Are biblical accounts of Jesus birth fact or fiction?

The birth of Jesus is one of the most controversial historical facts. The Bible tells us that Jesus was born in Bethlehem because of a Roman census, that he was visited by shepherds, etc. However, modern researchers question these stories by categorizing them as “theological fiction”

While secular history is silent on the birth of Jesus, the various accounts are to be taken as fact. These people cannot deny the historical Jesus and thus the birth accounts of Him are to be taken as true as well. I have had this conversation in how various events of Jesus life are silent or vague and while this may trouble some, the main point of the Gospel is the teachings of Jesus Christ and His act of salvation on the cross. While the virgin birth is important, the exact details of it aren’t. This is much as I can give from what I know and believe.

Something that further gives me confidence is the Old Testament prophecies, which give great details of Jesus’s birth, life, events and death. I heard Jesus fulfilled some 300 OT prophecies.

I recently learned that the book of Isaiah was one of 7 Dead Sea scroll manuscripts, in near complete 66 chatpers. It was dated to some 1000 years older than the existing oldest copy, and found to be extremely constitent (aside from a few bits and bobs as you would expect). This is a crucial book containing key Messianic prophecies, and here it was discovered to be in tact in such modern times. Incredible i think.

Hey Alezandru…I did take some interest in this aspect of things awhile ago…Lots of discussion about it with lots of data thrown at the inquirer.

Bethlehem — well, it existed. Small town by our standards.

Roman census…What CAN be said is that the Romans conducted censuses and registrations…very diligent in that regard, see Tacitus’ Annals on that. The question is whether they would demand that family members (incl pregnant fiancees) go to the town of the family origin for such an event.

The answer is that Romans accommodated the customs of the people groups they had conquered. If it was part of the culture of a people or tribe to go to the ancestral community to register, then they allowed it. In the case of the residents of Galilee and Judea, that sort of “return” to one’s roots was part of their tradition. So it would have been allowed.

If Joseph and Mary traced their ancestry to the town of Bethlehem, then they would have gone there.

The issue of shepherds and whether or not the whole scene looked like the modern Christmas card — that is another discussion. That aspect comes from a later, noncanonical gospel penned a few centuries later…just as the Santa aspect was developed from that lovely long poem by C. Clement Moore in early 19th century. Kenneth Bailey — who lived in the Middle East for a number of years — is one Christian writer who said the whole “no room in the inn” scenario would not have washed. Descendants of King David returning to their ancestral roots would have been welcomed by someone who counted them as relatives. Shepherds coming — could have happened, but maybe not on the night of the birth. That is the Christmas card again.

But all this may be more than you want to know. It also gets into the blend of tradition and biblical history —and many of us like our traditions.

1 Like

From what I have heard, the shepherds and wise Magi came several days later after the birth I believe in how I heard it put.

Several days or several weeks — when it comes to the matter of the magi, yes, that is also what I have also read…

. The magi, after all, began a journey that took some time, and then did their querying in the halls of power in Jerusalem – asking where a King had been born and saying they had seen his star. So they were there at Jerusalem first, which means they believed someone already had been born. And then you have Herod calculating the likely age of this “King” based on the magis’ information about a star, and deciding to order the killing of baby boys who had been born (already born and perhaps a year or two old) in the town of Bethlehem six miles fromJerusalem.

As for the shepherds…well, I did say above that this may not have been the Christmas card image we all love. But who knows whether these fellows came soon or later? Shepherds keeping watch over their sheep at night – in a rural setting like the desert area that extends from the town limits of Bethlehem into the hinterlands of Judea — inasmuch as shepherds would have been out there on any given night of the week, I am not sure how much it can be argued that they were not in the vicinity at the time of the actual birth and thus not likely to have arrived at once. No street lights in those days so “night” is “night” and very dark. But then an angel brightens things up considerably, per the text, and makes an announcement. It’s hardly likely that, after this meeting, they all went back to sleep.

These shepherds could already have been in the area and the angel could have made a birth announcement immediately upon the actual birth, and gotten a reaction (fear being the first thing displayed in the account). It seems to me that they could have been at the home within hours, if so inclined…Or they could have waited a few days. Which would you do if it had been you and you had seen what you had just seen and were only, say, three hours’ walk or less from Bethlehem at the time?

1 Like

Theologically the virgin birth of Jesus must be. The exact time is less important, be it the year or the time of year. There is a certain amount of romanticism over the details that is probably healthy.

Richard

@bluebird @AlexandruVasile I’m running off of memory year but wasn’t there definitely a census involving Quirinius? (Not necessarily as a governor) I’m pretty sure it was a wildly unpopular deal, thus why…Luke?..included that detail. It would change the year by a few years and it would require a change in our traditional understanding an ‘Empire-wide’ census, but I’m pretty sure at least that detail has some support. .

Hello JLock…There was indeed “definitely” a census involving Quirinius. But it was A.D. 6 — or 6 C.E., if that is how you put it. Quirinius was legate of Syria at the time.

So yes, the idea of a census has support by virtue of the fact that the Romans conducted them wildly. If not a census, then a registration or declaration, various sorts of things. At some point, approximately after 33 C.E. (the time of the crucifixion/resurrection), it is known that Rome conducted censuses on 14-year intervals — at least through 257/258 C.E. when the empire was having some troubles for other reasons (if I remember right).

The issue is what sort of thing Luke is referring to with regard to the time of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. In Roman Egypt, it is known that there were “declarations” in 4/3 BC, 4/5 BC, and an “establishment of registers” in 5/6 Bc —don’t ask me what those terms mean!!

Quirinius can be said, at best, to have been in that general region of the Middle East for a number of decades, holding administrative posts or similar around the region. In 5-3 BC (around the time when most like to posit a birth of Jesus, followed by death of Herod), Quirinius was fighting the Homonadenses in Galatia and so forth.

So, that is all I know about Quirinius and the census. Some suggest that the census was actually done by someone else, but Q was his superior and thus Q’s name was attached to the event. Humphreys cited Josephus and Orosius (5th century A.D. historian) for the existence of a “census of allegiance” that occurred, per Humphreys, “about one year before the death of Herod the Great.” This would mean 5 B.C./B.C.E.

1 Like

Luke does indeed testify to a census taking place during Quirinius’ governorship. We know from archeological evidence that Caesar Augustus (whom Luke mentions as ordering the census) ordered censuses of the entire Empire around 28 B.C.E., 8 B.C.E., and 14 C.E. The most likely census being referred to in Luke is the one from 8 B.C.E… This could conceivably fit with the timeline of Quirinius’ governorship as a census of the entire roman world would have taken years, considering the technology of the time and the size of the Empire.

We have to remember too, that Jesus, as near as archaeologists and historians can figure was not born on the year 0 C.E.—good speculation based on the reign of Herod the Great, Quirinius, Caesar Augustus, and the work of the historian Josephus makes it quite reasonable to think that Jesus was probably actually born around 6 B.C.E. this would fit very nicely with the census called by Caesar Augustus in 8 B.C.E.

Also, if you look carefully at the visit of the Magi, that occurred quite a bit later. In reality, if the star appeared at Jesus’ birth, the trip of the Magi took them (depending on how far in the East they come from) a year or year and a half. Jesus’ was most likely a toddler when they found him. This is why Herod the Great orders the slaughter not just of infants, but of all male children 2 years old and younger.

3 Likes

Alexandru…did your question (the initial one) get answered to your satisfaction, one way or the other??

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

This is a place for gracious dialogue about science and faith. Please read our FAQ/Guidelines before posting.