According to CNN, In “Jesus of Nazareth — The Infancy Narratives,” the pope says the Christian calendar is actually based on a blunder by a sixth century monk, who Benedict says was several years off in his calculation of Jesus’ birth date.
According to the pope’s research, there is also no evidence in the Gospels that the cattle and other animals traditionally pictured gathered around the manger were actually present.
CNN also reports that the Pope debunks the claim that angels sang at the birth, a staple theme of Christmas carols.
The book, which is being published in multiple languages in time for Christmas, is the third in a series by the pontiff. The previous two volumes dealt with Jesus’ adult life and his public ministry, CNN said.
Alessandro Speciale, Vatican correspondent for the Religion News Service, told CNN the pope was not so much aiming to debunk myths as trying to show that the Jesus depicted in the Gospels is a real historical figure, who walked on earth and talked to people like anyone else.
The pope also looks at scholarly studies of the Bible, some of which have indicated for decades that the traditionally accepted birth date for Jesus is wrong, Speciale said.
Benedict writes that since King Herod died in 4 BC, Jesus was probably born “a few years earlier.” He attributes the erroneous fixing of the year of Jesus’ birth to a miscalculation by the monk Dionysius Exiguous some 500 years later.
But while the book points out that the Gospels do not support the presence of animals at Jesus’ birth — a detail apparently added in later centuries — the pope does not suggest they should be thrown out of the Nativity scene, Speciale said.
“The pope is a traditional man and he doesn’t want people at all to change their traditions,” Speciale said.
The 176-page volume, which comprises a brief foreword, four chapters and an epilogue, traces Jesus’ life up to the age of 12, when, according to the Gospels, he was presented by his parents in the Temple in Jerusalem, the Vatican said.
According to the CNN, the initial worldwide print run is more than a million copies, it said, with the book released this week across 50 countries in Italian, German, Croatian, French, English, Polish, Portuguese and Spanish.
In the coming months, the book will be translated into 12 more languages for publication in 72 countries in total, the Vatican added.