Evidence of Jesus’ Birth Revealed | Full Episode

>> NARRATOR: In a backwater of the ancient world, a newborn child heralds new hope for mankind. It is a birth riddled with paradox. A virgin has become a mother; God has become human; a child is King. The biblical account of Jesus’ birth has enraptured millions. But the passage of 2,000 years

Has obscured the historical events that inspired it. What really happened? The answers, though elusive, may still be within our grasp– in clues contained in the Bible, in ancient historical documents and in recent new discoveries by scholars and scientists. Join us as we try to reconstruct the true story of a birth as

Mysterious as it was momentous. [Captioning sponsored by A&E TELEVISION NETWORKS] >> NARRATOR: For many, the search for the truth begins here. This sanctuary in Bethlehem was built in 326 A.D. at the behest of the mother of the most powerful man on Earth. A decade earlier, Constantine

The Great had altered history by declaring Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. His mother Helena became convinced by local residents that his newfound faith began on this spot. Visitors to the Church of the Nativity can descend to a grotto below, where Jesus is said to have been born.

Many share Helena’s belief. Others, who do not, still acknowledge the site’s symbolic if not historic value. Here, both can find satisfaction. Here, they can touch Christmas. For Christians, the birth of Jesus marks the moment when the world was transformed by the arrival of humanity’s savior. To others, it is an epochal

Turning point: the dawn of the dominant figure of Western culture. The mystery of Jesus’ birth is contained in two books of the New Testament: the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. But many scholars believe that they are works concerned not so much with facts than faith. To extract history from their pages is problematic.

>> DANIEL SMITH-CHRISTOPHER: The Hebrews knew that some truths are more profoundly communicated by telling a story than simply narrating historical events. That presents us an interesting difficulty. Sometimes we have to take a biblical passage and decide how much of this is the narration of events and how much of this is

Story and how do we tell the difference? >> ELIZABETH McNAMER: Our idea of history is different from writers who were writing then. We’re interested in the facts and only the facts. People writing at that point were interested not just in what happened, but in the interpretation of what happened.

It didn’t disturb them at all to add things to put forward their own theology, and it didn’t disturb their readers, either. >> JUDY YATES SIKER: They weren’t historians and they weren’t biographers. They were people whose communities had been impacted by the life of one they called Jesus of Nazareth, and it was

Imperative that they tell the story. >> NARRATOR: But did Matthew and Luke base their accounts of Jesus’ birth on actual events? Or did they merely invent the story after Jesus rose to prominence? The answers are all the more elusive because the narrative known to millions is in fact a fusion of two strikingly

Different tales. It begins when God chooses an obscure young virgin named Mary to carry his son. He tells her of his plan in an extraordinary encounter known as the Annunciation. >> “The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in

Your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus.’ And Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be since I am a virgin?’ And the angel answered, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you and for that reason the holy offspring shall be called the Son of God.'”– LUKE 1:30.

>> NARRATOR: When Mary reveals her pregnancy to Joseph, her fiancé, he disbelieves her story. But when another angel visits him to verify it, his devotion to Mary is restored. Months pass… then a drama begins that is described by Luke but never mentioned by Matthew. The Emperor demands that all the

Roman world, including the Hebrew people, return to their ancestral homes in order to be taxed. >> “Now it came about in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited Earth. And all were proceeding to register for the census,

Everyone to his own city.”– LUKE 2:1. >> NARRATOR: Joseph, originally from Bethlehem, must escort the pregnant Mary on an arduous journey to his home city, 90 miles away. >> SMITH-CHRISTOPHER: One of the realities that we must always keep in mind in thinking about the Christmas story is that Palestine was Roman- occupied Palestine.

This was not a time or a place when the Hebrew people were in control of their own fate. Rome was very much in control of the fate of these people. So, there’s a human drama: There’s the drama of a father and a mother protecting their child and of trying to do the

Right thing. There’s a larger drama, and that is, this is a Hebrew family trying to do the right thing under the brutal occupation of Palestine by a foreign entity– the Roman Empire. >> NARRATOR: When Mary and Joseph arrive, they discover that Bethlehem is crowded to capacity. With no lodging available, the

Couple’s dilemma worsens. Mary goes into labor. >> “And she gave birth to her newborn son, and she wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”– LUKE 2:7. >> NARRATOR: The setting where Jesus was born is not specified.

But the presence of a manger– a feeding trough for livestock– has led many to believe it was a stable. Both Matthew and Luke describe how God makes known the miraculous birth to a receptive few. But they differ about who was informed and how. According to Matthew, God conveys the news through a

Wondrous morning star. It serves as a beacon for foreign dignitaries, who travel hundreds of miles to pay homage to the infant Jesus. >> “The star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over where the child was. And they came into the house and

Saw the child with Mary, his mother, and they fell down and worshipped him. And opening their treasures, they presented him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh.”– MATTHEW 2:9. >> NARRATOR: In Luke’s version, the message of the birth is carried by an angel. It is delivered not to powerful

Foreigners, but to the local area’s most humble inhabitants. >> “There were shepherds in the fields keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people.

For today, in the city of David, there has been born for you a savior, who is Christ the Lord.'”– LUKE 2:8. >> SMITH-CHRISTOPHER: The birth of Jesus represents one of those shining moments in human history when there seems to be a kind of sunrise in human darkness.

The birth of Jesus and the life and teachings of Jesus provide us with a level of hope, a message of trust and of just the human possibilities, and I think even non-Christians can come to appreciate that in Jesus as well. >> SIKER: Whether you are a person of faith or not, you have

Echoes of the story in art, in literature, and you can’t avoid it. And so, one needs to be aware of what this story is and what the significance of this story is in order to survive in Western culture. >> MARVIN MEYER: There’s something about the birth of any child that is a wonderful

Moment. It’s a wonderful moment for a family, but in the case of the story of the birth of Jesus, the point of it is, here is a birth that may have some meaning for a bigger family, for the family of Israel, for the family of humankind. >> NARRATOR: One man’s birth

Would turn the world upside down. A new faith would challenge the old order. Jesus, claiming to be the Son of God, would be seen as a threat to Caesar, who claimed to be a god himself. Two charismatic leaders, each asserting their divinity, would offer a revolutionary choice for the future.

>> JOHN DOMINIC CROSSAN: For millions of people, Caesar as divine made sense. He owned the legions, he controlled the Mediterranean world, he brought peace to it and he lived in a huge palace over there on the Palantine Hill in Rome. Now, over here is another story, a counter-story, an anti-story,

Which says, “No, God is not the god of power and violence incarnate in Caesar; God is the Jewish god of justice and righteousness incarnate in a little child who was born in a tiny country, an occupied colony of the Roman Empire, born just about as low as you can imagine.

So you hear of the clash of two gods.” And the question of the story– and it is the Christmas question– “Where is your god? Is your god in power or in justice? Take your choice.” >> NARRATOR: For two people, the choice is never in doubt. The virgin and the carpenter who

Bring Jesus into the world are the first to love him and all he represents. Surprisingly, however, the Gospels tell us little about them. All efforts to trace the historical roots of Christmas lead back to two pivotal figures. The human drama in the story belongs to Mary and Joseph.

They are the parents of God’s only Son, responsible for bringing up the Savior of the world. Yet the Gospels provide little information about them. Today, we think of them simply as a virgin mother and a humble carpenter. Mary’s identity has been obscured by centuries of idealization, encouraged by the Catholic doctrine of the

“Immaculate Conception.” >> SIKER: The phrase the “Immaculate Conception” is often misunderstood as a reference to the immaculate conception of Jesus, when, in fact, it is a reference to Mary. There was a sanctifying grace that preserved her from the stain of original sin. It was important that Mary’s pureness be preserved.

And so, I think that in order for this young woman to be the mother of one who was later, in Christianity, considered God, that it was important that we not have original sin stain this family. >> NARRATOR: For a less romanticized, more accurate portrait of Mary, scholars take

A deeper look into the Gospels. According to Luke, she is neither meek nor mild, but driven by a sense of purpose. She reveals herself in a powerful proclamation now known as the “Magnificat.” >> “My soul exalts the Lord. He has brought down rulers from their thrones, and has exalted those who were humble.

He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent away the rich empty-handed.”– LUKE 1:46. >> SMITH-CHRISTOPHER: What is the image that Luke portrays for us of the young Mary? It is not an image of this kind of glowing, white, virginal woman floating in the air. It’s the image of a

Revolutionary young woman in Roman-occupied Palestine, who sees the implications of the coming of her child to be expressed in those powerful words that the rich will be sent away, the poor will be fed, and the powerful will be pulled down from their thrones. This is a very politically savvy young woman.

>> NARRATOR: If Luke saw Mary as a revolutionary, he also saw her as a virgin. For historians, the virgin birth defies analysis. They are not equipped or inclined to discuss miracles. In their quest to understand the Christmas story, they must confine themselves to a conventional approach. In recent years, they have

Discovered other possible explanations for Mary’s dual role as virgin and mother. Advances in reproductive biology have focused attention on a phenomenon called parthenogenesis. It is a rare process in some plants and animals in which an egg can develop into a new organism without being fertilized. No instance of the process

Occurring in a human female has ever been recorded. Still, it leaves open the possibility that a virgin birth could have a basis in science. Some scholars, however, believe the Gospel authors did not base the virgin birth on a real event, but were inspired by an Old Testament prophecy.

>> “The Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call his name Immanuel.”– ISAIAH 7:14. >> NARRATOR: According to some scholars, the Gospel authors likely claimed Jesus was born of a virgin to remain consistent with Isaiah’s prophesy of the

Coming Messiah. >> ROHALD F. HOCK: Isaiah himself, so far as we know, had no intentions of looking that far ahead, but the standard procedure throughout the ancient world was to make connections between the present and the past, and Christians are doing that with Jesus by connecting him with the past Scripture– in

This case, the prophecy of Isaiah. >> NARRATOR: Ironically, however, some claim it is possible that Isaiah never intended to predict that the Messiah would be born of a virgin. His words, written originally in Hebrew, may have taken on an erroneous new meaning when translated into the Greek version available to Matthew and Luke.

>> MEYER: In the original Hebrew of Isaiah, the word that is used for, well, “virgin” is actually ” alma,” the Hebrew word that means “a young woman”– a young woman of the age when women can conceive and bear children. And there is no more baggage than that that is connected to

That particular term. >> SIKER: When this gets translated into the Greek, which is what the early Christians would have been using– the text that they would have had– is ” parthenos,” which is more heavily nuanced as “virgin.” >> MEYER: The fact of the matter is, the doctrine of the virgin

Birth works better with the Greek than it does with the original Hebrew. >> SIKER: I don’t think that the speculation that the whole idea of Mary’s virginity comes from this “mistranslation” is one that argues very well. For one thing, it’s not a mistranslation. It is one of several words that

Is perfectly acceptable as a translation. But it does have a more heavy nuance of virginity. >> NARRATOR: Scholars who scrutinize the virgin birth focus not only on Isaiah’s prediction in the Old Testament, but also the Gospels themselves. In an apparent contradiction, the same biblical authors who celebrate Mary’s virginity also

Write that Jesus had several siblings. >> “Is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James and Joseph and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters with us?”– MATTHEW 13:54. >> McNAMER: The orthodox tradition on this is that they were children of Joseph by an earlier marriage.

The Roman Catholic tradition is that these were simply cousins of Jesus. >> NARRATOR: Matthew and Luke, however, provide no information supporting this interpretation. >> MEYER: If one will insist, theologically, upon the perpetual virginity of Mary, then there are some great problems when it comes to the brothers and the sisters of Jesus.

And then some creative theological and historical work has to be done. The spin doctors have to go to work. I think that the simplest way to read those accounts is to understand that Jesus had real brothers and real sisters. It was that kind of an ordinary family. >> NARRATOR: If Jesus had

Biological siblings, it would negate only the notion that Mary was a virgin her entire life– not necessarily her virgin birth of Jesus. >> “Joseph knew her not until she had borne a son, and she called his name Jesus.”– MATTHEW 1:25. >> NARRATOR: Some scholars argue that this verse implies that Mary conceived Jesus

Miraculously, and later lost her virginity as she and Joseph assumed a conventional sexual relationship. For skeptics, the question remains: “If Mary was not a virgin, and God was not the father of Jesus, who was?” The most likely candidate, predictably, is Joseph. But in the first century, a rumor surfaced of another possibility.

It was chronicled by the Christian theologian Origen, who taught in Egypt in the second century. He wrote of an allegation that Jesus was the offspring of Mary and a Roman soldier. >> “The Jew, speaking of the mother of Jesus, said that she was guilty of adultery, and that

She bore a child to a certain soldier named Panthera. It was to be expected, indeed, that those who would not believe the miraculous birth of Jesus would invent some falsehood.”– ORIGEN, AGAINST CELSUS, CHAPTER 33. >> SIKER: Origen argues that they had to create this lie– this lie of Mary and the Roman

Soldier– because they knew, and they unwittingly admitted in their lie that Jesus’ birth was not a usual birth. And so, if they couldn’t accept the miraculous nature of this birth, what else would they do but create such a lie? >> CROSSAN: The accusation that Mary was raped by a Roman

Soldier and produced a child, therefore out of wedlock, seems to me to be the obvious rebuttal that I would make if I didn’t accept the virginal birth. This is the nasty, within-the- family, and therefore very nasty name-calling that goes on between Christian Jews and non-Christian Jews in the first

Century, each sort of saying rather nasty things about the other. >> NARRATOR: But could this accusation have any basis in fact? One clue scholars have examined is the name of the Roman soldier mentioned by Origen– Panthera. >> MEYER: Lo and behold, it turns out that a tombstone of a

Certain “Panther” has been found in Germany– the tombstone of a Roman soldier whose name was Tiberius Julius Abdes Panther. And it is said that he was a Sidonian archer who was based in Palestine. And so, that leads then to the speculation: Could it be the case that Mary was actually

Raped by, seduced by– but, at her age, we would call that rape– raped by a Roman soldier? And it is one of the historical possibilities. >> NARRATOR: The tombstone, discovered in 1859 in the city of Bingerbruck, is an intriguing yet inconclusive piece of evidence. Some scholars have argued that

Panthera was likely a common name among the ancient Romans. So, finding it etched on an ancient tombstone should not seem surprising. The discovery has become part of a 2,000-year-old theological debate over Jesus’ parentage. But the issue was once a private crisis for one humble carpenter. After Joseph learns Mary is

Pregnant, say the Gospels, he naturally assumes she has betrayed his trust. Under the laws of his time, he could have Mary stoned to death for her perceived infidelity. Instead, he quietly breaks their engagement. God intervenes. He sends an angel to Joseph in a dream, who tells him that her child has been miraculously

Conceived. Joseph accepts the divine explanation. He and Mary resolve to carry out God’s miracle. In 1997, archaeologists make a remarkable discovery three miles from Bethlehem. The pinkish limestone appears utterly ordinary, except it is located precisely in the center of the ruins of a 5th-century church. The church, it seems, was built

Purposefully around it. The diggers believe they have found the fabled kathisma– the Greek word for “the seat.” According to an apocryphal text, Mary rested on it on her way to give birth to Jesus. Ancient Christians gathered here to commemorate her journey to Bethlehem. The find renews debate over an age-old historical question:

Where was Jesus born? >> McNAMER: I believe that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, just as the stories tell us. The reason I believe this is that there were very early traditions in the church of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. These would have surfaced very soon after his death, when

People still remembered things, that he was born in Bethlehem. >> MEYER: I think it was likely Nazareth. Jesus was known as Jesus of Nazareth. And, typically, people were known by their birthplace. This is where the family lived. The way in which Matthew and Luke go through some contortions

To get the family to Bethlehem in order for Jesus to be born there seems to indicate that there’s something that is theologically motivated about this kind of account. >> NARRATOR: Some scholars believe that the Gospel authors knew Jesus was born in Nazareth, but altered the truth in the name of faith.

Their inspiration, once again, may have been a prophecy from the Old Testament. >> “But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you one will go forth for me to be ruler in Israel.”– MICAH 5:2. >> NARRATOR: From Bethlehem,

Predicts Micah, will arise a Messiah for God’s chosen people. If Luke and Matthew wished to exalt Jesus as the awaited King, no other city would suffice as his birthplace. Whether inspired by facts or faith, Luke’s account of the journey to Bethlehem is complex and colorful. His story begins in Nazareth,

Where Mary and Joseph await the birth of Jesus. But the Roman Emperor, Caesar Augustus, orders a census of his empire. >> HOCK: A census involved essentially finding out the numbers of people, the wealth of people, for purposes of taxation. So you had to have figures. You had to have concrete data

About what a province could generate in terms of taxes so that when the Empire decided what its tribute should be, they would be able to raise those funds. And, presumably, the reason Joseph and Mary traveled to Bethlehem is because Joseph has property there and, for that reason, is required to register

Himself there rather than at Nazareth. >> NARRATOR: Luke does not specify their means of transportation. But since donkeys were commonly used to move both goods and people, the popular image of Mary riding one is entirely plausible. The roads in Palestine, even by ancient standards, were primitive. The food commonly taken on an

Extended journey was bread and water. Scholars imagine the 90-mile trek would have been grueling. Slowed by Mary’s condition, they would have traveled perhaps ten miles a day. The entire journey would have lasted more than a week. The question remains whether Joseph and Mary really endured such a journey.

The key to the answer may lie in the census that Luke says motivated it. >> “This was the first census taken while Quirinius was Governor of Syria.”– LUKE 2:2. >> NARRATOR: Independent historical sources confirm that a Roman census did occur during the reign of Quirinius. But it occurred in 6 A.D., long

After Jesus was born. It has been suggested that Luke misidentified the Governor; he may have meant to specify the similarly named Quintillus. His reign began in 6 B.C., around the same time that another Roman census was conducted. Even if this is true, however, paradox persists. Roman records indicate that

Every census ordered by Caesar Augustus over a 42-year span involved only Roman citizens. Mary and Joseph would not have participated. Also suspect is a census that required registrants to return to the city where they were born. >> CROSSAN: If everyone goes back to their ancestral home to be recorded and then goes back

To wherever they live, that’s a bureaucratic nightmare. It’s not the way the Romans did it. They wanted you recorded where you were working. “We want to know where you are to pay your taxes.” So, it’s a story which Luke creates in order to get Mary and Joseph and Jesus, of course to

Be born yet, to Bethlehem. But it is not factual. It’s fictional. >> DR. RICHARD HORSLEY: For a long time, we thought that this was just a story, and that this was just a literary device. Well, we’ve discovered papyri in Egypt, now, that put a whole different slant on this.

The Romans required peasants who had found themselves unable to both pay their taxes to Caesar and provide for their families to return to their villages precisely in order to be down on the farm where they would raise crops and pay the Roman taxes. Then that puts some great credibility back in this legend

That Joseph and Mary journey to Bethlehem on the occasion of Caesar having decreed a tax. >> NARRATOR: Whether Luke’s story of the census is credible or not, there may be a completely different scenario that compelled Mary and Joseph to journey to Bethlehem. Some scholars suggest it is possible that Mary was aware of

The Old Testament prophecy in Micah. They believe she may have purposely delivered her baby in the predicted city to bolster his role as the Messiah. >> SMITH-CHRISTOPHER: Let’s remember Luke’s portrayal of Mary as a socially and politically very sophisticated young woman who sees her role as part of the resistance of the

Hebrew people to Roman-occupied Palestine. For this woman to associate the coming of this messianic child with the line of David and to make a move to Bethlehem to emphasize that association would be a politically very savvy move on her part. Is it possible? Absolutely, I think it’s possible.

>> NARRATOR: If Jesus was born in Bethlehem, it is still a mystery as to the precise setting. One passage, however, may hold the answer. >> “And she gave birth to her newborn son, and she wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there

Was no room for them in the inn.”– LUKE 2:7. >> McNAMER: Luke says to us, “There was no room at the inn.” Actually that can be translated: “It was not the place for them in the inn.” You know, an inn was simply an open field, surrounded by a wall

Where travelers could go to be safe from the animals and robbers, and there was a huge fire in the middle where they could do their own cooking, and many travelers would have been staying there. It probably would be the last place in the world you would want to have a baby.

>> NARRATOR: Luke’s mention of a manger implies Jesus was born in a stable, where it would most likely be found. But it is doubtful it would have been a freestanding structure. The more likely setting is a cave, as caves were commonly used to house livestock in the Holy Land.

Wherever Jesus was born, Matthew and Luke call attention to the modest nature of the setting. Though they decree Jesus a King, they make clear that he was not born in a palace. >> SMITH-CHRISTOPHER: Virtually all of the Gospel accounts want to emphasize the humble beginnings of Jesus– the poor beginnings of Jesus.

Look at the setting for the arrival of God’s Messiah. God chose the least, God chose the powerless as the stage upon which salvation shall be worked out. That’s a very profound and important point. >> NARRATOR: For Christians, Jesus’ birth signifies a new beginning for mankind. 2,000 years later, the centuries

Themselves are measured from this pivotal moment in history. But when it occurred still remains a mystery.ou a merry Christmas We wish you a merry Christmas and a Happy New Year… ♪ >> NARRATOR: Every December 25, millions embrace Christmas with reverence and revelry. >> ♪ Navidad, Navidad, hoy es Navidad… ♪

>> ( chanting in Latin ) >> NARRATOR: But unconsciously, the entire world celebrates it every day. In theory, every minute and second that ticks by is measured from the moment Jesus drew his first breath. On New Year’s Eve, the number emblazoned above Times Square declares how many years we believe have passed since Jesus was born. The only problem is that we are almost certainly wrong. The answer was a mystery even in Jesus’ own time. For the early Christians, the defining moment of his life was not its beginning, but its end. The question of when Jesus was born was not an issue until the second century. Christians found themselves

Challenged by a splinter group of believers who claimed Jesus had never been born in the conventional sense. >> McNAMER: I believe that the birth of Jesus only became important in the second century with Gnosticism. Gnostics were an heretical group within the church who were suggesting that Jesus never had a real body.

They essentially did not believe that matter was good. The only thing that was good was spirit. They did not believe in the incarnation. They believed in what we call the Docetic Christ– he only appeared to have a body– and I believe that the infancy narratives were written to counteract this heresy.

>> NARRATOR: When the early Christians became more curious about the circumstances of Jesus’ birth, they began to speculate about the date it occurred. In Egypt, a bishop named Clement determined that Jesus was born on November 18. Elsewhere in North Africa, an anonymous scholar of the same era declared it to be March 28.

Why they chose these dates is unknown. By the fourth century, Christians were no closer to finding the truth. But they decided which day seemed most appropriate– at least symbolically. December 25 had long been celebrated as the pagan holiday honoring the Sun God, Mithras. It was part of a two-week

Festival of the winter solstice, when the days began to lengthen. For the first several centuries of Christianity, the church found itself in fierce competition with popular pagan religions. What better way to challenge them than to usurp their holidays? >> CROSSAN: In the same way that you might take a pagan temple

And put a Christian shrine right on top of it, you put a Christian feast, the birth of Jesus, right on top of the winter solstice, right on top of a pagan feast. You sort of obliterate the pagan layer with the Christian layer. >> NARRATOR: Beyond the practical motivation was the symbolic.

>> McNAMER: I suppose we could say that Jesus was the light of the world, and this was a wonderful time to have the celebration, when there is darkness and then there is light– this light suddenly appearing. >> NARRATOR: In the year 349, Pope Julius formally designated December 25 as Christmas.

Believers now had an official date on which to celebrate, but the declaration extinguished whatever curiosity remained to discover the actual date of Jesus’ birth. Throughout the centuries, few clues have surfaced to solve the mystery. One is provided by Luke in one of the best-known passages from his Gospel.

>> “There were shepherds in the fields keeping watch over their flocks by night.”– LUKE 2:8. >> NARRATOR: In ancient Israel, shepherds guarded their flocks at night only during the season when the ewes gave birth to their lambs. It happened in the spring. In December, sheep were generally kept in corrals, unwatched.

Some scholars believe Luke’s reference suggests we may be celebrating Christmas eight months too late. Ultimately, determining the month and day Jesus was born may be impossible. But determining the year offers scholars more hope. The effort began some 500 years after his birth. By then, the Christian Church had expanded its influence to

All dimensions of life. Perhaps the only untouched dimension was the most intangible of them all: time. To that point in history, calendars measured time beginning with the founding of Rome or the reign of some of its rulers. For Christians, this was no longer acceptable. >> Meyer: As Christians were contemplating a calendar, they

Thought, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there would be a calendar that would be geared into Christian values? Wouldn’t it be remarkable if there could be a Christian calendar that would begin with Jesus?” And then it becomes important to find out: “Well, when did Jesus begin?” >> MOSLEY: The question of the

Nativity– the date of the birth of Jesus– has puzzled people for 1,500 years. >> MOSLEY: Church Fathers decided that rather than count years from the beginning of the reign of an impious, non- Christian Roman emperor, that they should count the years with the birth of Jesus. And so Dionysus Exiguus, a monk

Within Rome, was given the project of determining when precisely Jesus was born. >> NARRATOR: For reasons known only to Dionysus, he decided to place Jesus’ birth in the year 753 of the old Roman calendar. He then invented a new calendar, decreeing that Jesus was born on December 25 in the year 1 B.C.,

With the year 1 A.D. beginning a week later. Today, many scholars believe Dionysus made a critical error. They say he failed to take into account a key piece of information from the Gospels. >> SIKER: One of the details in Matthew and Luke’s infancy stories is that his birth took

Place during the reign of Herod. So, if we can determine the reign of Herod and the death of Herod, then we can more closely determine the date of Jesus’ birth. >> HORSLEY: The question of the timing of Herod’s death is not in question. We’re fairly sure that Herod died in what would be

Chronologically 4 B.C., and then that provides the symbolic if not the actual point at which Jesus must have been born: just before that happened. >> NARRATOR: 4 B.C. Perhaps a few years earlier. Until additional evidence is discovered, this range is as close as we can come to the answer. This renowned astronomer

Believes he may have found the answer. For several years, he has been investigating yet another mystery of the Christmas story. >> NARRATOR: The search for Christmas transcends the bounds of Earth. Light years away might be one of the tale’s greatest mysteries: the Star of Bethlehem. >> “Behold, there came wise men

From the east to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is he that is born King of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the east, and have come to worship him.'”– MATTHEW 2:2. >> NARRATOR: For centuries, the star has endured as a mesmerizing symbol of Christianity– almost as powerful as the cross.

But did it truly exist, or was it created after the fact to make Jesus’ birth seem more miraculous? >> McNAMER: Generally, after people died, it was often said that a star had proclaimed their birth. This was said for Alexander the Great. It was said for the Emperor Augustus himself, that a star

Appeared at his birth. In fact, Shakespeare tells us the heavens themselves tell forth the birth of princes. I don’t believe there was a star. I don’t believe that there were magi who came from the east. >> SIKER: I don’t know what that Star of Bethlehem was, but I do

Think that it’s highly likely that there was an astrological event that occurred in that region that was brought into the legend, brought into the story, brought into the tradition of the birth of Jesus. >> NARRATOR: For centuries, astronomers have tried to determine if the Christmas star was more than a myth, and what

Celestial phenomenon could have accounted for it. >> MOSLEY: The first astronomer to speculate on what the Star of Bethlehem might have been was the great Johannes Kepler, 400 years ago– the man who worked out why it is that the planets move the way they do– and when Johannes Kepler saw an exploding

Star in 1604, he thought, “Aha! That might have been what the Magi saw. What could be more glorious?” And we can look at the old Chinese records and they recorded all stars that exploded that they saw, but none appeared at the time of the birth of Jesus. So, despite the charm of the

Idea, and despite Kepler’s enthusiasm for it, apparently it was not an exploding star. >> MICHAEL MOLNAR: Some astronomers have proposed comets, or in particular, Halley’s Comet, which is probably the most famous comet of all, and it appeared at around the time that we believe Jesus was born. However, if you look at the

Ancient texts and try to understand what the people of ancient times believed in, they feared comets. Comets didn’t indicate the birth of a king. It really meant, usually, the death of a king or the start of a war. So, we really cannot propose that a comet, or in particular

Halley’s Comet, was the Star of Bethlehem. >> NARRATOR: For some modern astronomers, the key to unraveling the truth lies in understanding the point of view of the magi. The term “magi” is the root from which we derive the word “magic.” They were a respected class of advisors in the ancient Near

East who used astrology to predict the future. >> MOSLEY: The magi thought the planets moved because the gods were causing them to move. The gods were making them go this way and that way, and when one planet happened to line up with another planet, that that was because the gods had

Something in mind for us, and there was some correspondence between what happened in the sky and what happened down below. They believed in magic, and they believed in the magic of the sky. >> NARRATOR: In the ancient Near East, belief in astrology began several centuries before the birth of Christ.

It was almost universally accepted throughout the region. The only place where it had little influence was the nation in which Jesus was destined to be born. >> MOLNAR: We find that tiny Judaea is sort of an island in a sea of astrology believers. That is, all the countries, the

Cultures in and around Judaea, they believed that astrology did predict the future, that it was a science, and that it really helped them to understand their own lives. But only when we go to Judaea, we find that it is not practiced or believed in. >> NARRATOR: Judaea’s lack of astrological insight is evident

In a key passage from Matthew that may help explain what the Star of Bethlehem was. >> “Then Herod secretly called the magi, and inquired of them diligently what time the star appeared.”– MATTHEW 2:7. >> MOSLEY: An important clue in Matthew is that only the magi saw this star, whatever it was.

Herod and his advisors didn’t know about it. They had to inquire diligently of the magi what they’d seen, so that tells us it wasn’t something spectacular in the sky, like a bright comet, that everyone cave seen. >> NARRATOR: Some astronomers believe that what the magi saw, and the Hebrews did not, was a

Visually subtle conjunction of planets. It happens when one heavenly body appears to cross the path of another. It is a common occurrence. But many scholars believe that 2,000 years ago, a specific conjunction may have been viewed as a sign that the Old Testament prophecy had been fulfilled– that the Messiah had finally

Been born. John Mosley, of the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, has had an avid interest in the Star of Bethlehem for 20 years. He believes he has discovered the celestial phenomenon that attracted the magi. >> MOSLEY: I think that what the magi saw was a series of conjunctions. There were three conjunctions of

The planet Jupiter and the star Regulus, and two very close conjunctions of Jupiter and Venus over a ten-month period of time during the years 3 and 2 B.C., and the final of these conjunctions was really spectacular. It’s the sort of thing that I would love to see. Jupiter and Venus were so close,

They almost touched. So, if you were looking for something of great astrological interest– and after all, the magi were astrologers– then I think you could do nothing better than to look at these conjunctions– this series of events– as the sort of thing that would have made the magi think, “Aha, this is important.

The prophecies were fulfilled.” >> NARRATOR: Michael Molnar, an astronomer formerly of Rutgers University, has a different theory. His interest in the Star of Bethlehem began when he discovered a clue on an ancient coin at a New York collector’s show. It was minted in Syria in 13 A.D. His findings represent perhaps

The most significant recent insight into the Christmas story. >> MOLNAR: One side had the god Zeus on it, or our Jupiter. I’ve seen lots of coins with that god on it. But I flipped it over and the other side was a beautiful picture of Aries the Ram, a sign of the zodiac.

There was the ram, leaping across the sky, looking backwards at an overhead star. Aries the Ram is key to the whole puzzle. We astronomers were looking in the wrong part of the sky for the Star of Bethlehem. The star had appeared in Aries the Ram. >> NARRATOR: Molnar’s research into ancient astrological texts

Reveals that each sign of the zodiac represented a particular kingdom. Aries represented Judaea. Molnar discovered that a specific set of conditions occurring in Aries would have convinced the magi that a person of cosmic importance was to be born there. >> MOLNAR: The most important star that would confer

Kingships– make a young boy a king– was the star of Zeus, which we call the planet Jupiter today. So I knew that the star was most likely the planet Jupiter. I found that the moon played a very important role, and that the closer the moon was to Jupiter, the better were the

Conditions to have the birth of a young king. But most important was that Jupiter had to be in the east. Well, “in the east” means, according to the beliefs and practices of stargazers of 2,000 years ago, that it was about to emerge as a morning star– that is, in the eastern morning sky.

>> NARRATOR: Molnar’s challenge was to find the precise moment when this particular set of conditions occurred in the constellation of Aries. >> MOLNAR: Well, to make a long story short, I ran my computer program for a huge swath in time that biblical scholars believe Jesus was born, and we find that

In 6 B.C.– on April 17 to be exact– these events happened. Jupiter was in the east, in Aries the Ram, and at the same time, the moon came extremely close to Jupiter. The moon came so close, in fact, that it eclipsed Jupiter, and these celestial objects in Aries the Ram indicated, according to

The astrologers, that there was the birth of a great king. >> NARRATOR: Molnar’s findings are perhaps the most compelling evidence that the Star of Bethlehem was a genuine phenomenon. His theory is all the more intriguing in that it places the star’s appearance in the very year that many scholars believe Jesus was born.

The magi, whose belief in astrology compelled them to follow the star, are as much of a mystery as the star itself. Tradition holds that there were three wise men, but Matthew never specifies how many there were. Matthew also never tells from what nation they came, but many scholars think they were from

Babylonia– the site of modern- day Iraq. Outside of Israel, no other country was as aware of the tale of a coming Jewish Messiah. 500 years before Jesus’ birth, the Babylonians conquered the Hebrews and exiled tens of thousands of Jews back to their kingdom. Scholars believe that it was therefore inevitable that the

Ancient prophecy became common knowledge among the Babylonians. Ironically, their astrological interpretation of the star would compel them to believe that their true king had emerged from a nation they had vanquished. >> SMITH-CHRISTOPHER: The Babylonians were one of the most brutal ancient regimes to have ever conquered the Hebrew people, and here come the

Babylonian descendants, subservient to the birth of a Hebrew Messiah, so deeply impressed with the significance of this birth that they come on bended knee to this child. There is a wonderful irony in this story, almost as if the Gospel writers are saying to us, “Remember the people who thought

That they were so powerful and who conquered us so many centuries ago? Even they now are on their knees before the birth of our humble Messiah.” >> NARRATOR: According to Matthew, the magi present the infant Jesus gifts of gold and two aromatic resins: frankincense and myrrh. The gifts held deep symbolic

Significance for the readers of Matthew’s day. >> McNAMER: Some believed that the Messiah, when he came, would be a king. Some believed that he would be a great prophet. Some believed that he would be a priest. Gold is for a king, frankincense for a priest, myrrh would signify a prophet.

So, what Matthew is doing in this little story is simply telling his audience, “Whatever you were expecting in the way of a Messiah has been born.” >> NARRATOR: Although every nativity scene depicts the magi honoring a newborn, many scholars believe they arrived when Jesus was as old as two.

The Greek word Matthew uses to describe Jesus is one the Greeks attached not to a baby, but a toddler. For 2,000 years, the comforting images of the Christmas story have warmed the hearts of millions. But the search for the tale’s historical roots leads to one of the most horrifying incidents

Described in the Bible. The birth of Jesus triggers an event that bathes the streets of Bethlehem in blood. It begins when the Magi, led by the star, pause in Jerusalem. They seek an audience with King Herod the Great. For more than 30 years, Herod has ruled despotically over

Judea as a loyal ally to the Roman Empire. His power is matched only by his unpopularity. The Magi hope that Herod can help them find the infant destined to be king. But their questions inadvertently imperil Jesus’ life. >> “The Magi arrived in Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is he

Who is born king of the Jews?’ And when Herod, the king, heard it, he was troubled.”– MATTHEW 2:1. >> NARRATOR: According to Matthew, Herod regards Jesus as a dangerous political rival. Fate has pitted an innocent child against one of history’s most ruthless and vengeful leaders. >> HORSLEY: This fellow was the

Very epitome of a tyrant. He had secret police. He had informers sort of spying on the people, especially in Jerusalem. The minute he would hear of any resistance, he’d send out the troops first and ask questions later. He was suspicious of his own sons, and he killed his own sons.

He put to death his own sons that would have been his heirs. >> McNAMER: He murdered so many of his own family, including his mother, his favorite wife, Marianna. He was unscrupulous and extraordinarily cruel. >> NARRATOR: Herod’s paranoia is ignited by the Magi’s news of the Messiah’s birth. His thoughts turn instantly to

Murder. But he keeps his intentions secret from the Magi, hoping that they will lead him to his target. >> “And he sent the Magi to Bethlehem and said, ‘Go and make careful search for the child, and when you have found him, report to me, that I, too, may come and worship him.'”–

MATTHEW 2:8. >> NARRATOR: After the Magi honor Jesus, writes Matthew, an angel informs them of Herod’s scheme. They defy his order to return to his palace and hastily leave Judea. By taking a different route than the one they used to arrive, they avoid capture by Herod’s soldiers and interrogation as to Jesus’ whereabouts.

Enraged, Herod hatches an alternate plan. Estimating Jesus’ age from the time the Magi first saw the star, he orders that all boys in Bethlehem aged two and under be killed. From Jerusalem, the Christian Era’s first death squad approaches. At this moment, according to Matthew, the unsuspecting Mary, Joseph and Jesus are asleep.

But God sends an angel to alert them to the danger. >> “The angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, ‘Arise, and take the young child and his mother and flee into Egypt.'”– MATTHEW 2:13. >> NARRATOR: As the family escapes, Herod’s soldiers sweep into Bethlehem. The king’s cold-blooded order is

Carried out. The incident becomes known as “The Slaughter of the Innocents.” Matthew’s account of what occurred in these streets is the most dramatic episode of the Christmas story. But many scholars contend it never happened. They cite a lack of any corroboration from other sources. >> SIKER: If this event was indeed as horrific as Matthew

Described it, it seems that it would appear in Luke’s Gospel. It seems that it would have appeared in the writings of one such as Josephus, a significant Jewish historian of the first century. I think that those things indicate to us– especially the absence in Josephus– indicate to us that… Matthew may have

Been up to something else. >> NARRATOR: Some scholars say the lack of corroboration is not by itself proof that the slaughter is simply Matthew’s invention. They point out that the population of Bethlehem was then perhaps 1,000, and that there could have been as few as 20 infants under two.

The limited scope of the slaughter may have kept it from entering the history books. >> CROSSAN: It would certainly have been awful, but it would probably not have been a huge number. And yes, of course, it could easily have escaped Josephus. So I couldn’t argue that it didn’t happen because Josephus does not mention it. It’s quite possible he wouldn’t have heard of it, or he could

Have heard of it and not thought it was important. >> SMITH-CHRISTOPHER: Could the Slaughter of the Innocents have happened? Was Herod the kind of ruler capable of this kind of brutality? The answer to that question is, absolutely yes, he was capable of that kind of brutality. We have account after account of

Ancient rulers terrified of the idea amongst their captive population that a ruler was going to come, that a deliverer was going to come, and their attempts to try to deal with it. This is not at all an unbelievable element to the story. >> NARRATOR: Whether fact or fiction, the Slaughter of the

Innocents is reminiscent of another horrific episode from the book of Exodus. It describes how the Egyptian pharaoh tries to murder another messenger of God– the infant Moses– by ordering the execution of all Israelite boys. Some scholars believe Matthew’s account is an invention based on the older story, and an effort

To reinforce Jesus’ role as the deliverer of his people. >> CROSSAN: In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus is the new Moses. So the same way that Pharaoh tried to kill all the children and almost killed Moses but Moses escaped by divine power, bad Pharaoh becomes bad Herod. This is Matthew working the

Parallelism between Jesus, the new Moses in his life, so Jesus must be born, as it were, and almost killed like the old Moses was. >> NARRATOR: In Egypt, writes Matthew, the young Jesus finds safety from Herod’s wrath. But Matthew provides no details about how Mary and Joseph endure

The 250-mile trek to bring him here. Some scholars speculate that they finance the journey by selling the gold, frankincense and myrrh given to them by the Magi. But other scholars doubt they ever venture here. No historical evidence has been found to support Matthew’s account. And Luke’s Gospel contradicts it, describing how Mary and

Joseph travel uneventfully with the newborn Jesus back to Nazareth. Where the holy family lived and how long they stayed in Egypt, Matthew does not say, but a number of legends have survived. In Cairo, the Church of Saint Sergius is built upon the site where it is believed that they stayed for three months.

Outside Cairo, Christians since the fifth century have gathered at this ancient sycamore. They call it the Tree of Mary… for here they believe she sought shade beneath its branches. >> McNAMER: I have visited those sites in Cairo, and they are fun to go to, and if they help people’s piety, that’s fine, but

I don’t think they have any, uh… have any basis in history. >> NARRATOR: One reason that scholars believe Jesus never visited Egypt is that his teachings many years later bear no sign of Egyptian influence. >> CROSSAN: I don’t find anything that Jesus would have learned in Egypt, even if I take

Literally the idea that he went there as a young child and lived there for a length of time. I do not find anything in the teachings of Jesus or the life of Jesus that does not come straight out of the Hebrew Scriptures, the Jewish tradition. >> NARRATOR: Despite the lack of

Any Egyptian nuance to Jesus’ ministry, some scholars believe he may have indeed spent time in Egypt. >> SMITH-CHRISTOPHER: Jesus would’ve been a member of a minority in Egyptian culture. It could very well be that the Egyptian influence on Jesus was exactly the opposite of what some people speculate.

In other words, it may have solidified his Hebrew identity and not so much made him open to Egyptian influence. After all, we know that living in exile, living in Diaspora, sometimes makes people intensely more interested in their cultural tradition, and so less interested in the influences of the majority culture around them.

>> NARRATOR: After an unspecified time in Egypt, writes Matthew, Mary and Joseph receive a message from God that it is safe to return. >> “When Herod was dead, an angel appeared, saying, ‘Arise and take the child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel, for those who sought the

Child’s life are dead.'”– MATTHEW 2:19. >> NARRATOR: Joseph escorts his family back to Judea to the city of Nazareth. There, some 30 years later, Jesus will begin his earth-shaking ministry. Reconstructing the history of Jesus’ birth begins by examining the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. But there is another version of

The first Christmas unknown to millions of believers: The Infancy Gospel of James. It was purportedly written soon after Herod the Great died, which scholars believe happened in 4 B.C. The author claims to be James, one of the brothers of Jesus alluded to several times in the New Testament.

James is identified as Jesus’ brother in the books of Matthew, Mark and Galatians. And Josephus, the first-century historian, corroborates James’ identity when he writes of James’ death at the hand of a treacherous high priest. >> “So he assembled a council of judges and brought it before James, the brother of Jesus,

Known as Christ, and several others, on a charge of breaking the law and handed them over to be stoned.”– JOSEPHUS, THE JEWISH ANTIQUITIES. >> NARRATOR: Although The Infancy Gospel of James was accepted by early Christians, the church never authorized it as scripture. As such, it has been relegated

To the biblical literature known as the Apocrypha. It presents many of the same elements as the traditional story. There is the census, the trek to Bethlehem, the Magi and the Star. But there, the similarities end. James writes that Mary goes into labor not in Bethlehem, but before they are ever able to

Reach the city. >> “When they came to the middle of their journey, Mary said to him, ‘Joseph, take me off the donkey, the child is pushing from within me to let him come out.’ So he took her off the donkey and said to her, ‘Where will I take you and shelter you?

This area is a desert.’ And he found a cave and led her there while he went to find a Hebrew midwife in the land of Bethlehem.”– THE INFANCY GOSPEL OF JAMES 17:10. >> NARRATOR: In contrast to Matthew and Luke, James specifies that Jesus is born in a cave which coincides with what

Many scholars believe to be the true setting. While Joseph is away searching for a midwife, Mary begins to deliver the baby Jesus. At the same moment, a bizarre phenomenon occurs. Joseph is stunned as time literally stands still. >> “With utter astonishment, I saw the birds of the sky were not moving.

And I looked at workers picking food up and they were not picking it up. And I saw sheep being driven, but the sheep were standing still.”– THE INFANCY GOSPEL OF JAMES 18:4. >> HOCK: He is suddenly struck by everything in nature– the heavens, the stars, the birds, the workers, the animals all

Around him stopping right in their tracks, and then suddenly, everything returns to the way it was, and life goes on as it had formerly. And presumably in the context of that story, the moment of the suspension of time, Jesus himself is being born. >> NARRATOR: Joseph returns to the cave with two midwives.

But Mary has already given birth. One of the midwives believes Mary’s claim that she is a virgin. But the other, named Salome, is skeptical. >> “The midwife said ‘Mary, position yourself, for not a small test concerning you is about to take place.’ When Mary heard these things, she positioned herself.

And Salome inserted her finger into her body. And Salome cried out and said, ‘Woe for my lawlessness and the unbelief that made me test the living God. Look, my hand is falling away from me and being consumed by fire.'”– THE INFANCY GOSPEL OF JAMES 20:1. >> NARRATOR: Salome begs

Forgiveness for her lack of faith. God hears her prayer and sends an angel to heal her. James’ account reaches its dramatic peak with a version of the slaughter of the innocents that differs slightly from Matthew’s. >> HOCK: You do have the murder of the infants with Herod attacking the babies.

Mary, who had given birth to Jesus in a cave, now hides Jesus by placing him in the manger so the familiar manger from Luke is now used in a different way in The Infancy Gospel of James. >> NARRATOR: Is it possible this intricate tale is the most accurate version of the Christmas story?

Although James’ Infancy Gospel was supposedly written just after the death of Herod in 4 B.C., scholars believe it was produced as much as 150 years later after the books of Matthew and Luke. They note that it is written in a literary style not invented until the second century.

The style is known as an encomium, which follows strict rules of composition to praise virtuous persons– in this case, the Virgin Mary. And James, they argue, could not possibly have been the author. The historian Josephus records that he died in 62 A.D., a hundred years before the document was apparently written.

>> HORSLEY: One of the reasons why The Infancy Gospel of James seems to have less credibility, perhaps, than the stories contained in Matthew and Luke is it doesn’t seem to be quite as familiar with local color in Palestine– the thought being that maybe whoever put this together, didn’t really have

Much direct knowledge of Palestine. >> SIKER: It was also probably not someone who was Jewish, because there are errors in the understanding of Jewish customs and traditions. >> NARRATOR: Many scholars believe that the only knowledge the author had of Jesus’ birth was what had been recorded several decades earlier in the

Gospels now familiar to millions. >> CROSSAN: The major source that the author of The Infancy Gospel of James has is Matthew and Luke. There is not any clear evidence that he has any other real information. It does not seem that he has any sort of raw, unfiltered traditions that Matthew and Luke

Didn’t know about, but somehow this author has found out about. It’s possible, of course, but that doesn’t seem to be what the author has. What the author has simply is two sources and a very, very good imagination. >> NARRATOR: Although its value as an historical source is questionable, the Gospel of

James still provides valuable insight. Many scholars believe it represents the earliest effort to idealize Mary– an effort that centuries later would culminate in the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. >> SMITH-CHRISTOPHER: The significance of these writings is often that they give us a picture into the concerns and

The cares of the time they come from. So sometimes these writings give us very interesting insights in what were Christians thinking and worried about in the 200s, in the 300s, in the 400s. For that question, these writings are very important and very valuable. But for missing historical information, not very important.

>> NARRATOR: The Infancy Gospel of James is ultimately more intriguing than it is enlightening. Rather than holding any key to the truth about Christmas, it is perhaps the earliest effort to speculate on what that truth may be. To what degree the Christmas story should be considered historical fact may never be known.

To Christians, the Christmas story is an imponderable miracle– God’s invasion of human history in a stable 2,000 years ago. The miracle, however, lies dormant for some 30 years. Then, as told by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, Jesus emerges with a message that redefines man’s purpose. The man born in the most humble

Setting imaginable teaches that the poor are imbued with as much dignity as the most powerful king. The man born beneath a shining star teaches that hope will burn brightly as long as men love each other as brothers. The man born of a virgin teaches that the world can be

Transformed by the pure in heart. >> McNAMER: The message of Jesus was the most powerful and the most idealistic message ever. I mean, to stand on that mountain and say, “Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are you when you forgive your enemies. Be good to them that hurt you.”

>> MEYER: “To do unto others as you would have them do unto you. To turn the other cheek. To go the extra mile.” To do those sorts of things that may make our world a better place for all of us to live in. >> SMITH-CHRISTOPHER: Suddenly we’re presented with an

Incredible hope that burns brightly, a hope that there is a god who cares about us, a hope in the possibility that we can live with each other differently than the way we so often have, a hope that there’s a different way of being a human society, and the very coming of Jesus

Embodies that hope in a profound sense. >> HORSLEY: Not only was he understood as the Savior and Christ by the new religion Christianity that developed, but Jesus was the one who really defined and articulated the agenda for ordinary people who were struggling for independence from domination by foreign powers and their own unjust

Rulers, and laid out an idea of what a life of justice and mutual caring could be. >> NARRATOR: Jesus’ revolutionary ministry is but a continuation of the Christmas story– as the Son of God carries out his plan to save mankind from sin and death. It continues further with his arrest, trial and execution.

The significance of his birth in the manger can be understood only by recognizing his sacrifice on the cross. Still, it is Jesus’ resurrection that marks the ultimate fulfillment of God’s plan. 30 years after a miracle brings Jesus into the world, another enables him to rejoin his heavenly Father.

From the empty tomb emerges the faith destined to transform the world. >> SIKER: There are those who would argue that it’s based on a lie, that’s it’s based on false rumors of disciples who stole the body of Jesus to make a good story, and yet, somehow, this story has made its way through

History and time in a way unequaled. >> NARRATOR: Beginning as a fringe faith, Christianity receives widespread acceptance after the Roman Emperor Constantine accepts Jesus as his God and Savior. 300 years after Jesus’ birth, Christianity becomes the official religion of the Roman Empire. As the centuries pass, its influence becomes immeasurable:

Art and science, politics and economics, self and society– all are transformed by Christianity. But Christianity’s impact on history is not always positive. During the crusades, medieval Christians try to recapture the Holy Land from the Muslims. In the name of Jesus, they kill thousands of innocent men, women and children. During the Inquisition, the

Church supports torture as a means of coercing confessions from those considered heretics. By the 16th century, the church grows so powerful, it becomes corrupted by its own success. One measure of its decline is that salvation, once only earned by the faithful, can now be purchased by the rich. A German monk, Martin Luther,

Declares his outrage. Inspired by Jesus, who cast the moneychangers from the temple, he fights for reform. The Reformation splits its believers into Catholics and Protestants. Today, millions of Christians still struggle to live up to the high standards of their own faith. >> SMITH-CHRISTOPHER: We have had a very checkered history as

Christians of trying to embody the teachings of a peaceful Messiah who calls on us to care for each other rather than dominate each other, to share with each other rather than hoard from each other. And it’s unfortunate that the first 2,000 years of our attempt as humans to embody the

Teachings and example of Jesus have not been terribly successful. >> McNAMER: Gandhi once said about Christianity, “It is so magnificent. What a pity it’s never been tried.” I do believe it has been tried. There are just hundreds and hundreds of wonderful people in the pages of history of Christianity that show that

It has been tried and has made a difference. >> CROSSAN: Christianity has done many things in the name of Jesus for which I, as a Christian, am ashamed. It has also done many good things in the name of Jesus for which I am very glad as a Christian, and which makes me

Very glad to be a Christian. >> NARRATOR: 2,000 years after Jesus was born, a third of the world’s population professes to be followers of the faith he inaugurated in a manger. For Christians, Christmas celebrates how God gave the world a gift it never deserved but needed more than anything. To accept the gift is to acknowledge the responsibility of giving something back. >> SMITH-CHRISTOPHER: The Christmas story is intended to question us on the deepest levels of being a human being.

Here was the coming of a new way of living. Here was the coming of a new hope. Here was a profound challenge to how we as humans think that the world has to run, as opposed to our belief that the only way that we can live together is to

Be armed to the teeth and to be ready to fight. Here was one who brought a message: “No, that’s not the way. We can care for each other; we can take care of each other; we can live justly; we can live at peace.” If we miss that profound challenge, then we miss the

Significance of the Christmas story. >> SIKER: For me, the Christmas story is an account of the recollections of people like you and I who had an experience of God’s presence that was so powerful that they couldn’t hold it in. It’s a story of mystery and a story of hope replete with the

Possibilities of peace and goodwill in a world where both are in short supply. >> NARRATOR: For generations to come, the search for the historical truth of the day it all began– the search for Christmas– will continue. No matter what is discovered along the way, millions will always find comfort in the story.

They will find fulfillment in the images of an infant’s gentle smile and a virgin mother’s loving glance. [Captioning sponsored by A&E TELEVISION NETWORKS Captioned by The Caption Center WGBH Educational Foundation]

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