Wednesday, Dec 04, 2019. Talking about facts and history, let us start to think about the birth of Jesus. In the time of advent - the four weeks before the Christmas celebration, Christians all over the globe celebrate the birth of the “son of God”.
When we talk about history, we can state what seems to be historical fact as far as we know today, using the best of our critical efforts to explore what happened 2000 years ago.
Birth of Jesus …
Jesus is said to be born during the reign of Herod the Great in Palestine. His reign was between 37 BC and 4 BC, when he died. This places the birth of Jesus into the years 7-6 BC, i.e. seven or six years before the year 0 of our Gregorian calender, which was introduced 1582 AD by pope Gregor VIII, following calculations of Dionysius Exiguus 525 AD. In Rome emperor Augustus was in power 31 BC to 14 AD. Augustus was followed by Tiberius, who reigned until AD 37.
Concrete circumstances about the birth of Jesus are recorded in the Gospels. There is a lot of further historical material about the Roman empire and Jewish history. The composition of the four gospels is usually dated into the time between 55 AD and 90 AD, where different theories and theological schools hold their particular view on which gospel came first and how they were composed from earlier material. The material must have been written in the time between the death of Jesus 30 AD and the destruction of the Jewish temple by the Romans in 70 AD.
In the time of advent, many towns display the birth of Jesus following the gospel of Luke. We find scenes of his mother and father Mary and Joseph, together with a child in a creche. Luke talks about a census initiated by Augustus, which made Joseph and Mary travel to Bethlehem, to be registered. Bethlehem was very little town close to Jerusalem - nothing of big significance. Augustus had initiated various censuses in the Roman empire, among them those in 28 BC, 8 BC and 14 AD. Luke also mentions Quirinius, who was a key Roman figure and consul from 12 BC, who also held influential positions in Palestine from 6 AD to his death 21 AD.
Presenting the Jesus Baby …
Does it make sense to put the birth of Jesus into our churches today? When you look at the design of such scenes, it is often transfered into later centuries. People have taken the freedom to put Jesus into their particular environment!
Yes, it is completely reasonable from a Christian perspective, to design the birth of Jesus and place it into your life and framework. It is an act of perception. But it is also an act of truth, which tries to place the events into their true framework.
What is the true framework of the birth of Jesus. On one hand it is a historical event. It took place in Palestine, about 7/6 BC. On the other hand, it is an event which has universial meaning. Its meaning and significance lasts, and it is so important that putting it into any time of history up to today is fully justified.
Why is the event so important? It is because Jesus is not just a human. He is not an arbitrary human. The significance of this event is that God himself becomes human. He chooses to be ordinary, comes into a small insignificant town, into a small insignificant family. He wants to be with mankind.
The birth of Jesus is part of the restoration of humanity. It is part of a transformation which takes place in and through the whole life and resurrection of Jesus. Of course, to fully understand the meaning of this significance, we need to go throuh the life of Jesus. We need to go through the gospels and the letters of the New testament. But in any case, we have a historical event here, with elements which need to be discussed further, but an event with extremely high significance. (Roland Potthast)
This is part of the trilogy project “Faith of a Scientist”.