ROME, DEC. 11, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Who was Jesus, really? Did he really exist or is his story a pious invention?
Journalist Andrea Tornielli, who covers the Vatican for the Italian newspaper Il Giornale, tries to answer these questions in a new book, “Inchiesta su Gesù Bambino” (Research on the Child Jesus).
ZENIT interviewed the author about the book, which will be presented at the Catholic University in Rome on Tuesday.
Q: How did this book come about?
Tornielli: The book is journalistic research which instead of having as its object a current event, tries to follow with the same criteria a news item — better still, “good news,” which occurred 2,000 years ago: Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, the event that has divided humanity in two.
Q: What conclusions did you come to at the end of your research?
Tornielli: I have tried to answer the classic questions contained in the journalism manuals: who, what, where, when and why.
Sadly, also in the field of Christian exegesis, there is a tendency to consider the Gospels, specifically the Gospels of the Infancy, written by Matthew and Luke, as later “theological” constructions, full of symbols that have little to do with reality.
With my research, I have tried to demonstrate instead that the Gospels of the Infancy also have important connections with history, and that the events narrated in those pages are very well inscribed in the historical, geographical and cultural context of the time.
Q: Can you give a concrete example?
Tornielli: Whoever holds that the Gospels are an intellectual construction of the “inventors” of the Christian religion, of the “creators” of the myth of Christ, should explain why these inventors have given their mythical founder, identified as the Son of God, a name such as Jesus, that is, one of the most common names in Palestine.
It would be as if today some one in Italy founded a new religion calling its God “Mario Rossi.” If the Gospels were really an invention, those who wrote them would have looked for a more unusual and original name for the Messiah.
Another example is that of the shepherds. Luke presents them to us as the first worshippers of the Child in Bethlehem. For the society of the time, the nomadic shepherds who lived on the outskirts of cities were not a very laudable class. They were considered thieves who lived day and night with their animals and didn’t wash. Their word had no value in court.
Something similar occurred at the moment of the Resurrection, an event first witnessed by women. Neither could they testify in court because, for ancient Jewish culture, their word had no value.
What “inventors” would have chosen such untrustworthy witnesses as the first witnesses of the birth of the Son of God and of his Resurrection?
Q: Can we say therefore that the historicity of the figure of Jesus of Nazareth emerges also in the Gospels of the Infancy?
Tornielli: Despite the fact that there are those who hold the opposite, the two evangelical accounts of the Infancy show serious and concrete connections with the history of the time.
Suffice it to think of Matthew’s account, older than Luke’s, and probably coming from Joseph’s family tradition. The evangelist does not hide at all the confusion caused by the Mary’s pregnancy, before her marriage to Joseph took place and they lived under the same roof.
If the Gospels really were an invention of the first Christian community, why not censor this detail or, more simply, anticipate by a few days the angel’s announcement to Joseph, avoiding the worrisome time of that pregnancy borne by the carpenter, [with the possibility of] having to reject his bride-to-be in secret?