Friday, December 15, 2006

"20/20" On Jesus' Birth

I just watched the segment on Jesus' birth on ABC's "20/20". As could be expected, they repeated a lot of misleading claims that have long been refuted, and they didn't go into much depth. The segment was largely about asking scholars what they believed, without presenting much supporting evidence.

As is common in programs like this one, the gospels are referred to as having been written "70 to 100 years after the event". How many scholars would date Matthew and Luke to around 95 A.D.? Notice that they include such a late date in their range, but don't include the early dating supported by other scholars.

Paula Fredriksen repeatedly made ridiculous claims, such as the assertion that it was "necessary" for Luke to include his census in order to have Jesus born in Bethlehem. Why couldn't he have just had Joseph and Mary living in Bethlehem at the time? Or have them stay there while traveling for something less unusual and less public than a census? The concept that it was "necessary" for Luke to fabricate a census account in order to have Jesus born in Bethlehem is absurd.

Marvin Meyer made the ridiculous claim that "There is much more evidence to suggest that Jesus was born in Nazareth. That he came from Nazareth, and that's why he's called Jesus of Nazareth". Yes, Jesus is called "Jesus of Nazareth", and He's referred to as such repeatedly by the same gospels that tell us that He was born in Bethlehem. I'll be addressing this issue in more depth on Sunday, in my ongoing series on Jesus' birthplace. Meyer's claim that we have "much more evidence" for a Nazareth birthplace is unreasonable. None of the alleged evidence for Nazareth is as explicit as the evidence for Bethlehem, and the Bethlehem account was accepted early and widely. Meyer's comments are another example of some modern scholars' willingness to advocate highly speculative theories based on weak evidence while rejecting conclusions that are supported by far better evidence.

We're also told by ABC:

"Although it is difficult, if not impossible, to confirm the events recounted in the birth narratives, outside the Gospel stories themselves, almost everyone agrees that applying today's factual standards may miss the whole point of the story."

There are a lot of ways some of those phrases could be interpreted. But the impression I got, from watching the program, was that the viewer was being led to interpret those comments much as somebody like Paula Fredriksen would.

We have many sources outside of Matthew and Luke who refer to Jesus' Davidic ancestry, the names of His parents, the virgin birth, the Bethlehem birthplace, etc. Matthew and Luke are the best sources for some of the details within the infancy narratives, but being the best source isn't equivalent to being the only source. And even if they were the only sources, they're credible. If Josephus or Tacitus is the best source we have on a particular issue, and later sources corroborate him, we often accept what's reported as credible, and the corroboration by later sources can be significant.

The people who put together programs like this segment on "20/20" ought to stop focusing so much on scholars' conclusions and focus more on supporting evidence. And they ought to stop ignoring so much of the evidence for the conservative position. They also ought to ask liberal scholars more difficult questions instead of letting people like Paula Fredriksen and Marvin Meyer make such ridiculous comments without being challenged much, if at all.

1 comment:

  1. But Jason, if 20/20 did that it would require them to confront their bias!