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Howdy. We've moved from Cayce, but St. Elizabeth of South Rose Hill or Lizette de Waccamaw de Sud just don't do it for me.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Seasonal Predictability

Update at the bottom...

Somethings you can count on. Every year, just before Easter, someone discovers or uncovers or invents some bit of evidence that totally undermines everything that has been believed about Christianity since 33 AD or so.

We've all forgotten it by Mother's Day, of course.

Christmas usually goes ignored in the heresy, undermining department. So, I was mildly surprised to follow a link from Drudge to this story at the UK Daily Telegraph:

Archbishop says nativity "a legend"

The Archbishop of Canterbury said yesterday that the Christmas story of the Three Wise Men was nothing but a 'legend'.

Dr. Rowan Williams has claimed there was little evidence that the Magi even existed and there was certainly nothing to prove there were three of them or that they were kings.

Dr. Williams argued that the traditional Christmas story was nothing but a 'legend.' He said the only reference to the wise men from the East was in Matthew's gospel and the details were very vague. Dr. Williams said: "Matthew's gospel says they are astrologers, wise men, priests from somewhere outside the Roman Empire, that's all we're really told. It works quite well as legend."

The Archbishop went on to dispel other details of the Christmas story, adding that there were probably no asses or oxen in the stable.

He argued that Christmas cards which showed the Virgin Mary cradling the baby Jesus, flanked by shepherds and wise men, were misleading. As for the scenes that depicted snow falling in Bethlehem, the Archbishop said the chance of this was "very unlikely".

In a final blow to the traditional nativity story, Dr Williams concluded that Jesus was probably not born in December at all. He said: "Christmas was when it was because it fitted well with the winter festival."
Comment: G and others have linked to a Mark Shea essay (book chapter?) on the Christmas timing question.

His comments came during an interview on BBC Radio 5 Live with Simon Mayo yesterday. Later on in the show, the Archbishop was challenged by fellow guest Ricky Gervais, the comedian, about the credibility of the Christmas story. ...

Yes, Ricky Gervais, the guy from the original series "The Office." The Christmas special episode was wonderfully grim.

More Daily Telegraph Links:

Transcript: Archbishop's interview with Simon Mayo
Damian Thompson: Another of Rowan Williams' own goals

Granted -- the headline makes it appear that the AB of C disbelieves more than the article says, but I'd expect not one whit less of hyperbole from the British press.

The commentariat makes good points that the Scriptures don't say three wise men, nor kings, etc. Nothing puts the Magi in the stable. No one seems to be noticing (in the few comments I read) that Tradition (big T) may pass along to us things that don't get recorded until much later.
I just wonder what the AB of C believes about other bits of this legendary story. Virgin Birth, no room at the inn, announcement to shepherds, etc.?

I'm sure that, following this story, there will be outraged comments some places, triumphant links in others, and much of the Anglican Communion will continue to be embarrassed by the rest of the communion.

Merry Legendous!

Update: I've started actually reading the full transcript and have discovered a few answers.

Virgin Birth: Yep, since "that's something I'm committed to as part of what I've inherited."

No room at the Inn:
Simon Mayo: ...the baby Jesus in a manger; historically and factually true?
ABC: I should think so; the Gospel tells us he was born outside the main house, probably because it was overcrowded because it was pilgrimage time or census time; whatever; yes; he's born in poor circumstances, slightly out of the ordinary.

Wise Men: Well Matthew's gospel doesn't tell us that there were three of them, doesn't tell us they were kings, doesn't tell us where they came from, it says they're astrologers, wise men, priests from somewhere outside the Roman Empire. That's all we're really told so, yes, 'the three kings with the one from Africa' - that's legend; it works quite well as legend.

Lesson: The full interview isn't nearly as inflammatory as the abbreviated version. Still, I think someone comfortable in academia whould know that the term "legend" shouldn't be used about anythng related to scripture outside densely ivy-covered walls.


UltraCrepidarian said...

Of course the Bible doesn't say there were Three Wise Men. That's pious legend. Everybody knows the names Gaspar Melchior and Balthasar are legend too. Three merely matches the number of the gifts.

That something in Scripture can be reliably diagnosed as Likely Historical or Merely Legend, is a matter of impious conjecture or absurd speculation. Everybody knows that, too.

And if you start with G,M & B, you may as well move to the Virgin Birth, and the Resurrection next. As far as implausibility goes, the Resurrection takes the cake. Everything else is small potatoes.



Gashwin said...

Hehe, good point Ultracrepid!

I'm sure you've seen Amy's post on this. She does have a point -- what the good ol' AofC is saying is hardly news. Of course, it plays right into the agenda of the secular press at Christmastime. "See, even the Archbishop of Canterbury doesn't really take this seriously?" where "this" isn't just innocuous-sounding traditions about the names of the Magi, but, by extension, Christianity itself.

Gashwin said...

oh PS: Love the new blog look!

pritcher said...

In a way, this all reminds one of the pope's Regensburg lecture. Context schmontext.