Your Christmas controversy is right here

Instead, Jesus was more likely to have been born in Bethlehem of the Galilee, a hillside village in northern Israel, The Times reports.

Aviram Oshri, an Israeli archaeologist, told the paper that the genuine site of the Nativity had been mistaken by thousands.

\”Bethlehem in the Galilee was inhabited by Jews at the time of Jesus, whereas the other Bethlehem? There is no evidence that it was a living site, an inhabited area in the first century.\”

Mr Oshri has found some evidence that Jewish purification rituals took place in Bethlehem of the Galilee around the time Jesus was born. The village is also less than five miles from Nazareth, Jesus\’s childhood home.

Not much that anyone\’s going to do about now of course….

Although anyone who\’s good at PR and marketing might like to buy up parts of the Galilee Bethlehem and try their luck at the religious tourist trade….

20 thoughts on “Your Christmas controversy is right here”

  1. Isn’t it odd how almost all of the Holy Land sites of interest are within old-crone hobbling distance of where the Empress Helena stayed. I’m sure the locals would never dream of saying “but your Highness with the bottomless wallet, my brother’s wife’s cousin knows where the Holy Metatarsal is buried, and it’s conveniently located just around that corner” without justification.

  2. “any archaeological proof that Jesus was born in the town has probably been destroyed…”: what proof might that possibly be?

    Anyway, I’m unbothered. I think it more likely than not that Jesus existed, pootled about Galilee apreachin’ and ateachin’ and then ended badly in Jerusalem. That’s more confidence than I have in the tales of Mo.

  3. Well, this theory seems to come from the fact that this Bethlehem is very close to Nazareth, where Jesus grew up. Except, did he? He is described as “Jesus the Nazorean”, and this is usually interpreted as a reference to the fact that he came from Nazareth, except that the Nazoreans may have been a particular class or trade in Judaism at the time, so he may not have grown up in Nazareth at all.

    This one of the fun things about Christianity though. Go to the holy land, and the Christian holy sites have a delightful vagueness about them. Mmmm, well, Christ might have been crucified here, or was it here? And anyway, the sites aren’t actually very impressive. Whereas if you are looking for Jewish or Muslim holy sites, one has to say that the Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock are actually very impressive. (It was very provocative of Mohammed to be brought to Jerusalem on a holy steed brought by the archangel Gabriel in order to ascend to heaven to see God precisely from the holiest point in Judaism, I must say).

  4. Michael has it right, the term used originally is almost certainly Nazorean, which has no link with Nazareth at all. But as the gospels are largely written in the second century following mainly oral tales, much had to be invented by people who no longer understood some of the esotericisms of the early stories. It is interesting that the documents we do have from the very early period, such as the letters of Paul and those of James, have no mention at all of the history and descent etc of Jesus. And the most contemporary account of the times, Josephus, doesn’t mention Jesus at all except for two probable later interpolations.

    Simply put, we don’t have any good information on Jesus’ early life, that in the gospels is as good as any, and probably entirely made up.

  5. I don’t think any serious source suggests that David, of the tribe of Judah, came from Galilee. So ant suggestion that Jesus was born in “Bethlehem in the Galilee” comes from someone profoundly ignorant. Secondly, Avram Oshiri *claims* there is no evidence that Bethlehem was inhabited in the first century. I postulate that if it had not been inhabited in the first centuries BC and AD, then the contemporaries of the Gospel writers would have known that.
    A majority of scholars believe that Mark’s Gospel was committed to writing in the first century when there were still people alive who remembered or had parents who remembered.

  6. john77: Yes, it’s uncontroversial that David came from Bethlehem in Judah. But there’s more to it than that.

    Matthew is keen to identify Jesus with the Messiah, and so quotes Micah on the virgin birth and Isaiah on birth in Bethlehem in Judah. He has the family going to live in Nazareth only after Jesus was born, saying that that fulfilled a prophecy also (it’s not clear what he’s talking about).

    Luke is less obvious about it, but says that Joseph and Mary travelled from Nazareth for a census. Unfortunately, this detail is historically wrong.

    Mark seems to be the earliest account of the life of Jesus, as you say. And it doesn’t mention the nativity at all. Mark 6 seems to say that Jesus was born in Nazareth. Which, based on your argument about first century sources, would seem to cast doubt on the whole Nativity story.

    John too has nothing to say about the Nativity. John 7 has people saying that Jesus can’t be the messiah precisely because he comes from Galilee.

    Thus, of the four gospels, Matthew’s account of the Nativity reads like propaganda, Luke’s is demonstrably wrong, and Mark and John agree that Jesus came from Galilee.

  7. @ PaulB
    But none of them could possibly refer to “Bethlehem in the Galilee”.
    You are quite right but I wasn’t going into a long exposition at 2 in the morning

  8. Thing is, there is simply no history to be had here. No actual evidence. We don’t know which parts, if any, of the Gospels are true, and there is no way to verify them. For instance, you could make a plausible argument that the tale of the freeing of Jesus Barabbas was actually the story of the freeing of Jesus- that is, they are the same person. And the idea of an execution and resurrection was bolted on to add more awesome. Why else would a character called Jesus Barabbas be in the story? It’s a hell of a coincidence, isn’t it? Jesus, and then Bar Abbas, which means, “son of the father” (Bar Abba). Later versions of the bible edited out the “Jesus” bit, but in the earliest manuscripts, there it is, Barabbas’s first name was Jesus.

    And so on. Without any real evidence, you can make up any shit you like about it.

    Oh, and the Galilee was conqured and forcibly converted by the Hasmoneans, and in Jesus’s day the Galileans weren’t considered “proper” Jews by, er, proper Jews. So if he was born there, he probably wasn’t Jewish anyway, certainly not of the House of David. Not, so far as we can tell, that David ever existed either.

  9. @ Ian B
    Nobody can prove *by your standards* that there was a Queen Elizabeth I to make our current monarch Queen Elizabeth II.
    The *only* evidence that we have for any historical event involving people are the oral or written records.
    There is more evidence for the existence of Jesus of Nazareth than there is for Gaius Julius Caesar. So why don’t you argue for Luke being wrong because there was no Caesar Augustus to decree a census?
    Astronomers have evidence of “the Star in the East”, which occurred in 4BC, showing that the third century Christian historians got their sums wrong by about 1%.
    The Revised English Bible, the latest version, has Matthew XXVII 17 “which would you like me to release to you – Jesus Barabbas or Jesus called Messiah?”
    It isn’t that remote a coincidence that both should be called Joshua, as he was one of the most famous Jewish heroes. More often than not I find that I am not the only John in a group.
    You also get it wrong about Galilee – it was the Samarians who weren’t considered to be Jews by “proper Jews”
    If you could get your accuracy up to 50%, you might be worth a serious answer.

  10. john77: certainly Matthew and Luke were talking about Bethlehem in Judah. But it’s entirely possible that Jesus was born in Galilee, and surely not absurd to speculate that Matthew and Luke, perhaps via a common source, identified their Bethlehem by confusion with Bethlehem in Galilee.

  11. John77-

    You’ve missed my point somewhat. History is always a matter of conjecture. The sparseness of the evidence regarding Jesus means virtually any speculation can be made to fit. I don’t believe the theory I propounded about Barabbas. I was pointing out that when you’ve only got a few lines of text of unknown origin, virtually anything can fit to it.


    You also get it wrong about Galilee – it was the Samarians who weren’t considered to be Jews by “proper Jews”
    If you could get your accuracy up to 50%, you might be worth a serious answer.

    You’re confusing two different things; the despised natives (Samarians) and people who weren’t Judeans at all; the Galilee and Idumea were both annexed by the Hasmoneans and forcibly converted. Hence at the time of Jesus they were religiously Jews, but not proper ethnic Jews. Herod was an Idumean, which is part of the reason he wasn’t much liked.

  12. @ PaulB
    It *is* absurd to suggest that two Gospels were circulated in the latter half of the first century claiming that Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judah if Bethlehem was not an inhabited site in the first century.

  13. @ Ian B
    The Samaritans were despised because they were of mixed race, descendants of Israelites who had intermarried with foreigners while the upper classes were in exile in Babylon.

  14. John77-

    Maybe they were, but I’m not talking about the Samaritans anyway, but the Galileans.

    But again, we’re in this problem of having very little evidence to work with. What the evidence does seem to tell us is that the united “Israel” of pre-exilic times is a myth. What it also seems to tell us is that, while worship of El and Yahweh had occurred prior to the “exile”, the religion that the “returners” came back with was effectively a new one crafted for them by the Persians, hence the conflict with the natives who were happy with their old ways of worshipping. Bear in mind that we don’t even know whether the “returners” were people (or the descendents of people) who had actually left Judea. What we do know is that the Persians had a policy of transplanting ruling classes from place to place as a form of divide and conquer, so they could have come from anywhere. It isn’t really very plausible that the Judeans would be transported to Babylon, and then just left for several generations as a bloc, and then given “permission” to go back. More likely it was a deliberate policy to set up Judea as a temple state to govern the satrapy of Abar-Nahara, which (suspiciously) covers the exact same area as the mythical “Israel” of David.

    So that would mean the locals hadn’t “intermarried” with anybody. They never were Israelites in the first place. The actual complaint about “intermarriage” was really a deliberate policy to keep the new “Jewish” theocratic ruling class (“the nation of priests”) separate from the proles.

    And so on.

  15. john77: but there’s no reason to think that Matthew circulated in first century Judea – it’s thought to have been written in Syria. And anyone who read Luke who could remember whether there had been an inn and a census taker in Bethlehem 80 (?) years earlier would also have been able to remember that Quirinius’s census was conducted 10 years after Herod’s death. Yet the blunder about the census survived.

  16. @ Ian B
    You are just making things up to suit your argument. During the exile there was continuous, or at least continual, communication between the Jews in Babylon and those remaining in Judaea (see e.g. Nehemiah chapter one). So it is ridiculous to suggest that the returners were a different people.
    The principal conflict between the returners and those remaining was Ezra’s campaign against mixed marriages. There is no reason to suppose that the returners were influenced by the Persians, more that their commitment *not* to be corrupted by the Babylonians was a reason for their stricter observance.
    The Israel of David changed size during his reign so equating it with a Persian satrapy that included Philistia is specious. The united Israel of pre-exilic times is not a myth because no-one claims that Israel was united after jeroboam’s rebellion: where did you get that one from?
    “nation of priests” is not an Old Testament concept except as poetry. The priests came from a group of families in the tribe of Levi and the other twelve tribes could not be priests.
    Interesting that you “know” the Persian policy of transplanting ruling classes but insist that we don’t know anything about Israel.

  17. @ PaulB
    Matthew appears to be written for a Jewish audience: who else would be interested in the genealogy?
    Luke seems to have made a mistake, but not as blatant a one as suggesting that Jesus was born in an uninhabited town.

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