At this time of year our e-mail addresses are inundated with messages about how we should all have faith in God, or reminders that amid the shclockfest of the modern winter festival we should be aware of the Christian origins of the celebration. I don’t really mind that, if you are Christian that is your choice and I would defend to the death anybody’s right to be wrong if they so choose. And I will wish you merry Christmas with true goodwill. What does irritate me, usually at this time of year but in 2005, throughout the year, is the arrogance of Christians in assuming we all share their fallacies and misconceptions.
Not long ago I posted an item on the Chronicles of Narnia, a racist and fascistic book for children that hides its ugly message in a ridiculous parody of the story of Christ. Some gratifyingly abusive responses came in from “Christian” websites but one seemed slightly more coherent than the rest so I thought I would pay a visit and clear up a common misconception about The Church of England or Episcopalian church in the U.S.A. (it is not a protestant church as most Evangelicals think, but Anglican Catholic)
On arriving I stumbled upon an article by Rev. Someoneorother PhD (Divinity) who was stridently insisting that Christmas was not originally a pagan festival as “unbelievers” claimed but truly and entirely Christian, invented by Christians for Christians. To back this up he told his readers with all the authority a $500 PhD from a dodgy mail order University can bestow, that the Romans had no midwinter festival on which the early Christians could have modelled their Christmas.
Well this festival that the Romans did not have was called Saturnalia,was the most important of the year and ran from December 17th (Julian calendar) for two weeks. As far as Rev. Someoneorotther PhD was concerned there were no other pagans before the Romans, so the midwinter festivals of the Western Celts (Winter Solstice), the Goths (Yule) and other ancient cultures throughout the Northern Hemisphere are just modern fiction too, created to tempt people away from the truth of Christianity.
The solstice was celebrated thousands of years before the birth of Jesus. And the Romnans were not truly pagans anyway but their festivals echoed the old country festivals of the lands around the Mediterranean sea. That is the arrogance of a certain kind of Christianity that so irritates you see. The truth does not suit their prejudices so they invent a new “truth” which is “proved” simply by the fact that they are “Christians.”
Surely a god who is as all powerful as The God of Abraham and Ezekiel can look after himself, he does not need feeble mortals to defend him and push his claims to omnipotence even when those claims are challenged by a powerful Druid such as myself. If so many people feel they have to speak on God’s behalf in response to even the mildest and most reasonable questioning and if the only answer given to any question is “you should not question the ways of God.” is it not a good reason to suppose that such a god does not exist at all.
Reverend Someoneorother went on to rant about how pagans tried to corrupt everything Christian by putting a Pagan interpretation on it. Now this kind of thing really annoys me because it is just another case of Christian preachers being shown not to know the difference between lying and idiocy. Reverend Someoneorother (no, I’m not going to dignify him by revealing his name,) backed up his case by quoting from the Bible – quoting passages that just do not appear in the Bible. “The Bible says,” he ranted “that Jesus was born in a stable in Bethlehem blah blah. So lets take a look at what the Bible does say. Mark and John, the oldest and therefore most authentic of the Gospels do not mention the nativity at all, so by democratic vote it did not happen. St Matthew (2:11) however states ” And when they had come into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother…” Before that it mentions that an unspecific number of wise men had been notified in advance of the birth and had set off to make what in those days would have been a long and arduous journey across the desert to be present at the child’s birth. That’s all folks, no shepherds in this version.
Luke (2:7) says “And she brought forth her first born son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them at the inn.” No mention of a stable there Don’t forget Joseph was a carpenter so there are many reasons why he might have had a manger with him. Later some shepherds come to visit, but no wise men.
And that is all the Bible has to say on the birth. Well, all the real Bible (The Authorised King James version, translated from the Greek and Latin scriptures by the English poet and scholar John Milton early in the seventeenth century.) Other elements now included in the nativity story have been reintroduced from the proscribed Gnostic gospels. They were originally excluded because of the obvious pagan associations, the Ox and Ass (symbols of Mithras and Set, gods of Persia and Egypt) the Lion and the Lamb, traditional symbols of Hermes Trismegistos aka Baal Marduk, the Greco-Phonecian god of Tyre.
Another element of the story that makes it nonsense if read literally is the journey to Bethlehem. The reason given for this is Caesar had ordered a census because he thought Herod was understating the population of Judea in order to skim the tax revenues. First problem is with Ceasar. The Emperor Augustus was a good friend of Herod and trusted him. Oh sure, a little skimming went on, such things were accepted, this was the Roman Empire after all, but the friendship between the two families lasted another fifty years. Herod Agrippa, great grandson of Herod the Great was a confidante of Claudius (as some of you may remember from the classic T.V. drama.) and the Herod family were not Jewish but Greeks. The Greeks were to the Romans much as the Scots to the English during the days of our great Empire. They effectively ran the show. So why would Caesar call a census when it was not due until AD6.
Next problem is with Herod the Great, who ordered a massacre of children in Bethlehem, for reasons not truly known. Now that crime was carried out some years before Herod’s death and it is an undeniable fact that Herod died in 4BC and was succeeded by his son Herod Antipas.
To add to the confusion, Luke has nothing to say about Herod or any bloodshed. So did the family go to Bethlehem and if so why? Who knows, certainly the people who wrote the Bible didn’t. But it is possible, after all we hear of people now who arrange for their babies to be born in a family home. Typical of this is a common story in the Northern English counties of Lancashire and Yorkshire whose feudal lords squabbled over the English crown for over a century. Some traditionalists will ensure a child is born in the family’s traditional home county even if it means imposing the family on relatives for a couple of weeks. Most of us however confine the rivalry to cricket these days.
And what about the actually Date of Birth. We do not have a clue when Jesus was born, December 25th was first suggested in 334AD to give Christians in Rome an equivalent feast to Saturnalia (that is a documented and therefore unarguable fact. The nativity is celebrated on Jan. 6th in the Eastern Orthodox church but proximity to the Roman census suggests November too.
What about the “virgin birth” aspect which many Christians cite as proof of the story, quoting Isaiah 7:14. The Gospel of Matthew was written in Greek using the scriptures of the Greek Jews, also written in Greek, which speaks of a “partheno”, a virgin and makes a quantum leap of logic to understand the term Emmanuel as specifically meaning that the child of the virgin is God. Again this is a direct transposition of the pan – European sun – god myth. But that is not the real story. Jewish scholars reading the Aramaic version of Isaiah would read the passage as referring to the woman who was to bear the divine child as “almah” a young woman rather than “betulah” the Hebrew word for virgin. So the authentic Jewish version of Isaiah has no supernatural implication. Further, the Hebrew or Aramaic speaking reader would know that Immanu El literally means “God is with us,” the traditional promise of divine help given by priests to the Jewish people.
Next to be examined is the legend of The Flight Into Egypt. This again is the sole property of Matthew and bearing in mind Matthew is based firmly on the Gnostic Gospels and Apocrypha we ought to read it as a symbolic recreation of the story of Moses. The messiah in Jewish tribal legend is the thing that leads the Jewish people from captivity. Here again the writers of the Bible are confused because the Messiah is not a single individual but possibly a number of people (Judean Peoples’ Front or Peoples’ Front of Judea for example) or an oriflamme, an ideal, a Holy Grail in short.
So the alleged facts we are left with is that a baby, Joshua (latinized as Jesus) was born to a woman called Miryam (Mary) in an unspecified place at an unspecified time. It is the determination of Christian authors from St. Paul to the current crop to read into the stories that which just is not there and the determination of ordinary Christians to believe that these phoneys and con-artists actually speak on behalf of Jesus that has made Fundamentalist Christianity the most feared reactionary force in the world today.
The traditional nativity story is pure Paganism (I have neither time nor the inclination now to explain the significance of the pan-European winter solstice myth so I’ll just say that it is absolutely a myth, nobody ever thought of it as literally true. In that statement lies the great weakness of Christianity, the insistence that every word in the Bible is the literal truth. Since the Protestant revolution split the church that conviction has blinded protestant Christians to the much more important essential truth. And thus it is a warped version of Christianity that makes mockery of the message of Jesus and defending it that makes Christian preachers into liars. The essential truth of the Christmas story is of renewal, we are all renewed as the sun god Hermes Trismegistos (whose Holy and Unspeakable name is remarkabl like Jehovah) arises from his annual death on the nameless day and once more takes up the symbolic struggle against darkness until on the summer solstice he claims his bride, the Queen of the year and plants in her the seed of his successor. We are all renewed by the New Year, it is time to forget old grievances and to move forward. Does it matter if the anointed one, the cristos in Greek, is given the name Gilgamesh, David, Hercules, Romulus, Osiris, Arthur, Parsifal, Baldur, Cuchulain or Jesu. The message is that some people must pass on worldly success in order to work for the greatest good of the greatest number.
Why should Christmas not be about the pagan tradition of mid-winter feasting? I have said before Jesus was a Pagan, and if you go away and read your Bibles properly (an activity I have also recommended many times) you will find he was something of a party-guy too. I have no problem with Christian beliefs as many of you seem to think. It is Protestant (i.e. Calvinist) hypocrisy I can’t stand. If you want to believe the story of the nativity is true, that is fine. I believe in the Loch Ness monster, the Yeti and Bigfoot although I know they do not really exist. But if you want to be a real Christian, Rev Someoneorother PHD (Divinity) please do not do this fundamentalist thing of asserting that there is no acceptable point of view but your own. That is not a Christian attitude.