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The First Christmas: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus's Birth [Hardcover]

By Marcus J. Borg (Author) & John Dominic Crossan (Author)
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Item description for The First Christmas: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus's Birth by Marcus J. Borg & John Dominic Crossan...

Two authorities on the life of Jesus draw on the gospels of Matthew and Luke to tell the true story of Jesus's birth and to place its lessons in context with the modern world.

Publishers Description

In The First Christmas, two of today's top Jesus scholars, Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan, join forces to show how history has biased our reading of the nativity story as it appears in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. As they did for Easter in their previous book, The Last Week, here they explore the beginning of the life of Christ, peeling away the sentimentalism that has built up over the last two thousand years around this most well known of all stories to reveal the truth of what the gospels actually say. Borg and Crossan help us to see this well-known narrative afresh by answering the question, "What do these stories mean?" in the context of both the first century and the twenty-first century. They successfully show that the Christmas story, read in its original context, is far richer and more challenging than people imagine.

Citations And Professional Reviews
The First Christmas: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus's Birth by Marcus J. Borg & John Dominic Crossan has been reviewed by professional book reviewers and journalists at the following establishments -

  • Booklist - 10/01/2007 page 24

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Item Specifications...

Studio: HarperOne
Pages   258
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 8.5" Width: 6.04" Height: 0.95"
Weight:   0.86 lbs.
Binding  Hardcover
Release Date   Oct 1, 2007
Publisher   Harper Collins Publishers
ISBN  0061430706  
ISBN13  9780061430701  

Availability  0 units.

More About Marcus J. Borg & John Dominic Crossan

Marcus J. Borg Marcus J. Borg is Canon Theologian at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Portland, Oregon. Internationally known in both academic and church circles as a biblical and Jesus scholar, he was Hundere Chair of Religion and Culture in the Philosophy Department at Oregon State University until his retirement in 2007.

He is the author of nineteen books, including Jesus: A New Vision (1987) and the best-seller Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time (1994); The God We Never Knew (1997); The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions (1999); Reading the Bible Again for the First Time (2001), and The Heart of Christianity (2003), both best-sellers. His newest books are Jesus: Uncovering the Life, Teachings and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary (2006), a New York Times Best-Seller; Conversations with Scripture: Mark (2009), and three books co-authored with John Dominic Crossan, The Last Week (2006), The First Christmas (2007), and The First Paul (2009).

His novel, Putting Away Childish Things, was published in April, 2010.

Described by The New York Times as “a leading figure in his generation of Jesus scholars,” he has appeared on NBC’s “Today Show” and “Dateline,” PBS’s “Newshour,” ABC’s “Evening News” and “Prime Time” with Peter Jennings, NPR’s “Fresh Air” with Terry Gross, and several National Geographic programs. A Fellow of the Jesus Seminar, he has been national chair of the Historical Jesus Section of the Society of Biblical Literature and co-chair of its International New Testament Program Committee, and is past president of the Anglican Association of Biblical Scholars.

His work has been translated into eleven languages: German, Dutch, Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Indonesian, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, and French. His doctor’s degree is from Oxford University, and he has lectured widely overseas (England, Scotland, Austria, Germany, Belgium, Hungary, Israel and South Africa) and in North America, including the Chautauqua and Smithsonian Institutions.

Marcus J. Borg currently resides in Portland, in the state of Oregon.

Marcus J. Borg has published or released items in the following series...
  1. Anglican Association of Biblical Scholars Study
  2. Plus
  3. Seastone

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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Authors, A-Z > ( C ) > Crossan, John, Dominic
2Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Holidays > Christmas > General
3Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Jesus
4Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Reference > Commentaries > Commentaries
5Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Reference > Criticism & Interpretation > Criticism & Interpretation
7Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Spirituality > General

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Books > General Interest > Seasonal > Christmas

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Reviews - What do customers think about The First Christmas: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus's Birth?

Mostly interesting and stimulating read  Feb 20, 2010
"The First Christmas" by Marcus J. Borg & John Dominic Crossan" expounds on the descriptions of Jesus' birth portrayed in Matthew and Luke. Both authors are Christians, but:

* They own up to historical inaccuracies in the Biblical stories.

* They admit Jesus' genealogies, which differ somewhat between two the accounts, were fabricated

* They acknowledge the alleged prophesies of Jesus' birth misconstrue Old Testament accounts of other events.

To the authors, however, these do not matter because they contend the birth stories are parables that reveal deep truths even if they're not factual.

Most of the book is an interesting read. It is filled with intriguing historical tidbits, surprising revelations, and thought-provoking theories. However, near the end there are a few stretches that turn philosophical, repetitive, and boring. One point the authors drive home throughout is the contrast between Jesus' vision of peace through justice versus the Romans' and future empires' vision of peace through victory.
Unsatisfactory  Dec 20, 2009
It's difficult enough to write a book by yourself, but writing with someone else can be extremely difficult. Crossan has done this several times, occasionally successfully ("Excavating Jesus") but also badly ("In Search of Paul"). "The First Christmas", unfortunately, falls in the later group.

As noted by several reviewers, this book is the book end to "The Last Week", also done with Marcus Borg. The idea in both books is not necessarily to look for historical truth, but rather to examine what the gospels mean when they say what they say. It's an excellent idea, but difficult to carry out. Bart Ehrman tried this same approach, unsuccessfully, in his book about Peter, Paul and Mary. But putting aside the difficult of discerning the meaning of the various gospels for the people who wrote/read them, The First Christmas has much deeper problems.

Borg & Crossan say: "What pre-Matthean and pre-Lukan Christianity claimed was that Mary remained a virgin before, during, and after conception..." (p. 123). Ridiculous. The "perpetual virginity" of Mary did not arise for centuries later. Luke (2:7) calls Jesus the "first born" son, which means that there was a second (or more) son, and this hardly qualifies for perpetual virginity! Matthew (1:25) says that Joseph did not "know" Mary "until she had borne a son" clearly meaning that after Jesus was born, Mary was de-flowered. Borg & Crossan's claim of an early 1st century theory of perpetual virginity is simply nonsense.

Borg & Crossan must think they are writing a novel. On pages 77-78 they give an account of Roman soldiers pillaging Nazareth and killing Joseph. Duh! There is no evidence that Nazareth existed at the time of Jesus, and the proper translation was Jesus the Nazarene, rather than Jesus of Nazareth. And while they share this error with many other writers, there is even less indication that Joseph was killed, much less killed by Romans, much less when they sacked Nazareth. Where do these guys come up with this stuff?

Much of the book goes through Crossan's discussions of the differences between the Roman empire and the Jewish and Christian empires. He has discussed this at length elsewhere ("In Search of Paul", "God and Empire ") and with greater success that he does in this book. But even at its best, this argument falls short of the historical reality - i.e., that the Roman empire was massive and in the 1st Century, the Jewish empire was hardly noticeable, and the Christian empire non-existent. Crossan's idea that the Christian theories were formulated to compete with the Roman empire is incomprehensible, at that time. In retrospect, it may be useful to discuss the similarities and the differences, but to talk about the two movements as if it were the cold war Russia vs. America type of competition seems silly.

Another problem with the book is the level at which the text is intended. This is not an easy read for beginning students, yet the material will tend to be far too simplistic for more advanced readers. This problem is particularly acute in their discussion of "Jesus as the new Moses."

As if these weren't concerns enough, the main thesis of the book - an exploration of what the birth stories meant to the people who wrote and/or read them, there is far too much emphasis on the writers and far too little on the people who might have read them. In their discussions of the textual material from the writer's POV, there is much good material here, although it has been covered by both these scholars elsewhere and more thoroughly. What I missed was the meaning for the people who read these texts. Admittedly, a difficult goal to attain, but I saw few attempts to address this.

All things considered, this is an unsatisfactory book. It does contain some interesting material, but beginners will find it too obtuse and advanced readers will find it too simplistic.
Excellent!  Dec 20, 2009
Inspirational and perspective-widening. In addition to the fascinating juxtaposition of the titles given to the caesars with those given to Jesus, and a probing analysis of the gospel-writers' purposes, Borg and Crossan spotlight a third Christmas story -- in Revelation! The stories usually told as a lovely children's Christmas pageant are revealed also to express powerfully the struggle of good and evil, and the temptations of Empire, in the First Century and the Twenty-First.

"Do we think that peace on earth comes from Caesar or Christ? Do we think it comes through violent victory or nonviolent justice? about a choice of how to live personally and individually, nationally and internationally." [p.166]
The First Christmas  Nov 22, 2009
This is an excellent church study group book, especially for the Advent season. It enables you to look at the Christmas stories in a new way, both for their historical context and for their meaning.
How is Christ in Christmas?  Nov 14, 2009
It is nearing the Christmas season, we say we want Jesus to be in Christmas, but in what way is this true? This book came out a few years ago, which is when I first read it, but it's in paperback now, and has something to say to us about Christmas.

In the popular mind the Christmas story as symbolized by the crèche involves Joseph, Mary, and the little baby Jesus lying in a manger (feeding trough), surrounded on one side by shepherds and by three kings on the other. Of course there are the requisite barnyard animals standing around like movie extras. Above this scene flies the tiny cherubic angel. That such a scene is at best a conflation of the gospel texts doesn't seem to matter. It is what we think Christmas is about.

Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan offer to the general reader a different reading of the Christmas story, one that is rooted in their earlier works on Jesus. In fact, if you've been reading any of their recent books you will hear strong echoes (especially of Crossan's God and Empire -- HarperSanFrancisco, 2007). A companion piece to their earlier - and in many ways stronger - The Last Week (HarperSanFrancisco, 2005), Borg and Crossan offer a "parabolic reading" of the two Christmas stories (infancy narratives). They use the term parable here as an alternative to factual and fable - the two usual understandings of these two overlapping but in so many ways very different stories of Jesus' birth. Factualism focuses on historical veracity, while fable implies that these are simply fairy tales that can be easily dispensed with. By speaking of them as parables, they suggest that the focus is not on factuality (which for the most part they discount) but on the meaning of the stories. And meaning they do have. Indeed, these are by their very nature subversive stories - subversive in that they challenge the reigning paradigm (Herod is "King of the Jews" and that Caesar is "Son of God" and Savior and Light of the World.

The authors speak of the infancy narratives as "parabolic overtures," by which they mean that the first two chapters of Matthew and Luke (the only two canonical infancy stories) contain in miniature the full gospel story. In this retelling of the story of Jesus, we discover the parallels and the contrasts. In many ways Matthew portrays Jesus as the New Moses - the new law giver, for like Moses Jesus is rescued from the murderous king. In Matthew Jesus goes down to Egypt to escape Herod's wrath; in Exodus Moses leads the people out of Egypt. But in both cases the lead actor is spared so as to save his people from the hand of the tyrant. Luke on the other hand, sees Jesus in contrast to Caesar Augustus, who also is acclaimed as son of God (Apollo) and Savior. We also see in these first two chapters many of the emphases of Luke's gospel - his emphasis on women (Mary, Elizabeth, and Anna figure prominently), an emphasis on the poor and the marginalized (the shepherds), and on the Holy Spirit.

Central to understanding these stories is their historical context - both their Jewish and their Roman context. Thus imperialism figures prominently (see Crossan's God & Empire). This is a story of contrasting kingdoms - that of Rome and that of God. Both promise peace, but one is byway of victory (violence) and the other through justice (non-violence). As such it is also the story of messianic expectations - the belief that a son of David would one day appear.

Part two of the book moves from contextual issues to the deeper issues inherent in the stories - the genealogies, which are themselves parabolic, the visitation by angels, birth in Bethlehem. Each of these aspects of the story is more theological than historical and is meant to cement the messianic role of Jesus. Again, the contrast here has political and subversive connotations - although Matthew and Luke have different audiences in mind.

Finally, in part three we come to the theological reflections - three images: Light, fulfillment, joy. Whether it is the star guiding the magi to Bethlehem or the glories of heaven that fill the sky when the angels appear to the shepherds, light is a central theme, and at the heart of this usage is the belief that Jesus is the light to the nations/gentiles. Jesus is also fulfillment of the Old Testament. In Matthew it is a prediction-fulfillment formula, whereas in Luke it is more thematic - echoes and reflections in hymns such as the Magnficat where Old Testament language and themes resonate. And finally, as the hymn so resplendently proclaims - the Christmas story is about "Joy to the World."

As one might expect from a book by these two authors, the focus is not on fact but on meaning, with the political implications being paramount. Both writers are concerned that the gospels be seen as a word of warning and a word of hope to a world that is in danger of self-destructing. It is a warning about the dangers of imperialism - whether Roman or American. Most of all it is an attempt to reach out to the lay person - Christian or not. Clergy and scholars will find little that is new here, but this will prove to be useful fodder for even the well informed about scholarly trends.

Whether one agrees with all that is here, the tone is to be appreciated. The love that these men have for the stories is in evidence. Even when they "demythologize" the stories and reveal the fictional side, they don't do so gloatingly, but with a view to helping people better appreciate the meaning of the stories. In this, one hopes they will be successful.

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