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

From: <>
Date: Mon Mar 31 2008 - 20:14:18 EDT

Also, he claims that it would make no sense for David to go to Bethlehem as a descendant of David since that anscestor lived 1300 years earlier.?
"...for Joseph to?go to Bethlehem..."

What I wrote the first time _really_ didn't make sense!


-----Original Message-----
Sent: Mon, 31 Mar 2008 8:05 pm
Subject: Re: [asa] Grains among the chaff (skimming the 'God Delusion')

A few folks have already responded, but I started typing this in the morning before I left for work so I'm going to send it now, anyhow.

I always find Alfred Edersheim's book, _The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah_, to be helpful with these types of questions.? Even though it is very old, none of these questions are new and they have already been given good answers.

Edersheim discusses this particular question and provides some references.? Dawkins as usual has failed to provide a scholarly summary of the arguments on both sides.? Dawkins' object is to say that Jesus didn't fulfill the prophecy that the Messiah was to come from Bethlehem and so he pulls together three arguments.? First he says that Matthew simply makes up the idea that the family was living in Bethlehem.? (But actually note that Matthew never says they were _living_ in Bethlehem:? it was Dawkins who made that up.)? Second, he says that Luke didn't mention the flight to Egypt and therefore that must have been made up by Matthew as an?excuse to explain why they were in fact known to live in Nazareth, not Bethlehem.? (But that's?a bit excessive;? why not make them leave Bethlehem and go straight to Nazareth to escape a localized slaughter?? Surely the author was dealing with something more than an excuse to not be in Be thlehem.)? Third, he says that?Luke took a different a
 pproach than Matthew and made up the Census as an excuse to get them to Bethlehem for the birth (since Mary was really?always in Nazareth).? Dawkins says we know this because for one thing the census is dated wrong; I'll mention what Edersheim says about this, below.??Also, he claims that it would make no sense for David to go to Bethlehem as a descendant of David since that anscestor lived 1300 years earlier.? But this would likewise make no sense either to Luke or to his original audience, so it makes no sense to offer this an argument against the historicity of the census.? Surely Joseph's own birth family, being of the line of David,?was rooted in that part of Judea.? Luke didn't say that _all_ families descended from David had to go to Bethlehem for the census!

From a quick perusal it looks like Edersheim agrees with the idea that the relationships between the first and second registrations in Luke 2:2 is poorly understood in our translations, that perhaps Herod (being familiar with Augustine's decrees to register people in all his provinces, and in light of his relationship with Augustus)?understood the need for a Palestinian census and thus initiated the registration according to Jewish customs to avoid the rebellion it would have fostered if undertaken more clumsily later on.? Later, Cyrenius (Quirinius) actually finished carrying out the census, which was after Herod's death.? Thus, Luke considers Cyrenius' census to be the 2nd one but also the fulfillment of the first registration.? Edersheim says the textual explanations for this position are found in Cook (The Rev. Version of the Gospels), along with Steinmeyer's explanation of the word _egeneto_? to mean something like "became" or "was fullfilled" ra ther than "occurred duri
 ng" (Steinmeyer, Geburt des Herrn u. seinerste Schritte im Leben).

Edersheim also points out some weaknesses in the "legend" theory on the first census.? It is hard to believe Luke could have made a historical mistake on the census.? For one thing, Luke apparently knew there was the later census (under Cyrenius) because he refers to the earlier registration as "the first" and he refers to the second in a quotation in Acts 5:37.? Second, the Jews would have so resented being forced to leave their towns to be counted for a heathen Roman tax that it would never be forgotten.? To make up such an event and put it in the gospel would have rendered the story totally unbelievable with the original audience.? Jerusalem was a huge city and its dispersed residents were all over the Roman empire.? Luke spent a couple years living in Palestine when Paul was under arrest there, and that gave him ample time to discuss the events with Palestinians who would have remembered the census, as he claims in Luke 1:3 to have carefully researched these matters.? So
 really it is harder to believe it was a legend than to believe some kind of registration based on Augustus' desires (related through Herod) actually occurred.

Not to mention the fact (which Edersheim doesn't) that Jesus Himself would have known that He was not the Messiah had he not been born in Bethlehem.? So if it were a legend, then it must have begun as no less than a lie from the lips of Mary.

Similar to what David O. mentioned, I had to wonder if the flight to Egypt was apocryphal and that perhaps Luke may have omitted it because he could not verify it independently during?his extended stay in Judea.? On the other hand, perhaps Matthew failed to incorporate the census story because his account was compiled from personal knowledge rather than as the result of an investigation, whereas Luke, not having the personal knowledge, had to rely upon interviews with people living in the area.? Matthew's account may have pre-existed Luke's, and being older may have already accumulated a few minor apocryphal additions by the time of Paul's imprisonment.? It is clear that Matthew is not using the flight to Egypt as an excuse to get them out of Bethlehem, as Dawkins claims, but rather is pointing out the similarity to the Hebrews under Moses being called out of Egypt as a type of the Messiah according to the Jewish expectations of that day.? That sort o f thing may have encoura
 ged an apocryphal addition, but it is not likely that the census could have been made up as a legend without immediate detection.? (However, I am not willing to say the flight to Egypt _is_ an addition:? it is just a possibility.)

Undoubtedly the entire Christian community in Judea understood that Jesus had been born in Bethlehem and both Matthew and Luke are relating that belief.? Whether the Christian community developed that as a false belief to "explain" the prophecy in Micah 5:2 or Jesus actually was born there is something that I doubt can be decided by?Dawkins better than it could have been decided by the skeptics of the first and second centuries.


-----Original Message-----
Sent: Mon, 31 Mar 2008 4:55 pm
Subject: Re: [asa] Grains among the chaff (skimming the 'God Delusion')

I've faced most of the litany of discrepancies (genealogies, empty tomb
scenarios, chronology problems, etc.) & become settled about literary devices or
other accommodations even if I haven't settled where interpretive lines should
fall in all cases. Thanks. (It's the old 'jumbled eyewitness testimonies so
it must be genuine' argument like Lewis used. I think it particularly realistic
even though the Dawkins crowd detests that line of reasoning and loves to say
so. But that isn't the heart of our faith anyway.)


Quoting Michael Roberts <>:

> Merv and Charles
> That is why I yawned. I will yawn again as I consider that Dawk went to
> Oxford where the college structure enables or even makes it unavoidable for
> students to mix extensively with students studying other subjects. Hence any
> Oxford undergrad, unless a total recluse or hopelessly tied up with chicks*,
> would be part of a group and partake of intellectual discussion across the
> subjects, and learn what others were doing. It was a simple way of giving Gen
> Ed courses. That meant for me that I learnt from those studying French and
> German literature, philosophy, classics, theology, history, economics,
> psychology, metallurgy, chemistry, music etc. Despite my then lack of belief
> I picked up much basic theology from 3 theology undergrads, - 2 American one
> an atheist ex RC monk, and the other a budding Episcopalian priest. That in
> combination with chapel groups gave me wide knowledge. Dawk not only went
> through that but for 40 years has been a don at New College, and could hardly
> have avoided discussions in the Senior Common Room with theologians. Hence I
> have little tolerance for his attitudes and studied ignorance of
> Christianity.
> Dawk doesn't even seem to have read the Gospels. and his description of Matt
> and Luke is poor.
> I am aware many flounder on these questions and a major part of the problem
> is the popular literalism, which I have often found in the Anglican church
> among members. The Bible has been presented as uniform either all literally
> true or all myth, but the "official view" being the former. Hence problems
> rise over birth narratives, revelation, the prophets and Genesis. Teaching at
> all levels helps but sadly many don't see this as relevant and prefer a
> simple faith. This may seem patronising but I have found this among all
> levels of ability and in Britain it comes out every Christmas when
> journalists suddenly discover that there weren't 3 wise men etc.
> Undoubtedly Peter Enns would help and much basic biblical interpretation of
> the past
> Michael
> * Dawk's D Phil thesis was on the pecking order of chicks.
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: Charles Carrigan
> To: ;
> Sent: Monday, March 31, 2008 5:15 PM
> Subject: Re: [asa] Grains among the chaff (skimming the 'God Delusion')
> Merv-
> It's no mystery that the stories in the various gospel accounts, even the
> three synoptic gospels, cannot be combined into a single coherent historical
> account without some very difficult problems. If Dawkins thinks this is a
> problem that's just silly. Try "combining" the 4 resurrection stories
> sometime. To think that the Church fathers were unaware of this seems kind
> of ridiculous. It is surprising the poor understanding of scripture that
> people can develop by not reading it. Rather than being a problem, I think
> it instead gives the gospels even more historical credibility.
> Best,
> Charles
> >>> Merv <> 3/31/2008 12:16 AM >>>
> 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.

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Received on Mon, 31 Mar 2008 20:14:18 -0400

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