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

3.95  ·  Rating details ·  694 Ratings  ·  98 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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Dec 28, 2016 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
Tanya Spackman
Dec 26, 2016 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 02, 2012 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 20, 2011 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
mahatma anto
Jun 17, 2008 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 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 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
Jan 24, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you are looking to reconstruct your thoughts about Christmas, if you've lost your faith and the deconstructed bricks are lying in a messy pile around you, this is the tool with which to examine those bricks and build anew with fresh insight.

For example: where just a couple years ago I would have dismissed an image of the crucifixion with a thought that "yeah, hundreds, thousands of people died by crucifixion, so what? Let's not glorify one man and forget all those others", now instead I see a
Matt Ely
Dec 18, 2016 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
James Scott
Nov 22, 2017 rated it liked it
I don't always agree with his conclusions, but I have found every book by Marcus Borg deeply fascinating. This book is no exception, putting the Christmas story in a deeper historical and theological light. Forcing us to remember it's context with the Old Testament and the greater world of the First Century. Remove the sappy holiday trappings from the nativity story and remember the greater import that the Gospel narratives hold
Sep 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
As usual, John Dominic Crossan and Marcos Borg illuminate what we get wrong about Jesus--here dealing with his infancy story--and moves that narrative past the simple Christmas of our popular imagination. It is instead a powerful story of peace, justice, and the importance of those on society's bottom rung.
Mark H
Feb 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Just another Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan explication of what it is to be a Christian in the times we live in. Full of surprises to those who do not know of the real stories and truths of the Christmas story.

You can't go wrong with this read...
Margie Dorn
Dec 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The perfect reading for this time of year, in between all the bits and pieces of all of the different kinds of preparation.
Jun 29, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction-read
Interesting study of the Nativity as parable--interesting insights.
Jan 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
A bit dense but good content.
Nov 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Opened my mind for an entirely new way of understanding just how radical Jesus was and, for that matter, still is.
S. Nichols
Dec 10, 2017 rated it it was ok
A literary versus theological analysis of Jesus written from Mark and Luke’s perspective.
Laurie Finn
Jan 03, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have read this book during Advent for the past few years. I appreciate understanding more about parables and about the influence of the Enlightenment on just about all of us. I get a little bogged down in the middle third of the book when nearly every sentence is followed by a scripture citation. Even though I usually keep a Bible on hand as I read the book, I find myself juggling the two books during that part of the book. Doing so tires me, slows me down to glacial reading speed, and discour ...more
Jason Engwer
Nov 27, 2016 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
Dec 27, 2015 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 01, 2013 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 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
Nov 29, 2016 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
Ellen Johnson
Feb 17, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: religion
interesting comparison of the 2 christmas stories in Luke and Matthew and pagan mythology. rest of the argument about the reasons the authors included what they did and how that related to the Roman Empire and Christ's place in it. boring
Feb 20, 2009 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
Dec 10, 2007 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 10, 2014 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 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
Oct 04, 2009 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
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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?” 2 likes
“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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