An alternative nativity story for the run-up to Christmas

This is an excerpt from “The Gospel of Eleazar,” which is included in my book, “Stories in the Scriptures.”

When Herod was King of Judea and Galilee there were wise men living in Jerusalem, sons of the People of the Scattering, and sons of the sons of families who had remained in Babylon to tend their olive groves and vineyards when Cyrus decreed that some should return to build anew the City of David. These men had the learning of Babylon and the oracles of the Sages and the Torah. They determined from the Short Oracle of Daniel how many years must elapse from the rebuilding of Jerusalem until the time of Messiah the Prince.

The Rabbis of Jerusalem held that the Oracle was determined to the time of Judas Maccabee, but Phanuel and Gabriel, the Seers, said that the Short Oracle alone was of Daniel and it was to be determined in their time. This is the Short Oracle:

Seventy weeks have been determined upon thy people and upon the Holy City, for sin to be ended and to seal up transgressions, and to blot out the iniquities, and to make atonement for iniquities, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and seal the vision and the prophet, and to anoint the Most Holy. And thou shalt know and understand that from the going forth of the command for the answer and for the building of Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there shall be seventy weeks. (Cf Dan 9:24f Septuagint)

Gabriel and Phanuel spoke with gracious words and many people who longed for the return of the time of God’s favour were persuaded. So the people fasted and prayed and they brought to the Seers girls, the daughters of worthy families of unblemished character. Six girls came before them. They were beautiful and they were strong but the Seers kept their counsel. Last came Mariam, a girl of fourteen years who was promised in marriage to Yosef the Carpenter. Gabriel looked upon her and he prayed in his heart. Phanuel, a man of greatly advanced years, advanced beyond what is common to men, took her hand and he touched her face for he was blind, and he also prayed in his heart. And Mariam departed from them.

The Seers spent the night in prayer and in the morning when it was light, Gabriel spoke the name of Mariam. And Phanuel likewise spoke her name and said, “let it be so.” Then Gabriel hurried on foot to Mariam’s home and they brought her to him. And before her father and her mother and all her brothers Gabriel told her what God had revealed to them when they spent the night in prayer, that she was to be the one who would give birth to Messiah the Prince. So Mariam went to her father and her mother and embraced them and her father blessed her. Then she came to Gabriel and said, ‘Let it be so.’

Then Gabriel went to Yosef and told him what had been determined but Yosef’s heart was heavy because he wanted a son who would learn his trade and build houses and villages. Gabriel said to him, “You will have many sons and God will put his blessing upon you.” And Yosef said, “Let it be so.”

Mariam’s father and mother prepared a pack mule and they sent her to the home of Elizabeth their kinswoman and Zechariah the priest. There Mariam stayed for three months and returned home when she had conceived. And Gabriel said, “What is bound on earth let it be bound also in heaven.”

When it was determined that the child would thrive Gabriel said to Yosef, “You must take Mariam and the child and leave Judea. For when Messiah the Prince takes the throne of David there will be no longer any place for a king of Herod’s line. Nor will there be any place for the Wicked Priest. They will strive to prevent Messiah’s appearing so you must trust none but the Seers and the Rabbis and you must come with me. You will follow your trade in Galilee and you will teach the child all the crafts and secrets of the carpenter. And I will teach him the holy wisdom of the Law and the Prophets and the Seers.”

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