Thursday, December 08, 2022

Start With Nazareth Rather Than Bethlehem

Critics of a traditional Christian view of Jesus' childhood often acknowledge Jesus' presence in Nazareth at an early age and even bring it up on their own initiative and use it as an argument against the Bethlehem birthplace. So, a good way of beginning a case for a traditional view of the childhood of Jesus is to start where the critic wants you to start, with Nazareth.

There are many posts in our archives about the significance of Jesus' background there. Go here, here, here, and here for a few that will outline the importance of Jesus' childhood in that city and the evidence for his residence there. You can search the archives for other relevant posts if you want. And go here for an example of my taking this sort of approach with a critic who brought up Jesus' residence in Nazareth. (If that link doesn't take you to the relevant portion of the comments section of the thread, look for a post at 9:55 P.M. on 12/17/20 from sp1ke0kill3r, which is followed by my response to him.)

Tuesday, December 06, 2022

A Premarital Pregnancy In Nazareth

In a post last year, I referred to how even people who have been highly critical of Christianity, like Christopher Hitchens and Bart Ehrman, have taken Jesus' background in Nazareth seriously. Ehrman even refers to Jesus' being raised in Nazareth as "certain" (The New Testament [New York, New York: Oxford University Press, 2012], 269). A good way to start a case for a traditional Christian view of Jesus' childhood is to combine a couple of aspects of that view that even critics have acknowledged to be unlikely to have been fabricated: Mary's residence in Nazareth and the premarital timing of the pregnancy. The best way to have aligned Christianity with traditional Jewish expectations and to have avoided potential problems with departing from those expectations would have been to put forward a marital pregnancy in Bethlehem. The fact that the traditional Christian view of Jesus has his life beginning with a premarital pregnancy in Nazareth suggests that the traditional view is rooted in history as far back as the time of Jesus' conception.

Sunday, December 04, 2022

Even Without The Miracles, Jesus' Childhood Was Unusually Memorable

Over my next few posts, I want to discuss some good ways for Christians to begin making an argument for a traditional Christian view of Jesus' childhood. After that series of posts is completed, I'll link those posts and some other relevant ones in one place, and I'll supplement that collection with anything else I want to add in the future.

Some critics of a traditional view of Jesus' childhood will go as far as to suggest that we should be highly skeptical of even the more ordinary claims about Jesus' youth. For example, Annette Merz wrote, "no one among his family or fellow villagers expected anything special from him, and thus nobody paid any special attention to him. No historically reliable traditions of Jesus' childhood have survived, nor would one expect that an ordinary craftsman's family in a collectivist society (even if it claimed Davidic provenance, which is doubtful) would engage in collecting memories of a family member's individual development….We must not confuse the world of high-ranking persons who documented their important lives with the world of nobodies from which Jesus originated. Of course, things changed when Jesus' career as a prophet of the kingdom of God and a successful healer unfolded." (in Peter Barthel and George van Kooten, edd., The Star Of Bethlehem And The Magi [Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2015], 491) You can read my review of Merz's chapter in the book just cited for a fuller response to her. What I want to do here is provide a few examples of how memorable Jesus' childhood would have been even by the standards of the large majority of Christianity's modern critics. I'm not suggesting that every detail of his childhood would have been remembered, of course. But the evidence suggests that much more would have been remembered than Merz claims.

Jesus was a firstborn child. Firstborns tend to be remembered more in accordance with their uniqueness (the first birth in a family, the process of learning how to do things for the first time in the context of raising that child, etc.).

The pregnancy was premarital. The scandalous nature of the timing of the pregnancy would have made it and some surrounding events more memorable accordingly, as we see reflected in the controversies involving that timing of the pregnancy over the last two millennia.

Jesus probably had an unusual personality. That's typically the case with people who become such prominent public figures and have such an influence on history. It's unlikely that all of his unusualness didn't develop until adulthood. Most likely, some unusual traits were evident in his childhood, and those would have made his childhood more memorable.

Even ordinary men are occasionally involved in unusual events in their youth. Relatives, neighbors, and others involved will remember something unusual a child said, an unusually dangerous situation he was in, a type of clothing he often wore, or whatever else. It would be surprising if nothing of the sort was remembered about Jesus' childhood.

These are just a few examples. I'm not suggesting that we shouldn't go beyond these kinds of aspects of Jesus' youth that would be commonly accepted even by modern critics of Christianity. But starting with examples like these is a good way of illustrating the unreasonableness of sentiments like Merz's. It's also a good way of making more reasonable critics aware, or reminding them, of how much warrant we have to think that reliable information was preserved about Jesus' childhood by the critics' own standards. Even when people aren't as skeptical as somebody like Merz or a Jesus mythicist, they often don't think through some of the pro-Christian implications of what they believe.