The Return of the Annual Christmas Quiz!

Back, due to popular demand! The annual Christmas quiz, last seen in 2014. Ten questions on Biblical trivia. Answers at the bottom of the page.

Good luck. You’ll need it.

1. Where did Mary and Joseph live prior to Jesus’ birth?

a) Bethlehem

b) Nazareth

c) Galilee

2. How did Mary conceive?

a) By the power of the Holy Spirit

b) She didn’t. It’s a story.

c) How’d you think?

3. What was the relationship between John the Baptist and Jesus?

a) They were second cousins

b) They didn’t know each other and didn’t meet until they were adults

c) Jesus originally belonged to John’s baptism cult

4, When was Jesus born?

a) When Herod I was alive

b) After Herod had died and Quirinius was governor of Syria

c) Perhaps he wasn’t

5. How did Mary end up giving birth in Bethlehem?

a) There’s no evidence she gave birth in Bethlehem

b) She and Joseph had to go there because of the Roman census

c) She lived there anyway

6. The Lord tells Mary to call her child

a) Jesus

b) Immanuel

c) Yeshua

7. Where did the family go following the birth?

a) They went home to their house in Bethlehem

b) Egypt

c) Nazareth

8. Who preserved the songs of Zechariah, Mary and Simeon (Luke 1 & 2)?

a) They were preserved orally word-for-word for 50 years

b) They were recorded in Q

c) They were created in their entirety by Luke, based loosely on Jewish scriptures

9. Where is the prophecy, quoted by Matthew (2:23), that Jesus would be called a Nazarene?

a) Micah

b) Isaiah

c) Nowhere: there is no such prophecy in Jewish scriptures or anywhere else

10. Which is the most unbelievable part of the nativity stories of Matthew and Luke?

a) a host of singing angels hovering in the sky

b) the wand’rin’ star

c) a virgin giving birth

d) Herod’s re-enactment of a story from Exodus

e) All the angelic visitations, dreams and visions that are needed to make the stories function

Answers:

1. Where did Mary and Joseph live prior to Jesus’ birth? All of the answers here are correct, so the Holy Bible say. According to Matthew, Mary & Joseph lived in Bethlehem. According to Luke they lived in Nazareth. According to Mark, it was known that Jesus hailed from Nazareth though he doesn’t say Jesus was born there. John refers to Jesus being from Galilee and acknowledges he comes from Nazareth (1:46).

Matthew and Luke insist Jesus was from Bethlehem to make him ‘fulfil’ the prophecy that the Messiah would come from there. Mark and John apparently don’t care.

2. How did Mary conceive? Matthew and Luke have the Holy Spirit do the deed. Matthew says merely that Mary ‘conceived by the Holy Spirit’, while Luke really goes to town with a ridiculous story involving an angel and Mary being orgasmic about the coming of the Lord. Mark hasn’t heard of either account, because neither had been invented, and fails to invent his own. John is only interested in Jesus as The Logos prior to his time on Earth. Actually, Jesus could only have been conceived by the only method we know that works: boy and girl hoochie-coochie.

3. What was the relationship between John the Baptist and Jesus? All are correct. Luke says Jesus and John were second cousins (1:36) and their mothers were close (1:56). The Gospel of John (1:31) says that John the Baptist didn’t know Jesus personally. Some scholars think Jesus was originally a member of John’s baptism cult.

4, When was Jesus born? a) and b) are both correct according to the gospels. Matthew places Jesus’ birth in Herod I’s reign, which ended when he died in 4BCE. Luke meanwhile dates it to Quirinius’ governorship of Syria, which was in 6 and 7CE. No wonder there are those who think Jesus may never have existed, so encrusted with myth and make-believe is he.

5. How did Mary end up giving birth in Bethlehem? The census is a contrivance to shift the birth to Bethlehem. There wasn’t a census of the kind described when Quirinius was governor of Syria, nor in 4BCE. Quirinius’ census was of property and would not have entailed the (mass) movement of people. Matthew seems to think M&J lived in Bethlehem all along. No-one else thinks so.

As the Bethlehem connection derives only from prophecy (Micah 5:2), it is likely Matthew and Luke located the birth there to show the ‘fulfilment’ of that prophecy. In other words, they invented it, as they do other ‘fulfilments’. It looks like a) is the only viable answer.

6. The Lord tells Mary to call her child… According to Matthew. Mary is meant to call the baby Immanuel, which, as the text helpfully informs us, means ‘God with us’. This is to make the story comply with Isaiah 7:14 which claims the Messiah will be called Immanuel. But Mary doesn’t call her baby Immanuel. She calls him Yeshua, meaning ‘God Saves’, which is not the same thing. How Matthew thinks this is a fulfilment of the Immanuel prophecy is anyone’s guess. When the gospels came to be written, Yeshua was rendered in Greek as Iesus and eventually in English as Jesus. Neither he nor his mother would have recognised this rendering.

7. Where did the family go following the birth? Again, all are correct according to the gospels. The family went on living in Bethlehem according to Matthew (2:7-11) but fled to Egypt according to Luke. Mark doesn’t appear to know either the Bethlehem or Egypt stories and refers only to Jesus coming from Nazareth.

8. Who preserved the songs of Zechariah, Mary and Simeon (Luke 1 & 2)? c) is correct. No oral tradition could possibly preserve the three carefully structured poems verbatim for 50 years. The hypothetical Q is conjectured to be a collection of Jesus’ sayings so the songs don’t come from there either. Luke or his community made them up.

9. Where is the prophecy, quoted by Matthew (2:23) that Jesus would be called a Nazarene? There is no such ‘prophecy’ anywhere in Jewish scripture nor in any extant writing: c) is correct once again.

10. Which is the most unbelievable part of the nativity stories of Matthew and Luke? That’s right. All of them are completely unbelievable.

How did you do? If you’re confused, don’t be. It’s the gospel writers who were. They made up stories about Jesus so that he complied with parts of Jewish scripture that seemed to them to be speaking of the Messiah. (John’s stories are a little different; they and Jesus’ tedious monologues were created to make him seem more like a Greek demi-god.)

Perhaps though I’m taking it all too literally, ‘like a fundamentalist’ as my self-appointed chief critic likes to say. I should perhaps accept it’s all just a metaphor, as he advises. Of course, when I do, he objects to that too; ‘A metaphor for what?’ he asks, forgetting he’s the one who believes the stories are ‘intended’ to be deeply meaningfully symbolic.

The muddled accounts arose as each gospel writers attempted to make an origin story for their hero based on scraps from Jewish scripture, Paul’s teaching and the emerging beliefs of their particular brand of the cult. They’d have got away with it too if some clever-dicks hadn’t decided, many decades later, to put their efforts side by side so their differences were laid bare for all to see: all the contradictions, inconsistencies, fallacies, anomalies and incompatible flights of fancy. Thank god the church kept their writings hidden away from most folks by preserving them in a language they couldn’t read.

That same critic will no doubt tell me I’m wrong again. ‘Everything happened as Matthew and Luke relate. There are no contradictions between them and the other two, Mark and John, had different priorities anyway.’ (See comments to this post here). He’ll tie himself in knots rather than admit the nativity stories are myth, as is everything that follows.

Have a happy Christmas, ya’ll. See you on the other side.

 

Jesus the No-Hoper

Jesus – Hope for the World declares the banner outside the church near where I live. I can’t help but wonder about the naivety of the people who came up with the slogan and what it means. What are the possibilities?

‘Peace on Earth, goodwill to all men’ (and maybe women)? If so, the world isn’t showing much of either, certainly none that can be attributed to Jesus and his fractured, fractious and frequently intolerant church.

How about inner peace then, even though that’s a long way from ‘hope for the world.‘ How many Christians exemplify this particular fruit of Spirit? Is this, in the end, all that Jesus offers: the hope of a nice fuzzy feeling inside? Of course, peace of mind can be spirit-generate, though personally I prefer wine. 

Hope of reconciliation with God then. Only if you believe in God in the first place, not to mention ‘sin‘, human sacrifice and magic. If this is the kind of hope Jesus represents, then really, what good is it? 

Possibly the hope of which the banner speaks is the hope the earliest Christians had, of Jesus coming back real soon to slaughter his enemies and set up the Kingdom with, naturally, themselves at the top of the pile? Hasn’t Jesus had two thousand years to deliver this hoped for outcome?  An idea well past its sell-by date, the Kingdom of God on Earth isn’t ever going to materialise, however much ‘hope’ people have.

Maybe, then, it’s a hope of eternal life. The gospel writers have Jesus make such a preposterous offer (e.g. John 10:27-28). If this is what Christians are hoping for they are sadly deluded, and, as Paul puts it, the most pitiable of all people (1 Cor 15:19). No human being outside of myth and comic books has ever lived forever. None ever will.

Hope of heaven? See above. Besides, the Bible really doesn’t offer a place in heaven to anyone. That’s a much later development. It’s a waste of this one and only life to live in the vain hope of something better after death. 

Maybe the hope referred to is hope in hope itself. How futile would that be? Hope is no substitute for food for the hungry, shelter for the destitute, treatment for the sick. 

When I go to the carol service at the church next weekend, I’m confident it will be made clear just what sort of hope Jesus offers the world. If not, I’ll be sure to ask. I’ll let you know.

Cruci-fiction

Given the birth, baptism and wilderness narratives are fiction, why not then the other parts of Mark and Matthew? We’ve already seen how the trial and crucifixion in Mark are literary creations, which Matthew lifts and embellishes. The resurrection stories are also invented, which is why the different accounts are confused and contradictory. The likelihood that everything between the beginning and the end – Jesus’ ‘ministry’, miracles and preaching – is invented too, either by the authors of the gospels themselves or by those who preceded them. My money would be on the former; the stories are so carefully arranged, forming an integral part of a clever literary construct.

I have a growing, sneaking admiration for what Mark and Matthew, and later Luke and John, achieved. They consciously set about creating myth. When Paul and others preached that their Christ had died and risen again ‘according to the scriptures’ that’s literally what they meant; the Christ was discernible in Jewish scripture, his story laid out there for those with eyes to see it. Mark tells us as much in Mark 4:9: ‘He who has ears to hear, let him hear.’

What he and, to an even greater extent, Matthew did, was construct a Saviour story from these elements. They saw him, or thought they did, all over the place. Whether or not they’re was an actual Jesus is beside the point. as is the extent to which the gospel writers may have used existing stories about him. Gospel Jesus is their imaginative creation from start to finish. His life, deeds and many of his sayings are put together by cutting and pasting scripture.

Cite any episode in Mark and Matthew’s gospels and it will have a precedent in scripture, either a prophecy (that invariably isn’t a prophecy) or episode (that was never about a future suffering Messiah) or character (usually legendary in their own right.) You can believe, as many True Believers do, that these ‘Old Testament’ episodes foreshadow the events of Jesus’ life. That he miraculously fulfilled prophecy through everything he did and said while here on Earth. Or you can take the view that doesn’t rely on faith in the miraculous, and recognise that he’s merely written that way. He’s the literary embodiment of scattered scraps of scripture.

On this much more realistic view, everything Jesus is made to do, particularly his miracles and crucifixion, is symbolic; a fictional enactment of scripture. Other aspects are drawn from Paul (the Last Supper/Eucharist, for example), claims of inner-visions (the resurrection) and early cult rules (behavioural expectations.) The events of Jesus’ earthly existence, as created by the gospel writers, have no historical basis; they didn’t really happen. I maintain that all of the gospel writers were fully cognisant of this as they created their respective symbolic lives for him.

Where did Luke get his Bethlehem story from?

Previously on RejectingJesus:

Matthew creates his nativity story, specifically Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, from Micah 5.2, which prophesies that a ‘ruler over Israel’ will be born there. This prophecy is imposed on Jesus who was not a ruler of Israel – though he may have aspired to be – and certainly was not the Messiah envisaged by the creators of such prophecies. I suggest that subsequently, Luke embroidered Matthew’s fairly basic story and contrived to get Jesus born in Bethlehem by inventing a Roman census that required his parents to travel there.

A Christian commenter (let’s call him Don) then challenged this scenario by claiming, without offering any evidence, that Luke did not have access to Matthew’s gospel, so must have known that Jesus was born in Bethlehem from an independent source. (Christians are fond of attributing suspect gospel material to oral traditions and the hypothetical Q. Don is no exception.)

In fact, a number of scholars, including Michael Goulder, Mark Goodacre, Richard Carrier and others, think that Luke did know Matthew’s gospel. This is the so-called Farrer hypothesis, named after Austin Farrer who first proposed the idea in 1955. As well as his plagiarising 55% of Mark, these scholars show that Luke also used material from Matthew, including the Bethlehem story. The structure of Luke’s version and some of his phrasing is identical to Matthew’s. It is unlikely this would be the case if Luke wasn’t lifting directly from Matthew’s account.

Luke goes further and replaces some of the details in Matthew’s story that don’t suit his purpose (e.g. the magi) with his own (the shepherds), which is why the two accounts diverge. Nonetheless, both versions of the story stem from the ‘prophecy’ in Micah 2.5. Luke doesn’t cite it explicitly but then he is non-specific elsewhere in his gospel about events that supposedly fulfil prophecy. Unlike Matthew, Luke was writing for a gentile audience who would not be as familiar with Jewish scripture; he didn’t need to be as explicit about the source for his stories that were based on these scriptures. Nonetheless, the two nativity accounts, Matthew’s and Luke’s, likely had the same basis (the Micah prophecy) with Luke adapting the narrative that Matthew had already created from it. Moreover, the differences in detail between Matthew and Luke’s accounts demonstrate clearly that both authors were inventing their respective stories. As Neil Godfrey puts it,

Luke, attempting to adapt Matthew’s Bethlehem as the place of birth of Jesus to his more universalist theme, feels obliged to concoct a silly story of everyone being required by imperial edict to return to their places of birth for a special tax registration. Not to mention the necessary anachronism of his Quirinius timing, too. It is not hard to see that Luke is struggling to incorporate Matthew’s Bethlehem setting into his own tendentious narrative.

It’s possible, of course, that all of the scholars who think Luke knew Mathew’s gospel are wrong, but even so, this doesn’t rescue Luke’s nativity from its fictional moorings.

First, it could be argued that both Matthew and Luke knew about Jesus’ birth from their respective sources. Our Christian commenter would say, and does say, that the details of Jesus’s birth were well known in the early, pre-gospel cult (he disputes that Jesus was in any way famous beyond this select few) and that these details were preserved in a reliable oral tradition or in Q. If the former was the case, however, the two nativity accounts would not differ to the extent they do, unless the oral traditions weren’t as reliable as our commenter likes to say they were. On the other hand, Q, if it existed at all, was comprised primarily of sayings and certainly did not include any Bethlehem narrative.

Second, Don will no doubt say that all of this is mere atheist grumbling and is therefore entirely fallacious. He believes that God inspired his anonymous agents to use prophecy, foreshadowing and typology to point the way to Jesus and his birth in Bethlehem. Don believes that both Matthew and Luke had independent knowledge of Jesus’ birth there, which means it must’ve been his birthplace. Of course it indicates nothing of the sort. If Matthew and Luke settled on Bethlehem independently, it would demonstrate only that they had independent knowledge of Micah 2.5.

Third, if the circumstances of Jesus birth in Bethlehem were so remarkable – miraculous, even – then why does Mark not mention them? According to Don (though no serious scholar shares his view) Mark’s gospel is comprised of the recollections of Peter, Jesus’ closest, dim-witted pal in the synoptic gospels. Did Jesus never mention his birth to Peter? Did Peter then fail to pass the details on to Mark? Did Jesus’ mother Mary, who treasured memories of the miraculous birth, never allude to them when she and Peter reminisced together over a glass of water wine? (Yes, Don, I know this is in John’s gospel, but they are meant to be the same characters.) Why does the Bethlehem birth only emerge in Matthew, who built much of his gospel around ‘prophecies’ from scripture, and in Luke, who, in all likelihood, copied from him?

We can be fairly certain that Jesus was not born in Bethlehem. Someone somewhere, other than these two, would have mentioned it outside of symbolic stories that owe far more to myth and legend than they do to fact.

Christmases With Grandad: Christmas Past (1960)

Part three of a three-part Christmas story written for BBC Radio Cumbria.

It was still really dark when I woke up. Really dark. Very, very quiet too. I knew it must still be the middle of the night but I couldn’t see my clock. Even if I could have done I might not have known what time it was because I was only just learning how to do that. I didn’t know if Father Christmas had been. I wriggled my feet down to the end of my bed where it was really, really cold, to see if I could hear any paper rustling down there. I wasn’t very sure I could. I was a bit worried then. If Father Christmas hadn’t been yet, he might not come at all if I stayed awake. I closed my eyes to try and get to sleep again but I couldn’t.

I thought maybe it’d be a good idea to sing one of the songs I’d learnt at school. We’d done a nice concert about a baby being born for our mummies and daddies and we’d learnt some songs for it. I’d had a piece of paper to read too. It said Mary and Joseph had to go to Bethlehem to have a baby, but as I couldn’t really read I just remembered what it said. Then we had sung Little Donkey. So I sang some of that in my head and then O Little Town of Bethlehem because we sang that too, but I could only remember the first bit so I did that two times.

When I finished singing in my head it was still dark, and still quiet and cold. I couldn’t think of anything else to do, so I decided I’d switch my light on. I got out of bed as quietly as I could, tiptoed across the cold lino and reached up to the switch. That’s when I saw that Father Christmas had been after all! There were my presents at the end of the bed. I pulled the red crinkly paper off the first one. It was the train engine I wanted! And the next one was some railway line. I got the rails out of the box and tried to fit them together but it was hard. I must’ve made too much noise because the next thing I knew was my mummy and daddy came in to my room. My mummy sat on the edge of my bed wrapped up in her eiderdown because there was ice on the inside of the window and she was very shivery. She said, ‘Neil, it is still only half past five. It’s far too early,’ but she didn’t mean it because she didn’t make me go back to bed. My dad fitted the railway line together into a big circle and we wound up the little engine and watched it go round and round the track. I knew then it was going to be a lovely Christmas.

A lovely Christmas to both my readers.

Go easy on the wobbly juice.

Christmases With Grandad: Christmas Present (2021)

Part two of a three-part Christmas story written for BBC Radio Cumbria.

I’m sure this piece goes here,’ says Granddad, doing his best to force a yellow plastic chute into a red tower. He has a construction in front of him that is designed to take coloured marbles through various tubes and chutes down to a collecting tray at the bottom, but which looks more like a Heath Robinson contraption. ‘Yes, that’s it,’ he says triumphantly as he wedges the yellow chute precariously in place.

”That’s not right,’ says Lana, hands on hips.

Granddad Neil looks at his handiwork. ‘Of course it is,’ he says. Lana picks up a marble and drops into the top of the red tower. When it reaches the yellow chute it falls out and lands on the floor. ‘See?’ she says. ‘It’s upside down.’

‘Granddad!’ Eva says with all the indignation a two year old can muster.

‘He’s had too much wobbly juice,’ Lana explains and takes herself off to the kitchen to complain to her mum that he’s not up to the job.

Granddad has to concede that the girls may well be right on both counts. He chastises himself for having had more than one glass of wobbly juice. He turns back to the precarious marble construction and realises that if the yellow chute is upside down, then several others parts must be too. He wonders as he starts to remove them, why it has fallen to him to fit the marble tower together in the first place. Construction is definitely not one of his better skills.

He looks round at the other adults. Dad is asleep on the couch. Dennis, who always enjoys doing the washing up, is helping mum clear away the dinner dishes. Uncle Mikey is half watching a film he’s downloaded, which, although it is an animation, is far from suitable for children. Fortunately, both Lana and Eva gave up on it after five minutes, which leaves him to entertain them. He feels he has let them down with his inability to put together a child’s toy. Uncle Mikey, finding his efforts more entertaining than the film, announces it would be better if he sorted it out.

Lana meanwhile has taken herself off to the front room, the toy room as she calls it, and is setting out her doll’s tea set, the one Santa brought with Alice In Wonderland characters on it. She arranges her dolls and teddies around it and shouts for Granddad Neil. All is forgiven! The two of them sit at the table having an imaginary tea party. Lana pours while she explains how last night Santa left very muddy bootprints in the hallway. When, much later, mummy appears at the door and asks what the two of them are doing, Granddad Neil says, ‘we’re having a lovely Christmas.’ And indeed they are.

Christmases With Grandad: Christmas Yet To Come (2041)

This three-part story was written for BBC Radio Cumbria this Christmas. Here’s the first instalment.

Lana will wrap the last of her presents, the ones to give to the family on Christmas morning. She will like doing it herself even though the online providers with their one-hour service, would wrap them for her in reconstituted all-natural paper-substitute that automatically recycles itself after 5 hours. She will be pleased with the low energy-use holographic display device she’s bought for her sister Eva. She will have already programmed it to display family members in rotation, as they appear in her ancient photos preserved on the universal cloud.

She’ll laugh as she finds some of her granddad Neil from 20 years earlier; Christmas 2021 according to the information embedded in the image, when she was 5 and Eva almost 3. She will think how strange Christmases were then! When a crisis closed down her school after she had only just started it, and you could only have one or two visitors on Christmas Day. All the same, she will have warm, vague memories of that time, when granddad Neil and Dennis would come on Christmas day and play tea parties and try to put together whatever game they’d got from Santa. She will think how peculiar it was that the game would probably have been made of plastic, long since outlawed.

Then she will tell the hologram device to power down and will put it in its little box. Her mum and dad and Eva will join her and her family first thing the next morning when they will drink a toast to Granddad Neil and Dennis. It will, she knows, be a lovely Christmas.

The Jesus Story v. Reality

Recycled picture, new post

Whenever the Jesus story comes face to face with reality, it fails. The nativity stories, which only Matthew and Luke think to invent include, are a case in point.

  • Luke tells us the Emperor Augustus decreed there should be a census in what we now know as 4BC. He didn’t. The closest Roman census was in AD6, ten years later and it didn’t entail hordes of people trailing back to their ancestral village.
  • Matthew claims that Herod was so enraged about the birth of the ‘royal’ baby that he killed all little boys under two years old. Except he didn’t. This never happened.
  • According to the same story, a host of supernatural beings appeared announcing that a young woman who’d never had sex with a man had given birth, while a wandering star shone directly over her house.

Where in reality do these kinds of things happen? That’s right: in myths and stories. They are typical literary tropes found in fantasy fiction. The ‘miraculous’ events of the nativity are of this genre.

  • Christians who delude themselves into thinking theirs is an intellectual faith concede the nativity is mythical, its events symbolic. They’re not usually so hot on what they’re symbolic of but say the story conveys truth. Still, they insist, the rest of the Jesus story is true. Evangelicals go even further and say it’s literally true. So, Jesus walking on water really happened (or if your faith is, oxymoronically, intellectual faith, it didn’t.) After all, the illusionist Dynamo walked across the Thames a few years ago (see it here), and if he could walk on water then how much more capable of doing that was the Son of God. Except the modern illusionist‘s feat was – yes, you guessed it – an illusion. So even if Jesus did the same thing, his trick was also an illusion. Those who say the story is included in Mark and Matthew because it’s actually only a parable about faith (or something) are conceding, again, that it didn’t actually happen.
  • Likewise when Jesus turns water into wine, calms the storm, raises the dead, chats with apparitions of long dead Jewish folk-heroes and does every other ‘miracle’ he’s credited with. If they’re only symbolic then, by definition, they didn’t happen. Nor did they happen, if, as Evangelicals believe, they’re being passed off as real events. ‘Miracles’ do not happen in reality. Never have, never will. They happen only in stories.

Well, okay, more enlightened Christians might say, but nonetheless Jesus conveyed to the world what God wanted us to know. He was wise and compassionate and told us how our sins could be forgiven. Except his wisdom comes directly from Jewish scriptures; he had nothing new to say. He was no more compassionate than anyone else and could in fact be an absolute s**t. He was inconsistent across the gospels about how sins were forgiven and much of his teaching in the original Gospel (Mark’s) is lifted from Paul or reflects the beliefs of the early Christ cult. Jesus the holy man is a construct – or rather a series of constructs, a literary device, not a real man.

So, okay; the nativity didn’t happen as depicted. The astounding feats attributed to Jesus didn’t happen and Jesus is whoever the various gospel writers and Paul want to make him. Nothing we’ve seen so far is factually, historically or really (as in reality) true.

But, the crucifixion and resurrection are! Oh yes. The rest is made up, but these two events most certainly are not.

  • Even though Jesus’ trial is historically inaccurate and is, as a consequence, highly implausible.
  • Even though there was no-one to record Jesus’s snappy repartee (or silence depending on which gospel you read) with Pilate or Herod.
  • Even though there was no such Roman custom as releasing a prisoner on the Passover.
  • Even though the synoptics have Jesus crucified on Friday while John says it was a Thursday.
  • Even though characters like Barabbas, Joseph of Arimathea, Mary Magdelene and the ‘disciple whom Jesus loved’ are evidently and entirely fictional.
  • Even though there was no eclipse of the sun that lasted for hours.
  • Even though there was no earthquake that shook zombies loose from their graves before Jesus had a chance to rise and shine himself.

Such things are not historical. They’re not even feasible. They did not happen in reality. Well, if not the crucifixion per se, Christians say, then definitely the resurrection: that most unlikely of all unlikely events. That really happened.

  • Even though the reports of it are completely at odds with one another.
  • Even though angels are involved once again.
  • Even though Jesus behaves entirely like a ghost, walking through closed doors, altering his appearance and vanishing at will.
  • Even though he levitates into the clouds.
  • Even though some of the disciples find it impossible to believe he’s back.
  • Even though dead people rise only in stories, myths, legends and fantasies.
  • Even though, in reality, dead people do not come back to life after three days, which is why Jesus didn’t either.

Still, I’m sure I’ll be told when I go to a carol service with my friends in a few days, that the story of Jesus’ birth, emotionally powerful as it is, is true from start to finish. Why? Because people’s capacity for believing fantasy stories knows no bounds.

A Christmas Murder Mystery

I do love reading a good whodunit at Christmas time.

Here’s one I discovered recently, called 

And One For The Dame

by Agnetha Crispin

Obscured by the large Christmas tree in the drawing room, Miss Palmer put down her knitting and listened intently to the conversation going on in the hallway outside. 

Listen Lucinda,’ a ridiculously plummy male voice said, ‘if that old bird keeps asking questions she’s going to rumble us, don’t you know.‘

Oh Rupert, darling, don’t be silly. She’s completely ga-ga. In any case, she’s not interested in us. She thinks she’s here to find out how dear old uncle Bertie died. All she’s really succeeding in doing is getting under the inspector’s feet. He told me so himself.’

Oh, Luce,’ Rupert Hayes-Hickson whispered softly. ‘You really are a first-rate sort of chap.’ The two of them drifted down the hallway and out of earshot. Miss Palmer resumed her knitting. She resolved to catch up with Inspector Petherbridge… or was it Carmichael? – these token policemen really were interchangeable – at the earliest opportunity. Ga-ga indeed!

* * * * * *

So you see, inspector,’ she said, ‘It’s becoming so much clearer who poisoned Bertie. When you think how like Colonel Arbuthnot he was…’

Colonel Arbuthnot?’ the inspector said with requisite weariness, ‘Who is Colonel Arbuthnot?’

Oh dearie me, yes,’ murmured Miss Palmer absently, as she purled another stitch. ‘Such a difficult man, you know.’

Colonel Arbuthnot or Bertie Mallowan?’ asked the inspector, irked with himself for showing interest in the old lady’s seemingly inconsequential remarks.

Arbuthnot, of course,’ she replied with gentle disapproval. ‘He moved into the old manor house in my quintessentially English village, St Mary-Westmacott. Dear me, no; Colonel Arbuthnot was not loved at all. It came as no surprise when my friend Dotty Lumley discovered him dead in his study with multiple gunshot wounds. Goodness me, the blood!’ she exclaimed. ‘That one took some sorting out, I can tell you.’

Miss Palmer, I really don’t see…’

Come closer, inspector,’ she said. The inspector reluctantly drew his chair up to hers. ‘It’s most suggestive, you see,’ she continued. ‘Yes, most suggestive.’ She turned towards the inspector, ‘So I really would prefer it if you did not address me as Anna.’

I don’t recall…’ began the inspector.

You know, it isn’t quite the thing to call respectable elderly spinsters by their Christian names, inspector. It is also as I say, much too suggestive. It all but announces how like an anagram my name is.’ She leant into him conspiratorially, ‘You do take my point, don’t you?’

The inspector’s eyes glazed over. He gurgled as the blood forced its way up his throat and into his mouth. ‘Yes, much too suggestive,’ repeated the old lady, withdrawing the knitting needle from between his ribs and wiping it on his pristine breast-pocket handkerchief.

Gathering up her wool, Miss Palmer glided surreptitiously from the room. There would have to be at least two more grisly murders – quite possibly Lucinda and Rupert’s – before she would reveal how poor old Uncle Bertie had met his end.

 

Why I’m not watching the News any more

I’ve reached the point where I can’t watch or read mainstream news reports. I’ve had difficulty with them throughout the pandemic with their incessant reporting of Covid cases and deaths completely devoid of context (how many cases were serious enough to cause hospitalisations? How many deaths were ‘of’ Covid rather than ‘with’ it? How many of the deaths were excess deaths; how many people die in any given period normally?) Ignoring context, the media became intent on fostering anxiety and panic. Their reporting was not independent; in the UK at least they parroted uncritically and relentlessly the government’s position. This, in turn, was shaped by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) and in particular the predictions of computer modeller Neil Ferguson. Ferguson, regularly interviewed on BBC news programmes, was, as he now admits, wrong on every occasion. Very wrong. The pandemic was nowhere near as drastic as he repeatedly said it was going to be (I’m not disputing how serious it was. It was not, however, anywhere as near as bad as he kept predicting it would be). Yet the government and the media continued to rely on his predictions as if they were fact.

All of which is the reason I reduced my watching, listening and reading of the news to a minimum. Headlines only. Early in the summer of this year, the UK government felt the need to restore some normality to society, it asked the mainstream media to reduce its reporting of Covid statistics. All media outlets immediately complied. Conservatives can never say again that the BBC in particular is biased against them; it has done their bidding throughout the pandemic.

This is not, however, the reason I am abandoning the news, giving up even on headlines. I am tired of predictions, conjecture, speculation, forecasts and extrapolation. None of these is news. They are attempts to see the future, something that we are incapable of doing. Of course we need to be aware of potential consequences of decisions or actions, our own, governments’ and society’s. But reporting those possible consequences as fact, as outcomes that are inevitable, fait accompli, like Neil Ferguson’s hopeless predictions, is not what news reporting should be about. Its job is to tell us what has happened, how, where and possibly why (analysis). That it extends itself well beyond this by determining for us what a particular development means ‘for the future’ or ‘’in the long term’ is nothing more than supposition. It also, dangerously, leads to some self-fulfilling prophecy, such as we’ve seen in the reporting of recent supply chain difficulties. That these were restricted to specific areas was not reported but the possibility that these difficulties could, possibly, maybe, result in food shortages was. Result? Panic buying and food shortages in some areas. The same happened with supposed fuel shortages. Christmas is now in danger according to the UK media.

With Covid largely off the agenda, the news media find themselves in need of something else with which to fill schedules; some alternative source of doom and gloom. The mainstream (in the UK, at least) has opted for climate change, replete with forecasts of catastrophe, destruction and extinction. Of course it’s possible that if we do not act collectively to reduce the human contribution to climate change, that these outcomes will come to pass. It’s possible but it isn’t certain to be the case. Who remembers the media reporting that by this point in the 21st century we would be living in an ice age because of climate change? (This speculation is still about and has traction in some quarters).The news is that climate change is happening. That’s it. What we might do about it is for some other source that doesn’t claim to be delivering news.

I am tired of the narrative of the day, be it #MeToo, Brexit, BLM, Covid, climate change. Tired of its promotion by the media, of the prediction and conjecture that goes along with it, but only while it attracts sufficient viewers or readers. When something more ‘newsworthy’, sensational and alarmist comes along, what was once narrative of the day is dropped. There’s a new bandwagon to jump on! This time though, I’m doing the dropping first.