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The First Christmas: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus's Birth Hardcover – October 9, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“With meticulous scholarship and accessible language, “The first Christmas”... uncover(s) the genuine meaning of...the Birth of Jesus.” (The Progressive Christian)

From the Back Cover

In The First Christmas, two of today's top Jesus scholars, Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan, join forces to show how history has biased our reading of the nativity story as it appears in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. As they did for Easter in their previous book, The Last Week, here they explore the beginning of the life of Christ, peeling away the sentimentalism that has built up over the last two thousand years around this most well known of all stories to reveal the truth of what the gospels actually say. Borg and Crossan help us to see this well-known narrative afresh by answering the question, "What do these stories mean?" in the context of both the first century and the twenty-first century. They successfully show that the Christmas story, read in its original context, is far richer and more challenging than people imagine.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 258 pages
  • Publisher: HarperOne (October 9, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061430706
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061430701
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 6 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (111 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #433,217 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Marcus J. Borg is professor emeritus in the philosophy department at Oregon State University, where he held the Hundere Chair in Religion and Culture, and author of the New York Times bestselling Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, The Heart of Christianity, The Last Week, and Jesus. He was an active member of the Jesus Seminar when it focused on the historical Jesus and he has been chair of the historical Jesus section of the Society of Biblical Literature.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

28 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Robert Cornwall on November 14, 2009
Format: Paperback
It is nearing the Christmas season, we say we want Jesus to be in Christmas, but in what way is this true? This book came out a few years ago, which is when I first read it, but it's in paperback now, and has something to say to us about Christmas.

In the popular mind the Christmas story as symbolized by the crèche involves Joseph, Mary, and the little baby Jesus lying in a manger (feeding trough), surrounded on one side by shepherds and by three kings on the other. Of course there are the requisite barnyard animals standing around like movie extras. Above this scene flies the tiny cherubic angel. That such a scene is at best a conflation of the gospel texts doesn't seem to matter. It is what we think Christmas is about.

Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan offer to the general reader a different reading of the Christmas story, one that is rooted in their earlier works on Jesus. In fact, if you've been reading any of their recent books you will hear strong echoes (especially of Crossan's God and Empire -- HarperSanFrancisco, 2007). A companion piece to their earlier - and in many ways stronger - The Last Week (HarperSanFrancisco, 2005), Borg and Crossan offer a "parabolic reading" of the two Christmas stories (infancy narratives). They use the term parable here as an alternative to factual and fable - the two usual understandings of these two overlapping but in so many ways very different stories of Jesus' birth. Factualism focuses on historical veracity, while fable implies that these are simply fairy tales that can be easily dispensed with. By speaking of them as parables, they suggest that the focus is not on factuality (which for the most part they discount) but on the meaning of the stories. And meaning they do have.
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68 of 83 people found the following review helpful By H. Alan Elmore on November 9, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan are famous for taking current biblical scholarship and making it readable for the general public. The First Christmas is an excellent example. It is an easy to read version of current belief about the Birth Narratives in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. It is not a devotional book.
Few Bible academics even imagine that the Birth Narratives are historical. However, to use the word "myth" has too many connotations. Borg and Crossan use the term "parables" for these accounts. Although there is some similarity, the differences are great. Christmas combines the two accounts, and nobody is aware of it.
This book calls the Birth Narratives "parabolic overtures," meaaning that they are intentional parables, intended to tell the general approach to Jesus that is taken in each Gospel, Matthew and Luke. The comparison is excellent reading.
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34 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Scott Elliott on December 28, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan explore Matthew and Luke's Christmas narratives in this provocative-can't-put-down book. They place the stories in historical context and then thoughtfully explore the rich symbolism and meaning of the Gospel accounts of events surrounding the birth of Jesus. The results are new and powerful meanings to the Christmas stories for the modern ear-- stories that for two-thousand years have beckoned humankind away from the pursuit of peace though violence and toward God's call to the pursuit peace though non-violence and justice for all. THIS A GREAT BOOK THAT IS WELL WORTH THE READ!
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Pat MacHugh on December 30, 2007
Format: Hardcover
A wonderfully researched and complete look at the biblical accounts of the first Christmas stories - and their place in our faith journeys today. A bit tedious in spots, and redundant in others, but overall very informative, interesting, and enlightening. Some in our study group found the language a bit academic at times, but all found it worth reading, and discussion was lively and exciting.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Helen Hancox on November 6, 2008
Format: Hardcover
The birth narratives in Matthew and Luke are so familiar, heard every Christmas in church and on the radio, that I wasn't sure there was much more I could learn about them. How wrong I was! Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan's book started brilliantly; within the first chapter I was hooked on what they unfolded. They approach the birth narratives as parables/metaphors, not particularly addressing modern-day ideas of historicity but instead looking at the narratives and their structure in terms of what the gospel writers might have wanted to say. It becomes clear that Matthew and Luke are very different, with Matthew presenting Jesus as the New Moses, reflecting many images and ideas from Jewish writings, and Luke's emphasis on the stories as an overture to his larger themes of women, the marginalised and the Holy Spirit.

The book goes step-by-step through some parts of the nativity stories, explaining the historical context for many of the events, showing the parallels and the differences between the gospels, relating parts to historical or metaphorical events. I found the book began slightly to drag by the end but I was really taken by much of what they said, particularly the links Matthew makes between Jesus, Moses and Caesar. Some more conservative Christians will probably find the liberal tone of the book too much to stomach which is a real shame as there are some real gems in here, but for those with an open mind and an interest in understanding more about the world of the time of Jesus this is an unmissable book.
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