Re: [asa] Grains among the chaff (skimming the 'God Delusion')

From: David Campbell <>
Date: Mon Mar 31 2008 - 16:41:47 EDT

While there are points at which there are clear difficulties, the
accounts of both Matthew and Luke on Jesus' childhood are so sparse as
to make claims of conflict fairly weak. If Luke actually implies that
they went straight back to Nazareth after the circumcision (I don't
know whether the Greek really implies that as opposed to that they
eventually got back there by the time of the next incident Luke wanted
to record), then Luke has them back to Nazareth in about two weeks.
Matthew has them in Bethlehem whenever the Magi get there and then to
Egypt, eventually getting back to Nazareth-far from a direct

Despite Roman efficiency, it still took a while for a census to be
implemented, especially in a distant and unruly corner of the empire.
We also don't have full government archives of Rome. Then there are
the textual uncertainties in Luke regarding the governor's name.
Claiming that we know that the census info doesn't match up is rather
like claiming that we know that complex biomolecular systems can't

Luke clearly does reflect the real Roman empire. F. F. Bruce, The New
Testament Documents-Are They Reliable? specifically addresses the
census question.

On Mon, Mar 31, 2008 at 12:16 AM, Merv <> wrote:
> At our public library, finding its two A. McGrath's holdings ("D.Delusion &
> Twilight of Atheism), I also saw Dawkins' "God Delusion" (three shiny
> copies!) right next to them and couldn't resist.
> Now, after having skimmed it (Dawkins' book) at home looking for anything
> that might be interesting or genuinely insightful, I did find one question
> that provoked me to look into something in Scriptures. He finds in the
> Matthew and Luke accounts of Jesus' childhood obviously contradictory
> accounts regarding childhood travels. Here, any such interest as Dawkins
> may have purported to have stops, since to him this is only one more
> 'incoherence' of scripture. But my interest is piqued. Here is what
> Dawkins' said that caught my attention (p. 93) I'll just summarize it.
> Dawkins writes to this effect:
> ...that Luke has Mary & Joseph living in Nazareth, traveling to Bethlehem,
> fleeing to Egypt, and then returning to Nazareth after Herod dies. Whereas
> Matthew has the family living in Bethlehem all along. (I guess D. gets this
> from Matt 2:19-23 which seem to suggest that Nazareth was an unplanned
> arrival point rather than a home returned to.)
> Dawkins also states that Luke's claim about the Roman census, which can be
> independently verified, shows the whole Luke account to be a fabrication
> since the only census that occurred was a local one, and was too late for
> Luke's purposes, being in AD 6 after Herod's death.
> All this made me wonder how theologians have answered (or not answered) some
> of this, or if Dawkins' facts are just plain wrong (His other assertions
> about Scripture that I ran across were light weight --- he can pontificate
> on how, even in the N.T., Jewish morality and decency towards 'neighbors'
> meant only 'fellow Jews' with nary a mention of Jesus' teaching of the good
> Samaritan so far as I could find.)
> But sorting out the childhood travels of the holy family I find more
> interesting:
> Matthew states that immediately after the magi visit (to the house in
> Bethlehem), the holy family fled to Egypt. So why does Luke never mention
> the flight to Egypt, but makes it sound like they return forthwith to
> Nazareth after the circumcision (eighth day) and purification rites in
> Jerusalem? What are the developed answers theologians have given to these
> over the ages?
> I don't raise these questions in the same spirit as Dawkins does (indeed, to
> him they are not questions at all) Unlike him, I am actually interested in
> the truth. So are his challenges actually real ones here? I should
> probably go and review the astronomical Star of Bethlehem project again, if
> I could find it. It seemed he had quite a bit to say about some timelines
> that may have answered this.
> (I pasted in Dawkin's actual paragraphs on this below for the curious.)
> --Merv
> p.s. Dave Opderbec, thanks for the A.McGrath suggestion; he looks like an
> excellent author, and I'll be reading his work now too.
> p.p.s. (from a 'Pontius Puddle' religious cartoon):
> Said parishioner to Pontius: "How was Sunday school this morning?"
> Replied Pontius: "Great! I scuttled two shallow convictions, exposed
> three misconceptions, and crushed one individual's entire belief system!"
> Parting remark of parishioner: "I had no idea religion could be such a
> contact sport!"
> Actual paragraphs from Dawkins' (er - excuse me) "God Delusion" p. 93
> Matthew and Luke handle the problem differently, by deciding that Jesus must
> have been born in Bethlehem after all. But they get him there by different
> routes. Matthew has Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem all along, moving to
> Nazareth only long after the birth of Jesus, on their return from Egypt
> where they fled from King Herod and the massacre of the innocents. Luke, by
> contrast, acknowledges that Mary and Joseph lived in Nazareth before Jesus
> was born. So how to get them to Bethlehem at the crucial moment, in order
> to fulfill the prophecy? Luke says that, in the time when Cyrenius
> (Quirinius) was governor of Syria, Caesar Augustus decreed a census for
> taxation purposes, and everybody had to go 'to his own city'. Joseph was
> 'of the house and lineage of David' and therefore he had to go to the city
> of David, which is called Bethlehem'. That must have seemed like a good
> solution. Except that historically it is complete nonsense, as A.N. Wilson
> in [...& others ...] have pointed out. David ... lived nearly a thousand
> years before Mary and Joseph. Why on earth would the Romans have required
> Joseph to go to the city where a remote ancestor had lived a millennium
> earlier? It is as though I were required to specify [...yada yada yada..]
> Dawkins continues in the next paragraph:
> Moreover, Luke screws up his dating by tactlessly mentioning events that
> historians are capable of independently checking. There was indeed a census
> under governor Quirinius - a local census, not one decreed by Caesar
> Augustus for the Empire as a whole -- but it happened too late: in AD 6,
> long after Herod's death.
> --end of quote from Dawkins' book.

Dr. David Campbell
425 Scientific Collections
University of Alabama
"I think of my happy condition, surrounded by acres of clams"
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Received on Mon Mar 31 16:43:13 2008

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