O Little Town of ... Nazareth? Scholars Debate Jesus' Birthplace

Where was Jesus born--Nazareth, Bethlehem of Judea, or Bethlehem in Galilee?

BY: Shelvia Dancy

 

WASHINGTON, Dec. 18 (RNS) -- The story, immortalized in pageants and song, is a familiar one. A messiah, sent to redeem humanity. Son of the peasant girl Mary, and Joseph, a widowed carpenter. Born in Bethlehem.



Or was he?

While evidence has been unearthed that verifies the existence of a historical figure named Jesus, material shedding light on the circumstances of his birth is relatively scarce outside the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Both, with varying discrepancies, pinpoint Bethlehem as Jesus' birthplace.

But as the quest for the historical Jesus continues, scholars are divided over whether the biblical account is accurate.

"Aside from Matthew and Luke, we have no information about Jesus' birth from any other source that we would regard for a moment as historical," said N. T. "Tom" Wright, canon theologian of Westminster Abbey in London and author of several books on Jesus and the New Testament. "So as ancient historians we're inclined to say it looks as though we've got the truth with Bethlehem."

Not all have been so inclined, however.

New Testament scholar John Dominic Crossan believes the Bethlehem story is a symbolic one, never meant to be taken literally. He said the account hearkens back to a passage from the Old Testament book of Micah which declared that from Bethlehem would come "one who will be ruler over Israel."

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