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3.2 Annunciation and Nativity

Both Matthew and Luke trace Jesus’ genealogy to David through Joseph. By the time Jesus was born the expectation for the Messiah was high. The Jews were suffering under the Romans and they studied closely the Scriptures in relation to His coming. According to the Prophets the attributes of the Messiah should be:

. The Messiah would be a descendant of King David as promised by God.
. The Messiah would be born of a virgin as the prophet Isaiah said in 735 BC (Isaiah 7:14).
. The Messiah would live awhile in Egypt according to the minor prophet Hosea who lived around 750 BC (Hos.11:1).

It was also expected that someone would come ahead of the Messiah and prepare his way, as told by another minor prophet Malachi (Malachi 4:5,6).

As the time for Mary’s baby to be born approached, she was in Bethlehem with Joseph where they had come to register for a Roman census. Being a descendant of David, Joseph was registered there. At that time they were engaged but not married. It was the habit for the Hebrews to first get engaged and then married. However the engagement was as binding as the marriage contract. A kind of divorce was required to break the betrothal. A marriage was not considered official before it had been consummated and, although Mary was pregnant, Joseph and Mary had had no sexual relations. An Angel had explained to them that it was the Holy Spirit that had made her pregnant.

Bethlehem was so crowded that they did not find a room, except in a stable where Jesus was born. An Angel announced the birth of the Saviour to the shepherds outside (Luke 2:10). They came to see the baby and told everybody they met what they had seen and heard.

According to saint Matthew, some Wise Men or Magi arrived in Jerusalem from the East, probably from Mesopotamia beyond the Sahara desert. They wanted to worship the new born King of the Jews as they saw his star in the East (Matthew 2:2). Eventually King Herod, who had killed his sons and wife to keep his throne, became aware of this news. He gathered his chief priests (religious leaders) and scribes (prestigious laymen who worked with the priests and were masters of the Scriptures). Both priests and scribes were members of the High Council of Jerusalem, the Great Sanhedrin. He wanted to know where the Christ was to be born (Matthew 2:4). They didn’t know and were afraid to admit it as Herod, seventy years old at the time, as he had a strong reputation for ruthlessness. They answered that the child was born in Bethlehem in Judea as foreseen by the prophet Micah who lived around 700 BC about the same time as Isaiah and before Jeremiah (Micah 5:2; Matthew 2:6). Herod called the Magi and asked them when the star appeared (Matthew 2:7). He also asked them to inform him when they had found the child as he wanted to worship Him too (Matthew 2:8). The Wise men found Jesus with his mother and presented him with gifts.

The Magi went back to their homeland without telling Herod where they had seen the child born to be King of the Jews. Herod was very angry and gave the order to his soldiers to kill all the male Jews under the age of two. During that night the Roman soldiers killed all the Jewish boys they found around Bethlehem. But Joseph had followed God’s command to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt where they were safe. (30)

The Palestinian Jewish historian Josephus, born Yoseph ben Mattityahu ha-Cohen about 38 AD in a priestly family, wrote extensively about Herod. He obtained his information from Nicholas of Damascus, a Greek adviser to the King. Josephus did not like Herod. Herod was born in around 73 BC. He was a good politician who gained the trust of the Romans. He had been Governor of Galilee, Tetrarch and finally King in 37 BC. He was really a despot who murdered many thousand people. However Josephus does not say a word about the Massacre of the Innocents.

Only Luke mentions the Roman census. He also says that the birth of Jesus took place when Augustus was Emperor and Quirinius was Governor of Syria. It is known that Quirinius was Governor of Syria in 6 AD but there is no proof that he was already in office in 6 BC when Jesus is assumed to be born. On that account Bible and history do not agree. On the other hand Augustus ruled from 63 BC to his death in 14 AD. The Romans are known to have taken census to determine the level of taxation in conquered countries. Palestine was under the Governor of Syria during Augustus’ reign and Herod was the King of Judea. Herod’s son, Herod Antipas, reigned as Tetrarch in the Northern province of Galilee. As we see most of the Gospel nativity stories are independently confirmed with the exception of the Massacre of the Innocents. It is also true for the Star of Bethlehem. The Astronomer Kepler discovered that on December 4 in 7 BC there was a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in the constellation of Pisces. Such a conjunction occurred before on May 29 and October 3 of the same year. This has been confirmed when P. Schnabel translated some Babylonian writings in this century. But, of course, this would mean that Jesus was born in 7 BC, that is seven years before the official date recorded by the Church. It is however well known that the monk who set up our calendar made an error. This monk, Denys le Petit, proposed in 532 AD that the calendar be based on the Christian Era. He calculated that Jesus was born on December 25 of the Roman year 753. The Church later on decided that Jesus was born several years before. It was then decided that the Christian Era started on Saturday, January 1. Another mistake was the omission of a year zero between 1 BC and 1 AD. The result is that the year of birth of Jesus is now set by scholars at 4, 5, 6 or 7 BC, or even before according to some people. We also know that Herod died on April 4, 4 BC and, as Herod was alive when Jesus was born, the conclusion is clear: Jesus was born before April 4,4 BC. But exactly when, we do not know yet.

According to Matthew, when Joseph heard that King Herod was dead, he returned to Israel with his family. This would tend to prove that Hosea’s prophecy saying that the Messiah would be called out of Egypt had been fulfilled. But Matthew adds that when Joseph heard that Archelaus had succeeded his father, he was afraid to go back to Judea. They all went to live in the village of Nazareth in Galilee, fulfilling another prophecy of the Old Testament that says that the Messiah would be a Nazarene (Matt. 2:22,23). It must be said that the reference to the Old Testament given by Matthew does not exist as the Old Testament does not mention Nazareth. Of course some parts of the Old Testament can be lost or left out. Luke confirmed this information (Luke 2:39). Who was Archelaus? His father was King Herod and he was born in about 22 BC. He inherited the throne -subject to confirmation by Rome- when he was eighteen years old. He demonstrated his authority to the Jews by killing 3,000 of them over a riot at Passover, soon after Herod’s death. During Archelaus journey to Rome, Quintilius Varus, President of Syria, had to fight in his place a Jewish uprising that began at Pentecost. When he came back, frustrated because he had been nominated an Ethnarch, and not King, he persecuted the Jews even more that before. He was finally deposed in 6 AD. This means that Jesus came back from Egypt before that year. (30)