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 facts.

“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 another story!

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14 Responses

  1. My Creative Life says:

    A very interesting discussion, Cathy x

  2. Orris Family says:

    My almost 12 year old son refers to us as being born in the 1900's. It makes me laugh every time he says it. I turn 40 next week. Your points are very valid. Thanks and Merry Christmas!

  3. bobbieliz says:

    Very well said!

  4. bobbieliz says:

    Very well said!

  5. happy hooker says:

    A very thought provoking post, Christine. Thank you for reminding me that there are at least 2 sides to every story.
    Hope you have a lovely Christmas, and I wish you every happiness for 2018. x

  6. Waterfront resident 1 says:

    Although not a fan of the TV show Dr. Phil, I do like his saying: "No matter how flat you make a pancake, it still has two sides"

  7. Unknown says:

    Then…just for fun!…look at different versions of the Bible that we have today, and how the different word choices subtly change the story. I have a friend who graduated from seminary a couple years ago, and enjoys looking at the differences (and has learned something of some of the ancient languages too, and different words in those languages) so I've gotten to hear bits and pieces.

    I am also reading a book about looking at myths, which generally started as oral transmission of important information.

    In oral stories, info is compacted, likely conflates more than one event, differs depending on the location from the 'triggering' event, relies on the listeners sharing common knowledge/customs/assumptions, is often tied to specific places, and is cast in easily remembered (dramatic, anthropomorphized) story form.

    We are so far removed from the origins that we lack the anchor points, especially those common knowledge/customs/assumptions that would fill in the stories and help us 'see' the truth in the tale.

    Fascinating stuff…for some of us, anyway!��

  8. Dot says:

    Wow,so here I am,first of January,looking for a tutorial on sock knitting and I find THIS! I'm studying theology (weekend classes) and am currently working on an essay on the differences between Luke and Matthew and why they 'made the story look the way they did' and what they wanted to achieve with it…so basically the homework of your daughter. Your take on it is brilliant and your daughter is one sharp cookie! Thank you for writing that post and a very happy new year to you and your family! Off to cast on some socks now 🙂

  9. Homebird says:

    Thank you so much for your blog, Christine. I am on my second pair of socks, thanks to your wonderful tutorial. I found your December musings very interesting and agree that Matthew and Luke's accounts of the Christmas story don't contradict each other. Matthew was writing primarily for Jews, to show them that Jesus is the King promised in the Old Testament (that's why he starts with the family tree of Jesus.) Luke has carefully investigated the eye witness accounts and is writing an orderly account so that we can be certain that what we are reading is accurate and true (Luke 1 v 1-4) So they had different aims in writing their accounts, which makes them all the more believable.
    Must go and turn the heel of the second sock, with your help! Thank you again for sharing so generously Ann x

  10. Anne C. says:

    Hi. As a retired RE teacher and a Methodist Local Preacher I could give you many cultural, political, and theological reasons for the differences. However, suffice it to say that I'm totally confused by the heel … I've managed to knit in the round with no ladders for the first time ever in the 65+ years and it looks good for the leg part … but. And yes, it does feel like trying to knit with a hedgehog. Just one more thing, I remember the King dying ergo I was born in the first half of the last century … what moon landings?

    • Winwick Mum says:

      I hope you've got to grips with your heel now, Anne! If you need to see a video on how I create mine, you'll find then on my YouTube channel – the videos are created for the Easy Cable and Easy Lace socks but the process is the same 🙂 xx

  11. Unknown says:

    Being somebody who has dealt with literature and composition for decades, your thoughts seemed strange to me but of course not everybody is as crazy about messages and their meaning as me. Additionally, my husband is a theologician, so it has always seemed common knowledge to me that the bible is a century-long compilation of all sorts of texts from all sorts of people with just as many intentions. (I keep asking myself, why doesn't everybody see that? But, as I said, not everybody is as crazy about deciphering texts and intentions and meaning, I tend to forget that.) The Bible is an amazing book, and the best lesson for me is that "a word is never just a word". There is the speaker/writer, who intends to transport a meaning/message, and there's the recipient.
    In the Bible we can find the whole world, walk through history, encounter God, enjoy whatever we want: war reports, family histories, stories of bravery and defeat, love poems, … I try to find out and understand the historic or socio-historic setting of each text, try to find out about the writer and the audience. That helps to rather get the message right. But I try not to be too sure about my findings. I have the utmost respect for what's written there because, retrospectively, nobody can ever be sure if what he/she reads in a text is "right". We may come near the truth or hit the nail on the head – but who knows for sure? I love to be humbled by this book, I really do.
    I wish you a wonderful 2018, Christine!

  12. Maya says:

    Thanks for the post! Very interesting!

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