Bits that bug me in the NT

  1. King Herod ordering the slaughter of the innocents - there is no chronicler of the times that ever recorded what surely would have been a pretty major event.

  2. The Cencus that motivated Jesus’ family to go to Bethlehem - again no record of it.

  3. The fact that Jesus had brothers, even if they are half brothers has always slightly bothered me if he were God incarnate.

  4. The wise men following the star - I can believe this but still always has the feel of a fairy tale to me.

Would appreciate any comments and give thanks for this place which enables me every now and again to get things off my chest and to listen to others more learned than myself.


The star could have been an miraculous vision.


A crisis of faith. You are searching for, and have latched onto, reasons not to believe. Rather, try to focus on things that lead you toward belief. The faith has survived for 2,000 years of intense scrutiny and doubts regarding every aspect of it.

I see a bit of the spirit of Thomas working here, in that, if you cannot find empirical and objective evidence, you tend to doubt (or will have difficulty believing). Must something be written to have occurred? To be believable? As to doubt, what did our Lord have to say about it?

We find no secular record of the tower of Siloam falling, or of Pilate’s shedding of Galilean blood in the temple, or of many other contemporary events. Yet, these events have been scripturally recorded and preserved at great cost in blood. To me, that is far superior to a notation by a secular authority.


1 - Most of your questions are covered in Brant Pitre’s book, The Case for Jesus, or in bibliography stuff you can find through it.

2 - Aeh, I don’t think we have to assume you’re having a crisis of faith. Asking about primary sources is always a good idea.

If you want to rely solely on secular sources for Roman history, you’re going to have a hard time of it. Very few sources for any history anywhere are "secular’ in the modern sense. Everywhere in the world, ancient historians are as concerned with the omens and the stuff going on with the gods as with the weather and the crops. More concerned, usually.

So if you think that Livy and Sullust and Suetonius aren’t going to talk about how the entrails looked at a sacrifice done, or that the Roman army wasn’t influenced by its calendar of obligatory god holidays, you haven’t even started reading Roman history yet.

The second thing that makes “secular sources” troublesome is that we no longer have the Imperial Archives. The ones in Rome got burned, or rotted away from disuse. There were other copies, primarily in Constantinople, but of course those went away in 1453, along with the now-lost plays of the Greek dramatists and a lot of other good stuff. And all the provincial copies of Imperial records are gone, too.

So what’s left? The few Roman histories that survived. We don’t have all of Livy. We know the names of more Roman historians whose works perished than of those whose works survived. What we do know about, we know by good luck and stubborn copyists. The same is true of the Greek histories we have. Most of what we have of anything Greek or Roman is through Charlemagne-era copies, or through stuff from before the Fall of Byzantium, or from other stuff we dug up that was buried in trash dumps in the Egyptian desert. We have a lot, but we have lost a lot, too.

Any number of remarkable things could and did happen in the Empire without us having any written historical evidence about it. We are always finding stuff archaeologically which is only a quick reference in Pliny’s Natural History, and which past historians were sure that Pliny made up. (Historians used to disbelieve Pliny’s guesstimate of how much Rome’s trade with India was worth. And then just a few years back, the ocean archaeologists found just one Roman trade ship, loaded down with Indian jewels and goodies. Now historians think Pliny probably underestimated.)

And then there’s the Bible, which is actually one of the most remarkable ancient sources we have, if you really take a secular point of view. Don’t you think that the Egyptian folks would love to have a handy compilation like the Bible, instead of having to pull ancient books off fragments of papyrus, and ancient references off carved or painted walls? Nobody sits around being elaborately skeptical about every single historical topic ever mentioned in Sumerian texts, or Hittite texts, or Sanskrit texts.

But after all the pulling and pushing at the Bible for the last 200+ years, the general historian and archaeologist consensus is that if a historical event is mentioned in a historical book of the Bible, it probably happened, and it happened in the place mentioned at the time referred to. Supporting evidence eventually tends to show up, either in the texts of other countries or in archaeological evidence. So historians tend to trust the Bible accounts as much as they trust anything.

So here’s my advice. If you are really interested in what we know about Jesus’ time, start reading primary sources. There’s no reason to start with reading them in the original languages, but you should start reading them. Greek and Roman historians are easily available in English on the Web, so there’s no reason not to have them under your belt. (And especially Josephus.) Once you know that stuff, read Eusebius and Jerome’s historical stuff. They cover some of your questions.

You can also start reading about Biblical, Middle Eastern, and Roman archaeology. (Avoid the Naked Archeologist guy, though, unless you like quacks. I used to watch his show, but only for the pictures of famous places. Otherwise, watching him is like watching a ufo show.)


I’ve had problems with some of those same questions, and I have found simple answers.

  1. This one bothered me perhaps the most. Such a significant event would certainly have been recorded elsewhere by some secular historian. However, the answer I have accepted is that the gospels were written and popularly known within the same century of the slaughter of the innocents, and no one raised an objection to it back then (at least not that I could ever find.) Considering how many people objected to Christianity in the beginning, you’d think that would be one thing they’d point out over and over.

  2. Same as above. The people reading the gospels obviously knew what was meant by the census, and perhaps we just misunderstand what it means.

  3. It isn’t clear that the word translated as “brothers and sisters” means siblings, but could also refer to extended family (cousins.) Catholics don’t believe that Joseph would have dared to go where God passed through, thus Mary would have remained a virgin. Personally, it is what I believe, but I’m not offended by those who believe differently. I don’t think it’s enough reason to abandon the church which Christ established through the Apostles.

  4. Scholars have pondered over that one. I have heard many theories, ranging from wild speculation to perhaps reasonable understandings. Only one gospel mentions it, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. It could have been a mystery story, a story with a message which was clear to contemporary readers, or a real event which we don’t fully understand because we have one limited recording of the event. I tend to believe it is both a mystery story and a real event of which we have limited understanding. It was the birth of God in flesh, and there are bound to be aspects of the story which are beyond our understanding.


Vico covered #1 & #2.
There were no brothers. After all this time, don’t you think oodles of people would have come out of the woodwork as relatives? Yet, no one has. Ever.
Mary and Joseph committed to her consecrated virginity. That’s why it didn’t matter if he was much older than she. They had no plan to sleep together in that way. Sex, despite the 21st century disbelief, has never been the only reason to get married for some people. Women of that time needed to be married by social convention and because they never were permitted to own a home of their own. Or livestock, or anything. St. Joseph was considered a good match for Our Lady precisely because of his advanced age.

As far as the Star: there is an excellent documentary called “Bethlehem Star”. Scientifically explains the reality of the night sky and the journey of the Kings.


Bethlehem was a small, backwater town. There may have only been a handful of children there at the time. If a king killed a dozen or so baby boys back then, it probably would have been forgotten by lunchtime.


+Love that marvelously intriguing documentary “Bethlehem Star”! Our family has watched it many times. It is shown several times around Christmas :christmastree1: time on Mother Angelica’s Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN). *Beautifully done expert exposition of marvelously real “celestial” happenings . . . *

“When Jesus therefore was born
in Bethlehem of Juda,
in the days of king Herod, behold,
there came wise men
from the east to Jerusalem.
Where is he that is born king of the Jews?
For we have seen his star in the east,
and are come to adore :heart: him.

Who having heard the king,
went their way;
and behold the star which they had seen in the east,
went before them,
until it came and stood over
where the Child was.
And seeing the star
they rejoiced
with exceeding great joy.”

    • Matthew 2:9-10*

[RIGHT]. . . all for Jesus+[/RIGHT]


Jesus’ brothers were probably His stepbrothers. Would anyone in his right mind have relations with a woman who is the Mother of the Lord?


I’ve been hearing these objections from atheists for years…that Herrod’s slaughter of the children and Jesus turning over tables are big events and there are no other records of these events outside the NT.

Well, i think that is applying modern standards to ancient events. I see such a profound difference in the availability of information from just twenty years ago as opposed to today. Twenty years ago I would hear something word of mouth, but didn’t confirm it was true or not until down the line thanks to lack of internet/social media, etc, etc. And that was just twenty years ago, we are talking 2,000 years ago. I’ll bet there is a ton that happened that history has no or few records of.

The wise men is a prophetic event. and they, themselves, knew of the significance of the star thanks to Numbers 24:17 and went looking for Jesus.


Forget about those paintings and movies which show 1st century Bethlehem as a big city, with infants in every house, with Herod’s soldiers launching this, dramatic massive genocide. For all we know, the killing of the infants could have been a more low-key, covert event.

After all, Bethlehem in the 1st century was just a small village. One archaeologist, William Albright, put the estimate for its population as low as 300 people; most scholars think it would not have exceeded a thousand. A population of 300-1,000 would yield about six or seven babies at the minimum, a far cry from later speculations that put the numbers at the thousands or tens of thousands (!)

Re. the Star of Bethlehem: I know nowadays many folks tend to interpret this in a naturalistic way and say that the star is a kind of visible, prominent planetary conjunction or a comet or a supernova or whatever. But this is actually newer than one might think.

Historically, people have interpreted the Star in a more miraculous way - either an angel or the Holy Spirit manifested in the form of a moving star to guide the Magi to Bethlehem, which would fit in with how people thought of stars back then. Ancient peoples did not see the stars as inanimate, luminous balls of gas, but living creatures who looked back at them and communicated with them (that’s why astrology and astronomy overlapped back then). Ancient Jews in fact saw the stars as angels, the “host of heaven.”

In fact, they pointed out that the Star, if you read the text carefully, does not really act like natural stars or any other kind of astronomical phenomena that it couldn’t have been anything than a miracle. ‘Real’ stars don’t leave the sky and come to earth, nor literally go before people to guide them, nor ‘stand’ over a person, a city or a house. (A textual variant in Matthew’s text doesn’t just say that the Star “stood over where the child was,” but “stood over the child” - i.e. it hovered above baby Jesus’ head.)

For if you can learn what the star was, and of what kind, and whether it were one of the common stars, or new and unlike the rest, and whether it was a star by nature or a star in appearance only, we shall easily know the other things also. Whence then will these points be manifest? From the very things that are written. Thus, that this star was not of the common sort, or rather not a star at all, as it seems at least to me, but some invisible power transformed into this appearance, is in the first place evident from its very course. For there is not, there is not any star that moves by this way, but whether it be the sun you mention, or the moon, or all the other stars, we see them going from east to west; but this was wafted from north to south; for so is Palestine situated with respect to Persia.


In the third place, from its appearing, and hiding itself again. For on their way as far as Palestine it appeared leading them, but after they set foot within Jerusalem, it hid itself: then again, when they had left Herod, having told him on what account they came, and were on the point of departing, it shows itself; all which is not like the motion of a star, but of some power highly endued with reason. For it had not even any course at all of its own, but when they were to move, it moved; when to stand, it stood, dispensing all as need required: in the same kind of way as the pillar of the cloud, now halting and now rousing up the camp of the Jews, when it was needful.

In the fourth place, one may perceive this clearly, from its mode of pointing Him out. For it did not, remaining on high, point out the place; it not being possible for them so to ascertain it, but it came down and performed this office. For you know that a spot of so small dimensions, being only as much as a shed would occupy, or rather as much as the body of a little infant would take up, could not possibly be marked out by a star. For by reason of its immense height, it could not sufficiently distinguish so confined a spot, and discover it to them that were desiring to see it. … How then, tell me, did the star point out a spot so confined, just the space of a manger and shed, unless it left that height and came down, and stood over the very head of the young child? And at this the evangelist was hinting when he said, “Lo, the star went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was.” (John Chrysostom, Homily 6 on Matthew)

The star descended from the heights and came closer to the earth to show the place to them [the magi]. For if it had appeared to them in the heights, how would they have been able to perceive the particular spot where Christ was? For the stars are visible over a great area. You may accordingly behold the moon over your house while it appears to me that it is over my house only. In short, the moon or a star appears to one and all to stand over them alone. So this star could not have indicated where Christ was unless it descended and stood over the head of the child. (Theophylact, Commentary on Matthew 2.9)

And at His birth the star appeared to the Magi who dwelt in the east; and thereby they learned that Christ was born; and they came to Judaea, led by the star; until the star came to Bethlehem where Christ was born, and entered the house wherein was laid the child, wrapped in swaddling-clothes; and it stood over His head, declaring to the Magi the Son of God, the Christ. (Irenaeus, Proof of the Apostolic Preaching 58)

[The star] came down to the very place where the infant was [and it remained] on the Christ [just as, when he later submitted to John’s baptism, the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove descended] and remained on him. (Origen, Homily on Numbers 18.3 [4])


Josephus, in writing at the end of the first century AD may not have been aware of the Massacre of the Innocents in Bethlehem at the end of the first century BC
The Massacre is not attested in secular records, but the plausibility of this event is consistent with the character and actions of Herod the Great
(extract from an article by Associates for Biblical Research)


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