Art, tradition and stereotypes

Published 8:21 pm Thursday, December 18, 2008

I like to wonder about the difference between how we view the Christmas story as told in the Bible and how it must have really looked.

Even though we have God-inspired accounts of the birth of Christ, most of what we picture in our minds is shaped by art, tradition and stereotypes.

There are many beautiful works of art that depict what Christ might have looked like, and these are the images we get in our heads when he try to imagine him. During Christmas, we are surrounded by nativity scenes, but I doubt any of them come close to what it was really like.

I read with interest one of this week’s submissions to our church news section that will be published tomorrow. A local pastor talked about how it is unlikely there were only three wise men visiting Jesus since they were carrying very costly gifts. But most nativity scenes show only three of these characters. Then there is the Christmas carol, “We Three Kings.”

Of course, I realize that these sculptures and songs are only meant to be abstract representations of the biblical account of Christ’s birth. At least, that is the way they should be viewed.

I have also read that Jesus was likely about 2 years old when he was visited by the wise men. This is also contrary to tradition because we usually picture them visiting the infant Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes.

What is really interesting is the star that led the wise men to Bethlehem. Science has attempted to come up with many accounts of what this might have been, ranging from UFOs to the planet Jupiter being eclipsed by the moon. The latter theory was presented by a Rutgers astronomer.

I believe these kinds of explorations are healthy as long as we recognize the significance of Christ’s birth and why we celebrate this event every year.

– Scott Mims is the news editor for The Clanton Advertiser. His column appears each Friday. He can be reached at