He is the Pope; God’ ‘representative’ on earth. But is he right? That is the question many in Christendom will ponder upon as readers worldwide review the controversial submission of Pope Benedict XV1, in his latest book, ‘Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, that some of the important and attractive features of Christmas were never from the bible.
Christmas, the significant Christian ceremony commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ is barely a month away but if we were to go by the Pope’s submission, the celebration might not include the popular song, ‘Hark! The herald angels sing’ usually rendered with joy and excitement at Christmas Carols across the globe.
The book, actually the third and final of a trilogy by the Pope and which went on sale on Wednesday in 50 countries, has poignantly rubbished the idea that donkeys or any other animal have a place in the traditional nativity scene, according to reviews globally. More than one million copies of the book are to be printed before Christmas. Besides, the Pope also claims that, wait for it, angels never sang to the shepherds to proclaim the birth of Jesus.
But interestingly, even St Peter’s Square, where the Pope presides, regularly has a giant scene at Christmas and has displayed an array of animals at several Christmas seasons. But Benedixt XV1 said all that is wrong. ‘In the gospels there is no mention of animals,’ the Pope claims in the book arguing that they were probably a Hebrew invention of the seventh century BC, as outlined in the Book of Habakkuk, one of the 12 minor prophets whose public ministries are recorded in the Old Testament.
Indeed the old prophet is regarded by many Christian traditions as the one who predicted the nativity because there is no direct reference to the presence of ox and donkey in passages related to the birth of Christ but in Habakkuk 3:2, it is written: ‘In the midst of the two beasts wilt thou be known’ – and this was one of the sources which inspired the presence of the creatures at the manger.
However, according to a review of the book by international news agencies, the Pope is convinced despite debunking the theory, the tradition is here to stay, saying: ‘No nativity scene will give up its ox and donkey’, he said. Noted a review: “In the book, Benedict blends history, theology, linguistics and even astronomy to interpret the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, which describe the months just before and after Jesus’ birth.
“But there is one part of the nativity story he is firm on – that Mary was a virgin and Christ was conceived with the Holy Spirit alone. In the section ‘Virgin Birth – Myth or Historical Truth?’ he says: ‘The accounts of Matthew and Luke are not myths taken a stage further.
“They are firmly rooted, in terms of their basic conception, in the biblical tradition of God the Creator and Redeemer.’ But he added that Angels delivered to good news of Jesus’s birth to shepherds by speaking them, not singing them as the gospels say.
“According to the evangelist, the angels “said” this,’ the Pope writes, adding: ‘But Christianity has always understood that the speech of angels is actually song, in which all the glory of the great joy that they proclaim becomes tangibly present.
‘To this day simple believers join in their caroling on the Holy Night, proclaiming in song the great joy that, from then until the end of time, is bestowed on all people.’
Before the Pope and his book came public, another high flying personality in Christendom , Dr. Rowan Williams who is just stepping down as Archbishop of Canterbury and head of the Anglican Church worldwide, had also argued that there were no animals or snow at the nativity either.
In a 2007 radio interview, Williams, according to Daily Mail had argued that Jesus was not born in ‘snow-covered stable, where he was visited by three wise men bearing gifts.’
The report reads further: “Talking on Radio Five, Dr Rowan Williams dismissed the well-known version of events as legend, saying: ‘Matthew’s Gospel doesn’t tell us there were three of them, doesn’t tell us they were kings, doesn’t tell us where they came from.
‘It says they are astrologers, wise men, priests from somewhere outside the Roman Empire, that’s all we’re really told.’ Turning to the topic of when Jesus was born, he said it was ‘very unlikely’ that there was snow.
He said there was no evidence of animals present – a popular theme of Christmas cards. And he dismissed the idea that the star of the North stood still in the night sky – because stars just don’t behave like that.
For good measure, he added Jesus probably wasn’t even born in December. He said: ‘Christmas was when it was because it fitted well with the winter festival.’ Dr Williams was speaking to presenter Simon Mayo when another of his guests, Ricky Gervais, star of The Office, challenged him about the intellectual credentials of his faith.
Despite this apparent debunking, Dr Williams’ views are in fact strictly in line with orthodox Christian teaching, as he is sticking exactly to what The Bible says. The outgoing Archbishop’s comments at the time appeared to be at odds with one of his own advisers, the Rev John Jennings, a Church of England clergyman.
He said: ‘There seems little doubt that Jesus was born in a stable. The Bible says “outside the house”, and this was probably because the house was full. If it was a stable, there could have been animals at the birth of Jesus.
The Wise Men were… careful, calculating, educated men who think that they begin to discern God’s imminent arrival and who blunder their way across the region until they find what they think they’ve been seeking. These are the really important bits of the story.’