The two Gospels containing infancy narratives, Luke and Matthew, give inconsistent accounts of the genealogy of Jesus as well as the time and place of his birth and attendant visitors (shepherds in Luke and the Magi in Matthew) and where these accounts conflict, then at least one of them cannot literally be true.
Yet, do we do ourselves a disservice when we get caught up in such literality? Is there a way that both could be true and true in a way that enhances our understanding rather than detracting from it?
The reality is that neither of these stories is ‘true’ (in the sense of verifiable) and interestingly, it does not matter. Not only do different people remember the same event differently but they also give meaning to that event in accordance with their unique set of values and beliefs.
The question now remains, what will you choose to do with such conflict?
- You might use it to suit your own purposes such as, for example, to ‘prove’ that the infancy narrative is a lie, or
- Either alone or with others, you might strive to standardise, cleanse, or normalise the conflict so as to contain it until it hardens into a meta-narrative, or
- You might choose think out of the box and experiment.
For example, you could interpret the known facts pertaining to the life of Jesus as a patchwork of events in the lives of those who came before him: born to a carpenter and a virgin, like Krishna: born on 25th December, like Mithras; heralded by a star in the East, like Horus; walking on water and feeding the five thousand from a small basket, like Buddha; performing miracles, like Pythagoras; raising from the dead, like Elisha; executed on a tree, like Adonis; and ascending to Heaven like Hercules, Enoch and Elijah.
- What other angles can you think of?
Looking at the Nativity through similarly expanded eyes, in Mary, you might sense of the presence of Isis; in Joseph, the patriarch with a crooked staff, Osiris, the luminous babe in the manger, Krishna; the ox (Taurus) and the ass (Aries), the two ages leading the new Age of Pisces, the Magi’s guiding star, the spirit of Zarathustra, and the angel announcing the birth, the spirit of the Buddha.
- What’s the opportunity here?
What if one of the Magi were Pythagoras reincarnated? What if the Magi had been initiated by the prophet Daniel? What if instead of one Jesus, there were two as depicted by the Leonardo Cartoon in the National Gallery in London and on the north portal at Chartres?
- What might you take away from this and how might you use it?
What if…well, you get the idea.
Happy holidays and may your open mind take you as far as you’d like it to carry you!