Nativity of Jesus

Nativity of Jesus

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The Nativity of Jesus, or simply The Nativity, refers to the accounts of the birth of Jesus
Jesus
Jesus of Nazareth , commonly referred to as Jesus Christ or simply as Jesus or Christ, is the central figure of Christianity...

 in two of the Canonical gospels and in various apocryphal
New Testament apocrypha
The New Testament apocrypha are a number of writings by early Christians that claim to be accounts of Jesus and his teachings, the nature of God, or the teachings of his apostles and of their lives. These writings often have links with books regarded as "canonical"...

 texts.

New Testament
New Testament
The New Testament is the second major division of the Christian biblical canon, the first such division being the much longer Old Testament....

 accounts of the Nativity of Jesus appear only in the Gospel of Luke
Gospel of Luke
The Gospel According to Luke , commonly shortened to the Gospel of Luke or simply Luke, is the third and longest of the four canonical Gospels. This synoptic gospel is an account of the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. It details his story from the events of his birth to his Ascension.The...

 and the Gospel of Matthew
Gospel of Matthew
The Gospel According to Matthew is one of the four canonical gospels, one of the three synoptic gospels, and the first book of the New Testament. It tells of the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth...

. There has been debate among scholars as to whether these two accounts can be partially reconciled or if they are totally contradictory. Some scholars view the narratives as non-historical while others view the discussion of historicity as futile, given that Luke and Matthew do not seem concerned with presenting a historical narrative but shape their accounts to the traditions of their age. Modern scholars generally do not use much of the birth narratives for historical information. Both gospels describe Jesus being born in Bethlehem
Bethlehem
Bethlehem is a Palestinian city in the central West Bank of the Jordan River, near Israel and approximately south of Jerusalem, with a population of about 30,000 people. It is the capital of the Bethlehem Governorate of the Palestinian National Authority and a hub of Palestinian culture and tourism...

, in Judea, to a virgin mother. Luke features the Christmas story, in which Joseph and Mary, as part of a census, travel to Bethlehem, where Jesus is born and laid in a manger. Angels proclaim him a savior for all people, and shepherds come to adore him. In Matthew, wise men follow a star to Bethlehem to bring gifts to Jesus, born the King of the Jews
Jesus, King of the Jews
In the New Testament, Jesus is referred to as the King of the Jews both at the beginning of his life and at the end.Both uses of the title lead to dramatic results in the New Testament accounts. In the account of the Nativity of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew, the three wise men In the New...

. King Herod massacres all the toddler boys in Bethlehem to kill Jesus, but the holy family flees to Egypt and later settles in Nazareth.

The Nativity of Jesus in Christian theology
Christian theology
- Divisions of Christian theology :There are many methods of categorizing different approaches to Christian theology. For a historical analysis, see the main article on the History of Christian theology.- Sub-disciplines :...

 concerns the Incarnation of Jesus in human form, free of sin and acting in obedience
Active obedience of Christ
The active obedience of Jesus Christ comprises the totality of his actions, which Christians believe was in perfect obedience to the Law of God...

 to and in fulfilment of the divine will of God, thereby undoing the damage caused by the fall of the first man, Adam
Adam and Eve
Adam and Eve were, according to the Genesis creation narratives, the first human couple to inhabit Earth, created by YHWH, the God of the ancient Hebrews...

, and opening the opportunity for salvation. Early debates about the theology of the Nativity resulted in early schisms
Council of Chalcedon
The Council of Chalcedon was a church council held from 8 October to 1 November, 451 AD, at Chalcedon , on the Asian side of the Bosporus. The council marked a significant turning point in the Christological debates that led to the separation of the church of the Eastern Roman Empire in the 5th...

 in the Church by the 5th century.
The main religious celebration among members of the Catholic Church
Roman Catholic Church
The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the world's largest Christian church, with over a billion members. Led by the Pope, it defines its mission as spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, administering the sacraments and exercising charity...

 and other Christian groups is the Church service on Christmas Eve
Christmas Eve
Christmas Eve refers to the evening or entire day preceding Christmas Day, a widely celebrated festival commemorating the birth of Jesus of Nazareth that takes place on December 25...

 or on the morning of Christmas Day. During the forty days leading up to Christmas, the Eastern Orthodox Church
Eastern Orthodox Church
The Orthodox Church, officially called the Orthodox Catholic Church and commonly referred to as the Eastern Orthodox Church, is the second largest Christian denomination in the world, with an estimated 300 million adherents mainly in the countries of Belarus, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Georgia, Greece,...

 practices the Nativity Fast
Nativity Fast
The Nativity Fast is a period of abstinence and penance practiced by the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and Eastern Catholic Churches, in preparation for the Nativity of Christ, . The fast is similar to the Western Advent, except that it runs for 40 days instead of four weeks. The fast is...

, while the majority of Christian congregations (including the Catholic Church, the Anglican Communion
Anglican Communion
The Anglican Communion is an international association of national and regional Anglican churches in full communion with the Church of England and specifically with its principal primate, the Archbishop of Canterbury...

, many Mainline churches, and Baptists) begin observing the liturgical season of Advent
Advent
Advent is a season observed in many Western Christian churches, a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas. It is the beginning of the Western liturgical year and commences on Advent Sunday, called Levavi...

 four Sundays before Christmas—both are seen as times of spiritual cleansing, recollection and renewal to prepare for the celebration of the birth of Jesus.

The Artistic depiction of Nativity
Nativity of Jesus in art
The Nativity of Jesus has been a major subject of Christian art since the 4th century. The artistic depictions of the Nativity or birth of Jesus, celebrated at Christmas, are based on the narratives in the Bible, in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, and further elaborated by written, oral and...

 has been a major subject for Christian art
Christian art
Christian art is sacred art produced in an attempt to illustrate, supplement and portray in tangible form the principles of Christianity, though other definitions are possible. Most Christian groups use or have used art to some extent, although some have had strong objections to some forms of...

ists since the 4th century, both pictorial and sculptural, and the Nativity has inspired a large body of liturgical music
Liturgical music
Liturgical music originated as a part of religious ceremony, and includes a number of traditions, both ancient and modern. Liturgical music is well known as a part of Catholic Mass, the Anglican Holy Communion service , the Lutheran Divine Service, the Orthodox liturgy and other Christian services...

, Christmas Carol
Christmas carol
A Christmas carol is a carol whose lyrics are on the theme of Christmas or the winter season in general and which are traditionally sung in the period before Christmas.-History:...

s and folk music. Since the 13th century, the Nativity scene
Nativity scene
A nativity scene, manger scene, krippe, crèche, or crib, is a depiction of the birth of Jesus as described in the gospels of Matthew and Luke...

 has emphasized the humility of Jesus and promoted a more tender image of him.

Canonical Gospels


The accounts of the Nativity of Jesus in the New Testament
New Testament
The New Testament is the second major division of the Christian biblical canon, the first such division being the much longer Old Testament....

 appear in only two of the four Canonical Gospels, namely the Gospel of Luke
Gospel of Luke
The Gospel According to Luke , commonly shortened to the Gospel of Luke or simply Luke, is the third and longest of the four canonical Gospels. This synoptic gospel is an account of the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. It details his story from the events of his birth to his Ascension.The...

 and the Gospel of Matthew
Gospel of Matthew
The Gospel According to Matthew is one of the four canonical gospels, one of the three synoptic gospels, and the first book of the New Testament. It tells of the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth...

. Luke's story takes place mostly before the birth of Jesus and centers on Mary, while Matthew's story takes place mostly after the birth of Jesus and centers on Joseph. The two other canonical gospels, the Gospel of Mark
Gospel of Mark
The Gospel According to Mark , commonly shortened to the Gospel of Mark or simply Mark, is the second book of the New Testament. This canonical account of the life of Jesus of Nazareth is one of the three synoptic gospels. It was thought to be an epitome, which accounts for its place as the second...

 and the Gospel of John
Gospel of John
The Gospel According to John , commonly referred to as the Gospel of John or simply John, and often referred to in New Testament scholarship as the Fourth Gospel, is an account of the public ministry of Jesus...

, begin their narratives of Jesus's life in his adulthood; both mention him coming out of Galilee but give no other details of his life prior to adulthood.

The betrothal of Joseph and Mary and the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem appear in both Matthew and Luke. Luke includes several events prior to the birth of Jesus that do not appear in Matthew, e.g. the trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem, while Matthew alone discusses the Flight to Egypt after the birth.

The Nativity accounts in the New Testament are generally viewed as ending with Finding Jesus in the Temple several years later, after the family has returned to Galilee
Return of young Jesus to Nazareth
The return of young Jesus to Nazareth is an episode in the life of Jesus that appears in the Gospel of Luke. It relates the return to Nazareth by St. Joseph and Mary after the birth of Jesus....

.

Gospel of Luke




The Nativity is a prominent element of the Gospel of Luke, and comprises over 10% of the text. It is three times the length of the Nativity text in the Gospel of Matthew and in itself longer than several of the books of the New Testament
New Testament
The New Testament is the second major division of the Christian biblical canon, the first such division being the much longer Old Testament....

. Luke does not rush into the birth of Jesus, but prepares for the event by narrating several episodes prior to the birth of Jesus. Luke is the only Gospel to provide an account of the birth of John the Baptist
John the Baptist
John the Baptist was an itinerant preacher and a major religious figure mentioned in the Canonical gospels. He is described in the Gospel of Luke as a relative of Jesus, who led a movement of baptism at the Jordan River...

, and he uses it to draw parallels between the births of John and Jesus.

Luke draws parallels between the angelic visit (1:5-25) to Zachariah
Zechariah (priest)
In the Bible, Zechariah , is the father of John the Baptist, a priest of the sons of Aaron, a prophet in , and the husband of Elisabeth who is the cousin of Mary the mother of Jesus.In the Qur'an, Zechariah plays a similar role as the father of John the Baptist and ranks him as a prophet alongside...

 about the birth of John and the Annunciation to Mary (1:26-38) about the birth of Jesus. He also draws parallels between the Song of Zechariah (1:57-80) about John and the Song of Simeon (2:1-40) about Jesus. However, while Luke devotes only 2 verses (1:57-58) to the birth of John, the birth of Jesus is narrated in twenty verses (2:1-20). Luke relates the two births in the visitation of Mary to Elizabeth. He further connects the two births by noting that Mary and Elizabeth are cousins.

In the Gospel of Luke
Gospel of Luke
The Gospel According to Luke , commonly shortened to the Gospel of Luke or simply Luke, is the third and longest of the four canonical Gospels. This synoptic gospel is an account of the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. It details his story from the events of his birth to his Ascension.The...

, Mary
Mary (mother of Jesus)
Mary , commonly referred to as "Saint Mary", "Mother Mary", the "Virgin Mary", the "Blessed Virgin Mary", or "Mary, Mother of God", was a Jewish woman of Nazareth in Galilee...

 learns from the angel
Angel
Angels are mythical beings often depicted as messengers of God in the Hebrew and Christian Bibles along with the Quran. The English word angel is derived from the Greek ἄγγελος, a translation of in the Hebrew Bible ; a similar term, ملائكة , is used in the Qur'an...

 Gabriel
Gabriel
In Abrahamic religions, Gabriel is an Archangel who typically serves as a messenger to humans from God.He first appears in the Book of Daniel, delivering explanations of Daniel's visions. In the Gospel of Luke Gabriel foretells the births of both John the Baptist and of Jesus...

 that she will conceive and bear a child called Jesus. When she asks how this can be, since she is a virgin, he tells her that the Holy Spirit
Holy Spirit
Holy Spirit is a term introduced in English translations of the Hebrew Bible, but understood differently in the main Abrahamic religions.While the general concept of a "Spirit" that permeates the cosmos has been used in various religions Holy Spirit is a term introduced in English translations of...

 would "come upon her" and that "nothing will be impossible with God". She responds: "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word". Later Mary visits her relative Elizabeth
Elizabeth (Biblical person)
Elizabeth is also spelled Elisabeth or Elisheva...

, who is pregnant with John the Baptist
John the Baptist
John the Baptist was an itinerant preacher and a major religious figure mentioned in the Canonical gospels. He is described in the Gospel of Luke as a relative of Jesus, who led a movement of baptism at the Jordan River...

. John leaps in his mother's womb, recognizing the presence of Jesus, the Messiah.

When Mary is due to give birth, she and Joseph
Saint Joseph
Saint Joseph is a figure in the Gospels, the husband of the Virgin Mary and the earthly father of Jesus Christ ....

 travel from Nazareth
Nazareth
Nazareth is the largest city in the North District of Israel. Known as "the Arab capital of Israel," the population is made up predominantly of Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel...

 to Joseph's ancestral home in Bethlehem
Bethlehem
Bethlehem is a Palestinian city in the central West Bank of the Jordan River, near Israel and approximately south of Jerusalem, with a population of about 30,000 people. It is the capital of the Bethlehem Governorate of the Palestinian National Authority and a hub of Palestinian culture and tourism...

 to register in the census of Quirinius
Census of Quirinius
The Census of Quirinius refers to the enrollment of the Roman Provinces of Syria and Iudaea for tax purposes taken in the year 6/7 during the reign of Emperor Augustus , when Publius Sulpicius Quirinius was appointed governor of Syria, after the banishment of Herod Archelaus from the Tetrarchy of...

. Mary gives birth to Jesus
Jesus
Jesus of Nazareth , commonly referred to as Jesus Christ or simply as Jesus or Christ, is the central figure of Christianity...

 and, having found no place for themselves in the inn, places the newborn in a manger
Manger
A manger is a trough or box of carved stone or wood construction used to hold food for animals . Mangers are mostly used in livestock raising. They are also used to feed wild animals, e.g., in nature reserves...

.

An angel of the Lord visits the shepherds
Annunciation to the shepherds
The Annunciation to the shepherds is an episode in the Nativity of Jesus described in the Bible in Luke 2, in which angels tell a group of shepherds about the birth of Jesus...

 and brings them "good news of great joy": "to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord." The angel tells them they will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger. The angel is joined by a "heavenly host" who say "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors. The shepherds hurry to the stable in Bethlehem where they find Jesus with Mary and Joseph. They repeat what they have been told by the angel, and then, they return to their flocks. Mary and Joseph take Jesus to Jerusalem to be circumcised, before returning to their home in Nazareth.

Gospel of Matthew



The Nativity appears in chapters 1 and 2 of the Gospel of Matthew
Gospel of Matthew
The Gospel According to Matthew is one of the four canonical gospels, one of the three synoptic gospels, and the first book of the New Testament. It tells of the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth...

 in which Matthew places special emphasis on the origins of the names of the child and two specific passages, namely from 1:21-23, have theological significance in that they refer to the names Jesus and Emmanuel.

Following the bethrothal of Joseph and Mary in Matthew 1:18, Joseph is troubled in Matthew 1:19-20 because Mary is pregnant but in the first of Joseph's three dreams
St. Joseph's dream
St. Joseph's dream refers to Biblical episodes in which Saint Joseph is visited by Angel and receives specific instructions. In the New Testament there are 3 specific episodes in which St. Joseph has such dreams....

 an angel assures him not be afraid to take Mary as his wife, because her child was conceived by the Holy Spirit
Holy Spirit
Holy Spirit is a term introduced in English translations of the Hebrew Bible, but understood differently in the main Abrahamic religions.While the general concept of a "Spirit" that permeates the cosmos has been used in various religions Holy Spirit is a term introduced in English translations of...

.

The message of the angel to Joseph in Matthew 1:21 includes the origin of the name Jesus, and has salvific implications when the angel instructs Joseph: "you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins". It is the only place in the New Testament where "saves his people" appears with "sins".

Scholars have debated whether Matthew 1:22-23 is spoken by the angel or by Matthew. However, Matthew 1:23 does provide the basis for the use of the name "Emmanuel", which means "God is with us". The name Emmanuel (from the Hebrew words: אֵל ’El
El (god)
is a Northwest Semitic word meaning "deity", cognate to Akkadian and then to Hebrew : Eli and Arabic )....

, i.e. 'God' and עִמָּנוּ i.e. ʻImmānū, 'with us') is related to Isaiah 7:14 and is one of almost a dozen cases in his Gospel where while discussing Jesus as the fulfillment of prophecies, Matthew points back to one of the prophets.

In Matthew 2:1
Matthew 2:1
Matthew 2:1 is the first verse of the second chapter of the Gospel of Matthew in the New Testament. The previous verse ended with Jesus being named by his father, this verse marks the clear start of a new narrative. This verse deals with the arrival of the Magi at the court of Herod the Great in...

-12
Matthew 2:12
Matthew 2:12 is the twelfth verse of the second chapter of the Gospel of Matthew in the New Testament. The magi, dispatched by King Herod, have found and paid homage to the Infant Jesus...

 the Star of Bethlehem
Star of Bethlehem
In Christian tradition, the Star of Bethlehem, also called the Christmas Star, revealed the birth of Jesus to the magi, or "wise men", and later led them to Bethlehem. The star appears in the nativity story of the Gospel of Matthew, where magi "from the east" are inspired by the star to travel to...

 reveals the birth of Jesus to a number (traditionally three) of Magi
Biblical Magi
The Magi Greek: μάγοι, magoi), also referred to as the Wise Men, Kings, Astrologers, or Kings from the East, were a group of distinguished foreigners who were said to have visited Jesus after his birth, bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh...

, (Greek μάγος), commonly translated as "wise man", who travel to Jerusalem from an unspecified country "in the east". Setting out from the East, they worship the infant Messiah and bring him the gifts intimated in Isaiah
Book of Isaiah
The Book of Isaiah is the first of the Latter Prophets in the Hebrew Bible, preceding the books of Ezekiel, Jeremiah and the Book of the Twelve...

 60, a book dealing with the Apocalyptic pilgrimage of the heathens to Zion
Zion
Zion is a place name often used as a synonym for Jerusalem. The word is first found in Samuel II, 5:7 dating to c.630-540 BCE...

. It is the pagan elite who now stand with Jesus, while the elite of the holy people of Israel stand on the opposite side. In Matthew 2:2 the Magi follow His star, believing it to announce the birth of the King of the Jews
Jesus, King of the Jews
In the New Testament, Jesus is referred to as the King of the Jews both at the beginning of his life and at the end.Both uses of the title lead to dramatic results in the New Testament accounts. In the account of the Nativity of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew, the three wise men In the New...

.

The Magi go to see Herod the Great
Herod the Great
Herod , also known as Herod the Great , was a Roman client king of Judea. His epithet of "the Great" is widely disputed as he is described as "a madman who murdered his own family and a great many rabbis." He is also known for his colossal building projects in Jerusalem and elsewhere, including his...

 and ask where they can find the one born "King of the Jews." Herod asks his advisers where the Messiah was to be born. They answer Bethlehem, the birthplace of King David
David
David was the second king of the united Kingdom of Israel according to the Hebrew Bible and, according to the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, an ancestor of Jesus Christ through both Saint Joseph and Mary...

, and quote the prophet
Prophet
In religion, a prophet, from the Greek word προφήτης profitis meaning "foreteller", is an individual who is claimed to have been contacted by the supernatural or the divine, and serves as an intermediary with humanity, delivering this newfound knowledge from the supernatural entity to other people...

 Micah
Book of Micah
The Book of Micah is one of fifteen prophetic books in the Hebrew bible/Old Testament, and the sixth of the twelve minor prophets. It records the sayings of Mikayahu, meaning "Who is like Yahweh?", an 8th century prophet from the village of Moresheth in Judah...

 as in Matthew 2:4-6. Herod tells the Magi to go to Bethlehem and to report back to him when they have found the child.

As the Magi travel to Bethlehem, the star "goes before" them and leads them to a house where they find and adore Jesus. They present Jesus with gifts of gold
Gold
Gold is a chemical element with the symbol Au and an atomic number of 79. Gold is a dense, soft, shiny, malleable and ductile metal. Pure gold has a bright yellow color and luster traditionally considered attractive, which it maintains without oxidizing in air or water. Chemically, gold is a...

, frankincense
Frankincense
Frankincense, also called olibanum , is an aromatic resin obtained from trees of the genus Boswellia, particularly Boswellia sacra, B. carteri, B. thurifera, B. frereana, and B. bhaw-dajiana...

, and myrrh, in Matthew 2:9-11.
In a dream, the magi receive a divine warning of Herod's intent to kill the Jesus, whom he sees as a rival. Consequently, they return to their own country without telling Herod where to find Jesus. An angel tells Joseph to flee with his family to Egypt
Flight into Egypt
The flight into Egypt is a biblical event described in the Gospel of Matthew , in which Joseph fled to Egypt with his wife Mary and infant son Jesus after a visit by Magi because they learn that King Herod intends to kill the infants of that area...

. Meanwhile, Herod orders that all male children of Bethlehem under the age of two be killed, in the so-called "Massacre of the Innocents
Massacre of the Innocents
The Massacre of the Innocents is an episode of infanticide by the King of Judea, Herod the Great. According to the Gospel of Matthew Herod orders the execution of all young male children in the village of Bethlehem, so as to avoid the loss of his throne to a newborn King of the Jews whose birth...

". Herod's statement in Matthew 2:16-18 referring to boys two years or younger, suggests that the Magi arrived in Bethlehem a number of months after the birth of Jesus.

After Herod's death, the family return from Egypt, but they are afraid to return to Bethlehem because Herod's son rules Judea. Instead they move to Galilee
Galilee
Galilee , is a large region in northern Israel which overlaps with much of the administrative North District of the country. Traditionally divided into Upper Galilee , Lower Galilee , and Western Galilee , extending from Dan to the north, at the base of Mount Hermon, along Mount Lebanon to the...

 and settle in Nazareth
Nazareth
Nazareth is the largest city in the North District of Israel. Known as "the Arab capital of Israel," the population is made up predominantly of Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel...

, fulfilling, according to the author, a prophecy: "He will be called a Nazorean".

Historical analysis



The historicity of all, or parts, of the birth narratives have been debated among scholars who have argued whether they are totally contradictory, or can be reconciled. Some scholars view the narratives as non-historical while others view the discussion of historicity as futile, given that Luke and Matthew do not seem concerned with presenting a historical narrative but shape their accounts to the traditions of their age. For instance, Matthew pays far more attention to the name of the child and its theological implications than the actual birth event itself and according to Karl Rahner
Karl Rahner
Karl Rahner, SJ was a German Jesuit and theologian who, alongside Bernard Lonergan and Hans Urs von Balthasar, is considered one of the most influential Roman Catholic theologians of the 20th century...

 the evangelists show little interest in synchronizing the episodes of the birth or subsequent life of Jesus with the secular history of the age.

As a result, modern scholars generally do not use much of the birth narratives for historical information. Nevertheless, the birth narratives do contain some useful biographical information, e.g. Jesus being born near the end of Herod's reign and his father being named Joseph are considered historically plausible.

Traditional views


Traditionally, the narratives have been considered the inerrant Word of God. Some prominent, contemporary Christian scholars maintain the traditional view, arguing that the two accounts are historically accurate, and do not contradict each other, pointing to the similarities between the two accounts, such as the birth place of Bethlehem, and the Virgin Birth
Virgin Birth
The virgin birth of Jesus is a tenet of Christianity and Islam which holds that Mary miraculously conceived Jesus while remaining a virgin. The term "virgin birth" is commonly used, rather than "virgin conception", due to the tradition that Joseph "knew her not till she brought forth her firstborn...

. However, this is not a universal view. In 1997, a survey found that 31% of the Anglican vicars in England do not believe in the virgin birth.

George Kilpatrick
George Kilpatrick
George Dunbar Kilpatrick was an Anglican priest and theologian. He was Dean Ireland's Professor of the Exegesis of Holy Scripture at the University of Oxford from 1949 to 1977.-Life:...

 and separately Michael Patella
Michael Patella
Michael Patella is an author, theologian and professor of theology at Saint John's University in Minnesota, United States.He studied at the Pontifical Biblical Institute, Rome and at the École biblique et archéologique française de Jérusalem, Israel....

 state that a comparison of the Nativity stories of Luke and Matthew show common elements in terms of the virgin births, the birth at Bethlehem and the upbringing at Nazareth and that although there are differences in the accounts of the Nativity in Luke and Matthew, a general narrative may be constructed by combining the two. A number of biblical scholars, ranging from Bernard Orchard
Bernard Orchard
Dom Bernard Orchard OSB MA was an English Roman Catholic Benedictine monk, headmaster and biblical scholar.-Early life and education:John Archibald Henslowe Orchard, the son of a farmer, was born in Bromley, Kent...

 and Reuben Swanson to Cox and Easley have attempted to show how the text from both narratives can be interwoven as a Gospel harmony
Gospel harmony
A Gospel harmony is an attempt to merge or harmonize the canonical gospels of the Four Evangelists into a single gospel account, the earliest known example being the Diatesseron by Tatian in the 2nd century. A gospel harmony may also establish a chronology for the events of the life of Jesus...

 to create one account that begins with a trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem where Jesus is born, is followed by the Flight to Egypt, and ends with a return to Nazareth.

Daniel J. Harrington
Daniel J. Harrington
Daniel J. Harrington, S.J. is a professor and the Chair of the Biblical Studies Department at Boston College School of Theology and Ministry . A member of the Society of Jesus, Fr. Harrington has served as editor of New Testament Abstracts since 1972...

 expresses the view that due to the scarcity of ancient records, a number of issues regarding the historicity of some Nativity episodes can never be fully determined, and that the more important task is deciding what the Nativity narratives meant to the early Christian communities.

Critical analysis


The birth narratives have been considered problematic by a number of critical scholars particularly because they are laced with theology and are indebted to precursor texts. The Gospels present two different accounts: the Gospel of Matthew relates the appearance of an angel, in a dream, to Joseph; the wise men from the east; the massacre of the innocents; and the flight to Egypt. The Gospel of Luke mentions none of these but describes the conception and birth of Jesus; the appearance of an angel to Mary; the worldwide census; the birth in a manger, and the choir of angels; none of these is mentioned in Matthew. Robert Joseph Miller considers the two accounts irreconcilable, apart from the two annunciations and the stories about John.

Scholars generally conclude that Matthew and Luke were written by anonymous Christians writing after the fall of the Jewish temple in AD 70. Both are thougfht to have used the Gospel of Mark and an inferred text called Q
Q
Q is the seventeenth letter of the basic modern Latin alphabet.- History :The Semitic sound value of Qôp was , a sound common to Semitic languages, but not found in English or most Indo-European ones...

, but the birth narratives come from the evangelists' independent sources (known as M-Source
M-Source
M-source, which is sometimes referred to as M document, or simply M, comes from the M in "Matthean material". It is a hypothetical textual source for the Gospel of Matthew...

 for Matthew and L source
L source
In historical-critical analysis, the L source is an inferred oral tradition that Luke used when composing his gospel. It includes the Christmas story and many of Jesus' best loved parables. Like Matthew's unique source, known as M-Source, the L source has important parables that may be authentic to...

 for Luke). The birth narratives seem to some to be late additions to the gospel story.

The two accounts explain the birth in Bethlehem in different ways and give two different genealogies of Jesus. The nativity stories are generally not looked at as primarily historical accounts with Vermes and Sanders dismissing them as completely fictional and Brown seeing them as constructed from historical traditions which predate the Gospels. According to Brown, there is no uniform agreement among critical scholars on some details of the historicity discussions, e.g. most of those scholars who reject the historicity of the birth at Bethlehem argue for a birth at Nazareth, while suggestions as far away as Chorazin
Chorazin
Chorazin was a village in northern Galilee, two and a half miles from Capernaum on a hill above the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee.-Biblical references:...

 have been made.

Massacre of the Innocents



Most modern biographies of Herod deny that the massacre took place. Steve Mason asserts that, if the Massacre of the Innocents had taken place as reported in Matthew, it would have been strange for Josephus
Josephus
Titus Flavius Josephus , also called Joseph ben Matityahu , was a 1st-century Romano-Jewish historian and hagiographer of priestly and royal ancestry who recorded Jewish history, with special emphasis on the 1st century AD and the First Jewish–Roman War, which resulted in the Destruction of...

 not to mention it, and that the massacre may hence be non-historical. E. P. Sanders
E. P. Sanders
Ed Parish Sanders is a New Testament scholar, and is one of the principal proponents of the New Perspective on Paul. He has been Arts and Sciences Professor of Religion at Duke University, North Carolina, since 1990. He retired in 2005....

 characterizes Josephus' writing as dwelling on Herod's cruelty, thus suggesting that Josephus would probably have included the event if it had occurred. Sanders states that faced with little historical information, Matthew apparently based the story in which an infant Moses is endangered by the Pharaoh's order to kill infant Hebrews and that such use of scripture for telling the story of Jesus' birth was considered legitimate by contemporary standards.

Some sources have attempted to defend the historicity of the massacre. R. T. France
R. T. France
Richard Thomas France is a New Testament scholar and Anglican cleric. He was Principal of Wycliffe Hall Oxford from 1989 to 1995. He has also worked for the London School of Theology.-Biography:...

 states that the massacre was a low magnitude event of a nature that would have not demanded the attention of Josephus, but was in line with the character of Herod. Paul L. Maier, argues that Bethlehem was small and that the massacre would have been too small for Josephus to have heard of, given that it allegedly took place over forty years before his birth. Paul Barnett and separately Craig L. Blomberg also state that Bethlehem was a very small village with few inhabitants and the massacre would have involved too few children to have been recorded by historians in general.

Date of birth



Two independent approaches have been used to estimate the year of the birth of Jesus, one by analyzing the Nativity accounts in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew along with other historical data, the other by working backwards from the estimation of the start of the ministry of Jesus
Ministry of Jesus
In the Christian gospels, the Ministry of Jesus begins with his Baptism in the countryside of Judea, near the River Jordan and ends in Jerusalem, following the Last Supper with his disciples. The Gospel of Luke states that Jesus was "about 30 years of age" at the start of his ministry...

.

Estimation via the Nativity accounts



The nativity accounts in the New Testament gospels of Matthew and Luke do not mention a date or time of year for the birth of Jesus and Karl Rahner
Karl Rahner
Karl Rahner, SJ was a German Jesuit and theologian who, alongside Bernard Lonergan and Hans Urs von Balthasar, is considered one of the most influential Roman Catholic theologians of the 20th century...

 states that the gospels do not in general provide enough details of dates to satisfy the demands of modern historians. But both Luke and Matthew associate Jesus' birth with the time of King Herod. Most scholars generally assume a date of birth between 6 and 4 BC.

However, many scholars see a contradiction, in that while the Gospel of Matthew places Jesus' birth under the reign of Herod the Great
Herod the Great
Herod , also known as Herod the Great , was a Roman client king of Judea. His epithet of "the Great" is widely disputed as he is described as "a madman who murdered his own family and a great many rabbis." He is also known for his colossal building projects in Jerusalem and elsewhere, including his...

, who died in 4 BC, the Gospel of Luke also dates the birth ten years after Herod's death during the census of Quirinius
Census of Quirinius
The Census of Quirinius refers to the enrollment of the Roman Provinces of Syria and Iudaea for tax purposes taken in the year 6/7 during the reign of Emperor Augustus , when Publius Sulpicius Quirinius was appointed governor of Syria, after the banishment of Herod Archelaus from the Tetrarchy of...

, described by the historian Josephus
Josephus
Titus Flavius Josephus , also called Joseph ben Matityahu , was a 1st-century Romano-Jewish historian and hagiographer of priestly and royal ancestry who recorded Jewish history, with special emphasis on the 1st century AD and the First Jewish–Roman War, which resulted in the Destruction of...

. Most critical scholars believe that Luke was simply mistaken, but other scholars have attempted to reconcile its account with the details given by Josephus. For instance, Steven Cox and Kendell Easley list four separate approaches to a solution, ranging from a grammatical approach to the translation of the Greek word prote used in Luke to be read as "registration before Quirinius was governor of Syria" to archeological arguments and references to Tertullian
Tertullian
Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus, anglicised as Tertullian , was a prolific early Christian author from Carthage in the Roman province of Africa. He is the first Christian author to produce an extensive corpus of Latin Christian literature. He also was a notable early Christian apologist and...

 that indicate that a "two step census" was performed, involving an early registration.

Despite the celebration of Christmas in December, neither Luke nor Matthew mention a season for when Jesus was born. However, scholarly arguments regarding the realism of shepherds grazing their flock during the winter have taken place, both challenging a winter birth for Jesus, as well as defending it by relying on the mildness of winters in Palestine and rabbinic
Rabbinic Judaism
Rabbinic Judaism or Rabbinism has been the mainstream form of Judaism since the 6th century CE, after the codification of the Talmud...

 rules regarding sheep near Bethlehem before February.

Working backwards from the ministry


The ministry-based approach to estimating the year of birth of Jesus is independent of the nativity accounts and works backwards from the start of the ministry of Jesus
Ministry of Jesus
In the Christian gospels, the Ministry of Jesus begins with his Baptism in the countryside of Judea, near the River Jordan and ends in Jerusalem, following the Last Supper with his disciples. The Gospel of Luke states that Jesus was "about 30 years of age" at the start of his ministry...

, based on the statement in Luke 3:23 that Jesus was "about 30 years of age" at that time.

Three independent approaches to estimating the dates of the ministry of Jesus have been proposed first by using the "fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius" in Luke 3:1-2, second via the reference in the dispute of Jesus and the Pharisees
Pharisees
The Pharisees were at various times a political party, a social movement, and a school of thought among Jews during the Second Temple period beginning under the Hasmonean dynasty in the wake of...

 in John 2:20 ("Forty and six years was this temple in building, and you want to raise it up in three days?") and third by the reference of Flavius Josephus to the imprisonment and execution (Ant 18.5.2) of John the baptist
John the Baptist
John the Baptist was an itinerant preacher and a major religious figure mentioned in the Canonical gospels. He is described in the Gospel of Luke as a relative of Jesus, who led a movement of baptism at the Jordan River...

 by Herod Antipas
Herod Antipas
Herod Antipater , known by the nickname Antipas, was a 1st-century AD ruler of Galilee and Perea, who bore the title of tetrarch...

. The third reference (i.e. the execution of the Baptist in Matthew 14:6-12) relates to a time when Jesus had already started his ministry but the other two references relate to the beginning of Jesus' ministry. (See the article Chronology of Jesus
Chronology of Jesus
The chronology of Jesus aims to establish a historical order for some of the events of the life of Jesus in the four canonical gospels. The Christian gospels were primarily written as theological documents rather than historical chronicles and their authors showed little interest in an absolute...

 for details of the date estimations methods).

By working backwards from the start of his ministry, some scholars estimate the year 28 AD to be roughly the 32nd birthday of Jesus and his year of birth to be around 6-4 BC.

Place of birth



The Gospels of both Matthew and Luke place the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem
Bethlehem
Bethlehem is a Palestinian city in the central West Bank of the Jordan River, near Israel and approximately south of Jerusalem, with a population of about 30,000 people. It is the capital of the Bethlehem Governorate of the Palestinian National Authority and a hub of Palestinian culture and tourism...

.
Matthew does not explicitly state that Joseph lived in Bethlehem prior to the birth of Jesus, however scholars have concluded that in Matthew, Joseph and Mary apparently live in Bethlehem before the birth. Scholars question the birth narratives because they conflict with each other or with historical plausibility. Luke's account contradicts Matthew's as to Jesus' genealogy, Joseph's original home (Bethlehem or Nazareth), the year of Jesus' birth (during Herod's reign or during Quirinius' census), and where Joseph took his family when they left Jerusalem (Egypt or Nazareth).

The Gospel of Luke account states that Mary gave birth to Jesus and laid him in a manger “because there was no place for them in the inn," but does not say exactly where Jesus was born. The Greek word kataluma may be translated as either “inn” or “guestroom”, and some scholars have speculated that Joseph and Mary may have sought to stay with relatives, rather than in an inn, only to find the house full (whereupon they resorted to the shelter of a room with a manger).

Sanders' view is that Luke's census, in which everyone was expected to return to his ancestral home, is not credible and that Emperor Augustus, known for being rational, would not have uprooted everyone in the Empire by forcing them to return to their ancestral cities. Furthermore, Sanders states that people were not able to trace their own lineages back forty-two generations, as Joseph is said to have done.

In the 2nd century, Justin Martyr
Justin Martyr
Justin Martyr, also known as just Saint Justin , was an early Christian apologist. Most of his works are lost, but two apologies and a dialogue survive. He is considered a saint by the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church....

 stated that Jesus had been born in a cave outside the town, while the Protoevangelium of James
Gospel of James
The Gospel of James, also known as the Infancy Gospel of James or the Protoevangelium of James, is an apocryphal Gospel probably written about AD 145, which expands backward in time the infancy stories contained the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, and presents a narrative concerning the birth and...

 described a legendary birth in a cave nearby. The Church of the Nativity
Church of the Nativity
The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem is one of the oldest continuously operating churches in the world. The structure is built over the cave that tradition marks as the birthplace of Jesus of Nazareth, and thus it is considered sacred by Christians...

 inside the town, built by St. Helena
Helena of Constantinople
Saint Helena also known as Saint Helen, Helena Augusta or Helena of Constantinople was the consort of Emperor Constantius, and the mother of Emperor Constantine I...

, contains the cave-manger site traditionally venerated as the birthplace of Jesus, which may have originally been a site of the cult of the god Tammuz. In Contra Celsum 1.51, Origen
Origen
Origen , or Origen Adamantius, 184/5–253/4, was an early Christian Alexandrian scholar and theologian, and one of the most distinguished writers of the early Church. As early as the fourth century, his orthodoxy was suspect, in part because he believed in the pre-existence of souls...

, who from around 215 travelled throughout Palestine wrote of the "manger of Jesus".

The Quran, like the Gospels, places the virgin birth of Jesus in Bethlehem
Bethlehem
Bethlehem is a Palestinian city in the central West Bank of the Jordan River, near Israel and approximately south of Jerusalem, with a population of about 30,000 people. It is the capital of the Bethlehem Governorate of the Palestinian National Authority and a hub of Palestinian culture and tourism...

. In Islam, the prophet Muhammad
Muhammad
Muhammad |ligature]] at U+FDF4 ;Arabic pronunciation varies regionally; the first vowel ranges from ~~; the second and the last vowel: ~~~. There are dialects which have no stress. In Egypt, it is pronounced not in religious contexts...

 is said to have been born 570 years after the birth of Jesus.

Thematic analysis



Helmut Koester
Helmut Koester
Helmut Koester is a German-born American scholar of the New Testament and currently Morison Research Professor of Divinity and Winn Research Professor of Ecclesiastical History at Harvard Divinity School. He teaches courses at both the Divinity School and at Harvard Extension School, and was the...

 writes that while Matthew's narrative was formed in a biblical environment, Luke's was modeled to appeal to the Greco-Roman
Greco-Roman world
The Greco-Roman world, Greco-Roman culture, or the term Greco-Roman , when used as an adjective, as understood by modern scholars and writers, refers to those geographical regions and countries that culturally were directly, protractedly and intimately influenced by the language, culture,...

 world. In particular, according to Koester, while shepherds were regarded negatively by Jews in Jesus' time, they are seen in Greco-Roman culture as symbols of a golden age when gods and humans lived in peace and nature was at harmony. However, C. T. Ruddick, Jr. writes that Luke's birth narratives (both of Jesus and John) were modeled on passages from Genesis: 27-43. Regardless, Luke's nativity depicts Jesus as a savior for all people. His genealogy goes back to Adam, demonstrating his common humanity, as do the lowly circumstances of his birth. Luke, writing for a gentile audience, portrays the infant Jesus as a savior for gentiles as well as Jews. Matthew uses quotations from Jewish scripture, scenes reminiscent of Moses' life, and a numerical pattern in his genealogy to identify Jesus as a son of David, of God, and of Abraham. Luke's prelude is much longer, emphasizing the age of the Holy Spirit and the arrival of a savior for all people, Jew and Gentile.

Mainstream scholars interpret Matthew's nativity as depicting Jesus as a new Moses with a genealogy going back to Abraham, while Ulrich
Ulrich
Ulrich, formerly Huldrich or Huldrych, is a Germanic name, derived from Old High German Uodalrich . It is also common as a German language surname...

 Luz views the depiction of Jesus by Matthew at once as the new Moses and the inverse of Moses and not simply a retelling of the Moses story. Luz also points out that in the massacre narrative, once again, a fulfilment quotation is given - Rachel
Rachel
Rachel , as described in the Hebrew Bible, is a prophet and the favorite wife of Jacob, one of the three Biblical Patriarchs, and mother of Joseph and Benjamin. She was the daughter of Laban and the younger sister of Leah, Jacob's first wife...

, the ancestral mother of Israel, weeping for her dead children (2:18)

Scholars see Matthew as casting Jesus in the role of being a second Moses
Moses
Moses was, according to the Hebrew Bible and Qur'an, a religious leader, lawgiver and prophet, to whom the authorship of the Torah is traditionally attributed...

: like Moses, the infant Jesus is saved from a murderous tyrant; flees the country of his birth until his persecutor is dead and it is safe to return as the savior of his people. In this view, the account in Matthew is based on an earlier narrative patterned on traditions about the birth of Moses
Moses
Moses was, according to the Hebrew Bible and Qur'an, a religious leader, lawgiver and prophet, to whom the authorship of the Torah is traditionally attributed...

. Moses' birth is announced to Pharaoh by Magi; the child is threatened and rescued; the male Israelite children were similarly put to death by an evil king.

According to Ulrich Luz the beginning of the narrative of Matthew is similar to earlier biblical stories, e.g. the Annunciation
Annunciation
The Annunciation, also referred to as the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary or Annunciation of the Lord, is the Christian celebration of the announcement by the angel Gabriel to Virgin Mary, that she would conceive and become the mother of Jesus the Son of God. Gabriel told Mary to name her...

 of Jesus' birth (1:18-25) is reminiscent of the biblical accounts of the births of Ishmael
Ishmael
Ishmael is a figure in the Hebrew Bible and the Qur'an, and was Abraham's first born child according to Jews, Christians and Muslims. Ishmael was born of Abraham's marriage to Sarah's handmaiden Hagar...

, Isaac
Isaac
Isaac as described in the Hebrew Bible, was the only son Abraham had with his wife Sarah, and was the father of Jacob and Esau. Isaac was one of the three patriarchs of the Israelites...

 and Samson
Samson
Samson, Shimshon ; Shamshoun or Sampson is the third to last of the Judges of the ancient Israelites mentioned in the Tanakh ....

 (Genesis 16:11, 17;19; Judges
Book of Judges
The Book of Judges is the seventh book of the Hebrew bible and the Christian Old Testament. Its title describes its contents: it contains the history of Biblical judges, divinely inspired prophets whose direct knowledge of Yahweh allows them to act as decision-makers for the Israelites, as...

 13:3,5) and it recalls the Haggadic traditions of the birth of Moses. Yet in Luz's view the contours appear, in part, strangely overlapped and inverted: "Egypt, formerly the land of suppression becomes a place of refuge and it is the King of Israel who now takes on the role of Pharaoh
Pharaoh
Pharaoh is a title used in many modern discussions of the ancient Egyptian rulers of all periods. The title originates in the term "pr-aa" which means "great house" and describes the royal palace...

...[yet] Matthew is not simply retelling the Moses story..Instead, the story of Jesus really is a new story: Jesus is at once the new Moses and the inverse of Moses."

Old Testament parallels



Matthew 1:22 and Matthew 2:23 have given rise to scholarly analysis as to whether they refer to specific Old Testament
Old Testament
The Old Testament, of which Christians hold different views, is a Christian term for the religious writings of ancient Israel held sacred and inspired by Christians which overlaps with the 24-book canon of the Masoretic Text of Judaism...

 passages.
The statement in Matthew 1:22: "All this happened to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet" does not mention the prophet Isaiah in 4th century documents such as the Codex Sinaiticus
Codex Sinaiticus
Codex Sinaiticus is one of the four great uncial codices, an ancient, handwritten copy of the Greek Bible. It is an Alexandrian text-type manuscript written in the 4th century in uncial letters on parchment. Current scholarship considers the Codex Sinaiticus to be one of the best Greek texts of...

, but some 5-6th century manuscripts of Matthew, such as Codex Bezae
Codex Bezae
The Codex Bezae Cantabrigensis, designated by siglum Dea or 05 , δ 5 , is a codex of the New Testament dating from the 5th century written in an uncial hand on vellum. It contains, in both Greek and Latin, most of the four Gospels and Acts, with a small fragment of the 3 John...

, read "Isaiah the prophet". The statement in Matthew 1:22 "Behold the virgin shall be with child" uses the Greek term "parthenos" as "virgin" as in the Septuagint Isaiah, while the much older Masoretic Isaiah uses the Hebrew "almah", which may mean "maiden," "young woman," or "virgin." Raymond Brown states that the 3rd century BCE translators of the Septuagint may have understood the Hebrew word "almah" to mean virgin in this context.

The statement in Matthew 2:23 "he will be called a Nazorean" does not mention a specific passage in the Old Testament
Old Testament
The Old Testament, of which Christians hold different views, is a Christian term for the religious writings of ancient Israel held sacred and inspired by Christians which overlaps with the 24-book canon of the Masoretic Text of Judaism...

, and there are multiple scholarly interpretations as to what it may refer to. B. Aland and other scholars consider the Greek Ναζωραιος used for Nazorean of uncertain etymology and meaning, but M. Menken states that it is a gentilic that refers to an "inhabitant of Nazareth". Menken also states that it may be referring to Judges 13:5, 7. Gary Smith states that Nazirite
Nazirite
In the Hebrew Bible, a nazirite or nazarite, , refers to one who voluntarily took a vow described in . The term "nazirite" comes from the Hebrew word nazir meaning "consecrated" or "separated"...

 may mean one consecrated to God, i.e. an ascetic; or may refer to Isaiah 11:1. The Oxford Bible Commentary states that it may be word-play on the use of "nazirite," "Holy One of God," in Isaiah 4:3, meant to identify Jesus with the Nazoreans, a
Jewish sect who differed from the Pharisees
Pharisees
The Pharisees were at various times a political party, a social movement, and a school of thought among Jews during the Second Temple period beginning under the Hasmonean dynasty in the wake of...

 only in regarding Jesus as the Messiah. The Swiss theologian Ulrich Luz
Ulrich Luz
Ulrich Luz is a Swiss theologian, and professor at the University of Bern.He was born in Männedorf and studied Protestant theology in Zurich, Göttingen and Basel...

, who locates the Matthean community in Syria, has noted that Syrian Christians
Syriac Christianity
Syriac or Syrian Christianity , the Syriac-speaking Christians of Mesopotamia, comprises multiple Christian traditions of Eastern Christianity. With a history going back to the 1st Century AD, in modern times it is represented by denominations primarily in the Middle East and in Kerala, India....

 also called themselves Nazarenes.

Christian theology


The theological significance of the Nativity of Jesus has been a key element in Christian teachings, from the early Church Fathers
Church Fathers
The Church Fathers, Early Church Fathers, Christian Fathers, or Fathers of the Church were early and influential theologians, eminent Christian teachers and great bishops. Their scholarly works were used as a precedent for centuries to come...

 to 20th century theologians. The theological issues were addressed as early as Apostle Paul, but continued to be debated and eventually lead to both Christological
Christology
Christology is the field of study within Christian theology which is primarily concerned with the nature and person of Jesus Christ as recorded in the Canonical gospels and the letters of the New Testament. Primary considerations include the relationship of Jesus' nature and person with the nature...

 and Mariological
Mariology
Roman Catholic Mariology is theology concerned with the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ as developed by the Catholic Church. Roman Catholic teachings on the subject have been based on the belief that "The Blessed Virgin, because she is the Mother of God, is believed to hold a certain...

 differences among Christians that resulted in early schism
Schism (religion)
A schism , from Greek σχίσμα, skhísma , is a division between people, usually belonging to an organization or movement religious denomination. The word is most frequently applied to a break of communion between two sections of Christianity that were previously a single body, or to a division within...

s within the Church by the 5th century.

Birth of the new man


.

Apostle Paul viewed the birth of Jesus as an event of cosmic significance which brought forth a "new man" who undid the damage caused by the fall of the first man, Adam
Adam and Eve
Adam and Eve were, according to the Genesis creation narratives, the first human couple to inhabit Earth, created by YHWH, the God of the ancient Hebrews...

. Just as the Johannine
Gospel of John
The Gospel According to John , commonly referred to as the Gospel of John or simply John, and often referred to in New Testament scholarship as the Fourth Gospel, is an account of the public ministry of Jesus...

 view of Jesus as the incarnate Logos
Logos
' is an important term in philosophy, psychology, rhetoric and religion. Originally a word meaning "a ground", "a plea", "an opinion", "an expectation", "word," "speech," "account," "reason," it became a technical term in philosophy, beginning with Heraclitus ' is an important term in...

 proclaims the universal relevance of his birth, the Pauline perspective emphasizes the birth of a new man and a new world in the birth of Jesus. Paul's eschatological
Eschatology
Eschatology is a part of theology, philosophy, and futurology concerned with what are believed to be the final events in history, or the ultimate destiny of humanity, commonly referred to as the end of the world or the World to Come...

 view of Jesus counter-positions him as a new man of morality and obedience, in contrast to Adam
Adam
Adam is a figure in the Book of Genesis. According to the creation myth of Abrahamic religions, he is the first human. In the Genesis creation narratives, he was created by Yahweh-Elohim , and the first woman, Eve was formed from his rib...

. Unlike Adam, the new man born in Jesus obeys God and ushers in a world of morality and salvation.

In the Pauline view, Adam is positioned as the first man and Jesus as the second: Adam, having corrupted himself by his disobedience, also infected humanity and left it with a curse as inheritance. The birth of Jesus, on the other hand, counter-balanced the fall of Adam, bringing forth redemption and repairing the damage done by Adam.

In patristic theology, Paul's contrasting of Jesus as the new man versus Adam provided a framework for discussing the uniqueness of the birth of Jesus and the ensuing events of his life. The Nativity of Jesus thus began to serve as the starting point for "cosmic Christology" in which the birth, life and Resurrection of Jesus have universal implications. The concept of Jesus as the "new man" repeats in the cycle of birth and re-birth of Jesus from his Nativity to his Resurrection
Resurrection of Jesus
The Christian belief in the resurrection of Jesus states that Jesus returned to bodily life on the third day following his death by crucifixion. It is a key element of Christian faith and theology and part of the Nicene Creed: "On the third day he rose again in fulfillment of the Scriptures"...

: following his birth, through his morality and obedience to the Father, Jesus began a new harmony in the relationship between God the Father and man. The Nativity and Resurrection of Jesus thus created the author and exemplar of a new humanity.

In the 2nd century Church Father Irenaeus
Irenaeus
Saint Irenaeus , was Bishop of Lugdunum in Gaul, then a part of the Roman Empire . He was an early church father and apologist, and his writings were formative in the early development of Christian theology...

 writes:


"When He became incarnate and was made man, He commenced afresh the long line of human beings, and furnished us, in a brief, comprehensive manner, with salvation; so that what we had lost in Adam - namely to be according to the image and likeness of God- that we might recover in Christ Jesus."


Irenaeus was also one of the early theologians to use the analogy of "second Adam and second Eve". He suggested the Virgin Mary as the "second eve" and wrote that the Virgin Mary had "untied the knot of sin bound up by the virgin Eve" and that just as Eve had tempted Adam to disobey God, Mary had set a path of obedience for the second Adam (i.e. Jesus) from the Annunciation
Annunciation
The Annunciation, also referred to as the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary or Annunciation of the Lord, is the Christian celebration of the announcement by the angel Gabriel to Virgin Mary, that she would conceive and become the mother of Jesus the Son of God. Gabriel told Mary to name her...

 to Calvary
Calvary
Calvary or Golgotha was the site, outside of ancient Jerusalem’s early first century walls, at which the crucifixion of Jesus is said to have occurred. Calvary and Golgotha are the English names for the site used in Western Christianity...

 so that Jesus could bring about salvation, undoing the damage of Adam.

In the 4th century, this uniqueness of the circumstances related to the Nativity of Jesus, and their interplay with the mystery of the incarnation became a central element in both the theology and hymnody of Saint Ephrem the Syrian
Ephrem the Syrian
Ephrem the Syrian was a Syriac and a prolific Syriac-language hymnographer and theologian of the 4th century. He is venerated by Christians throughout the world, and especially in the Syriac Orthodox Church, as a saint.Ephrem wrote a wide variety of hymns, poems, and sermons in verse, as well as...

. For him, the uniqueness of the Nativity of Jesus was supplemented with the sign of the Majesty of the Creator through the ability of a powerful God to enter the world as a small newborn.

In the Middle Ages
Middle Ages
The Middle Ages is a periodization of European history from the 5th century to the 15th century. The Middle Ages follows the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 and precedes the Early Modern Era. It is the middle period of a three-period division of Western history: Classic, Medieval and Modern...

 the birth of Jesus as the second Adam came to be seen in the context of Saint Augustine's Felix culpa
Felix culpa
Felix culpa is a Latin phrase that comes from the words Felix and Culpa , and in the Catholic tradition is most often translated "happy fault."...

 (i.e. happy fall) and was intertwined with the popular teachings on the fall from grace of Adam and Eve
Adam and Eve
Adam and Eve were, according to the Genesis creation narratives, the first human couple to inhabit Earth, created by YHWH, the God of the ancient Hebrews...

. Augustine was fond of a statement on Nativity by Saint Gregory of Nyssa
Gregory of Nyssa
St. Gregory of Nyssa was a Christian bishop and saint. He was a younger brother of Basil the Great and a good friend of Gregory of Nazianzus. His significance has long been recognized in the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Eastern Catholic and Roman Catholic branches of Christianity...

 and he quoted in five times: "Venerate the Nativity, through which you are freed from the bonds of an earthly nativity". And he liked to quote: "Just as in Adam all of us died, so too in Christ all of us will be brought to life".

The theology persisted into the Protestant Reformation
Protestant Reformation
The Protestant Reformation was a 16th-century split within Western Christianity initiated by Martin Luther, John Calvin and other early Protestants. The efforts of the self-described "reformers", who objected to the doctrines, rituals and ecclesiastical structure of the Roman Catholic Church, led...

, and second Adam was one of the six modes of atonement discussed by John Calvin
John Calvin
John Calvin was an influential French theologian and pastor during the Protestant Reformation. He was a principal figure in the development of the system of Christian theology later called Calvinism. Originally trained as a humanist lawyer, he broke from the Roman Catholic Church around 1530...

. In the 20th century, leading theologian Karl Barth
Karl Barth
Karl Barth was a Swiss Reformed theologian whom critics hold to be among the most important Christian thinkers of the 20th century; Pope Pius XII described him as the most important theologian since Thomas Aquinas...

 continued the same line of reasoning and viewed the Nativity of Jesus as the birth of a new man who succeeded Adam. In Barth's theology, in contrast to Adam, Jesus acted as an obedient
Active obedience of Christ
The active obedience of Jesus Christ comprises the totality of his actions, which Christians believe was in perfect obedience to the Law of God...

 Son in the fulfilment of the divine will and was therefore free from sin and could hence reveal the righteousness of God the Father and bring about salvation.

Christology of Nativity


The Nativity of Jesus impacted the Christological
Christology
Christology is the field of study within Christian theology which is primarily concerned with the nature and person of Jesus Christ as recorded in the Canonical gospels and the letters of the New Testament. Primary considerations include the relationship of Jesus' nature and person with the nature...

 issues about his Person from the earliest days of Christianity. Luke's Christology centers on the dialectics of the dual natures of the earthly and heavenly manifestations of existence of the Christ, while Matthew's Christology focuses on the mission of Jesus and his role as the savior.

The belief in the divinity of Jesus leads to the question: "was Jesus a man to be born of a woman or was he God born of a woman?" A wide range of hypotheses and beliefs regarding the nature of the Nativity of Jesus were presented in the first four centuries of Christianity. Some of the debates involved the title Theotokos
Theotokos
Theotokos is the Greek title of Mary, the mother of Jesus used especially in the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and Eastern Catholic Churches. Its literal English translations include God-bearer and the one who gives birth to God. Less literal translations include Mother of God...

 (God bearer) for the Virgin Mary and began to illustrate the impact of Mariology
Mariology
Roman Catholic Mariology is theology concerned with the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ as developed by the Catholic Church. Roman Catholic teachings on the subject have been based on the belief that "The Blessed Virgin, because she is the Mother of God, is believed to hold a certain...

 on Christology
Christology
Christology is the field of study within Christian theology which is primarily concerned with the nature and person of Jesus Christ as recorded in the Canonical gospels and the letters of the New Testament. Primary considerations include the relationship of Jesus' nature and person with the nature...

. Some of these viewpoints were eventually declared as heresies
Heresy
Heresy is a controversial or novel change to a system of beliefs, especially a religion, that conflicts with established dogma. It is distinct from apostasy, which is the formal denunciation of one's religion, principles or cause, and blasphemy, which is irreverence toward religion...

, others led to schisms and the formation of new branches of the Church.

The salvific emphasis of Matthew 1:21 later impacted the theological issues and the devotions to Holy Name of Jesus
Holy Name of Jesus
In Christianity, the Holy Name of Jesus refers to the theological and devotional use of the name of Jesus. The reverence and affection with which Christians have regarded the Holy Name of Jesus goes back to the earliest days of Christianity....

. Matthew 1:123 provides the only key to the Emmanuel Christology in the New Testament. Beginning with 1:23, Matthew shows a clear interest in identifying Jesus as "God with us" and in later developing the Emmanuel characterization of Jesus at key points throughout the rest of his Gospel. The name Emmanuel does not appear elsewhere in the New Testament, but Matthew builds on it in Matthew 28:20 ("I am with you always, even unto the end of the world") to indicates that Jesus will be with the faithful to the end of the age. According to Ulrich Luz
Ulrich Luz
Ulrich Luz is a Swiss theologian, and professor at the University of Bern.He was born in Männedorf and studied Protestant theology in Zurich, Göttingen and Basel...

, the Emmanuel motif brackets the entire Gospel of Matthew between 1:23 and 28:20, appearing explicitly and implicitly in several other passages.

A number of ecumenical councils were convened in the 4th and 5th centuries to deal with these issues. The Council of Ehesus debated hyposthasis
Hypostatic union
Hypostatic union is a technical term in Christian theology employed in mainstream Christology to describe the union of Christ's humanity and divinity in one hypostasis.The First Council of Ephesus recognised this doctrine and affirmed its importance, stating that the...

 (co-existing natures) versus Monophysitism
Monophysitism
Monophysitism , or Monophysiticism, is the Christological position that Jesus Christ has only one nature, his humanity being absorbed by his Deity...

 (only one nature) versus Miaphysitism
Miaphysitism
Miaphysitism is a Christological formula of the Oriental Orthodox Churches and of the various churches adhering to the first three Ecumenical Councils...

 (two natures united as one) versus Nestorianism
Nestorianism
Nestorianism is a Christological doctrine advanced by Nestorius, Patriarch of Constantinople from 428–431. The doctrine, which was informed by Nestorius's studies under Theodore of Mopsuestia at the School of Antioch, emphasizes the disunion between the human and divine natures of Jesus...

 (disunion of two natures). The 451 Council of Chalcedon
Council of Chalcedon
The Council of Chalcedon was a church council held from 8 October to 1 November, 451 AD, at Chalcedon , on the Asian side of the Bosporus. The council marked a significant turning point in the Christological debates that led to the separation of the church of the Eastern Roman Empire in the 5th...

 was highly influential and marked a key turning point in the Christological debates that broke apart the church of the Eastern Roman Empire in the 5th century. In Chalcedon the Hypostatic union
Hypostatic union
Hypostatic union is a technical term in Christian theology employed in mainstream Christology to describe the union of Christ's humanity and divinity in one hypostasis.The First Council of Ephesus recognised this doctrine and affirmed its importance, stating that the...

 was decreed, namely that Jesus is both fully divine and fully human, making this part of the creed of Orthodox Christianity
Orthodox Christianity
The term Orthodox Christianity may refer to:* the Eastern Orthodox Church and its various geographical subdivisions...

.

In the 5th century, leading Church Father Pope Leo I
Pope Leo I
Pope Leo I was pope from September 29, 440 to his death.He was an Italian aristocrat, and is the first pope of the Catholic Church to have been called "the Great". He is perhaps best known for having met Attila the Hun in 452, persuading him to turn back from his invasion of Italy...

 used the Nativity as a key element of his theology. Leo gave 10 sermons on Nativity and 7 have survived, the one on December 25, 451 demonstrates his concern to increase the importance of the feast of nativity and along with it emphasize the two natures of Christ in defense of the Christological doctrine of Hypostatic union
Hypostatic union
Hypostatic union is a technical term in Christian theology employed in mainstream Christology to describe the union of Christ's humanity and divinity in one hypostasis.The First Council of Ephesus recognised this doctrine and affirmed its importance, stating that the...

. Leo often used his Nativity sermons as an occasion to attack opposing viewpoints, without naming the opposition. Thus Leo used the occasion of the Nativity feast to establish boundaries for what could be considered a heresy. regarding the birth and nature of Christ.

In the 13th century Saint Thomas Aquinas
Thomas Aquinas
Thomas Aquinas, O.P. , also Thomas of Aquin or Aquino, was an Italian Dominican priest of the Catholic Church, and an immensely influential philosopher and theologian in the tradition of scholasticism, known as Doctor Angelicus, Doctor Communis, or Doctor Universalis...

 addressed the Christologocal attribution of the Nativity: Should it be attributed to the person (the Word) or only to the assumed human nature of that person. Aquinas treated Nativity in 8 separate articles in Summa Theologica
Summa Theologica
The Summa Theologiæ is the best-known work of Thomas Aquinas , and although unfinished, "one of the classics of the history of philosophy and one of the most influential works of Western literature." It is intended as a manual for beginners in theology and a compendium of all of the main...

 each posing a separate question, e.g.: "Does Nativity regard the nature rather than the Person?", "Should a temporal Nativity be attributed to Christ?" "Should the Blessed Virgin be called Christ's Mother?", "Should the Blessed Virgin be called the Mother of God?", "Are there two filiations in Christ?", etc. To deal with this issue, Aquinas distinguishes between the person born and the nature in which the birth takes place. Aquinas thus resolved the question by arguing that in the Hypostatic union
Hypostatic union
Hypostatic union is a technical term in Christian theology employed in mainstream Christology to describe the union of Christ's humanity and divinity in one hypostasis.The First Council of Ephesus recognised this doctrine and affirmed its importance, stating that the...

 Christ has two natures, one received from the Father from eternity, the other from his mother in time. This approach also resolved the Mariological problem
Mariology
Roman Catholic Mariology is theology concerned with the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ as developed by the Catholic Church. Roman Catholic teachings on the subject have been based on the belief that "The Blessed Virgin, because she is the Mother of God, is believed to hold a certain...

 of Mary receiving the title of Theotokos
Theotokos
Theotokos is the Greek title of Mary, the mother of Jesus used especially in the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and Eastern Catholic Churches. Its literal English translations include God-bearer and the one who gives birth to God. Less literal translations include Mother of God...

 for under this scenario she is the "Mother of God".

During the Reformation
Protestant Reformation
The Protestant Reformation was a 16th-century split within Western Christianity initiated by Martin Luther, John Calvin and other early Protestants. The efforts of the self-described "reformers", who objected to the doctrines, rituals and ecclesiastical structure of the Roman Catholic Church, led...

, John Calvin
John Calvin
John Calvin was an influential French theologian and pastor during the Protestant Reformation. He was a principal figure in the development of the system of Christian theology later called Calvinism. Originally trained as a humanist lawyer, he broke from the Roman Catholic Church around 1530...

 argued that Jesus was not sanctified to be "Gad manifested as Incarnate" (Deus manifestatus in carne) only due to his Virgin Birth, but through the action of the Holy Spirit
Holy Spirit
Holy Spirit is a term introduced in English translations of the Hebrew Bible, but understood differently in the main Abrahamic religions.While the general concept of a "Spirit" that permeates the cosmos has been used in various religions Holy Spirit is a term introduced in English translations of...

 at the instant of his birth. Thus Calvin argued that Jesus was exempt from original sin because he was sanctified at the moment of birth so that his generation was without blemish; as generation has been blemishless before the fall of Adam.

Feasts and liturgical elements


In the 1st and 2nd centuries, the Lord's Day
Lord's Day
Lord's Day is a Christian name for Sunday, the day of communal worship. It is observed by most Christians as the weekly memorial of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who is said in the four canonical Gospels of the New Testament to have been witnessed alive from the dead early on the first day of...

 (Sunday) was the earliest Christian celebration and included a number of theological themes. In the 2nd century, the Resurrection of Jesus
Resurrection of Jesus
The Christian belief in the resurrection of Jesus states that Jesus returned to bodily life on the third day following his death by crucifixion. It is a key element of Christian faith and theology and part of the Nicene Creed: "On the third day he rose again in fulfillment of the Scriptures"...

 became a separate feast as Easter
Easter
Easter is the central feast in the Christian liturgical year. According to the Canonical gospels, Jesus rose from the dead on the third day after his crucifixion. His resurrection is celebrated on Easter Day or Easter Sunday...

 and in the same century Epiphany began to be celebrated in the Churches of the East on January 6. The celebration of the feast of the Magi
Biblical Magi
The Magi Greek: μάγοι, magoi), also referred to as the Wise Men, Kings, Astrologers, or Kings from the East, were a group of distinguished foreigners who were said to have visited Jesus after his birth, bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh...

 on January 6 may relate to a pre-Christian celebration for the blessing of the Nile
Nile
The Nile is a major north-flowing river in North Africa, generally regarded as the longest river in the world. It is long. It runs through the ten countries of Sudan, South Sudan, Burundi, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda and Egypt.The Nile has two major...

 in Egypt on January 5, but this is not historically certain. The festival of the Nativity which later turned into Christmas was a 4th century feast in the Western Church notably in Rome and North Africa, although it is uncertain exactly where and when it was first celebrated.

There is historical evidence that by the middle of the 4th century the Christian churches of the East celebrated the birth and Baptism of Jesus
Baptism of Jesus
The baptism of Jesus marks the beginning of Jesus Christ's public ministry. This event is recorded in the Canonical Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. In John 1:29-33 rather than a direct narrative, the Baptist bears witness to the episode...

 on the same day, on January 6 while those in the West celebrated a Nativity feast on December 25 (perhaps influenced by the Winter solstice
Winter solstice
Winter solstice may refer to:* Winter solstice, astronomical event* Winter Solstice , former band* Winter Solstice: North , seasonal songs* Winter Solstice , 2005 American film...

); and that by the last quarter of the 4th century, the calendars of both churches included both feasts. The earliest suggestions of a fast of Baptism of Jesus on January 6 during the 2nd century comes from Clement of Alexandria
Clement of Alexandria
Titus Flavius Clemens , known as Clement of Alexandria , was a Christian theologian and the head of the noted Catechetical School of Alexandria. Clement is best remembered as the teacher of Origen...

, but there is no further mention of such a feast until 361 when Emperor Julian attended a feast on January 6 in the year 361.

The Chronography of 354
Chronography of 354
The Chronography of 354, also known as the Calendar of 354, was a 4th century illuminated manuscript, which was produced in 354 AD for a wealthy Roman Christian named Valentinus. It is the earliest dated codex to have full page illustrations. None of the original has survived...

 illuminated manuscript compiled in Rome includes an early reference to the celebration of a Nativity feast. In a sermon delivered in Antioch
Antioch
Antioch on the Orontes was an ancient city on the eastern side of the Orontes River. It is near the modern city of Antakya, Turkey.Founded near the end of the 4th century BC by Seleucus I Nicator, one of Alexander the Great's generals, Antioch eventually rivaled Alexandria as the chief city of the...

 on December 25, c. 386, Saint John Chrysostom
John Chrysostom
John Chrysostom , Archbishop of Constantinople, was an important Early Church Father. He is known for his eloquence in preaching and public speaking, his denunciation of abuse of authority by both ecclesiastical and political leaders, the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, and his ascetic...

 provides specific information about the feats there, stating that the feast had existed for about 10 years. By around 385 the feast for the birth of Jesus was distinct from that of the Baptism and was held on December 25 in Constantinople, Nyssa and Amaseia. In a sermon in 386, Gregory of Nyssa
Gregory of Nyssa
St. Gregory of Nyssa was a Christian bishop and saint. He was a younger brother of Basil the Great and a good friend of Gregory of Nazianzus. His significance has long been recognized in the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Eastern Catholic and Roman Catholic branches of Christianity...

 specifically related the feast of Nativity with that of the martyrdom of Saint Stephen
Saint Stephen
Saint Stephen The Protomartyr , the protomartyr of Christianity, is venerated as a saint in the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, Oriental Orthodox and Eastern Orthodox Churches....

, celebrated a day later. By 390 the feast was also held in Iconium on that day.

Pope Leo I
Pope Leo I
Pope Leo I was pope from September 29, 440 to his death.He was an Italian aristocrat, and is the first pope of the Catholic Church to have been called "the Great". He is perhaps best known for having met Attila the Hun in 452, persuading him to turn back from his invasion of Italy...

 established a feast of the "Mystery of Incarnation" in the 5th century, in effect as the first formal feast for the Nativity of Jesus. Leo gave 10 sermons on Nativity and 7 have survived, the one on December 25, 451 demonstrates his concern to increas ethe importance of the feast. Pope Sixtus III then instituted the practice of Midnight Mass just before that feast. In the 6th century, Emperor Justinian declared Christmas to be a legal holiday.

In the 14th and 15th centuries, the theological importance of the Nativity of Jesus, was coupled with an emphasis on the loving nature of Child Jesus
Child Jesus
The Child Jesus represents Jesus from his Nativity to age 12. At 13 he was considered to be adult, in accordance with the Jewish custom of his time, and that of most Christian cultures until recent centuries.The Child Jesus is frequently depicted in art, from around the third or fourth century...

 in sermons by figures such as Jean Gerson
Jean Gerson
Jean Charlier de Gerson , French scholar, educator, reformer, and poet, Chancellor of the University of Paris, a guiding light of the conciliar movement and one of the most prominent theologians at the Council of Constance, was born at the village of Gerson, in the bishopric of Reims in...

. In his sermons Gerson emphasized the loving nature of Jesus at his Nativity, as well as his cosmic plan for the salvation of mankind.

By the early part of the 20th century, Christmas had become a "cultural signature" of Christianity and indeed of the Western culture even in countries such as the United States which are officially non-religious. By the beginning of the 21st century these countries began to pay more attention to the sensitivities of non-Christians during the festivities at the end of the calendar year.

Transforming the image of Jesus



Early Christians viewed Jesus as "the Lord" and the word Kyrios appears over 700 times in the New Testament
New Testament
The New Testament is the second major division of the Christian biblical canon, the first such division being the much longer Old Testament....

, referring to him. The use of the word Kyrios in the Septuagint Bible also assigned to Jesus the Old Testament
Old Testament
The Old Testament, of which Christians hold different views, is a Christian term for the religious writings of ancient Israel held sacred and inspired by Christians which overlaps with the 24-book canon of the Masoretic Text of Judaism...

 attributes of an omnipotent God. The use of the term Kyrios, and hence the Lordship of Jesus, predated the Pauline epistles
Pauline epistles
The Pauline epistles, Epistles of Paul, or Letters of Paul, are the thirteen New Testament books which have the name Paul as the first word, hence claiming authorship by Paul the Apostle. Among these letters are some of the earliest extant Christian documents...

, but Saint Paul expanded and elaborated on that topic.

Pauline writings established among early Christians the Kyrios image, and attributes of Jesus as not only referring to his eschatological victory, but to him as the "divine image" (Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

  eikōn) in whose face the glory of God shines forth. This image persisted among Christians as the predominant perception of Jesus for a number of centuries. More than any other title, Kyrios defined the relationship between Jesus and those who believed in him as Christ: Jesus was their Lord and Master who was to be served with all their hearts and who would one day judge their actions throughout their lives.

The lordship attributes associated with the Kyrios image of Jesus also implied his power over all creation. Paul then looked back and reasoned that the final lordship of Jesus was prepared from the very beginning, starting with pre-existence
Pre-existence of Christ
The pre-existence of Christ refers to the doctrine of the ontological or personal existence of Christ before his conception. One of the relevant Bible passages is where, in the Trinitarian view, Christ is identified with a pre-existent divine hypostasis called the Logos or Word...

 and the Nativity, based on his obedience as the image of God. Over time, based on the influence of Anselm of Canterbury
Anselm of Canterbury
Anselm of Canterbury , also called of Aosta for his birthplace, and of Bec for his home monastery, was a Benedictine monk, a philosopher, and a prelate of the church who held the office of Archbishop of Canterbury from 1093 to 1109...

, Bernard of Clairvaux
Bernard of Clairvaux
Bernard of Clairvaux, O.Cist was a French abbot and the primary builder of the reforming Cistercian order.After the death of his mother, Bernard sought admission into the Cistercian order. Three years later, he was sent to found a new abbey at an isolated clearing in a glen known as the Val...

 and others, the Kyrios image of Jesus began to be supplemented with a more "tender image of Jesus", and the Franciscan
Franciscan
Most Franciscans are members of Roman Catholic religious orders founded by Saint Francis of Assisi. Besides Roman Catholic communities, there are also Old Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, ecumenical and Non-denominational Franciscan communities....

 approach to popular piety was instrumental in establishing this image.
The 13th century witnessed a major turning point in the development of a new "tender image of Jesus" within Christianity, as the Franciscans began to emphasize the humility of Jesus both at his birth and his death. The construction of the Nativity scene by Saint Francis of Assisi
Francis of Assisi
Saint Francis of Assisi was an Italian Catholic friar and preacher. He founded the men's Franciscan Order, the women’s Order of St. Clare, and the lay Third Order of Saint Francis. St...

 was instrumental in portraying a softer image of Jesus that contrasted with the powerful and radiant image at the Transfiguration
Transfiguration of Jesus
The Transfiguration of Jesus is an event reported in the New Testament in which Jesus is transfigured and becomes radiant upon a mountain. The Synoptic Gospels describe it, and 2 Peter 1:16-18 refers to it....

, and emphasized how God had taken a humble path to his own birth. As the Black Death
Black Death
The Black Death was one of the most devastating pandemics in human history, peaking in Europe between 1348 and 1350. Of several competing theories, the dominant explanation for the Black Death is the plague theory, which attributes the outbreak to the bacterium Yersinia pestis. Thought to have...

 raged in Medieval Europe, two mendicant orders
Mendicant Orders
The mendicant orders are religious orders which depend directly on the charity of the people for their livelihood. In principle, they do not own property, either individually or collectively , believing that this was the most pure way of life to copy followed by Jesus Christ, in order that all...

 of Franciscans and Dominicans
Dominican Order
The Order of Preachers , after the 15th century more commonly known as the Dominican Order or Dominicans, is a Catholic religious order founded by Saint Dominic and approved by Pope Honorius III on 22 December 1216 in France...

 helped the faithful cope with tragedies. One element of the Franciscan approach was the emphasis on the humility of Jesus and the poverty of his birth: the image of God was the image of Jesus, not a severe and punishing God, but himself humble at birth and sacrificed at death. The concept that the omnipotent Creator would set aside all power in order to conquer the hearts of men by love and that he would have been helplessly placed in a manger was as marvelous and as touching to the believers as the sacrifice of dying on the cross in Calavry.

Thus by the 13th century the tender joys of the Nativity of Jesus were added to the agony of his Crucifixion
Crucifixion of Jesus
The crucifixion of Jesus and his ensuing death is an event that occurred during the 1st century AD. Jesus, who Christians believe is the Son of God as well as the Messiah, was arrested, tried, and sentenced by Pontius Pilate to be scourged, and finally executed on a cross...

 and a whole new range of approved religious emotions were ushered in, with wide ranging cultural impacts for centuries thereafter. The Franciscans approached both ends of this spectrum of emotions. On one hand the introduction of the Nativity scene encouraged the tender image of Jesus, while on the other hand Francis of Assisi himself had a deep attachment to the sufferings of Jesus on the Cross and was said to have recevieved the Stigmata
Stigmata
Stigmata are bodily marks, sores, or sensations of pain in locations corresponding to the crucifixion wounds of Jesus, such as the hands and feet...

 as an expression of that love. The dual nature of Franciscan piety based both on joy of Nativity and the sacrifice at Calvary
Crucifixion of Jesus
The crucifixion of Jesus and his ensuing death is an event that occurred during the 1st century AD. Jesus, who Christians believe is the Son of God as well as the Messiah, was arrested, tried, and sentenced by Pontius Pilate to be scourged, and finally executed on a cross...

 had a deep appeal among city dwellers and as the Franciscan Friars traveled, these emotions spread across the world, transforming the Kyrios image of Jesus to a more tender, loving, and compassionate image. These traditions did not remain limited to Europe and soon spread to the other parts of the world such as Latin America, the Philippines
Philippines
The Philippines , officially known as the Republic of the Philippines , is a country in Southeast Asia in the western Pacific Ocean. To its north across the Luzon Strait lies Taiwan. West across the South China Sea sits Vietnam...

 and the United States.

According to Archbishop Rowan Williams
Rowan Williams
Rowan Douglas Williams FRSL, FBA, FLSW is an Anglican bishop, poet and theologian. He is the 104th and current Archbishop of Canterbury, Metropolitan of the Province of Canterbury and Primate of All England, offices he has held since early 2003.Williams was previously Bishop of Monmouth and...

 this transformation, accompanied by the proliferation of the tender image of Jesus in Madonna and Child paintings made an important impact within the Christian Ministry by allowing Christians to feel the living presence of Jesus as a loving figure "who is always there to harbor and nurture those who turn to him for help.

Canticles appearing in Luke


Luke's Nativity text has given rise to four well known canticle
Canticle
A canticle is a hymn taken from the Bible. The term is often expanded to include ancient non-biblical hymns such as the Te Deum and certain psalms used liturgically.-Roman Catholic Church:From the Old Testament, the Roman Breviary takes seven canticles for use at Lauds, as follows:*...

s: the Benedictus
Benedictus (Song of Zechariah)
The Benedictus , given in Gospel of , is one of the three canticles in the opening chapters of this Gospel. The Benedictus was the song of thanksgiving uttered by Zechariah on the occasion of the birth of his son, John the Baptist.The whole canticle naturally falls into two parts...

 and the Magnificat
Magnificat
The Magnificat — also known as the Song of Mary or the Canticle of Mary — is a canticle frequently sung liturgically in Christian church services. It is one of the eight most ancient Christian hymns and perhaps the earliest Marian hymn...

 in the first chapter, and the Gloria in Excelsis and the Nunc dimittis
Nunc dimittis
The Nunc dimittis is a canticle from a text in the second chapter of Luke named after its first words in Latin, meaning 'Now dismiss...'....

 in the second chapter. These "Gospel canticles" are now an integral part of the Christian liturgical
Liturgy
Liturgy is either the customary public worship done by a specific religious group, according to its particular traditions or a more precise term that distinguishes between those religious groups who believe their ritual requires the "people" to do the "work" of responding to the priest, and those...

 tradition. The parallel structure in Luke regarding the births of John the Baptist
John the Baptist
John the Baptist was an itinerant preacher and a major religious figure mentioned in the Canonical gospels. He is described in the Gospel of Luke as a relative of Jesus, who led a movement of baptism at the Jordan River...

 and Jesus, extends to the three canticles Benedictus (Song of Zechariah), the Nunc dimittis and the Magnificat.

The Magnificat, in , is spoken by Mary and is one of the 8 most ancient Christian hymn
Hymn
A hymn is a type of song, usually religious, specifically written for the purpose of praise, adoration or prayer, and typically addressed to a deity or deities, or to a prominent figure or personification...

s and perhaps the earliest Marian hymn.
The Benedictus, in , is spoken by Zechariah
Zechariah (priest)
In the Bible, Zechariah , is the father of John the Baptist, a priest of the sons of Aaron, a prophet in , and the husband of Elisabeth who is the cousin of Mary the mother of Jesus.In the Qur'an, Zechariah plays a similar role as the father of John the Baptist and ranks him as a prophet alongside...

, while the Nunc dimittis, in is spoken by Simeon
Simeon the Righteous
Simeon is the "just and devout" man of Jerusalem who, according to , met the Virgin Mary, Joseph, and Jesus as they entered the Temple to fulfill the requirements of the Law of Moses on the 40th day from Jesus' birth.According to the Biblical account,...

. The traditional Gloria in Excelsis is longer than the opening line presented in , and is often called the "Song of the Angels" given that it was uttered by the angels in the Annunciation to the Shepherds
Annunciation to the shepherds
The Annunciation to the shepherds is an episode in the Nativity of Jesus described in the Bible in Luke 2, in which angels tell a group of shepherds about the birth of Jesus...

.

The three canticles Benedictus, Nuc Dimittis and the Magnificat, if not originating with Luke himself, may have their roots in the earliest Christian liturgical services in Jerusalem, but their exact origins remain unknown.

Visual arts




The earliest artistic depictions of Nativity of Jesus were in the catacombs and on sarcophagi in Rome. As Gentile
Gentile
The term Gentile refers to non-Israelite peoples or nations in English translations of the Bible....

 visitors, the Magi
Biblical Magi
The Magi Greek: μάγοι, magoi), also referred to as the Wise Men, Kings, Astrologers, or Kings from the East, were a group of distinguished foreigners who were said to have visited Jesus after his birth, bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh...

 were popular in these scenes which also played on the cycle of birth and death of jesus and its cosmic significance by depicting Adam and Eve. However, the inherent message of humility and poverty built into the Nativity of Jesus did not sit well with some wealthy Romans who emblished the scene to the point that eventually Mary was seated on a throne as the Magi visited. By the 14th century, images of Mary which combined humble earthly and regal heavenly attributes were appearing, e.g. in the depictions of the Madonna of humility
Madonna of humility
Madonna of humility refers to artistic portrayals of the Virgin Mary which depict her as a Madonna sitting on the ground, or sitting upon a low cushion. She may be holding the Child Jesus in her lap...

.

Depictions of the Nativity are now a normal component of the sequences illustrating both the Life of Christ
Life of Christ
The Life of Christ as a narrative cycle in Christian art comprises a number of different subjects, which were often grouped in series or cycles of works in a variety of media, narrating the life of Jesus on earth, as distinguished from the many other subjects in art showing the eternal life of...

 and the Life of the Virgin
Life of the Virgin
The Life of the Virgin, showing narrative scenes from the life of Mary, the mother of Jesus, is a common subject for pictorial cycles in Christian art, often complementing, or forming part of, a cycle on the Life of Christ. In both cases the number of scenes shown varies greatly with the space...

. The icons of Nativity also carry the message of redemption: God's unification with matter forms the mystery of the Incarnation, a turning point in the Christian perspective on Salvation.

In the Eastern Church icon
Icon
An icon is a religious work of art, most commonly a painting, from Eastern Christianity and in certain Eastern Catholic churches...

s of Nativity often correspond to specific hymns to Mary
Hymns to Mary
Marian Hymns are Christian songs focused on the Virgin Mary. They are used in both devotional and liturgical services, particularly by the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, and Lutheran churches. They are often used in the month of May devotions. Some have also been adopted as Christmas...

, e.g. to the Kontakion
Kontakion
Kontakion is a form of hymn performed in the Eastern Orthodox Church. The word derives from the Greek word kontax , meaning pole, specifically the pole around which a scroll is wound. The term describes the way in which the words on a scroll unfurl as it is read...

: "The Virgin today bringeth forth the Transubstantial, and the eart offereth a cave to the Unapproachable...." In many Eastern icons of Nativity (often accompanied by matching hymnody) two basic elements are emphasized. First the event portrays the mystery of incarnation as a foundation for the Christian faith, and the combined nature of Christ as Divine and human. Secondly, it relates the event to the natural life of the world, and its consequences for humanity. According to Saint Gregory of Nyssa
Gregory of Nyssa
St. Gregory of Nyssa was a Christian bishop and saint. He was a younger brother of Basil the Great and a good friend of Gregory of Nazianzus. His significance has long been recognized in the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Eastern Catholic and Roman Catholic branches of Christianity...

, the feast of Nativity in the Eastern Church is not a festival of creation, but of re-creation and renewal.

Hymns, music and performances


Like 1st century Jews, early Christians rejected the use of musical instruments in religious ceremonies and instead relied on chants and plainsong
Plainsong
Plainsong is a body of chants used in the liturgies of the Catholic Church. Though the Eastern Orthodox churches and the Catholic Church did not split until long after the origin of plainchant, Byzantine chants are generally not classified as plainsong.Plainsong is monophonic, consisting of a...

 leading to the use of the term a cappella
A cappella
A cappella music is specifically solo or group singing without instrumental sound, or a piece intended to be performed in this way. It is the opposite of cantata, which is accompanied singing. A cappella was originally intended to differentiate between Renaissance polyphony and Baroque concertato...

 (in the chapel) for these chants.

One of the earliest Nativity hymns was Veni, Redemptor Gentium composed by Saint Ambrose
Ambrose
Aurelius Ambrosius, better known in English as Saint Ambrose , was a bishop of Milan who became one of the most influential ecclesiastical figures of the 4th century. He was one of the four original doctors of the Church.-Political career:Ambrose was born into a Roman Christian family between about...

 in Milan in the 4th century. By the beginning of the 5th century, the Spanish poet Prudentius
Prudentius
Aurelius Prudentius Clemens was a Roman Christian poet, born in the Roman province of Tarraconensis in 348. He probably died in Spain, as well, some time after 405, possibly around 413...

 had written "From the Heart of the Father" where the ninth stanza
Stanza
In poetry, a stanza is a unit within a larger poem. In modern poetry, the term is often equivalent with strophe; in popular vocal music, a stanza is typically referred to as a "verse"...

 focused on the Nativity and portrayed Jesus as the creator of the universe. In the 5th century the Gallic poet Sedulius
Coelius Sedulius
Coelius Sedulius, was a Christian poet of the first half of the 5th century. He is termed a presbyter by Isidore of Seville and in the Gelasian decree....

 composed "From the lands that see the Sun arise" in which the humility of the birth of Jesus was portrayed. The Magnificat
Magnificat
The Magnificat — also known as the Song of Mary or the Canticle of Mary — is a canticle frequently sung liturgically in Christian church services. It is one of the eight most ancient Christian hymns and perhaps the earliest Marian hymn...

, one of the 8 most ancient Christian hymn
Hymn
A hymn is a type of song, usually religious, specifically written for the purpose of praise, adoration or prayer, and typically addressed to a deity or deities, or to a prominent figure or personification...

s and perhaps the earliest Marian hymn
Hymns to Mary
Marian Hymns are Christian songs focused on the Virgin Mary. They are used in both devotional and liturgical services, particularly by the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, and Lutheran churches. They are often used in the month of May devotions. Some have also been adopted as Christmas...

 is based on the Annunciation
Annunciation
The Annunciation, also referred to as the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary or Annunciation of the Lord, is the Christian celebration of the announcement by the angel Gabriel to Virgin Mary, that she would conceive and become the mother of Jesus the Son of God. Gabriel told Mary to name her...

.

Saint Romanus the Melodist had a dream of the Virgin Mary the night before the feast of the Nativity, and when he woke up the next morning, composed his first hymn "On the Nativity" and continued composing hymns (perhaps several hundred) to the end of his life. Re-enactments of Nativity which are now called Nativity play
Nativity play
A Nativity play or Christmas pageant is a play which recounts the story of the Nativity of Jesus. It is usually performed at Christmas, the feast of the Nativity.-Liturgical:...

s were part of the troparion
Troparion
A troparion in Byzantine music and in the religious music of Eastern Orthodox Christianity is a short hymn of one stanza, or one of a series of stanzas. The word probably derives from a diminutive of the Greek tropos...

 hymn
Hymn
A hymn is a type of song, usually religious, specifically written for the purpose of praise, adoration or prayer, and typically addressed to a deity or deities, or to a prominent figure or personification...

s in the liturgy
Liturgy
Liturgy is either the customary public worship done by a specific religious group, according to its particular traditions or a more precise term that distinguishes between those religious groups who believe their ritual requires the "people" to do the "work" of responding to the priest, and those...

 of Byzantine Rite
Byzantine Rite
The Byzantine Rite, sometimes called the Rite of Constantinople or Constantinopolitan Rite is the liturgical rite used currently by all the Eastern Orthodox Churches, by the Greek Catholic Churches , and by the Protestant Ukrainian Lutheran Church...

 Churches, from St. Sophronius in the 7th century. By the 13th century, the Franciscans had encouraged a strong tradition of popular Christmas songs in the native languages. Christmas carols in English first appear in a 1426 work of John Awdlay
John Audelay
John Audelay or Awdelay was a priest and poet from Haughmond Abbey in Shropshire; he is one of the few English poets of the period whose name is known to us. Some of the first Christmas carols recorded in English appear among his works....

, a Shropshire
Shropshire
Shropshire is a county in the West Midlands region of England. For Eurostat purposes, the county is a NUTS 3 region and is one of four counties or unitary districts that comprise the "Shropshire and Staffordshire" NUTS 2 region. It borders Wales to the west...

 chaplain, who lists twenty-five "caroles of Cristemas".

The largest body of musical works about Christ in which he does not speak are about the Nativity. A large body of liturgical music
Liturgical music
Liturgical music originated as a part of religious ceremony, and includes a number of traditions, both ancient and modern. Liturgical music is well known as a part of Catholic Mass, the Anglican Holy Communion service , the Lutheran Divine Service, the Orthodox liturgy and other Christian services...

, as well as a great deal of para-liturgical
texts, Carols and folk music exist about the Nativity of Jesus. The Christmas Carols have
come to be viewed as a cultural-signature of the Nativity of Jesus.

Most musical Nativity narrations are not biblical and did not come about until church music assimilated opera in the 17th century. But thereafter there was a torrent of new music, e.g. Heinrich Schutz
Heinrich Schütz
Heinrich Schütz was a German composer and organist, generally regarded as the most important German composer before Johann Sebastian Bach and often considered to be one of the most important composers of the 17th century along with Claudio Monteverdi...

's 1660 The Christmas Story and Bach
Bạch
Bạch is a Vietnamese surname. The name is transliterated as Bai in Chinese and Baek, in Korean.Bach is the anglicized variation of the surname Bạch.-Notable people with the surname Bạch:* Bạch Liêu...

's Christmas Oratorio
Christmas Oratorio
The Christmas Oratorio BWV 248, is an oratorio by Johann Sebastian Bach intended for performance in church during the Christmas season. It was written for the Christmas season of 1734 incorporating music from earlier compositions, including three secular cantatas written during 1733 and 1734 and a...

 in the 18th century. And Lisz's Christus
Christus (Liszt)
Christus is an oratorio by the Hungarian composer and pianist Franz Liszt. The oratorio takes the traditional plot of Jesus Christ's life from his birth to his passion and resurrection, using Bible texts, and is thus somewhat reminiscent of another famous religious work, Messiah by George Frideric...

, etc. John Milton
John Milton
John Milton was an English poet, polemicist, a scholarly man of letters, and a civil servant for the Commonwealth of England under Oliver Cromwell...

's classic 1629 poem Ode on the Morning of Christ's Nativity was used by John McEwan
John McEwan
-External links:...

 in 1901.

See also


  • Adoration of the shepherds
    Adoration of the shepherds
    The Adoration of the shepherds, in the Nativity of Jesus in art, is a scene in which shepherds are near witnesses to the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. It is often combined with the Adoration of the Magi, in which case it is typically just referred to by the latter title...

  • Biblical Magi
    Biblical Magi
    The Magi Greek: μάγοι, magoi), also referred to as the Wise Men, Kings, Astrologers, or Kings from the East, were a group of distinguished foreigners who were said to have visited Jesus after his birth, bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh...

  • Jesus in Christianity
  • Nativity of Jesus in art
    Nativity of Jesus in art
    The Nativity of Jesus has been a major subject of Christian art since the 4th century. The artistic depictions of the Nativity or birth of Jesus, celebrated at Christmas, are based on the narratives in the Bible, in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, and further elaborated by written, oral and...

  • Roman Catholic Marian art
    Roman Catholic Marian art
    The Blessed Virgin Mary has been one of the major subjects of Christian Art, Catholic Art and Western Art for many centuries. Literally hundreds of thousands of pieces of...

  • Nativity of Jesus in later culture
    Nativity of Jesus in later culture
    -Drama:*The Nativity appears in many cycles of the Mystery Plays.*Laurence Housman .*Lucjan Rydel .*Cicely Hamilton -Drama:*The Nativity appears in many cycles of the Mystery Plays.*Laurence Housman (Bethlehem, 1902; musical accompaniment by Joseph Moorat c.1919).*Lucjan Rydel (Polish Bethlehem,...

  • Nativity scene
    Nativity scene
    A nativity scene, manger scene, krippe, crèche, or crib, is a depiction of the birth of Jesus as described in the gospels of Matthew and Luke...

  • Nativity play
    Nativity play
    A Nativity play or Christmas pageant is a play which recounts the story of the Nativity of Jesus. It is usually performed at Christmas, the feast of the Nativity.-Liturgical:...


Further reading

  • Albright, W.F.
    William F. Albright
    William Foxwell Albright was an American archaeologist, biblical scholar, philologist and expert on ceramics. From the early twentieth century until his death, he was the dean of biblical archaeologists and the universally acknowledged founder of the Biblical archaeology movement...

     and C.S. Mann. "Matthew." The Anchor Bible Series. New York: Doubleday & Company, 1971.
  • Brown, Raymond E.
    Raymond E. Brown
    The Reverend Raymond Edward Brown, S.S. , was an American Roman Catholic priest, a member of the Sulpician Fathers and a major Biblical scholar of his era...

     The Birth of the Messiah: A Commentary on the Infancy Narratives in Matthew and Luke. London: G. Chapman, 1977.
  • Calkins, Robert G. Illuminated Books of the Middle Ages. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1983.
  • Carter, Warren. Matthew and Empire. Harrisburg: Trinity Press International, 2001.
  • France, R.T. The Gospel According to Matthew: an Introduction and Commentary. Leicester: Inter-Varsity, 1985.
  • Gundry, Robert H.
    Robert H. Gundry
    Robert Horton Gundry is a Biblical scholar. He received a B.A. and a B.D. degree from the Los Angeles Baptist College and Seminary, and his Ph.D. from Manchester University in Manchester, England in 1961 and has taught for several decades at Westmont College in California...

     Matthew a Commentary on his Literary and Theological Art. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1982.
  • Gundry, Robert H. "Salvation in Matthew." Society of Biblical Literature - 2000 Seminar Papers. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2000.
  • Hill, David. The Gospel of Matthew. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1981
  • Jones, Alexander. The Gospel According to St. Matthew. London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1965.
  • Levine, Amy-Jill. "Matthew." Women's Bible Commentary. Carol A. Newsom and Sharon H. Ringe, eds. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1998.
  • Schaberg, Jane. Illegitimacy of Jesus: A Feminist Theological Interpretation of the Infancy Narratives (Biblical Seminar Series, No 28) Sheffield Academic Press (March 1995) ISBN 1-85075-533-7
  • Schweizer, Eduard
    Eduard Schweizer
    Eduard Schweizer was a Swiss New Testament scholar who taught at the University of Zurich for an extended period. He won the Burkitt Medal for Biblical Studies in 1996....

    . The Good News According to Matthew. Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1975
  • Vermes, Geza
    Geza Vermes
    Géza Vermes or Vermès is a British scholar of Jewish Hungarian origin and writer on religious history, particularly Jewish and Christian. He is a noted authority on the Dead Sea Scrolls and other ancient works in Aramaic, and on the life and religion of Jesus...

     "The Nativity: History and Legend". Penguin (2006) ISBN 0-14-102446-1

External links



Birth of Jesus: The Nativity
Life of Jesus
Gospel harmony
A Gospel harmony is an attempt to merge or harmonize the canonical gospels of the Four Evangelists into a single gospel account, the earliest known example being the Diatesseron by Tatian in the 2nd century. A gospel harmony may also establish a chronology for the events of the life of Jesus...

: The Nativity
New Testament
New Testament
The New Testament is the second major division of the Christian biblical canon, the first such division being the much longer Old Testament....


Events