Monday, March 12, 2012

Messianic Prophecy - Part 4

We have seen that a couple of leading NT and Jesus scholars, E.P. Sanders and James Dunn, have serious doubts about the claim that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. 

Another leading Jesus scholar, John Meier, has recently published a series of volumes on the life of Jesus, and Volume 1 offers a thorough discussion of the birth stories in Matthew and Luke (see A Marginal Jew, Vol. 1 , p.208-216).  Meier also arrives at a skeptical conclusion:

While Jesus' birth in Bethlehem cannot be positively ruled out (one can rarely "prove a negative" in ancient history), we must accept the fact that the predominant view in the Gospels and Acts is that Jesus came from Nazareth and--apart from Chapters 1-2 of Matthew and Luke--only from Nazareth.  The somewhat contorted or suspect ways in which Matthew and Luke reconcile the dominant Nazareth tradition with the special Bethlehem  tradition of their Infancy Narratives may indicate that Jesus' birth at Bethlehem is to be taken not as a historical fact but as a theologoumenon, i.e. as a theological affirmation (e.g., Jesus is the true Son of David, the prophesied royal Messiah) put into the form of an apparently historical narrative. (A Marginal Jew, Vol. 1, p.216)

We do not know for certain that Jesus was born in Nazareth, nor do we know for certain that Jesus was not born in Behtlehem.  But the currently available evidence points strongly towards the view that Jesus was born in Nazareth (or somewhere in Galilee) and away from the view that Jesus was born in Bethlehem.  Like Stoner, we should try to think in terms of probability here:

1. Jesus was born in Nazareth.  (Probability = .4)
2. Jesus was born in Galilee, somewhere other than in Nazareth. (Probability = .3)
3. Jesus was born in Bethlehem. (Probability = .2)
4. Jesus was born in Judea, somewhere other than in Bethlehem (Probability = .1) 

There are other possibilities besides these four, but it is almost certain that Jesus was born in one of these four towns/areas.  My estimate is thus that the probability that Jesus was born in Bethlehem is .2 (= two chances in ten), and the probability that Jesus was not born in Bethlehem is .8 (= eight chances in ten).  Based on this estimate, we can conclude that it is very likely (eight chances in ten) that Jesus was not the Messiah.

This, of course, assumes that Micah 5:2 is a Messianic prophecy, and that Stoner has correctly interpreted that passage.