Vital Signs

The Bishops’ Tale

Last December, Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams was roundly criticized for publicly denying the Christmas story.  “Archbishop Says Nativity a Legend,” the Daily Telegraph headline screamed, igniting a transatlantic controversy over the ostensibly Grinch-like prelate.

In fact, the archbishop of Canterbury was pointing out that much of the popular imagery surrounding the Nativity scene is not specifically biblical.  When Jesus was born, there were no talking donkeys, no Little Drummer Boy, and no Christmas trees at the Manger, at least according to the Gospels.

Evidently, the Telegraph was looking for a juicy anti-Christmas headline and grossly misrepresented Williams’ remarks about Christmas made during a BBC radio interview.  “The Archbishop of Canterbury said yesterday that the Christmas story of the Three Wise Men was nothing but a ‘legend,’” the newspaper claimed.  But Williams only observed that the Bible does not specify the number of magi, nor does it ever describe them as “kings.”

“Matthew’s gospel says they are astrologers, wise men, priests from somewhere outside the Roman Empire, that’s all we’re really told,” Williams accurately recounted.  The Telegraph reported that he “went on to dispel other details of the Christmas story”; in fact, he denied nothing...

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