Thursday, December 28, 2006

The nativity story #2

Continued from part #1 with the nativity story in my own words,

[Graphic: "Retracing biblical steps," BBC]

based mainly on the Gospel accounts in Matthew 1:18-25; 2:1-6 and Luke 1:26-38; 2:1-40, and specifically in this second part on the accounts of the actual birth of Jesus in Luke 2:1-20 and Matthew 2:1-6, and commenting on those aspects that have implications for creation/evolution.

Judea, which had been under Roman rule since 63 BC, and in ~7 BC the Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus (63 BC-14 AD) decreed "that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world" (Lk 2:1). This was the former (Gk. prote - e.g. Acts 2:1 "In my former [Gk. protos] book ..." ) of two censuses conducted by the Roman military governor Quirinius, the second being in ~6 AD (Acts 5:37). Every male (Gk. ekastos = "each man") was required to return to his own town to be enrolled (Lk 2:3).

Joseph, being of "the house and line of David" (Lk 2:4; Mt 1:20; Lk 1:27) was required to register at "Bethlehem the town of David" (Lk 2:4; 1 Sam 17:12; Lk 2:11,15; Jn 7:42). So because "Mary ... was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child" she accompanied Joseph "from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem" (Lk 2:5).

Nazareth had been settled by the descendants of King David in the second century BC:

"Archaeological investigation of Nazareth suggests that it was uninhabited from the eighth to the second centuries B.C. since no ceramic remains have been found from the Assyrian, Persian and early Hellenistic periods. This is consistent with two known events. One is the invasion by the Assyrian Tiglath-Pileser III in 733 B.C., when the people of Galilee were taken in captivity to Assyria (2 Kings 15:29). Galilee became a Gentile region. Isaiah the prophet refers to this crisis: `In the past [God] humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali.' Yet, Isaiah promises, `[God] will honor Galilee of the Gentiles.... The people walking in darkness / have seen a great light' (Is 9:1-2 NIV). Nazareth was resettled at the time of a second known event. During the rule of the Hasmonaean John Hyrcanus (134-104 B.C.), Galilee was reconquered by the Jews. In the years following, many Jews settled in Galilee, including, I suggest, the Davidic forebears of Joseph. We do not know where they lived before migrating to Nazareth. Perhaps they came from the Jewish dispersion in Mesopotamia, descendants of exiles from earlier deportations. Whatever the case, by Jesus' time the small village of Nazareth was to a significant degree composed of a Davidic clan. Jesus, along with most of the inhabitants of Nazareth, belonged to the same extended family, descended from David the king of Israel." (Barnett, P.W., ""Jesus & the Rise of Early Christianity," InterVarsity Press: Downers Grove IL, 1999, p.93)

which explains how blind Bartimaeus knew that "Jesus of Nazareth" was "Jesus, Son of David" (Mk 10:47; Lk 18:37-38). It also explains Matthew's claim in Mt 2:23 that Jesus' going to live in Nazareth (since He was born in Bethlehem ~7 BC and then lived in Egypt until ~4 BC) "fulfilled what was said through the prophets: `He will be called a Nazarene,'" i.e. Nazareth was named by the Davidites after the Messianic prophecies of "The Branch" (Heb. netzer in Isa 4:2:;11:1; 53:2; Jer 23:5; 33:15; Zec 3:8; 6:12):

"This may explain the much discussed statement of Matthew: `[Jesus] went and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, `He shall be called a Nazarene [Nazo raios]' ` (Mt 2:23). There is no such oracle to be found in the writings of the prophets. However, attention has been drawn to Isaiah 11:1 (NIV): A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse [the father of David], from his roots a Branch [Heb netzer] will bear fruit. Is Matthew's appeal to `the prophets' a broad reference to the many Old Testament promises of a messiah descended from David, but with a particular play on the word netzer, `branch,' from Isaiah 11:1? Though the royal line was hacked down to a stump, from that stump a shoot or branch would one day spring up. Matthew may be saying of Jesus, `He shall be called that `branch' of David,' that is, his long awaited son, the Messiah of Israel. This understanding is entirely in line with Matthew's opening words, `The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David,' and with the entire Davidic tenor of the genealogy (see Mt 1:5-6, 17). The genealogy is followed by the words of an angel addressed to `Joseph, son of David' (Mt 1:20). Matthew's account, which immediately moves to the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, David's birthplace, could not be more pointed. In Matthew's mind Jesus was the royal son of David, born in Bethlehem, David's ancestral home. The writer of the Apocalypse, too, is aware of Jesus as the `branch' of David in the words, `I am the root and the offspring of David' (Rev 22:16; cf. Rev 5:5). The believers in Jerusalem led by James, the brother of Jesus, were later derisively spoken of as `the sect of the Nazarenes [Natzo raeans]' (Acts 24:5). They took their name from Nazareth, the village so named as an enclave of Davidic descendants. James's people were followers of a netzer, a `branch' of David, that had its origin in Nazareth. We may surmise that the long uninhabited village, which found no mention in the Old Testament, came to take its name from the Davidides who settled there during the Maccabean era. The similarity between netzer and Nazareth is apparent. It was quite common for places to take their names from the tribe or clan who settled there, for example, Danites from Dan to the north of the Sea of Galilee. An association between Nazareth, the home of a natzoraios, a descendant of David, may be discerned in the words of Bartimaeus, the blind beggar from Jericho. When he heard that Jesus the Natzo raios_ was passing by, he cried out, `Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!' (Mk 10:47; Lk 18:37-38)." (Barnett, 1999, pp.92-93)

Therefore, contrary to the traditional picture on Christmas cards of Joseph and Mary travelling alone, they probably were not the only citizens of Nazareth required to return to Bethlehem to register for the census, in which case they would likely have travelled to Bethlehem with members of their extended family of Davidites, which would also explain why "there was no room for them in the inn" for them at Bethlehem (Lk 2:7).

To be continued in part #3.

Stephen E. Jones, BSc (Biol).

Genesis 35:27-29. 27Jacob came home to his father Isaac in Mamre, near Kiriath Arba (that is, Hebron), where Abraham and Isaac had stayed. 28Isaac lived a hundred and eighty years. 29Then he breathed his last and died and was gathered to his people, old and full of years. And his sons Esau and Jacob buried him.


Anonymous said...

I would be interested in your comments on an alternative interpretation of intelligent design, at

Does intelligent design necessarily have to be rooted in Christian scripture? I think otherwise.

Stephen E. Jones said...


>I would be interested in your comments on an alternative interpretation of intelligent design, at

Sorry, but I don't have the time (or inclination) to comment on "an alternative interpretation of intelligent design."

Especially since you don't seem to know what *standard* "intelligent design" (ID) is!

>Does intelligent design necessarily have to be rooted in Christian scripture? I think otherwise.

This shows that either: 1) you don't know what ID is; or 2) you do know what it is, and are misrepresenting it. I will charitably assume the former.

ID is *not* "rooted in Christian scripture." ID is based *solely* on the evidence of nature, not on "the Bible or any other sacred text":

"Unlike creationism, intelligent design is based on science, not sacred texts. Creationism is focused on defending a literal reading of the Genesis account, usually including the creation of the earth by the Biblical God a few thousand years ago. Unlike creationism, the scientific theory of intelligent design is agnostic regarding the source of design and has no commitment to defending Genesis, the Bible or any other sacred text. Instead, intelligent design theory is an effort to empirically detect whether the `apparent design' in nature observed by biologists is genuine design (the product of an organizing intelligence) or is simply the product of chance and mechanical natural laws." (West J.G., "Intelligent Design and Creationism Just Aren't the Same," Discovery Institute-Center for Science and Culture: Seattle WA, December 1, 2002.

Stephen E. Jones