Work in Progress:

Jesus Mortal


little drummer boy

In 1958, a song that would later be a hit as “The Little Drummer Boy” sent a poor child and his drum as an invader from Luke’s nativity story into Matthew’s. In the song, the little drummer boy has nothing fit for a king, like the three wise men do, but he plays his drum, and Baby Jesus smiles. The magi with their royal presents are from Matthew. He wanted people to think of Jesus as a mighty king at his birth, revealed in the heavens, honored by the wise, and feared by the powerful. In Matthew, there’s no manger, no lowly beasts, no shepherds, and surely no sappy little drummer boy. That beloved down-home stuff is all from Luke. There’s no little drummer boy in Luke, either, but if there were a little drummer boy in the new testament, that’s where it would be.

Matthew has just about always been the most popular gospel, but Luke’s humble image of Jesus’ birth has won out over Matthew’s story about powerful men honoring or fearing Jesus.

In the song, the little drummer boy and the magi are together. Impossible, of course, because they’re from different realities. But there they are together. The magi have their royal gifts, but a penniless child beats them at the gifting contest through the zen gift of his drum. The humble heart filled with love is more to Christ’s liking than the regal adulation found in Matthew.

Of course, the song lyrics don’t read literally as a contest between competing images of Jesus. Matthew’s and Luke’s nativity stories are routinely smooshed together into one combo story. But Luke has won the contest of popular opinion, and the drummer boy character is the result. To see how well Luke has taken over the Christmas story, consider a hypothetical opposite character to the little drummer boy. Imagine a powerful character suitable to Matthew’s nativity story, but put in a song with shepherds from Luke’s gospel. How could this powerful character match or exceed the humble shepherds as they honor the babe in the manger? He’d have to do something humble, and his superiority would be in humbling himself even farther than the shepherds do. They’re already lowly, after all. But that’s not the opposite of little drummer boy. To be the opposite, the powerful character would have to do some mighty deed for Jesus or bring some priceless gift. Maybe you could invent a hit song about a powerful man doing some mighty deed for baby Jesus, something the shepherds couldn’t do, but it wouldn’t resonate. Luke’s tenderness has won out over Matthew’s aggrandizement, and Jesus would be happy with that outcome.


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table of contents you're already looking at it

introduction for the inquisitive reader

biographical overview who he was and wasn't


afterlife not Jesus' concern

animal sacrifice bloodless religion

apocalypse did Jesus preach hellfire?

baptism sin wash for Jesus and others

beatitudes Jesus' words and others' words

beloved disciple witness for the un-gospel

bible scripture old and new

bishop the unjesus

body focus on the physical

Buddha Jesus' close kin

charity key Christian virtue and legacy of Jesus

The Da Vinci Code secret (and false) messages

divorce women's status

dreams convenient literary device

Elijah Jewish prophet with his own second coming

equality ancient source of modern egalitarianism

exorcist Jesus and demons

failure reinterpreting Jesus as a failure

faith from trust to blind belief

father Jesus on titles of honor

Francis of Assisi the most Christlike Christian

Gandhi the 20th century's most Christly holy man

Galilee Jesus' inauspicious homeland

gentiles Jesus' inadvertent audience

god how Jesus became god

golden rule key to Jesus' success

gospels competing accounts

heaven from sky to spiritual home

hell revenge fantasy

humanism Jesus' legacy

inerrant Christian treatment of scripture

Thomas Jefferson ethics of Jesus

Jewish guilt Christian libel

John's gospel the un-gospel

John the baptist, see John the washer

John the washer Jesus' apocalyptic mentor

Judaism libeled religion of Jesus

kingdom of god what Jesus promised

Lao Tzu poet of the cosmic way

logos jesus as the word of god

C. S. Lewis famous, flawed trilemma

little drummer boy Luke beats Matthew

logos Jesus as the divine word

LORD Yahweh transitioning to the one god of all

Luke's gospel the all-around best gospel

Mark's gospel the gospel that lost its point

Mary of Magdala women, visions, and sex

massacre of the innocents bloodshed starts early

Matthew's gospel best gospel for church reading

Mormon, see Joseph Smith

Moses Jewish lawgiver

Muhammad a prophet who got it right

mystery Orpheus and transubstantiation

oppression origin of Jesus' compassion

The Passion of the Christ Luke as buzzkill

Paul revealer of the revealer

private and public public Jesus and secret Christ

relativism the secret power of the golden rule

sacrifice Jesus' death and Christian sacrament

Albert Schweitzer Jesus as a failure

sheol dark pit of death

show Jesus' deeds as put-ons

slavery abolished by Jesus' efforts

Joseph Smith flesh-and-blood Jesus

Socrates secular Jesus

son of god on close terms with the man upstairs

soul, see body

synoptics three gospels that agree

temple center of Jewish religion

trinity unifying and divisive doctrinre

vision, see dreams

Yahweh, see LORD

Zoroaster Persian dualistic holy man