Is the Nativity a legend?
There are ‘Archbishop says nativity is legend’ stories popping up all over the internet. But let’s see what Rowan actually said: Well Matthew’s gospel doesn’t tell us that there were three of them, doesn’t tell us they were kings, doesn’t tell us where they came from, it says they’re astrologers, wise men, priests from somewhere…
There are ‘Archbishop says nativity is legend’ stories popping up all over the internet. But let’s see what Rowan actually said:
Well Matthew’s gospel doesn’t tell us that there were three of them, doesn’t tell us they were kings, doesn’t tell us where they came from, it says they’re astrologers, wise men, priests from somewhere outside the Roman Empire. That’s all we’re really told so, yes, ‘the three kings with the one from Africa’ – that’s legend; it works quite well as legend.
The transcript is here if you’d like to see it in context, or you can listen again to the whole programme.
The thing that Rowan said was legend was ‘the three kings with the one from Africa’. Nothing more. He only uses the word ‘legend’ once, and this is it. Trust me, I’ve been through it with a fine Firefox ‘find’ function. He definitely does not describe ‘the Nativity’ as a legend.
But you wouldn’t know it from the various reports that are popping up. Lets do a bit of ‘didn’t read the transcript’ spotting:
Rowan Williams’ nativity own goal : December 2007 : Holy Smoke : UK : Telegraph Blogs:
Does Rowan Williams EVER think before opening his mouth? He waits until the week before Christmas before describing the nativity as a “legend” and condemning the poor wise men, asses and oxen to the realms of fantasy.
Archbishop says nativity ‘a legend’ – Telegraph:
Dr Rowan Williams has claimed there was little evidence that the Magi even existed
Dr Rowan Williams yesterday debunked a large part of the Christmas story as a myth.
Stand Firm – +Rowan: Nativity a ‘legend’:
But Matthew does claim that the Magi were real rather than legendary figures
Update: Geg Griffiths, the webmaster of ‘Stand Firm’ explains why he posted this article with the inaccurate headline “+Rowan: Nativity a ‘legend’”. The italics are a quote from another poster.
But SF should have different standards. Your headline should have either accurately summed up what Williams DID say or it should have made clear that it was the Telegraph, not you, who was claiming Williams said the Nativity was legend.
This brings up one of the more challenging issues of running a blog like this. What do we do when we run across a story like this? Do we dig into it thoroughly and offer an analysis informed by having read every tidbit contained in it? If we did, we’d get one or two things posted a day, if we’re lucky.
Do we rewrite headlines? Well, yes, sometimes we do, when it’s immediately obvious there’s an inaccuracy or an omission, or just when we want to have some fun. In this case, all I did was replace “Archbishop of Canterbury” with +Rowan, following our informal policy around here of using Anglican shorthand when we can, to keep headlines as short as possible without losing any meaning (“KJS” and “DioSJ” are examples).
Are we under an obligation to correct another site’s headline? No. In this case, I read what +Rowan said: It ‘works well as legend,’ and I knew that he didn’t necessarily mean ‘legend’ to mean ‘fiction.’ I decided not to make a judgement about what he meant, but to post the headline as the newspaper had it. My focus, as I’ve said, is on his poor judgement as concerns his statements to the media. Yes, it’s true that the print article isn’t as faithful to the interview transcript as it should be, but neither is it completely in error. I’ve been the subject of media interviews and not once has the result been error-free, so mistakes on the part of the press are a given. But even factoring for that, I say +Rowan needs to do some serious work in the area of what he says to the press, and when. It’s gotten to the point where, come a major Christmas holiday, if you want a remark from a notable Christian leader that seems to pooh-pooh Christianity, just head to Lambeth Palace, and voila.
Which brings up another challenge of running a blog like this: When do we switch from observing a subject, to observing another observer? In some cases a third party’s article on something is transparent, which makes it easy to observe the subject. In other cases, the observers themselves deserve more criticism than the subject they’re observing. In this case I’m doing a little of both. There’s nothing dishonest about it, there’s no subterfuge going on here, and I fail to see how it can be characterized as “not good work.”
Further update: See also: Nick Page » Archbishop Rowan annoys the Telegraph (again)
Additional further update: Babyblue puts it down to ‘bad staffing’. Any excuse to show the Archbishop and anyone associated with him in a bad light.
Who’s bright idea was it for Rowan Williams to talk to Sophie and Simon at the Telegraph anyway? Where’s Jonathon? Out flyfishing with Stephen Bates?
The interview was with Simon Mayo on Radio 5 which anyone who has read the transcript or listed to the interview would know. I might almost go as far as to say that anyone has hasn’t done either of these things shouldn’t be pontificating on the story.