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PolitiFact Misses the Mark on Jesus

I love PolitiFact. I follow them on Facebook, and I always appreciate the fact-checking they do every time a politician makes a claim. Last week, they had an article that caught my eye, titled “Jesus was an ‘undocumented immigrant,’ ordained minister says.” The minister, Ryan Eller, is the executive director of a group that works to promote awareness about immigration issues, and he was trying to point out that people shouldn’t be so judgmental toward undocumented immigrants — that even Jesus would have been considered an undocumented immigrant when he and his family fled to Egypt to avoid persecution from Herod.

PolitiFact decided to investigate this claim, and they quickly pointed out that during Jesus’s life, Egypt was part of the Roman Empire. Therefore, the comparison doesn’t really hold up — Jesus and his family were still traveling within the boundaries of the same empire, which was allowable under Roman law.

All of that is fine. But where I have a bit of a problem is that PolitiFact didn’t deal with this as thoroughly as they could have. Consider this paragraph, for instance:

Even though many scholars don’t agree on the exact years Jesus was born or moved to Nazareth as a youth, we know the family left Egypt after Herod the Great died in 4 B.C.E. The region known as Judaea (where Bethlehem was) became a Roman province in 6 C.E., after Rome removed Herod’s son Archelaus, who had become king of that portion of Herod’s kingdom. Nazareth, meanwhile, was in Galilee, an area later ruled by Herod’s son Antipas, known as the king who eventually beheaded John the Baptist.

“We know”?! No, we really don’t know. Yes, if Matthew’s story (his is the only gospel that tells us about this flight to Egypt) is to be believed, then Jesus’s family left Egypt after the death of Herod. But we don’t really know that Jesus’s family went there in the first place. Earlier in the article, we read this:

Luke 2:1-5 says Joseph lived in Nazareth with Mary, who was pregnant with Jesus, when the Roman emperor called for all the residents of the empire to be counted and taxed. Joseph left for Bethlehem, where King David had been born, because Joseph had roots there.

Anyone who celebrates Christmas is pretty aware what happened in Bethlehem, but Eller is referring to what happened after that.

Matthew 2:12-16 describes how the Magi visited Jesus, then were warned by God in a dream not to tell King Herod, who wanted to kill the child. Joseph then took Mary and Jesus to Egypt. According to Matthew, Herod then had every male child in Bethlehem younger than 2 killed. Verses 17-23 say Joseph moved the family back to Nazareth after Herod died.

But here’s the thing, as many of you who read this blog know, it’s pretty apparent that Luke’s and Matthew’s versions of Jesus’s birth can’t be reconciled with one another. One or both of them is a fabrication. According to Luke, Joseph and Mary are from Nazareth and are only in Bethlehem temporarily; therefore, it’s only in their version that we have the manger scene. Shepherds come to witness his birth, but no wise men are mentioned. According to Luke, around 6 weeks after Jesus’s birth, the family goes to Jerusalem to present him at the temple, do the sacrifices, etc. And once they finish that, they go straight home to Nazareth.

Matthew, on the other hand, starts his account with Mary and Joseph already in Bethlehem. There’s no mention of a trip to Jerusalem, and there’s no mention of the shepherds who witness his birth. However, we’re told that when he was born, some “wise men from the east” traveled to Jerusalem to find him. We have no idea how much time has passed since his birth. But after the wise men tell Herod why they’re there, Herod decides to kill all the children in Bethlehem under the age of two in an effort to eradicate this threat to his throne. Joseph is warned of this by an angel, and he and the family flee to Egypt. Matthew also tells us this was done in accordance with some prophecies, but when you look at those “prophecies” in their original context, you see that they aren’t prophecies at all. It’s also important to note that no historians of the time talk about this slaughter of children that supposedly took place, even those who had no love for Herod. Finally, Matthew tells us that after Herod’s death, the family decides to go back to Judea (the province in which Bethlehem is situated). However, Joseph worries that Herod’s son, who has now taken the throne, might still be a threat. So instead of going back to Judea, they go to Galilee and settle “in a city called Nazareth,” which seems like an odd way to refer to their hometown.

In Matthew’s version, instead of a journey to Jerusalem, it becomes the most dangerous place they could travel to. And in Luke’s version, there’s no mention of a trip to Egypt. Instead, they go to Jerusalem shortly after Jesus’s birth and then go home to Nazareth. Traveling to Egypt is simply unnecessary. Even if Herod had actually decided to kill all the children in Bethlehem, there was still no reason to go to Egypt. They could simply have gone back home to Nazareth. The city wasn’t under Herod’s control, and he didn’t actually know who they were, anyway.

In other words, there’s very little reason to think that Jesus ever went to Egypt at all. I know PolitiFact isn’t in the business of fact-checking religion. But since they took the time to examine this preacher’s claim, why not address it fully? Their entire shtick is fact-checking. I don’t expect them to flat-out say that Jesus never went to Egypt. But they could have at least mentioned that there’s no scholarly consensus about whether or not this even happened.

It reminds me of an article that Lawrence Krauss wrote for the New Yorker a couple of days ago that describes why scientists should stop being so PC with religion. We can still be respectful of individuals without compromising our standards of truth when it comes to their belief systems. And I feel that PolitiFact got it wrong this time.

47 thoughts on “PolitiFact Misses the Mark on Jesus”

  1. Great piece, Nate, and good to see you back.

    I love the infancy gospels. In the 18th Chapter of the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, the five year old Jesus is on his way to Egypt and kills a whole family of dragons… Yes, DRAGONS, a bunch of them living in a cave!

    That definitely happened 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks, John! It’s great to be back. Hopefully, it will be a regular thing.

    You know, I’ve never gotten around to reading the infancy gospels — I really should. They always sound highly entertaining.

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  3. Oh, they are! Jesus murders heaps of kids in them, blows snakes apart, heads up a gang, and blinds all the adults in Nazareth because they piss him off when they tell him he has to stop killing kids and harassing travelers. It’s great stuff!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. When Jesus was a toddler, did he know God and know the scriptures he helped write?

    If he did, then it seems like he’d also know how to walk and talk, since that seems lessor than knowing the secretes of God and the universe.

    If he did not, then was he really Deity?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Matthew sent Yeshua to Egypt in order to tie Jesus into OT prophecies – “Out of Egypt I have called my son” – Matthew, more than any other pseudo-gospel writer, tried to pull prophecies from the OT and claim they legitimized Yeshua as the Messiah.

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  6. Great to see another post Nate.

    I find it interesting that despite the differences between Matthew and Luke, apologists claim there are no contradictions. Apparently apologists have painstakingly developed a scenario to reconcile the birth narratives of Luke and Matthew. But whatever way you do it requires and inventive reading of the text.

    What it shows is that peoples presuppositions override evidence. The presupposition is the Bible is without error. So the interpreter says where a contradiction arises it can’t be a real contradiction, even when no reasonable explanation can be found.

    Another obvious issue between Matthew and Luke are the different Genealogies – apologists says one in Mary and the other is that of Joseph, but the text does not support that.

    In regard to the Resurrection appearances, in Matthew the disciples are told to go to Galilee, whereas in Luke they are told to stay in Jerusalem.

    If folk won’t accept that the above two examples are proof of contradiction then they will never accept a contradiction as existing. It just proves that presupposition overrides evidence.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. John, at one thing which the infancy Gospels show is that there was a culture of developing ‘pious’ fiction in the early church. We know that there were many other Gospels and stories around that did not make it to the Bible. Even the Gospel of Luke attests to the many that had written.

    How do we know where the line between fact and fiction really was?

    When one of the early bishops of the church decided to reject one of the alternative gospel accounts (which the church has since destroyed). Around 200 AD, Serapion, Bishop of Antioch, found that some churches under his control were using the Gospel of Peter. The Bishop went and got a copy, read it and found he did not agree with all of its theology so concluded it must be false and forbade the churches to continue using it.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I love PolitiFact. I follow them on Facebook, and I always appreciate the fact-checking they do every time a politician makes a claim.

    You might also enjoy crooksandliars.com

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  9. We both agree that there were many gospels – do you know why only four made it into the NT? Because there were four corners of the earth. Does that make any sense to anyone in the 21st century?

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Peter wrote: “We know that there were many other Gospels and stories around that did not make it to the Bible.”

    In his paper “The Formation of the New Testament Canon”, Richard Carrier writes:

    “Contrary to common belief, there was never a one-time, truly universal decision as to which books should be included in the Bible. It took over a century of the proliferation of numerous writings before anyone even bothered to start picking and choosing, and then it was largely a cumulative, individual and happenstance event, guided by chance and prejudice more than objective and scholarly research, until priests and academics began pronouncing what was authoritative and holy, and even they were not unanimous.

    Every church had its favored books, and since there was nothing like a clearly-defined orthodoxy until the 4th century, there were in fact many simultaneous literary traditions. The illusion that it was otherwise is created by the fact that the church that came out on top simply preserved texts in its favor and destroyed or let vanish opposing documents. Hence what we call “orthodoxy” is simply “the church that won.

    https://www.yumpu.com/en/document/view/25762041/the-formation-of-the-new-testament-canon-richard-carrier

    ——————–

    Nate, great to see you. Great post, too. Welcome back.

    Liked by 3 people

  11. As I’ve mentioned on other blogs, the “Jesus and the woman taken in adultery” story wasn’t added to the NT until, as Neuro mentions, the fourth century CE, and even then, it was placed into the Gospel of Luke, and it wasn’t until some time later, that it was moved to the Gospel of John because church leaders felt it sounded more like something John would write. At no point, as far as I’m aware, did anyone ask if it were true.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Yes Arch, I gathered it did not make it into the Western Church manuscript of John until the 10th century.

    As an aside Arch, have you ever wondered if this women was caught in adultery where the man was?

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  13. It doesn’t matter, in a misogynistic society, the man is always right. Wouldn’t it be great to go back in time? Nowdays, you have to ask, if a man walks into the woods and speaks, and there’s no woman around to hear him, is he still wrong?

    I’ve no doubt that Neuro would be only too glad to answer that.

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  14. The actual question is: “If a man alone in the woods speaks, and his wife cannot hear him, is he still wrong?”

    “Applying the Psi function, the more vague the statement of the man the greater the probability of him being correct. The narrower and more specific his utterance the greater the likelihood of his being wrong.

    Also, the Principle of Complementarity assures us that if a man alone in the woods speaks, and his wife can not hear him, he is BOTH right and wrong until he comes out of the woods.

    In the analogy of Schrodinger’s Cat, the cat in the box is both dead and alive until someone opens the lid. The act of observing the phenomenon determines the outcome.

    Thus, the inevitable conclusion is that it doesn’t matter what the man says only his wife can determine whether or not he is correct.”

    http://www.math.psu.edu/tseng/inwoods.html

    Liked by 3 people

  15. That logic Victoria referred to reminds me of the temperature of hell argument:

    The following is supposedly an actual question given on a University of Washington chemistry mid-term. The answer by one student was so “profound” that the professor shared it with colleagues via the Internet, which is, of course, why we now have the pleasure of enjoying it as well.

    Bonus Question: Is Hell exothermic (gives off heat) or endothermic (absorbs heat)?
    Most of the students wrote proofs of their beliefs using Boyle’s Law (gas cools when it expands and heats when it is compressed) or some variant.

    One student, however, wrote the following:

    First, we need to know how the mass of Hell is changing in time. So we need to know the rate at which souls are moving into Hell and the rate at which they are leaving. I think that we can safely assume that once a soul gets to Hell, it will not leave. Therefore, no souls are leaving.

    As for how many souls are entering Hell, let’s look at the different religions that exist in the world today. Most of these religions state that if you are not a member of their religion, you will go to Hell. Since there is more than one of these religions and since people do not belong to more than one religion, we can project that all souls go to Hell.

    With birth and death rates as they are, we can expect the number of souls in Hell to increase exponentially. Now, we look at the rate of change of the volume in Hell because Boyle’s Law states that in order for the temperature and pressure in Hell to stay the same, the volume of Hell has to expand proportionately as souls are added.

    This gives two possibilities:
    1. If Hell is expanding at a slower rate than the rate at which souls enter Hell, then the temperature and pressure in Hell will increase until all Hell breaks loose.

    2. If Hell is expanding at a rate faster than the increase of souls in Hell, then the temperature and pressure will drop until Hell freezes over.
    So which is it?

    If we accept the postulate given to me by Teresa during my Freshman year that, “it will be a cold day in Hell before I go out with you”, and take into account the fact that I went out with her last night, then number 2 must be true, and thus I am sure that Hell is exothermic and has already frozen over.

    The corollary of this theory is that since Hell has frozen over, it follows that it is not accepting any more souls and is therefore extinct . . . leaving only Heaven, thereby proving the existence of a divine being, which explains why last night Teresa kept shouting “Oh, my God!”

    THIS STUDENT RECEIVED THE ONLY “A”.

    Liked by 4 people

  16. @archaeopteryx1 – If I recall correctly, Wheless pointed out that the 4 gospels/4 corners of the Earth was an early ‘pious fiction’ to conceal the fact that the use of 4 gospels was to conciliate 4 differing major factions of Christianity which each had their own version of the story. This early ‘pious fiction’ is on a par with the notion that Republican voter ID requirements are to prevent voter fraud rather than to disenfranchise disadvantaged minorities more likely to vote Democratic. Doublespeak began early.

    Like

  17. A university of Washington Midterm Bonus Question just changed my life.

    If only I knew the student’s name, i’d be sure to write his name in as my vote for president.

    Like

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