The Gospel According To Jack

Nativity Revisited. Fiction and Fact.

Today, while working on my new book, I photographed 4 “Painted Churches” in the Hill Country of Austin. Click.
It was a great day for photography and thinking.

Given the proximity to Christmas, I couldn’t help but muse over my own, new-found belief about the Nativity scene and the birth narrative of Jesus, as told in our 2 Canonical Gospels.

It’s nothing like what we were taught in Sunday school.

Here goes, nonetheless.


You might be surprised as to what is fiction and what is fact.

I could be wrong. Comments welcomed. Enjoy the surprises.

Was Jesus Born on December 25?

We don’t have a shred of historical evidence as to the year, month, or day Jesus was born. Nada. Zippo.

Most trusted, modern historians and Bible scholars flat-out reject December 25 as Jesus’ date of birth. The Bible does not indicate when Jesus was born, but some internal clues, within the text itself, suggest it was the Fall of the year, based on the “shepherds in the field”. No one really knows.

Your guess is as good as mine.

As an aside, we have fairly reliable Jewish and Roman sources that tell us Jesus was crucified during the reign of Pontius Pilate, governor or prefect of the Roman province of Judaea from about 26 to 36 CE.

Did early Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus?

The first Christians did not celebrate the birth of Jesus at all, as far as we know, historically speaking.

Many modern, critical scholars, since the 18th and 19th centuries, suggest that the earliest Christians focused on Epiphany on January 6, which commemorated the said arrival of the Magi after Jesus’ birth, and Easter, which celebrated Jesus’ resurrection. December 25 was chosen as the date of Christmas by the late fourth century, likely to coincide with existing pagan festivals related to the winter solstice.

How many places in the New Testament is the birth story mentioned?

The birth story of Jesus is mentioned in two places in the New Testament: Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2. These are the only two gospels that offer birth narratives regarding the birth of Jesus. The other two Gospels, Mark (first Gospel, 65-75 CE) and John (last Gospel, 90-110 CE), do not include any details, whatsoever, about the birth of Jesus.

Note, these two birth narratives were written, literally, many decades after the stories they narrate, based on morphing and changing oral traditions, by people, who were Greek-speaking (not Aramaic like Jesus and disciples) and lived outside of Palestine

BTW, did Matthew (Tax collector) or Luke (Traveling companion of Paul) actually write the gospel of Matthew or Luke?

Matthew and Luke, as historical figures did, almost certainly, not write these Gospel accounts. All 4 gospels are, in fact, written anonymously. The names of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were ascribed to the gospels by the Church Fathers in the 2nd century CE. The original texts of the gospels had existed for about a hundred years with no names, and none of the writers signed their work. The Church Fathers tried to align the names with the closest possible associates of Jesus, based on some clues and traditions.

Was Mary a Virgin?

No one can answer this question but Mary? If she was a virgin (and I seriously doubt it), why did Mark, John, Paul, or any of the other New Testament writers mention this?

Why are the only two birth narratives, in Matthew and Luke so different?

Christians tend to “conflate” the birth stories of both Matthew and Luke even though, in their detail are remarkably different, even contradictory.

At first glance, these gospel stories, especially the birth narratives, seem to be saying the same thing. But if you look more closely and critically, at the text, side by side, talking point by talking point, they are unusually different.

The birth narratives of Jesus, in the gospels of Matthew and Luke are different because they have different sources, perspectives, and purposes. According to modern scholars, Matthew and Luke and a hypothetical document called Q (‘Sayings”) as their common source, but also had their own unique sources called M and L respectively.

These sources contain different traditions and legends about the specific bits of Jesus, which Matthew and Luke adapted to suit their theological agendas and story bias.

Where was Jesus Born?

The traditional image of Jesus being born in a stable or barn may not be accurate, according to some scholars and archaeologists. They suggest Jesus was more likely born in the house of a peasant family in Bethlehem, and laid in a manager that was part of the lower level of the house where the animals were kept at night. The word translated “inn” in some versions of the Bible (Luke 2:7) could also mean “guest room”, and it was probably this room that was already occupied by other relatives or travelers.

Shepherds or Wiseman? The Bible says that the wise men met Jesus and Mary at a house, not a stable Matthew 2: 1-12), and that they came sometime within the first two years of Jesus’ birth, not the same night as the shepherds. So the Shepherds and Wisemen, showing up the same night of Jesus’s, is a natural, but fictional conflation of Matthew and Luke. Herod’s order to kill all the male children under two years old suggests that the wise men arrived well after Jesus’ birth.

3 Wisemen?

The Bible itself never mentions 3 wise men, just 3 gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The Bible does not specify the number or the names of the magi, who were likely astrologers or priests from the East.

Interestingly, to further the legend, later Christian tradition assigns three names to these Wise men-Gasper, Balthasar, and Melchior. Hmmmm.

Stable animals?

The animals in the stable worshiped Jesus. WTF? The Bible does not mention any animals in the stable or their reaction to Jesus’ birth. The presence of animals in the nativity scene is based on artistic imagination and tradition.
Tradition says that there were animals at the nativity scene because they were part of the stable where Jesus was born. The most common animals are the ox, the donkey, the sheep, and the camel, which have different symbolic meanings in the Christmas story. Some nativity scenes also include other domestic or exotic animals, depending on the culture and the imagination of the artists.

Decree by Caesar Augustus?

There was a census that required Joseph and Mary to travel to Bethlehem. The Bible says that a decree from Caesar Augustus ordered all the world to be taxed and that Joseph went to Bethlehem because he was of the house and lineage of David (Luke 2:1-5). However, some scholars have questioned the historical accuracy and plausibility of this census, as there is no historical evidence of such a universal taxation in the Roman Empire. Can you imagine the chaos and confusion an empire-wide taxation like this would have caused?


There was an innkeeper who refused to give them a room. The Bible does not mention an innkeeper or his role in the story. The word translated “inn” in some versions of the Bible (Luke 2:7) could also mean “guest room”, and it was probably this room that was already occupied by realties or travelers.

It is possible that Joseph and Mary stayed in a house with relatives, but there was no space for them in the main part of the house, so they had to use the lower part where the animals were kept. The idea of an innkeeper who turned them away is not based on the biblical text but on later traditions and interpretations.

A star is born?

In my humble opinion, this is definitely fictitious. Look up into the starry, starry night sky. Can you tell which house a star is hovering over? Come on man, get real. Seriously? And how exactly does a star start and stop, based on the traveling habits of humans? Some scholars think that the star was not a historical fact, but a symbolic device used by Mattew to show that Jesus was the fulfillment of Jewish prophecy. For me, The Star bit is pure fiction and fantasy.

Further Reading Books by New Testament Scholar Bart D Ehrman

Further Listening

“Misquoting Jesus” podcast, hosted by Megan Lewis.

Jack Hollingsworth