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Jesus was not born in a stable (honest!)

I am sorry to spoil your preparations for Christmas before the Christmas lights have even gone up—though perhaps it is better to do this now than the week before Christmas, when everything has been carefully prepared. But Jesus wasn’t born in a stable, and, curiously, the New Testament hardly even hints that this might have been the case.

So where has the idea come from? I would track the source to three things: issues of grammar and meaning; ignorance of first-century Palestinian culture; and traditional elaboration.

The elaboration has come about from reading the story through a ‘messianic’ understanding of Is 1.3:

The ox knows its master, the donkey its owner’s manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.

The mention of a ‘manger’ in Luke’s nativity story, suggesting animals, led mediaeval illustrators to depict the ox and the ass recognising the baby Jesus, so the natural setting was a stable—after all, isn’t that where animals are kept? (Answer: not necessarily!)

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The Festival of Theology: 30th Jan 2018

One of the things I love about writing a blog is the fascinating interactions with the equally fascinating people who contribute to debate on social media and in the blog comments. So I have decided to host a one-day Festival of Theology on Tuesday 30th January 2018 here in Nottingham. The plan will be to […]

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Can we handle conflict like Jesus?

Mark Woods writes: Conflict in churches can be horrible. We are, after all, supposed to be able to get on with each other, and most of the time we do. Relationships can be close, friendships warm, trust absolute. When that’s broken, it’s really hard to deal with. Sometimes these conflicts arise because of human cussedness, otherwise […]

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Are we all guilty?

What will be the legacy of the extraordinary expression of solidarity that has unfurled with the #metoo social media phenomenon? It was launched on the back of the allegations by actress Alyssa Milano of abuse by Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein—but has travelled a long way from these celebrity elites. It has been clear, even from […]

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Did John see Revelation as a vision?

Most ordinary readers of Revelation assume that John had some sort of vision, and that what we have is a more-or-less straightforward description of what he saw as if he was describing a picture. But there are several reasons for qualifying this kind of understanding. The first relates the nature of visions and spiritual auditory […]

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What is Matthew 24 all about?

Matthew 24 is the reading set for the fourth Sunday before Advent (i.e. in the countdown to Advent at the ordinary season comes to a close) and its parallel Mark 13 is the reading for the first Sunday of Advent. There is much confusion about both these passages (and the parallel in Luke 21), and […]

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What does Revelation tell us about the human condition?

I have contributed a chapter to a book appearing next year on Anthropology of the New Testament, exploring Revelation’s depiction of the human condition. I include here some paragraphs from my introduction, and the conclusion. Revelation’s anthropology (like much else about it!) is less straightforward and less predictable than commonly thought. Excavating the anthropology of the […]

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What has economics to do with theology?

Richard Peers offers a thoughtful review of Talking to My Daughter About the Economy, Yanis Varoufakis, Bodley Head 2017 (2013): There is competition for the title ‘Queen of The Sciences’. Traditionally applied to theology as the summit of knowledge and the science which explained the meaning of things and held together the other areas of knowledge, the […]

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