Part of a continuing series* looking at the pagan origins of the Christmas Myths, one day at a time. Today: the story of lonely shepherds, and what a flock of angels does to them late at night …
SO, THERE YOU ARE out there abiding in your fields, minding your own sheep flock’s business –a shepherd watching your flock by night—and all of a sudden this old angel shows up, and then another, and then another—until out there in your back paddock you’ve pretty much got the whole Heavenly Host flying about just above the campfire.
And then they all start singing--and pretty bloody angelically by all accounts (well, by the one account). And let’s be honest, over the years human beings have put some pretty damned heavenly music to the words they are supposed to have sung.
But if the story all sounds just a trifle far-fetched, perhaps that’s why only one of the Gospels’ authors chose to add it to their collected tall tales of Jesus’ great adventures. Only Luke. (Mark and John don’t even bother with any of this Nativity stuff. And Matthew couldn’t have shepherds cluttering up his story, could he: it was already full of Magi.)
And where did Luke get this part of his tall tale from? Easy. Once again, he just lifted it from those old myths of the pagans and from the east, in which the the birth of every world-historic leader was marked by the sound of heavenly singing—or at least by a loud heavenly voice making a joyful noise.
They’re all nice stories, so why wouldn’t an authow wanting his hero to be thought nice just gently borrow them?
IT HAPPENED IN INDIA when the virgin Devaki bore Chrishna, “the quarters of the horizon were irradiate with joy,” or so the legends tell us, “as if moonlight were over the whole earth.” Not to mention all the spirits and nymphs dancing and singing, and the very clouds emitting “low pleasing sounds” and “pouring down a rain of flowers.”
It would all be very splendid indeed, if true.
The Buddha’s birth too—“born for the good of men, to dispel the darkness of their ignorance”--brought forth a similar celestial celebration: great light, flowers, music heard all over the land, all beings everywhere full of joy, all the gods of the thirty-three heavens singing ding-dong merrily on high. Kind of makes a few angels in a field look just a little bit sad, don’t you think?
Crikey, even Confucius himself couldn’t get himself born without the reported appearance of celestial music.
Nor could the Egyptian Osiris, at whose birth a loud voice was heard proclaiming, “The Ruler of all the Earth is born.” (And so, if you were Egyptian, he was.)
The divine Apollo entered the world in Delos to the joy of all the gods in Olympus, it was said, “and the Earth itself laughed beneath the smile of Heaven.” Hercules’s father Zeus yelled down from heaven to proclaim the birth of his son—by all accounts not very tunefully, but the trend at least is clear.
The “heavenly Apollonius” went one better than just having a tune at his birth: not only did music attend his birth, but a flock of swans appeared, surrounding his mother, clapping their wings in rhythm, singing in unison and fanning the air with a gentle breeze. Lovely! Who needs angels when you’ve got the whole corps of Swan Lake up there in the sky.
SO YOU CAN SEE there is nothing either unique or odd in stories with a heavenly host proclaiming a momentous birth.
What is unique or odd however is that only one of the Gospels bothers to make mention of this portentous event at all. Which, if it were more than just a good story to tell around a campfire, is passing strange don’t you think?
READ THE WHOLE #CHRISTMAS MYTHS SERIES HERE:
* This and later posts in the series rely heavily on Thomas William Doane’s Bible Myths and Their Parallels in Other Religions. Unless otherwise attributed, all quotes are sourced from there.