The Day Christ was Born How Jim Bishop's Best Seller

Got it Right!

(Sticking with the Bible and Jewish customs, and ignoring religious fables!)


     Journalist Jim Bishop (1907), is best known for his books The Day Lincoln Was Shot (1955), The Day Christ Died (1957), The Day Christ Was Born (1960), and The Day Kennedy Was Shot (1968). Bishop's work FDR's Last Year, April 1944-April 1945 (1974) is his most critically acclaimed book.

Bishop grew up in an Irish Catholic family and dropped out of school after the eighth grade. His father, a railroad man and later a policeman, found him various jobs, none of which he kept more than three weeks. He learned typing, shorthand, and bookkeeping at a secretarial school. In 1929, in his early 20s, his dad got him a job as a copyboy at the New York Daily News.

At the Daily News, he met Mark Hellinger, who would become film critic for the New York Daily Mirror, and later, a Hollywood movie producer. Bishop worked as Hellinger's assistant and later became a reporter at the Daily Mirror. In 1943, Bishop went to work for Collier's magazine as the war editor. He later worked for book publishers in New York. In 1947, Bishop was to go to Hollywood to work as a writer for Mark Hellinger but days before Bishop planned to resign and move to California, Hellinger died. In 1951, Bishop founded Gold Medal Books, a division of Fawcett Publications. Later he worked for Catholic Digest.

Bishop began collecting information about Lincoln's assassination in 1930, while he was still a cub reporter. His interest in Lincoln began with a remark from a nun in grade school about something Lincoln had said. Bishop's book brought him instant acclaim. The book was chosen as a Book of the Month Club offering and became a best seller. 

On the basis of the book about Lincoln, Bishop became well known by readers throughout the country. For 26 years, he wrote a syndicated column, Jim Bishop: Reporter, that was distributed to hundreds of newspapers by Hearst's King Features Syndicate.

Among Bishop's other books are The Glass Crutch, the Biographical Novel of William Wynne Wister (1945), The Mark Hellinger Story, a Biography of Broadway and Hollywood (1952), The Girl in Poison Cottage (1953), Parish Priest (1953), The Making of a Priest (1954), Fighting Father Duffy (1956), The Golden Ham, a Candid Biography of Jackie Gleason (1956), Go With God (1958), The Murder Trial of Judge Peel (1962) [a famous Florida murder trial], A Day in the Life of President Johnson (1967), The Days of Martin Luther King, Jr. (1971), The Birth of the United States (1976).

Bishop's last book was his brutally honest autobiography, A Bishop's Confession (1981). Bishop died in 1987 in Delray Beach, Florida. He was 79.

For the record

"Nothing is known of the birth of Christ beyond the New Testament.  It is a great and joyful story, the happiest event since the dawn of history.  It needs no gilding.  Still, there is a natural curiosity in the heart of the journalist to know more,  He would like to fill in the blank spaces of any great event.

This one happened two thousand years ago.  The town and the terrain of Bethlehem have not changed.  The road down the Jordan Valley from Nazareth is a little smoother now, but it twists beside the same bank of the same river.  The walls of Jerusalem have been moved in a little, especially on the south side, but the view of the Mount of Olives is the same, and Gethsemani still reposes at the base of the mountain.

The marriage customs of the Jews of two thousand years ago are recorded.  The manner of courtship, to which Joseph and Mary surely subscribed, is also known.  The cave where animnals were sheltered beneath the inn in Bethlehem is still there.  The facts about the Magi, as a class of philosophic astrologers, are available to those who seek them.  In addition, there are ageless works written by scholars about the birth of Jesus.

I have availed myself of these things.  The result is within these pages.  Although the facts are as I present them, the book must be called a recreation because it contains dialogue and minor scenes which are not to be found within the historical framework of the New Testament.  These are my imaginings.

                                                        Jim Bishop

Sea Bright, New Jersey

                                            (Copyright date 1960)

NIHIL OBSTAT: John A. Goodwine ,  J.C.D. Censor Librorum

IMPRIMATUR: Francis Cardinal Spellman, Archbishop of New York

Excerpts, Summary, and Comments by Dr. Bob Holt, MD


    "THE ROAD OUT OF BETHANY THREW A tawny girdle around the hill they called the Mount of Olives and the little parties came up slowly out of the east leading asses with dainty dark feet toward the splendor of Jerusalem.  They came up all year long from Jericho and the Salt Sea and the Mountains of Moab and the north country of Samaria and Galilee in a never-ending procession to the Temple of Herod the Great.  It was a spiritual spawning; a coming home; a communion with God at his appointed house."

   "Joseph had never seen such awesome beauty.  The elders in Nazareth had described it as a rare white jewel set in the green valley between Kidron and Golgotha and he had asked questions about it but the elders -- and his father too -- seemed to lose themselves in arm waving and superlatives.  Now he would see it.  He reached the rise of the road, his feet tired and dirty from ninety miles of walking, and he unconsciously pulled the jackass a little faster."

     "Are you quiet?" he said.  His bride, called Miriam in the Aramean tongue, and Mary in others, jogged sideways on the little animal, and said that she was quiet.  She felt no pain.  This was the fifth day from Nazareth and, from hour to hour, she had progressed from tiredness to fatigue to weariness to the deep anesthesia of exhaustion.  She felt nothing.  She no longer noticed the chafe of the goatskin against her leg, nor the sway of the food bag on the other side of the animal.  Her veiled head hung and she saw millions of pebbles on the road moving by her brown eyes in a blur, pausing, and moving by again with each step of the animal."

     "Sometimes she felt ill at ease and fatigued, but she swallowed this feeling and concentrated on what a beautiful baby she was about to have and kept thinking about it, the bathing, the oils, the feeding, the tender pressing of the tiny body against her breast -- and the sickness went away.  Sometimes she murmured the ancient prayers and, for the moment, there was no road and no pebbles and she dwelt on the wonders of God and saw him in a fleecy cloud at a windowless wall of an inn or a hummock of trees, walking backward in front of her husband, beckoning him on.  God was everywhere.  It gave Mary confidence to know that He was everywhere.  She needed confidence.  Mary was fifteen."

     "Most young ladies of the country were betrothed at thirteen and married at fourteen.  A few were not joined in holiness until fifteen or sixteen and these seldom found a choice man and were content to be shepherd's wives, living in caves in the sides of the hills, raising their children in loneliness, knowing only the great stars of the night lifting over the hills, and the whistle of the shepherd as he turned to lead his flock to a new pasture.  Mary had married a carpenter.  He had been apprenticed by his father at bar mitzvah.  Now he was nineteen and had his own business."

     "It wasn't much of a business, even for the Galilean country.  He was young and, even though he was earnest to the point of being humorless, he was untried and was prone to mistakes in his calculations.  In all of Judea there was little lumber.  Some stately cedars grew in the powdery alkaline soil, but, other than date palms and fig trees and some fruit orchards, it was bald, hilly country. Carpentry was a poor choice."

     "A rich priest might afford a house of wood, but most of the people used the substance only to decorate the interior.  The houses were of stone, cut from big deposits eighteen inches under the topsoil.  It was soft, when first exposed to air, and could be cut with wooden saws into cubes.  These were staggered in courses to make a wall.  Windows were small and placed high on each wall, so that, daily, squares of sunlight walked slowly across the earthen floor.  Mary's house, like the average, was small and set against a hill in Nazareth.  At the front, there was a door, there was a stone doorsill.  Over it hung a cloth drape.  To enter, the drape was pushed aside."

     "The interior consisted of two rooms.  The front one was Joseph's shop. In it were the workbench, the saws, the auger, the awl and hammers.  There were clean-smelling boards and blond curls of shavings on the floor.  In the back room there was an earthen oven to the left, three feet wide, six feet long and two feet high.  The cooking was done  in the stone-lined interior.  The family slept on the earthen top of the oven.  On chilly nights, the heat seeped through to warm the sleepers.  To the right of the room was a table.  There were no chairs because only rich Jews sat to eat, and they had learned this from traveling Greeks.  Next to the table was a wooden tether for the ass.  He was a member of the family, a most important member because he did the carrying of the raw lumber and the finished products, and he was also the sole means of transportation."

     "He was petted and loved and spoken to.  On the tether, he watched Mary go about her duties.  He flicked the flies from his ears and sometimes, when he tired of watching, his eyes closed and he locked his knees so that he would not fall, and he slept standing up.  He was not a stubborn animal.  He was most patient and he would stand while Joseph burdened him with a mound of objects.  When the bridle strap was pulled by his master, the ass lowered his head, switched his tail against his flanks, and started off, the little hoops making sounds like an inverted cup dropped in the mud."

      "This was the winter solstice of the Jewish year 8790. The gaity of the Feast of Chanukah had ended as Joseph and his wife left Nazareth.  They had come down through Naim and on down into the valley of the Jordan.  It was hot along the valley floor, but the Jews of the upland country seldom risked travel by the direct route through Samaria and Sichar, where the people at the village wells were unfriendly and argumentative."

      "Each night, when the sun was gone and the road obscure, Joseph led the ass a little way off from the river, away from the road and into a clearing where there was very little brush and few insects. Then he tied the ass, tilted the goatskin and filled the earthen jar with water from it, and sat.  There was not much to talk about.  Their minds were troubled with momentous events far beyond the scope of their thought; far beyond the rationalization of two simple peasants of the family of David.  On the few occasions when they discussed it, both Mary and Joseph became overwhelmed and shy.  They lapsed into silences and Joseph would mend the conversational rip with a question about Mary's family."

       "Mary was big with the baby, and awkward, but she managed to fetch the food and the bread from the pouch on the near side of the donkey, and to set it down neatly and as appetizingly as possible.  There was no meat.  Even at home, they never had meat more than once a month.  Mostly it was lamb, chopped into cubes and roasted and then set on a plate beside charoseth and other herbs and fruits."

     "They slept in the open, saving what little money they had for the day of the baby.  Sometimes, when there was no moon, Joseph set the lamp on the ground and Mary removed her veil and brushed the long dark hair which hung to her waist.  She said that she would like to bathe in the Jordan, and she said it wistfully because she knew that Joseph would say no, and a good wife did not dispute the will of her husband.  On these occasions he said no.  He said it gently, reminding her that her time was near, that this would be her firstborn, and he would not assume the risk of the river.  To this Mary made no reply.  Joseph, touched with tenderness, said gruffly that the best he could do was to take some cloths to the Jordan, wet them and wring the mout, and bring them to her.  Mary said that she would appreciate it."

     "In the morning, with the sun still behind the Mountains of Moab, Joseph arose, adjusted his tunic, and fed the animal.  He worked quietly, whispering to the jackass, setting the folded blanket behind the withers, adjusting and balancing the goatskin and the food bag, before awakening his wife.  He felt an enormous compassion for this girl, but he could never explain it.  Not even to himself.  He had once felt this way toward a little boy who had a withered foot."

     "The road was busy at dawn.  Sometimes Joseph had to wait until he could find room between parties going south.  The road, it seemed, was always alive. The rich Greeks traveled south out of Sepphoris in sedan chairs, the servants shouldering the yokes easily and walking steadily, en route to Jerusalem to trade with the rich Jews.  The northbound traffic came from Jerusalem and also from as far away as Egypt, and these merchants were laden with fabrics and metal objects and expensive spices.  They left their elegant good wishes on the air behind them."

     "On the evening of the fourth day they were at Jericho, a few miles from the Salt Sea and within glance of Mt. Nebo to the east.  Joseph wanted to stay at the inn, where they could pay for space on the floor, but Mary begged him not to do it. "This is not an important day," she said.  He knew what she meant."

     "One does not see a great place like Jericho often ," he said softly.  "It will be just as well if we eat at the inn and, as you say, sleep in the fields."  He looked away. "I was thinking of you."

     "They ate at the inn on the far side of town, near where the wilderness begins.  It was an ordinary place, catering to transients.  It was a stone place, and one had to eat whatever the house offered.  The food came in gleaming bowls, and Mary admitted to herself that it was better than anything she had to offer; so, conversationally, she shifted the attack."

    "There are many people in these places," she said."

    "Joseph shrugged. "A public house." he said.  He was a medium-sized man with deep brown curls hanging to his shoulders.  The hair was thick and parted in the middle.  His beard was thin and scraggly, but he wiped it with his hand as though it were full.   This, Mary understood, was natural in a young man."

     "She ate leaning against a wall.  She said it made her back feel good.  He stood flanking her, a wall of protection against the crush of people entering and leaving the place, babbling as though this were the last chance to inflict their opinions on others."

     "It is better together," she said shyly."

     "When we must eat in the fields," he said, "we will eat in the fields.  This eating is rare."

      "Mary ate well, stealing furtive glances at Joseph and wondering what she did to deserve all the tumult of happiness she felt when he was near.  It was like a tame storm in her heart, a relaxation of caution accompanied by the excitement of knowing that she belonged to this growing boy.  She had never been anywhere, except to visit old relatives, and now, in advanced pregnancy, she was seeing much and knowing much in a few days."

     "In the morning, Joseph led Mary and the ass into the wilderness.  It was twenty miles to Bethany, and, from there, three to the heart of Jerusalem.  A man with strong legs could walk it, leading an animal and a woman, before sundown. The wilderness is a barren place in the mountains, where nothing of consequence grows and the tiny peaks look alike, ochre and white and chalky, a place where bandits await the ornate sedan chairs and the sun smites the walker until the sweat itches his legs and softens the straps of his sandals."

     "Joseph stopped at the top of the rise.  The ass stopped, and used a hind leg to kick the flies from the underside of his belly.  Mary looked up, a tired child with eyes partly conscious of the scene."

     "Jerusalem," Joseph said, pointing.  She looked.  The wonderment of what she saw caused the nausea to  fade.  Her eyes lost the glazed look.  She had heard her father describe this place when she was a little girl.  A glance told her that the poor man did not know how to make anyone see Jerusalem.  Joseph opened his mouth to speak, but what his eyes saw made his mind drunk and paralyzed his tongue."

     "It was a thing to see.  The late sun was ahead, across the hill behind Jerusalem.  The city was a white jewel pronged by the great stone wall around it.  Joseph pulled the ass to the side of the road because the pilgrims behind him were shouting.  Without turning from the scene, he moved back along the flank of the ass until he touched Mary's hand.  "Jerusalem," he said again.  He said it as though it were an earthly anteroom to paradise, as indeed it was."

     "The sun would be gone in ten minutes and there was much to see because he could not stay in Jerusalem.  His destination, Bethlehem, was still five miles to the south, but he did not mind the night walk if he could stop a moment and drink in all of this and remember it when he was  old."

     "Darkness is upon us," said Mary.  She had a feeling of foreboding.  She wanted to proceed to Bethlehem for no reason other that she was trembling and the baby was unusually quiet.  Joseph stopped in mid-speech.  He knew that she would not interrupt him unless there was a reason.  He asked if she desired to get down and have privacy.  She said no and, without further conversation, he led the ass westward into the valley and across the little wooden bridge over the Kidron and beneath the great wall of the city and then by the Valley of Hinnom and up into the hills between Jerusalem and Bethlehem."

     "It was soon night and  moonless.  Joseph trod slowly, stumbling on stones underfoot, and wondering how much of a man he would be if brigands sprang out of the dark.  There was little traffic on the road; a few transients who lived near Jerusalem hurried by, trying to reach home without spending an extra night under the stars."

     "Something happened suddenly to Mary and she knew in a moment that this would be the night of the baby.  She asked Joseph to stop and he became alarmed and asked if she was unquiet.  "No," she said, "I feel no pain, but we must find an inn.  The baby -- with God's help -- will be born tonight."

     "Joseph was frightened.  He knew nothing of these things."

     "The thinking Mary did about the events leading to this night was a kaleidoscope of happy and mysterious and supernatural things calculated to unnerve the most serene young lady.  To have a first baby is, in itself, a towering, wordless joy, a living proof of the most common miracle, a sad tenderness to constrict the heart and mist the eyes.  To give birth to a first-born who is God and the Son of God and the Second Person of the Holy Trinity is, at age fifteen or any greater age, a heavier responsibility than any other person ever bore, an enormity of weight which could be maintained only by one too young to appreciate it."

Comments by Dr. Robert Holt, MD, MPH
That Mary at 15 years old had any kind of thoughts about a HOLY TRINITY that was not debated until 330 years after these events and is still not understood by ordinary Christians another 700 years later is a pretty long shot on Jim Bishop's part, but I'm indebted to him and grateful that his Joseph is only 19 and waiting for his firstborn son, not an ancient widower with a large family chosen by lot or miracle to care for a holy virgin

   Page 28 of Jim Bishop'x belivable Nativity continues ---
  "MARY WAS BORN AND  RAISED IN NAZARETH, the child of an average family. She played on the streets, as the other children did, and she was subject to parental discipline. Joseph knew her, even though he was four years older.  All houses in Nazareth were in the same neighborhood be cause it was a small town.  The biggest event that could occur in Nazareth was for a father to take his children to the nearby Greek city of Sepphoris to shop in the bazaars.  The people were knit closely in the their daily lives, and the women met in the morning at the village well."                                                                          

     "When Mary reached her thirteenth birthday, it was permissible to ask for her in marriage. The proper form was followed.  Joseph first asked his parents if he could marry Mary.  He was seventeen, an apprentice carpenter in the neighborhood and more than a year away from having his own shop.  It was assumed that a serious-minded young Jew of seventeen was a  responsible adult."

      "Joseph's parents discussed the matter of marriage  and, in time, paid a formal call on Mary's parents.  The entire neighborhood knew in advance what negotiations were at hand, and, from draped doorway to draped doorway , the women discussed it as they washed the stones in front of their houses.  Mary was not supposed  to know of the  matter, but had ex facto  knowledge of it all along and had made known her wishes to her mother and father.  Joseph, who thought it was a deep, pending secret, was amazed and embarrassed to find that the boss carpenter and the tradesmen were not only aware of his wishes, but looked at him archly, stroked their beards, and made him the butt of unsmiling jests."

      "The parents engaged in their formal discussion.  It was necessary, as part of the little ceremonial, to talk of a dowry, but Mary's people had none.  Their economic status was no better, no worse, than Joseph's: as long as the man of the house remained in good health, they would not starve."

     "When the two mothers and two fathers were agreed, the qiddushin took place.  This is a formal betrothal, and much more binding than any other.  The qiddishin has the finality of marriage.  Once the marriage contract was negotiated, even though the marriage ceremony had not occured, the bridegroom-to-be could not be rid of his betrothed except through divorce.  The qiddushin, in Judea, also entitled the couple to lawful sexual relations, even though each of the parties was still living at home with his parents. 
Here Jim Bishop has stumbled across an explanation for Mary's pregnancy that was both rational and "legal and customary" in Judea, but fails to exploit it, for obvious theological reasons -- he was, after all, a good Catholic!

       However, in the country of Galilee and in the south, the people had renounced the privilege more than five hundred years before, and purity was maintained through to the final marriage vows."

      "Still, if Joseph had died between quiddushin and marriage, Mary would have been his legal widow.  If, in the same period, another man had had knowledge of her, Mary could have been punished as an adulteress.  The waiting time was spent, according to custom, in shopping for a small home and furniture.  The nissu'in, or wedding ceremony, would be almost anticlimactic.  A big part of the ceremony was the solemn welcome of the bridegroom to his bride at the door of his new house."

     "Throughout the engagement, Mary, of course, lived with her parents and accepted the daily chores set out for her."   HERE THE STORY CHANGES, BOTH IN THE BIBLE AND IN JIM BISHOP'S "RECONSTRUCTION".


The First "Catholic" Apparition!

   "At a time midway between engagement and formal marriage, Mary was alone one day and was visited by the angel Gabriel.  She was alarmed, to be sure, but not as frightened as she would have been had she not heard stories of such visits by the elders.  Mary lived after the days of the great prophets, the great visions, the visitations."

      "Gabriel stood before her and saw a dark, modest child of fourteen. "Rejoice, child of grace, he said, "The Lord is your helper.  You are blessed beyond all women."  Mary did not like the sound of the last sentence.  Her hands began to shake.  Why should she, a little country girl, be blessed beyond all women?  Did it mean that she was about to die?  Was she being taken, perhaps, to a far-off place, never again to see her mother and her father and --and-- Joseph?"

    "She said nothing.  She tried to look away, not only because of terror but because it was considered bad manners in Judea for one to stare directly into the eyes of another, but her eyes were magnetized.  She stared, and lowered her eyes, and stared again."     

    "Gabriel's voice softened.  'Do not tremble, Mary,' he said.  'You have found favor in the eyes of God.  Behold: you are to be a mother and to bear a son, and to call him Jesus.  He will be great: 'Son of the Most High' will be his title, and the Lord God will give him the throne of his father, David.  He will be king over the house of Jacob forever, and to his kingship there will be no end.'"

     "The words did not calm Mary.  Vaguely, she understood that she was to be the mother of a king of kings, but who might this be and how could it occur when she was not even married?"

     " 'How will this be,' she said shyly, 'since I remain a virgin?'"

      "It was Gabriel's turn to become specific.  He stood in soft radiance in the room and explained. 'The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.  For this reason the child to be born will be acclaimed 'Holy' and 'Son of God'.  She now understood the words, but they added to her bewilderment. What the angel was saying, she reasoned, was something for which the Jews had been waiting for centuries: a messiah, a savior, God come to earth as he had promised long ago.  Mary shook her head."

     "Not to her.  Not to her."

     "Gabriel sensed that the child needed more proof.  'Note, moreover,' he said, 'your relative Elizabeth, in her old age, has also conceived a  son and is now in her sixth month -- she who was called 'The barren.'  Nothing indeed is impossible for God."

     "Regard me as the humble servant of the Lord, ' she murmured. 'May all that you have said be fulfilled in me.'"

     "The angel stood before her in silence, fading slowly from her vision, bit by bit, until all that was visible was the wall."


   The Visit to Cousin Elizabeth in Judea

    "Within a few days, Mary asked, as casually as possible, for permission to visit her cousin Elizabeth.  Her mother thought of it as a touching sign of devotion, and sent her off with a family traveling south to Judea.  The young virgin said nothing about her secret.  Some of the time she seemed to her friends to be lost in a frowning reverie."

Comments by Dr. Robert Holt, MD, MPH
Here's a second major opportunity to explain Mary's pregnancy in other than miraculous terms. A long trip into the "hill country of Judea", out of the sight and supervision of both her parents and her husband-to-be on a trip to see her cousin Elizabeth.  More than 5 days on a donkey, and then extended perhaps 3 more months with only Elizabeth's sometimes  supervision! 

   Elizabeth (and her unborn babe) Celebrate Mary's Pregnancy!

     "Elizabeth was gray and wrinkled, and she had spent many years in the balcony of the synagogue asking God for a child.  Her husband, Zachary, was a priest, a small-town teacher who had once been selected by the great priests of Jerusalem be the one to enter the holy place and offer the incense.  He felt sorrier for his Elizabeth than he did for himself in the matter of childlessness.  He understood the natural maternal feelings of Elizabeth and, unknown to her, he had prayed again and again for a child."

     "Some time before the visit of Mary, the angel Gabriel had appeared before Zachary in the temple and told him that God had answered their prayers.  Elizabeth would give birth to a son in June, and she must call him John.  Someday in the distant future he would be called the Baptist, and he would go ahead of  the Messiah, preaching and baptizing as he went."

     "Elizabeth was standing in her doorway as Mary came up the walk.  It was as though she had expected the visit.  Mary, an affectionate child, shouted a happy greeting before she reached the door.  Elizabeth felt her baby move within her and, raising her hand in greeting, suddenly burst into tears.  "Blessed are you," she said, "beyond all women.  And blessed is the fruit of your womb!"

     "Mary stopped, part way to the door.  Her mouth hung open.  She could not speak.  Elizabeth knew!  Elizabeth knew the secret!  Elizabeth wiped her eyes and tried to smile.  "How privileged am I," she said to her niece, "to have the mother of my Lord come to visit me.  Hear me now: as the sound of your greeting fell upon my ears, the babe in my womb leaped for joy!  Happy is she who believed that what was told her on behalf of the Lord would be fulfilled."

Remember now, Mary is not in Galilee, where people might assume she and her nineteen year old betrothed, having now gone through the binding engagement ceremony, the quiddushin, were still celibate, but in Judea, home of Elizabeth, where everyone expected teen-age engaged couples to be having regular sexual intercourse, whether or not each was still living with their parents! 

     One Who DID NOT Celebrate!

   We read on page 37 of The Day Christ was Born -- "She thought again of her mother and decided not to tell.  If the angel had wanted her mother to know, he would have come when her mother was at home, so that both of them would have had knowledge of this thing.  He had deliberately selected a time when she was alone.  Therefore, it must be the will of God that she keep the secret.  Anyway, if her mother or anyone else knew the secret, they would tell it to her, and thus she would know which human beings God had selected to know of the honor. Surely, she thought, Joseph would know. He was her intended husband.  The angel would have to tell Joseph.  If he didn't, then what would Joseph think when she became great with child and he knew that the baby was not his?  Oh yes, the angel would surely tell Joseph."

     On page 40, after Mary had accepted Elizabeth's interpretation of her pregnancy, and Mary had recited or sung her little song of acceptance, Jim Bishop writes this:

     "The women embraced and Mary wondered what made her think of those words.  The young girl remained with Elizabeth until June, a week prior to the birth of John (John was born in September, but Jim Bishop didn't know that, and is trying to honor Catholic traditions).  Mary was three months pregnant and her parents had sent word that she should be at homr preparing for her wedding.  Elizabeth now enjoyed Mary's complete confidence and the two wondered if Joseph knew.  It was important that he know what was about to happen, and to understand."

If the author of the Gospel of Luke has not gotten across any other date in his nativity story to modern readers, he has indeed impressed us that something had happened to both Elizabeth and Mary in June of the year John was born, which turns out to be 8 BC.  Jim Bishop places John's birth in June because he wants to support that Jesus was born around the traditional Catholic Christmas birth in December, or soon after, January the 8th using the Gregorian Calendar.  The idea that Mary was three months pregnant in June adds support to this tradition.

    So next Jim Bishop pictures Mary headed home from Judea after perhaps three or more months absence and now quite obviously pregnant and growing larger every day!

   "WHEN MARY ARRIVED HOME, she saw her husband-to-be.  He was not happy that she had chosen to be away from him for three months and, if he knew the secret, he hid it well.   He had heard from Mary's mother that Elizabeth was to berar a child, but surely there were others in her town who could have attended her.  The young girl did not dispute Joseph.  She decided, from his attitude, that he knew nothing of the great secret.  She would not marry him without telling something of it."

     "I'm going to have a baby," she said.  The shock to Joseph was beyond measure.   Throughout the courtship, his intended bride had worn an aura of innocence; he was painfully conscious of her lack of knowledge.  She had gone away three months ago, and now returned to say that she was pregnant."

     "It is impossible to read the depths of sorrow in both hearts.  He looked at her tenderly and she offered no word of explanation.  She looked away from him and wished that she might tell everything.  The baby was going to need a foster father -- who better than the man she loved, the gentle and pious and patient Joseph?  The thought crossed her mind that he had been selected for the role for these very reasons.  He would be anideal guardian for the infangt.  Then why, why had he not been told? Why wrench two" young hearts with tragedy  when the truth was as the sun and as warming?"

    "On the tip of hder tongue Mary had the greatest secret of all history.  She could not unlock her tongue.  Joseph went away from her to think.  Of the two, he was the more pitiable.  He loved this girl with all his heart and he had had visions of a long and fruitful life with her.  Now, he felt, she had betrayed him asnd he could not understand the betrayal, nor even force himself to believe that it was true."

     "Joseph kept his awful secret.  He could divorce her publicly.  If he did this, he would be impelled to tell the elders the reason.  In that case, they would ask Mary if she was with child.  If she said yes, Joseph would have to swear that he was "without knowledge of her".  The priests would adjudge her to be an adulteress.  There was only one penalty for this crime: stoning.  The guilty person was led by the townsmen to a high cliff and ordered to jump.  If the aduylteress refuses, she is pushed.  As she lies at the bottom of the cliff, the people arm themselves with stones, and watch.  If she moves, they throw the stones.  If she doesn't, they go home.  The body is left where it is for the birds and the animals."

     "Joseph was being put to the test.  He did not want Mary to die.  He loved her.  He could, under the law, pay money to put her away, to have her sent to some remote place.  Thjere she could have her baby and remain.  A third possibility would be for Joseph to swallow his pride, proceed with the wedding, and hope that there would not be too much comment in the town over a six-month baby."

That this was indeed the actual outcome, that Jesus was  thought to be a six-month baby (illegitimate) by many high priests who ruled over the years of his youth and adulthood at the temple in Jerusalem, is revealed by what we now can know from an accurate knowledge of the dates revealed in Luke, and also from a knowledge of Essene, not Galilean customs.  But Jesus was born in Martch of 7 BC, not at Christmas time of 5 or 4 BC, as Jim Bishop's church would like us all to believe.

      "He was dwelling upon the possibilities one night in bed.  Suddenly, the carpenter made up his mind.  He would put Mary away privately.  It would break his heart, and he knew that he could not love anyone else, but it would be just and, at the same time, merciful."

     "Within a few moments after the decision was reached, relaxation came to Joseph, and he slept.  In sleep, he was visited by an angel."

      ---"the spirit said to him "Joseph, son of David, do not scruple to take Mary, your wife into your home.  Her conception was wrought by the Holy Spirit.  She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus; for he will save his people from their sins."

     "WHEN JOSEPH AWAKENED, he remembered the dream and he wondered if his forlorn hopes were reaching for rationalization.  A dream was nothing more than a dream.  His unconscious wishes might be fulfilled in sleep.  Still, if this were so, he would never dream a blasphemy in which the pregnancy was excused by attributing it to God.  Besides, the dream fulfilled an old prophecy to the letter: "Behold the virgin will be pregnant and give birth to a son, who will be called 'Emmanuel,' which means 'God with us.'"

     "Joseph felt refreshed.  He felt happy.  The more he dwelt upon the dream, the more clearly he saw the hand of God revealing a great truth to him.  It required restraint to go to work, making stalls and tables and wooden hangers for utensils and closets for garments.  He longed to hurry to Mary's house, yelling: "I  know! I know!" His patience manifested itself, and he waited until the proper time, after supper, and when she saw his first glance, Mary knew that he knew before he took her for an evening walk to explain."

    "God had tried both of these young people, and they had not failed him.  Still, Joseph was worried because he did not understand what part he was to play, nor how best to interpret the will of God.  The scripture plainly said that the Messiah would be born of a virgin, and Joseph interpreted this to mean that he would have no prerogatives as a husband, now or ever."

Here Jim Bishop, in his "reconstruction" which is, of course, fiction, is imagining Joseph's thoughts on this subject as Jim Bishop knows that his church, the Roman Catholic church wants and believes Joseph to have thought. Based in this case upon one verse in the Gospel of Matthew, that does not in realty say this at all. Wrote Matthew in chapter 1, verse 25, "---And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name Jesus." That's 3 to 6 months later, NOT "now or ever".  And two other texts, one in Matthew 13 and one in Mark 6, list four sons and some daughters that Joseph did become the father of, and most Christians (but not all) assume that Mary was their mother!   And Jim Bishop "GOT THIS RIGHT"by allowing, in his "reconstruction", a 19 year old carpenter to fall in love with a 15 year old mother of Jesus Christ!

   "The following week, they were married and Joseph took Mary to his home.  One of his worries, he confided to Mary, was that if the old prophecy of a Messiah was to be fulfilled, then something was wrong because everyone knew  that the sacred scriptures said that the King of Kings would be born in Bethlehem -- the city of David.  Their infant would be born in Nazareth, a place over ninety miles north of Bethlehem."

      "She had no intention of traveling anywhere, Mary said.  She was going to remain here in Nazareth.  In the summer months, and the early autumn, the older women of the town noticed that she was pregnant, and they counseled her to remain close to her home.  She would not go to see Elizabeth's baby, so why should she consider traveling to Bethlehem?  Joseph nodded.  That was the way he felt.  He had never been to Bethlehem and he had no intention of going there."

    All this was changed, of course, by the unexpected decree of Caesar Augustus, who, according to Jim Bishop's reconstruction, ordered all his subjects at the time of the winter solstice to return to the cities of their fathers and there be counted.  And so occurred the 90 mile, 5 day trip to Bethlehem by Mary on the donkey and Joseph walking by her side that began this book.

     "The final few miles were fatiguing.  Joseph stumbled many times in the dark and, over his shoulder, he asked his wife if she was quiet.  When they were two miles from Bethlehem, she said no.  She felt uncomfortable, she said, but it was bearable and she had no complaint.  She hoped  that they would reach the inn on time."

     "The stretch of road into Bethlehem curved broadly and climbed steadily.  To the left the valley was precipitous.  Four hundred feet below, the whistle of shepherds could be heard and sometimes, in the deep silences, the shepherds could be heard exchanging greetings.  It was a cool night with a fair breeze coming out of the south.  In the darkness, the stars brightened and swelled so that among the clusters of little blue ones, big ones winked coldly across the centuries of time."

    Later on that same night several unusual events occurred in that same sky over Bethlehem recorded faithfully both in the Bible and in Jim Bishop's book "The Day Christ was Born."  I'll let you read of these events yourself, and of the Bethlehem shepherds who saw the angels and heard them sing, and of the Wise Men from the East who saw the bright star that appeared in the eastern sky. 

     "It came up majestically over the rim of the world and could be plainly seen through the trees of a forest, in the mirror of a quiet lake, a blue pearl over a tawny desert, a gem of hope far at sea.  It was seen by many, and marked by few.  The star was blue-white, in the orderly orbit of the heavens, and it seemed so large that it shed blue shafts of radiance.  Three of the men who studied it were Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar."

    The wise men and the shepherds both got to see the newborn babe in the cave below the inn of Bethlehem so crowded with travelers and people there to obey the census decree of Caesar Augustus that every cubit of space outside of this cave for animals was rented since three days prior to Joseph's plea for a place for his pregnant wife to give birth to their child.   But Mary did manage to give birth in the hay and straw and among the animals in the cave, listed on page 50 of Jim Bishop's book as -- "haltered cattle, a few lambs, some asses, and a camel."

      "No one came down from the inn to ask how the young woman felt.  If she prayed, no one heard except the animals, some of whom stopped chewing for a moment to watch; others of whom opened sleepy eyes to see.  Time was slow; there was an infinity of silence; a timeless time when the future of mankind hung in empty space."

      Mary told Joseph that the nights would be too cold to permit the infant to travel until after the circumcision.  They would have to continue to live in the stable for eight days.  Joseph went into town and awakened a carpenter and explained the circumstances.  The carpenter had loaned him the tools he needed, and with the permission of the owner of the inn, he had used the sides of the stalls to build a small, almost private room for his Mary and baby.  This worked out well for Joseph and his small family as they took care of several other requirements for a first born son that must be met under Jewish Mosaic law.

     "There were two ceremonies to be undergone before they could go home to Nazareth -- the presentation of the first-born at the temple in Jerusalem, and the purification of the mother.  The first, under the law, could take place any time after the thirty-first day of a male child.  The second could not occur before the forty-first day."

     "The first forty-one days were sentimental ones for Mary and Joseph.  They were happy ones spent in the humblest surroundings.  When the census taking was over, they could have moved up to the inn because there was room, but it would have been an added expense, and Joseph's carpentry in the stable had turned out so well that the young couple felt relaxrd and at home among the domestic animals."

      "At dawn on the forty-first day, Joseph saddled the little jackass, and packed enough food and water for one day's travel.  It would be five miles to Jerusalem and five back.  Then, after a good night's rest, they would pack everything, pay the innkeeper, and start the five-day trip to Nazareth."

    "THE LITTLE FAMILY WAS READY to return to Nazareth when Joseph awakened the next morning early and sat in silence until Mary opened her eyes.  She saw the frown and asked if he was troubled.  Yes, he said, he was.  In the night he had had a dream.  He saw an angel, the same one he had seen before.  The angel was agitated.  'Rise!' he commanded. 'Take with you the child and his mother and flee into Egypt!  Remain there until I give you further notice.  Herod is on the point of searching for the child in order to take his life!"


      During the census and the visit of the Wise Men, King Herod was not yet energized to perform the mass baby-killings he became so well-known for throughout the later Christian centuries that would begin with Constantine's edicts of the 4th century AD.  But that changed soon after Joseph had fled secretly with his little family to Egypt.   Jim Bishop, with many years' experience working for two large New York City newspapers injoys in this book about the Day Christ was born makes as much of this Herod the Baby-killer story as it is possible for an imaginative reporter and journalist to do.

     Herod not only orders all the babies killed two years old an under that were or might have been in Bethlehem during the census, but also some who were in Jerusalem and even those of the proper age of the soldiers themselves.   For good measure, he even has his own son Antipas killed!

     Page 95 "Herod's soldiers had arrested the innkeeper and his wife, but torture could bring no further information than that they had no room at the inn for the expectant mother, and had permitted her to live in the stable with her husband and newborn.  The king was seventy years of age, and very ill, but his rage enslaved him and he tore fabrics and drapes from the walls and screamed until the saliva hung on his beard."

     "Within a few days, the slauhter of the innocents began.  Soldiers in squads hurried from house to house, tearing babies from the arms of screaming mothers, throwing them on earthen floors and running short swords through the little bodies.  In every village, anguish and wailing followed the running visit of death.  In Jerusalem, some bereft mothers tried to carry their dead infants into the temple, as sacrifices."

     "The news mollified King Herod.  He asked many questions about the killings, and was pleased that his officers had done an efficient job.  Surely the so-called baby-king was among the many who died in the swift raids.  There was no chance that any infant had escaped the holocaust.  There were weeping and mourning all over the land and only Herod was happy."

     "For a while, his peace of mind improved his health.  To celebrate this feeling of tranquility, the king ordered his son Antipater to be executed at once.  When this was done, Herod felt even better because now there was no one in all the nation who aspired to his throne."

     "He was, for a time, almost benevolent.  The king began to eat again and managed to feel a little surge of joy at sight of the rising sun.  Then he was seized of a fit, and fell to the floor of his palace.  His councilors and officers were summoned and they stood around in a little group and watched the king strangle slowly.  There was nothing they could do to help him, and, apparently, there was no wish to ameliorate his last hour."

     "They stood polite and mute in the presence of majesty, and watched him grovel and tear at his throat, the dark eyes bugging from his head,a plea for assistance in the dying eyes.  When Herod's final gasp subsided in a gasp of resignation, the councelors moved to inform the nation, and Caesar Augustus in Rome, that the king was dead."

      "He had followed the infants, but he did not join them."

    Joseph and Mary and the baby Jesus began their long uncomfortable trek back from Egypt, where Joseph had worked for several years as an assistent carpenter beginning on page 100 of Jim Bishop's book.  But it was a simpler more manageable trip than it would have been had Jim Bishop attempted to honor with any credibility the idea that Josoph was a middle aged or old widower with a 4 older "half-brothers" for Jesus who were not biologically related to him at all.  Joseph still in this reconstruction being very young, perhaps 21 by now, is fully capable of the long walk, and the donkey or another like it, can not only carry some of their belongings, but also firewood to keep the mother and baby warm part of the cold desert nights.

    "It was a long, lonely walk for Joseph.  He led the little jackass, with its precious burden, over the never-ending dunes which climbed in hilly ridges, sometimes blowing the stinging sand in his young, worried face, sometimes lying still and slippery underfoot, like mountains of brown sugar.  His deeply tanned legs had carried him a long, long way, and all because of a baby that wasn't truly his."

      "The youthful carpenter would have blushed if anyone had called him noble, but he was noble beyond the calling of any man.  No love of a man for a woman had been put to such spirit-breaking tests as this one, and survived in unquestioning meekness.  If he had felt disposed, he could have passed the visitations of the angel off as wishful dreams.  He could have banished his bride, had her stoned to death, or, at the least, had her sent off to a faraway place to have her baby in loneliness and sorrow."

     "The best thing for the baby, he figured, was a normal upbringing.  He hoped that Mary would not oppose him in this.  And he hoped too that their knowledge of the child's sacredness would not influence them in his daily care.  He would not want Jesus to get special treatment.  Joseph enjoyed the laughter and  play of youngsters, and it was not too long ago that he had squatted in the dirt streets of Nazareth playing games with the boys.  Still, laughter and play implied discipline, and he might have to be firm with Mary, so that she would be firm with the child."

      "---He would, in time, teach Jesus how to square a piece of lumber and cut it; how to cut a dowel and insert it in cypress; how to make use of small scraps of wood in a land almost denuded of lumber; how to care for a little donkey and to load it with a day's work; how to be respectful to a mother even when he disagreed with her wishes."

    Matthew 13:55 "Is not this the CARPENTER'S SON? is not his mother MARY? and his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas?   56 And his sisters, are they not all with us?  Whence then hath this MAN all these things?"

    Mark 6:3 "Is not this THE CARPENTER, the son of MARY, the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us?  And they were offended at him."

     Jim Bishop in his 1960 best-seller "THE DAY CHRIST WAS BORN" would answer with a resounding "YES" the first question posed by both of these texts.  But he maintains throughout his book that this was a totally miraculous birth, and that Joseph accepted that he would never be permitted by God to have normal intimacy or children of his own with the "Virgin Mary."  Where all this siblings of Jesus mentioned in the second parts of both these texts came from, either Jim Bishop hasn't a clue, or he's leaving that problem for either a SEQUEL of his own, or somebody else to solve in a book of their own.   After all, his book is about "THE DAY CHRIST WAS BORN", not about how or when Jesus' brothers and sisters showed up!   And that's how Jim Bishop "GOT IT RIGHT!"

Luke's Nativity Story - Click Here!

Return  to "Birth of God" Index