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Is there a war on Christmas?

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William Crawley | 09:46 UK time, Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Even the Pope thinks there's a war on Christmas. During his state visit to the UK, Pope Benedict told an assembly of politicians and representatives from civil society: "'There are those who argue that the public celebration of festivals such as Christmas should be discouraged, in the questionable belief that it might somehow offend those of other religions or none . . . These are worrying signs of a failure to appreciate not only the rights of believers to freedom of conscience and freedom of religion, but also the legitimate role of religion in the public square."

But is it true? Is there really a secularist or pluralist war on Christmas? Are you feeling any pressure to avoid sending Christmas cards this year or to send cards which read "Season's Greetings" rather than "Merry Christmas"? Or is the so-called "war on Christmas" and annual phony war? You can debate the evidence of seasonal hostilities (or lack thereof) on this thread and also add your links to other news stories worth noting. If they are interesting, I'll add them to the main page.

Religion stories
The Pope defends Christmas.
What does Christmas means to people today?
"Christmas has been banned" -- a myth?
Merry Christmas From An Atheist.
Christian hotel owners who barred gay couple may close business.
Bishops back Christian B&B owners on eve of legal action from gay couple.
Secularists attack day of Bible readings on Radio 4.
George Bush explains his faith.
Amnesty says Iraq church shootings are 'a war crime'.

Ethical news
Irish abortion ban 'violated woman's rights'.
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange awaits bail appeal.
Q&A: Arrest of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.
Ex-minister Bob Ainsworth: Make drugs legally available.
The Moral Maze: can be an intellectual and still watch the X Factor?

Thinking allowed
Richard Owen: the greatest scientist you've never heard of.
Young Mandela: The Revolutionary Years.
Oliver Sacks on face-blindness.
Inside the mind of Scientology's Messiah.


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  • Comment number 1.

    Ah, Benny is just engaging in intolerant rabble rousing and scare mongering. Plus ca change. There is no "war on Christmas" - most atheists and agnostics love Christmas, whether they are Christian or otherwise. I have a number of friends of other religions who love Christmas too. Every year we get this rubbish coming out about supposed atheistic opposition to Christmas, and it's long on vague threats and very very short on specific examples (other than some two-bit council voting to change the words to Jingle Bells or some other such inanity).

    "The Atheist's Guide to Christmas" is available on Amazon for the Kindle, btw. Full of stuff you'll enjoy or be exasperated by or think is genius or think is guff. A curate's egg, but then that's what Christmas is anyway.

    So raise a glass and be of good cheer. Christmas is coming - the season of Peace on Earth and Goodwill to all Men, Women and Children everywhere! (Even Benny - just lighten up a bit, dude).

  • Comment number 2.

    Re: The story about Radio 4 devoting a day to readings from the KJB;

    From the article -
    "They will be broadcast next month over 16 hours with only occasional breaks for the most popular Radio 4 shows, such as the Archers and Gardeners' Question Time. "

    So, in effect, they're saying that the Archers and Gardener's Question Time are more popular than bible readings? Or is it that even the middle-class, church going, listeners that demographically tune in for those two programs would object to their entertainment being interupted?

    Personally, I think each reading should be preceeded by a disclaimer - "All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental."

  • Comment number 3.

    "Even the Pope thinks there's a war on Christmas."

    But then he is the CEO of a multinational that employs someone who said the UK was a moral wasteland and "the geopolitical epicentre of the culture of death". Let's remember that these are men who are getting a bit desperate about their failing brand and would be inclined to make noise and try to draw attention away from their ever greater irrelevance.

  • Comment number 4.


    This short column is a fascinating read: considered "lazy and impudent" at school it was assumed he would come to a "bad end". He wrote over 600 books and papers.

    License-fee payers should not be forking out for this Bible Day tosh on Radio 4. The Bible may contain some great passages of writing, but this is being rammed down our throat by religionists. If a day celebrating great literature is the idea, why weren't listeners asked to chose between a number of great writers? Perhaps, an hour of quotes in one day would be enough?

  • Comment number 5.

    BTW, Will, that "Merry Christmas from an Atheist" link that you provided is brilliant. Thanks for that - perhaps someone should sent it to the Pope...

  • Comment number 6.


    You can read my review of 'An Atheist's Guide to Christmas' on the Humanist Association of Ireland's website at:

  • Comment number 7.

    I was torn in my kids recent christmas concert between paternal pride and ethical concern. The celebration included prayer and very overt christian teachings (not just the quaint nativity). Whilst the concert was (and should be) concerned with christmas themes, I felt the inclusion of prayers and the like, imparted by kids who had no idea of the significance of their words, was a little over-bearing. Not everyone sitting through these events are christians and want to listen to spoon-fed entreaties to the imaginary friend of zealous teachers.

    However, the pope's words "'There are those who argue that the public celebration of festivals such as Christmas should be discouraged, in the questionable belief that it might somehow offend those of other religions or none", are a little misleading. Most of the drive to abandon 'traditional' christmas icons is to detatch the festival from its religious origins and recognise that, for the majority of celebrants, it's now a secular festival concerned with gift-giving, family togetherness and general holiday feeling. This implies less a 'war' on Christmas, but something known as 'change'.

    Christians might find this hard to swallow (and it's always a good excuse for them to call upon their often used persecution complex), but given they did the exact same thing to the original pagan festivals that christmas supplanted, they don't really have a leg to stand on. Like early-medieval pre-christian cultures, the christians are just going to have to get used to the fact that times change. They can keep their pokey carol services and midnight mass, but don't expect the rest of us to respect such rituals as being 'special'. Much in the same way you'd tell one of your employees to get back to work if they asked for a couple of paid days off to go celebrate the solstice or beltaine.

    Having said all that, I dislike cards that say 'Season's Greetings'. Which season exactly? And why only give 'seasonal' greetings? Why can't we say hello in the rest of the year? I might not believe in christ, but I still recognise the time as being called Christmas (or should that be 'crISS-maSS' as so lovingly uttered in children-sang songs).

  • Comment number 8.

    "Is there a war on Christmas?" Does the Pope have a balcony?

  • Comment number 9.

    Richard Owen's present obscurity is a deserved karma for his treatment of Gideon Mantell, whose own life story is woefully Dickensian.

  • Comment number 10.

    Many many years ago, as a youth in Scotland when it was a devout land, I worked on Christmas Day as did most folk, it not being a public holiday and the day little acknowledged. In even more olden times, when Scotland was a seriously religious place, celebrating the day could get you into serious trouble. Although now an Atheist, can I plead for a return to our traditional Xmas, pleeeease.

  • Comment number 11.

    PeterKlaver, post #3. Winston Churchill, in the course of leading the defence of "Christian civilisation" (his words) against nazi tyranny, once said; "I don't want yes-men around me. I want everybody to tell me the truth even if it costs them their jobs." A description of the UK in 2010 as 'a moral wasteland and "the geopolitical epicentre of the culture of death"' is the unvarnished, but terrifically unfashionable truth; certainly by 1940s standards - there'd be nothing else useful to tell Churchill's generation.

  • Comment number 12.

    I don't think there is a war on christmas, there are however many people who celebrate at this time of year because it has always been a time of festivity for many religions (long before christianity) some tied to the solstice some not. There are also many people who would agree with Helio that the message bound up with the mythology is well worth celebrating and fully understand that it is mythology. There are many fables with a worthy message at the core along with many which do not.

    The problem is that some christians want to make it an exclusively christian thing forgetting that they usurped it in the first place in order to ingratiate themselves to the indigenous culture and now play the victim card if anyone tries to celebrate anything not approved by them.

    Case in point, Pastor Burns rings up the BBC Radio Ulster programme Talkback to complain that

    a) he had been to the Continental Market and was disappointed that it did not have any christian content and had Buddhist and other stuff (even though he said he had some Buddhist friends and had nothing against them) and

    b) his congregation were telling him that they could not get any cards with the word christmas on them.

    These were his damning indictments of the secularisation of christmas.

    The response from the public was

    a) there was a stall manned by nuns selling christian Christmas icons and paraphernalia (to which he huffily responded that he had not much time to go round the market so must have missed it) and

    b) several people (including Wendy) told him that the shops and charities were full of cards with Merry Christmas on them (which he tried to argue but didn't have a leg to stand on)

    Far be it from me to suggest that the pastor was guilty of playing the usual victim card and got caught out. I am not suggesting that he never went near the market or the shops in order to verify his complaints but his statements sound rather like the popes, more rhetoric than substance. In reality the Pastors statements were wrong but that did not seem to stop him arguing for his victim hood.

    He was chancing his arm !!!

    It was also pointed out to him that as he had not taken a stall in the market who did he expect to do it for him - or did he expect the council to pick out his religion and subsidise it?

    All this is verifiable from the BBC archives (its not on iplayer anymore but I am sure Wendy remembers as she said it was not like her to directly disagree with a guest but she knew he was incorrect too).

    My message is Merry Christmas this Yuletide to one and all and good will to everyone regardless of beliefs (or lack thereof), sex, sexual orientation, physical or mental ability, ethnicity, political persuasion, race, gender identity, colour (hair, skin, eyes or hat), handidness, IQ, educational attainments and - if I have missed anyone out - you too.

    Interesting that Yule precedes the supposed birth of christ or any knowledge of Judaism and starts Dec 25th for 12 days.

  • Comment number 13.


    A description of the UK in 2010 as 'a moral wasteland and "the geopolitical epicentre of the culture of death"' is the unvarnished, but terrifically unfashionable truth;

    except that it is an opinion not a truth and for many if not most an irrelevant and incorrect one.

  • Comment number 14.

    The bit about the pagan origins that natman mentions reminds me of an article on how the christmas celebrtation was once hated by fundies, who even tried to ban it:

    Once Upon a Time the Religious Right Demonized Christmas, Even Banning Its Celebration


    Historic ignorance is such fertile soil for faith to grow on.

  • Comment number 15.

    The Nazis were Christians, of course. It is interesting to note the different approach this "moral wasteland" takes to the internal (or should that be infernal?) workings of Ratzinger's organisation.

  • Comment number 16.

    I was just about to post the following, and it seems PK has got in before me with a similar comment about puritan fundies hating Christmas. Still I'll post this anyway...

    Funny, but the one person who springs to mind as the greatest hater of Christmas is none other than that great (or perhaps not-so-great) puritan: Oliver Cromwell (or to be more accurate, it was the parliamentary party - with Cromwell's approval - who banned what they perceived to be a Catholic-cum-pagan celebration of excess).

    In fact, dare I say, it is secularist consumerism which gives Christmas its great boost.

    As for the 'mythology'... oh yes, it's very uplifting and inspiring, isn't it? It should however be noted that it is actually possible for something to be both inspiring and true. As far as the 'Christmas story' is concerned I am unashamedly in the 'inspiring and true' camp. Falsehood is not a necessary condition for inspiration. I am also unashamedly no fan of Ollie Cromwell.

    Talking about offending other religions... how about this?

    Helio -

    Please try and go easy on the use of the phrase 'of course'. It doesn't really compensate for a lousy argument, as you well know ... of course.

  • Comment number 17.

    “Is there a war on Christmas?”

    No idea. Can I start one?

    Some suggestions from a Christian for new bus ads which atheists might agree with.

    25-12-0000 Honestly! It’s *not* my birthday.

    Jesus probably wasn’t born in December, so lets keep him out of Christmas.

    Santa isn’t a misspelling of Satan, so stop worrying and put a carrot out for the reindeer.

    And, altogether now, Jesus wasn’t born in a stable or a cave.

  • Comment number 18.

    LSV said:

    Funny, but the one person who springs to mind as the greatest hater of Christmas is none other than that great (or perhaps not-so-great) puritan: Oliver Cromwell (or to be more accurate, it was the parliamentary party - with Cromwell's approval - who banned what they perceived to be a Catholic-cum-pagan celebration of excess).

    In general puritans (and presbyterians & reformed) objected to the observance of the church calendar as an application of, what has come to be known as, the regulative principle of worship. This says that God is to be worshipped only as He has commanded in Scripture. A second reason, following from this, is a view of Sunday as the new Sabbath and as such, the only holy day instituted for observance by the New Testament church.

    Any church that has the Westminster Confession, as one example, for its subordinate standards professedly adheres to the Regulative Principle. For those who are still interested in it, the argument is not about whether the principle itself is justified but how it should be applied.

    Some denominations, like the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Ireland, hold to it in it's more traditional form; so, psalms and no hymns, no musical instruments and no observance of holy days other than the Lord's Day, amongst other things.

    Others, like the Free Pres might hold to a looser version of it, although in my experience it is not well known within this denomination.

    Still, for us presbyterians who celebrate Christmas it brings us closer to our atheist friends; ah, blessed inconsistency!

  • Comment number 19.

    Tsk tsk Helio.

    He'll go mad when he sees that one!

  • Comment number 20.

    Lsv, which bits are "true"? The Quirinius census or the Herod issue?

  • Comment number 21.

    Helio -

    The jury is still well and truly out on these issues, and I haven't got time tonight to assemble the arguments, but I hope to get back to you on this. (Talking about following up an argument... I remember that you were going to get back to me re the flaws in 'God's Undertaker'; I'm still waiting.)

    So more anon...

    (By the way... I'm glad you've hastily returned from your short and bracing trip to 'Godwinland' in #15).

  • Comment number 22.

    How can anyone think that there is a war on Christmas, when every year more and more businesses shut down completely, often for up to 2 or 3 weeks?

    Of course, fewer and fewer people believe that it represents a real birthday (it only became a mass celebration of Jesus' birthday in recent times anyway), but that is their right. You can't force people to really believe in the nativity story.

    That's what this issue is about: the churches want to force people to believe in their stories; nobody is being forced NOT to believe in them.

  • Comment number 23.

    The War on Christmas pushers have created a perfect circular fallacy of persecution. On one hand non Christians are portrayed as "Taking Christ our of Christmas" by adding their own traditions, greetings and beliefs to the holiday. On the other hand if they try to avoid Christmas as a Christian holiday they're portrayed as the Grinches and Scrooges for not taking part.

    These people won't be happy unless everyone celebrates Christmas as a Christian, any dissent from their view is deemed persecution.

  • Comment number 24.

    The most likely reason for the Radio 4 readings of the King James Version of the Bible is that 2011 is the 400th Anniversary of its publication. The Bible is still one of the most popular books.

    The KJV was produced by a group of devout men who translated it faithfully unlike other versions produced since that were influenced by men avowed to take the Divine out of Jesus and make him just a man.

    And the characters in the Bible are not fiction. There is more evidence for their existence than for characters in ancient history that we seem to accept because we find a few scraps of text or artefacts.

    But I do take some points here about the way Christianity is represented by some. Jesus found the same problem in his day in dealing with the 'scribes, pharisees and hypocrites'.

    Anyway, have a very happy Christmas

  • Comment number 25.

    A complaint has been made by the catholic church in Britain to the Royal Mail that this years stamps are 'Wallace and Grommit" and not the Virgin and child.

    The Royal Mail has responded that they did issue Virgin and child stamps this year and customers can ask for them - but Wallace and Grommit seem to be more popular.

    "Put Christ back into Christmas" stickers are now being distributed to outraged Christians to append to envelopes.

    The best card I've received so far was in an envelope bearing a Virgin and child stamp, a 'Put Christ back into Christmas' sticker, but inside was a Santa telling me to have a "Cool Yule."

    (Actually, that was the second best card. The best one had a tenner in it.)

    Christians, please stop making Christianity look silly, petty and totally removed from the real issues we should be offended about on this planet.

    Maybe a sticker which read, "Put the Gospel back into Christianity" would be a good start.

  • Comment number 26.

    The KJV was produced by a group of devout men who translated it faithfully unlike other versions produced since that were influenced by men avowed to take the Divine out of Jesus and make him just a man.

    [citation needed]


  • Comment number 27.

    It might be said that King Herod declared war on the very first Christmas, and it's been raging ever since.

  • Comment number 28.


    Your comments explain precisely why I'd be happy to start a war on Christmas. The idea that a stamp on an envelope is evidence of a 'Christian' nation is, well, I guess you already know what it is.

    And your comment, "Christians, please stop making Christianity look silly, petty and totally removed from the real issues we should be offended about on this planet," is most apposite.

  • Comment number 29.


    Lovely soundbite, Herod declaring war on the first Christmas; but there's a touch of the sentimental revisionist about it, don't you think?

  • Comment number 30.

    "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy" (Hamlet)

  • Comment number 31.

    peterm2 again

    If one accepts the Gospel account of the empty tomb, one has very little difficulty in accepting the rest.

  • Comment number 32.

    LuxFuit (@ 24) -

    "The KJV was produced by a group of devout men who translated it faithfully unlike other versions produced since that were influenced by men avowed to take the Divine out of Jesus and make him just a man."

    While I generally agree with your post, I don't see the justification for condemning all English translations after the KJV (although I notice that you referred to 'other translations' rather than 'all other translations'). Quite how the NKJV, for instance, is the result of a translation policy aimed at 'taking the Divine out of Jesus' is not at all clear to me. You may want to clarify that point.

    "And the characters in the Bible are not fiction. There is more evidence for their existence than for characters in ancient history that we seem to accept because we find a few scraps of text or artefacts."

    I agree, but there are those who dismiss the manuscript reliability of the Bible as against other ancient documents, because of a prior philosophical commitment. You can read a classic case of this here - a blatantly circular argument, well seasoned with prejudice and speculation, in the attempt to deny the evidence.

    And a happy Christmas to you.

  • Comment number 33.

    Hi Theo

    Couple of questions you might want to answer on another thread (still.)

  • Comment number 34.


    It would appear you think I'm an atheist?

    If so, you missed my point.

    If you still think I'm an atheist, I'll not bother defending myself, just ask Helio what he thinks!

  • Comment number 35.

    RJB, I like the cut of your jib,

    What we should be celebrating is that most folk, religious or not, are uniting in a spirit of goodwill and not trying to claim it for their god or complain about the exclusion of their god. (unlike the Pope and Pastor Burns).

  • Comment number 36.

    I dont know if this blog is representative of the wider population of Northern Ireland, but if so, are there any Roman Catholics there who arent aloof, pompous, brain-dead, arrogant, triumphalistic, blind, self righteous and in denial?

    I can only hope that the non-Catholic bloggers on here have met some other Catholics in real life, some human ones.

  • Comment number 37.


    My partner of 9 years was an English/Irish catholic. We have moved on but religion was never a problem between us (as you might have gathered I was brought up a prod).

  • Comment number 38.


    "I can only hope that the non-Catholic bloggers on here have met some other Catholics in real life, some human ones."

    I grew up in a Catholic family. Turned me into an atheist while still in the lower half of my teens. Many of the words in your post apply to some members of my family, or their church going friends, or the priest of the church etc. Blind. Arrogant. Triumphalist. Brain-dead. I don't think there's even a single word in what you mentioned that doesn't apply to at least some of them.

  • Comment number 39.

    LSV, it was Theophane who pulled the Godwin, not me, dear boy. As for the "jury being out on these issues", that is the prattling of a simpleton. The jury returned the verdict a long time ago - there are multiple areas where the text of the bible diverges from historical accuracy, and often astonishingly so*. But get this - we *expect* historical documents to get things wrong - those who ask us to treat the bible as we would treat any other historical document are right. We do. And, liks any other historical document, we find spin, propaganda, fairy tales, outright lies, as well as some verifiable truth. If you are, on the other hand, *seriously* expecting people to view the bible as somehow immune from the warts that afflict all human works, the bar is pretty high, sweetheart, and your mangy mare has proven itself unable to jump it.

    [* for a nice example of this, you may wish to read up about the fate of poor old Sennacherib.]

  • Comment number 40.

    Incidentally, Luxfruit, it may interest you to know that your #24 is almost entirely false. Look it up :-)

  • Comment number 41.

    The King James Bible has also made in onto our £2 coin, I'm afraid. The reverse bears the message:

    "In the beginning was the Word."

    The Wallace and Grommit stamps are great.

  • Comment number 42.

    Dave # 35

    You might be interested to know that last week we had the Ecumenical Christmas Carol Service in the city in which I now reside. It was my responsibility to choose the carols, readings and the charities to which we would donate the loot collected.

    I decided to change things a bit. (I left the trad carols alone, they used to burn catholics here.)

    However, out went all talk of donkeys and mangers and angels and shepherds. (We did mention kings, but they werent delivering pressies, they were being torn down from their throwns.)

    In came -

    - A beautiful reflection by local, Carl Jung, urging us to live together in peace and advising us to look into our own hearts as a first step in achieving that goal.

    - A modern day parable about a group of Christians who, faced with an impending disaster, held meetings and prayer groups, while an atheist actually got up and took the necessary steps to avert the disaster.

    - And the true story of an old woman who annoyed the local parish priest by handing in a Christmas hamper to be given to a poor family at the last minute - until it was discovered that she couldnt have handed in the hamper any earlier since she only got her old age pension that very morning. She had collected it at the Post Office and gone straight to the supermarket and spent it all on a hamper for a family who had nothing. "Out of the little she had, she gave everything..."

    The collection was split two ways, half going to a hospital in Algeria which looks after dying, old men and women (Moslem) - a tribute to the selflessness of old people like the lady with the hamper, and the other half going to a local charity which brings seriously ill children from the third world to this country, for surgery and the after care they need to make them well again.

    As the packed congregation left, I heard a lot of comments about how meaningful/powerful this year's service was. Christ was hardly even mentioned but mind you, neither was Wallace and Grommit.

  • Comment number 43.


    "...expecting people to view the bible as somehow immune from the warts that afflict all human works..."

    Haven't you heard? If a single tiny portion of the bible is false, even by a minute detail, the entirety of the Christian faith is false, modern civilisation will not be able to function without morals and there will be stealing, murdering and all kinds of liberal activities in the streets.

    Or at least that's the impression I get from listening to biblical literalists, who cannot conceive that, despite insisting the 'Fall' is responsible for all human ills, refuse to apply the same theory to their precious bible.

    (It's entirely irrelevant that if a single bit of the bible is false, it throws doubt on all of it, and who's to tell which bits are right and which aren't. But hey, there we go.)

  • Comment number 44.


    be very careful, you run the risk of bringing Christian values back into church, the hierarchy will hunt you down. Sounds like your church loves others more than itself, rare.


    Your little, I assume sarcastic, missive on the errancy problem of the bible brings to mind the American mega church bible classes. Thousands of people sitting in a lecture type environment with huge bibles spending an hour being shouted at by a sweating pastor dissecting 2 verses of scripture. The town could be burning down outside but 'praise the Lord' and you will burn in hell if you don't come back tomorrow.

  • Comment number 45.


    "The hierarchy will hunt you down..."

    They already did. That's why I'm over here.

  • Comment number 46.

    Nat, your comment reminds me of an old definition of fundamentalists, along the lines of: they show fanatical devotion to an old book, but they conveniently ignore the fact that that book has a history.

    It is literalists/inerrantists who are really the ones disrespecting the bible and splattering it with their filthy sweat and spittle. I rather like Dr Jim's Thinking Shoppe and Ian's Irreducible Complexity blogs - they,as atheists, show the bible infinitely more respect than you get from most pulpits in NI.

  • Comment number 47.

    In the very 'politically correct' society we live in, it has become very noticeable that many want Christmas referred to as the 'festive season' or 'holiday season'.You just need to look at the cards on display in the shops. It is a very sad reflection that we cannot celebrate the birth of Christ lest we offend someone.Whether you believe in him or not there is absolutely nothing offensive about the birth of Christ.

  • Comment number 48.


    Most of the cards in the shops say Merry Christmas or Happy Christmas, I went and checked. It is noticeable however that some religious types have not checked this before playing the persecution card. I refer you to post #12 and as a follow up the excellent post #23.

    There is nothing offensive in people celebrating the birth of their god, but there is something offensive in some people wishing to have the winter festivities exclusively for themselves and exclude non believers from the party. It was Yule before it was christmas - give it back !!!.

  • Comment number 49.

    Sorry you feel excluded Dave. Perhaps you should join in!!
    Happy Christmas anyway.

  • Comment number 50.


    First of all, before I cause you to make the same mistake as Theophane, I am a Christian, and a reasonably conservative one at that.

    The thing about Christmas cards is... they don't matter - especially if you're wondering where you next meal is coming from. And there are all sorts of ways of looking at this.

    So I'm afraid I'm going to have to take issue with your, "there is absolutely nothing offensive about the birth of Christ." There is. We should be offended. The Kingdom he represents is an offence to people like me who can type cheap words about the poor while sitting beside a tree surrounded by presents. *I* am a contradiction. Sometimes I wonder if there is anything about my actions which would suggest Christian faith.

    There is absolutely nothing offensive about the birth of Christ if it is, as many here would have us believe, a myth. If, however, it is true, I have no option other than to be offended.

    And, in the same vain, maybe I should say that #42 offends me, but I'm guessing that RJB will be glad to hear that!! :-)

    Like I said before, if there isn't a war on Christmas, there should be, and Christians should be leading it.

  • Comment number 51.

    Peter, you're hilarious, but I like you :-) I would suggest that of course (for you there, LSV:-) it's a myth, but you are right about the "offence". Every time you pray for something and expect your magic sky daddy to do it for you, rather than rolling your sleeves up, that is an offence. But maybe the offence you are talking about is that Jesus is less about god than he is about mankind. Humanist Jesus. Atheist Jesus. Offended yet?

  • Comment number 52.

    Hi Peter,

    Christmas has indeed become so commercialized and it really does take the focus of the real meaning.Even though we may feel guilty about our failings towards those less fortunate than ourselves we can still support the numerous Christian aid agencies who are working across our world to alleviate the pain and suffering of many.Why not look at some of their websites and see how you can purchase a gift for someone.

    I hope those who feel they can offend Jesus will share their views about Mohammed!!

  • Comment number 53.


    "I hope those who feel they can offend Jesus will share their views about Mohammed!" (extra exclamation mark removed to preserve sanity)

    Jesus was a historically dubious figure who may or may not have existed in various formats and has had his reputation bolstered by 2000 years of people claiming he was a son of god.

    Mohammed has more of a claim to actual existance, and seems to have picked up on a popular ploy - claiming to be the only 'true' (and last!) prophet.

    Both of them have resulted in a couple of thousand years of war and bloodshed due to zealous followers following a dogma instead of common sense.

    I'm quite happy to say both religions are utter codswhallop.

  • Comment number 54.

    Helio -

    "Every time you pray for something and expect your magic sky daddy to do it for you, rather than rolling your sleeves up, that is an offence."

    Helio, please carry on being deluded about the Christian faith. Your posts make for great entertainment.

    The real problem with the Christian church is precisely because it is full of atheists. Since they don't know God, they turn the institution of the church - or their denominational sub-culture - into 'god' (an idol, in other words) and worship that. That's why we have the sort of problems RJB brings up.

    But please don't let this ultra-obvious fact penetrate into your molecular based consciousness. As I say, I would miss the entertainment if you ever came to your senses. ;-)

    I'm still working on the Quirinius census material. There's so much of it that vindicates the Bible that I don't quite know where to start, but I'm having a look at the word 'hegemon' at the moment, which has been translated 'governor'. It can actually mean all sorts of things, but I'm sure I'll clarify that in my magnum opus soon.

  • Comment number 55.

    And I forgot to mention.Please send your opinions with your name and address to the national press...if you dare!

    It appears Natman is ready and willing.

  • Comment number 56.

    'Jesus was a historically dubious figure who may or may not have existed in various formats and has had his reputation bolstered by 2000 years of people claiming he was a son of god.'

    Natman is a historically dubious figure who may or may not exist in various formats (a real boy, a random word generator, a malfunctioning keyboard) who has had his reputation bolstered by 2000 inane comments with an air of assurance he knows a lot about what he pretends to refute.


    I looked into the census a little while back now and I found these posts helpful. There is some other good stuff about it on the blog, if you're interested you can search for it.

  • Comment number 57.

    Ah Fatwa envy. Nice.

  • Comment number 58.

    Newthornley, do you actually *think* before you post? I mean, it's fine to send off a kneejerk response to the likes of LSV in the knowledge that he'll fire something inane back - that's the very essence of the cut'n'thrust that is will'n'testament. But it would be remiss to fail to point out that Christmas has *always* been a secular festival that has had religious tassles stuck on - at no point in its history has it ever been primarily religious. So to complain about it "becoming commercialised" implies a dynamism of process that simply doesn't exist, and instead smacks of simplistic goldenagery.

    LSV, yes, let's see this Quirinius material, and while you're at it, you might let us know how the Lucan census, which we *know* post-dated Herod's death, Quirinius or no Quirinius, applied to a Bethlehem/Nazareth axis. Because while Herod was alive we know for sure that there was no such census, and even after he was tatie bread, there would not conceivably have been a census that required travel for someone like Joe to a semi-mythical ancestral seat where he couldn't even bank on scoring a bed for the night!

    Ladies and gentlemen, please please read your bibles. Get four, and read them side-by-side. Chuck your "study guides" in the trash, and just let the bible speak for itself.

    Or are you scared?

  • Comment number 59.

    The Oliver Sacks interview on Face Blindness was an interesting read

  • Comment number 60.

    Well, H, I’m glad I can bring you a smile on a chilly Winter’s evening.

    And before you read anymore remember I agree with a good deal of what you say (like the secular Christmas thing in paragraph 1 of #58. We're both Christians, and we both doubt, it's just that I also hope God is there, and I'm guessing you do too.)

    There’s so much I could say, but I’ll start with this: like LSV, I noticed, “Every time you pray for something and expect your magic sky daddy to do it for you, rather than rolling your sleeves up, that is an offence.”

    You call that prayer? You know, you are hilarious, but I like you :-)

    “Offended yet?”

    By the Humanist Jesus malarky? Not at all. No more than I’m offended by the Billy Goats Gruff; not unless the Gruff’s are real (they’re not, are they?) I mean if the Gruff’s are real we’ll have to start worrying about Trolls, and then where'll we be? Stopping at every bridge in the country just to have a wee look underneath isn’t really viable. Perhaps, though, we could ask ourselves, ‘What Would Billy Do?’ I know, he’d huff and he’d puff and he’d, oh sorry, wrong moral narrative framework.

    How can you be offended by stuff which isn’t real? Odd, don’t you think, of atheists to come on here and ‘blaspheme’ a ‘god’ who isn’t real?

    And have a wee word with Natman, won’t you? “...historically dubious figure...” For goodness sake! :-)

    And one more thing, have a search on Wiki for ‘Lilac Chaser’, it’s my most favouritest illusion at the moment; that Necker thingy-ma-jopper just won’t stay still ;-)


    My problem is not that I am unaware of the numerous Christian (and I must add non-Christian agencies) working to alleviate pain and suffering, rather it is the church complaining about the loss of christian values and stuff like that when a lot of it boils down to loss of preferential treatment, or ‘Seasons Greetings’ on a card. Sorry, but that doesn’t amount to a ‘war’, nor is it offensive. Sooner of later the church is going to have to catch itself on; perhaps we’ll do that after we remember what we’re supposed to be for. The measure of our gospel will be seen when or if we face real persecution - it isn’t called ‘fighting for our rights’ it’s called grace and forgiveness, justice and mercy.

    And yes, everyone, read the gospels side by side; you can even cut and paste the various sections onto one page to save you flipping back and forth; and see how each writer brings their own perspective to the account, how each relates to a particular audience and emphasises particular events for particular reasons and how each reflects the writer's background and interest - it's called *life*, and *life* is what God does.

  • Comment number 61.

    And Helio, I just noticed this, "where he couldn't even bank on scoring a bed for the night!"

    Do you want to talk 'inns'?

    Probably just be better if you started thinking, 'one or two roomed house with the manger inside,' you know, a bit like the ones at the very excellent Ulster Folk and transport Museum.

  • Comment number 62.

    Helio -

    "Ladies and gentlemen, please please read your bibles. Get four, and read them side-by-side. Chuck your "study guides" in the trash, and just let the bible speak for itself.

    Or are you scared?"

    For once I actually agree with you, although I would add that it might be worth having a crack at reading the original languages. Certainly get rid of other people's interpretations of the Bible - very good advice. I'm all for Christians (or 'bible readers' generally) thinking for themselves.

    And yes, it will be scary for some people. A genuine encounter with God will be, especially when you have to throw out all the religious hogwash.

    One thing, however, an unprejudiced and impartial reading of the Bible will not lead you to, and that is atheism.

    That's just a knee-jerk philosophy for people who can't see beyond the simplistic, legalistic, proof-text interpretation of the Bible.

  • Comment number 63.

    No there is not a war on Christmas just on Christians.

  • Comment number 64.

    Could anyone please help? I'm writing my Christmas cards to get them posted on Monday. I have not got as far as the end of the first sentence.

    "As we remember the child born in......"

    I have my biblical concordat and one gospel says Bethlehem, another Nazareth. Which town was it?

    I'd have thought that if they could get details like the Inn, the shepherds, the kings and even the exact pressies they brought, they might have got the town right. Or were they just dazzled by the star and too much mulled wine?

    Helio, you've all but spoiled my Christmas already. Please dont start questioning the existence of Santa Claus now. Cant you just leave things alone?!!

  • Comment number 65.

    Yes read the Bible but also read commentaries and books on bible criticism, hermeneutics and so on. Letting the Bible speak for itself is to try and understand authorial intent, doing this best requires historical context, original languages. Commentaries are good for this.

  • Comment number 66.


    Why not run with, "As we remember the child born in humility, so, most gracious God, humble our hearts that we might follow you."

  • Comment number 67.

    Or - Lord, please help the poor to forgive us for our insensitivity to them at this time of year....

  • Comment number 68.


    Food vouchers are now available for the destitute and a Christian charity is administering the scheme.

    I am concerned that this Charity (The Trussell Trust) could proselytize to the vulnerable; though I can understand why some people would simply feel good about being involved in this sort of activity.

  • Comment number 69.

    Or as the American Atheist billboard campaign suggests,

    "You know it's a myth...
    This Season celebrate Reason"

  • Comment number 70.

    Actually, Christmas is NOT "the season of peace on Earth, goodwill to all men." The Bible verse you quoted actually continues "with whom He is pleased" after the bit you quoted. In effect, that means that it is the season of peace on earth and goodwill (from God) towards the people who please Him. People who exclude God from their lives are not included, I`m afraid. Of course, you can be nice to people at this time of year, but unless your relationship with God is right, you cannot fully experience God`s goodwill, at Christmas, or any other time of the year.

  • Comment number 71.

    Can I remind folks, when discussing the content of the Gospels, that there exist many more than just the four which had the approval of the committee meeting chaired by Constantine.

  • Comment number 72.

    paul james (@ 69) -

    Or as the American Atheist billboard campaign suggests,

    "You know it's a myth...
    This Season celebrate Reason"

    I like poetry, and I do so understand that poetic licence is sometimes necessary to make rhymes work. Hence the use of the word 'reason'. I realise that the following doesn't have quite the same ring about it:

    "This Season celebrate a leap of faith into epistemologically invalid self-refuting empiricism-based philosophical materialism."

    I am also very pleased that these American Atheists admit that they believe in the paranormal. I find this quite surprising, to be honest. Mind reading is, after all, an example of the paranormal, and hardly fits comfortably with materialism.

    So we read: "You know it's a myth". May I ask - in true Rumsfeldian fashion - how they 'know' that other people (general members of the public) 'know' such a thing? Clearly they imagine that they can read people's minds (although their antennae need fixing, since their conclusion is a bit wonky, to say the least!)

    If they deny their mind-reading claim, since it is an example of the paranormal, then I wonder where that leaves their claim to celebrate 'reason'?

    So this proves that these people can't even get their simple bill-boards right! Which is rather sad if you think about it. But a Christmas present to the Church from the Atheists will be gratefully received.

    And compliments of the Season of Reason (of the Logos, Jn 1:1) to you, Mr James.

  • Comment number 73.

    joytotheworld (@ 70) -

    "In effect, that means that it is the season of peace on earth and goodwill (from God) towards the people who please Him. People who exclude God from their lives are not included, I`m afraid."

    No, they're not included in the various contemporary ecclesiastical subcultures. Quite right, and very reassuring too!

    They may be included in *God's mercy* though. You know ... that thing that commands us not to judge....??

    And Christmas greetings from me TO ONE AND ALL (even my epistemological enemies).

  • Comment number 74.



    Shouldnt your moniker be joytosomeoftheworld ?

    Bah humbug!!

  • Comment number 75.

    And a happy Sol Invictus to you LSV!

  • Comment number 76.

    People, all this peace and harmony is making joy2thewurrld feel a bit left out. Can't we include him/her in the party?

    Remember - it *is* just a myth. Don't take the historical facts too seriously; they didn't *really* happen. The important message of Christmas is peace on earth and goodwill to *all* men, whether they are Theistic Christians, Atheistic Christians (and Peter, I am pretty darned sure there is no god - it's not just "doubt", but a brand new and spectacular vista, and I'm perfectly happy to be here!), Muslims, Jews, FSM-worshippers (Hi PK!), Hindus and the rest.

    The point is to focus on what the myth tells us about ourselves, not on the fictional stories of the nativity. And in that respect, we are, as Peter notes, back to the Billy Goats Gruff. I do wish theistic Christians would stop making Christianity absurd.

  • Comment number 77.

    Helio -

    I don't always necessarily mind the inclusion of the word 'myth' when referring to the nativity story - it's just that I tend to double up my myths. You only have one myth; I am a rather more extreme case, as I have two, as in the following formulation:

    The view that "the nativity story is a myth (#1)" is a myth (#2).

    So that's fine. I don't mind talking about myths.

    After all, the small difference of one little myth shouldn't disturb our harmony at this time of goodwill, should it?

  • Comment number 78.

    In tomorrow's Something Understood Mark Tully will consider the Nativity and how it should be understood in light of inconsistencies in the Gospels and other empirical evidence. He will talk to church historian Diarmaid MacCulloch. The readers will be Derek Jacobi and Isla Blair.


    6.05 repeated at 23:30

  • Comment number 79.

    The best way to win the War on Christmas is to finally prove the truth and force religious leaders to cease and desist from their lies and exploitation. I have published comprehensive proof that the symbology of these canons is based on advanced science and natural observations that completely expose pivotal ancient lies. Here's my latest press release on the topic.

    Seven Star Hand Unveils Death Blow in War on Christmas

    Telling lies about me for two millennia has dire consequences, and now I intend to collect on what is due.

    Here is Wisdom...

  • Comment number 80.

    Yes, the kind of wisdom you have to pay $33 for. A Christmas cracker complete with paper hat and poor joke.

  • Comment number 81.

    Seven Star Hand (@ 79) -

    Hey, Mr Advertiser (who "intends to collect on what is due", gulp!), instead of posting a commercial on this blog, why don't you have the guts to let us see some of your so-called 'comprehensive proof' free of charge?

    I'm up for a laugh, but I'm certainly not going to pay up for a load of tripe.

  • Comment number 82.

    I'm up for a laugh, but I'm certainly not going to pay up for a load of tripe.

    You really have to look up irony !!!!

  • Comment number 83.

    Buddy (7SH), you are *so* busted. From the intro:

    "As already explored in the preface on the Doctrine of Two Spirits, the Egyptian concept of ka-maat later became karma (a.k.a. kamma) in the "East".

    This is complete and utter nonsense.

    Of course, the Abahamic religions are not "true" in any meaningful sense, but there is no conspiracy here, no purposeful covering-up of a mythical lost golden age of understanding. NEVER underestimate the power of stupid - verb, adjective and noun, one stupid, indivisible like the Trinity. Stupid can topple kingdoms, empires and democracies. Stupid can invent gods, demons, angels and messiahs at the drop of a mitre. Stupid can corrupt the most straightforward message. And man is born unto stupid as the sparks fly upward. Augustinian Original Stupid. Forgive us our stupids as we forgive those who stupid against us. Father, I have stupided against heaven and against you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son.

    And then there is stupid upon stupid, steadily accreting to form vast geological assemblages of stupid - a rich motherlode of stupid that can be mined and carved any which way, to reveal ever more intricate flounces, spandrels, culicues and monstrances, fashioned and recycled from purest stupid.

    And of course, it is easy to write pretty stupid books about all that too, and pretend you're on to something really profound.

    I was king in Jerusalem, you know. (Peterm2 will get the allusion, cos he's not stupid...).

  • Comment number 84.

    It happens our priest at Mass this morning, English not being his first language, pronounced the 't' in 'Christmas'. Might this help to distinguish the Christian festival from the cheap and cheerless, as it were, "krissmuss", which is the residue when faith has been removed.

  • Comment number 85.

    "Might this help to distinguish the Christian festival from the cheap and cheerless"

    Speak for yourself. My worst memories of a child at Christmas was being forced to church on Christmas morning to put up with the 'jollyness' and so on of the christmas morning service. Not to mention the hours spent in carol services (yawn) and the false piety one had to express. (You're a selfish little thing as a kid)

    My best memories, on the converse, was getting everyone involved with new presents, especially board and computer games.

    It's a false anaolgy to assume that a religion-free holiday is 'cheap and cheerless'. Perhaps it's simple projection from your own perception of the holidays.

  • Comment number 86.

    Cheap and cheerless? I dunno - as an Atheistic Christian I find Christmas marvellous, such as the service on Radio 4 this morning from Methodist College Belfast. Even Norman Hamilton's dramtically extapolative sermon based, not on the biblical story, but on the accreted traditions of the nativity, had a certain naive and seasonal charm.

  • Comment number 87.

    Helio - (@ 20)

    "Lsv, which bits are "true"? The Quirinius census or the Herod issue?"

    I've got round to putting a few thoughts together about this - but much more to come...

    All I can do, Helio, is produce evidence to explain why I believe the biblical nativity accounts are true. I am well aware that nothing I can say will convince you, so if you wish to try to pick holes in this evidence, then I can see that we can happily continue the discussion for some time to come. We'll just see how it goes.

    There are two fundamental questions I would like to ask:

    1. Is there direct evidence that can prove that the historical details of the two biblical nativity accounts can be reconciled?

    2. In the absence of any direct evidence (i.e. independent evidence) is there at least a reasonably plausible explanation which will reconcile the nativity accounts?

    If question #1 can be answered in the affirmative, then, of course, we can prove that the biblical account is true. If we answer that question in the negative, but can answer question #2 in the affirmative, then we cannot prove the biblical account to be true, but neither can it be proven false. Of course, it is a moot point as to whether anything can really be 'proven' from evidence from the ancient world. We have to piece together the evidence and rely on intelligent speculation. Even someone as militant as Richard Carrier has to admit this with his use of phrases such as "I think this most likely"; "it is more likely that..."; "it also seems unlikely"; etc etc. And yet this self-proclaimed 'infidel' slams Christians for their "pure speculation"! A rather contradictory approach he seems to have taken, if you ask me.

    If the biblical account on this specific point can neither be proven true nor false, then no case can be made for the general veracity of the Bible from this historical detail. As I said in my previous post on this subject: "the jury is still out".

    So, from the evidence that I have seen, I will concede to you that it is probably true that the biblical account (as regards this particular historical point) cannot be proven true, but I assert that it cannot be proven false. My belief in the truth of the Bible is not based on the need for independent documentary verification of the date of the census under Quirinius. I believe for other, rather more important reasons, and, on that basis, I am satisfied with a plausible explanation for such historical details.

    You, of all people, cannot object to this approach, since your naturalistic theory of the origin of life is not based (and cannot possibly be based) on direct evidence (since there is obviously no documentary evidence of something that occurred before the advent of human history). Furthermore, in any worldview there are always going to be unresolved questions, since none of us are omniscient (well, at least I don't claim to be), and none of us can expect all historical records from the ancient world to have survived (the lack of documentary evidence does not prove falsehood; and, of course, this is true in the modern world, otherwise, by that same logic, all those people whose 1821 census records were destroyed in the 1922 fire at the Four Courts Building in Dublin must not have existed!!).

    If Luke's account can be proven neither true nor false, then it leaves me completely untroubled. All this means is that the account flags up something we do not yet fully know about an event in the ancient world. Big deal. This lack of proof does not undermine the Christian faith. It would only be undermined if the account could be completely proven false. But how this is possible when relying on scarce evidence from the ancient world, reconstructed with considerable speculation, is hard to see.

    One other point: even if the evidence proves beyond any reasonable doubt (whatever that means) that Luke and / or Matthew were mistaken in their accounts, that still does not necessarily undermine the truth of the Christian faith, since we then need to understand what we mean by 'biblical authority'. It would be true that a certain fundamentalist view of inerrancy would be undermined, but a strong case could be put that the accounts in the gospels can be treated like witness accounts in a criminal trial; different witnesses give different accounts - with errors creeping in - but there is sufficient agreement to substantiate the basic sequence of events of the life of Jesus, and none of this undermines the teaching of Jesus (assuming that the errors were nothing more than the result of human error rather then deliberate deceit). Of course, I don't hold to this view, since I don't accept that the inerrancy of the Bible has been undermined, but I do acknowledge the 'human' element in the records - particularly as regards different wording describing the same events (a factor which makes a mockery of the redaction theories). Ironically, the differences between the gospels actually support their authenticity, since a fabrication would seek to avoid such differences of witness testimony in order to create a smokescreen of harmony.

    So Richard Carrier et al can get all excited that their findings may demolish the Christian faith, but one can only leave such people to their illusions.

    So is there evidence that Luke's account of the census could be historically accurate?

    Here's the account:

    And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city. Luke 2:1-3.

    Well surely this - when in combination with Matthew's account - is dodgy information (is it not?), given that Quirinius was appointed governor of Syria in 6 AD, much later than the birth of Jesus which must have taken place before the death of Herod the Great in 4 BC.

    Furthermore, how could there have been a census while Herod was king of Judea?

    Another objection is that a Roman census did not require subjects to return to their ancestral city.

    One issue is the translation of the verb 'hegemoneuontos' in Luke 2:2, which has been translated 'was governing'. This verb, and the related noun 'hegemon', has a general meaning of 'to rule' and 'ruler'. What did Luke intend when he used this word?

    Allow me to analyse the usage of this verb - and the related noun - in Luke and Acts (and, yes, I do believe Luke to be the author of Acts. You may not agree, but that doesn't matter, because I am explaining why I accept Luke's account to be true; I am not deluding myself into thinking that I can convince you).

    This word (in both verb and noun forms) refers to the 'rule' of...

    1. Quirinius over Syria ('governor' or 'legate' - or something else?) - Luke 2:2.
    2. Pontius Pilate over Judea ('governor' or 'prefect') - Luke 3:1; 20:20.
    3. Tiberius Caesar over the Roman Empire ('emperor') - Luke 3:1.
    4. undefined 'rulers' - Luke 21:12.
    5. Felix over Judea ('governor' or 'procurator') - Acts 23:24,26,33,34; 24:1,10.
    6. Porcius Festus over Judea ('governor' or 'procurator') - Acts 26:30.

    So here we see that the root 'hegemon' (in 'hegemoneuein' - to reign; 'hegemonia' - reign; and 'hegemon' - ruler) can have multiple meanings. It does not therefore follow that the application of this word to Quirinius necessarily refers to his governorship of Syria in 6 AD onwards. This word could be applied to any Roman official holding an authoritative position in any province of the Empire. It is highly plausible that Quirinius held a similar position in Syria in the last decade 'BC', which could still have been denoted by the word 'hegemon'. As Luke shows in his writings, 'hegemon' can refer to primary authority (the emperor) and secondary authority (the governor). Because it is a general word, there is no reason to assume that it cannot refer to other titles.

    Let's assume that Herod the Great died in 4 BC, and that Jesus' birth was therefore in that year, or, far more likely, one or two years before. If that is the case, then we know who the governor of Syria was at the time: Publius Quinctilius Varus. If Quirinius had some leading administrative position in Syria at the time, and this is what 'hegemon' refers to, then we may ask why Luke did not refer to Varus. And is there evidence of dual governorship of provinces, if indeed this was the case in Syria?

    It is possible that Quirinius could have been the procurator of Syria while Varus was the legate. A procurator was the title of various officials in the Roman Empire, including governors of smaller provinces. The title was also held by chief financial officers, who obviously would have worked alongside and supported governors of provinces.

    As far as I have seen, there is no direct evidence that Quirinius held such a position in the province of Syria. But lack of documentary evidence doesn't prove the lack of something. We can still argue that such a position was plausible based on circumstantial evidence. This can never lead to proof, but it can counter the claim that the biblical account can be proven false. If in 6-4 BC Quirinius had been in, for example, Britain, then we could never make this argument. But we know where Quirinius was during this period (more accurately around 5-3 BC). He was engaged in war against the Homonadenses, a tribe based in the Taurus mountains just north of Cilicia (which adjoins Syria).

    In 27 BC Cilicia became part of the province of Syria-Cilicia Phoenice. It was not until 72 AD under Vespasian that Cilicia became a separate province. Therefore it is extremely hard to believe that Quirinius did not have some form of authority within the province of Syria-Cilicia Phoenice during the period of the war against the Homonadenses, even though he was not the official governor or 'legate'. There is speculation that Quirinius may have been the legate of the northern province of Galatia, to the north of the Taurus mountains, but this theory is as speculative as the one I have put forward. Galatia became a Roman province in 25 BC, and was considered an economic and political backwater - perhaps not the ideal springboard for a major military campaign.

    Is there any evidence that dual governorships ever existed in the Roman Empire?

    We have the example of Gaius Licinius Mucianus, who was governor of Syria from the outbreak of the Jewish Revolt in 66 AD and his governorship came to an end in 69 AD. He failed to put down the revolt and Vespasian was sent to replace him, but not as governor, since the next governor of Syria was Lucius Caesennius Paetus. What it means is that Vespasian took over the military authority relating to the suppression of the revolt in Palestine (which came under Syria's authority), while Mucianus returned to continue administering the internal affairs of Syria. Tacitus refers to Vespasian as 'dux' (commander, general - not an official title), and he held the same technical rank as Mucianus. In other words, during a time of war, it is possible to have two 'governors', one administering the internal affairs of the province, while the other concentrates on foreign and military affairs. It is therefore highly plausible that a similar situation could have been the case in Syria in the middle of the last decade BC. Quirinius could have stood in the same relation to Varus as Vespasian vis-a-vis Mucianus. Quirinius would have dealt with foreign matters, hence Luke's reference to him rather than Varus. It makes logical sense.

    But supposing Quirinius was a 'governor' (of some description) of Syria around 5 BC, what about the census?

    I'll tackle that one in another post. So more anon...

  • Comment number 88.

    2016 words in post 87. Graham of the gaps stood out as the previous champion when it came to using many, many words to try to address something that was a real problem to him (1100+ words in his unsuccessful attempt to wriggle from under his repeated god of the gaps argument blundering). But LSV has jumped far ahead of him, setting the bar nearly twice as high at 2016 words.

    Dear bloggers, please join me in a round of applause to LSV.

  • Comment number 89.

    Helio -

    Just following on from my last post...

    I made the point that Quirinius would probably have had a position of authority within the province of Syria in order to wage the military campaign against the Homonadenses. This is further strengthened by the following evidence from Vol X, The Cambridge Ancient History: The Augustan Empire 43 B.C. - A.D. 69:

    Syria held Rome's principal military installation in the East. Three, later four, legions were stationed there, a show of strength to Parthia, and a garrison to intervene at need in Asia Minor or Palestine. (emphasis added).

    This particular section was written by Prof. Erich S. Gruen, Univ. of California, and, of course, it relates to the period in question.

    This is pretty strong evidence that a campaign against the Homonadenses (in Asia Minor) would have been conducted from the south in Syria, and Quirinius would most probably have had his command there, since it was the military centre of the region.

  • Comment number 90.

    I agree with Helio. It seems pretty smug and self satisfied to say everyone else's version of Christmas is *cheap* and *cheerless*. But then again, it's just a weakness of human nauture to think somehow we're better,always on the side of right and everyone else is wrong- or their life is somehow *cheaper* if they don't display the exact same set of behaviours.I guess it must be an animal thing

  • Comment number 91.

    Peter Klaver -

    Well thank you for the free advertising of my post.

    It seems that the 'season of goodwill' bug has bitten even you, Peter.

  • Comment number 92.


    Look up the phrase tl;dr


    (and it's not a typo)

  • Comment number 93.

    Excellent dissertation LSV.

    1. Is there direct evidence that can prove that the historical details of the two biblical nativity accounts can be reconciled?.......
    I will concede to you that it is probably true that the biblical account cannot be proven true.

    That would be a no then.

    2. In the absence of any direct evidence (i.e. independent evidence) is there at least a reasonably plausible explanation which will reconcile the nativity accounts?........
    a strong case could be put that the accounts in the gospels can be treated like witness accounts in a criminal trial; different witnesses give different accounts - with errors creeping in.

    I would submit M'lud that the evidence in this case fails to rise above that of mythical account.

  • Comment number 94.

    Natman -

    Shame on you.

    Even Mr James managed to read it (or at least some of it), and that's saying something!

    But am I really bovvered?


  • Comment number 95.

    Well there's three quality responses to LSV!

  • Comment number 96.

    Helio, Ryan, Natman, Dave et al;
    God rest ye merry gentlemen!

    And peterm2, sorry for the misunderstanding about post 29

  • Comment number 97.

    ...and PeterKlaver, and RJB too; you see, people who profess Christianity (like Lord Bannside in the "Top ten religion stories" thread), don't wish to leave anyone out.

  • Comment number 98.

    lol Theopane Im not an Atheist. But I understand it's hard to look out of one's own specific Religious Clique and see anything but ..oh how should I put it, muslims have a nice word... infidels

  • Comment number 99.


    I seem to remember Lord Bannside being quite happy to leave many members of the community out of things like having relationships, jobs or any human dignity etc simply because they didn't agree with his warped and bigoted religious views.

    But Happy Holiday to you and may all your noodles be al dente.

  • Comment number 100.

    And he mentioned RJB and me in one post too. I'm not sure how to interpret it RJB, but it seems you may have been ranked in the same category as an atheist baddie like me.


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