25, 2019, 2:56 am

    There is also an alternative story, namely that the trek to Bethlehem was added later because the scriptures mentioned the messiah coming from there. Why would the Romans care from which house people were? They just needed the number of people for tax purposes. It makes no sense to let people register in a place where they did not live. During his life Jesus was confronted at least once with taunts about his birthplace Nazareth. That story remains in the gospels, despite the later addition of the birth in Bethlehem.

    • RoHa on December 25, 2019, 9:41 pm

      There is absolutely no support in primary sources for the idea that the Romans turned the country upside down by sending everyone to the town of their ancestors. (Not even Japanese bureaucrats would do anything so crazy.) People were required to be in their actual homes, carrying on their lives, to be assessed when the tax inspectors came round.

      (Census edict of Gaius Vibius Maximus of 104 CE , Alexandria, papyrus cataloged as P.London 904 in the British Museum.)

      • echinococcus on December 25, 2019, 11:32 pm

        RoHa,

        There’s no support in known history (or biology or physics) for practically any single sentence of the Sacred Books, plural. So why should we even discuss it?

        Believe and do not examine, goes the standard operating procedure. There ought to be some ancient Chinese or Mongol proverb recommending to roll one’s eyes and let them have at each other.

      • gamal on December 26, 2019, 9:40 am

        “There ought to be some ancient Chinese or Mongol proverb”

        A Mongol asserted, in The Precious Treasury of the Basic Space of Phenomena, a cheering Christmas message..about the here and now, giving a clear expression of the view common to the inner dimension of all religious activity. (the pdf is available free online for those who wish to subject it to critical analysis)

        “Timelessly and spontaneously present, this pure realm is
        without transition or change.
        With the perception of the true nature of phenomena within
        basic space,
        wisdom arises continuously as the adornment of that space.
        Not created or achieved, it abides timelessly.
        Like the sun in the sky, it is amazing and superb.
        Within this ultimate womb of basic space, timelessly and
        spontaneously present,
        samsara is wholly positive, nirvana is positive.
        Within the wholly positive expanse, samsara and nirvana have
        never existed.
        Sensory appearances are wholly positive, emptiness is positive.
        Within the wholly positive expanse, appearances and emptiness
        have never existed.
        Birth and death are wholly positive, happiness and suffering
        are positive.
        Within the wholly positive expanse, birth, death, happiness,
        and suffering have never existed.
        Self and other are wholly positive, affirmation and negation
        are positive.
        Within the wholly positive expanse, self, other, affirmation,
        and negation have never existed.
        Labeling takes place in confusion, for what is nonexistent is
        taken to exist.
        Given that the nature of things is similar to that of dream images,
        which have no basis,
        how exceedingly strange it is to fixate on samsara and nirvana
        as though they existed in their own right!
        Everything is wholly positive, a supreme state of spontaneous
        presence.
        Since there never has been confusion, is no confusion, and never
        will be confusion,
        conditioned existence is merely a label”

        and though not Chinese Bertrand Russell pointed out to commonsensical “scientismists”

        “The law of causality, I believe, like much that passes muster among philosophers, is a relic of a bygone age, surviving, like the monarchy, only because it is erroneously supposed to do no harm.”

        I was inspired by Rohas’ “lebelling” which I took to be the merging of libeling and labeling by the power of patois.

        the commentary on the Basic Space by Longchenpa himself is especially fine and inspiring, probable available somewhere.

      • RoHa on December 26, 2019, 11:07 pm

        “Some farmwomen in the area offered them refuge in a stable,”

        Primary sources for this?

      • RoHa on December 26, 2019, 11:08 pm

        Thanks, Gamal.

    • RoHa on December 25, 2019, 9:59 pm

      Also, Herod the Great died in 4 BCE, and yet Publius Sulpicius Quirinius wasn’t appointed as the governor of Syria until 6 CE, so Herod could not have killed children in Bethlehem after the census of Quirinius.

      And Matthew makes no mention of a census, a journey from Nazareth, or a stable. Mary and Joseph are married and living in a house in Bethlehem when the three kings turn up. (Mat 2:11)

      • Elisabeth on December 26, 2019, 5:16 am

        The killing of the children is not considered historical and the year of birth of Jezus is also commonly thought to have been later than 0. I cannot find the bring married and living in Bethlehem part. It seems matt2 is set shortly after his birth before they presumably travelled back. Anyway, he was called Jesus of Nazareth and there is no indication during his life that he had connections with Bethlehem. That was a problem only later, when he started to be seen as a descendant of David.

      • RoHa on December 26, 2019, 9:35 pm

        Married: Mat 1:24

        Living in Bethlehem: The kings go into the house (εἰς τὴν οἰκίαν).

        Luke says “in the inn” (ἐν τῷ καταλύματι) .

        Mat uses “οἰκία” – “house” .
        Luke says “κατάλυμα” – “inn”.

        There is no mention of Nazareth until they come back from Egypt, and head up to Galilee to stay clear of Archelaus.

        Mat 2:23 “And he went and dwelt in a city called Nazareth”.

        So it looks as though they were living in Bethlehem, and not there on a visit.

    • echinococcus on December 26, 2019, 1:37 pm

      gamal,

      Re “lebelling”, I sent a reference which was swallowed for some unfathomable reason. I am sending another:

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lebel_Model_1886_rifle

  4. Helena Cobban on December 26, 2019, 12:40 pm

    Hey, people! I wasn’t trying to assert the historicity of the (widely varying) Gospel accounts of the birth of Jesus. I initially wrote this version of the Story of Christmas for my grandchildren, to give them the context I wanted to provide for many of the phenomena of “Christmas” as it is marked in “Western” countries today… starting from the origin story, which imho is as mythical as most other origin stories.

    So if y’all want to argue about the fine points of historicity, just know that’s not what this piece is intended to be about.

    Meantime, what does anyone think about the (tiny-thumbnail) account I give here of the birth of Christianity, its later adoption as a state religion, and its gross misuse by Western imperial powers throughout recent centuries? *That* is what this piece is intended to be about. Are any commenters here interested in that?

    • echinococcus on December 26, 2019, 1:33 pm

      I think that is the spirit in which several of us here did understand it, Ms Cobban. Myth is discussed within the frame of myth itself, of course. Some of us, however, cannot help picking on whatever comes our way, be it language, history, etc., independently from your excellent story.

  5. Helena Cobban on December 26, 2019, 2:06 pm

    Hey, people! I wasn’t trying to assert the historicity of the (widely varying) Gospel accounts of the birth of Jesus. I initially wrote this version of the Story of Christmas for my grandchildren, to give them the context I wanted to provide for many of the phenomena of “Christmas” as it is marked in “Western” countries today… starting from the origin story, which imho is as mythical as most other origin stories.

    So if y’all want to argue about the fine points of historicity, just know that’s not what this piece is intended to be about.

    Meantime, what does anyone think about the (tiny-thumbnail) account I give here of the birth of Christianity, its later adoption as a state religion, and its gross misuse by Western imperial powers throughout recent centuries? *That* is what this piece is intended to be about. Are any commenters here interested in discussing that?

    • RoHa on December 26, 2019, 10:58 pm

      “y’all”

      ???

      “what does anyone think about the (tiny-thumbnail) account I give here of the birth of Christianity, its later adoption as a state religion, and its gross misuse by Western imperial powers throughout recent centuries?”

      Here are a few thoughts.

      1. Vastly oversimplified view of early Christianity. You give the impression that there was just one community. There were a lot of different groups, who were all heretics. (Or so the other groups said.)

      2. For a long time, the Romans who ruled over Palestine and most of the Mediterranean didn’t like care about the Christians at all much, and they continued to sporadically persecuted them horribly a bit whenever they could.

      The post-Constantine persecution of non-Christians is probably also exaggerated.

      3. “And they used a fake form of Christian teaching to try to justify not just war but also slavery and colonialism.”

      What makes it fake? There are, and have been since the beginning, so may different versions of Christianity that the terms “fake” and “real” seem inapplicable.

      4. “All of that was very, very different from the original teachings of Jesus of Nazareth,”

      We don’t know what those were, but you might mean New Testament verses such as Mat 10:34 .
      “ Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace but a sword.”

      Or these:

      http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/cruelty/nt_list.html

  6. jon s on December 26, 2019, 3:10 pm

    Helena,
    I think that in the context of what you sought to achieve , telling the story to your grandchildren, it’s nicely done. I would have added something about the key role played by Paul and about the point at which Judaism and Christianity finally separated.
    There’s also the obvious anachronism of referring to “Jewish Palestinians” (including Jesus!) at that time.

    • Talkback on December 26, 2019, 9:33 pm

      I agree, They were Jewish Romans.

    • RoHa on December 26, 2019, 11:02 pm

      ‘There’s also the obvious anachronism of referring to “Jewish Palestinians” ‘

      They were Jews. They were natives of Palestine. Why weren’t they Jewish Palestinians?

      • jon s on December 27, 2019, 9:09 am

        It’s an anachronism because at that time noone would have used the term . Jesus didn’t consider himself -and others didn’t consider him – a “Jewish Palestinian”.

      • echinococcus on December 27, 2019, 11:53 am

        As expected, he exposes his crass historical ignorance. A short glance at Greek documents of the time is too much for Zionist cavemen… and he teaches “history”.

      • Talkback on December 27, 2019, 5:19 pm

        RoHa: “They were natives of Palestine. Why weren’t they Jewish Palestinians?”

        Because during the time of Jesus neither “Palestine” nor “Palestinian” was the official name of this region, but Judea. Otherwise we could also claim that he was Egyptian, Assyrian or Babylonian, etc. which obviously makes no sense at all.

        And we don’t need to follow this Zionist’s ludicrous claim that legitimacy derives from historical names.

      • echinococcus on December 27, 2019, 6:42 pm

        Extreme anachronism, Talkback. “Official” name forsooth.

        The region was παλαιστίνη, part of συρία (like also κοίλη συρία etc) and in one subsection of it,΄ιουδαία, lived the ΄ιουδαίοι, who also were παλαιστίνιοι of course and also called that. Peoples of the area were thus referred to (as continuing to date in civilized speech) varyingly with their ethnonym (“`εβραίοι”), or their geographic reference at a more or less appropriate level (σύριοι > παλαιστίνιοι > ΄ιουδαίοι). Official names were only administrative in nature and use; they changed often depending on military expediency. Loose usage along these lines is what you’ll see when reading the time’s documents.

        At least, that’s my understanding; I’ll be happy to be taught better by the erudite in the room, who can come up with facts.

      • RoHa on December 27, 2019, 9:27 pm

        So we shouldn’t say that Confucius was Chinese or the Buddha was Indian?

      • Talkback on December 28, 2019, 5:48 am

        echi: ” Official names were only administrative in nature and use; they changed often depending on military expediency.”

        But that’s like arguing that Texans or Calgarians are not US Americans or Canadians, but people from the “Great Plains”.

        I don’t contest that the geographic name of the region is Palestine. But I also don’t think that people are identified by the region they live in. I don’t think that back then anybody said about Jesus/Yeshua: “He’s a “Palestinian” or a “Levantine” or an “Eastern Mediterranean” or even an “Asian”, allthough all of these would be geographically correct.

      • echinococcus on December 28, 2019, 12:52 pm

        Talkback,

        A most usual way to identify a visitor from the Great Plains would have been, in the anachronistic problem you pose, “man from the Great Plains”, not any superordinate state structure. Just as visitors from anywhere in Palestine were identified as “man (women travelers were lacking) from Syria, that part of it called Palestine”. Perhaps a mention of Hebrew (?) Not usually as a Seleucid subject or a Roman-client subject.

      • MHughes976 on December 28, 2019, 1:15 pm

        I think that the New Testament tells us that the self-descriptions most favoured in first century Palestine were ‘Jew’ and ‘Greek’. They were all happy to call the place ‘Palestine’ – ‘Canaan’ sounding archaic – but I don’t see any idea of ‘all Palestinians together’. Theologically ‘Jewish Palestinian/Philistine’ would have sounded like a contradiction in terms to Jesus (if he existed) – we don’t have to use words as they did, of course.
        It’s overwhelmingly customary in our usage to apply, as RoHa indicates, the term ‘Chinese’ to Confucius. I suppose – from Wikipedia-level knowledge – that someone might claim that Confucius (if he existed) was not a citizen of the Warring State of Chin, might even have regarded that state with hostility and might well not have wanted to be described by a word
        suggesting a connection to that place. But we would not, even if we became fully convinced of this claim, be compelled by logic or honesty to change our use of words and say that Confucius was not Chinese.

      • Talkback on December 28, 2019, 2:34 pm

        echi: “A most usual way to identify a visitor from the Great Plains would have been, in the anachronistic problem you pose, “man from the Great Plains”, not any superordinate state structure.”

        That’s not what I meant. Imagine if anyone would do that today. Calling a Texan or someone from Calgary “man from Great Plains”.

        echi: “Just as visitors from anywhere in Palestine were identified as “man (women travelers were lacking) from Syria, that part of it called Palestine””

        That’s what I doubt. It’s too unspecific. The more specific region is Judea.

        “The name of the region [Judea] continued to be incorporated through the Babylonian conquest, Persian, Hellenistic, and Roman periods as Yehud, Yehud Medinata, Hasmonean Judea, and consequently Herodian Judea and Roman Judea, respectively. ”
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judea

        McHughes: “But we would not, even if we became fully convinced of this claim, be compelled by logic or honesty to change our use of words and say that Confucius was not Chinese.”

        But “Chinese” could also refer to the Chinese culture, philosophy, religion, language, customs, architecture, etc. It’s not only a geographic name.

  7. Mooser on December 27, 2019, 3:49 pm

    Christmas lighting and decoration is one of the last true folk arts left in the US. And the story of Jesus’ birth as a manager is only one facet of the holiday which may be celebrated in lights and decorations. And new technology in bulbs and plastic-molding inspire new displays and effects. Low-voltage bulbs consume less Christmas electricity, and displays can be computer-controlled.
    The only way I can compete is if the Menorah sets the front-window curtains on fire.

  8. echinococcus on December 27, 2019, 5:57 pm

    “… if the Menorah sets the front-window curtains on fire”

    You can’t use real candles in the States for Christmas trees, as opposed to the European tradition (or, as per Mooser, to American menorahs). I know, because the rare times we have been in the US for the holidays when my son was a little kid, he cried no end for his candlelit tree — verboten! Now tell me with a straight face Jewish ain’t the exceptional nation.

  9. MHughes976 on December 28, 2019, 2:01 pm

    As one of ‘y’all’ I would say that Helena’s rendering of the origin myth, not an account of historical fact but, I think, of what the Evangelists are telling us, raises some questions for me. Helena is not alone in her feminist and anti-colonial emphases but to my mind the interpretation of Herod as essentially an agent of Roman imperialism makes no sense of the Flight into Egypt, ie into directly controlled Roman territory. Her grandchildren are not introduced to the drumbeat of prophecy fulfilled in Matthew, which is important for us in that Christian Zionist theology might well say that it points to the continuing sacredness of the Jewish scriptures and the Jewish Kingdom. The magic realism of Luke’s account with its individual worries set against the rejoicing of the heavens isn’t really there either.
    Luke’s first edition may well not have included this memorable story but by the time Luke-Acts had been worked into its current form there is a ring narrative of some importance: we begin with the word going from Rome to Judaea that all the world must be taxed, we end with the word arriving from Judaea to Rome, with the capture of the Western mind about to begin, the Roman imperial unity being turned to God’s purposes.
    The idea that the oppressed peoples of the East should unite was attributed to King Agrippa, who died in 44. It’s excitingly portrayed by Robert Graves in ‘Claudius the God’. But perhaps it just wasn’t practical.

  10. Boomer on December 31, 2019, 1:33 pm

    Helena,

    Thank you for your excellent Christmas gift, which I just now belatedly saw.
    I very much appreciate it.

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