In the coffee shop last night I noticed The Times had a large banner on the front page bearing the heading “Three? Wise? Men? Asks the Archbishop”. When I turned to page three I was confronted by an article entitled “It’s all a Christmas Tall Story”. The article has a tone which paints Rowan Williams as having said something controversial. In the interview that is quoted, the Archbishop points out many of the glaring additions to the Nativity such as snow, a donkey and Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar.
The chances of any snow falling around the stable in Bethlehem were “very unlikely”. And as for the star rising and then standing still: the Archbishop pointed out that stars just don’t behave like that.
As with many biblical narratives, it all seems a little unbelievable because of the popular modern additions and myths surrounding the even. Popular modern mythology tells us that Mary wore blue and rode a donkey to a stable where three kings arrived with gifts.
This type of ‘biblical’ story telling in the style of Disney is reminiscent of the Exodus. In the Disney narrative, Moses floats down the Nile in a basket past a crocodile, hippo, cruise liner and heavy seas. The simple narrative becomes unbelievable because of the additions often made by well meaning children’s writers and Sunday school teachers.
Needless to say, the way the Archbishop was reported upon has led to quite a lot of backlash despite his assertion that he believes in the virgin birth. The article asserts that “Dr Williams’s views are strictly in line with orthodox Christian teaching. The Archbishop is sticking to what the Bible actually says”. Still he is “a classic example of why the Archbishop and other Christians in high places should be very careful about what they say in public”. Sometimes you just can’t win with some people!
So who is misleading people? The Archbishop? The Times? People’s perception of what they believe they have read?