Spong John Shelby - The Birth of Jesus

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John Shelby Spong - The Birth of Jesus
Join Bishop John Shelby Spong as he takes us on a journey to the times of Jesus’ birth, focusing on Luke’s account. While Luke’s narrative, the most detailed account of the birth of Jesus, is lyrical and inspiring, in The Birth of Jesus, Spong persuasively demonstrates it is allegory.
 
Layer by layer, Spong weighs every element of the New Testament stories against Old Testament legends building a convincing case. Spong’s 16 original essays step backward and forward through the scriptures demonstrating why each element was chosen by the early CE writers to establish Jesus’ lineage and divinity. It is a fascinating and persuasive journey and a remarkable illustration of Biblical scholarship.
 
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It has been a pleasure and an honor to have had the opportunity to publish the Bishop John Shelby Spong weekly essays for our subscribers over the last three years. During that time we have had, and continue to have, requests for printed versions of the Spong essays. After careful study we determined it would be financially prohibitive to produce and mail printed copies on a regular basis. However, as we reviewed all the essays, we concluded it would be possible to group together some of the essays as a series and publish them in a booklet form. That is what we have done here with the essays dealing with the birth stories of Jesus.
 
We started with the birth series because no series has generated more comments from our readers. As one subscriber wrote, "It all starts with the birth story — get that wrong and we probably get it all wrong." No one does a better job of getting it right than John Shelby Spong. And there is always the added bonus with Bishop Spong. He is the consummate teacher. He writes with the primary intention for readers, regardless of their training or background, to get it.
 
While Luke's narrative, the most detailed account of the birth of Jesus, is lyrical and inspiring, Spong persuasively demonstrates it is allegory. Layer by layer, Spong weighs every element of the New Testament stories against Old Testament legends building a convincing case.
Zachariah and Elizabeth, for example, are childless into old age until she conceives John, forerunner to Jesus. This mirrors the story of Abraham and Sarah whose son, Isaac, was born when Abraham was 99-years old. Spong's essays step backward and forward through the scriptures demonstrating why each element was chosen by the early ce writers to establish Jesus' lineage and divinity. It is a fascinating and persuasive journey and a remarkable illustration of Biblical scholarship.
 
It is our sincere hope that this project will not only satisfy the regular subscribers who continue to ask us for printed materials but will also allow us to reach a new audience not yet familiar with Spong's work. We believe his work continues to break new ground pointing the way to a new understanding of the Jesus story and as a result a new Christianity for the 21st century.
 
We look forward to your continued support, your comments and feedback about this new project.
 
Fred Plumer, President ProgressiveChristianity.org
 

John Shelby Spong - The Birth of Jesus

ProgressiveChristianity.org
Gig Harbor, WA, 2014
ISBN 978-0-9844659-5-8  0-9844659-5-2
 

John Shelby Spong - The Birth of Jesus - Content

  • Preface
  • 1. The Legend Revisited
  • 2. Paul and the Virgin Birth
  • 3. The Testimony of Mark, the Earliest Gospel
  • 4. The Two Versions of the Birth Story
  • 5. Matthew’s Original Story, the Prologue; and Tamar, the Incestuous One
  • 6. Rahab the Prostitute
  • 7. The Role of Ruth
  • 8. The Fourth Woman in Matthew’s Genealogy
  • 9. Was There Scandal at the Manger?
  • 10. Matthew Sources and the Hebrew Scriptures
  • 11. Matthew Weaves Together Proof Texts from Isaiah, Micah, Hosea and from an Unknown Source
  • 12. Making Sense of the Wise Men
  • 13. Introducing the Lucan Story
  • 14. The Old Testament Antecedents in Luke’s Story of Jesus’ Birth
  • 15. The Journey to Bethlehem
  • 16. Conclusions

John Shelby Spong - The Birth of Jesus - The Legend Revisited

 
Most of the portraits of the mother of Jesus that hang in the great museums of the world are dependent first on the biblical stories of Jesus' birth and second on the presumed appearances of his mother at the foot of the cross. Take those two traditions away from the New Testament and the mother of Jesus almost totally disappears. Indeed, what remains is mostly negative. She is portrayed in Mark (chapters 3 and 6) as thinking Jesus was beside himself, that is out of his mind. She, along with his brothers, moves to put him away. This story implies he had become an embarrassment to the family. In the Fourth Gospel, in the narrative of the water being changed into wine, the mother of Jesus is portrayed as inappropriately pushing Jesus to act. She receives from him the rebuke, "Woman, what have you to do with me, my hour has not yet come?" She is also not present at the cross in the writings of Paul or in any of the earlier gospels of Mark, Matthew or Luke. Only with the appearance of the Fourth Gospel at the end of the first century did anyone think to portray her at the foot of the cross.
 
These biblical facts force us to recognize that most of the ideas we have about the mother of Jesus are late developing myths making assumptions the Bible does not make. The birth stories are found first in Matthew, the dating of which is generally between 82 and 85. Second they are found in Luke which is generally thought to have been written about a decade after Matthew. This means the New Testament accounts of Jesus' birth are products of a time 52–65 years after the life of Jesus came to its earthly end. This was some 82–95 years after the time of his birth. This is not eye witness reporting. Clearly the tradition built around the mother of Jesus is both late developing and continues to grow with the passing of years.
 
Once the time of the writing of the New Testament has passed, however, the mythology that developed around the mother of Jesus apparently knew no bounds. The virgin mother of the birth narratives became in successive generations the permanent virgin. Thus Jesus' siblings, referred to by name in both Galatians and in Mark and John simply as his brothers, were redefined as half brothers or cousins. Further, she was declared to have been a postpartum virgin. This suggests that even the birth of Jesus did not disturb her virginal hymen.
 
In the service of that idea the Fathers of the church searched the scriptures for biblical texts to support this growing conviction. They settled on two. First, they looked at the writings of a sixth century все prophet named Ezekiel. In the first verse of the 44 chapter he wrote these words: "This gate shall remain shut; it shall not be opened and no one shall enter by it, for the Lord, the God of Israel, has entered by it; therefore it shall remain shut." Without either apology or embarrassment, they leaped on these words to claim the post partum virginity of the Blessed Virgin Mary had actually been predicted by the prophets.
 
The second text was found in the resurrection story according to the Fourth Gospel. In that narrative the disciples were hiding in an upper room. The doors and windows were closed and locked when Jesus came and stood in their midst. If the risen Christ could pass through walls guarded by locked doors, they argued, it was no great stretch to imagine the infant Christ passing through the birth canal of his mother without breaking the hymen. Mythology always does strange things to facts and to reality.
 
By the 19 century, devotion to the mother of Jesus grew even stronger in the Roman Catholic Church in which this devotion was most encouraged. She, unlike all other human beings, had been immaculately conceived it was declared. That is, her mother had been miraculously cleansed of the sin of Adam. This was believed to have infected all human beings and to have been passed on from generation to generation. For Jesus to have been born without sin, his mother would have to have been especially prepared for this birth.
 
This necessity also reflected the discovery in the early years of the 18 century that women have an egg cell. Therefore the woman literally contributes half of the genetic makeup of every person who has ever been born. Prior to this it was assumed the woman simply provided a womb to nurture the male seed to maturity. Like Mother Earth into which the farmer planted the seed, the woman's role was simply seen as to bring to birth the life that came from the male. When the egg cell was discovered, the realization dawned on church leadership that the mother of Jesus, like all women — and indeed like all people — was a child of Adam. Thus the sinlessness of Jesus was compromised through his mother's line. This had not been a problem in the old view of reproduction. The Immaculate Conception addressed that theological problem. This demonstrated once and for all that even infallible doctrines are forced to adjust to new discoveries.
 
The final chapter in the mythological development of the mother of Jesus came in the 20 century when Mary was declared to have been bodily assumed into heaven. Since she was born without sin, she was not required to go through the passage of death. According to the story of the Garden of Eden, death was punishment for sin.
 

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