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The MOST Theological Collection: Outline of Christology

"VI. The Genre of the Infancy Gospels"


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Special attention is needed here because of the many attacks on their historicity. But we have special evidence for their historicity: 

(1) Vatican II LG §57: "This union of the Mother with the Son in the work of salvation is evident from the time of the virginal conception of Christ even to His death. In the first place, it is evident when Mary, arising in haste to visit Elizabeth, is greeted by her as blessed because of her faith... . [it is evident] at His birth, when the Mother of God joyfully showed her firstborn Son - who did not diminish, but consecrated her virginal integrity - to the shepherds and the Magi." A bit earlier, in §55, the same document had shown great meticulousness in inserting cf. before references to Gen 3. 15 and Is 7. 14, to avoid saying flatly that the human author of these verses had seen what the Church now sees in them. But no such reservations were made in the lines just cited from §57, even as to the shepherds and the Magi. We notice too that LG speaks of her "virginal integrity", which surely refers to physical virginity. So her virginity is not just something spiritual as some are claiming.

(2) Paul VI, Allocution of Dec 28, 1966 (Insegnamenti di Paolo VI), He complained that some "try to diminish the historical value of the Gospels themselves, especially those that refer to the birth of Jesus and His infancy. We mention this devaluation briefly so that you may know how to defend with study and faith the consoling certainty that these pages are not inventions of people's fancy, but that they speak the truth... . The authority of the Council has not pronounced differently on this:'The Sacred Authors wrote... always in such a way that they reported on Jesus with sincerity and truth' (Constitution on Divine Revelation n. 19)."

(3) John Paul II, General Audience of January 28, 1988: "To identify the source of the infancy narrative one must go back to St. Luke's remark: 'Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart'... Mary 'who kept these things in her heart'... could bear witness, after Christ's death and resurrection, in regard to what concerned herself and her role as Mother, precisely in the apostolic period when the New Testament texts were being written, and when the early Christian tradition had its origin."

(4) John L. McKenzie on charges by R. Brown's The Birth of the Messiah (Doubleday, 1977). Brown claimed St. Luke built up a few scant bits of information in parallel to OT incidents. John L. McKenzie, hardly a conservative, wrote a review of Brown's book in National Catholic Reporter, Dec. 2, 1977: "... one wonders how a Gentile convert (or a Gentile proselyte) could have acquired so quickly the mastery of the Greek Old Testament shown in the use of the Old Testament in Luke's infancy narratives. If Luke the physician had been able to study medicine with such success, he would have discovered a cure for cancer... . Luke must have had a source for his Old Testament texts and allusions; and it is hard to think of such a collection of texts without a narrative for them to illustrate, a pre-Lucan infancy narrative is suggested, I beg to submit."

(5) Journal for Study of the New Testament, vol. 15 (July 1982) pp. 30-41, article "Did St. Luke Imitate the Septuagint?" by Wm. G. Most. As we saw earlier, a study of Luke's use of apodotic kai shows Luke was meticulous in his translation of Hebrew documents at certain points. Luke had said in his opening lines that he used documents. This is a confirmation. Right after showing such care for precision, could we imagine Luke indulging in fancies?

(6) Answers to objections against the infancy Gospels:

a) In Matthew, Mary and Joseph live in a house; in Luke, they are in a stable. --- Reply: St. Joseph would find better lodgings as soon as possible. Matthew reports a later time, when the Magi came. The fact that Herod killed all babies up to 2 years of age shows there was quite a bit of time, even if we allow for the probability Herod played it safe. .

b) A journey to Egypt will not fit with Luke's account of an orderly return to Nazareth. ---Reply: Luke merely gives a compendium of events. Since the Magi came some time after the birth of Jesus, there was time for the presentation in the temple, and for the Magi's visit after that, then the flight into Egypt. Really there would be time to move back to Nazareth and then back to Bethlehem. Herod ordered boys killed up to 2 years, showing there was some time, even if he gave a margin.

c) There is no record of such a census, or of Quirinius being governor at the time. --- Reply: A recent study, E. L. Martin, The Star that Astonished the World (ASK Publications, Portland, Or. 25000, 1991) shows that Jesus was born in 3 B.C. . probably in the fall. The time hinges on one thing, the fact that Josephus puts the death of Herod just after a lunar eclipse. Martin shows we must pick the eclipse of Jan. 10, 1 B.C. because all the events that Josephus says took place between Herod's death and the next Passover would take about 12 weeks. The only other eclipse that gave enough time would be that of Sept 15, 5 BC. But since Herod then was very sick, and in Jericho at the time of the eclipse, he would not have stayed in Jericho - extremely hot at that season, while Jerusalem would have been comfortable. But Jan 10 would be comfortable in Jericho. Further, there are secular sources that show there was an enrollment in 3 B.C. to take an oath of allegiance to Augustus (cf. Lewis & Reinhold, Roman Civilization, Source Books II, pp. 34-35, since in 2 B.C. he was to receive the great title of Father of His Country.

The real governor of Palestine would have gone to Rome for the great celebration. He needed someone to take care of the country in his absence. Since Augustus got the honor on Feb. 5, 2 BC, the governor would have to leave before Nov 1 of 3 BC- Mediterranean was dangerous for sailing after Nov 1. But Quirinius had just completed a successful war to the north, in Cilicia, against the Homonadenses. So he could be an ideal man to put in charge. Luke does not use the noun governor, but a verbal form, governing. Still further, there has been an obscure decade 6 B.C. to 4 A.D. whose events were hard to fit in if we took the birth of Christ to have been in the range 4 to 6 B.C. But with the new dating all these fall into place easily. E. g. Augustus in 1 AD received his 15th acclamation for a victory in 1 AD. If we picked 4 BC for birth of Christ, we cannot find such a victory, but if birth of Christ is 3 BC, then the war would b e running at about the right time and finished in 1 AD.

Martin's work has received fine reviews from astronomers (his work is based on astronomy, and over 600 planetariums have modified their Christmas star show to fit with his findings) and from Classicists, who were concerned about the obscure decade.

Objection: a) Josephus says Herod had a reign of 37 years after being proclaimed king by Romans, and had 34 yrs after death of Antigonus, which came soon after Herod took Jerusalem. b) Further, his 3 successors, Archelaus, Antipas and Philip started to reign in 4 BC. So Herod died in 4 BC.

Reply: a) That calculation would make the death of Herod fall actually in 3 BC - scholars have had to stretch the date, since there was no eclipse of moon in 3 BC. - But, Herod took Jerusalem late in 36 BC (on Yom Kippur in a sabbatical year, so it was well remembered - and Josephus says Pompey had taken Jerusalem in 63 which was 27 yrs to the day of Herod's capture of Jerusalem). Using the common accession year dating, we see Herod started his 34 years on Nisan 1 in 35 BC, and those years would end on Nisan 1, 1 BC. So 34 years after 35 BC yields 1 BC for death of Herod after eclipse of Jan 10. -- b) As to the 3 successors, Herod lost favor of Augustus in 4 BC, on a false report, was no longer "Friend of Caesar", but "Subject". Antedating of reigns was common - reason here was to make the three seem to connect with the two "royal" sons, of Hasmonean descent, Alexander and Aristobulus, whom Herod executed on false reports from Antipater (do not confuse with Antipas).

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