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Archbishop James Long joined Connie Willis (email) for the full program in a discussion on the traditional miracles of Christmas and the birth of Jesus. Long is a Catholic priest who also performs exorcisms, but said he was happy to be talking about something else for a change. He began with the story of the real Saint Nicholas, who (as the legend goes) left gold in stockings that were drying overnight by a fireplace to save three women from being sold into slavery. He recounted the story of the Nativity. Long is convinced that Jesus and Mary were “real people who walked this Earth.” He also pointed out that, according to historical precedent and the customs of the time, Mary was probably about 12-14 years old at the time, and that Joseph was likely much older.
Long says that the legend of the Holy Family staying in a barn where Christ would have been born in a manger or animal’s food trough is probably not fully accurate. He believes it is probable that they stayed in a guest room or other separate structure, perhaps belonging to relatives, where the building consisted of rooms over a downstairs space where animals would have been kept. He added that the “magi” who visited Christ would have arrived when he was around three or four years old. As for the “star” that led the Magi to them, Long guessed that this was possibly a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, since there are no records of a comet or supernova or other notable celestial event at that time.
Although some historical writers and theologians believe that Jesus had brothers and sisters, Long says that he has not been convinced by any evidence that has been presented so far. He also sees no compelling evidence that Jesus was married. Long added that the actual date of Christ’s birth has been in dispute for centuries. The current date was settled upon by the early Church based on the day that Mary was told she would be pregnant, which was traditionally nine months from March 25th. Some believe that it was actually sometime in September, since there are biblical references to livestock grazing in fields, which would have been barren in the winter.
Archbishop Long had some strong words for the idea that the story of Jesus is an ancient myth repurposed for a new religion. Some have claimed that the ancient Egyptian story of the god Horus bears striking parallels to the Christ narrative. Long said that for anyone to “reduce Jesus and Mary to fictional characters is repulsive” and that the Christian story describes people who actually lived and not mythological figures. As for the possibility that humans were created by an ET race, Long says that this sort of speculation is “getting into scary territory” for him, although he said that there is no doubt in his mind that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe. He also pointed out that the current Pope said “to believe in other alien life does not negate your belief in God.”