Tuesday, Joe Carter blasted Brian Flemming's documentary The God Who Wasn't There, which claims that Jesus never existed. I have to say that I agree with Carter on this one for a few reasons, though the one I'll lay out here is one he isn't going to like much.
Many people don't realize it, but the standard nativity story, performed every year by grade school kids across the globe, appears in no single book of the Bible. Instead, it mixes stories from two books, and specifically contradicts the Bible on one point.
Here's how the book of Luke tells the story: Caesar Agustus gives his order for the whole world to be taxed, causing Joseph and Mary to travel from Nazereth to Bethlehem. There, she gives birth in a manger because all the inns were full. Shepherds show up, then go "spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child." Later (41 days later, if I'm reading Leviticus 12 right) they take him to Jerusalem. Then they go home to Nazereth.
Now Matthew: Joseph takes Mary home as his wife. She gives birth in Bethlehem. What are they doing Bethlehem? This isn't explained, but the reader could be forgiven for thinking they lived there. Lucky we have Luke to correct that misperception. Then, the Magi visit Jesus at a house - not a manger - in Bethlehem. Apparently they found a house to stay in while waiting to take Jesus to Jerusalem. Unfortunately, the Magi have tipped off Herod as to Jesus' location (the shepherds were more discreet when they were spreading the word). Well, Joseph is warned in a dream, they flee to Egypt, and return after Herod dies.
This is the part I don't quite understand. Did God give Herod a heart attack so that Mary and Joseph would be able to return to Jerusalem within the 41 day window? If so, why didn't he do so before they had to flee? Now that I'm on it, would they have even had the time for a two-way trip to Egypt in those 41 days? Maybe Herod was really slow in sending out his soldiers, giving Mary and Joseph time to stop in Jerusalem before fleeing to Egypt? Google could not help me with this issue, maybe someone can explain this to me in the comments.
To finish up Matthew's version, Joseph is afraid of Herod's brother, so the family goes to live in Nazereth rather than Bethlehem. Must have gotten pretty well settled in Bethlehem for Joseph to want to return there rather than where he had been living in Nazereth.
Okay, enought with the sarcasm. What we have here is two stories that cannot be reconciled, making one and probably both false. That such elaborate legends could form by the time the Gospels were written flies in the face of all apologetic attempts to claim that Jesus' miracles could not have been legends.
Why, then, does this cause trouble for Flemming? The one thing the stories seem to agree on is that Jesus was born in Bethlehem and raised in Nazereth. They had good polemical reasons to have him born in Bethlehem, city of David, but probably had heard him called "Jesus of Nazereth" too many times to deny that he was raised there. They were, in other words, not making up a myth out of whole cloth but building one around an inconvenient. Not much comfort for Christians, but one reason for atheists to drop this claim that Jesus never existed.