May 14, 2008
In one of many arguments to establish the New Testament as unreliable historically, Mangasarian brings up what he feels to be a discrepancy between accounts of what took place during the time immediately after Jesus’ birth.
Matthew records that after Jesus was born, Magi from the east came to visit him and present gifts. Prior to finding Jesus, they approached Herod and asked if he knew where the newborn ‘king of the Jews’ was. (Matthew 2:2) Herod, disturbed, told the Magi to report back to him when they found the location of the newborn ‘king of the Jews,’ no doubt a political move. The Magi were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, while Mary and Joseph were warned in a dream to take Jesus and flee to Egypt. It is important to point out that the length of time the Magi stayed is not specified in Matthew’s account. Luke then records that after Jesus was born, Mary and Joseph took him to the temple to be presented as was the Jewish custom of the time. Are the two in conflict, as Mangasarian claims?
Mangasarian writes, “It is impossible to reconcile the flight to Egypt with the presentation in the temple…Luke says nothing about this hurried flight. On the contrary, he tells us that after the 40 days of purification were over, Jesus was publicly presented at the temple, where Herod, if he really, as Matthew relates, wished to seize him, could have done so without difficulty.”
Luke indeed does write that after the 40 days of purification required by Jewish law were over Jesus was presented at the temple. So what exactly does Mangasarian contend? He is arguing that since Herod wanted to kill Jesus, there is no logical way in the world that Mary and Joseph would have presented Jesus in the temple, because Herod could have seized him. In theory it sounds logical. However, Mangasarian omits to mention Matthew 2:7,8 in which Herod originally told the Magi to report back to him to disclose the location of Jesus so he could worship him. However, the Magi never returned to Herod. It was not until two years later that Herod realized the Magi had ditched him. It was then that Herod “…gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.” (Matthew 2:16) Why, otherwise, would the edict include the detail of two years? In other words, I’m contending that the three could’ve slipped in for purification right under Herod’s nose, while he was waiting for the Magi to return.
So, at the time Jesus was being presented at the temple, 40 days after his birth, Herod was still waiting for the Magi to return and tell him where Jesus was. Herod may or may not have been engaging in an active search for the baby Jesus, his edict had not been decreed. Mangasarian forms an irrational conclusion from a faulty premise. The faulty premise is that ‘it is impossible to reconcile the flight to Egypt with the presentation in the temple.’ This, as just demonstrated, is not true. At the time Jesus was presented in the temple, Herod was waiting for the Magi to return. It was not until two years after Jesus had been born that Herod gave his murderous orders.
So, the likely scenario is that Jesus was born and presented in the temple forty days later, and shortly thereafter, Mary and Joseph escaped to Egypt. Mangasarian’s faulty conclusion is that ‘this inconsistency is certainly insurmountable and makes it look as if the narrative had no value whatever as history.’
Mangasarian has made better arguments against the New Testament. The only inconsistency in this case Mangasarian’s inaccurate interpretation of scripture.