Every year, as Christmas and Easter approach, a handful of obscure professors emerge from their dusty carrels to seize their 15 minutes of fame. During those few weeks each year the media is paying attention to religion, and an ambitious academician can leap in front of the spotlight by advancing a novel theory about the history of Christianity.
Take, for example, Australian astronomers who theorize that Christ was actually born in June. Let's be honest; the mass media wouldn't be interested in this theory if it had been presented in, say, June. The media interest in the Nativity is seasonal; a typical journalist's grasp of theological issues is... Well, just notice the point that seemed important to the Daily Telegraph in connection with the astronomers' argument:
If the team is correct, it would mean Jesus was a Gemini, not a Capricorn as previously believed.
Still, you can't blame the astronomers if the reporter leans toward astrology. The professor base argument on a study of the night skies, and a rare alignment of planets that could account for the brightness the Magi saw as the Star of Bethlehem. You might not find their argument compelling, but at least there is some scientific evidence presented to support it; the hypothesis is not preposterous on its face.
In an altogether different category are those academicians who advance a deliberately provocative theory without bothering about the evidence. Thus far this year, the leader in the clubhouse is Rose Mary Sheldon of Virginia Military Institute, who has put forward the novel theory that St. Paul, far from being a Christian missionary, was actually a spy working for the Roman empire. Not that's an eye-opener, isn't it? But where's the evidence?
Sheldon says Paul's interaction with Roman officials seems to have been remarkably friendly, and she notes that in his letter to the Romans, he urges Christians to obey them.
Well now let's see, Professor Sheldon. Apart from this fantastic conspiracy theory, is there any other way to explain St. Paul's relations with the Roman officials? Could they have been respectful, say, because St. Paul was a Roman citizen? Would there be any theological explanation for his advice that Christians should obey legal authorities? Anything, perhaps, in the writings of St. Paul himself?
And you know, there was a limit to the Roman friendliness. The emperor did, finally, cut off St. Paul's head. If he really was working for the Romans to squelch the young Christian faith, St. Paul didn't do a very good job.
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