This podcast episode examines the Christmas story as it traditionally gets told—but what do the scriptures actually say and not say about the birth of Christ and all the pieces of this familiar story? How do the Matthew and Luke accounts differ—even irreconcilably? What motives are behind the Gospel writers’ decisions to shape the stories the way they do? What about the Jesus’s place of birth and the reason the family was in Bethlehem (if they were)? Was there a great tax and registration? What about “no room at the inn,” the manger, the star, the magi, the story of Herod killing all male infants under two years old? How did Christmas come to be held on December 25th?
In this episode, Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon and panelists Kristine Haglund, Jared Anderson, and Zina Petersen explore all these questions plus lead a fascinating tour into other parts of the Christmas story. Why are only five women mentioned in the Gospels’ presentations of Jesus’s lineage—and why are the ones listed all women with “questionable” sexual pasts? What are the Twelve Days of Christmas? What is the “Immaculate Conception” and how does it affect theology about Mary and ideas about the Eucharist and other religious devotions? How has pagan history and ideas folded into the history of “Christmas” (not Jesus’s birth but the celebration of it)? The panel discusses solstices and equinoxes, meshings of calendaring systems, the link between carnivals and holy days, shepherds’ presents to the Christ child, and even a longstanding tradition of “ghost story” tie-ins with Christmas that Charles Dickens resurrected. Why was there a period of time in which Christmas was illegal? And much more!
Perhaps most important, however, is the discussion of how and why the panelists and many other Christians throughout history, knowing all that they know about what likely is and is not factual about traditional accounts, still celebrate Christmas, joyfully sing carols alongside those for whom the stories are less complicated, and experience this season as spiritually enriching.
This is an episode not to be missed! Please join in the conversation below!
Some links of possible interest:
Sunstone magazine article by Stephen E. Thompson, “Away in a Manger,” exploring the differences between Matthew’s and Luke’s accounts, and giving a possible constructive framing of how to view these stories as still worth celebrating. (Mentioned by Dan a few times during the podcast.)
Kevin Barney blogpost at By Common Consent that outlines major considerations in the “when was Christ born?” line of inquiry. (Also mentioned by Dan during the podcast.)
Wow, but you left out my favorite myth. Samuel the Laminate was one of the Wise Guys. He have
time 5 years, knew about the Star and there was plenty of gold around. Plus he went to Jerusalem first
not Bethlehem because he had the Book of Alma (7:10) with him.
How could we have forgotten that one! Wow, we better throw out this first attempt and re-record to be sure to give it proper attention!
Seriously, however, we did consider adding into the conversation complications to the Christmas story and moves to render it primarily mythical rather than factual that come up when one folds in certain statements and claims in LDS discourse and scripture. We decided it was just a bit too much to cover–the episode ended up 2.5 hours as it was!–but if people are interested, I am open to having a discussion about such things in this comment section.
This was totally The Best podcast and I have listened to practically every one of them. I loved it, loved it, loved it. Tears flowing at the end of it. I don’t know that others will experience it in like manner. It gave me such comfort, such an ability to relax and let it just be. Gave me so much needed permission to embrace multitude of beliefs simultaneously without one being more elevated over another. The podcast content was near perfect for me, and perhaps very timely for me personally in this space in my life. Thank you for creating it. I just loved what every panelist shared, a review of information I dd know with a large sprinkling of new information that seated so many pieces of my puzzle…..and well….just Hallelujah and Amen!
Holy deconstruction of the Nativity story! As a one time collector of many different kinds of nativity sets, I am thinking I will never look at them the same again. (:
Why is it that the older I get, the less I feel I “know” about anything? Any one else feel this way?
“It matters that we are sitting next to each other singing”…that IS what matters, I Love that message!
I think despite it all I will shout “Hallelujah” a little louder this year too, and experience the reverence of this Christmas Season in a new, and possibly more meaningful way.
Thank you all For a fascinating few hours!!
Lietta and Jeralee, Thank you for writing in! Such an interesting thing to deconstruct but somehow still know it’s all in the service of something greater. Glad this podcast has been a positive to both of you. With you, thanks to all I learned during this conversation as well, I’m also looking forward to an even richer season, and as Jeralee shares, even more hearty hallelujahs. Merry Christmas to both of you and everyone else!
Jared started to talk about the April 6 birthdate of Jesus in Mormonism but Dan sorta dismissed this as a “weird hobbist thing in Mormonism”. But I think it’s a legitimate point that mormons generally believe Christ was born in the spring and April 6 is a much accepted date. I bet if you survey a Sunday school class the vast majority have heard this and would probably agree with the April 6 date. In fact in my gospel doctrine class, we discussed the Dec 25 date and most the class said “oh no” he was born in the spring, on April 6. For the record here are the statements that have led Mormons to believe in the April 6 dating.
– Ensign, Jan. 1994 Passover—Was It Symbolic of His Coming? Birth: Thursday, 6 April 1 B.C. Since the organization of the Church on 6 April 1830, members have been informed that Jesus was born on 6 April 1 B.C.This was a very influential article as it attempts to prove astronomically that April 6 is correct.
– On 6 April 1973, President Harold B. Lee noted that that day was “the anniversary of the birth of the Savior” and then quoted Doctrine and Covenants 20:1 as a reference. (Ensign, July 1973, p. 2.) Then on 6 April 1980, President Spencer W. Kimball stated that Jesus was born on “this day 1,980 years ago.” (Ensign, May 1980, p. 54.)While these statements may not have been intended as declarations of doctrine, they do add to the impression that the literal interpretation of Doctrine and Covenants 20:1 is generally accepted in the Church, favoring the acceptance of 6 April 1 B.C. as the Savior’s birthdate
– Elder Bruce R. McConkie, “Apparently Christ was born on the day corresponding to April 6 (D&C 20:1) Mormon Doctrine, 2d ed. (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966), pp. 132–33
– B.H. Roberts said, I believe that this [D&C 20:1] – better than any other authority, fixes the time of the birth, or the ‘coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in the flesh;’ and that, as to the year at least, agrees with the Dionysian computation. It must be remembered that this revelation in Section twenty of the Doctrine and Covenants was given before the Church was organized—at sundry times between the first and the sixth of April—and that the prophet was instructed to organize the Church on the sixth day of April, 1830, hence it was not mere chance that determined the day on which that organization took place…. (Roberts, 1893, 17.)
– James Talmage said, As to the season of the year in which Christ was born, there is among the learned as great a diversity of opinion as that relating to the year itself. It is claimed by many Biblical scholars that December 25th, the day celebrated in Christendom as Christmas, cannot be the correct date. We believe April 6th to be the birthday of Jesus Christ as indicated in a revelation of the present dispensation already cited [D&C 20:1], in which that day is made without qualification the completion of the one thousand eight hundred and thirtieth year since the coming of the Lord in the flesh. This acceptance is admittedly based on faith in modern revelation, and in no wise is set forth as the result of chronological research or analysis. We believe that Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem of Judea, April 6, B.C. 1. (Talmage, 1915, 98.)
Thanks, KC. As it was happening, I knew I was blowing up this section. Jared started out with a kind of “Mormons believe in a very specific date…” angle which just struck me wrong given the entire history of discussion within the church of when Jesus was born (Kevin Barney’s blog post that is linked to in the episode description shows some of this), and then we really never got back on track for a good conversation about how widespread or grounded the April 6th date is in today’s Mormonism. I know Jared was ready to go much longer on the whole subject, and I tried to apologize a time or two about sounding so reactionary against the idea that April 6th is based on more than what a few hobbyists have decided are “evidences,” but we just never recovered the original trail and moved onto the whole evidences for and against certain seasons, etc. Sorry about my derailing!
What you lay out here is great to have in front of us. I don’t believe that many of today’s Latter-day Saints would go to the mat (or even close to it) for April 6th, and I think even what you compile here (and what the Lefgren book and others present) is weak, weak, weak as any kind of compelling stuff that suggests we should give the idea of that date much attention at all, but I agree with you that it’s sort of out there in many Mormons’ minds (though perhaps I see it there in more of a “folk idea” kind of way).
If we are going to get into this, I’d love to know where you’re coming from. Do you want to argue for accepting the date? Are you simply saying it really IS part of Mormon culture? And if the latter, do you think it should it be (i.e., do you find this a subject of importance or D&C 20:1 as really declaring this exact date 1830 years earlier as Jesus’s birthday)? How deep and close to their heart do you think many Latter-day Saints hold this idea? And do you think it is primarily attractive to them to have this date as their own secret knowledge, or is something more deeply spiritual going on? Again, if we are going to get into the subject, I say let’s really explore it!
Thanks for starting the conversation!
I have always had an interest in the birth date of Christ. I was especially intrigued with John Pratts work in dating the birth of Christ. His work was published in the Ensign 1994. I am arguing that the idea of Christ birth on April 6 (same day as restoration of church) is an idea that while not universal is very popular in the church. As it fits into the idea that with God there are no coincidences, that the restoration of the church on April 6 has symbolism with the birth of Christ on the same day. And these beliefs stem from the sources I quoted. While recently articles such as the Barney article you cite or the Jeff Chadwick’s Dating the birth of Christ (BYU Studies Dec 2010) which argues for a December birth date has cast doubt on the popular mormon belief of His birth in the spring and April 6, its is nonetheless the perception of many LDS. (http://www.deseretnews.com/article/700094707/What-was-the-real-date-of-Jesus-birth.html)
I don’t like the idea of throwing statements made by Prophets and apostles into the memory hole every time when what they have said in the past runs into more recent scholarship, such as in this case. Can we just discard or reinterpret these statements at will? President Lee and Kimball were the Prophet when they said those things and they said them in their official capacities as President of the Church (Lee statement said at general conference, Kimball while dedicating church buildings), thus people can dismiss them as not relevant anymore or they didn’t really mean to fix Christ birth date. But the statements are clear and have not be repudiated by the current leadership. So, what I am arguing for is these are the statements that have been made by church leaders in the past, this had fueled the belief among the membership that Christ was born on April 6 and that it is still a common belief among members. Now, this is beginning to change as more scholarship comes out, but still we are left with the statements of previous church leaders. What do we do with them?
In case you don’t want to look them up here are the references from President Lee and Kimball:
Harold B. Lee, “Strengthen the Stakes of Zion,” Ensign (July 1973), This is the annual conference of the Church. April 6, 1973, is a particularly significant date because it commemorates not only the anniversary of the organization of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in this dispensation, but also the anniversary of the birth of the Savior, our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ. Joseph Smith wrote this, preceding a revelation given at that same date:
Spencer W. Kimball, “Remarks and Dedication of the Fayette, New York, Buildings,” Ensign (May 1980), My brothers and sisters, today we not only celebrate the Sesquicentennial of the organization of the Church, but also the greatest event in human history since the birth of Christ on this day 1,980 years ago.
I think it’s the “with God there are no coincidences” line of thinking that leaves me cold, and is likely partly behind my wanting to give a lot of clout to the April 6th claim. To me, this is a really clear example of certain people–even prophets are people–adding up statements such as those in D&C 20:1 (that doesn’t seem at all to me–and as Barney mentions, pretty much anyone in the first few generations of church leaders–to be about fixing the exact date of Christ’s birth) and building a structure out of it (and a very shaky one). During post-production on the podcast conversation, I eliminated a little riff of mine during the discussion of the framing about the shepherds being special shepherds charged with caring for the lambs to be slaughtered at the temple in which I expressed how simply that conveys, in my mind, God doing simply way too much micromanaging than what can be defended. In my experience in the church, with no more than two follow-up questions, people will back off of the “God orchestrates everything” idea. They simply haven’t really ever examined it before, and when they do, they relax a bit there. In the same way, given all that it would entail about God and how God works in the world if this were to be seen as a clear declaration of “Hey, it’s Jesus’s birthday,” why should we let something like the April 6th date keep whatever hold it has in our minds? What is the gain of knowing the date of the birth compared to what is lost in terms of the bad theology one would have to choke down to maintain a consistent God consistently orchestrating things like the dates things happen. (And given Zina’s overview of calendars that had to be meshed, I doubt God would even “know” what date in today’s western calendar Jesus was born on. )
As for the skepticism over things prophets say even when they say them as sitting prophets, I think there’s a big difference between the moves of Presidents Kimball and Lee who are opening ceremonial occasions and using a vaguely outlined idea that adds perhaps a little oomph to the sacredness of the event, and them “speaking as prophets.” To me, it’s akin to the argument some make that Paul really wrote the NT book Hebrews no matter what the evidence is against this proposition because if Paul hadn’t written it, Joseph Smith would have corrected it in his revisions of the Bible. I contend Joseph Smith never really thought about it, and there’d be no reason for him to ever take it as a serious question to the Lord to get revelation about.
Prophets are raised in environments just like we all are, where some ideas stick with us and stay with us into adulthood even though we’ve never examined them, never asked God if they’re right. And then even when they’re put in prophetic office these unexamined things will occasionally come out of their mouths. I get zero sense from any of the pieces of rhetoric that some say add up to “it’s April 6th, for sure” that they are ideas born from prophetic inquiry any more than BYs and others’ statements about blacks, etc., emerged from prayer and all the effort that we claim goes into getting an unambiguous answer from God.
So when it comes to rejecting what a prophet says, I DO take it seriously, but taking it seriously does not mean that on many occasions the things they say are not serious things. With these less than important things, I see no danger in openly doubting them–or in something like this case, ignoring them (which is truly my position on this issue), since they seem so completely irrelevant to anything of importance.
KC — One way you might think of these statements is something like dictum in a legal sense. In a legal opinion, a court might make a legal conclusion about something that’s not germane to the case. Generally, that conclusion (called “dictum”) is not considered precedent, because it wasn’t part of the reasoning of the court’s decision. In most of the instances you cited, the part having to do with Jesus’ birth date is more than an aside than treated as a doctrinal teaching, so perhaps on those grounds it shouldn’t be considered authoritative. (Also, in my view, to treat the D&C verse as a literal teaching is going beyond what was intended when it was written.)
I haven’t listened to the whole podcast yet, but it still makes most sense to me to date the birth of Jesus to a few years BCE. I agree, though, that the belief of an April 6, 1B.C., birth date is extremely common in the church, and I’m mildly disappointed to learn that I won’t hear more discussion about it.
The recent discovery of the Book of Commandments and Revelations manuscript of D&C 20, however, showed that the verse was actually an introductory head note written by early church historian and scribe John Whitmer — something he did for many of the revelations, Harper said. “So those are separate from the texts that Joseph produces by revelation.”
The manuscript, published as part of the Joseph Smith Papers, also shows that the revelation was given on April 10 — not April 6. So although it references the organization of the church a few days earlier, the revelation — which topically has nothing to do with the birth date of Christ — and its introductory verses “shouldn’t be read as if it is a revelation of the birth date of Jesus Christ,” Harper said. “The interpretation that has been most popular over time is very much subject to question; that’s all I’m saying.”
That maybe that case but Joseph surely read the revelation and approved it for publication with this heading. Maybe it was a common thing but Joseph didn’t take it out and the Lord didn’t correct him. Plus, this introduction is only used in section 20. If this was just a common intro why wasn’t it used anywhere else in the DC? Besides how does Harper know this has nothing to do with the birth of Christ? At least two Prophets thought it did have something to do with His birth. John Pratt also makes an interesting case for this date astronomically. And we know many revelations were changed from the book of commandments to the D&C and this statement was left in place. The Lord apparently corrected or clarified many other revelations. If section 20 was incorrect he could have corrected it as well. From what Jared said historically we don’t know the time of year Christ was born. President Lee’s statement was clear, others have proposed different dates but nothing concrete. I’ll stick with the prophets interpretation.
Dan, for what it’s worth, I like to think of myself as reasonably well-informed and skeptical of folk doctrine, but I had always thought of the April 6th date of Christ’s birth as settled and widely accepted. I’m not sure I was ever deeply attached to the idea, but I think it is quite widely believed–last I checked John Pratt and the Ensign have a wider readership than Jeff Chadwick & BYU Studies 🙂
Still, the precise date of Christ’s birth doesn’t seem like the sort of knowledge that would qualify as salvific.
You are all arguing for a more widespread belief among members on this point than I do, and that’s fine. But I’m definitely with you on it being far from an issue pertinent to salvation. (Now, if you want to drag me into a discussion of the idea that ANY “knowledge”–head knowledge/propositional in nature kind of thing–is “salvific” even a little, then we can have some real fun!)
oooh, I’d love to have that fight with you, Dan. I’d probably lose, but it could be fun.
Well, here’s the first salvo. Bite if you want. No worries if you don’t!
Salvation—if we mean celestial kingdom and that it implies the person is a celestial person—is characterized by having achieved a certain soul state, a strong level of embodiment of Christlike/Godlike/Daoist Masterlike qualities. Now certainly some ideas about God or the universe are better suited than others at pointing toward and suggesting that happiness is best found on the path leading to this soul state, and some ideas can definitely get in the way of one moving into these more loving, aligning-with-what’s “really real” soul states, but I can’t see how any kind of head knowledge or statement that someone would have to assent to would be part of the requirements for achieving this type of soul state. Plenty achieve it in non-Christian traditions, so it can’t be Jesus specific. Whatever knowledge that might be said to be “salvific,” would be the kind of knowledge that is “known” via the experience of that soul state. After achieved, someone could certainly talk about ideas and what their head is telling them is going on, but I don’t think there’d be some kind of test that person would have have had to give “right” answers about before achieving that soul state and the ability to abide celestial-type law.
I also loved this podcast. For me the most helpful concept was Zina’s Turner reference about the pairing of the holy day with the carnival, the fast with the feast, because this helps me appreciate and celebrate all of the holidays in our lives, and the and the most troubling comment was Kristine’s lovely point about community, because I don’t always much LIKE community. There was much else to love here, too. Thanks to Jared for his great overview of Matthew and Luke, for the discussion of the gospel writers’ agendas, and for complicating my views on Santa, miracles, and the literalness of scripture. I love rethinking these positions, especially since I feel like I’m in a better place in these areas after having listened.
P.S. For what it’s worth, I’ve always dismissed the idea of April 6th being Christ’s birthday because it’s hard for me to interpret D&C 20 that literally. Also, because the idea wasn’t mentioned to me till I was older, I assumed it was a rather fringy concept.
I really enjoyed the energy and NT scholarship that Jared contributed to the discussion. Zina Peterson really provided a lot of new material and insight for me. Lots of stuff to research like Dan said.
Mormons definitely all know that the wise men did not visit Jesus while he was in a manger. I remember this clearly. It’s right there in the Sunday School manual: “Note that when they finally reached Jesus, he was a “young child,” not a newborn baby.” (Lesson 3, New Testament Gospel Doctrine Teacher’s Manual, (2002). I think we have no problem rejecting Christian tradition for Biblical scholarship as long as it doesn’t disrupt any of our strongly held beliefs. In fact, most of us would be proud to know things like this that we feel demonstrate our advantage over mainstream Christianity. Those guys have many things wrong because of the corrupted tradition that they inherited.
While I think most Mormons hold that Jesus was born on the same day the church was established, I don’t think it is important to members that this strictly be true. The important point to us is that it is not December 25. Even early members of the church rejected this. I think this idea of having this date is evidence to believers that 1) modern revelation (namely, D&C 20:1) gives us information that other Christians can’t have, 2) important events tend to happen on the same date (as discussed in the podcast), and again 3) many Christian traditions are corruptions of the practices of the Primitive Church.
After reading Keven Barney’s blog post and Mike Ash’s website (http://www.mormonfortress.com/april6b.html) I have been completely disabused of the idea that D&C 20:1 declares that Jesus was born on April 6. B.H. Roberts and Talmage just read way too much into that one verse that looks just like other verses in other revelations. Thanks, you guys, for the clarification.
Kristine should be really mad at me. I didn’t realize that the 12 Days of Christmas start at Christmas rather than ending at Christmas. Thanks for pointing that out too.
In the discussion at the end, I think it was decided that y’all stick with Mormonism and Christianity because of the stories, meaning, and purpose it gives you rather than the literal truth that it defends. I’m going to assume that the value you assign to your allegiance to the Mormon tradition is a combination of two things: 1) you inherited it from family or adopted it when you believed its truth claims were literal and 2) you feel that it is better suited to you than other belief traditions.
I would like to know how each panelists weighs these two things in remaining devoted to Mormonism. At one extreme, do you feel like any belief tradition would work and you stick with the LDS tradition because it’s where you started? At the other extreme, do you feel like Mormonism is the best belief tradition for you and nothing else would work for you even though you don’t feel Mormonism is literally true?
@4b547a9424d8f3a73755e326623908f3:disqus , my hunch is the emphasis on “young child” is for harmonistic purposes (to soften the contradictions between the gospels) but you are correct that in this way Mormons catch at least this difference in the narratives.
Ok, to your questions.
1) Do you feel like any belief tradition would work?
2) Do you feel like Mormonism is the best tradition for you?
I feel that Mormonism can be framed in a way that it works the best for me. It is my faith language, just as English is my first language, and nothing can change that. I want my children to have a native faith tradition, a home base. Here is something I wrote up on similar questions; let me know if that answers you adequately:
I love many things about Mormonism, its theology and history, though I am pretty hurt and furious about its present policies and feel it is a failure in many ways.
One of the biggest reasons I stay is to be an oppositional voice, but opposition that draws on neglected aspects of Mormon tradition. I try to live Mormonism not as it is but as it should be and I want to model that. I also want to maintain legitimacy and insider status so I can reach as many people as possible. I want my children to have a native faith language as well, a home base, though again, there will be a cost because what I teach them will be at tension with what they learn at Church. But I think that is ok.
I really do find meaning in my participation in the Church, though I acknowledge much of that meaning is at tension with the standard approach to Mormonism. But I want to serve those who stay (while also serving and empathizing with those who leave, believe me).
More centrally, I feel a sense of calling relating to how we can live religion in an ethical way that works *whatever happens to be true*, and a way to leave religion while maintaining its benefits. This is what I feel my mission is to share. And part of that is remaining affiliated.
This was a great one–I really like how this and last week’s podcasts ventured into Western civilization and religious history more generally, and then explored what connections arose with Mormonism, as opposed to the more insular navel-gazing we Mormons are sometimes prone to do, as if our theological ideas arose in a vacuum and not within the context of millennia of rich theological exploration and history (for the sake of clarity, I’m very much not including Mormon Matters in that critique). Plus, continuing in that vein would give a great excuse to keep bringing in people like Zina, and all the other brilliant Mormon academics out there that don’t happen to be in Mormon Studies.
I also loved Kristine’s comments on how literal historical truth claims don’t necessarily need to (or merit) being the focus of Mormon theological discussions. I think we limit ourselves so often when, for example, the historicity of the Book of Mormon overshadows any and all discussion of its content.
Loved it, loved it, loved it! Especially Zina’s fascinating mini-lecture on the history of Christmas observance. Seriously, she needs to be brought back to the podcast; her commentary adds a spice that is thrilling. And I don’t think I’ll ever forget the phrase “Meaning transcends explanation”. That speaks volumes–and adds new meaning to President Packer’s much-maligned phrase “some things that are true are not very useful”. Not sure that’s what he meant by it, but I’ve found that though something may be objectively, factually “true”, if it doesn’t contribute value to my life, I try not to expend mental and emotional energy on it.
These podcasts keep getting better and better; over the past few months, each one has been a home run/slam dunk/touchdown, or whichever metaphor you prefer. Keep it up!
Yes! Yes! Yes! You guys are hitting your stride. I listened to every minute of the podcast yesterday….twice. So many podcasts are just “a couple dudes sitting in a room talking about stuff.” I don’t have time for that. You combined real scholars & bright minds (hosts and guests should be smarter and more well-read than most of their audience, right?) and an interesting topic. Frame it broadly at first, then bring it home to your mostly Mormon audience and you have a winner. Zina: I’ve read a number of books on Christmas, but perhaps you could suggest something on the entire liturgical calendar and all four quarter holidays.
ME just keeps spitting in the soup, and MS has been flat lately, and MM has filled the void beautifully. KEEP IT UP.
I think I have listened to every single Mormon Matters podcast since the beginning. I am not Mormon, I am a convert to Catholicism from the Disciples of Christ. I have often noted many of your participants misperceptions of other faiths, but I generally chalk them up to living in the Mormon saturated environment of Utah. However there was a glaring misstatement of fact in this podcast that I cannot let pass. The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception does indeed refer to Mary and not Jesus, however it does not refer to her being conceived without sexual intercourse. She was conceived the good old fashioned way. The doctrine refers to the idea that she was miraculously preserved from the stain of original sin so that she would be worthy to be the mother of Christ. There are free searchable online versions of The Catechism of the Catholic Church available online which would be a fast way to check your facts about the Catholic Church.
Thanks for bringing this up! I had to correct this on my student’s quizzes, how it wasn’t necessarily that Mary’s parents didn’t have sex, but that God intervened and removed the effects of Original Sin.
Though to Zina’s defense, no sex came in as early as the Proto-Gospel of James. 🙂
CMiller: Thanks for that correction; and I was indeed lazy not to have checked more recent theological explanations of the Immaculate Conception. It took exactly ONE google search, and the first entry on the page, to find your correction , which was very clearly declared in the constitution of 1854 (in my defense that it pretty dang post-medieval; as my students know, if it more recent than, say, the invention of the dinner fork, I am generally oblivious to it). I was going off Augustine’s refutation of Pelagius, which, come to that, I may have ALSO been misremembering. That she was exempt from Eve’s and Adam’s sin is the point you make that I should have made: it is through Catholic baptism that the stain of that Original sin is *removed* from mortals; Mary is the only one who *never had it* to begin with. I do think that in both Augustine and to a lesser extent, Tertullian, there are legitimate hints that part of the “how” of her stainlessness was a sexless conception (again dogma v doctrine distinctions here). You are absolutely right that that is not the official or dogmatic assertion held by the Catholic church.
Thank you all for an extraordinary, joyful conversation. I loved the story of the Navajo children becoming disillusioned when the kachina masks come off but the adults becoming more endeared to their traditions. The wrap up perspective at the end on how deconstruction is no reason to stop celebrating and singing next to those around us was important to me.
Thanks for the link to the article in Sunstone, Away in a Manger. I read that and listened to the first half of the podcast as I was preparing a family home evening lesson about Christmas for our extended family. There was a delightful cognitive dissonance rattling around in my head as we read the Christmas story from the Bible that hasn’t been there before. It has always been such an curious tale, told in snippets through a glass darkly. Now I can relax and just enjoy its curiousness and the reason behind such a tale. I ended up focusing on a message of coming to Christ and claimed victory.
For another take on the pagan roots of Christmas check out an essay by Anthony E. Larson, Temple Symbols and Christmas: http://www.scribd.com/doc/54392787/Temple-Symbols-and-Christmas Along with the Thunderbolts.info folks, Larson has come to believe that within human memory the planets Saturn, Venus and Mar were very close to the earth. This planetary grouping is remembered in all religions as their god and colors our own religious traditions including Christmas to this day. Remarkably, Larson claims that Joseph Smith taught of this same ancient planetary conjunction.
Great to hear Dr. Zina Petersen. She was one of my favorite professors at BYU and is a great addition to the podcast. I would love to hear her on with Joanna Brooks as well.
While it is true that I still hold certain literal beliefs, that appear to differ from some of you, I’ve come to recognize those for what they are: beliefs. I no longer have a sure knowledge of various transcendent facts, but for now the Spirit continues still tells me they are “true”, and I’ve learned that I must walk my own path. There are times when I’m tempted to simply accept your knowledge and understanding since your obviously more knowledgeable on the various history and facts, but I know that I can’t do that. That is really the ultimate lesson that I’ve learned. Just as Dr. Petersen reminded us that we cannot rely on borrowed light, I must fill the lamp with my own oil.
What I’m really enjoying at this part of my journey is that I am finding it easier to love others who see things different than myself, and am not as scared of the darkness that surrounds me because I now have my own candle.Hee Haw and Merry Christmas!
Great podcast! I know a lot of people think deconstructing things ruins them, but I find the opposite. This episode really helped me catch the Christmas spirit.
And it looks like the thread has moved on from the April 6th thing, but I’ll back up those arguing that it’s widely accepted among members. My dad told me the date when I was young, and I got a real kick out of it. Still do. I’ll readily admit that it most likely wasn’t April 6th, and honestly it makes no difference to me either way, but this speaks to my affection for Joseph Smith. Even as a mostly non-literal believer, one of my favorite characteristics of Joseph Smith was his audaciousness. Who else would claim to know the date through revelation? Seriously, I love it. (without that boldness–however misguided at times–I have a hard time believing we’d all share this wonderful community we call Mormonism)
Jacob, sorry to be slow responding.
It’s true that I am inclined to continue to participate in the tradition
of my heritage, because I find that heritage intrinsically valuable,
and because I think farming is more productive than nomadic grazing in
terms of cultivating a religious life. I’m agnostic about many Mormon truth claims, but I think if I came to believe that they were false in their essence, I would not continue practicing Mormonism. If it were _only_ about symbolism and beauty and meaning, I’d be in the closest Anglo-Catholic parish quicker than you can say “Herbert Howells Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis in G.”
It’s more a matter of having narrowed the number of things I think I have to know or believe with any degree of certainty in order to practice Mormonism; it ends up being a very small number, and I’m quite content with “I/we don’t know” as an answer to most of the rest.
And sorry I forgot how threaded comments work!
There’s a little Reply link just underneath every comment 🙂
I’ve heard Dan say things quite similar as well. During his interview on Mormon Stories he pretty much said that he didn’t believe in most of the literal claims like the Gold Plates, etc… but he did say he believed Joseph experienced “something”. (Dan feel free to correct if I’m wrong, or what I’ve said needs to be stated better).
There’s a part of me that has a hard time with answers like that because I want to drill down and know the exact particulars, but then I know that I am missing the greater point he generally tries to make about the literalness not being the most important thing. I feel pretty much the same with what your saying. I can’t help but wonder what exactly are the “very small number” of things that you do have a degree of certainty on. But by asking I fear I’m rejecting the bigger message you made during the podcast.
I know I frustrate you Brother Sunndance. Don’t mean to! As I read this, it dawns on me that the new MM episode just put up last night might be really interesting for you. Discussion directly focused on the nature of truth and how things might be true beyond simple correspondence between our statements and something about the genuine character of the universe, all the subjective elements that are involved in how we each structure truth for ourselves, etc. And several more folks besides just me sharing at the end bits of how we engage Mormonism even as we recognize all these complexities. It may make you even more frustrated–I don’t know. Hope not! But it is definitely related to your queries.
Yes, I suppose it is a little frustrating not being able to snatch the pebble from your hand 🙂
A ‘find’ this morning – in line with one of the traditions presented in this podcast that I didn’t know. Horror and ghost stories as part of Christmas tradition. NPR shares just such a story on Christmas Krampus – a horror story with a character who has features much like those represented in depictions of Satan (or The Devil).
“The Krampus is a character from European Alpine folklore, common in Austria and Switzerland. The creature stands on two hooves and has horns growing out of its skull. An extremely long tongue hangs out of its mouth, and it carries a basket to haul away naughty children.For hundreds of years, the Krampus and Saint Nicholas have worked a kind of good cop-bad cop routine. Saint Nick rewards the good children; Krampus terrorizes the bad.”
and in spirit of giving credit where it is due, I don’t recall which FB group I found it, either Mormon Stories or MO.2.0
hmmm, maybe I have too many windows open to backtrack the source. The link may have come from NPR on FB. Now in the spirit of giving credit where credit is due, am only sure I found it on my FB, but maybe not at either FB group.
In the discussion of the Wise Men, the Wise Men are said to have come knocking on King Herod’s door, implying the elevated status of these foreigners — to have such status as to approach the King directly.
Yet the text is not clear — at least in the King James version. It seems to me that the Wise Men might have shown up in Jerusalem asking about the birth of this “King of the Jews”. The large caravan asking around causes a stir in the city, as might be expected, more than if the men had gone straight to Herod.
Of course Herod, hearing this talk of another “King” would be very interested and would then summons all of his priests, etc. along will a call to speak to these Wise Men.
If you read verses 1-3 of Matthew 2 you may see why I get this impression.
I found myself in London two years ago around this Christmas season, and in between meetings found myself standing beside a sign pointing the way toward the ‘Temple of Mithras’. I found there in the middle of London, a sunken stone foundation and a little plaque. I remember thinking, “this is our roots…” If any of you find yourself in London, I recommend a visit!
I was asked for clarification about the “no room in the inn” passage on another forum, so thought I would post it here as well:
I could have worded my discussion about “no room in the inn” more precisely; what I meant is that we should not think of an inn in the medieval/modern sense. It was more like a caravansary or kahn, which is something between an inn and a campground. So, yes, “campground” isn’t the best translation, but neither is “inn”. There was a large central room, sometimes open, surrounded by stalls. The animals would be in the center and travelers would sleep on ledges a bit higher.
Here is some information by two of the premier scholars on these passages, Raymond Brown and Joseph Fitzmyer, as well as from the Oxford Bible Commentary:
“Jesus, cared for by his mother, is placed in a ‘manger’, which could be either a feeding trough or a cattle stall, because ‘there aws no room in the inn’. Luke uses the same word at 22:11 for the ‘guest chamter’ where the company is to eat the last supper. Jer 14:8 (LXX) uses the word when it laments that God is a stranger, like one who stays in a guest chamber for but a night. For Jesus, there is not room even in the guest-place; his birth points forward to the life of one who has nowhere to lay his head (9:58). No doubt the scene is infused with ideas taken from Isa. 1:3) (Oxford Bible Commentary)
Brown reviews different suggestions, including one similar to Moliere’s, but after pages of analysis concludes that we cannot tell whether Luke meant “a home, a room, or the inn” so he uses the vague “lodgings”. It is important to note that when he speaks of an “inn” he is referring to a caravansary. He does note that few scholars accept the idea of it happening in a home, and the definite article “the” would suggest it is not just “a room”. (Raymond Brown, Birth of the Messiah)
Notes from Fitzmyer:
“laid him in a manger. I.e. in a feeding trough for domesticated animals…It could have been in a barn or in some feeding place under the open sky, as the contrast with “lodge” in the rest of the verse would suggest…The verb aneklinen seems to call for the meaning , “manger.” No mention is made of animals in this text. Their presence in the Christmas cribs of later date is derived from Isa. 1:3. The tradition of Jesus’ birth in a “cave” is derived from the Prot. Jas. 18:1 [Proto-Gospel of James]…
“no room. The implication is that Mary and Joseph were not the only ones who have come to the town of David for the registration so that there was simply not space enough for all.
“in the lodge. In Luke 22:11 katalyma occurs again, to denote the “guestroom” where Jesus and his disciples eat the Last Supper. From the use there and here it is rather obvious that I does not mean an “inn”; furthermore, Luke uses the word pandocheion for that in 10:34. Actually, katalyma, a compound of kata + lyein, “loose,” denotes a place where one “lets down” one’s harness (or baggage) for the night…In 1 Sam 1:18 Elkanah and Hannah on their visit to the sanctuary of Shiloh stay in a katalyma (LXX), which may have influence Luke’s expression here. It should be understood as a public caravansary or kahn, where groups of travelers would spend the night under one roof.” (Joseph Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke I-IX, 408)
We have to be careful when making arguments about plausibility in reference to Biblical materials. I am thinking of the argument that someone would not turn a pregnant woman away, or that a mother would not put her baby in a “dirty manger”, etc. First, when discussing how people would act we need to remain acutely aware of the cultural attitudes at play, both ours and those of the time under discussion. We also need to understand the relationship of literature and history–at times writers strove for verisimilitude, but much more often they worried about that less and focused on their key literary points. Therefore we are better off seeking to understand what literary or theological points an author was making than how it happened in all its particulars.
Finally, we should keep in mind that the entire narratives are unlikely to be historical, simply because of the Bethlehem vs. Nazareth issue. In all likelihood, Jesus was born in the way babies were usually born back then, in Nazareth, with family members and perhaps a midwife present.
The tradition of Jesus at Bethlehem is earlier than the gospels, but because of the Micah prophecy Christians could have come up with that independently–the fact that Matthew and Luke both get Jesus to Bethlehem but *in different ways* is key here.
This could be a sensitive issue, but about “prophecies concerning Jesus”, very few if any of those would have been applied during his life. What seems most probable is that when Jesus’ earliest followers were stunned at his death, they searched the scriptures for understanding, and began applying biblical passages to him.__________________
I have read a little about post-modernism but this podcast really fleshed out the process of examination of reality through a self-imposed lens and how the Synoptic Gospels are treated differently than other ancient documents. The conversations were interesting and the time went fast. I could not believe over two hours had passed. A great choice of topic and discussion!
I finally had an opportunity to read the linked article from Sunstone magazine, “Away in a Manger, “by Stephen E. Thompson, and I must say that if this is the quality of of scholarship and of balanced, peer-reviewed articles, I intend to never read any Sunstone article again nor recommend this periodical to anyone else.
Sunstone certainly has always tried to have good scholarship, but it isn’t and has never been peer reviewed. As a former editor (not during the era when this article was published), I always tried to watch for areas where I might be completely out of my depth and ask for help, but in general a piece like this with its even-handed tone, footnotes, etc., would have likely been something I would have published without looking for other scholars to help judge it, figuring if there were problems, they’d come out in the Letters to the Editor or some other communication process. If you’re up to sharing, I would love to know the major issues you find with the piece. Thanks!
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