Monthly Musing – December 2017 – Christmas Gift
Small daughter has been doing some Christmas-themed homework for her
RE (Religious Education) class at school.
She was given two sets of verses from the Bible about the Christmas
story and asked to say whether certain “facts” were true or false, so for
example, “There were three kings” or “Herod wanted to kill Jesus”. The fascinating thing was that not all of the
“facts” that were listed were in both of the versions that she read but put
together, they made up the Christmas story as she recognised it.
“Why is that, then?”
she asked. “Why did they miss those bits
out? Why didn’t they [Matthew and Luke]
both get the story right?”
This was one of those moments when I explain something to small daughter
and she looks at me as if I’ve just dropped from an alien space ship.
“They will have
written down the story as they knew it – originally, nothing was written down
and people used to tell the stories to each other to pass them around”.
(It’s very similar to
the conversations we have about “Mum, when you were my age, what type of phone
did you have/what films did you watch on TV/why didn’t you just get [whatever]
from Amazon?” and of course, if you’re anything like my age (I was born in the year
of the first moon landing) then you’ll know the answer.)
“They didn’t write them down?
But how did they know they’d got them right?”
That is the million-dollar
question, and when we read the verses in small daughter’s homework again we
could see that they were very close but each had certain facts that the other
didn’t. Since neither small daughter nor
I were present at the time, we can’t say for sure whether one or the other of
the stories was right (or wrong) but the fact that they’re pretty close must
mean that the story wasn’t changed much wherever it was told.
I’m no expert on the way that the Bible (or any other religious text)
was written, but it struck me that this homework had actually offered us
something very important that was nothing to do with religion or the Christmas
story. Two people were telling their own
versions of the same story and although they were generally the same, they were
still different. Does this mean that one
is right and one is wrong? Not at
all. A modern-day equivalent would be
police witness statements where people at the scene of an incident see the same
thing but their facts are slightly different, giving the police a wider view of
exactly what went on.
And for me, there was an important lesson – a Christmas gift, if you
will – to remember that there are always two sides to every story and that I
shouldn’t take things at face value but instead try to make sure I have all the
“Did you really see
the astronauts land on the moon, Mum?”
Ah, the moon
landings. Is that something we take at
face value these days or not? Now that’s