Friday, 24 December 2004

Christmas Eve newspaper columns

Tom Wright has written in a local newspaper the Northern Echo about Cracking the Christmas code

Giles Fraser has written in the Guardian that Empires prefer a baby and the cross to the adult Jesus
and Stephen Bates ( with a little help from Jim Rosenthal) has profiled Saint Nicholas

Bishop, legend, saint, fairy story, retail therapist, and film star … How did a pile of bones in an Italian basilica become the soft drink-swigging patron saint of brides, and our last remaining link with the original meaning of Christmas?

John Bell writes in the Independent
At Christmas we can dream and imagine how the future should be

But this year, I sense a new affection displacing seasonal cynicism. I don’t believe that the fascination with Christmas is simply a reminiscence project, a season dip into sentimentality or (depending on the carol concert) banality. Rather, I suspect that in the retelling and rehearing of the Christmas narratives, there is some latent yet profound hope stirred within us. Increasingly the skies above us are associated with dread as much as beauty. This is the result of being exposed to almost weekly conjectures about the state of the ozone layer or the discharging of carbon dioxide. Might it not be that deep in our hearts we want to believe that the air above us is a place for angel-song and celestial harmony, and that somehow ecology has to do with cosmic praise as well as freedom from pollution?

The Telegraph leader column is titled The disarming paradox of the child Emmanuel

In The Times Geza Vermes asks When you strip away all the pious fiction, what is left of the real Jesus? He says in part:

The ingredients of Jesus’s religion were enthusiasm, urgency, compassion and love. He cherished children, the sick and the despised. In his eyes, the return of a stray lamb to the sheepfold, the repentance of a tax collector or a harlot, caused more joy in heaven than the prosaic virtue of 99 just men.

Because of His healings, many saw in Jesus the Messiah, triumphant over Rome and establisher of everlasting peace. Yet he had no political ambition. Rumours that He might be the Christ were nevertheless spreading and contributed to His downfall. His tragic end was precipitated by an unpremeditated act in the Temple. The noisy business transacted by the merchants of sacrificial animals and the moneychangers so outraged the rural holy man that He overturned their tables and violently expelled them. He thus created a fracas in the sanctuary of the overcrowded city before Passover and alerted the priests.

So the Temple authorities, the official guardians of peace, saw in Jesus a potential threat to order. They had to intervene promptly. Nevertheless even in those circumstances, the Jewish leadership preferred to pass the ultimate responsibility to the cruel Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, who condemned Jesus to death. He was crucified before Passover probably in AD30 because in the eyes of officialdom, Roman and Jewish, He had done the wrong thing in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Just as the New Testament had prefaced the biography of Jesus by the joyful prologue of the Nativity, it also appended an epilogue to the tragedy of the Cross, the glorious hymn of the Resurrection. Indeed, Jesus had made such a profound impact on His apostles that they attributed to the power of His name the continued success of their charismatic activity. So Jesus rose from the dead in the hearts of His disciples and He lives on as long as the Christian Church endures.

Also in The Times Simon Jenkins writes about stained glass in Marvel at Heaven’s doorway and there is a leader entitled Have faith which ends:

Today, perhaps, faith comes less easily to most than it once did. There is more competition for attention and, in the West, we seem to have more power to choose and a greater range of choices. What does it say about human nature that so many choices impoverish the spirit?

The case for appreciating what a religious dimension can bring has, of course, been made more difficult in a world scarred by fundamentalist violence and blinkered zealotry. But it was just such a world into which Jesus was born. And His message has endured, while the fanatics of His time have become history’s footnotes. It is paradoxical indeed that a message of love, which survived centuries of hate, is now in danger of being lost through mere indifference and self-absorption. Our culture would lose so much if what we owe to faith became forgotten. That is why we are glad to say to all our readers, whatever their beliefs, that we firmly hope the spirit of Christmas is with them.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Friday, 24 December 2004 at 11:10am GMT | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Opinion

Christmas Crackers!

Geza Vermes and Bishop Tom Wright crack the Christmas code with a little sleight of hand with Geza citing an acknowledged forgery from Josephus to support his picture of Jesus in The Times and Tom making a virtue of necessity saying there were “two different versions of the (nativity)story by the time the gospels were written”! Yes indeed there were BUT far from being “coherent” they were completely contradictory and utterly incredible what with a special star and a pregnant virgin! At least the medieval Italian writer Bocaccio was a bit more sceptical with his amusing story of the unscrupulous priest who, for a fee, would show his gullible flock a brightly coloured parrot’s feather claiming it had dropped from the wings of the angel Gabriel at the Annunciation!

Bishop Tom shouldn’t worry so much about the ridiculous Da Vinci code or a hoax but rather the evidence of the very first Christian writers themselves because they give us no corroboration of ANY of the Gospel stories of Jesus: No Nativity, no family, disciples, teachings, parables, ethics, not even any miracles! Nor do they know of any places like Bethlehem or Galilee, not even that Jesus was supposedly condemned by Pilate in Jerusalem! The evidence of the very first Christians themselves doesn’t give us any cause to believe that the Gospel Jesus ever existed. That’s not a hoax: It’s mankind’s most monumental misconception!
David H Lewis

Posted by: David H Lewis on Tuesday, 28 December 2004 at 11:27pm GMT

A few points:

(1) If the entire Joesphus passage is a forgery, how come Josephus calls James 'the brother of Jesus called the Christ'? Is that entire passage also a forgery? There is not the slightest manuscript evidence for that.

(2) Who are these 'earliest Christian writers'? Paul and...Paul... and., One person is not a significant sample.
I asked you this question before, but so far have not had an answer!! :o)

Posted by: Christopher Shell on Thursday, 30 December 2004 at 11:23am GMT

Thanks for further queries Chris - answers already given on Dec 11 Apocalypse comments. Regards DHL

Posted by: David H Lewis on Saturday, 1 January 2005 at 9:42pm GMT

Hello again Christopher, I forgot to respond to your Josephus query. Vermes didn't cite the shorter Josephan passage you are alluding to but the fact you've bypassed his mention of the longer one that I queried and gone straight to defend the shorter one suggests that you're sufficiently familiar with the objections to the longer one as to accept that it's indefensible. Without the longer passage the shorter one becomes very lonely indeed and the indirect mss evidence to place it under extreme suspicion are the PROVEN Christian interpolations and interferences elsewhere. Furthermore, although J wrote of many messianic figures, the only times the word "Christ" meaning, as you know, "Messiah" appears in all Josephus's writings are in those two disputed passages! As he was writing for pagans who wouldn't have known what a messiah was he would surely have explained the term to them if he'd really used it. The fact it sits there unexplained suggests a Christian (who did understand what it meant) put it there! Note also that Hegesippus and Clement of Alexandria disagree with this passage and say merely that James was killed in a riot. There is also the strong possibility that James "the brother of Jesus him called Christ" was simply an innocent assumption by some copyist who thought that's what it SHOULD say, not necessarily what it DID say!
Hope that's of some help. Best wishes for the New year, David

Posted by: David on Sunday, 2 January 2005 at 1:32pm GMT

Hi David

It's a very extreme position to say that the whole of the longer Josephus passage is interpolated. If a Christian were to successfully interpolate, is this what a Christian interpolation would look like? The point about the James passage is that it demonstrates that Jesus is 'the aforementioned Jesus' whom Josephus has already mentioned.

Why do you think it is less likely that Clement and Hegesippus disagreed with (the nonChristian) Josephus than that the supposed Christian interpolator disagreed with the Christian writers Clement and Hegesippus. (Not that there is necessarily disagreement here, just other traditions.) All things being equal, you would expect Christian writers to agree with Christian. But the point is that you cannot show your supposed scenario to be the more likely one. Rather, it is the less likely, because it involves supposed interpolations for which there is no MS evidence, whereas the other scenario has no need for such complicated hypotheses.

Posted by: Christopher Shell on Tuesday, 4 January 2005 at 5:33pm GMT
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