Nativity Evidence

A London church commissioned a market research survey which found that most people don’t believe in the nativity story. 70% of those questioned didn’t believe it, including a quarter of the Christians who replied. A fifth of Christians also didn’t believe that Jesus was both God and man.

Without being wholly convinced of the validity of this research, I am cheered by the thought that most English people – atheists and Christians alike – seem to be still sanely sceptical.

St Helen’s Church in Bishopsgate, London, which commissioned the survey, has produced a film of “sound evidence” supporting the Bible’s account.

(I couldn’t find anything about the survey on the BMRB site or the church’s site but I found a bit of video about Christmas there. I thought it was a parody site.)

The “evidence” cited in the BBC report seems to be that:

“Jesus was born while Augustus was emperor of Rome just before Herod died… we’re talking about events that are anchored in real history not in ancient Greek myths.” (Simon Gathercole, Cambridge University)

I like this line of argument. If I say that green cows are somersaulting down the street, does the story gain any reflected credibility if I also mention that Barrack Obama recently became President-elect? So saying that events that supposedly took place around the year 0 AD took place at the same time as other events around the year 0 AD can’t possibly provide support for whether the doubtful ones are true.

Does the bible even mention Augustus? I don’t think so, but I have no intention of actually reading it to find out. The book of Matthew apparently mentions Herod as being the person who ordered the massacre of the innocents. Wikipedia suggests that

Most modern biographers of Herod do not regard the massacre as an actual historical event. Many scholars portray this and other nativity stories as creative hagiography rather than history.

Indeed, even a hundred years ago, the Catholic church must have found the massacre of thousands of babies story a bit hard to defend to:

The Catholic Encyclopedia in 1910 suggested that these numbers were probably inflated, and that for a town of that size probably only between six and twenty children would be killed, with a dozen or so more in the surrounding areas.

In fact, with reference to the gospel of Matthew, the word “identity theft” springs to mind.

The Early Christian tradition attributes the Gospel to Matthew, one of Jesus’ disciples. Beginning in the 18th century scholars have increasingly questioned that traditional view, and today most scholars agree Matthew did not write the Gospel which bears his name. Most contemporary scholars describe the author as an anonymous Christian writing towards the end of the first century. (From the Wikipedia article on the gospel of Matthew)

If the BMRB survey is to be believed, almost 3/4 of British people accept this academic evidence and doubt the supposedly “sound evidence” offered by St Helen’s Church, Bishopgsate. How encouraging is that?

19 thoughts on “Nativity Evidence

  1. Pingback: Nativity Evidence | Pen and Pulpit WordPress 2.6.2

  2. Not surprisingly, American Christians seem to be all over the place belief-wise. One recent poll says that 65 % of American Christians don’t believe that Christianity is the only way to eternal life. On the other hand, another poll (from 2006) says that 67% of Americans believe the entire story Christmas story, virgin birth and all.

    All I can conclude is that religious believers don’t appear to be concerned that their beliefs are incoherent. That’s depressing.

  3. Chaplain
    Yes, or that these surveys are just silly.
    Null
    I hope that it’s true. In which case, we’re all forced to fight over the same small pool of prey.

  4. Well proofs of the birth of Christ is not just from the Bible. History proves it if you study it carefully. Many first and second century Historians who were anti Christian have written about Christ. Some of them are Phlegon, Josephus and Tacitus. The entire dating method of BC(Before Christ) and AD(Anno Domini meaning the year of our Lord) wouldn’t have been there if Christ did not live during that time. We possibly cannot be wrong with our measuring of time. And BC and AD are not propagated or even given a mention in the Bible, but is only present in history.

  5. Well proofs of the birth of Christ is not just from the Bible.

    Really? Are you saying proof of the birth of the son of god is found elsewhere than the bible or that there is proof that someone named Christ was born, sometime around the year we now think of as 0AD?

    Please, where are these proofs?

    Many first and second century Historians who were anti Christian have written about Christ.

    Well, writing 100 – 200 years after the event is not a “proof” in the normal sense. Most of the people you cite are writing about the Jewish cult that has grown up around the belief that Jesus Christ was the son of God and the long awaited prophet.

    That is not proof it happened.

    If I write about how Odin appeared during the Crimean war does that count as proof it happened?

    The entire dating method of BC(Before Christ) and AD(Anno Domini meaning the year of our Lord) wouldn’t have been there if Christ did not live during that time.

    Ok, I assume (now) that you are joking and this was all a bit poe. Sorry for taking you seriously.

    As I am sure you are aware the use of BC/AD came long after the supposed birth of Christ (and even now, isn’t aligned with the year he is believed to have been born) and was set at a basically arbitrary date. It is certainly not proof that Christ was born in 0AD…

    The entire dating method of BC(Before Christ) and AD(Anno Domini meaning the year of our Lord) wouldn’t have been there if Christ did not live during that time.

    That doesn’t even make sense.

    All of this is missing the point.

    Even if a person called Jesus was born on 25 Dec 0000, it does not prove either the nativity or the divinity of Christ.

  6. Thanks for that Wer. Where can we find this evidence from history? Surely as you know exactly what these are, they should be easy to point the rest of the world at.

    Also, it might be nice to tell us exactly when this messiah was born. I guess it must be at the crux of BC/AD as you describe, not on the 25th of December as christians traditionally claim.

    I also guess that the relevant documented reigns of historical figured from that period in history are to be ignored, seeing as they’d require this messiah to be born somewhere between 8 and 4 BCE. As you say, we can’t possibly be wrong with our measuring of time.

  7. Baal’s Bum – I get the feeling that Wer is either an escapee from a mental health institution or he thinks his “proofs” are so secretive he can not share them with us…

  8. In those days you never had proper written records of everything. In spite of that there are writers who have written about Jesus. Search and read about the scrolls that have been discovered during the recent years that dates back to the first century.

    There are more than 300 prophecies concerning this one man, Christ befor He actually came into the world. Not sure if you’ve heard about one Peter Stoner, a mathematician who calculated the probability of just eight prophecies coming true for one person by chance. The results are mind boggling. Google for it or check out this link that I found about the calculations he did.

    southeastchristian.org/outlook/story.aspx?id=2974

    Check out these links too for the proofs of Christ’s birth

    creatingfutures.net/birth.html
    cbs11tv.com/religion/Star.Of.Bethlehem.2.594091.html
    jesusfamilytomb.com/movie_overview/news.html
    westarkchurchofchrist.org/library/extrabiblical.htm

    Yes there was some error while calculating. Jesus was actually born in 4 B.C. There was no other person on earth on whom the entire dating system was based on. Google for the history of AD and BC. Yes 25th Dec. was not the exact date when Jesus was born. Here are some articles about the date of the birth of Christ

    themoorings.org/apologetics/chronology/Chrmas.html
    new-life.net/chrtms10.htm
    versebyverse.org/doctrine/birthofchrist.html
    ewtn.com/library/scriptur/chrdat.txt

    I don’t mean to hurt anyone’s feelings, but if you want to be skeptical, you can continue on without coming to know the truth that can set you free and can give you eternal life.

    P.S. None of the links I’ve given here are my personal ones or ones I’m linked to. I searched for them all on the internet.

  9. Wer, I had to edit your comment as the blog software eats posts that are stuffed with hyperlinks – I had to remove the http and www bit for it to work.

    We will respond to your comment in due course.

  10. Wer

    I see that you call on an (perhaps appropriately-named) Peter Stoner but I find it hard to believe this constitutes a coherent argument,

    Not sure if you’ve heard about one Peter Stoner, a mathematician who calculated the probability of just eight prophecies coming true for one person by chance. The results are mind boggling.

    Isn’t a prophecy a prediction? In that case, I could make several hundred accurate predictions for anyone I saw today. What are the odds of that? several quintillions to one?

    For instance, I predict that you will brush your teeth in the next 24 hours.

    I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but if you want to be so credulous, you can buy my magic beans that will guarantee you eternal life.

  11. Wer,

    from that first web site you presented:

    He found that the odds of one person fulfilling just eight prophecies was 1 in 1017 or 10 followed by 17 zeros. That’s 1 in 100,000,000,000,000,000.

    and

    According to John Ankerberg, Jesus had 456 characteristics that identified him as the Messiah. For example, He must be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2), be adored by great persons (Psalm 72:10-11), be anointed with the Spirit of God (Isaiah 11:2), be hated without cause (Isaiah 49:7), be rejected ( Isaiah 53:2), be plotted against (Psalm 2:1-2), be betrayed by a friend (Psalm 41:9), be betrayed for 30 pieces of silver (Zech. 1:13), have that price given to a potter’s field (Zech. 11:13), be forsaken by His disciples (Zech. 13:7), be struck on the cheek (Micah 5:1), be spat on (Isaiah 50:6) be mocked (Psalm 22:7-8), be beaten (Isaiah 50:6) and be thirsty during his execution (Psalm 22:15). Jesus fulfilled all of them and many more.

    I’ve been adored by great persons (I count my parents and my partner as “great persons”), I’ve been hated without cause, rejected, plotted against, betrayed by a friend, struck on the cheek, spat on, mocked and beaten. That’s 9 of the above “prophecies” that apply to me, and obviously 9 is more than 8, which only has a 10^17 chance of being true! Mine is far more unlikely than that, probably by an extra couple of “zeros” (sic)!

    Good grief! With those odds I must be in the running for being a god too!

    I really can’t be arsed looking at the rest of the “evidence” you present if this is the quality of argument that convinces you. If this shit is it, then you’re welcome to your god, whoever it is. Probably some poor homeless guy in Detroit by the sounds of it.

  12. Adding my 2p.

    Not sure if you’ve heard about one Peter Stoner, a mathematician who calculated the probability of just eight prophecies coming true for one person by chance. The results are mind boggling.

    This was such a flawed piece of “Mathematics” as to defy any form of belief. The numbers are no more accurate than ones pulled from my backside. Which I suspect is similar to where these came from. Please have a look back that URL you posted (the southeastchristian.org) and see if you can spot where the errors are. As a hint – everywhere. The “predictions” were not predictions in a testable sense. The “accuracy” it claims is non-existent. The timelines used are comical. I could easily make 30,000 predictions of which any 8 could come true, does that make me the son of god?

    Looking at just the first of the “historical proof” links you cite (creatingfutures.net/birth.html) we see that these are not proofs in any way, shape or form.

    If the Bible is true, then Jesus birth, Crucifixion, and Resurrection are true. Some will argue that you can’t trust the Bible because it was written by those who believed in Jesus. If you use this argument regarding biographies and history books (this is what the Four Gospels are like), you see how foolish it is. Many biographies are written by people who loved the person they are writing about, but we do not question their validity.

    This is nonsense. Biographies of historical figures are questioned all the time. They are faced with competing biographies and are subject to critical review. Has any of that been carried on on the Bible? The bible is the only contemporary source of its events and, in any other circumstances, would be ignored as a valid historical proof. However, because so many “believers” see it as the inerrant word of god (ignoring its errors in the process) it is rarely challenged properly.

    It needs to be understood that some of the writings were hostile to Christianity, but still documented the historical fact of Jesus.

    Incorrect. It goes on to list these people who write of the “historical fact” of

    “Josephus, Jewish historian (AD 37-100) wrote of Jesus:”
    “Tacitus, a Roman historian, in his Annals, c. AD 115,”
    “Suetonius (A.D. 75-160)”
    “Phlegon-Gentile Historian” (who either lived in 1st century or 2nd century depending on your source)

    The problem with this, is they are all writing long after Jesus’ time. They are writing what they are told by followers of Jesus. They have internet to research the information on. They have no photographs to look at. In most instances they are making references to the followers of Jesus rather than saying Jesus was real. They say even less about Jesus being divine. As said previously, there is a good chance that someone called Jesus was born in the middle east. That proves nothing else.

    There were scores of historians and writers recording events within the Roman empire. None of the contemporary writers to Jesus talk of his miracles. It begins several years after his death, when people talk of his followers.

    Can you see the significance of that yet?

    Back to what you are saying:

    Yes there was some error while calculating. Jesus was actually born in 4 B.C. There was no other person on earth on whom the entire dating system was based on.

    What is this supposed to prove? The calender was artificially created to set a date of birth for Jesus. It means nothing. It was invented five hundred years after Jesus is supposed to have lived. It does not mean Jesus was real or was the son of god.

  13. I have only just read the comments following my comment so apologies to war if you thought I would reply earlier.
    War
    Yes you have done your homework, flawed as your conclusions are.
    Your first point, there was little documentation from that era
    There is actually quite a lot.The Romans were a very bureaucratic race any important people they executed were recorded, there is nothing that mentions a king of the jews. in fact the only people that can be verified outside the texts of the new testament are Herod although which Herod is not clear from the NT, and dear old Pilate.
    You quoted Josephus, as I knew you would. He acknowledges there was a religion of jesus not that there ever was such a character. The other’s were after Josephus and are thought to have referenced his work when doing theirs.
    The other “evidence” you offer is nothing more than people trying to find evidence that loosely fits the myth.
    But thanks anyway for attempting to show some evidence. It is refreshing to see some one who is actually thinking about their beliefs. May I recommend you look a little deeper into your evidence and you will easily see the bias of those reporting and they are trying to clutch at straws that aren’t really there.

  14. Sorry for the delayed reply.

    @Heather

    Prophecy is not prediction. Check out this definition that I got from the web

    Prophecy relies on the authority of God-given information. True prophecy is therefore never wrong because it always carries the authority of God’s truth and character. On the other hand, prediction is based on man’s ability to determine what may happen in the future. Prediction is sometimes right but often wrong because it depends on man.

    Hope you now see how you cannot call “you will brush your teeth in the next 24 hours” as a prediction!

    @nullifidian

    I’ve been adored by great persons (I count my parents and my partner as “great persons”), I’ve been hated without cause, rejected, plotted against, betrayed by a friend, struck on the cheek, spat on, mocked and beaten. That’s 9 of the above “prophecies” that apply to me, and obviously 9 is more than 8, which only has a 10^17 chance of being true! Mine is far more unlikely than that, probably by an extra couple of “zeros” (sic)!

    You will not understand the prophecies when they are told alone; only when you read and know the entire Bible will you get the Big picture and only then will you understand these prophecies.
    And these prophecies about Christ were not written while He lived on earth but around 700 years before He walked on planet earth. Do you or me have such records written years before we were born?

    @TW

    The problem with this, is they are all writing long after Jesus’ time.

    You have a problem if people wrote before Christ came and you have a problem if people wrote after His time on earth. What do I do?
    You know there was an Abraham Lincoln, you believed he lived and you know all that he did though he lived and died years before you and I were born. You believe there was a Newton, a Galileo and so on. How can you be sure that they existed?

    Check this short article on the Bible passing the test
    apologeticspress.org/articles/2218

    Check this too
    rzim.org/IN/INFV/tabid/437/ArticleID/25/CBModuleId/1374/Default.aspx

    @Baal’s Bum

    He acknowledges there was a religion of jesus not that there ever was such a character.

    How could ‘religion of Jesus’ be named after a person without a person living?

  15. @ Wer

    How could ‘religion of Jesus’ be named after a person without a person living?

    The same way as there is a Mickey Mouse fan club
    Seriously, people have always had there (imaginary or exaggerated) heroes
    Read up about Mithras, Dionysus,Simon Magus,Krishna to get you started…….We would all love someone to solve our problems for us but you will find most problems are man made and a hell of a lot of them would fade into obscurity if we could do away with religion.
    So stop thinking some imaginary jewish fuckwit is going to kiss you better in a non existent afterlife and start standing on your own two feet like a grown up.

  16. Wer

    Hope you now see how you cannot call “you will brush your teeth in the next 24 hours” as a prediction!

    Actually, it is a prediction. You have quote mined a monstrously biased source to try and set the definition of “Prophecy” (although the Oracle of Delphi counts and I suspect you may find that a little heathen) to exclude Heather’s example.

    What she demonstrated is, though a prediction that comes true can be viewed as a prophecy. If she said that she thought you would brush your teeth in the next 24 hours and you did, then she claimed she’d been told by God that you would brush your teeth, it becomes a prophecy.

    Notice how this is actually quite mundane?

    You have a problem if people wrote before Christ came and you have a problem if people wrote after His time on earth. What do I do?

    Easy, provide contemporary sources.

    Writing before Jesus’ time is flawed because it is vague and, crucially, gives an idea of what people need to do to make the prophecy come true. If you heard god had predicted you would brush your teeth in the next 24 hours, all you need to do to show your god was true is brush your teeth then proclaim the power of prophecy.

    Writing after Jesus’ time is actually better but you miss the point made in previous comments.

    Half the people cited are simply writing about the followers of the cult of Jesus. They make no comment about Jesus other than to state what the followers believe. On this basis Jedi Knights, Klingons and Harry Potter fans count as a valid world religion.

    The others are followers of the cult of Jesus and as such are writing to reinforce their cult. If you fail to see how this is a problem there is no hope for further debate.

    You know there was an Abraham Lincoln, you believed he lived and you know all that he did though he lived and died years before you and I were born. You believe there was a Newton, a Galileo and so on. How can you be sure that they existed?

    Simple – contemporary reporting. Its easy. No one predicted Lincoln, Newton etc,. but people who lived the same time as them wrote of their achievements. Detractors and supporters wrote about them. At the time Jesus should have been going around performing miracles, there were lots of people chronicling events. There is a big lack of mentions of water walking, feeding five thousand etc.

    However, and this is important, it doesn’t matter if I believe they existed or not. You are not going to claim I will spend an eternity in torment if I chose to refuse to accept the existence of Lincoln.

    On a related note, the existence of Jesus isn’t that relevant. Personally, and I speak for no other atheist in the world, I am happy to believe there was a Jew born around the time of Hero called Jesus (or what ever the local variation would have been). It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t prove a thing about the bible. It doesn’t mean he was the son of god or god himself. It doesn’t mean god exists. It gives no credibility to the Christian mythos any more than the fact Agamemnon was King of the Mycenae proves Athena and Hera exist.

    Legends and stories often name real people.

    It doesn’t make them true.

    Equally, being mentioned in a story (or developing a cult following) does not make a person real.

    @Baals Bum
    To echo Heather – well said.