Here are the answers:
1. What year was Jesus born?a. We don’t know for sure, since the gospels disagree irreconcilably.b. We don’t know for sure, but the gospels agree it was during the reign of Herod the Great (died around 4 B.C.).c. We don’t know for sure, but the gospels agree it was when Quirinius was governor of Syria (6 A.D.).d. We don’t know for sure, but the gospels agree it was the year the moon was in the seventh house and Jupiter aligned with Mars.e. D’uh! The year zero, of course.
Note: Only two of the gospels even mention Jesus’ birth. Matthew tells us it happened during the reign of Herod the Great. Luke tells us it was when Quirinius was governor of Syria. Which is a problem, since Herod died c. 4 B.C., and Quirinius wasn’t governor until 6 A.D., so one (or both!) of them can’t be right…
2. According to the Gospels, what day was Jesus born?a. Dec 25th.b. Dec 24th.c. No date is given in any gospel.d. The day of the Winter Solstice.e. The third night of Hanukkah.
Note: Originally Christians didn’t celebrate birthdays at all; that was what heathens did. Being born into this sinful world was nothing to celebrate; what mattered was leaving it! So they celebrated feast days of saints on the date of their glorious deaths. It wasn’t until the fourth century that Christians began wanting a birthday for their god, too. So they stole the date from…
3. What pagan holiday did later Christians “borrow” to celebrate Jesus’ birthday?a. The Greek Brumalia festival of Dionysusb. The Roman feast of Saturnaliac. Dies Natalis Solis Invicti (“the Birthday of the Unconquered Sun”)d. All of the abovee. None of the above
Note: All of the above and then some! Throughout the ancient pre-Christian world pagan gods like Mithra, Sol, Elah-Gabal, Frey, Dionysus, Adonis, Horus and many, many, more all had their rebirth on the shortest day of the year, the winter solstice, and their worshippers rejoiced at the Sun’s “rebirth.”
Likewise, there were plenty of pagan demi-gods who were sired by a god and born of a mortal woman. Funny, but Matthew and Luke are the only gospel writers who think that Jesus was born of a virgin. Mark’s Jesus appears to be a completely human being who becomes chosen by god to become savior, and then immediately gets sent to be tested in the wilderness by Satan (that was helpful of him) for 40 days to see if he’s up for the job, and John plainly states that Joseph – not God – was Jesus’ father (1:45) without making any fuss about it.
4. So what day was Jesus really born?a. Jan 6b. Feb 2 (Groundhog Day)c. March 25d. We can’t be certain.e. During Sukkoth, the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles
Note: Actually, different Christians have argued for all of these dates and still more. January 6th became the traditional date of Jesus’ baptism and Epiphany (the twelfth day of Christmas and the traditional day the Wise Men visited the baby Jesus). Interestingly enough, it was also the date of the solstice on the older Zoroastrian calendar. This Dec. 25 vs. Jan. 6 dispute was a real contention among believers; the Syrians and Armenians refused to accept December 25, accusing the Romans of sun worship and idolatry. In Eastern Orthodox tradition, January 6 is still the most important day of the Christmas season and Armenians consider it Jesus’ real birthday even today.
And there were plenty of other guesses about Jesus’ birthday. Clement of Alexandria reported that some used the Egyptian calendar, placing it on 25 Pachon (May 20), others on the 24th or 25th of Pharmuthi (19th or 20 April). Other traditions used the Jewish calendar and had Jesus born during Hanukkah (which falls anywhere between late November and late December) or during Sukkoth, the Feast of Tabernacles (which comes anywhere from late September to late October). Clement dismissed them all as superstitions – and maintained Jesus’ real birthday was November 17, 3 BCE.
Today Bible scholars are in no better shape and can only point to the clue that the shepherds were in their fields, concluding it must have been sometime in the fall – or maybe the spring… Still other birthdates for Jesus celebrated by Christian sects have included February 2 (Yes, Groundhog Day!) and March 25, (which is also the Spring Equinox) now celebrated as the Annunciation and considered the date of Jesus’ conception; Needless to say, even though December 25th finally won out over January 6th and the rest of the competition (in the West, anyway), no one had any idea what day Jesus was really supposed to have been born – if he was ever a real person at all in the first place… (see my book Nailed for more details on that…)
5. According to Mark (the oldest gospel) where was Jesus born?a. He doesn’t say.b. By the chimney, with care.c. In his parent’s house in Nazareth.d. A manger in Bethlehem.e. A cave in Bethlehem.
Note: Biblical scholars overwhelmingly agree that Mark is the original text that Matthew and Luke borrowed from to create their own gospels (Luke contains 50% of Mark, and Matthew a whopping 90%). But in Mark, nothing is said about Jesus’ birth at all. He arrives on the scene as an adult, at his baptism. It’s only Luke who has Jesus born in a manger in Bethlehem. Christian tradition says the manger was actually in a cave – today the Church of the Nativity is built over it. Interestingly, in pagan mythology (not to be confused with Christianity), many other sun gods were born in a cave, and in fact, the Church Father Jerome noted that the cave of Jesus’ birth had also been a sacred shrine to the pagan god Adonis…
6. According to Luke, who were the Wise Men?a. The Magi, a group of 2 – 12 Zoroastrian astrologers from Persia.b. Three kings of orient bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh from afar.c. There were no Wise Men.d. Cupid, Donder and Blitzen.e. Melchior of Persia, Caspar (or Gaspar) of India, and Balthazar of Arabia.
Note: There are no wise men in Luke’s story – they only appear in Matthew’s story. He has the unnamed, unnumbered group of “wise men from the east” follow the miraculous star of Bethlehem to Jerusalem and panic wicked King Herod with their news that a new King of the Jews has been born in Bethlehem. This incites Herod to kill all the baby boys in that region, and causes Joseph and Mary to flee to Egypt with baby Jesus. When an angel later gives them the all clear, they return, not to their home in Bethlehem, but to a new home in Nazareth. (Incidentally, you would think Zoroastrian astrologers from Persia were all three bad things by Christian standards, wouldn’t you?)
7. According to Matthew, who showed up on the night of Jesus’ birth?a. Shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by nightb. An angel and a multitude of the heavenly hostc. The prophet Simeon and the prophetess Annad. Ten lords a-leapinge. No one.
Note: another trick question – in Matthew’s story, no one witnesses Jesus’ birth at all; he simply says Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king (2:1) with no details. It’s only Luke who tells the story of Mary and Joseph coming to Bethlehem from Nazareth for a Roman census, finding no room at the inn and being forced to give birth in a stable, attended by humble shepherds and a host of angels.
8. What happened after Jesus’ birth?a. Impossible to say for sure – two of the gospels tell completely contradictory stories, and the other two say nothing.b. Good tidings were brought for him and his kin; and then figgy pudding, for they would not go until they get some.c. Scary stuff: An angel warns Joseph to flee their home in Bethlehem for Egypt. Herod kills all the baby boys in the region. After Herod’s death, they return to Judea but are afraid of Herod’s son, so they move to Nazareth in Galilee instead (evidently Matthew forgot that Galilee was ruled by Herod’s other son…).d. Happy stuff: The shepherds spread the good news to all, baby Jesus is circumcised, and after the obligatory 40 days for ritual purity, brought to the temple in Jerusalem where prophets hail him as the Christ. They return home to Nazareth and go back to Jerusalem every year for Passover until Jesus is twelve.e. We aren’t told, the gospels immediately cut to his adulthood.
Note: Mark and John’s gospels ignore Jesus’ childhood years. Mathew and Luke’s do tell of his birth – but they tell two completely different stories. The two nativity tales contradict each other at every point. For just one example, Matthew has Joseph finally arrive in Nazareth for the first time only at the very end of the story; while in Luke Mary and Joseph not only both start out in Nazareth, but they go back and forth from Nazareth to Jerusalem for Passover every year during the time when Matthew has them hiding out in Egypt! Remember too that Matthew’s takes place sometime before 4 B.C. and Luke’s takes place sometime after 6 A.D. and gap of at least a decade. By the way, each also presents a competing genealogy of Joseph (Matthew 1:16; Luke 3:23) – even though Joseph isn’t even Jesus’ real dad (and the Bible warns against genealogies besides; see 1 Timothy 1:4 and Titus 3:9)!
9. Which of these traditional Christmas elements were originally pagan?a. Christmas Trees, Christmas Wreaths, and Yule Logsb. Caroling, Christmas Ham, Christmas candlesc. The Birth of the Saviord. Boughs of Holly and Sprigs of Mistletoee. All of the above
Note: Are you really surprised? There aren’t too many fir trees in the holy land, but they were revered in pre-Christian northern Europe for thousands of years. Their pagan midwinter fest, Yule, gave us Christmas trees, wreaths and yule logs, and the Yule Boar, now our Christmas ham. There’s still a Yule Goat tradition in Scandinavia, though they are now straw ornaments and decorations, instead of sacrificial meals. The practice of door-to-door Christmas caroling came from wassailing, which has pagan Anglo-Saxon roots. Originally a blessing of the harvest, in some periods it was more like a drunken version of trick-or-treat.
Holly and Mistletoe were sacred plants to many ancient peoples, including the Celtic Druids, the Saxons and Scandinavians. Both were venerated for their ability to stay green during the winter, the symbolic colors of their red and white berries, and other traits such as mistletoe’s golden hue and holly’s prickly leaves. The 3rd century church Father Tertullian, who could be fairly prickly himself, actually condemned the practice of decorating the house for the holidays with boughs or lamps, comparing it to dressing your house up like a heathen temple or a new brothel!
And as we already saw earlier, the winter solstice marked the birth of many savior gods – So many, in fact, that early Christian apologists like Justin Martyr and Firmicus Maternus insisted that the Devil must have foreseen the coming of Christianity in advance and created all the counterfeit Christianities centuries before the real Christianity arrived(!), fuming “The Devil has his Christs!”
10. Where does the word “Yuletide” come from?a. It’s an abbreviation of the Latin ultimus ides, “last holiday of the year.”b. From Germanic/Old Norse “Jul-time” or “Jól-time” (the midwinter fest).c. Named after Julius Caesar, who invented Sanctus Clausius, the Roman Santa Claus. d. Named in honor of Hywll Tydd, ancient Welsh god of reindeer and socks.e. Pagan Nordic priests copied the name from the Christian Christmastide.
Note: Only b. is true; the others are completely made up.
11. Who started the War on Christmas?a. True American Christian Fundamentalists & the Founding Fathersb. Richard Dawkinsc. Godless atheists, the liberal media, gays and lesbians, activist judges, science teachers, lawyers, the ACLU, democrats and everyone else we hate.d. The Jewse. Al Qaida
Note: Believe it or not, the first enemies of Christmas were Christians. When Oliver Cromwell’s forces took power in England in 1653, the new totalitarian Puritan Parliament made Christmas illegal. In the American colonies, from 1659 to 1681, celebrating Christmas was punishable by a fine. But even after the American Revolution, Christmas was still not widely celebrated. In fact, the Founding Fathers didn’t even bother to take the day off to hold the first session of Congress on Christmas Day, 1789. Christmas would not be declared a national holiday until nearly a century later.
12. Our familiar modern American “Santa Claus” is based on all these earlier figures, EXCEPT for:a. The English Father Christmas, Charles Dickens’ characters and the Victorian cartoons of Thomas Nast.b. The Dutch Santa, Sinterklaas or Goedheiligmanc. A de-horned, sanitized, anagram of Satan. d. Mighty Norse thunder god Thor’s father, Odine. St. Nikolaos, 4th-century Greek bishop and patron saint of children.
Note: The original St. Nick was St. Nikolaos of Myra, said to be a 4th century Byzantine bishop, now patron saint of children (as well as archers, sailors, and pawnbrokers, oddly enough). As the Nordic Yule festival became subsumed by Christmas, some aspects of Odin and Old Man Winter also made their way into our celebration. But despite the condemnation from some religious groups, Santa has no connection to Satan apart from closeness in spelling.
Interestingly, our Santa Claus is a surprisingly modern construction. Tom Flynn’s The Trouble With Christmas argues that the majority of our Christmas tradition today is largely a product of the Victoria era, and most of the traits we associate with Santa actually come from quite a small handful of 19th-century writers.
Washington Irving (of Headless Horseman fame) actually invented the Dutch Sinterklaas character outright, and inspired Charles Dickens with his Christmas literary inventions, like Santa’s flying sleigh. In the 1880’s, cartoonist Thomas Nast created Santa’s appearance, located his workshop at the North Pole, created his Naughty & Nice list, and many other traits of St. Nick. And of course he continues to evolve and spread into different forms around the world – just like Jesus.
Bonus Question! (re-gifted from the Ultimate Easter Quiz)
13. Who wrote these gospels, anyway?a. Matthew, Mark, Luke, John – I mean, come on, it says so right there.b. Actually, none of the gospels even claim to be written by eyewitnesses -all were originally anonymous and written at least a generation later.c. Well, it’s more like the end of first century for Mark and sometime in the early to mid 2nd century for the others, if you must know.d. Hold on – Not only that, but Matthew and Luke just reworked Mark gospel, adding their own material and tweaking Mark’s text to better fit what they thought it should say.e. Get this – if all that weren’t enough, all the Gospels have been edited and added to by later editors, and for the first 200 – 300 years, we have no way to determine how faithfully the originals were preserved.
Note: Technically all of these are true, except for a.
So how did I do?
- My Answer: A Correct Answer: A
- My Answer: C Correct Answer: C
- My Answer: B Correct Answer: D
- My Answer: D Correct Answer: D
- My Answer: A Correct Answer: A
- My Answer: C Correct Answer: C
- My Answer: B Correct Answer: E
- My Answer: B Correct Answer: A
- My Answer: E Correct Answer: E
- My Answer: B Correct Answer: B
- My Answer: A Correct Answer: A
- My Answer: C Correct Answer: C
- My Answer: B, C, and D Correct Answer: E (and B, C, and D)
UPDATE: On Nov. 28, I found the paper on which I wrote down my original answers, and it has an "A" for #8 on it. Sadly, it also has an "E ?" for #7; it seems I should have stuck with my gut instinct on that one.