What’s the origin of the Nativity story?
Some of it is in the Bible. The Gospel of Matthew mentions the Wise Men and the Star of Bethlehem, while the Gospel of Luke describes awestruck shepherds and says that Jesus was born in a stable because all the inns were full. Over the centuries, the customary Nativity scene was embellished with other lore, giving us the image of the baby Jesus lying in a manger and surrounded by his parents, Mary and Joseph, as shepherds, oxen, asses, and three Wise Men look on. But we have it on no less an authority than Pope Benedict XVI that the traditional crèche tableau has little basis in fact. There were, for example, likely no animals present, the pope writes in his new book, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives. The tradition of the ox and ass stems from early Christian teachings that even animals recognized Jesus as the Son of God. Benedict is not alone in casting doubt on the popular version of Christ’s birth. “It’s virtually impossible to reduce the accounts to a single core narrative,” said religious historian L. Michael White.