Robert Beckford explores the historical evidence and analyses the elements of the story to discover that the birth of Jesus took place against a harsh political backdrop. Julia Bard reports.
New Testament accounts of the nativity contain all the elements that we still see portrayed every Christmas in cribs and nativity plays, nearly two millennia after they were written. According to this story, Jesus the Son of God, was born to the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem; he slept in a manger, and was visited by shepherds from the fields nearby and wise men who came from the East. When their newborn child was threatened with death, the family fled to Egypt.
But these accounts were written some 80-90 years after the events they describe, and many historians question the literal truth of the story that is familiar to us today. Robert Beckford, a Christian theologian, believes that the story of the birth of Jesus was deliberately coded in a way that would have specific meanings for the audience it was aimed at: the Jews who lived in Roman-occupied Palestine 2,000 years ago.
This is very controversial, since some Christians believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, defined as the belief that scripture does not ‘mislead’; this allows for small details that might not be right, but the thrust is always ‘true’. Others believe that, while some details may be open to question, some elements of the story – such as the virgin birth – are essential foundations of the Christian faith.