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Re: Star of Bethlehem: was "PBS ..." 1/2

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  • Stephen E. Jones
    Group On Wed, 28 Nov 2001 10:58:53 +1300, Donald Nield wrote: ... On Sat, 16 Jun 2001 14:29:57 +1200, Donald Nield wrote: [...] ... here continues his attacks
    Message 1 of 2 , Dec 2, 2001
      Group

      On Wed, 28 Nov 2001 10:58:53 +1300, Donald Nield wrote:

      Don, who claims to be a "Christian":

      --------------------------------------------------------------------------
      On Sat, 16 Jun 2001 14:29:57 +1200, Donald Nield wrote: [...]
      >I am a lifetime Christian, and I have been a member of the Presbyterian
      >Church of Aotearoa New Zealand (as it is now called) for forty years. [...]
      --------------------------------------------------------------------------

      here continues his attacks against Christianity, in this case the
      historicity of the accounts of Jesus' birth and early life in the
      gospels of Matthew and Luke.

      Non-Christians will welcome Don's attacks as evidence, not that
      Don's liberal `gnostic' version of Christianity is true, but that
      Christianity itself is false.

      I here continue with my defence of historic Christianity against
      Don's attacks. As it happened I covered some of this in a debate
      against an atheist on the Calvin Reflector, so in one sense I
      welcome the opportunity to revisit it here.

      In researching for that debate I found that Matthew and Luke's
      accounts of Jesus' early life, when the text of each is *carefully*
      read, dovetail together *perfectly* and the resulting complex whole
      answers a question I once puzzled over: "how Jesus could be the
      Messiah and yet have a normal childhood"?

      I will reveal this answer in the second part of this split message. I
      don't expect that Don will be happy with this answer, because, as a
      `Christian gnostic', he doesn't *want* the accounts to be historically
      true.

      I am indebted to George Hunter for this `gnostic' insight, which
      explains much that puzzled me when debating TE/DEs on the
      Calvin Reflector.

      [...]

      >>>>Electronic Telegraph 06.09.01 ... Star of Bethlehem 'was two brilliant
      >>>>meteors' ... THE Star of Bethlehem that led the wise men to the infant
      >>>>Christ was two brilliant meteors following similar paths, according to
      a
      >>>>study by Sir Patrick Moore. ... In his book, The Star of Bethlehem ...
      [he]
      >>>>dismisses previous scientific explanations for the star as improbable.
      ....
      >>>>... he does allow for the possibility that the star was a message from
      >>>>God and so "beyond science". ...
      >>>>[...Why would "the possibility that the star was a
      >>>>message from God" be "beyond science"? It was a singular event in
      history,
      >>>>and science deals with other singular events in history, e.g. the Big
      Bang,
      >>>>the origin of life, the origin of the Moon, etc. A Christian who was a
      >>>>methodological naturalist would (presumably) agree that this really
      was a
      >>>>supernatural event which was detected in history. Yet they would be
      forced
      >>>>to either: 1) try to declare it off-limits to science (but why should
      their
      >>>>atheist colleagues take any notice of their demarcation); or 2)
      naturalise it
      >>>>by explain it away (but carried out consistently this would eviscerates
      their
      >>>>Christianity). This shows the inadequacy of methodological
      naturalism, and
      >>>>that methodological theism (aka theistic realism) would be more
      >>>>comprehensive and hence scientifically preferable.]

      >>DN>Steve sees this as a test for methodological naturalism. I do not.

      >>SJ>Perhaps Don would tell us what he would regard "as a test for
      >>methodological naturalism"?

      DN>Well, it would need some observable evidence.

      What "observable evidence" *would* Don "regard `as a test for
      methodological naturalism'"?

      DN>For the Star of Bethehem we do not have
      >any evidence that can be verified today.

      So what? There are a lot of things in science that are based on
      "evidence that" *cannot* "be verified today". That *every* mutation in
      the history of life was random with respect to adaptive improvement,
      for example.

      >>DN>It is by no means certain that the phenomenon
      >>>described in Matthew 2 is meant to be taken as literal history.

      >>SJ>So does Don regard the Star of Bethlehem "as literal
      >>history", i.e. it *really* happened? ... If not, perhaps Don can tell
      >>us why not?

      DN>I do not, for the reason that there are several things indicating
      >that the account was not historical.

      Disagree with Don. I agree with Hunter's thesis that it is `gnostic'
      *philosophy* which leads Don to idealise and de-historicise the Bible:

      "The ancient Gnostics were also antihistorical. Whereas the
      Bible presents a history of God's activity in the world, including
      dates and historical figures, the Gnostics believed that God's
      revelation was not open but secret-revealed from within rather
      than in public documents such as Scripture. Furthermore,
      whereas the Bible says that the heavens declare the glory of
      God, the Gnostics believed that one should not look for signs
      of God in nature. In Darwin's day, a parallel view developed
      that urged the separation of religion and science; this view
      remains strong today." (Hunter C.G., "Darwin's God Evolution
      and the Problem of Evil," Brazos Press: Grand Rapids MI, 2001,
      p.129)

      "To a large extent, the statements made in the Bible are historical in
      nature. It tells individuals what they must do to be saved, but it
      does not answer complex cosmological problems in any detail,
      other than to state the doctrine of the Creation as a historic event.
      This was very unsatisfying to countless inquiring minds. The
      sweeping panorama of the gnostics' visions was more fascinating
      and satisfying, rather like the modern book and television series by
      Carl Sagan, Cosmos-although both visions, that of the gnostics and
      of Sagan, are more imaginative than scientific." (Brown H.O.J.,
      "Heresies: The Image of Christ in the Mirror of Heresy and
      Orthodoxy from the Apostles to the Present", Doubleday & Co:
      Garden City, New York, 1984, p.45)

      DN>Since Steve likes quotes, I shall quote from the detailed account
      >of this matter by the eminent Roman Catholic scholar Raymond E.
      Brown,
      >"The Birth of the Messiah", Geoffrey Chapman, London, 1977, pages
      188-190.

      The late "Raymond E. Brown" was a "Professor ... of Biblical Studies at
      Union Theological Seminary":

      --------------------------------------------------------------------------
      http://www.americancatholic.org/News/RayBrown/default.asp
      Raymond E. Brown, Biblical Scholar, Dies Father Raymond E.
      Brown, S.S., a member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission and
      one of America's preeminent biblical scholars, died after a heart
      attack on Saturday, August 8, 1998. ... Brown, a Sulpician priest,
      was Auburn Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Biblical Studies at
      Union Theological Seminary, New York. He was twice appointed a
      member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, by Pope Paul VI in
      1972 and by Pope John Paul II in 1996. He wrote extensively on
      the Bible. ....
      --------------------------------------------------------------------------

      which is probably the leading liberal theological seminary in the USA.
      So I would be *very* cautious in accepting what he said as `gospel'!

      I read some web pages about Brown, and the liberals seem to be saying
      that from their perspective he was a "moderate traditionalist" (e.g.
      http://www.nytimes.com/books/97/12/21/reviews/971221.21saladrt.html).
      I take this as meaning that from my conservative evangelical perspective
      Brown was a moderate liberal.

      However, some Catholic writers claimed that Brown was in fact a
      more extreme "liberal" who only *appeared* to be moderate:

      --------------------------------------------------------------------------
      http://www.catholic.net/rcc/Periodicals/HPR/March%202000/letters.html
      ... I suspect that the harm which Raymond Brown has unwittingly done to
      the Church and to souls has been more grievous than that done by
      theologians more outspokenly liberal than Brown himself, precisely
      because the "moderation" and "nuances"with which he sugar-coated his
      pernicious doctrinal principles made his work seem responsible and
      orthodox to many high-ranking bishops and cardinals who would never
      have been swayed by the more blatant (although perhaps more logically
      consistent) biblical skepticism of those such as K?ng, Boff, Schillebeeckx,
      Knitter, or Drewermann." ...

      http://www.catholic.net/rcc/Periodicals/Faith/JAN-FEB99/Letters.html ... I
      also write to you on the article in your latest issue on "Raymond Brown
      and the Magnificat" by Thomas W. Case. .... Like a Bible Fundamentalist
      he tells the reader to simply read the texts from Luke and I Samuel and all
      will be clear. ... Raymond Brown enriched us immensely at the biblical
      and pastoral level through his writings. Unfortunately, your readers are
      going to see him as a liberal biblical scholar not to be trusted and shunned
      by all `true' believers. ... Mr. Case responds: The arguments Raymond E.
      Brown makes in his Birth of the Messiah do not depend on his, or his
      readers', knowledge of the ancient Near Eastern languages .... My own
      background includes years of graduate work in philosophy, with attention
      to the structure of arguments. I should have cited one eminently qualified
      biblical scholar who opposes Brown's skepticism: Rene Laurentin,
      specifically his book The Truth of Christmas (1986).

      http://www.catholic.net/rcc/Periodicals/HPR/March%202000/letters.html
      ... Like countless other post-Enlightenment exegetes of all denominations,
      Brown had become convinced by his own brand of historical-critical
      "science" that the Biblical writers sometimes make mistaken affirmations,
      and that parts of the Gospels very probably belong to certain less-than-
      historical literary genres. But since, by all accounts, he was also strongly
      motivated to remain a loyal Catholic as well as a "critical" exegete, Brown
      seems to have been unable to resist the temptation to indulge in
      "concordism," i.e., to translate and read the pertinent magisterial
      documents with a strong liberal bias, so as to harmonize them at all costs
      with his own "scientific findings." Unfortunately, the Catholic Biblical
      "establishment" since Vatican II has generally followed him in this.
      --------------------------------------------------------------------------

      From what Brown says in the quote by Don below, I assume he was a full-
      blown liberal, with gnostic tendencies.

      DN>"The simplest explanation of the pre-Matthean background of the
      magi story is that it
      >is factual history passed down from the time of Jesus's birth in family
      circles....

      Agreed. Apart from Jesus himself, Jesus' mother Mary, and his brothers
      James and Jude (and possibly other brothers and sisters) were all part of
      the original extended group of disciples. I assume that Matthew, as one of
      the original disciples, obtained this "preMatthean background" from Jesus
      Himself, and/or from Mary or James.

      DN>I refuse to dismiss such an explanation simply on the grounds
      >that the events are supernatural; for a presupposition that
      >miracles are impossible is unscientific.

      Agreed. So far so good!

      DN>Nevertheless, even without such a prejudice, those who wish
      >the maintain the historicity of the Matthean magi story are faced
      >with nigh insuperable obstacles.

      Disagree. As we shall see, there are *no* "insuperable obstacles" at all.
      The only "insuperable obstacles" are inside liberals' heads, i.e. their
      `gnostic' *philosophy* which predisposes them to see what they *want*
      to see, even when it isn't even there.

      They key words above are "those who wish t[o] maintain the historicity of
      the Matthean magi story" which is a Freudian slip that Brown (and Don)
      don't!

      DN>a) *Intrinsic unlikelihoods*.

      This shows Brown is pre-judging "the historicity of the Matthean magi
      story" as unlikely before the evidence is even considered!

      DN>A star that rose in the east, appeared over Jerusalem, turned
      >south to Bethelehem, and then came to rest over a house

      This is simply wrong and it conflates together what the Matthew records
      in several-stages:

      1. The Magi (i.e. astrologers) living to the east of Jerusalem
      (presumably Babylon), see the star, and travel to Jerusalem:

      Mt 2:1-2 "After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea,
      during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to
      Jerusalem"

      Note that there is no mention in the text that "the star ... appeared over
      Jerusalem". This is a reading into the text what simply isn't there, and is
      almost *incredible* for a scholar of Brown's stature. It is evidence that
      Brown (like Barr), is blinded by his `gnostic' prejudices so that he "sees"
      what he *wants* to be there.

      The "star" could have been a planet (or planets), a comet or a supernova:

      "Attempts to identify the 'star' as a regular astronomical
      phenomenon have generally focused on three possibilities: 1. A
      planetary conjunction (of Saturn and Jupiter) in 7 BC. 2. A comet,
      usually Halley's, which unfortunately appeared too early, in 12/11
      BC. 3. A nova (a star which, owing to an explosion, appears
      temporarily with extraordinary brightness). But no known
      astronomical phenomena account for the movement of the star as
      described in v. 9, and this indicates that what Matthew describes is
      guidance by a miraculous occurrence, even if the initial interest of
      the Magi was aroused by a nova (or a planetary conjunction - or
      both!) ..." (France R.T., "Matthew: An Introduction and
      Commentary," InterVarsity Press: Leicester UK, 1985, p.82)

      which appeared in the sky at a point where the astrologers
      *interpreted* it as a sign that a king was to be born of the Jews (which
      is in fact what they actually say in the text-see below). A recent BBC
      documentary called "Son of God" made exactly this latter point.

      In that case the logical (and diplomatic-since they would probably have
      been important officials from where they came-witness their valuable
      gifts in Mt 2:11) place for them to start was the capital Jerusalem:

      "Magi. Probably astrologers, perhaps from Persia or southern
      Arabia, both of which are east of Palestine. Jerusalem Since they
      were looking for the "king of the Jews" (v. 2), naturally came to the
      Jewish capital city" (Barker K., ed., "The NIV Study Bible,"
      Zondervan: Grand Rapids MI, 1985, pp.1442-1444)

      2. The Magi make inquiries in Jerusalem (it does not say of who) but "all
      Jerusalem" (Mt 2:3) found out about it:

      Mt 2:1-3 "Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked,
      "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his
      star in the east and have come to worship him." When King Herod
      heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him."

      Note the past tense: "We *saw* his star" and below in v.7 "the star *had*
      appeared". There is no suggestion that the star is still there in the sky for
      everyone to simply go outside at night and see.

      Also, the word "star in the east" should read "star in its rising":

      "The Magi saw the star 'at its rising' (this is almost certainly the
      correct translation of en te anatole, which RSV renders in the East
      here and in v. 9; the noun anatole, 'rising', provides a verbal
      allusion to Nu. 24:17)." (France, 1985, p.82)

      so the star may not have first appeared in the east. This is relevant
      later when the star appears to move south from Jersusalem to Bethlehem.

      3. Herod, who was not a Jew (he was an Edomite) and therefore may
      have been hazy about the Hebrew Scriptures, consulted the Jewish
      religious leaders and theologians as to where a "king of the Jews"
      would be born:

      Mt 2:3-4 "When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and
      all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the
      people's chief priests and teachers of the law,

      4. They collectively (presumably after some consultation among
      themselves) answered him with the words of Micah 5:2:

      Mt 2:5-6 "In Bethlehem in Judea," they replied, "for this is
      what the prophet has written: "'But you, Bethlehem, in the
      land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of
      Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the
      shepherd of my people Israel.'"

      5. Then Herod consulted "secretly" with the Magi to find out "the
      exact time the star had appeared":

      Mt 2:7 "Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out
      from them the exact time the star had appeared."

      And it was up to "*two years*" before:

      Mt 2:16 "Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of
      the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew
      all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts
      thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time
      which he had diligently enquired of the wise men."

      6. Herod sent the Magi "to Bethlehem", *before* they saw the star
      again:

      Mt 2:8 "He sent them to Bethlehem and said, `Go and make a
      careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report
      to me, so that I too may go and worship him.'"

      But note that the text says that Herod *sent* them to Bethlehem. It
      does not say that Herod *told* them the Messiah was to be born in
      Bethlehem, since they almost certainly would have found that out

      7. Then, while the Maji were "on their way", "they saw the star" again.

      Mt 2:9-10 "After they had heard the king, they went on their
      way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them
      until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they
      saw the star, they were overjoyed."

      Note the "star they *had* seen in the east" and "*When" they saw the star,
      they were overjoyed" which indicates they had lost sight of the star and it
      had re-appeared.

      8. The "star ... went ahead of them" (Mt 2:9). Bethlehem is only five miles
      south of Jerusalem.

      9. The "star ... stopped over the place where the child was" (Mt 2:9).

      First of all, Christmas cards scenes and Sunday School stories
      notwithstanding, "the place" was not the "manger" in Lk 2:7! As already
      seen above, Jesus was up to two years old by now and Mt 2:11 says
      Joseph, Mary and Jesus were living in a "house" by this time:

      "2.11 house. Contrary to tradition, the Magi did not visit Jesus at
      the manger on the night of his birth as did the shepherds. They
      came some months later and visited him as a `child' in his `house.'"
      (Barker, 1985, pp.1442-1444)

      Second, the text does not actually say what this "place" was that the star
      stopped over. Mt 2:11 mentions a "house" but the "place" could have been
      a part of Bethlehem that the house was in or even outside it. One would
      have to be able to see the scene as it then was, with the star, the Magi and
      the house. It may be that the house was out on its own in the country
      outside Bethlehem and as the Magi travelled down the road to Bethlehem,
      the star appeared to be in a straight line with the house?

      10. The Magi come to the house, enter it (accompanied by Joseph?) and
      see "the child with his mother Mary":

      Mt 2:11 "On coming to the house, they saw the child with his
      mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they
      opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of
      incense and of myrrh."

      11. The Magi pay Jesus homage as befits a king and present Him with
      valuable gifts (Mt 2:11b). These gifts will come in handy later when the
      family needs to flee to Egypt.

      DN>would have constituted
      >a celestial phenomenon unparalleled in astronomical history; yet it
      >received no notice in the records of the times ....

      Not necessarily (see above). This is just making up difficulties that aren't
      even there (a sure sign of someone who doesn't *want* the story to be
      true).

      The text says that *only* the Magi saw the star, at least in the sense of
      appreciating its significance. There is no evidence that the Jews ever had
      any particular astronomical ability. A faint comet or even a supernova may
      not have been noticed by any except trained observers, and they may have
      only been in Babylon, Greece or Egypt. I have on my system somewhere a
      news article of how astronomers are puzzled about a supernova that
      occurred about 900 AD, and should have been easily visible to the naked
      eye, and yet there is no historical record of anyone noticing it.

      DN>In vs. 4 the birthplace of the Messiah seems to be
      >abstruse knowledge known only to theological specialists,

      This is a reading into the text what isn't there, in order to make difficulties
      where none exist. This reveals Brown's liberal `gnostic' prejudice that the
      story cannot be historical. Here again is what "vs. 4" actually says:

      Mt 2:4 "When he [Herod] had called together all the people's
      chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the
      Christ was to be born."

      The best that can be said is that the non-Jew *Herod* did not know "the
      birthplace of the Messiah". But even that doesn't follow. Herod may have
      known about Micah 5:2 but wanted to be sure. It was probably automatic
      for a king like him to summons advisers, even if it was just to confirm what
      he already believed.

      The fact is that the text indicates that these "chief priests and teachers of
      the law" *unanimously* replied:

      Mt 2:5 "In Bethlehem in Judea," they replied, "for this is what
      the prophet has written: ..."

      The idea that they all knew the prophecy that the Messiah was to be
      born in Bethlehem but no one else did is absurd on the face of it.
      The coming of the Messiah was *the* major issue to Jews of that day,
      and the prophecy in Micah 5:2 is not hard to find or "obscure".

      DN>while in John 7:42 the crowd
      >speaks as if everyone knows that the Messiah is to born in Jerusalem ...

      Indeed:

      Jn 7:42 "Does not the Scripture say that the Christ will come
      from David's family and from Bethlehem, the town where David
      lived?"

      which contradicts Brown's claim above. Brown is deliberately trying to
      create disharmony between the gospel texts where there is none.

      DN>[Herod's]
      >slaughter of all the male children beneath the age of two is not mentioned
      in
      >Josephus' detailed account of the horrors of Herod's reign.

      This is an argument from silence which would only work if it was known
      that Josephus recorded *every* atrocity by Herod. But even Brown does
      not claim that (note that he does not say "Josephus' detailed account of"
      *all* "the horrors of Herod's reign"), although that is presumably the
      *impression* he wants to create in undiscerning readers?

      The fact is that Bethlehem in those days was quite small and therefore the
      number of children two and under may not have been that many (even
      assuming that each soldier actually carried out his monstrous task to the
      letter, which itself is improbable):

      "The ruthlessness of Herod's later years, particularly where a
      potential rival was concerned, is well documented; the victims
      included three of his own sons (Josephus, Ant. xvi. 392-394;
      xvii. 182-187), as well as several large groups of actual or
      suspected conspirators (Ant. xvi. 393-394; xvii. 42-44, 167), in
      one case with their families (Ant. xv. 289-290). It is thus not
      improbable that his fear of a potential rival should lead him to
      kill a few babies in Bethlehem. (The number of boys under two
      if Bethlehem's population was about 1,000 - and AB [Anchor
      Bible], p. 19, estimates only 300 - would not be more than
      twenty.) It was a minor incident in a period full of atrocities,
      and the absence of clearly independent accounts in secular
      history is not surprising." (France R.T., "Matthew: An
      Introduction and Commentary," Inter-Varsity Press: Leicester
      UK, 1985, p.86)

      "2:16 kill all the boys ... two years old and under. The number
      killed has often been exaggerated as being in the thousands. In so
      small a village as Bethlehem, however (even with the surrounding
      area included) the number was probably not large -though the act,
      of course, was no less brutal." (Barker, 1985, p.1444)

      And Josephus does in fact omit some of Herod's atrocities and in fact
      may have a good reason for omitting this one because then he would
      have to explain why it happened:

      "Baffled in the hope of attaining his object through the Magi,
      the reckless tyrant sought to secure it by an indiscriminate
      slaughter of all the children in Bethlehem and its immediate
      neighborhood, from two years and under. True, considering the
      population of Bethlehem, their number could only have been
      small, probably twenty at most. But the deed was none the less
      atrocious ... The slaughter was entirely in accordance with the
      character and former measures of Herod. Nor do we wonder,
      that it remained unrecorded by Josephus, since on other
      occasions also he has omitted events which to us seem
      important. The murder of a few infants in an insignificant
      village might appear scarcely worth notice in a reign stained by
      so much bloodshed. Besides, he had, perhaps, a special motive
      for this silence. Josephus always carefully suppresses, so far as
      possible, all that refers to the Christ - probably not only in
      accordance with his own religious views, but because mention
      of a Christ might have been dangerous, certainly would have
      been inconvenient, in a work written by an intense self-seeker,
      mainly for readers in Rome." (Edersheim A., "The Life and
      Times of Jesus the Messiah," [1883], Hendrickson Publishers:
      Peabody, MA, Third Edition, 1993, reprint, Vol. I, pp.214-
      215).

      DN>b) *Irreconcilablilty with Luke*.

      There is *no* "irreconcilablilty" of Matthew "with Luke", except in the
      heads of those who *want* there to be "irreconcilability". Just because one
      account doesn't mention some aspects of Jesus' early life that the other
      does, and vice-versa, does not make them irreconcilable. In fact Matthew 2
      and Luke 2 are readily reconcilable, and that by carefully reading what their
      words *actually* say!

      DN>Although Luke 2 also has Jesus born at Bethelehem,

      "Luke 2" says that Joseph and Mary lived in Nazareth (see also Lk 1:26)
      but had returned to Bethlehem which was their ancestral home (Lk 2:1-3):

      Lk 2:4-7 "So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in
      Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he
      belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to
      register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and
      was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came
      for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn,
      a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger,
      because there there was no room for them in the inn."

      Matthew also records that "Jesus [was] born at Bethelehem":

      Mt 2:1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the
      time of King Herod ..."

      DN>there is no mention of an intervention by Herod,

      It sounds like Brown has been reading too many Christmas cards and/or
      remembering too many Sunday School stories! As pointed out above, the
      "intervention by Herod" in Mt 2 was up to *two years* after Jesus was
      born:

      "[Mt. 2:]10 "The reference to the child suggests that this may
      have been a considerable number of months after His birth. The
      Magi probably told Herod when they first saw the star, and his
      killing of the children under two years old (v.16) suggests that
      there was a fair period of time involved." (Nixon R.E.,
      "Matthew," in Guthrie D., et al. (eds.), "New Bible
      Commentary," [1970], Inter-Varsity Press: Leicester UK, Third
      Edition, 1987, p.819)

      "A Harmony of the Nativity Stories. The popular interpretation of
      the story of the wise men, bringing them hard on the heels of the
      shepherds, makes it impossible to harmonize Lk. and Mt. When we
      follow the clue of 2:16 and realize that Jesus was born anything
      from a year to two before their visit, there is not much difficulty."
      (Ellison H.L., "Matthew," in Bruce F.F., ed., "The International
      Bible Commentary," Marshall Pickering/Zondervan: Grand Rapids
      MI, Second Edition, 1986, p.1122)

      DN>of the coming of the magi, of a massacre, or of a flight to Egypt.

      See above. There is no reason why Luke should repeat what was
      already in Matthew's gospel.

      DN>Even the most determined harmonizer should be
      >foiled by the impossibility of reconciling

      Brown's liberal agenda is revealed in the above prejudicial language: "the
      most determined harmonizer" and "the impossibility of reconciling". The
      normal historian's approach is of assuming that independent witnesses to
      the same events are telling the truth from their perspective, and therefore
      "harmoniz[ing]" their different accounts is the correct way to obtain the
      full picture.

      But Brown just *assumes* that the gospel authors are liars, mythmakers,
      or deluded, and therefore he assumes "impossibility of reconciling". So
      someone like the ordinary Christian who assumes the gospel authors were
      telling the truth becomes in his inverted eyes a "determined harmonizer"
      when in fact it is Brown (and Don) who is "a determined" *non*-
      harmonizer"!

      DN>a journey of the family from Bethlehem to Egypt

      See above. The "journey of the family from Bethlehem to Egypt" was just
      after the Maji had "gone", i.e. about two years *after* the events of
      Jesus' birth recorded by Luke:

      Mt 2:13-15 "When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to
      Joseph in a dream. "Get up," he said, "take the child and his
      mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for
      Herod is going to search for the child to kill him." So he got
      up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for
      Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod."

      DN>with Luke's account of their taking the child to Jerusalem when he
      was forty
      >days old

      Again, there is no problem with this:

      Lk 2:21-24 "On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him,
      he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he
      had been conceived. When the time of their purification according
      to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took
      him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the
      Law of the Lord, "Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the
      Lord"), and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the
      Law of the Lord: "a pair of doves or two young pigeons."

      DN>and their going on from Jerusalem to Nazareth where they stayed.

      And there is no problem with this either:

      Lk 2:39 "When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by
      the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of
      Nazareth.

      Since they were living in a "house" (Mt 2:11) in (or around) Bethlehem up
      to two years later, it is evident that Joseph had, after returning to Nazareth,
      bought a house in Bethlehem and had moved back there. This is evident
      from Mt 2:22 where after they return from Egypt Joseph plans to go to
      "Judea" (where Bethlehem is), but when "he heard that Archelaus"
      (Herod's brutal son) "was reigning" there, Joseph moved back to Nazareth
      (Mt 2:22-23) instead.

      [continued]

      Steve

      --------------------------------------------------------------------------
      "We now recognize that what we call Gnosticism-the Christian side of the
      movement-was only one aspect of an extremely broad philosophical-
      spiritual current that swept across the ancient world. As a spiritual
      fashion, it may be likened to existentialism in the twentieth century;
      existentialism has inspired not only atheists and others who find religion
      absurd and who oppose Christianity; it has also been used within
      Christianity to develop a totally heretical understanding of Christ and the
      Gospel, especially by Rudolf Bultmann (1884-1976). .... The principle of
      evolution is another example of a spiritual presupposition that comes from
      outside the Christian context and that has been used to oppose Christianity,
      but that also has been adapted within more or less traditional schemes of
      Christian thought." (Brown H.O.J., "Heresies: The Image of Christ in the
      Mirror of Heresy and Orthodoxy from the Apostles to the Present",
      Doubleday & Co: Garden City, New York, 1984, p.44)
      Stephen E. Jones sejones@... http://members.iinet.net.au/~sejones
      Moderator: CreationEvolutionDesign@yahoogroups.com
      Group: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/CreationEvolutionDesign
      --------------------------------------------------------------------------
    • Donald Nield
      Dear Group: I start by numbering Steve s comments (40 of them in his double post)! ... Note how Steve disparages any Christian who does not adopt his very
      Message 2 of 2 , Dec 7, 2001
        Dear Group:
        I start by numbering Steve's comments (40 of them in his double post)!

        "Stephen E. Jones" wrote:

        > Group
        >
        > On Wed, 28 Nov 2001 10:58:53 +1300, Donald Nield wrote:
        >
        > (1)Don, who claims to be a "Christian":
        >
        > --------------------------------------------------------------------------
        > On Sat, 16 Jun 2001 14:29:57 +1200, Donald Nield wrote: [...]
        > >I am a lifetime Christian, and I have been a member of the Presbyterian
        > >Church of Aotearoa New Zealand (as it is now called) for forty years. [...]
        > --------------------------------------------------------------------------
        >
        > here continues his attacks against Christianity, in this case the
        > historicity of the accounts of Jesus' birth and early life in the
        > gospels of Matthew and Luke.
        >
        > Non-Christians will welcome Don's attacks as evidence, not that
        > Don's liberal `gnostic' version of Christianity is true, but that
        > Christianity itself is false.
        >
        > I here continue with my defence of historic Christianity against
        > Don's attacks. As it happened I covered some of this in a debate
        > against an atheist on the Calvin Reflector, so in one sense I
        > welcome the opportunity to revisit it here.
        >
        > In researching for that debate I found that Matthew and Luke's
        > accounts of Jesus' early life, when the text of each is *carefully*
        > read, dovetail together *perfectly* and the resulting complex whole
        > answers a question I once puzzled over: "how Jesus could be the
        > Messiah and yet have a normal childhood"?
        >
        > I will reveal this answer in the second part of this split message. I
        > don't expect that Don will be happy with this answer, because, as a
        > `Christian gnostic', he doesn't *want* the accounts to be historically
        > true.
        >
        > I am indebted to George Hunter for this `gnostic' insight, which
        > explains much that puzzled me when debating TE/DEs on the
        > Calvin Reflector.
        >
        > [...]
        >

        Note how Steve disparages any Christian who does not adopt his very narrow idea of
        what Christianty is.

        Christianity does not stand or fall on the historicity of this part of just one
        nativity account. Two other Gospel writers, Mark and John did not bother to mention
        Jesus's birth. Paul and the other writers of Epistles say nothing about the
        Nativity.

        >
        > >>>>Electronic Telegraph 06.09.01 ... Star of Bethlehem 'was two brilliant
        > >>>>meteors' ... THE Star of Bethlehem that led the wise men to the infant
        > >>>>Christ was two brilliant meteors following similar paths, according to
        > a
        > >>>>study by Sir Patrick Moore. ... In his book, The Star of Bethlehem ...
        > [he]
        > >>>>dismisses previous scientific explanations for the star as improbable.
        > ....
        > >>>>... he does allow for the possibility that the star was a message from
        > >>>>God and so "beyond science". ...
        > >>>>[...Why would "the possibility that the star was a
        > >>>>message from God" be "beyond science"? It was a singular event in
        > history,
        > >>>>and science deals with other singular events in history, e.g. the Big
        > Bang,
        > >>>>the origin of life, the origin of the Moon, etc. A Christian who was a
        > >>>>methodological naturalist would (presumably) agree that this really
        > was a
        > >>>>supernatural event which was detected in history. Yet they would be
        > forced
        > >>>>to either: 1) try to declare it off-limits to science (but why should
        > their
        > >>>>atheist colleagues take any notice of their demarcation); or 2)
        > naturalise it
        > >>>>by explain it away (but carried out consistently this would eviscerates
        > their
        > >>>>Christianity). This shows the inadequacy of methodological
        > naturalism, and
        > >>>>that methodological theism (aka theistic realism) would be more
        > >>>>comprehensive and hence scientifically preferable.]
        >
        > >>DN>Steve sees this as a test for methodological naturalism. I do not.
        >
        > >>SJ>Perhaps Don would tell us what he would regard "as a test for
        > >>methodological naturalism"?
        >
        > DN>Well, it would need some observable evidence.
        >
        > (2) What "observable evidence" *would* Don "regard `as a test for
        > methodological naturalism'"?

        Red herring.

        >
        >
        > DN>For the Star of Bethehem we do not have
        > >any evidence that can be verified today.
        >
        > (3)So what? There are a lot of things in science that are based on
        > "evidence that" *cannot* "be verified today". That *every* mutation in
        > the history of life was random with respect to adaptive improvement,
        > for example.

        Red herring.

        >
        >
        > >>DN>It is by no means certain that the phenomenon
        > >>>described in Matthew 2 is meant to be taken as literal history.
        >
        > >>SJ>So does Don regard the Star of Bethlehem "as literal
        > >>history", i.e. it *really* happened? ... If not, perhaps Don can tell
        > >>us why not?
        >
        > DN>I do not, for the reason that there are several things indicating
        > >that the account was not historical.
        >
        > (4)Disagree with Don. I agree with Hunter's thesis that it is `gnostic'
        > *philosophy* which leads Don to idealise and de-historicise the Bible:
        >
        > "The ancient Gnostics were also antihistorical. Whereas the
        > Bible presents a history of God's activity in the world, including
        > dates and historical figures, the Gnostics believed that God's
        > revelation was not open but secret-revealed from within rather
        > than in public documents such as Scripture. Furthermore,
        > whereas the Bible says that the heavens declare the glory of
        > God, the Gnostics believed that one should not look for signs
        > of God in nature. In Darwin's day, a parallel view developed
        > that urged the separation of religion and science; this view
        > remains strong today." (Hunter C.G., "Darwin's God Evolution
        > and the Problem of Evil," Brazos Press: Grand Rapids MI, 2001,
        > p.129)
        >
        > "To a large extent, the statements made in the Bible are historical in
        > nature. It tells individuals what they must do to be saved, but it
        > does not answer complex cosmological problems in any detail,
        > other than to state the doctrine of the Creation as a historic event.
        > This was very unsatisfying to countless inquiring minds. The
        > sweeping panorama of the gnostics' visions was more fascinating
        > and satisfying, rather like the modern book and television series by
        > Carl Sagan, Cosmos-although both visions, that of the gnostics and
        > of Sagan, are more imaginative than scientific." (Brown H.O.J.,
        > "Heresies: The Image of Christ in the Mirror of Heresy and
        > Orthodoxy from the Apostles to the Present", Doubleday & Co:
        > Garden City, New York, 1984, p.45)

        This also is a red herring.

        >
        >
        > DN>Since Steve likes quotes, I shall quote from the detailed account
        > >of this matter by the eminent Roman Catholic scholar Raymond E.
        > Brown,
        > >"The Birth of the Messiah", Geoffrey Chapman, London, 1977, pages
        > 188-190.
        >
        > (5)The late "Raymond E. Brown" was a "Professor ... of Biblical Studies at
        > Union Theological Seminary":
        >
        > --------------------------------------------------------------------------
        > http://www.americancatholic.org/News/RayBrown/default.asp
        > Raymond E. Brown, Biblical Scholar, Dies Father Raymond E.
        > Brown, S.S., a member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission and
        > one of America's preeminent biblical scholars, died after a heart
        > attack on Saturday, August 8, 1998. ... Brown, a Sulpician priest,
        > was Auburn Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Biblical Studies at
        > Union Theological Seminary, New York. He was twice appointed a
        > member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, by Pope Paul VI in
        > 1972 and by Pope John Paul II in 1996. He wrote extensively on
        > the Bible. ....
        > --------------------------------------------------------------------------
        >
        > which is probably the leading liberal theological seminary in the USA.
        > So I would be *very* cautious in accepting what he said as `gospel'!
        >
        > I read some web pages about Brown, and the liberals seem to be saying
        > that from their perspective he was a "moderate traditionalist" (e.g.
        > http://www.nytimes.com/books/97/12/21/reviews/971221.21saladrt.html).
        > I take this as meaning that from my conservative evangelical perspective
        > Brown was a moderate liberal.
        >
        > However, some Catholic writers claimed that Brown was in fact a
        > more extreme "liberal" who only *appeared* to be moderate:
        >
        > --------------------------------------------------------------------------
        > http://www.catholic.net/rcc/Periodicals/HPR/March%202000/letters.html
        > ... I suspect that the harm which Raymond Brown has unwittingly done to
        > the Church and to souls has been more grievous than that done by
        > theologians more outspokenly liberal than Brown himself, precisely
        > because the "moderation" and "nuances"with which he sugar-coated his
        > pernicious doctrinal principles made his work seem responsible and
        > orthodox to many high-ranking bishops and cardinals who would never
        > have been swayed by the more blatant (although perhaps more logically
        > consistent) biblical skepticism of those such as K?ng, Boff, Schillebeeckx,
        > Knitter, or Drewermann." ...
        >
        > http://www.catholic.net/rcc/Periodicals/Faith/JAN-FEB99/Letters.html ... I
        > also write to you on the article in your latest issue on "Raymond Brown
        > and the Magnificat" by Thomas W. Case. .... Like a Bible Fundamentalist
        > he tells the reader to simply read the texts from Luke and I Samuel and all
        > will be clear. ... Raymond Brown enriched us immensely at the biblical
        > and pastoral level through his writings. Unfortunately, your readers are
        > going to see him as a liberal biblical scholar not to be trusted and shunned
        > by all `true' believers. ... Mr. Case responds: The arguments Raymond E.
        > Brown makes in his Birth of the Messiah do not depend on his, or his
        > readers', knowledge of the ancient Near Eastern languages .... My own
        > background includes years of graduate work in philosophy, with attention
        > to the structure of arguments. I should have cited one eminently qualified
        > biblical scholar who opposes Brown's skepticism: Rene Laurentin,
        > specifically his book The Truth of Christmas (1986).
        >
        > http://www.catholic.net/rcc/Periodicals/HPR/March%202000/letters.html
        > ... Like countless other post-Enlightenment exegetes of all denominations,
        > Brown had become convinced by his own brand of historical-critical
        > "science" that the Biblical writers sometimes make mistaken affirmations,
        > and that parts of the Gospels very probably belong to certain less-than-
        > historical literary genres. But since, by all accounts, he was also strongly
        > motivated to remain a loyal Catholic as well as a "critical" exegete, Brown
        > seems to have been unable to resist the temptation to indulge in
        > "concordism," i.e., to translate and read the pertinent magisterial
        > documents with a strong liberal bias, so as to harmonize them at all costs
        > with his own "scientific findings." Unfortunately, the Catholic Biblical
        > "establishment" since Vatican II has generally followed him in this.
        > --------------------------------------------------------------------------
        >
        > >From what Brown says in the quote by Don below, I assume he was a full-
        > blown liberal, with gnostic tendencies.

        Note how Steve's first move is to try and classify an opponent as a liberal, so he
        than then discount his opponent's agruments.
        The fact remains that Brown was appointed to a Pontifical Biblical Commission by
        two separate Popes, which shows his standing among mainline Catholics.

        >
        >
        > DN>"The simplest explanation of the pre-Matthean background of the
        > magi story is that it
        > >is factual history passed down from the time of Jesus's birth in family
        > circles....
        >
        > (6)Agreed. Apart from Jesus himself, Jesus' mother Mary, and his brothers
        > James and Jude (and possibly other brothers and sisters) were all part of
        > the original extended group of disciples. I assume that Matthew, as one of
        > the original disciples, obtained this "preMatthean background" from Jesus
        > Himself, and/or from Mary or James.

        Note Steve's assumption.

        >
        >
        > DN>I refuse to dismiss such an explanation simply on the grounds
        > >that the events are supernatural; for a presupposition that
        > >miracles are impossible is unscientific.
        >
        > (7)Agreed. So far so good!

        OK

        >
        >
        > DN>Nevertheless, even without such a prejudice, those who wish
        > >the maintain the historicity of the Matthean magi story are faced
        > >with nigh insuperable obstacles.
        >
        > (8)Disagree. As we shall see, there are *no* "insuperable obstacles" at all.
        > The only "insuperable obstacles" are inside liberals' heads, i.e. their
        > `gnostic' *philosophy* which predisposes them to see what they *want*
        > to see, even when it isn't even there.
        >
        > They key words above are "those who wish t[o] maintain the historicity of
        > the Matthean magi story" which is a Freudian slip that Brown (and Don)
        > don't!

        No Freudian slip. Presumption by Steve.

        >
        >
        > DN>a) *Intrinsic unlikelihoods*.
        >
        > (9)This shows Brown is pre-judging "the historicity of the Matthean magi
        > story" as unlikely before the evidence is even considered!

        No. Brown would have judged the evidence before he wrote this section of his book.

        >
        >
        > DN>A star that rose in the east, appeared over Jerusalem, turned
        > >south to Bethelehem, and then came to rest over a house
        >
        > (10)This is simply wrong and it conflates together what the Matthew records
        > in several-stages:
        >
        > 1. The Magi (i.e. astrologers) living to the east of Jerusalem
        > (presumably Babylon), see the star, and travel to Jerusalem:
        >
        > Mt 2:1-2 "After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea,
        > during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to
        > Jerusalem"
        >
        > Note that there is no mention in the text that "the star ... appeared over
        > Jerusalem". This is a reading into the text what simply isn't there, and is
        > almost *incredible* for a scholar of Brown's stature. It is evidence that
        > Brown (like Barr), is blinded by his `gnostic' prejudices so that he "sees"
        > what he *wants* to be there.
        >
        > The "star" could have been a planet (or planets), a comet or a supernova:
        >
        > "Attempts to identify the 'star' as a regular astronomical
        > phenomenon have generally focused on three possibilities: 1. A
        > planetary conjunction (of Saturn and Jupiter) in 7 BC. 2. A comet,
        > usually Halley's, which unfortunately appeared too early, in 12/11
        > BC. 3. A nova (a star which, owing to an explosion, appears
        > temporarily with extraordinary brightness). But no known
        > astronomical phenomena account for the movement of the star as
        > described in v. 9, and this indicates that what Matthew describes is
        > guidance by a miraculous occurrence, even if the initial interest of
        > the Magi was aroused by a nova (or a planetary conjunction - or
        > both!) ..." (France R.T., "Matthew: An Introduction and
        > Commentary," InterVarsity Press: Leicester UK, 1985, p.82)
        >
        > which appeared in the sky at a point where the astrologers
        > *interpreted* it as a sign that a king was to be born of the Jews (which
        > is in fact what they actually say in the text-see below). A recent BBC
        > documentary called "Son of God" made exactly this latter point.
        >
        > In that case the logical (and diplomatic-since they would probably have
        > been important officials from where they came-witness their valuable
        > gifts in Mt 2:11) place for them to start was the capital Jerusalem:
        >
        > "Magi. Probably astrologers, perhaps from Persia or southern
        > Arabia, both of which are east of Palestine. Jerusalem Since they
        > were looking for the "king of the Jews" (v. 2), naturally came to the
        > Jewish capital city" (Barker K., ed., "The NIV Study Bible,"
        > Zondervan: Grand Rapids MI, 1985, pp.1442-1444)
        >
        > 2. The Magi make inquiries in Jerusalem (it does not say of who) but "all
        > Jerusalem" (Mt 2:3) found out about it:
        >
        > Mt 2:1-3 "Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked,
        > "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his
        > star in the east and have come to worship him." When King Herod
        > heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him."
        >
        > Note the past tense: "We *saw* his star" and below in v.7 "the star *had*
        > appeared". There is no suggestion that the star is still there in the sky for
        > everyone to simply go outside at night and see.
        >
        > Also, the word "star in the east" should read "star in its rising":
        >
        > "The Magi saw the star 'at its rising' (this is almost certainly the
        > correct translation of en te anatole, which RSV renders in the East
        > here and in v. 9; the noun anatole, 'rising', provides a verbal
        > allusion to Nu. 24:17)." (France, 1985, p.82)
        >
        > so the star may not have first appeared in the east. This is relevant
        > later when the star appears to move south from Jersusalem to Bethlehem.
        >
        > 3. Herod, who was not a Jew (he was an Edomite) and therefore may
        > have been hazy about the Hebrew Scriptures, consulted the Jewish
        > religious leaders and theologians as to where a "king of the Jews"
        > would be born:
        >
        > Mt 2:3-4 "When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and
        > all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the
        > people's chief priests and teachers of the law,
        >
        > 4. They collectively (presumably after some consultation among
        > themselves) answered him with the words of Micah 5:2:
        >
        > Mt 2:5-6 "In Bethlehem in Judea," they replied, "for this is
        > what the prophet has written: "'But you, Bethlehem, in the
        > land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of
        > Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the
        > shepherd of my people Israel.'"
        >
        > 5. Then Herod consulted "secretly" with the Magi to find out "the
        > exact time the star had appeared":
        >
        > Mt 2:7 "Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out
        > from them the exact time the star had appeared."
        >
        > And it was up to "*two years*" before:
        >
        > Mt 2:16 "Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of
        > the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew
        > all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts
        > thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time
        > which he had diligently enquired of the wise men."
        >
        > 6. Herod sent the Magi "to Bethlehem", *before* they saw the star
        > again:
        >
        > Mt 2:8 "He sent them to Bethlehem and said, `Go and make a
        > careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report
        > to me, so that I too may go and worship him.'"
        >
        > But note that the text says that Herod *sent* them to Bethlehem. It
        > does not say that Herod *told* them the Messiah was to be born in
        > Bethlehem, since they almost certainly would have found that out
        >
        > 7. Then, while the Maji were "on their way", "they saw the star" again.
        >
        > Mt 2:9-10 "After they had heard the king, they went on their
        > way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them
        > until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they
        > saw the star, they were overjoyed."
        >
        > Note the "star they *had* seen in the east" and "*When" they saw the star,
        > they were overjoyed" which indicates they had lost sight of the star and it
        > had re-appeared.
        >
        > 8. The "star ... went ahead of them" (Mt 2:9). Bethlehem is only five miles
        > south of Jerusalem.
        >
        > 9. The "star ... stopped over the place where the child was" (Mt 2:9).
        >
        > First of all, Christmas cards scenes and Sunday School stories
        > notwithstanding, "the place" was not the "manger" in Lk 2:7! As already
        > seen above, Jesus was up to two years old by now and Mt 2:11 says
        > Joseph, Mary and Jesus were living in a "house" by this time:
        >
        > "2.11 house. Contrary to tradition, the Magi did not visit Jesus at
        > the manger on the night of his birth as did the shepherds. They
        > came some months later and visited him as a `child' in his `house.'"
        > (Barker, 1985, pp.1442-1444)
        >
        > Second, the text does not actually say what this "place" was that the star
        > stopped over. Mt 2:11 mentions a "house" but the "place" could have been
        > a part of Bethlehem that the house was in or even outside it. One would
        > have to be able to see the scene as it then was, with the star, the Magi and
        > the house. It may be that the house was out on its own in the country
        > outside Bethlehem and as the Magi travelled down the road to Bethlehem,
        > the star appeared to be in a straight line with the house?
        >
        > 10. The Magi come to the house, enter it (accompanied by Joseph?) and
        > see "the child with his mother Mary":
        >
        > Mt 2:11 "On coming to the house, they saw the child with his
        > mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they
        > opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of
        > incense and of myrrh."
        >
        > 11. The Magi pay Jesus homage as befits a king and present Him with
        > valuable gifts (Mt 2:11b). These gifts will come in handy later when the
        > family needs to flee to Egypt.
        >

        Steve has not explained how the star stopped over the place where the child was.

        >
        > DN>would have constituted
        > >a celestial phenomenon unparalleled in astronomical history; yet it
        > >received no notice in the records of the times ....
        >
        > (11).Not necessarily (see above). This is just making up difficulties that aren't
        >
        > even there (a sure sign of someone who doesn't *want* the story to be
        > true).
        >
        > The text says that *only* the Magi saw the star, at least in the sense of
        > appreciating its significance. There is no evidence that the Jews ever had
        > any particular astronomical ability. A faint comet or even a supernova may
        > not have been noticed by any except trained observers, and they may have
        > only been in Babylon, Greece or Egypt. I have on my system somewhere a
        > news article of how astronomers are puzzled about a supernova that
        > occurred about 900 AD, and should have been easily visible to the naked
        > eye, and yet there is no historical record of anyone noticing it.

        For the Magi, this was a very prominent star.

        >
        >
        > DN>In vs. 4 the birthplace of the Messiah seems to be
        > >abstruse knowledge known only to theological specialists,
        >
        > (12)This is a reading into the text what isn't there, in order to make
        > difficulties
        > where none exist. This reveals Brown's liberal `gnostic' prejudice that the
        > story cannot be historical. Here again is what "vs. 4" actually says:
        >
        > Mt 2:4 "When he [Herod] had called together all the people's
        > chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the
        > Christ was to be born."
        >
        > The best that can be said is that the non-Jew *Herod* did not know "the
        > birthplace of the Messiah". But even that doesn't follow. Herod may have
        > known about Micah 5:2 but wanted to be sure. It was probably automatic
        > for a king like him to summons advisers, even if it was just to confirm what
        > he already believed.
        >
        > The fact is that the text indicates that these "chief priests and teachers of
        > the law" *unanimously* replied:
        >
        > Mt 2:5 "In Bethlehem in Judea," they replied, "for this is what
        > the prophet has written: ..."
        >
        > The idea that they all knew the prophecy that the Messiah was to be
        > born in Bethlehem but no one else did is absurd on the face of it.
        > The coming of the Messiah was *the* major issue to Jews of that day,
        > and the prophecy in Micah 5:2 is not hard to find or "obscure".

        The fact remains that Herod had to to a lot of trouble to find thiz out.

        >
        >
        > DN>while in John 7:42 the crowd
        > >speaks as if everyone knows that the Messiah is to born in Jerusalem ...
        >
        > (13) Indeed:
        >
        > Jn 7:42 "Does not the Scripture say that the Christ will come
        > from David's family and from Bethlehem, the town where David
        > lived?"
        >
        > which contradicts Brown's claim above. Brown is deliberately trying to
        > create disharmony between the gospel texts where there is none.

        No. He is just observing the disharmony.

        >
        >
        > DN>[Herod's]
        > >slaughter of all the male children beneath the age of two is not mentioned
        > in
        > >Josephus' detailed account of the horrors of Herod's reign.
        >
        > (14) This is an argument from silence which would only work if it was known
        > that Josephus recorded *every* atrocity by Herod. But even Brown does
        > not claim that (note that he does not say "Josephus' detailed account of"
        > *all* "the horrors of Herod's reign"), although that is presumably the
        > *impression* he wants to create in undiscerning readers?
        >
        > The fact is that Bethlehem in those days was quite small and therefore the
        > number of children two and under may not have been that many (even
        > assuming that each soldier actually carried out his monstrous task to the
        > letter, which itself is improbable):
        >
        > "The ruthlessness of Herod's later years, particularly where a
        > potential rival was concerned, is well documented; the victims
        > included three of his own sons (Josephus, Ant. xvi. 392-394;
        > xvii. 182-187), as well as several large groups of actual or
        > suspected conspirators (Ant. xvi. 393-394; xvii. 42-44, 167), in
        > one case with their families (Ant. xv. 289-290). It is thus not
        > improbable that his fear of a potential rival should lead him to
        > kill a few babies in Bethlehem. (The number of boys under two
        > if Bethlehem's population was about 1,000 - and AB [Anchor
        > Bible], p. 19, estimates only 300 - would not be more than
        > twenty.) It was a minor incident in a period full of atrocities,
        > and the absence of clearly independent accounts in secular
        > history is not surprising." (France R.T., "Matthew: An
        > Introduction and Commentary," Inter-Varsity Press: Leicester
        > UK, 1985, p.86)
        >
        > "2:16 kill all the boys ... two years old and under. The number
        > killed has often been exaggerated as being in the thousands. In so
        > small a village as Bethlehem, however (even with the surrounding
        > area included) the number was probably not large -though the act,
        > of course, was no less brutal." (Barker, 1985, p.1444)
        >
        > And Josephus does in fact omit some of Herod's atrocities and in fact
        > may have a good reason for omitting this one because then he would
        > have to explain why it happened:
        >
        > "Baffled in the hope of attaining his object through the Magi,
        > the reckless tyrant sought to secure it by an indiscriminate
        > slaughter of all the children in Bethlehem and its immediate
        > neighborhood, from two years and under. True, considering the
        > population of Bethlehem, their number could only have been
        > small, probably twenty at most. But the deed was none the less
        > atrocious ... The slaughter was entirely in accordance with the
        > character and former measures of Herod. Nor do we wonder,
        > that it remained unrecorded by Josephus, since on other
        > occasions also he has omitted events which to us seem
        > important. The murder of a few infants in an insignificant
        > village might appear scarcely worth notice in a reign stained by
        > so much bloodshed. Besides, he had, perhaps, a special motive
        > for this silence. Josephus always carefully suppresses, so far as
        > possible, all that refers to the Christ - probably not only in
        > accordance with his own religious views, but because mention
        > of a Christ might have been dangerous, certainly would have
        > been inconvenient, in a work written by an intense self-seeker,
        > mainly for readers in Rome." (Edersheim A., "The Life and
        > Times of Jesus the Messiah," [1883], Hendrickson Publishers:
        > Peabody, MA, Third Edition, 1993, reprint, Vol. I, pp.214-
        > 215).

        An arbitrary killing of young childen, even as few as twenty, is a significant
        atrocity.

        >
        >
        > DN>b) *Irreconcilablilty with Luke*.
        >
        > (15) There is *no* "irreconcilablilty" of Matthew "with Luke", except in the
        > heads of those who *want* there to be "irreconcilability". Just because one
        > account doesn't mention some aspects of Jesus' early life that the other
        > does, and vice-versa, does not make them irreconcilable. In fact Matthew 2
        > and Luke 2 are readily reconcilable, and that by carefully reading what their
        > words *actually* say!

        See 22.

        >
        >
        > DN>Although Luke 2 also has Jesus born at Bethelehem,
        >
        > (16) "Luke 2" says that Joseph and Mary lived in Nazareth (see also Lk 1:26)
        > but had returned to Bethlehem which was their ancestral home (Lk 2:1-3):
        >
        > Lk 2:4-7 "So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in
        > Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he
        > belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to
        > register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and
        > was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came
        > for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn,
        > a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger,
        > because there there was no room for them in the inn."
        >
        > Matthew also records that "Jesus [was] born at Bethelehem":
        >
        > Mt 2:1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the
        > time of King Herod ..."

        See 22

        >
        >
        > DN>there is no mention of an intervention by Herod,
        >
        > (17) It sounds like Brown has been reading too many Christmas cards and/or
        > remembering too many Sunday School stories! As pointed out above, the
        > "intervention by Herod" in Mt 2 was up to *two years* after Jesus was
        > born:
        >
        > "[Mt. 2:]10 "The reference to the child suggests that this may
        > have been a considerable number of months after His birth. The
        > Magi probably told Herod when they first saw the star, and his
        > killing of the children under two years old (v.16) suggests that
        > there was a fair period of time involved." (Nixon R.E.,
        > "Matthew," in Guthrie D., et al. (eds.), "New Bible
        > Commentary," [1970], Inter-Varsity Press: Leicester UK, Third
        > Edition, 1987, p.819)
        >
        > "A Harmony of the Nativity Stories. The popular interpretation of
        > the story of the wise men, bringing them hard on the heels of the
        > shepherds, makes it impossible to harmonize Lk. and Mt. When we
        > follow the clue of 2:16 and realize that Jesus was born anything
        > from a year to two before their visit, there is not much difficulty."
        > (Ellison H.L., "Matthew," in Bruce F.F., ed., "The International
        > Bible Commentary," Marshall Pickering/Zondervan: Grand Rapids
        > MI, Second Edition, 1986, p.1122)

        See 22

        >
        >
        > DN>of the coming of the magi, of a massacre, or of a flight to Egypt.
        >
        > (18) See above. There is no reason why Luke should repeat what was
        > already in Matthew's gospel.

        See 22.

        >
        >
        > DN>Even the most determined harmonizer should be
        > >foiled by the impossibility of reconciling
        >
        > (19) Brown's liberal agenda is revealed in the above prejudicial language: "the
        > most determined harmonizer" and "the impossibility of reconciling". The
        > normal historian's approach is of assuming that independent witnesses to
        > the same events are telling the truth from their perspective, and therefore
        > "harmoniz[ing]" their different accounts is the correct way to obtain the
        > full picture.
        >
        > But Brown just *assumes* that the gospel authors are liars, mythmakers,
        > or deluded, and therefore he assumes "impossibility of reconciling". So
        > someone like the ordinary Christian who assumes the gospel authors were
        > telling the truth becomes in his inverted eyes a "determined harmonizer"
        > when in fact it is Brown (and Don) who is "a determined" *non*-
        > harmonizer"!

        No. Brown made a judgement of the difficulty of harmonization.

        >
        >
        > DN>a journey of the family from Bethlehem to Egypt
        >
        > (20)See above. The "journey of the family from Bethlehem to Egypt" was just
        > after the Maji had "gone", i.e. about two years *after* the events of
        > Jesus' birth recorded by Luke:
        >
        > Mt 2:13-15 "When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to
        > Joseph in a dream. "Get up," he said, "take the child and his
        > mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for
        > Herod is going to search for the child to kill him." So he got
        > up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for
        > Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod."

        See 22.

        >
        >
        > DN>with Luke's account of their taking the child to Jerusalem when he
        > was forty
        > >days old
        >
        > (21)Again, there is no problem with this:
        >
        > Lk 2:21-24 "On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him,
        > he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he
        > had been conceived. When the time of their purification according
        > to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took
        > him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the
        > Law of the Lord, "Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the
        > Lord"), and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the
        > Law of the Lord: "a pair of doves or two young pigeons."
        >
        > DN>and their going on from Jerusalem to Nazareth where they stayed.
        >
        > (22) And there is no problem with this either:
        >
        > Lk 2:39 "When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by
        > the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of
        > Nazareth.
        >
        > Since they were living in a "house" (Mt 2:11) in (or around) Bethlehem up
        > to two years later, it is evident that Joseph had, after returning to Nazareth,
        > bought a house in Bethlehem and had moved back there. This is evident
        > from Mt 2:22 where after they return from Egypt Joseph plans to go to
        > "Judea" (where Bethlehem is), but when "he heard that Archelaus"
        > (Herod's brutal son) "was reigning" there, Joseph moved back to Nazareth
        > (Mt 2:22-23) instead.
        >
        > [continued]

        Note the convolutions that Steve has to make in order to achieve harmonization.
        See part 2.

        Don
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