It seems that the Telegraph article on the Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams is the to story on every blog I see.
Here is my take: I have read the article and the interview transcript and Archbishop Williams' comments were clearly taken out of context. I am not saying that he did not say things that are heinous and clearly against Christian belief. Strangely, enough the media is taking perfectly acceptable statements and making them outrageous and ignoring the outrageous statements.
Below I will analyze the article with the transcript.
Article - Italics
Transcript - Bold
My comments - Red
The Archbishop of Canterbury said yesterday that the Christmas story of the Three Wise Men was nothing but a 'legend'.
Dr Rowan Williams has claimed there was little evidence that the Magi even existed and there was certainly nothing to prove there were three of them or that they were kings
SM And the wise men with the gold, frankincense, and Myrrh - with one of the wise men normally being black and the other two being white, for some reason?
ABC Well Matthew's gospel doesn't tell us that there were three of them, doesn't tell us they were kings, doesn't tell us where they came from, it says they're astrologers, wise men, priests from somewhere outside the Roman Empire. That's all we're really told so, yes, 'the three kings with the one from Africa' - that's legend; it works quite well as legend.
SM But would they have been there?
ABC Not with the shepherds, they wouldn't. So if you've got shepherds on one side and three kings on the other, there's a bit of conflation going on.
As you can see he never said that the Magi didn't exist. He merely said that there is no proof that there were three or what race they were or where they were from. The fact is that the Scriptures only way they were from the east and that they brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Everything else is tradition and legend which may or may not be true.
As for the shepherds and the magi being there together, there is nothing the Scriptures to tell us that they were there together. In fact, there is much in the Scriptures which can lead us to believe that they magi came much later. In fact, there is no proof in the Scriptures that Jesus was even still in Bethlehem when the magi came. The Gospel of Matthew even says that they found Jesus and Mary in a house, not in a stable. The shepherds appear the the Gospel of Luke and do arrive at a stable.
Yes, it is possible that the events occured simultaneously, but on this count I have to agree with the Archbishop.
Also, here is the quote that was used in the article:
Dr Williams said: "Matthew's gospel says they are astrologers, wise men, priests from somewhere outside the Roman Empire, that's all we're really told. It works quite well as legend."
Again, taken out of context. He wasn't saying that the magi were legend, but that the way we imagine them is legend.
The Archbishop went on to dispel other details of the Christmas story, adding that there were probably no asses or oxen in the stable.
SM So we're panning out now'; shepherds? They're with their sheep and the oxes and asses?
ABC Pass on the oxes and asses; they don't figure very strongly in the gospels, so I can live without the ox and asses.
Well, oxen and donkeys aren't mentioned in the Scriptures. They entered the story because we assume the stable was being used to house animals. I doubt the shepherds brought them because we all know that shepherds keep sheep, not cattle.
He argued that Christmas cards which showed the Virgin Mary cradling the baby Jesus, flanked by shepherds and wise men, were misleading. As for the scenes that depicted snow falling in Bethlehem, the Archbishop said the chance of this was "very unlikely".
In a final blow to the traditional nativity story, Dr Williams concluded that Jesus was probably not born in December at all. He said: "Christmas was when it was because it fitted well with the winter festival."
SM And pulling back further - snow on the ground?
ABC Very unlikely I think; it can be pretty damn cold in Bethlehem at this time of the year, but we don't know that it was this time of year because again the Gospels don't tell us what time of year it was; Christmas is the time it is because it fitted very well with the winter festival.
Misleading or not it doesn't really make a difference. Bethlehem doesn't really get snow. No, there wouldn't have been snow on the ground. That is a European invention. As for when Jesus was actually born, we have no clue. The truth is that it doesn't really matter. If we are focused on celebrating his birth on the exact day, we are missing the point of the celebration.
Here is more of the transcripts that didn't make the article.
SM It comes round every year that we're not being Christian enough or people don't know where Bethlehem is, people have never heard of Mary and so on, so this is a sort of an almost a tradition of Christmas, isn't it really. But I wonder, if people have got a traditional religious Christmas card in front of them, I just want to go through it, Archbishop, to find out how much of it you think is true and crucial to the believing in Christmas. So start with … the baby Jesus in a manger; historically and factually true?
ABC I should think so; the Gospel tells us he was born outside the main house, probably because it was overcrowded because it was pilgrimage time or census time; whatever; yes; he's born in poor circumstances, slightly out of the ordinary.
Well, he got that part right.
SM The Virgin Mary next door to him?
ABC We know his mother's name was Mary, that's one of the things all the gospels agree about, and the two gospels that tell the story have the story of the virgin birth and that's something I'm committed to as part of what I've inherited.
SM You were a prominent part of a Spectator survey in the current issue which headlined' Do you believe in the virgin birth?' there are some people in this survey who would say they were Christian who don't have a problem if you don't believe in the Virgin birth;' how important it is it to believe in that bit?
ABC I don't want to set it as a kind of hurdle that people have to get over before they, you know, be signed up;, but I think quite a few people that as time goes on, they get a sense, a deeper sense of what the virgin birth is about. I would say that of myself. About thirty years ago I might have said I wasn't too fussed about it - now I see it much more as dovetailing with the rest of what I believe about the story and yes.
Ok, he gets off track here. The Virgin birth is one of the few things about the birth of Christ that is confirmed by Scripture. It is important because it proves the parentage of Jesus. Jesus is the Son of God, not the son of Joseph or any other man. Belief in the Virgin Birth is essential.
SM Christopher Hitchens and many others make the point that isn't the translation for young woman rather than virgin? Does it have to be seen as virgin; might it be a mistranslation?
ABC It is… well, what's happening there one of the gospels quotes a prophecy that a virgin will conceive a child. Now the original Hebrew doesn't have the word virgin, it's just a young woman, but that's the prophecy that's quoted from the Old Testament in support of the story which is, in any case, about a birth without a human father, so it's not that it rests on mistranslation; St Matthew's gone to his Greek version of the bible and said "Oh, 'virgin'; sounds like the story I know," and put it in.
No, that is not what the Scriptures say. When the angel Gabriel visits Mary she clearly states that she is a virgin.
SM So you've got the Virgin Mary, Jesus: Joseph?
ABC Joseph, yes, again, the Gospels are pretty consistent that that's his father's name;
Ok, we are back on track again.
SM Just as a side issue on the kings and the wise bit; do you have a problem with astrologers being seen as wise men; there'd be many people in your church who would think, actually, astrology is bunk and should be exposed as bunk and the idea of saying that they are wise is somewhat farcical.?
ABC Well I 'm inclined to agree that astrology is bunk but you're dealing there with a world in which people watched the stars in order to get a sort of heads up on significant matters and astrologers were quite a growth industry; people who were respected and had a kind of professional technical skill and were respected as such., the thing here if course is what's the skill about? Well it's all bringing them to Jesus; it's not about fortune telling or telling the future, it's about a skill of watching the universe which leads them inexorably towards this event, so I don't think it's a justification of astrology.
Again, he does very well here. Although we do not believe in astrology and the Jewish people were not supposed to consult diviners, they often did so anyway. The Romans were heavily involved in astrology and divination. Yes, astrologers were considered wise men.
SM So if we're pulling back even further then, is there a star above the place where the child is?
ABC Don't know; I mean Matthew talks about the star rising, about the star standing still; we know stars don't behave quite like that, that the wise men should have seen something which triggered a recognition of something significant was going on; some constellation, there are various scientific theories about what it might have been at around that time and they followed that trek; that makes sense to me.
Maybe it was a star, maybe it was something else that looked like a star. Maybe it was a giant flying candle. Maybe it was an angel. Maybe it was something else. My question is: "so what?" There was something in the sky that lead the way. That alone makes it miraculous. As for stars not behaving that way, if the fact that stars don't behave that way causes us to not believe it was a star what will happen to our faith when we ponder the Virgin Birth, the miracles of Christ, not to mention the Ressurection, Ascension, and Pentecost. Let's look at all the things that don't work that way: babies are not concieved without intercourse, the sick are not instantly healed, dead people don't come spontaneously back to life, people don't float up to heaven, tongues of fire don't come into houses and rest upon people's heads. Seriously, if you can't believe that a star led the magi to Jesus, what can you believe.
I am so glad that archbishop scruffy isn't Catholic.