The opening chapters of two of our canonical Gospels, those of Matthew and Luke, are devoted to narratives of the birth and infancy of Jesus; the story in each case being entirely isolated from the body of the work, which starts abruptly thirty years later, as do the other two Gospels, with the baptism by John and the outset of the ministry.
It will be agreed that the incidents claimed as belonging to exterior history that happen to be involved in these narratives of the nativity cannot be satisfactorily treated as absolutely detached from the ordinary secular records of the country and period in which they took place, though they have been too often dealt with in that manner, but, on the contrary, if we are to form a sound judgment respecting them, they must be studied in intimate conjunction with authentic history.
It is proposed in the present work, not only to take note of what has been already pertinently advanced on the subject of the consistency with history of the incidents recorded in this part of the Gospel narratives, but to introduce further considerations called for by recent developments of the argument and rendered possible by the increasing precision of our knowledge of detail bearing on Egyptian and Roman contemporary history.
In carrying out this plan the actual story of the birth and parentage of Jesus in either Gospel will not be intruded on. This is in its simplest form but an episode of family life, separable from any outside national or political occurrences, and owing to the supernatural wonders that attended it, incapable either of proof by the demonstration that the reporters of it are found to have correctly represented historical events which they link with it, or of disproof in that they may have made statements which are not easily to be reconciled with what we know of the historic personages involved in the story.
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TEXT CREDIT: Our Records of the Nativity and modern historical research: a reply to Prof. Ramsey's thesis