Jesus christ not born in bethlehem
where Jesus was supposedly born.
Basilica of the Nativity, Bethlehem
RACHEL Attention, studios!… Our mobile unit is now in Bethlehem, ten kilometers south of Jerusalem. We’ve come here with Jesus Christ, who, as we informed you in an earlier broadcast, has unexpectedly arrived in the world, even though his presence hasn’t attracted much attention from the press so far. But Emisoras Latinas is on the story. Welcome again, Jesus, to our microphones.
JESUS Shalom, sister! Peace be with you!
RACHEL So tell me, Jesus, how do you feel returning to Bethlehem, your birthplace?
JESUS Why do you call it my birthplace?
RACHEL Well, because… because you were born here in Bethlehem two thousand years ago, weren’t you?
JESUS I think you’re mistaken, Rachel. I wasn’t born here. I’ve never even been to this city.
RACHEL You’ve never been to Bethlehem?
JESUS No, this is the first time I’ve traveled through these hills.
RACHEL There must be some confusion because … everybody knows you were born here… Just look at the thousands of Christians who are lining up to enter into the Basilica of the Nativity, here on our left, built over the place where your mother gave birth to you.
JESUS Wherever did you get that story, Rachel?
RACHEL Where did I get it? It’s there in your biography, in Luke’s gospel. All our listeners know that story.
JESUS So it’s in Luke, huh? … I can just imagine what Luke is up to. … You as a reporter will understand him perfectly.
RACHEL Yes, but explain it to me, please, because…
JESUS Look, Rachel, a thousand years before me, David, the most loved and admired king our people ever had, was born here in Bethlehem. In having me born here, that Luke fellow was surely trying to do me a favor by portraying me as a king, a new David.
RACHEL But what about the census of the emperor Caesar Augustus? What about Joseph and Mary, who came here riding on a donkey in order to register? Isn’t that the way it was?
JESUS Well, as I recall, the Romans took that census in order to increase our taxes, but that was … I forget how many years after I was born. Luke no doubt knew that bit of history, and being an imaginative writer, he put it in his gospel.
RACHEL Then you mean… the evangelist lied?
JESUS I wouldn’t put it that way. Luke must have been eager to preach the Kingdom of God. And in Bethlehem he found, you might say… a poetic place for me to be born.
RACHEL But don’t you think the evangelist Luke went a little too far?
JESUS Could be, but the important thing is not where people are born, but where they work and where they struggle.
RACHEL So … where were you actually born?
JESUS In Nazareth, where else? That’s why everybody knew me as Jesus of Nazareth.
RACHEL But what about the angels…, and the star…, and the magi?
JESUS Let’s talk about that later, Rachel. You know what? I’m really curious to go into that church and listen to what the preacher is going to say … I hope his imagination is not as wild as Luke’s!
RACHEL Friends, while Jesus Christ is entering the Basilica of the Nativity, we still have a lot of unanswered questions. If one evangelist made up the story of the birth in Bethlehem, what won’t the others have done? The telephones of Emisoras Latinas and our Internet forum are open to you all. This is Rachel Perez, reporting from Bethlehem in Judea.
ANNOUNCER Another God is Possible. Exclusive interviews with Jesus Christ in his second coming to Earth. A production of María and José Ignacio López Vigil, with the support of the Syd Forum and Christian Aid.
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The Roman census in Palestine
Jesus knew about the census that was taken around the time he was born. It was an instrument of control that Rome used throughout its dominions. The census taken in Israel, according to Luke, was ordered by Publius Sulpicius Quirinus, the Roman legate in the province of Syria. It had two stages: registration and collection. The first stage consisted of making an inventory or register of all persons and properties in the country. In the second stage, the corresponding taxes were levied on each person, and systematic collection was begun. This second stage, which some researchers refer to simply as “the census”, seems to have taken place about six years after Jesus was born.
If such is the case, the birth of Jesus would have occurred during the first stage, when all persons and properties were registered. That census officially confirmed the submission of the people of Israel to the Roman Empire. As a result of the census Palestine formally became a province of Rome. When he was writing his gospel, Luke was especially interested in this historical and political event, since the journeys people had to make from one region to another because of the census gave him a way to explain the trip that Joseph and Mary made to Bethlehem. He was thus able to use this literary-theological device for his narration.
Jesus, “the one from Nazareth”
Only Luke and Matthew have Jesus born in Bethlehem. Neither Mark nor John mention it, nor do they have any stories at all about Jesus’ infancy and childhood in their gospels. Furthermore, they always refer to him as “Jesus of Nazareth”, which would make it appear that he was born there, since in those days family names as such did not exist, and the custom was to refer to people by their place of origin. There are other examples in the New Testament, such as Saul of Tarsus (Acts 9,1), Joseph of Arimathea (Mark 15,43) and Lazarus of Bethany (John 11,1). Mark’s gospel, the first to be written, refers explicitly to Nazareth as Jesus’ “homeland” (Mark 6,1), and Jesus himself states that Nazareth is “his own country” (Mark 6,4). Everybody knew Jesus simply as the “Nazarene”, which is another way of saying he had been born in Nazareth.
The lineage of David
By having him born in Bethlehem, the city of David, the most beloved king of the Israelites, Luke wanted to establish a relation between Jesus and the great king of Israel that was not only symbolic, but also familial. Luke and Matthew wanted to present Jesus as a direct descendent of David. Moreover, Matthew, who was writing for communities of Jewish origin, chose Bethlehem in order to present Jesus as the long awaited Messiah. By locating the birth there, he was showing that Micah’s prophecy (Micah 5,1-3) was being fulfilled in Jesus. Thus the evangelists were doing theology on the basis of history, but they were also writing history on the basis of the theology that they wanted to share with the communities they were writing for.
Bethlehem, “where the West was born”
Bethlehem, situated about 10 kilometers south of Jerusalem, was an important city when Jesus was born. Today it is a city governed by the Palestinian Authority, where Christians and Muslims live together. Very prominent in the city is the Basilica of the Nativity, built 1,500 years ago and still standing. It is one of the oldest Christian churches in the world.
Even though Jesus was not born in Bethlehem, the name of the city is forever linked to him and to what he has represented for the culture of all humankind. During the celebrations of the year 2000, this was expressed beautifully in the commemorative poster designed by the Palestinian Authority: Bethlehem, where the West was born.