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According to the combined version of the nativity, the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and Joseph to tell them that Mary, a teen-age virgin, was pregnant by the Holy Spirit and would give birth to a son called Jesus. Before Jesus' birth, however, Joseph and Mary would have to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem, Joseph's home town, to register for a census in order to be taxed. When they got to Bethlehem, they couldn't find a room at the inn, so they took up residence in a stable. There, on 25 December in AD 0, attended by an ox and an ass, Mary gave birth to Jesus. The new parents used the animals' manger (feeding trough) as a crib for their child.
But wait, there's more. A heavenly host of angels singing hallelujah appeared to shepherds watching over their flocks in fields nearby. The angels directed the shepherds to the manger where Jesus lay. Meanwhile, a star appeared to guide three wise kings from the Orient (Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar), who were traveling far to visit the manger. Mounted on camels, they followed yonder star, bringing with them gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
Perhaps the kings were used to being chauffeured because they got lost on the way to the manger and had to stop in Jerusalem to ask Herod the Great, King of Judea, for directions. Upon learning that the wise men had come to praise a newborn King of Israel, Herod told them to look in Bethlehem. He asked them to come back and let him know where the baby king was living, so that Herod, too, might worship him. As soon as the wise men had left, however, Herod ordered the murder of all male children fewer than two years of age. Having been warned by the angel Gabriel about Herod's decree, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph escaped into Egypt. There they stayed until it was safe to return to Nazareth.
As familiar as this story is, it doesn't appear anywhere in the Bible. It is a myth, a fabrication wrapped in swaddling cloth and laid in a manger on the courthouse lawn. As mentioned above, only two of the four New Testament gospels describe the nativity; and those narratives provide different and often contradictory accounts of the particulars regarding Jesus' birth. Moreover, many of the subsidiary details are not mentioned in the gospels at all, nor anywhere else in the New Testament. Examining a few sticky wickets will serve to illustrate these points:
Gabriel: According to Matthew, the news of Mary's pregnancy was conveyed to Joseph in a dream (Matthew 1:20). According to Luke, the angel Gabriel appeared not to Joseph but to Mary, and not in a dream but in person (Luke 1:26-38).
Bethlehem: Both Matthew and Luke wrote that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. According to Luke, however, Mary and Joseph lived in Nazareth and went to Bethlehem for a census (Luke 2:4-7). According to Matthew, the first family lived in Bethlehem, from whence they fled after Jesus had been born. They settled in Nazareth only after their return from Egypt. This is evident from Matthew 2:23.
The Census: OMG, there was no census. It didn't happen. There is no mention of a census in any historical record from that period. No disrespect, but if God was involved with the Bible, he's a crap proofreader.
The Time of Year: The date of Jesus' birth is never mentioned in the Bible, and there is no reason to suppose that Jesus was born in December. Indeed the mention of sheep in the fields suggests a different time of year. As most Christian scholars now acknowledge, the decision to make Jesus a Capricorn by placing his birthday in December was a conscious and cynical attempt to coincide (and to compete) with the popular pagan festivities that marked the winter solstice.
Kings: Neither Matthew nor Luke mentions kings visiting Baby Jesus. Matthew does mention an unspecified number of wise men or magi, by which he probably meant Zoroastrian priests. Luke mentions neither kings nor magi.
The numbers of wise men, or kings, purported to have visited Jesus has varied over time. In early Christian art there were two, four, or six wise men depicted. According to Eastern traditions, there were twelve. Other sources leave it at "many."
The names Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar do not occur in the Bible. Different churches give the magi/kings different names. The Syrian church, for example, calls them Larvandad, Hormisdas, and Gushnasaph. They might just as well have been called Manny, Moe, and Jack.
Shepherds: Luke wrote that an unspecified number of shepherds came to see the baby Jesus. Matthew does not mention shepherds at all.
The Star: According to Matthew, the magi, having seen a yonder star in the East, followed it to Jerusalem, where it disappeared. They decide eventually that they are in the wrong place. Only after Herod had directed them to Bethlehem did the star of wonder reappear—hopefully with new firmware—to lead them once again (Matthew 2:1-9). Stars were common portents in the ancient world, and the births and deaths of kings were frequently marked by this sort of celestial wonderment. Nevertheless, the author of Luke does not mention the star at all.
This did not discourage other writers from describing the star as miraculously brilliant, and according to Ignatius of Antioch, all the rest of the stars along with the sun and moon gathered around this new star, which nevertheless outshone them all. "Then how the reindeer loved him . . . "
The Inn: In the original Greek in which they had been written, none of the gospels mentioned an inn. The Matthew author referred to mother and child in a house (Matthew 2:11). The Luke author uses the word katalemna meaning “a temporary shelter.” (Luke 2:7).
The Manger: No manger is mentioned by the Matthew author. The word used in the original Greek by the Luke author is thaten, a word that has a range of meanings, including "a baby's crib" and "an animal's feeding trough." Obviously the meaning here is baby's crib, not manger.
The Stable: Neither Matthew nor Luke mentions a stable.
The Ox and the Ass: Neither Matthew nor Luke mentions these animals. Their inclusion in the story is apparently attributable to later Christian scholars, such as Saint Francis of Assisi, who picked up the idea from an unrelated Old Testament passage.
Herod's Massacre of the Innocents: Matthew mentions this, Luke does not. One might suppose that such a draconian measure would be recorded elsewhere, as less significant historical events are; but the mass murder of the infants has no historical corroboration, and is probably no more than an imaginative way of bringing both Bethlehem and Nazareth into the story. Indeed this massacre cannot have taken place as described, otherwise Jesus' second cousin and contemporary, John the Baptist, would have been killed; yet John survived to reappear later in the story. Once again, as one critic has observed, "It looks as though a story has been retrospectively added to the gospel, without thinking through all the consequences."
So, Virginia, there was no manger, no GPS star in the sky, no ripe-smelling shepherds, no ox or ass shitting all over the place. Jesus was born somewhere, there’s no denying that. We’re just calling bullshit on the story that organized religions have been peddling all these years. Anybody who believes that story will probably believe that Jesus rose from the dead too.