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November 11, 2021

The First Christmas: A Story of New Beginnings by Stephen Mitchell ~ a Review

by Donna Huber

Many authors have taken the Biblical account of the Messiah's birth and dramatized the story with details to give it a more colorful or intimate feel. I wasn't sure what to expect from Stephen Mitchell's version. From the description, it almost sounded as if it should be nonfiction, but with chapters told from the point of view of the ox and donkey, then it is at least some blend of fiction and nonfiction.

Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. A free book was provided for an honest review.

The First Christmas
November 2021; Macmillan Audio; 9781250820778
audio (3h 57m), ebook, print; holiday

A few years ago in a small group study we did an exercise of reading the same passage a few times to see what new details might stand out because each person reading it emphasized different words or might have a different translation. I remember us doing the Christmas story and I had never thought about how Mary and Joseph were traveling alone even though his whole family would have had to travel to Bethlehem as part of the census. Also, why did they wait until so late in her pregnancy? So I thought perhaps Mitchell would be doing something similar with story.

And indeed there were sections where he pointed out things that I haven't thought about before. For instance, in his chapter in Maryam's POV he mentions that she might have heard the stories of the Roman god Jupiter who impregnated human women. How would that affected her reaction to the Angel's announcement that the Holy Spirit would come upon her and she would be with child?

Between the "story" there are sections the author calls Interludes where he muses more on the details. Sometimes they were interested and at other times it was difficult to distinguish between the interlude and the story. This was particularly true of Wise Men chapter. I often found they made the story drag. I would have liked if some of his research sources would have been shared (again this would have been particularly useful in the Wise Men chapter). 

I listened to the audiobook read by Stephen Mitchell himself. He did a fine job and it did make it feel more like a lecture. But there is a lot of information shared and you will want to think about the information, especially as a Christain, to determine if it is a valid interpretation. I usually multi-task while listening to an audiobook, but I found that difficult to do with this book as I really needed to focus on what Mitchell was saying. 

As I said I would have liked to have seen some of his sources, as I wasn't totally sure how accurate his interpretation was. This point was highlighted during the Wise Men chapter. He has the Magi seeing into the future when they look upon the Christ child. They see His crucifixion but Mitchell got the details wrong. Obviously, he stopped reading Matthew and Luke after the Christmas story as if he had read a few more pages he would have read of the crucifixion. He would have known that the soldier did not kill Christ by piercing his side. He was already dead (that is why His legs were not broken like the two thieves). Also, He was placed in a borrowed tomb and not in a mass grave. 

Although I did finish the book, I lost all interest in it after these erroneous details. I had to wonder what else was he wrong about. As it wasn't truly a dramatized version of the story either, it wasn't entertaining as fiction either. 

Buy The First Christmas at Amazon

Donna Huber is an avid reader and natural encourager. She is the founder of Girl Who Reads and the author of how-to marketing book Secrets to a Successful Blog Tour.

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