This year, HarperOne published a book co-authored by Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan with the same title as one authored several years ago by Paul Maier, The First Christmas. (Maier's is now available from Kregel Publications.) Both books purport to separate tradition from the facts of the Nativity. Maier reviewed Borg and Crossan's The First Christmas for CT.

Borg and Crossan, whose book on The First Christmas is subtitled, "What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus' Birth," find that the Gospel accounts are historically unreliable. This, of course, was quite predictable, since those two authors were also founding members of the Jesus Seminar (the original modifier here was "notorious," but, hey, Christmas is coming.)

The two seem to have become more moderate over the years, because this is no putdown of the Nativity account. Crossan in particular — famed for his in-your-face attacks on traditional Christianity and saying that Jesus' body wasn't buried in Joseph's tomb but eaten by dogs — does show some reverence for the story of Jesus' birth. The First Christmas drops no sensational bombshells on Bethlehem. Perhaps Crossan was curbed by Borg.

Still, theological conservatives will hardly cheer this publication. Borg and Crossan are proposing a third way to interpret the Nativity accounts. They do not treat the passages as historical — as conservatives do — or objects of scorn — as critics of Christianity do. The basic thrust of the Borg-Crossan approach is, "In our judgment, there was no special star, no wise men, and no plot by Herod to kill Jesus. So is the story factually true? No. But as parable is it true? For us as Christians, the answer is a robust affirmative." And, earlier, "We see the ...

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