The Impact of a Novel


There is a novel that was written approximately two hundred years after the birth of Christ titled The Protoevangelium of James. It is good to learn about this novel as we are celebrating the Christmas season. Of course James, the brother of Jesus, cannot be the author of this novel; in those days many wrote books claiming famous people as the authors. The author of this novel was likely not a Jew and did not know much about the geography of Palestine. For instance, he described the road between Jerusalem and Bethlehem as a desert when in reality it was rich farmland.

Dr. Kenneth Bailey was my New Testament professor, and he wrote a book I highly recommend: Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes. In his book on page 27, Baily cites briefly the story of Jesus’s birth according to The Protoevangelium of James, which sheds light on some things in the Christmas story which many Christians believe and yet do not appear in the Scriptures.  

"In the novel, as they [Joseph and Mary] approach Bethlehem, Mary says to Joseph, 'Joseph, take me down from the ass, for the child within me presses me, to come forth.' Responding to the request, Joseph leaves Mary in a cave and rushes off to Bethlehem to find a midwife. After seeing fanciful visions on the way, Joseph returns with the midwife (the baby has already been born) to be faced with a dark cloud and then a bright light overshadowing the cave. A woman by the name of Salome appears from nowhere and meets the midwife who tells her that a virgin has given birth and is still a virgin. Salome expresses doubt at this marvel and her hand turns leprous as a result. After an examination, Mary's claim is vindicated. Then an angel suddenly 'stands' before Salome and tells her to touch the child. She does so and the diseased hand is miraculously healed — and the novel spins on from there. Authors of popular novels usually have good imaginations. ... This novel is the earliest known reference to the notion that Jesus was born the night Mary and Joseph arrived in or near Bethlehem."

Here are some questions for us to think about this Christmas season.

1. We all know that the Christmas tree phenomenon, the lights and Santa Claus are all traditions and they do not exist in the Scriptures. How about the "cave" and the "stable", where do you find them in the Bible?

2. Just because the word "manger" appears in Luke 2:7 does that necessarily imply that Jesus was born in a stable? Are there other possible interpretations?

3. Do the Gospels say that Jesus was born the night Joseph and Mary arrived in Bethlehem?  Could it be that they arrived in Bethlehem several days or several weeks before Jesus was born?

4. Do we insert into the Scriptures our impressions that were formed as a result of various influences, such as this novel or other sources, including our families, our churches, our Sunday schools and their influence?  

A year ago, close to Christmas 2014, I wrote a blog on the story of the birth of Christ as it appears in the Gospel of Luke. I encourage you to go to that blog and look at the Christmas story with fresh eyes, and may you have a meaningful Christmas season. 

Dr. Nabeel Jabbour