The story of the Nativity is familiar even to many non-Christians. America, in particular, hears the Nativity story a hundred different ways every Christmas, from TV shows to dioramas in store windows to pageants to artwork. The familiar images are everywhere. However, just because something is iconic doesn't mean it actually happened in the Bible. So, when was Jesus born? According to popular belief, he was born on December 25, and he spent his first days in a stable surrounded by farm animals, wise men, and angels.
In actuality, almost none of these details are in the Bible. Many so-called facts about the birth of Jesus are actually the creation of Rennaisance artists rather than the writers of the gospels. Like many details about the life of Jesus Christ, centuries of mythmaking have warped the truth of the Nativity.
Animals Surrounded Jesus At The Nativity
Pope Benedict XVI (formerly Cardinal Ratzinger) asserted in 2012 that there were no animals present during the Nativity. In his book Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, Benedict XVI simply says, "In the gospels, there is no mention of animals."
He acknowledges that even the Vatican includes a donkey in its Nativity scene, but ever the literalist, he insists there is no biblical evidence to support this image.
The Wise Men Were Eastern Kings Who Rode Camels
Many additions to the Nativity story have catered to a European audience. For example, the notion that the Wise Men rode camels during their pilgrimage paints them as "exotic" travelers from distant, Eastern lands. However, at this point in history, camels were used as pack animals by all but the poor. Wealthy men, such as the Magi, would have ridden more comfortable Arabian horses.
While there are grounds to assume the Wise Men were rich, there is no indication that they were kings - certainly not of places such as Persia, India, or Arabia. If three such kings made a pilgrimage to Bethlehem, comprehensive records would exist of their journey. There is no evidence that they were anything more than educated men from distant lands.
Even 16th-century theologian John Calvin said of those who believed the Wise Men were kings, "Beyond all doubt, they have been stupefied by a righteous judgment of God, that all might laugh at [their] gross ignorance."
The Baby Was Named Jesus Christ
Jesus Christ was not given his most popular moniker at birth. In fact, Christ is not a surname, but a title given to him by his followers many years later. Properly speaking, his title was Jesus the Christ.
According to standard naming conventions of the time, Jesus's birth name would likely have been Yeshua ben Yosef, meaning Joshua son of Joseph. Through translation and retranslation, Yeshua became Jesus, and "Christ" was added many years later.
Mary Rode Into Bethlehem On A Donkey
In virtually every depiction of Mary's entrance into Bethlehem, she is seen riding a donkey. One source does, in fact, claim she rode upon one: "The day of the Lord shall itself bring it to pass as the Lord will. And he saddled the [donkey], and set her upon it; and his son led it, and Joseph followed."
However, this source is the Protoevangelium of James, a gospel that isn't actually part of the holy text. This gospel is believed to have been written 150 years after Jesus's passing. The canonical gospel writers mention nothing about Mary and Joseph's journey to Bethlehem.