THE NATIVITY STORY
The Nativity In The New Testament
**The following was contributed by William J. Fulco, S.J., Ph.D. and NEH Chair in Ancient Mediterranean Studies for Loyola Marymount University's Department of Classics and Archaeology
There are two stories of Jesus' birth in the New Testament, one in the Gospel of Matthew and one in the Gospel of Luke. Most scholars agree that both Gospels were written shortly after 70 AD, about 40 years after Jesus' death. The two versions are not completely compatible. Although interest in the early life of Jesus was probably intense in the early Christian church, it is clear that very little was known about the events of those first years, so the stories were developed using what is called midrash, a sometimes creative reconstruction of events based on what is actually known elaborated from clues taken from the prophets or other sacred writings.
Matthew's infancy narrative includes a genealogy of Jesus intended to show his lineage from Abraham through David, Joseph's predicament in finding Mary, his espoused, pregnant with a child he has not fathered and the resolution of his confusion through a dream, Jesus' birth in Bethlehem, the visit of the Magi with Herod's subsequent "slaughter of the innocentsâ€ť and the holy family's flight into Egypt to escape.
Luke's narrative is more elaborate and includes the birth of John the Baptist to Elizabeth, Mary's cousin, and Zacharia. His version opens with the promise of the Baptist's birth, a special gift because hitherto his mother Elizabeth had been barren, and then moves to the parallel situation with Mary. The Angel Gabriel announces to her that she will conceive miraculously of the Holy Spirit. The two stories are brought together in Mary's visit to Elizabeth, which is the occasion for Mary's proclaiming her famous Magnificat.
Luke also places the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, but puts it in the context of Roman census that requires his parents to register in the place of Joseph's original home. Where Matthew has the Magi coming to the infant Jesus to stress that he is to be the Savior for all peoples and nations, Luke characteristically has the infant, born in humble circumstances in a stable, visited by simple shepherds, emphasizing that Jesus is also for the poor and lowly.
The Gospels of Mark and John do not have infancy narratives, both beginning with Jesus' public life. Aside from the stories in Matthew and Luke, Jesus' infancy is nowhere else alluded to in the New Testament, although it is a favorite topic in the so-called apocryphal or non-canonical gospels.
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