I’m seriously thinking about putting all my other books that I want to read in a massive pile somewhere and just reading this author’s work one after another until I’ve completed them all.
Geza Vermes places the story of The Nativity in its historical context and examines the Infancy Gospels to separate tidbits of fact from vast amounts of legendary additions.
Firstly, the nativity of Jesus is only mentioned in Luke and Matthew. Their accounts don’t derive from each other. Basic elements of the nativity in these gospels are the same: extraordinary pregnancy, Bethlehem as birthplace, and Nazareth as permanent residence after the nativity.
Other details are different. In Luke, Mary and Joseph had been living in Nazareth prior to the nativity but headed to Bethlehem to comply with Augustus’s order of a universal census. In Matthew, the residence prior to the nativity is not stated, though the assumption is it would have been Bethlehem.
In Luke, the newborn Jesus was welcomed in a stable by angels, shepherds, and local people whereas in Matthew he was worshipped in a house by the Magi. The flight to Egypt to avoid Herod’s soldiers only occurs in Matthew.
Vermes postulates that the nativity stories are later additions to the main Gospel account, added as a prologue to provide the newborn Jesus with an aura of marvel and enigma that provides a counterpart to the epilogue of the Gospels, the resurrection of Jesus. Vermes’s justifications for his ideas are fascinating.
The nativity story is not a natural introductory section to the life of Jesus as there’s no continuity between it and the rest of his life as there’s a gap of 30 years or so (apart from one incident in Luke when the 12-year-old Jesus is found by his parents in the Temple talking with teachers).
Vermes also writes about when Jesus was actually born and the actual date of The Nativity. He shows what the Infancy Gospels reveal about their prehistory and how valuable they are as historical references and their theological significance.