The Birth of Jesus

The principal sources for Jesus' life are the four canonical gospels (c. 90 C.E.) by the evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Several noncanonical Christian texts called apochrypha or pseudepigrapha also include stories of Jesus' life, but these are not included in the New Testament. Written in Greek, although Jesus himself spoke Aramaic, the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke are called the "synoptic" gospels because they all correspond closely and share a common perspective. The gospel of John is more philosophical and was written a bit later, perhaps 100 C.E.

In the gospel accounts, the story of Jesus begins with the story of his conception. When she was a young girl, his mother Mary was engaged to a carpenter, Joseph. During this time the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, who was a virgin, and told her that she was carrying a child, a boy to be named Jesus who was the Messiah. Mary told her cousin Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, of the angel's visit and the angel also appeared to Joseph in a dream to tell him that Mary had conceived a child through the Holy Spirit. Mary and Joseph then married. Toward the end of Mary's pregnancy, although they lived in Nazareth, Mary and Joseph were required to travel to Bethlehem to be counted as part of the census organized by the Romans to assess taxes in the province. Because Bethlehem was crowded with travelers coming there for the census, Mary and Joseph could not find a room at any inn. Mary was in labor and instead of turning them away completely, one innkeeper allowed them to sleep in the stables. There, in the last years of Herod's despotic reign, Jesus was born.

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