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The First Christmas: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus's Birth

3.95  ·  Rating Details ·  564 Ratings  ·  85 Reviews
The perfect follow-up to The Last Week, Borg and Crossan's The First Christmas is an account of the two nativity narratives in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Borg and Crossan focus on discovering the actual literary story that the Gospels tell. Borg and Crossan feel that history has biased our readings of these texts; we are all so familiar with the nativity story that w ...more
Hardcover, 258 pages
Published October 9th 2007 by HarperOne
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Tanya Spackman
Dec 27, 2016 Tanya Spackman rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I didn't do research on the authors when I picked this book, so when it started out with the theory that the Christmas story is a parable and everyone in it a fictional character, that was a head scratcher. I hit Google and learned the authors are associated with the Jesus Seminar. Ah. That explains things. But despite being seriously theologically mismatched, I kept reading. Though I completely disagree with the driving premise, there is still some interesting info in the book.

For example, nea
Dec 24, 2012 Stephanie rated it really liked it
Thanks to Huston Smith for the phrase "fact fundamentalism," which describes the post-Enlightenment, empirical worldview that if something isn't factually true, then it isn't true at all. We see fact fundamentalists in conservative Christianity and in atheism. Both camps believe a story is true only if it is factual.

What we've lost is the more-than-literal meaning, which was once assumed, is not bound to facts, and is also truth.

Apply this to the nativity stories and our choice is not between f
Mar 28, 2011 Marfita rated it did not like it
Shelves: religion-atheism
They're trying too hard. The parallels with the contemporary material written about Caesar Augustus were very interesting. Augustus was called all the same epithets: son of god, savior (for having ended the civil war), etc. [A friend also keyed me into Julius's adoption of then Octavian rewrote the family tree, which takes the tarnish off of the genealogy of Jesus - if Joseph adopts him, he gets Joseph's family tree. Fine, I'm all down wid dat.]
Although they go in depth defining some terms (euan
Ivonne Rovira
The Sunday School class at Highland Presbyterian Church is reading this book, and my biggest question is, For whom is this book intended? Marcus J. Borg, a New Testament scholar and a professor emeritus from Oregon State University, and John Dominic Crossan, another New Testament scholar who co-chaired the Jesus Seminar, which looked into the historical Jesus, authored the book, which led me to have, perhaps, too high hopes for the book. The material seems a bit -- how can I phrase this tactfull ...more
Dec 05, 2012 mahatma rated it liked it
ini buku memang ditujukan untuk kaum awam.
banyak keterangan yang direntang-rentang, demikian pula istilah-istilah asing dan etimologinya perlu diterangkan lagi. mungkin lebay, tapi ya memang itu diperlukan untuk jenis audiens pembacanya yang umum tadi.
saya memang penggemar tulisan kedua orang ini. yang satu mantan imam dan satunya teolog protestan. keduanya berada dalam satu kubu dalam melakukan studi tentang "the historical jesus".
buku ini salah satu dari kolaborasi mereka berdua, tentang kisah
Dec 13, 2012 Paul rated it really liked it
This one isn't as interesting as the pair's previous book on Easter, The Last Week, but that is mostly due to the source material - two of the gospels don't cover the nativity at all and the other two (which contain two rather different accounts) don't spend all that much time on it. But it's still worth a read if one wants to look at the subject from their usual Progressive Christian perspective - viewing the text as parabolic narrative, close attention to context and how the audience at the ti ...more
Dec 20, 2008 Matt rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Everyone
This book is a fine introduction to the basic theology of Christmas. Treating the birth narratives in the gospels as myth rather than fact - which is rather obviously the case - Borg and Crossan ask us to consider what theological truth lies behind these powerful metaphorical narratives.
Of particular interest is the fact that Borg and Crossan explain in great detail the deliberate contrast between Jesus and his kingdom of peace through justice - and Caesar and his kingdom of peace through conque
Jason Engwer
Nov 27, 2016 Jason Engwer rated it it was ok
Borg and Crossan make a lot of claims about the childhood of Jesus, but without much supporting evidence. Many of their most controversial claims aren't documented. The entire book has eight endnotes, taking up only a portion of one page (259).

They write:

"The issue of the factuality of the birth stories is recent, the product of the last few hundred years. In earlier centuries, their factuality was not a concern for Christians. Rather, the truth of these stories (including their factual truth) w
Jan 02, 2017 Daniel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016
I picked up this book because it was Advent and I wanted something thematically appropriate, I recognized Crossan's name from countless NatGeo and History documentaries, and it was on sale. It turned out to be a better book than I thought it'd be, although I have a feeling it may be a bit controversial to some Christians.

Borg and Crossan's basic premise for the book is that people know the story of the first Christmas mostly from hearsay and popular culture, rather than from the actual biblical
Dec 03, 2016 Eric rated it did not like it
I really wanted to like this book. I tried very hard to like this book. But in the end, I just couldn't.

The premise is interesting (though unfulfilled, more on that in a minute). The authors make the case that arguing over the facts of Jesus's birth is largely a waste of time. It's better, and more meaningful, to set aside the debate over fact and instead explore the meaning of the Christmas stories. Fact or not, what do they tell us today, and why do they tell us this?

While I didn't fully agre
Lauren Read
Jan 17, 2017 Lauren Read rated it liked it
The two Nativity stories, in Matthew & Luke, serve as parabolic overtures -- that is, symbolic tales that miniature summaries of the gospels they precede. Matthew plays with mathematics to create many parallels with Old Testament stories, and Luke puts emphasis on the poor & lowly being raised up. The way in which they are written act to exalt Jesus's birth over those who carried titles of "Lord," "Messiah," "Son of God," etc in his day -- e.g. Herod, Augustus. Rather than peace through ...more
Matt Ely
Dec 18, 2016 Matt Ely rated it really liked it
Shelves: theology, history
A tidy little book on the historical and literary context of the Christmas narratives told in the Bible. It's surprising to see the details parsed out and see how much we conflate.

Ultimately, the author's aren't interested in what "happened," since there's so little you can say with confidence. They aim to ask why the narrative would be written the way it is. Considering the season, I'm glad I gave this one the time it deserves. Thoroughly recommended for anyone interested in hearing about the
Brian White
Dec 19, 2016 Brian White rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found the first 60% of this book to be really insightful. The last third was very repetitious and seemed to lose energy and focus. I would definitely recommend this book for the historical background and the spiritual insight of the last chapter on Advent. It is not, however, a very compelling read and probably would not interest the novice student of the Bible.
Lynn Bingaman
Dec 30, 2016 Lynn Bingaman rated it really liked it
This was an interesting book to read at Christmas time. I never thought of the birth stories as metaphors and parables, but this book makes it quite clear that they are. It gave me many new insights.
Derek Shiels
Jan 02, 2017 Derek Shiels rated it really liked it
Always wish Christian church leaders would preach from this book around Chrismas time since reading it
Dec 22, 2016 Joey rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I did not care for it.
Dec 27, 2015 Rachel rated it really liked it
In this fascinating little book, Borg and Crossan explore the historical meaning behind the birth-of-Jesus story. They first point out the factual differences between Matthew's and Luke's versions of the birth story. Then they explain how, after the Enlightenment, many people want everything to be either literally true or false. Many Christians are in denial of the "factual inconsistencies" in the Bible, and the ones who are aware of the inconsistencies often feel a little uncomfortable and don ...more
Jonna Higgins-Freese
Dec 27, 2013 Jonna Higgins-Freese rated it it was amazing
The message here is the same as Borg's message always is: we may need to re-interpret what scriptures mean for us today, but first we have to understand what they meant to the people who wrote them. What were their concerns, their fears, their problems, the points they were trying to make, and why?

In that context, Borg, as always, does a masterful job of distilling complex, detailed literary-historical-archaeological scholarship into readable materials that any lay person can understand.

By contr
Lee Harmon
Apr 16, 2011 Lee Harmon rated it really liked it
Borg and Crossan collaborate again, this time to discuss the beginning of the Gospel story. I think this is a great partnership, as Borg softens and adds richness to Crossan's scholarship. The two play off each others' strengths. Nevertheless, I don't think this is their best effort; I enjoyed both The Last Week and The First Paul a bit more.

The Christmas Story, formed by splicing together two of the Bible's birth narratives, is a story of joy. (We all rightfully eschew the Bible's third birth s
Dec 26, 2009 Trevor rated it liked it
Shelves: 2009
“[S:]tories of Jesus’ birth were not of major importance to earliest Christianity. Mark wrote a gospel without referring to Jesus’ birth, as John later did. Though the end of Jesus’ life – his crucifixion and resurrection – are utterly central to Paul, he say nothing about how his life began.

…[T:]he reason that references to a special birth do not appear in the earliest Christian writings is either because the stories did not yet exist or because they were still in the process of formation” (The
May 02, 2008 Rebecca rated it liked it
Recommends it for: liberal & progressive Christians
Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan successfully argue that the discrepancies found between Luke and Matthew's Christmas stories are only problematic should one chose to take the biblical narratives literally rather than allegorically. Through a careful analysis of language and symbolic representation, Borg and Crossan reveal how Matthew and Luke both see Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of God's promise to Israel, but communicate this message via different genealogies and troping of the Old Te ...more
Steven Williams
Dec 22, 2014 Steven Williams rated it really liked it
This may be a weird book for an atheist to read. But despite my beliefs, I am quite interested in religious ideas. Having read the authors' The First Paul, which I found to be quite intriguing, a very interesting take on Paul's theology, I was curious how they would approach the birth stories of Jesus. They definitely didn't disappoint. I found them to be quite honest about the historical situation. Their main point was that the stories were to be read as parables. The important thing was to inv ...more
Danny Daley
Dec 08, 2015 Danny Daley rated it liked it
As with every Crossan/and, or/Borg book, this book was a very enjoyable and interesting read, with excellent insights and fair analysis of texts. And as with every Crossan/and, or/Borg book, the most controversial of their claims also happen to come with the least support and evidence.

So many of their observations about the texts, and the stories of Christmas, unlock interesting insights into these texts that are revealing to understanding the intentions of the writers and the situations in whi
Dec 28, 2009 Alicia rated it it was amazing
Shelves: spirituality
This was a very interesting book to read at Christmas time. I'm really glad I read most of it before the Christmas season started. It certainly has made church interesting these last few weeks. Basically, this book starts off with the Christmas story according to Matthew and then the Christmas story according to Luke. The authors compare and contrast how the two stories are different and how they are the same. It is amazing how different the two stories are and how the church has traditionally w ...more
Janet Mahlum
Jan 21, 2015 Janet Mahlum rated it it was ok
I bought this book as a Kindle book. Had I seen it in a bookstore and been able to look through the entire book, I would not have bought it. I thought it might be a useful guide for an Advent study. The first bit might be, the part I was allowed to view on Amazon. However, it quickly moved from a Bible study to a historical study. Some parts of the book are good and useful, hence the two-star rating rather than a one-star. However, the book went places I'm not sure I want to go and is full of ha ...more
Brooke Dilling
Dec 08, 2015 Brooke Dilling rated it really liked it
I read this book because I enjoyed their first book "The Last Week" so much. While I read "The Last Week" years ago it has stuck with me. To me, this book felt harder to read and process. There is a lot of detail - comparing gospels of Matthew and Luke to passages in the Old Testament. Lots of comparisons to Roman history and theology. The book was very dense... and in all likelihood, I'll need to reread and read it more slowly to comprehend a lot of the specifics. Overall, thought - the message ...more
Joel Wentz
Dec 16, 2015 Joel Wentz rated it really liked it
If you know what you're getting into when you read this, then you are likely to enjoy it. Borg and Crossan were prominent in the "Historical Jesus" and Jesus Seminar movements over the past 20 years, and so they have a relatively low view of the historicity of the birth narratives. If you are deeply uncomfortable with that perspective, then spare yourself the pain of reading this.

That being said, there is massive insight to be gained from this little book. The parallels drawn between Jesus and M
Dec 03, 2014 Nikki rated it really liked it
Recommended to Nikki by: Martha
Since this was not the first book I had read by Borg and Crossan, I was not particularly surprised by their points and point of view. Anyone looking for Biblical literalism would be shocked and dismayed by this book; likewise, anyone who looks for historical inaccuracy in the Bible as proof of its not being "true" will also be disappointed. Crossan especially, and also Borg, believe very strongly in a Jesus whose ministry was specifically to the poor and marginalized. This Jesus was, of course, ...more
Lincoln Dall
Jan 15, 2011 Lincoln Dall rated it really liked it
This book is part of the historical Jesus movement, which is receiving quite a backlash right now in many academic Christian circles and seminaries. As a priest, in my humble opinion, there is a lot to be gained from these books if read in a balanced view of Christianity and biblical scholarship. If the historical Jesus movement is all that one reads, it is certainly a skewed and one-sided view of the scholarship that is out there. My homiletics professor from seminary recommended these books by ...more
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Borg was born into a Lutheran family of Swedish and Norwegian descent, the youngest of four children. He grew up in the 1940s in North Dakota and attended Concordia College, Moorhead, a small liberal arts school in Moorhead, Minnesota. While at Moorhead he was a columnist for the school paper and held forth as a conservative. After a close reading of the Book of Amos and its overt message of socia ...more
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“The four-week period of Advent before Christmas—and the six-week period of Lent before Easter—are times of penance and life change for Christians. In our book The Last Week, we suggested that Lent was a penance time for having been in the wrong procession and a preparation time for moving over to the right one by Palm Sunday. That day’s violent procession of the horse-mounted Pilate and his soldiers was contrasted with the nonviolent procession of the donkey-mounted Jesus and his companions. We asked: in which procession would we have walked then and in which do we walk now?” 1 likes
“We face a similar choice each Christmas, and so each Advent is a time of repentance for the past and change for the future. Do we think that peace on earth comes from Caesar or Christ? Do we think it comes through violent victory or nonviolent justice? Advent, like Lent, is about a choice of how to live personally and individually, nationally and internationally.” 1 likes
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