Saturday, November 28, 2009


The Nativity of Jesus has been studied in depth by many and diverse scholars. Far be it for us to add to this corncucopia of scholarly debate and discussion. But we shall make use of only a few of the many sources in our search for an clearer understanding of what the only two gospel authors Matthew and Luke were saying in their exclusive narratives.

Passing reference may also be made to commentaries and other works which make brief mention of the problems these narratives raise in the minds of modern readers. Some were Christian believers and others were of other faith traditions. Two authors in particular have provided the greater part of the material for this study: Raymond E. Brown and Geza Vermes.

In 1979 Brown published an exhaustive work called The Birth of The Messiah: A Commentary on the Infancy Narratives in Matthew and Luke (Garden City, NY. Doubleday Image Book). It remains the standard authority, although recognized as the work of a Roman Catholic priest and published with the nihil obstat of his Church and under the imprimatur of the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of New York. Brown closely examined the Gospel tradition and a vast amount of scholarly commentaries. In the end he sustained the traditional view of his Church.

In 2006 Geza Vermes, professor emeritus of Jewish Studies at Oxford University, published a short but carefully analyzed study of the Gospel narratives: The Nativity : History and Legend. (London: Penquin Books) He presented a unique viewpoint on the key question most people ask: Was Mary a virgin when Jesus was conceived? Vermes had included a brief excursus on this subject in his earlier work, Jesus the Jew (London: William Collins, 1973; SCM Books, 1983.)

As our study begins, quotations from two other renowned scholars bear repeating. In his Pelican New Testament Commentary on St. Luke’s Gospel, (London, 1963) the late Professor George Caird wrote: “Those who believe that the virgin birth was simple history must hold that the story came ultimately from Mary herself. For those who find this belief an unnecessary impediment to faith an alternative theory of origin has been put forward ... that the doctrine arose out of a misunderstanding when the story was taken from it original Judean environment in the Greek world.”

Sherman E Johnson, author of the Introduction and Exegesis of The Gospel According to St. Matthew in The Interpreter’s Bible (Nashville, TN. Abingdon Press, 1951) wrote on the subject: “Matthew and Luke have knowledge of such a story from separate and independent sources. The story first appears in Christian circles which are in close touch with the Jewish tradition. If it arises out of pious speculation, it is nevertheless based on faith in the unlimited power of the one God, not on pagan mythology."

So now we turn to our study in earnest.

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