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Daily Archives: December 21, 2010


The Christmas Story in Q?

Doug Chaplin is pondering a few commonalities, including “a clear verbal parallel at the core,” between Matthew and Luke’s versions of the story of Jesus’ birth. What if Matthew didn’t “invent” his story of Mary’s virginal conception in order to fit his messianic interpretation of Isaiah 7:14 but rather appealed to Isaiah 7:14 to explain a detail he already knew from his Jesus tradition?

Matthew is certainly keen on demonstrating Jesus as the fulfilment of prophecy, and capable of moving backwards and forwards between prophecy and the Jesus story. We must therefore weigh each instance to see whether it is more likely that Matthew has come up with a detail which (absent any real knowledge) must have happened in this way because of what the prophet said, or whether he has decided this or that verse is a prophecy because it fits with the Jesus tradition as he has received it.

It is certainly plausible, for example, to think that either Matthew or his tradition come up with the birthplace in Bethlehem because of Micah’s prophecy (though I’m not fully persuaded). It seems to me a good deal less plausible that a virgin birth should be invented on the basis of a verse no-one else ever seems to have taken as Messianic. I would be more inclined to think that this is Matthew “scripturizing” (a term I owe to Mark Goodacre) the tradition he has received, and justifying the rather odd new Christian belief about Messiah for his somewhat beleaguered Judeo-Christian community.

If I’m right, that Matthew is innovative in offering this rather odd reading of Isaiah 7:14 because of a prior belief about Jesus, perhaps it may also be a further reason for thinking he is working with a pre-existing tradition about the birth of Jesus, and indeed, one he shares with Luke.


A Thoughtful Answer to “the Santa Question”

It’s delivered from a Catholic perspective, but this Protestant kind of likes it and will be filing it away for future reference. (H/T: The Anchoress)

The Devil’s in the Details

… unless he’s completely AWOL, that is. Duane Smith has all the abnormal info.

Challenge to Anti-Intellectual Christians


Lessons and Carols 6

The Sixth Lesson:

St Luke tells of the birth of Jesus.

At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. All returned to their own towns to register for this census. And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. He took with him Mary, his fiancée, who was obviously pregnant by this time.

And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the village inn. (Luke 2:1, 3-7, NLT)


“O Little Town of Bethlehem”

Neville Longbottom and the Map of Mysteries

Dear Hermione,

To answer your question from your last letter: Yes, Malkin Academy is a lot like Hogwarts. In fact, Hogwarts played an important role in Malkin’s founding. Directly after passage of the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy (1692 if you don’t know—ha ha!), wizards in America decided to start their own wizarding school. Apparently an old frontier witch named Eudora Malkin had already begun training the children of other settlers back in the hills, and she was asked to take the lead in forming a proper school. The British Ministry for Magic paid a lot of the start-up costs. (Remember, America was a bunch of British colonies back then.) For the first hundred years or so, many of the faculty were Hogwarts graduates. They even have a portrait of Dilys Derwent in their infirmary! (That’s what they call their hospital wing.)

So anyway, the curriculum is very similar what we had at Hogwarts and they use a lot of the same textbooks, only American editions with the spelling all funny. They even sort the students into Houses. The Malkin Houses are Fairgarland, Proudfeather, Quickfang, and Strongfoot, symbolized respectively by a laurel crown (or a chap wearing one—they’re not terribly consistent), a bald eagle, a mountain lion, and a buffalo. They don’t correspond exactly to Gryffindor and the rest, though. My supervisor, Mr. Corntassel, is Head of Proudfeather House. They’re a very bright lot all in all—very quick and intuitive, but a bit too ready to cut corners if you asked me. It’s like they figure out the answer and then go back and work out how they should have got there. For example, just last night this one girl, Kate Burr


Neville’s quill slipped at the sudden noise. He quickly magicked away the mess as he stood to greet the solidly built man who was stalking into the Herbology classroom

“Good morning, Mr. Malleus,” Neville said.

“Is Mr. Corntassel around?”

“I haven’t seen him.”

“That’s not what I asked” the visitor glared. Then, talking to the air, he said, “Magi? Are you in here?”

“I think he had some business in Malkinville this morning. Something about a shipment of Carnivorous Chicory. Is there something I can help you with, Mr. Malleus?”

Malleus bit his lower lip as he sized Neville up. The Defense against the Dark Arts teacher was about fifty, with a neatly trimmed beard but no mustache. He furrowed his brow, and then said, almost resignedly, “Yeah. Just a question, really. Let me show you something.”

Only then did Neville notice the folded piece of parchment in Mr. Malleus’s hand. He unfolded it to reveal a very large square.

“I’m working on something,” he said matter-of-factly.

Neville cleared away several bowls of Dittany his students would be shredding and drying later that morning to make room for Mr. Malleus’s project. Once he got a good look at it, he couldn’t believe his eyes.

“As you can see,” Mr. Malleus began, “this is a map of Malkin Academy—the classroom buildings, the grounds, the dormitories. Malkinville is up the road this way.”

Indeed, all of these features were expertly charted and labeled in Mr. Malleus’s bold, angular handwriting.

“It’s very nice,” Neville said. Knowing Mr. Malleus’s general wariness of students’ intentions he felt a grin growing upon his face. He bit the inside of his cheek to bring his face back under control.

“Now, I’ve already found a secret passage that leads from this closet across from the Potions classroom down to the broom shed. See? I haven’t blocked it because it might come in handy in an emergency. But the real idea is to track people’s movements over the entire campus. Have ‘em show up as tiny labeled dots. Maybe moving footprints even.”

“Yes, quite clever,” Neville said, his cheeks growing pink.

“I’ve got all the Charms all worked out. Nothing a seventh-year couldn’t do—if he took the time to do the research.”

Neville couldn’t help himself. “Perhaps even a group of gifted younger students working together?”

“Not likely, Longbottom. Most kids don’t have that kind of discipline. As I said, I’ve got the Charms worked out, but I’m running into problems with the Animated Ink. According to what I’ve read, the best recipe calls for Spanish licorice. Is there any chance Mr. Corntassel has some growing in the greenhouse?”

“None in the greenhouse, I’m afraid. There’s a small patch in the garden, but it won’t be ready until summer.”

Mr. Malleus pondered Neville’s answer. “I guess that will do. At least it gives me a chance to gather all the other ingredients. Thanks, Longbottom. I’ll talk to Magi about the licorice after Christmas.”

“You know, Mr. Malleus, I’m thinking…”


“Well, it’s just that…. Have you ever thought of what could happen if a map like that were ever lost or stolen?”

Mr. Malleus fell silent, but only for a moment.

“Hmm. Good point, Longbottom. I’d better add some kind of security feature. I guess I could recopy the thing in Disappearing Ink. Make sure you can only read it if you know the password.”

“An excellent idea, Mr. Malleus.”

“Will you be here for Christmas, Longbottom?”

“Actually I’m heading home to London on Friday. I haven’t seen Hannah since July and, well….”

“Newlyweds!” Mr. Malleus stated, to no one in particular. “Well, I’ll see you at dinner tonight, then I’ll be off to Pennsylvania.”

“Be sure and wish your grandmother a Happy Christmas from me.”

Mr. Malleus stalked out of the Herbology classroom just had he had stalked in. Class would begin in five minutes—plenty of time for Neville to finish his paragraph.

For example, just last night this one girl, Kate Burroughs was sure Mr. Malleus, one of the other teachers, was up to no good. She and a couple of friends were about to try and break into his office. If I hadn’t stopped them, they could have all been in serious trouble. (Mr. Malleus is okay. He’s tough as nails and demands nothing less than perfection from his students, but he’s got their best interests at heart. Sort of like Professor McGonagall, now that I think of it!)

Just then a trickle of Strongfoot and Quickfang fourth-years began to enter the classroom.

“Good morning, Mr. Longbottom! Where’s Mr. Corntassel?” cried a bright-eyed African American student.

“Good morning, Elliot. And good morning to you, Greta, Jeremy, Jessica…. Mr. Corntassel had to be away this morning. But it looks like everyone’s ready for their last Herbology class before Christmas Holiday! Nothing terribly difficult today. I’ve got some Dittany that has to be prepared for use in the infirmary. Now, who can tell me the difficulties in preparing fresh Dittany? ….”