Nativity – truth and fiction

24 12 2010

Nativity – truth and fiction

When I woke this morning I found last night’s last episode of the BBC’s four part series, The Nativity, still in my mind. It was memorable and it was different and we enjoyed it. It had more of a sense of reality about it than any other film we’ve ever seen about the events of Christmas two thousand years ago.

What were the good things about it? Well, as I’ve said the sense of reality, the feeling that this is how life might have been then – but the truth is that it may have been very different because it is difficult to judge from two thousand years distance. But it communicated well. What was also good was the fact that they didn’t fudge the central issue – Mary was a virgin and still conceived as a result of a divine encounter. What was also good was the supposition that the ‘star’ was actually three planets coming into alignment – just at the moment of Jesus’ birth. Although speculation, it certainly added to the sense that this was a cosmic event, and that sense of divine destiny was heightened by the sound of machinery like massive cogs moving the planets into place just for this supreme moment.  What was also excellent was the genuine worship brought by the wise men. What was intriguing was the ongoing saga in the background of a young man who was a shepherd suffering under the harsh regime of Herod, which eventually brought him to the stable where he saw the child and – we presume – was released from all his anger – a little too much unsaid at that point.

But then I felt myself feeling a little sad for the BBC because having done such a good job on so much of it, they altered it to suit their filming whims. The setting of Mary & Joseph’s betrothal was excellent but thereafter Joseph got the rough end of the plot which diverted from the Biblical text considerably.

For instance, to start with, Matthew tells us that, Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.” (Mt 1:19) In the filming Mary’s ‘disgrace’ is a major issue and so it was not being kept under wraps.  Next in the text we find that shortly afterwards in a dream he gets the message from heaven – which he believes and “When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.” (Mt 1:24) In the film he rejects her story throughout and holds her at a distance until the birth in the stable. Not so! The text indicates they lived under one roof as husband and wife (without sexual relations) for at least five or six months (If Joseph had wanted to hide her disgrace she would have told him within the first two months of her pregnancy, the dream followed shortly afterwards and he took her home to appear as husband and wife before she really started really showing she was pregnant. One would assume that a journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem would take less that two weeks and so they didn’t start off until half way through her last month.)

The wise men skirting round Jerusalem also moves somewhat from the text. Again Matthew tells us they boldly (or naively) arrive in Jerusalem and start asking around. Herod eventually calls them in and gets details from them before sending them off again.

The timing of the wise men according to the text, and most interpreters understanding of it, was also astray. It was nice that they turn up just behind the shepherds but the text suggests it was different from that. Intriguingly the text says “On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him.” (Mt 2:11)  What is intriguing about this is the reference to “the house” and the absence of any reference to Joseph. When you put this story together with the fact that Herod later ordered the death of baby boys under the age of two (Mt 2:16), it suggests that some time had passed before Herod acted and the fact that the little family escaped south to Egypt (and not north away from Nazareth) suggests they were still living in Bethlehem and to do that Joseph would have had to find work and would explain his absence from the home (which they presumably borrowed or rented) doing work for someone as a carpenter in their home. Everything points to the wise men coming months later to Bethlehem to this little family that appears settled there for the moment at least. But what’s the truth among film-makers; the story is the important thing!

So, an enjoyable story opening up new thoughts about the reality of it all, but nevertheless short on the truth as presented by the Gospels. But you can’t ask for everything can you? Or can you?

Advertisements

Actions

Information

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s




%d bloggers like this: