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The First Christmas: The Story of Jesus’ Birth in History and Tradition

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Interested in the Christmas story and what it meant to the earliest Christians?

In this free eBook, expert Bible scholars and archaeologists offer glimpses of the first Christmas as recounted and understood by those who first told the beloved story.

Discover what Bible experts have to say about the Gospel stories of Jesus’ birth, the history of Christmas, the three wise men, the adoration of the magi, the star of Bethlehem, the date of Jesus’ birth, shepherds and angels at the nativity, the location of Jesus’ birth, the magi in art and literature and early Christian Christmas traditions.

The time-honored traditions of Christmas are dear to the hearts of Christians today. The story of the first Christmas recaptures the imagination as it is retold year after year in Bible readings, carols, Christmas pageants, live manger scenes and crèche displays, to name a few. Perhaps in the midst of all this, we might wonder what the story of Jesus’ birth meant to the earliest Christians. How did their story differ from the one we tell today, and what significance did they give to each member of the cast of characters?

Chapter One

Witnessing the Divine: The Magi in Art and Literature

Witnessing the Divine

Early and modern-day Christians alike have been captivated in particular by the three magi in the Christmas story. Author Robin Jensen tells us that early Christian art contains more representations of the adoration of the magi than of the infant Jesus in the manger. What key theological message did the early Christians see in the story of the magi? Jensen uncovers the answer by tracing the magi’s numerous appearances in art and literature from the period in “Witnessing the Divine: The Magi in Art and Literature.”

Chapter Two

The Magi and the Star: Babylonian Astronomy Dates Jesus’ Birth

The Magi and the Star

Perhaps the most mystifying part of the magi’s journey is the star that guides them. Scholars and astronomers have tried for some time to identify a celestial event that corresponds with the magi’s guiding star, in part because it would also pinpoint the date of Jesus’ birth. Where modern science fails to explain the mysterious star, Babylonian astronomy gives better clues in “The Magi and the Star: Babylonian Astronomy Dates Jesus’ Birth” by Simo Parpola.

Chapter Three

What Was the Star that Guided the Magi?

What was the star that guided the magi

Author Dale C. Allison, Jr. does not look to astronomy for an explanation of the magi’s star, though he does look heavenward. In “What Was the Star that Guided the Magi,” he suggests that another sort of celestial entity was the bright light that guided the magi’s journey to pay homage to the infant Jesus.

This free eBook is a very special opportunity. In it, Bible scholars and archaeologists offer glimpses of the first Christmas as recounted and understood by those who first told the beloved story.

Chapter Four

Where Was Jesus Born? O Little Town of … Nazareth?

Nazareth

The star, tradition tells us, led the magi to the tiny Judean town of Bethlehem. However, many scholars of the New Testament have come to the conclusion that Jesus was born in Nazareth, not Bethlehem. Steve Mason’s “O Little Town of … Nazareth?” explores the the passages in the Biblical text that suggest Nazareth was Jesus’ birthplace.

Chapter Five

Where Was Jesus Born? Bethlehem … Of Course

Bethlehem

Despite the belief held by some researchers that Jesus was born in Nazareth, other prominent New Testament scholars remain convinced that the first Christmas took place in Bethlehem. Jerome Murphy O’Connor supports the Bethlehem tradition using archaeology, the gospels and other ancient texts in “Bethlehem … Of Course.”

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  • John says

    Hi Bonnie,
    Good comments, however, if I am not mistaken, (and I often have been), were some of the points you made concerning christmas from the book “The Two Babylons” by Alexander Hislop…….if so, we really need to be careful quoting him, because he really had an axe to grind about the popes and the catholic church, he had such a hatred that some of the points he made are fabricated and far from the truth. agape

  • John says

    Where modern science fails to explain the mysterious star, Babylonian astronomy gives better clues in “The Magi and the Star: Babylonian Astronomy Dates Jesus’ Birth” by Simo Parpola. (Chapter 2 The First Christmas)

    Let us get our facts straight, first there was no christmas concerning the birth of Jesus.
    The celebration of christmas never came into being until the fourth century. also if the birth of Jesus was to be so important, as it is made out to be, (by men), one would have to agree that it would be clearly shown in the Bible, the same as Jesus’ death, which is well documented, and also how the memorial of his death was to be observed.
    The quote from the book says that modern science has not been able to explain the star that ONLY the astrologers (magi) saw, which guided them to Herod first, who then ordered the murder of all male children up to 2 years of age. This star certainly was not a sign from God……….the star was a sign from the archenemy of God, Satan the devil.
    Satan certainly did not want Jesus to fulfill his purpose on earth, he wanted to prevent the first prophecy in the Bible to become true, which is recorded at Genesis 3:15 and try as he might, God was not going to let Satan have his wish.

    Interesting how christmas cards show the star over Bethlehem as part of the nativity scene……….as I mentioned earlier the star led the Babylonian astrologers to Herod, in Jerusalem FIRST and then showed the astrologers where the YOUNG BOY Jesus was in Bethlehem………..he was not an infant in a manger (Matthew 3:9-12) …..note that verse 11 says he was a young child, NOT a baby. This explains why Herod ordered the death of male children up to the age of 2.
    This is just another Bible account that shows what christmas really is……….a pagan celebration.

  • John says

    “…….two renowned scholars, Steve Mason and Jerome Murphy O’Connor, provide differing takes on where Jesus was born—Bethlehem, as traditionally held, or Nazareth. Mason explores those passages in the Bible that suggest Nazareth was Jesus’ birthplace, while O’Connor offers archaeological, historical and Biblical evidence supporting the Bethlehem tradition.”
    The Bible clearly states that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, Judea the reason why he was called a Nazarene or a Galilean was because after Joseph’s return from Egypt, after Herod’s death, he took his family to Nazareth in the district of Galilee. Matthew 2:22,23
    As a Christian one should ALWAYS accept what the Bible says rather than what so called Bible scholars or historians have to say on a matter……….it is the Bible that is God’s word.

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