The writer of that portion of the Gospel according to Matthew which treats of the place in which Jesus was born, implies, as we stated in our last chapter, that he was born in a house. His words are these:
"Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east" to worship him. "And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother."
The writer of the Luke version implies that he was born in a stable, as the following statement will show:
"The days being accomplished that she (Mary) should be delivered . . . she brought forth her first-born son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, there being no room for him in the inn."
If these accounts were contained in these Gospels in the time of Eusebius, the first ecclesiastical historian, who flourished during the Council of Nice (A. D. 327), it is very strange that, in speaking of the birth of Jesus, he should have omitted even mentioning them, and should have given an altogether different version. He tells us that Jesus was neither born in a house, nor in a stable, but in a cave, and that at the time of Constantine a magnificent temple was erected on the spot, so that the Christians might worship in the place where their Saviour's feet had stood.
In the apocryphal Gospel called "Protevangelion," attributed to James, the brother of Jesus, we are informed that Mary and her husband, being away from their home in Nazareth, and when within three miles of Bethlehem, to which city they were going, Mary said to Joseph:
"Take me down from the ass, for that which is in me presses to come forth."
Joseph, replying, said:
"Whither shall I take thee, for the place is desert?"
Then said Mary again to Joseph:
"Take me down, for that which is within me mightily presses me."
Joseph then took her down from off the ass, and he found there a cave and put her into it. Joseph then left Mary in the cave, and started toward Bethlehem for a midwife, whom he found and brought back with him. When they neared the spot a bright cloud overshadowed the cave.
"But on a sudden the cloud became a great light in the cave, so their eyes could not bear it. But the light gradually decreased, until the infant appeared and sucked the breast of his mother."
Tertullian (A. D. 200), Jerome (A. D. 375) and other Fathers of the Church, also state that Jesus was born in a cave, and that the heathen celebrated, in their day, the birth and Mysteries of their Lord and Saviour Adonis in this very cave near Bethlehem.
Canon Farrar says:
"That the actual place of Christ's birth was a cave, is a very ancient tradition, and this cave used to be shown as the scene of the event even so early as the time of Justin Martyr (A. D. 150)."
Mr. King says:
"The place yet shown as the scene of their (the Magi's) adoration at Bethlehem is a cave."
The Christian ceremonies in the Church of the Nativity at Bethlehem are celebrated to this day in a cave, and are undoubtedly nearly the same as were celebrated, in the same place, in honor of Adonis, in the time of Tertullian and Jerome; and as are yet celebrated in Rome every Christmasday, very early in the morning.
We see, then, that there are three different accounts concerning the place in which Jesus was born. The first, and evidently true one, was that which is recorded by the Matthew narrator, namely, that he was born in a house. The stories about his being born in a stable or in a cave were later inventions, caused from the desire to place him in as humble a position as possible in his infancy, and from the fact that the virgin-born Saviours who had preceded him had almost all been born in a position the most humiliating —such as a cave, a cow-shed, a sheep-fold, &c.—or had been placed there after birth. This was a part of the universal mythos. As illustrations we may mention the following:
Crishna, the Hindoo virgin-born Saviour, was born in a cave, fostered by an honest herdsman, and, it is said, placed in a sheep-fold shortly after his birth.
How-Tseih, the Chinese "Son of Heaven," when an infant, was left unprotected by his mother, but the sheep and oxen protected him with loving care.
Abraham, the Father of Patriarchs, is said to have been born in a cave.
Bacchus, who was the son of God by the virgin Semele, is said to have been born in a cave, or placed in one shortly after his birth.
Philostratus, the Greek sophist and rhetorician, says, "the inhabitants of India had a tradition that Bacchus was born at Nisa, and was brought up in a cave on Mount Meros."
Æsculapius, who was the son of God by the virgin Coronis, was left exposed, when an infant, on a mountain, where he was found and cared for by a goatherd.
Romulus, who was the son of God by the virgin Rhea-Sylvia, was left exposed, when an infant, on the banks of the river Tiber, where he was found and cared for by a shepherd.
Adonis, the "Lord" and "Saviour," was placed in a cave shortly after his birth.
Apollo (Phoibos), son of the Almighty Zeus, was born in a cave at early dawn.
Mithras, the Persian Saviour, was born in a cave or grotto, at early dawn.
Hermes, the son of God by the mortal Maia, was born early in the morning, in a cave or grotto of the Kyllemian hill.
Attys, the god of the Phrygians, was born in a cave or grotto.
The object is the same in all of these stories, however they may differ in detail, which is to place the heaven-born infant in the most humiliating position in infancy.
We have seen it is recorded that, at the time of the birth of Jesus "there was a great light in the cave, so that the eyes of Joseph and the midwife could not bear it." This feature is also represented in early Christian art. "Early Christian painters have represented the infant Jesus as welcoming three Kings of the East, and shining as brilliantly as if covered with phosphuretted oil."
In all pictures of the Nativity, the light is made to arise from the body of the infant, and the father and mother are often depicted with glories round their heads. This too was a part of the old mythos, as we shall now see. The moment Crishna was born, his mother became beautiful, and her form brilliant. The whole cave was splendidly illuminated, being filled with a heavenly light, and the countenances of his father and his mother emitted rays of glory.
So likewise, it is recorded that, at the time of the birth of Buddha, "the Saviour of the World," which, according to one account, took place in an inn, "a divine light diffused around his person," so that "the Blessed One" was "heralded into the world by a supernatural light."
When Bacchus was born, a bright light shone round him, so that, "there was a brilliant light in the cave."
When Apollo was born, a halo of serene light encircled his cradle, the nymphs of heaven attended, and bathed him in pure water, and girded a broad golden band around his form.
When the Saviour Æsculapius was born, his countenance shone like the sun, and he was surrounded by a fiery ray.
In the life of Zoroaster the common mythos is apparent. He was born in innocence of an immaculate conception of a Ray of the Divine Reason. As soon as he was born, the glory arising from his body enlightened the whole room, and he laughed at his mother.
It is stated in the legends of the Hebrew Patriarchs that, at the birth of Moses, a bright light appeared and shone around.
There is still another feature which we must notice in these narratives, that is, the contradictory statements concerning the time when Jesus was born. As we shall treat of this subject more fully in the chapter on "The Birthday of Christ Jesus," we shall allude to it here simply as far as necessary.
The Matthew narrator informs us that Jesus was born in the days of Herod the King, and the Luke narrator says he was born when Cyrenius was Governor of Syria, or later. This is a very awkward and unfortunate statement, as Cyrenius was not Governor of Syria until some ten years after the time of Herod.
The cause of this dilemma is owing to the fact that the Luke narrator, after having interwoven into his story, of the birth of Jesus, the old myth of the tax or tribute, which is said to have taken place at the time of the birth of some previous virgin-born Saviours, looked among the records to see if a taxing had ever taken place in Judea, so that he might refer to it in support of his statement. He found the account of the taxing, referred to above, and without stopping to consider when this taxing took place, or whether or not it would conflict with the statement that Jesus was born in the days of Herod, he added to his narrative the words: "And this taxing was first made when
Cyrenius was governor of Syria."
We will now show the ancient myth of the taxing. According to the Vishnu Purana, when the infant Saviour Crishna was born, his foster father, Nanda, had come to the city to pay his tax or yearly tribute to the king. It distinctly speaks of Nanda, and other cowherds, "bringing tribute or tax to Kansa" the reigning monarch.
It also describes a scene which took place after the taxes had been paid. Vasudeva, an acquaintance of Nanda's, "went to the wagon of Nanda, and found Nanda there, rejoicing that a son (Crishna) had been born to him. "Vasudeva spoke to him kindly, and congratulated him on having a son in his old age.
"'Thy yearly tribute,' he added, 'has been paid to the king . . . why do you delay, now that your affairs are settled? Up, Nanda, quickly, and set off to your own pastures.' . . . Accordingly Nanda and the other cowherds returned to their village."
Now, in regard to Buddha, the same myth is found. Among the thirty-two signs which were to be fulfilled by the mother of the expected Messiah (Buddha), the fifth sign was recorded to be, "that she would be on a journey at the time of her child's birth." Therefore, "that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets," the virgin Maya, in the tenth month after her heavenly conception, was on a journey to her father, when lo, the birth of the Messiah took place under a tree. One account says that "she had alighted at an inn when Buddha was born."
The mother of Lao-tsze, the Virgin-born Chinese sage, was away from home when her child was born. She stopped to rest under a tree, and there, like the virgin Maya, gave birth to her son.
Pythagoras (B. C. 570), whose real father was the Holy Ghost, was also born at a time when his mother was away from home on a journey. She was travelling with her husband, who was about his mercantile concerns, from Samos to Sidon.
Apollo was born when his mother was away from home. The Ionian legend tells the simple tale that Leto, the mother of the unborn Apollo, could find no place to receive her in her hour of travail until she came to Delos. The child was born like Buddha and Lao-tsze—under a tree. The mother knew that he was destined to be a being of mighty power, ruling among the undying gods and mortal men.
Thus we see that the stories, one after another, relating to the birth and infancy of Jesus, are simply old myths, and are therefore not historical.