Photograph: Murdo Macleod for the Guardian
Thursday 12 December 2013 07.00 GMT by Dean Burnett, the Guardian
The Nativity (scientifically accurate version)
The nativity is the classic Christmas story still told and performed in schools all over the UK. However, to reflect that we live in a modern, secular society, a new and more scientifically accurate update of the story is needed
Evidence suggests that, despite modern interpretations, most of those present at the original nativity were actually adults.
The nativity is the traditional Christmas story of the birth of Jesus Christ. It is still regularly performed by schoolchildren in the UK, despite the apparent war on Christmas. However, it being an obviously religious story, it’s not very scientifically accurate. But just because you’re a fan of science it shouldn’t mean you miss out on the Christmas spirit. So if you are a keen scientist or science enthusiast who wants to embrace the true meaning of Christmas without compromising your rational world-view, here is the nativity story, updated and edited for scientific accuracy.
The Nativity (scientifically accurate version)
According to many scholars, the events of the nativity took placearound 7 BC. Given that “BC” stands for “before Christ [was born]” and the nativity is the story of the birth of Christ, this means that Christ was born around 7 years before Christ was born.
This is actually one of the least illogical things to happen during the birth of Christ.
The Virgin Mary was betrothed to the carpenter Joseph. However, the Virgin Mary was pregnant with the Messiah. This occurred when Mary was visited by a heavenly angel named Gabrielwho told her that she would become pregnant with a child who would be called Jesus, which is something of a self-fulfilling prediction; if an angel appeared and told you that an all-powerful God wanted your baby to be named Jesus, you’d probably go along with it. I recently met a child named “Audi”, so it doesn’t take much to influence this decision.
According to the Bible, Mary asked the angel how she could become pregnant when she was a virgin, and the angel Gabriel said to Mary that the Holy Spirit would “come upon you”.
In fairness, that’s surprisingly close for a book written by old celibate men 20 centuries ago.
Mary then told Joseph what had happened and that she was now pregnant. Scientifically, there are three possible explanations here:
The thing with the Angel and Holy Ghost is genuinely what happened.
Mary was actually some form of hitherto unknown human-plantor human-Komodo Dragon hybrid, capable of undergoing self-fertilisation.
Mary wasn’t a virgin and had fallen pregnant after sleeping with someone who wasn’t her partner Joseph, and came up with this fantastical story to explain it to Joseph rather than admit she’d been unfaithful, and Joseph subsequently believed her.
In truth, any one of these options would still count as a miracle, so the story is still intact.
Mary and Joseph then had to travel from Galilee, where they lived, to Bethlehem, where they needed to be. Reasons for why they had to make this journey remain unclear. Some say it was because of a tax, some say it was for a census, others say it never actually happened so why give a damn? But let’s ignore those humourless killjoys, and continue with this scientific critique of the nativity.
The distance between Galilee and Bethlehem is around 80 miles, according to Google maps, which takes around 2 days to travel on foot. Of course, Mary was heavily pregnant so her average speed would have been reduced. Of course, this is an optimistic estimate. Mary and Joseph wouldn’t have had google maps. They would have had to use some primitive equivalent like Streetmap or the AA Route Planner.
Upon arriving in Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph found that there were no rooms available. This casts doubt on the reason for their being there that they had to pay a tax. If everyone were in Bethlehem for a census then, judging by past observations, around1% of the people there would be practising Jedi. As unlikely as it sounds, this would make for an even more exciting nativity. And of course, Anakin Skywalker was also the result of a virgin birth.
Mary and Joseph were unable to find somewhere to stay, which posed something of an issue because around this point Mary went into labour. They eventually ended up in a stable, surrounded by domesticated farm animals, which violates any number of health and safety protocols. When the baby was born, they swathed him in cloth and placed him in a manger.
For those who don’t know, a manger is somewhere where food for farm animals is kept. Ergo, Mary and Joseph placed their newborn baby, believed to be the saviour of mankind, in a container that animals eat out of, in front of the animals that usually eat out of it. At this point you have to wonder whether God almighty, in all his infinite wisdom, had chosen poorly when selecting potential parents.
While this happened, an angel appeared to some shepherds on a mountain near Bethlehem and told them a baby had been born and they should go and worship it. We can’t prove that this didn’t happen, but it’s probably worth mentioning that sparsely populated mountainous regions in the Middle East are ideal locations for growing opium, and shepherding can be a very boring job.
Also, three wise men from an unspecified Eastern country saw an unspecified bright object in the sky that led them to Bethlehem, where they somehow predicted they’d meet a messiah, as you do. They took gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Frankincense and myrrh are two fragrances used in aromatherapy and funeralsrespectively.
So, basically, three men followed an unspecified bright object over hundreds of miles of desert in order to meet a baby, about whom all they knew was that it would have a nose, might need money and would eventually die. For this they were considered “wise men”. This goes to show that wisdom is clearly a subjective term.
As everyone gathered around the stable, a brightly lit host of angels appeared above it, starting a tradition of needlessly gaudy brightly lit decorations on domestic dwellings at Christmas that endures to this day. It is also traditional to have highly educated wise people at births too, but they’re known as “medical professionals”.
Dean Burnett ruins many things with science via Twitter,@garwboy