Pope: There Were No Animals at Birth of Jesus

The animals are a myth though virgin birth was real, he writes in new book

By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff

Posted Nov 21, 2012 2:53 AM CST

(Newser) – Nativity scenes—even the one at the Vatican—are getting it wrong when they depict donkeys, camels, and other animals present at the birth of Jesus, according to Pope Benedict XVI. Though Jesus may have been born in a stable, there is no mention of the animals in the Gospels or any other reason to believe animals were present, the pontiff writes in Jesus of Nazareth—The Infancy Narratives, the final volume of his trilogy on the life of Jesus, the Telegraph reports. Still, the tradition of showing animals by the manger is so deeply entrenched that it is certain to live on, he notes.

Carol singing also stems from a misunderstanding, the pontiff writes. When the gospels refer to angels "praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest,'" they spoke the words instead of singing them, he writes, though "Christianity has always understood that the speech of angels is actually song, in which all the glory of the great joy that they proclaim becomes tangibly present." The story of the three wise men may have been inspired by a "theological idea" instead of a historical event, but the virgin conception of Jesus is definitely historical fact and not a myth, the pontiff writes.

Pope Benedict XVI prays at the nativity scene at St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican in 2009. According to him, that cow and donkey shouldn't really be there.   (AP Photo/Pier Paolo Cito)
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