Pope Emeritus Debunks The Christmas Myths

The Pope has put a dampener on the festive period by rubbishing the idea that donkeys or any other animal have a place in the traditional nativity scene.

Benedict XVI also claims angels never sang to the shepherds to proclaim Christ birth's - trashing the much-loved carol 'Hark! The herald angels sing' in the process.

From this falsehood the tradition of singing carols was born, the former Pope says.

Pope Emeritus Debunks The Christmas Myths

His views are revealed in his latest and last installment of three volumes on the life of Jesus, released today, which is set to be a worldwide bestseller.

Almost every Christian church in the world will soon be blowing the dust off its traditional nativity set with its array of animals but the Pope is clear that it would not have included any beast whatsoever.

St Peter's Square itself regularly has a giant scene at Christmas and has displayed an array of animals at the heart of the Vatican, but the Pontiff is certain that is wrong.

'In the gospels there is no mention of animals,’ he writes, saying that they were probably a Hebrew invention of the seventh century BC, as outlined in the Book of Habakkuk.

Habakkuk was the eighth book of 12 minor prophets in the Old Testament.

In Christian tradition, he is regarded by some as a prophet who predicted the nativity.

Scenes relating to the birth of Jesus, as described in the Gospel, do not directly refer to the presence of an ox and donkey.

But in Habakkuk 3:2, it is written: 'In the midst of the two beasts wilt thou be known' - and this was one of the sources which inspired the presence of the creatures at the manger.

(It is worth noting that another Old Testament prophet, Isaiah, also inspired the manger scenery, with his words from 1:3: 'The ox knows its owner, and an ass, its master’s manger').

However, the former Pope is convinced despite debunking the theory, the tradition is here to stay, saying: 'No nativity scene will give up its ox and donkey', he said.

Pope Emeritus Debunks The Christmas Myths

'Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives,' hits bookshops in 50 countries last year, the third and final installment of a project the 85-year-old Benedict conceived a decade ago and began writing soon after he became pope in 2005.

The first two books, which topped the bestseller lists in Italy, dealt with Jesus' public ministry and his death, leaving just Jesus' birth to complete the series.

More than 1 million copies are planned for the initial print run, just in time for Christmas.

In the book, Benedict blends history, theology, linguistics and even astronomy to interpret the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, which describe the months just before and after Jesus' birth.

But there is one part of the nativity story he is firm on - that Mary was a virgin and Christ was conceived with the Holy Spirit alone.

In the section 'Virgin Birth - Myth or Historical Truth?' he says: 'The accounts of Matthew and Luke are not myths taken a stage further.

'They are firmly rooted, in terms of their basic conception, in the biblical tradition of God the Creator and Redeemer.'

But he added that Angels delivered to good news of Jesus's birth to shepherds by speaking them, not singing them as the gospels say.

'According to the evangelist, the angels "said" this,' the Pope writes, adding: 'But Christianity has always understood that the speech of angels is actually song, in which all the glory of the great joy that they proclaim becomes tangibly present.

'To this day simple believers join in their caroling on the Holy Night, proclaiming in song the great joy that, from then until the end of time, is bestowed on all people.'

And he also admits that Jesus would have been born years earlier than the Christian calendar states.

For years, many historians have said Jesus would have been born around 4BC, but for the Pope to admit a flaw in something so fundamental to Catholic faith is surprising.

Benedict was born Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger in Marktl, Germany, in 1927.

As a 14-year-old during World War Two, he was forced into the Hitler Youth, even though his Bavarian parents despised the Third Reich.

He was appointed the head of the Roman Catholic Church in April 2005.

Last month, he delivered a prayer in Arabic for the first time during his weekly general audience.

Last December 2012, more than 20,000 people heard the Pope's prayers in Arabic, part of a new effort by the Vatican to show support for Christians in the Middle East.

Pope Emeritus Debunks The Christmas Myths

And there were no animals or snow at the nativity either... according to the Archbishop of Canterbury

Dr Rowan Williams dismissed the well-known version of Nativity events as legend in a 2007 radio interview

Dr Rowan Williams dismissed the well-known version of nativity events as legend in a 2007 radio interview

Jesus was born in December, in a snow-covered stable, where he was visited by three wise men bearing gifts... or rather he wasn't, according to the Archbishop of Canterbury, in a radio interview he gave in 2007

Talking on Radio Five, Dr Rowan Williams dismissed the well-known version of events as legend, saying: 'Matthew's Gospel doesn't tell us there were three of them, doesn't tell us they were kings, doesn't tell us where they came from.

'It says they are astrologers, wise men, priests from somewhere outside the Roman Empire, that's all we're really told.'

Turning to the topic of when Jesus was born, he said it was 'very unlikely' that there was snow.

He said there was no evidence of animals present - a popular theme of Christmas cards.

And he dismissed the idea that the star of the North stood still in the night sky - because stars just don't behave like that.

For good measure, he added Jesus probably wasn't even born in December.

He said: 'Christmas was when it was because it fitted well with the winter festival.'

Dr Williams was speaking to presenter Simon Mayo when another of his guests, Ricky Gervais, star of The Office, challenged him about the intellectual credentials of his faith.

Despite this apparent debunking, Dr Williams' views are in fact strictly in line with orthodox Christian teaching, as he is sticking exactly to what The Bible says.

The outgoing Archbishop's comments at the time appeared to be at odds with one of his own advisers, the Rev John Jennings, a Church of England clergyman.

He said: 'There seems little doubt that Jesus was born in a stable. The Bible says "outside the house", and this was probably because the house was full.

'If it was a stable, there could have been animals at the birth of Jesus.

'The Wise Men were... careful, calculating, educated men who think that they begin to discern God's imminent arrival and who blunder their way across the region until they find what they think they've been seeking. These are the really important bits of the story.'

Pope Emeritus Debunks The Christmas Myths

'Three' wise men and other myths about the birth of Jesus

According to the Bible, three wise men from the east travelled a great distance on camels and followed a star to Bethlehem to visit baby Jesus in the manger - bringing with them gifts. However, hardly any of these details are actually in the holy book...

In Mathew 2:1, it is written: 'Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem...'

HOW MANY WISE MEN? Matthew's Gospel does not reveal the exact number. But because Matthew 2:11 mentions three gifts - '... they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh' - it is widely held that there were three wise men.

WERE THEY KINGS? They were probably learned men, such as astrologers.

The three often cited were supposedly called Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar. But these names are said to have first been recorded in a Greek manuscript 500 years after the birth of Jesus.

There is also nothing in the Bible that says they travelled on camels.

Again, according to Matthew 2:11: 'And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him...'

BETHLEHEM OR NAZARETH?: Matthew has Jesus’ parents living in Bethlehem; Luke has them living in Nazareth in Galilee. (And the Gospels of Mark and John don't actually recount the story of the nativity at all.)

MARY'S BOY CHILD JESUS CHRIST WAS BORN ON CHRISTMAS DAY? Boney M sang it but it doesn't mean it's true. The Bible does not specify a date or a month. But December 25 is known to have become popular during the fourth century so Christians could have an alternative to a popular pagan festival at that time of year. December 25, which was around the time of the winter solstice, also marked a pagan festival for Mithraism, a Roman cult that rivalled Christianity (and celebrated the birth of their god, Mithra).

NO STAR OF BETHLEHEM: At that time, in Judea, there was no concept of astronomy. And no star can shine on just one particular town. According to Matthew 2: 9-11: 'After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was.'

SHEEP IN THE BLEAK MID-WINTER? If the shepherds had truly been watching their flocks by night, it is highly unlikely they would have done so in the bitter cold. They would have watched them night, and day, during the lambing season in spring.



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