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The Nativity: History and Legend Hardcover – November 6, 2007

11 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Despite the cover's gold-stamped Old English script and stylized medieval Nativity scene, this book does not belong in a display of inspirational Christmas gifts for great-aunts, unless the aunties are willing to consider that Matthew and Luke often contradict each other; that Jesus was probably born in the spring; that virgin may simply have meant prepubescent; that the census that supposedly brought Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem never happened (and anyway, Jesus was more likely born in Nazareth); or that virgin births and guiding stars were quite common in classical literature of the time. As Vermes notes, the truth ...belongs only very slightly to history and mostly derives from man's hopeful and creative religious imagination. Vermes, perhaps the world's foremost authority on the Dead Sea Scrolls, writes as a scholar, not as an iconoclast. Dismayed that Christmas has become the climax of a season of overspending, overeating and uncontrolled merrymaking, he wants to set the record straight. Some readers, however-even those who value understanding the first-century historical and literary context-may not be satisfied with his conclusion that the ultimate purpose of the Infancy Gospels seems to be the creation of a prologue, enveloping the newborn Jesus with an aura of marvel and enigma. (Nov. 6)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


Praise for Geza Vermes and The Nativity

“The greatest Jesus scholar of his generation.” —Sunday Telegraph (UK)

“Vermes sets about painstaking literary and historical analysis with refreshing humor and enthusiasm and argues his case with clarity and skill as he uncovers how the events of the nativity were constructed by evangelists to fulfill Old Testament prophecies and Jewish traditions.” —The Guardian (UK)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday Religion (November 6, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 038552241X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385522410
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.8 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #186,334 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Peter Uys HALL OF FAME on November 17, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Here the respected scholar investigates the main events surrounding the nativity in an attempt to establish what really happened. He compares Christmas in Christian imagery with the gospel accounts of Matthew and Luke, which are contradictory and confusing in many aspects. They agree on only a few basic points but there are many complications and discrepancies. Vermes looks at how various Christian scholars deal with this, for example John P Meier in A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus and Raymond Brown in Birth of the Messiah.

The author performs a textual interpretation and analyses the evidence. Then the findings are compared to all relevant information from parallel Jewish documents and sources of literature and history, including the Dead Sea Scrolls. First the genealogies of Jesus in the aforementioned gospels are compared (including a side by side comparison) and Vermes succeeds in making even this subject absorbing in light of the strange discrepancies.

Next he looks at the concept of miraculous births in Judaism and Paganism: virginal conception, extraordinary birth stories in the Old Testament and the weird account in Genesis 6 that talks of celestial beings interbreeding with mankind that gave rise to a race of giants. The Hellenistic Jewish birth stories of the writer Philo are also considered.

Chapter Five: Virgin and Holy Spirit, explores the gospel accounts with the prophecy of Isaiah concerning a young woman who would give birth to a son.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Dr. James Gardner VINE VOICE on February 5, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Noted scholar Geza Vermes focuses his attention on the nativity stories about Jesus, in a fashion similar to his 2006 book The Passion. He covers such topics as where and when Jesus was born, where he lived, who his father and brothers were, etc. Along the way he makes several excursions into such related topics as Jewish marriage practices in the 1st century, the two meanings of the word "virgin", etc.

The text is well written, although at times I thought it rambled, and there is no coherent organization, although at the end of the day, he covers just about every topic one can imagine. The notes are sparce and the bibliography ever sparcer, but one nonetheless gets the feeling that Vermes speaks with authority.

While this is certainly a very interesting book, people familiar with the literature will not find much new here. But for a beginning student this will be very informative.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Daniel on May 17, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Short summary:

The book is essentially a commentary on the Infancy Gospels found in Matthew and Luke. Vermes carefully looks at these passages from all different angles and can be said to deconstruct the passages as we have them by employing the historical-critical method. He compares elements and themes to Jewish & Greek literature of the time and draws some suprising and less suprising results. In his view the Infancy Gospels have been added later to the Gospels as they stand and conflict greatly among each other. To be sure he finds some similarities but on the whole they are different and contain in some places contradictory ideas.

He spends most of his time highlighting these differences and probes to what the reasons behind these are. He sees Matthew's Infancy Gospel as being mainly driven by the idea that Jesus is the new Moses and offers various extra-Biblical readings that show some suprising parallels to the Gospel. Luke, in his opinion, concerns a miraculous birth along the lines we find in the Hebrew Bible (Sarah, Rebecca, etc.), he argues that Mary conceived Jesus, with the help of Joseph, before this was physically possible (before her first period).

My thoughts:

In general I like Historical Jesus studies in the tradition of Geza Vermes, E.P. Sanders, Paula Fredriksen, etc. They tend to be very critical and leave little trace of feeling bound to dogma. Sometimes though they can be overly critical and especially with Vermes I get this idea. Reading him at times makes me feel he is frustrated with more conservative readings. But given that this works both ways and that it does not distract the reader from his main message, its fine with me.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
At the conclusion of this book the reader is clearly left with the impression that the chronicles of the nativity are myth. Mr. Vermes does a good job of showing how Matthew and Luke were making up stories to solve the problems of the prophets predictions. (Neither Mark, the first gospel, or John, the last gospel, mentions anything about the nativity.)
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Brent A. Anderson on August 1, 2008
Format: Hardcover
It's well known that there is a contradiction between the Synoptic Gospels and the Gospel of John regarding the events leading up to the Passion and the dating of the crucifixion of Jesus.

However, this erudite little book in which Geza Vermes's eminent scholarship in nonetheless lightly worn shows further difficulties in the Christian testimonies. Namely, the Infancy narratives between Luke and Matthew are so divergent as to be difficult if not impossible to harmonize.

This of course is not what ecclesiastical authorities want to hear. But Professor Vermes shows conclusively why this must be so.

I confess the book astounded and agitated me. Surely, there couldn't be such confusion? I knew that Jesus was likely born in the spring and the acquisition of Christmas occurred by the co-opting of pagan solstice ceremonies. But to find almost all aspects of the Christmas story--no exact number of Magi, no old status to Joseph, as examples--to which I have spent a lifetime ascribing to is disconcerting to say the least. Vermes, however, makes his scholarship stand out for its effectiveness, simplicity, and brilliance.

The Nativity: History & Legend has much to commend it, if nothing else but to challenge the thinking of the doctrinaire Christian. One hopes all are made the better for it. As John Stuart Mill said, "He who knows only his side of the argument knows little of that."
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