Sunday, December 09, 2007

If breathless journalism existed 2,000 years ago

The extent of Britons' ignorance about the Christmas story is illustrated today in a new report which shows more than a quarter of adults do not know where Jesus was born.

The extent of the gospel writers' ignorance of the Christmas story was illustrated today in a study which showed that just half of them had any detailed knowledge about the birth of Jesus n Bethlehem. In a development which is likely to raise concerns about authors' knowledge of events in first century Judea, only St Matthew and St Luke were aware that he was born in a stable in Bethlehem.

"Worryingly, both accounts display clear gaps in their knowledge of the Christmas story," said the religious commentator St Sanctimonious of Odone. "Only Matthew knew the story of the coming of the Magi, the flight into Egypt and some of the family background. But he doesn't mention the story of the angels appearing in the fields. Mathew and Luke can't even agree on whether the angel appeared to Mary or to Joseph. It really is important that subsequent editions of the Bible clear up this confusion to ensure that readers have a proper understanding of the Christmas story."

Of the other gospel writers, St Mark expressed total ignorance of the Christmas story, despite the fact that his gospel is believed to have been the earliest one written, a sign - some have charged - of the poor state of religious education under the emperor Nero.

"There is no excuse for someone like St John to miss out details of the nativity. But bar a passing reference to his birth, his knowledge is incredibly hazy" explained the journalist and historian Tabloidus Hackus. "His account was the last one written, after all. It's not good enough, when you consider that subsequent generations have been able to construct a coherent narrative out of it.

"It's all very well showing off your knowledge of Greek philosophy, but no matter how subtle your concept of λόγος might be, you're never going to have the cultural impact that a story about a baby being born in a manger will have. People miss the reassurance that a nice synoptic account gives them."

Hackus added: "It's all very trying to be inclusive and politically correct by sharing the feast day of Dies Natalis Solis Invicti with the cult of Mithras. But at the end of the day Christmas is a Christian feast and we shouldn't be afraid to remind people of that fact."

St Sanctimonious warned that the confusion about the Christmas tale might undermine the central role religion plays in our culture: "With increasing numbers of people rejecting Christianity these days, we can't allow a confused, fragmentary and garbled set of stories to stand. People might get the wrong impression about Christianity if they were forced to rely on the Bible tales. Ideally we need someone to reinterpret these things in a way that we can all understand."

UPDATE: this is slightly edited in light of Quink's superior knowledge of the finer points of John's gospel. He once won the prize for scriptural knowledge at school and I fear the achievement went to his head; even though he is strongly suspected of having cheated.



Blogger Quink said...

Ha ha. Very funny.

To be fair, though, there is a reference to the Messiah's birth at Bethlehem in John's gospel, though it hardly equates to a full account of the nativity.

John 7:42
Hath not the scripture said, That Christ cometh of the seed of David, and out of the town of Bethlehem, where David was?

10:07 am  
Blogger Glamourpuss said...

Sounds like a job for Polly Toynbee...


11:01 am  
Blogger Political Umpire said...

Splendid stuff again. I think that if anything those concerned about such things should look closer to home than the great British unwashed sorry public.

After all, in his very first speech in his present role the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Atkinson, barely mentioned Christianity. Instead all he did was bang on about the need for religion to counter market forces. After 7/7 he banged on about "faith communities hanging together" not, one might have thought, a ringing endorsement of his own faith etc. Druids everywhere must have been quite disappointed.

2:20 pm  
Blogger bill said...

Well spotted, Quink. I've suitably amended it, with reference to the Gospel according to PG Wodehouse.

PUmp, I think you could go look at any era of English history and find people bemoaning the state of religious knowledge among the people at large. The English do not do religion.

As for the Wisest Fool in Christendom, he's trying to find any justification for the CofE's privileged position and hoping we don't notice the thing is falling apart over gays. "At least we're not Tesco," is not the most inspiring of ideas.

7:42 pm  

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