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

4.0 out of 5 stars 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)
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Review

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: #1,468,994 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I've read the 2006 hard cover edition of Geza Vermes' book. I don't know if any significant changes were made in later editions.

Vermes refers to his book as thorough (16), one that takes into account "all the relevant information" from a large variety of fields (16-17), and "painstaking" (145). But the book is only 172 pages long, has only two pages of endnotes (159-160), has a two-page bibliography characterized by liberal and moderate sources (161-162), makes many highly dubious assertions without supporting argumentation, makes little effort to interact with conservative scholarship, and doesn't break any significant new ground.

He refers to the elements of the infancy narratives that have "a high degree of probability" as "the names and the place of residence of the child and the parents, but the date of birth could only be approximate, under Herod, and the locale controverted, Bethlehem according to tradition, but more likely Nazareth." (155-156) He ignores the best evidence for a Bethlehem birthplace. And his inclusion of so few items in the highly probable category is absurd. What about the premarital timing of Mary's pregnancy, something highly unlikely to have been made up by the early Christians? What about the earliness of the move to Nazareth, even though Matthew and/or Luke could so easily have placed the move later in Jesus' life? And so on.

Despite Vermes' ridiculous claim that the infancy accounts "agree only on a few basic points" (10), they actually agree on dozens. I recently wrote an article for my blog giving thirty examples of agreements between Matthew and Luke regarding Jesus' childhood, and more examples could have been included.
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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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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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This was a great read. Vermes puts together these short scholarly pieces that are easy to understand for lay person and adds dimension and clarity to traditional tales of the holiday season and religious history. A great read for anyone looking to separate myth from history.
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