We are all products of our environment. Families, friends, neighborhoods, religious fellowships, and media influence us in more ways than we can possibly understand.
One small but telling example of this is in the way many people (including Christians) remember Bible stories. We would all like to believe that our knowledge of the Bible or any other religious text is based on things we have actually read, understood, and filed away. But oftentimes, the stories we remember come from a host of influences, and are different from what the text actually says. Here are three surprising examples of Bible-story elements which you might have had wrong all this time:
1. Noah was not Mocked by Anyone while Building the Ark
Thanks to Darren Aronofsky’s recent movie Noah, the great biblical shipbuilder is back in the news. Many Christians have gotten upset about all of the artistic liberties that Aronofsky has taken with the text. What many Bible-readers don’t realize is that they themselves have often taken liberties with the text, including one common story element – the presence of mockers while Noah built the ark. Go read Genesis, chapters 6-7. You won’t find any mention of anyone saying anything to Noah during the time he was building. Might there have been mockers? Likely. But the text doesn’t directly support it.
P.S. – The text also says that there were more than 2 of many animals, including 14 of many kinds of livestock and birds.
2. There were no Wise Men or Magi at the Manger
Despite what every nativity scene in the whole world depicts, there were no magi/wise men at the manger the night Jesus was born. Shepherds, yes. Angels, yes. Cows, probably. But Magi – nope. Matthew 2 says:
“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem…wise men from the east came…and behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced…and going into the house they saw the child.“
By the time the Magi show up, Mary and Joseph had apparently had enough time to move out of the manger and find a more suitable temporary living space in a small house or dwelling. If you consider that later in Matthew 2, Herod decides to kill all baby boys under the age of 2 in Bethlehem, it is possible that the Magi may not have arrived until Jesus was a toddler.
P.S. – The Bible never says that there were 3 Magi. It mentions three gifts – gold, frankincense, and myrrh – but never says how many Magi.
3. Jesus did Not Enter Jerusalem During his “Triumphal Entry”
You know the story about how on the Sunday before Passover, Jesus entered the gates of Jerusalem riding a donkey, and the people cried “Hosanna!” and they laid palm branches and cloaks at his feet. Well, the part about him entering Jerusalem didn’t actually happen. In Luke 19, we find Jesus telling his disciples to acquire a donkey and colt from the village of Bethphage, outside of Jerusalem. When the people greet him as he rides, he is near Bethphage, or on a small country road around there. Then, he approaches Jerusalem and weeps over it from afar. THEN, he enters Jerusalem and goes directly to the temple, where he proceeds to clean house. The “triumphal entry” was actually quite humble, and was more of an approach than an entry into Jerusalem.
P.S. – You might hear on Easter morning that the same people who cried “Hosanna!” the Sunday before Passover were crying “Crucify him!” before the end of the week. It’s a common sermon example of how human hearts can be fickle (which is true!). But, because these two events happened in different places, it’s very unlikely that there were any people (outside of Jesus and the disciples traveling with him) who were in both places at all, much less likely that the same people changed their minds on something so crucial, so quickly.
What can we learn from realizing that we’ve had stories wrong all our lives, stories which we thought we had all right? I know what I have learned – that I can always stand to give my Bible another reading, another careful, focused, and close reading. As we prepare for Easter, the highest Christian holiday of all, we could use a little bit less of our own concoctions, and a little bit more of what the Bible actually feeds us.
(More articles at www.ThinkingThroughChristianity.com)