The Associated Press reported this week that archaeologists have found the remains of a home in Nazareth, Israel that can be dated back to the era when the New Testament says that Jesus lived. This is a discovery that could provide tremendous insight into the lifestyle of the people who lived in the city at the time that Jesus is believed to have been a child.
Here’s what we know so far: Nazareth sat on only four acres of land and comprised only 50 homes. According to the Gospels, the Messiah grew up in one of them. For that reason, the timing of this discovery is especially meaningful to Christians. According to Father Jack Karam of the nearby Basilica of the Annunciation—where Christian tradition says an angel told Mary that she would give birth—finding this ancient home during the Christmas season is “a great gift.”
For centuries, theologians have debated whether the man known today as Jesus actually existed. Not only does the Bible contain no firsthand accounts of him or his miraculous acts, they say that his virgin birth, execution and resurrection suspiciously mirror the life narratives of ancient mythical gods. Some say that Jesus might actually have been a metaphor for the Christ spirit within all of us. Others speculate that a traveling rabbi did exist who understood the divinity of man, embraced it, and uplifted others by spreading the word.
Since none of the gospels was written by men who actually knew Jesus or lived during his time, any of these possibilities exist. If someone who was half-human, half-Divine Spirit did walk on the planet, ancient history does teach us that he wasn’t born in December. The Bible doesn’t make that claim and it doesn’t declare that Jesus came to start a new religion.
According to some religious historians, the real reason for the season is that Christian converts, who were accustomed to participating in Jewish or pagan celebrations during the winter solstice, wanted their own holiday during that time of the year. Mythologists also note that December 25 was traditionally the birthday of mythological heroes said to have been the offspring of virgin mothers and pagan gods.
Certain stories and facts are often repeated in the Bible, highlighting the fact that scribes and storytellers liberally borrowed from each other. Remember, this was long before plagiarism laws. Matthew and Luke, for example, copied most of Mark’s book verbatim, but they thought the story was incomplete. Mark hadn’t established Jesus as the Messiah, the only begotten son of God. Matthew and Luke “fixed” that problem by adding birth narratives to Mark’s text. These narratives, written decades after Jesus’ death by men who didn’t know him, intentionally matched Jewish prophesy. Among other things, it was prophesied that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, so both set Jesus’ birth in that city. But that’s where the similarity ended.
The Gospel of Luke claimed that Jesus was born in a Bethlehem barn because there was no room in the inn for his Galilee-bound parents. Matthew’s gospel claimed that Mary and Joseph actually lived in Bethlehem, and Jesus was born at home. As theologians have reminded us throughout the centuries, it really doesn’t matter that Matthew and Luke set Jesus’ birth in two different places. After all, when Constantine the Great gathered religious leaders in Nicea to decide which of the hundreds of known manuscripts should be included in the book they would call the Holy Bible, few of those books—and none of the 27 selected for the New Testament were written as or perceived to be historical documents. But once the Council declared this collection to be the “gospel,” perceptions of their veracity began to shift. Complicate that with the fact that none of the original manuscripts existed when the Council met in 325 A.D., and thousands more copies were re-created by hand and translated (never flawlessly) for another thousand years.
So does it matter whether you believe everything in the Bible is the “word of God”? Not really. Over time, Thinkers have figured out that Jesus couldn’t have been born in two places at once. History has revealed that tax time in that region did not occur during December and that Joseph wouldn’t have been required to travel from Nazareth to Galilee to pay taxes at any time.
Now we learn that Jesus of Nazareth grew up in a city that was a mere four acres in size, leading us to conclude that if the Messiah went missing, it would not have gone unnoticed and there would have been no 18-year gap in the record of Jesus’ life. There probably would have been a town-wide search party; residents in neighboring towns might have joined in, and the mushrooming posse would have been so unprecedented that one of the few literate citizens would have written about it.
What does it all mean? Many have leaped into the numerous credibility gaps in the Old Testament to declare that there is no God. But what if it only reveals that the ancient storytellers were recording their limited idea of what God is and what God does, and their stories don’t capture the essence of the real God?
Many have leaped into the numerous credibility gaps in the New Testament to declare that there was no Jesus. But what if ancient storytellers were merely creating an allegory about what humans would be able to do if they loved each other unconditionally, treated others the way they’d want to be treated, were aware that their souls were perfect, healthy and complete, and that the spirit of God was within them?
Maybe a man named Yeshua did exist who had this awareness, and lived it daily. Maybe he spent three years of his life teaching others what he knew. Maybe his empowering message enraged the Romans and they murdered him in a most humiliating way, and maybe decades later, writers edified this profound man’s teachings by encasing them within the framework of Jewish prophecy and pagan god myth.
At this point, we know more about what didn’t happen than what did. But do any of those facts mean that we have nothing to celebrate on this Christmas Day? Absolutely not.
Whether we believe Jesus was God, man or myth, we can celebrate the Christ Consciousness that has lived since The Beginning and resides within each of us right now. We can celebrate the birth of a period when Christians were defined by how they behaved rather than by the stories they believed.
Today we can celebrate the opportunity to totally transform our lives by patterning our behavior after that of the indisputably legendary Jesus: We can love unconditionally, bring a healing presence to every room and every relationship that we’re in, judge and condemn nothing, forgive everything, and do nothing to anyone that we wouldn’t want done to us.
It’s called non-religious Christianity, a transformative and powerful way to change our lives and save our souls from the consequences of errant choices and hurtful actions. It makes this day and every day a…
Very Merry Christmas!