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.
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?