Is the Reported Birth Place of Jesus Fictional?

Bethlehem. Skeptics have sometimes rolled their eyes at the claim that Jesus was born there … in Bethlehem. “There’s no good evidence,” they say.

 

What’s their argument? Well, Dickson lays out a common skeptical argument that goes like this.[1]

 

The Argument Against Bethlehem

First – the gospels of Mark and John do not claim that Jesus was born in Bethlehem.

Second – one Old Testament prophecy declares that the Jewish Messiah will come from Bethlehem.

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,

    though you are small among the clans of Judah,

out of you will come for me

    one who will be ruler over Israel,

whose origins are from of old,

    from ancient times.” (Micah 5:2, NIV)

Surely the gospels that do mention Bethlehem as Jesus birthplace HAD to place him there to fit with the old prophecy in Micah?

Think of this like an example of first century “retcon.” Movies and books do this all the time, bringing in new information to impose a different interpretation on previously described events. If you’ve ever watched a prequel to an established movie, you’ve probably experienced retcon.

So the skeptic is claiming that gospel writers were just bringing in a new but false piece of evidence to retcon Jesus’ real birthplace so that his birth would seem to fit with Micah 5:2, he would appear more linked to the Davidic line, and therefore he would look more Messianic!

 

I don’t buy it. Why?

 

The Argument For Bethlehem

First – because just as important as the fact that Mark and John do not mention Bethlehem, Matthew and Luke absolutely do! The silence of two gospels cannot be louder than the clear statements of the other two. For example:

“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea…” (Matthew 2:1, NIV)

 

“So Joseph also went … to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David… While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son.” (Luke 2:4 – 6, NIV)

 

Second – if Mark and Luke didn’t feel it was important to retcon the story and “place” Jesus in Bethlehem, then what is the evidence that Matthew and Luke DID retcon the story of Jesus’ birth? There is no evidence. If this was a manufactured, rather than a true incidental detail in the gospel account, you would expect all of them to follow each other in the retcon. They don’t. So this tends to neutralize the sceptical argument.

Herod Killing the Male Children in Bethlehem

Here’s a bonus point.

Sometimes skeptics also roll their eyes at the claim in Matthew’s gospel that King Herod tried to kill the baby Jesus by slaughtering all the new born male children in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:16) “There’s no historical evidence,” they say.

Well – Matthew’s gospel is giving you historical evidence. But why do you expect this event to be recorded by anyone else, like the Roman historian Josephus? He doesn’t mention the killing of the male babies. But so what?

Bethlehem was a little hamlet in the first century. Why do you think any historian would have such a small, localized and minor atrocity on their radar? Particularly given the much bigger atrocities that King Herod is reported to have committed, like killing a group of dignitaries to make sure that people grieved at the time of his death, and did not give a sigh of relief![2] Surely you would only expect a writer who is particularly focussed on the birth of a single child – Jesus – to think it important to record this event? That’s what Matthew was doing.

Conclusion

It is very reasonable then just to take Matthew and Luke at face value, and accept that Jesus was born in the little town of Bethlehem.

 

[1] John Dickson, 12. First Noel, Undeceptions Podcast.

[2] Josephus, Antiquities, 17.6.174–175.

 

Published by

Respond

I live in the UK, I'm married to Janet and I'm passionate about proposing a case for the historic Christian faith. You can find me on Twitter at @stuhgray.

3 thoughts on “Is the Reported Birth Place of Jesus Fictional?”

  1. Isaiah says, “The Messiah will be born, and He shall be named Emmanuel. – and yet the purported Savior was named Jeshoah ,/strong> – not “Jesus” as most Christians believe. 😳

    1. Oh – you’ve really done your homework here. 😉

      Are you referring to Isaiah 7:14…where the virgin’s son will be called Immanuel, meaning “God with us?” Which – hundreds of years later – was a thing Jesus showed in his reported life, death and resurrection? Well – there seems to be a connection here between OT prophecy and NT reports…

  2. “Well – Matthew’s gospel is giving you historical evidence. But why do you expect this event to be recorded by anyone else, like the Roman historian Josephus? He doesn’t mention the killing of the male babies. But so what?”

    This is not historical evidence. This is a claim. You need something else to be evidence for this claim. You ask “so what?” well, all you are repeating is baseless nonsense without that evidence.

    There is no evidence of a birth, much less a location for it. We have the gospels being mashed together by Christians who need a coherent story. So, we get ludicrous things like the census which never happened, the magi who saw Jesus in a house, not a stable, Joseph and Mary heading to Egypt, hundreds of miles away, etc All to try to make this story seem like the fulfilling of a prophecy when it was not. I had to run a planetarium show about this story and the accompanying silliness about that “star”.

    The silence of two gospels is just like the claims of the others, evidence that there were not eyewitnesses and this nonsense was being made up. Christians love to run between claiming just how famous JC was and then insisting how insignificant he was when it comes to their claims of evidence for his existence. You ask “why do you think any historian would have such a small, localized and minor atrocity on their radar? ”

    why would any king have such a supposedly “small and localized” town on their “radar”? this would have been remarkable, and the slaughter of innocents would indeed be remarkable, especially by Josephus who didn’t like Herod. You want Josephus to know about Jesus but not about this. Such cherry picking. Again, your excuses fail for trying to make your myth true.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s