PASTOR'S PERSPECTIVE: A CHRISTMAS FRAUD?
A couple of years ago, when planning our January Bible Study on Ecclesiastes, I had heard that Joe McKeever, one of our professors from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, and a Director of Missions in Louisiana, was coming to my old association-Sandy Creek Baptist Association in the Jacksonville area. I e-mailed to see if he might be available to also come to Bloomington to speak and share with Tri Valley Baptist some of his perspectives on our January Bible Study. We were unable to work it out but he agreed to come another time. We are still trying to work some opportunity to have him as our guest. He is one of my favorite Christian writers who can stimulate your interest in asking and answering all the right questions when it comes to topics that are relevant to our challenging times. Recently while reading some of his articles on Christmas subjects I came across a fascinating debate he was considering. Who really wrote the poem-"The Night Before Christmas", (originally titled "A Visit From Saint Nicholas"). The poem was originally published for the first time in the Sentinel newspaper of Troy, New York, on December 23, 1823. If you look it up in the encyclopedia, or on Wikipedia it says that Clement Clarke Moore, a preacher from New York City, composed the poem for his six children in 1822. The only problem with that, says Joe McKeever is that there is something vastly wrong with this poem-it was not written by Clement Clark Moore! It is a fraud! Who wrote it? Not long after Clement Moore took credit for the poem, claiming it as the work of his own pen, another family claimed that it was written by a member of their family-Major Henry Livingston Jr. He had recently died, and an employee of his began to work with Moore and introduced to him the poem that he eventually took full credit for writing.
How do we know who really wrote it? That is where the forensic linguist Don Foster comes into the picture. September 2001 issue of the "Smithsonian" magazine carried a fascinating article about Don Foster titled "Don Foster Has A Way With Words". The article testifies to Mr. Foster's expertise and detective abilities to identify authors of contested or anonymous literature. Foster studies word choices, phrasing, and numerous other aspects of writings and can accurately determine the authentic author. Using these scientific techniques Foster was able to identify Ted Kaczynski as the author of the Unabomber Manifesto. He identified Joe Klein as the "anonymous author" of "Primary Colors". The first thing that Foster did was to study the personality traits of the two men in question. Preacher Moore, he says was humorless, stern, moralistic, and "a man who never had a fun day in his whole life". "In fact", Foster says, "he was against it!" On the other hand, Livingston was a Dutch journalist, an artist, a flute player, a free spirit, and "an-all-around merry old soul if ever there was one". He delighted in entertaining children. After examining the writings of both men Foster began to see a pattern emerge. The odd punctuation in the poem originally printed in 1823 matched Livingston's writing habits, but not that of Moore. The phrases are consistent with material Livingson had read and borrowed from other authors, but not anything he found in any of the other subjects that Moore studied, taught, or wrote about! Foster was coming to the conclusion that a fraud had been perpetrated. Then he found the "smoking gun". In the first printing of the poem in the Sentinel, two of the reindeer are called "Dunder and Blixem". When Moore began to take credit for the poem in his 1844 book "Poems", he changed the spelling to "Donder and Blitzen". There in lies the clue. "Dunder and Blixem" are Dutch for "thunder and lightning". They are exclamations of surprise or anger or delight among the Dutch. Clement Clark Moore knew German but not Dutch. Henry Livingston was Dutch! That clinched it for Foster, and my friend Joe McKeever too! Joe says, "The author of 'The Night Before Christmas' is Henry Livingston Jr. If your copy attributes it to Moore it is wrong. Clement Clarke Moore was a thief for claiming credit for the work of another!"
I did some checking into some of Moore's writing and did find that he wrote another poem in the similar genre as the "Night Before"-it is called "The Pig and the Rooster". It has alot of the same cadence and punctuation and ryme as the 'Night Before'. But then again, did he steal this poem from someone else too? It too seems out of character for him. But then the next question is "does it matter?" McKeever says, "Not to the children". They enjoy the poem even if it was anonymous. Concerning royalties-the poem is in the public domain now so authorship doesn't matter for this reason. But Joe says, "If getting the facts straight and telling the truth matter, even in small ways, it does count!" Both Foster and McKeever feel that Moore did it for the glory and attention the poem was getting in the public arena. To be credited with it would make one famous. It has certainly done that for him-at least until now. It is unlikely that will change because after all is said and done most would conclude we will never know and it really doesn't matter. That is the point I am taking from Joe's article. Most treat Christmas, Jesus, and the truth of the Gospel the same way this authorship question is treated. Was Jesus really a historical person? Was He who He claimed to be? Was He God come In the Flesh? Is He the Only Saviour of the World? Are the Gospel narratives accurate? Was Jesus Really the Son of God? Does it really matter? After all, our modern world says, "Whether he was virgin born; whether he was the Son of God; whether all the details of the Christmas story is accurate or not-it is still an inspiring story and Jesus was still a good-teacher whether He was the Divine Son of God and Savior that the Church has made him to be" Does it really matter?
That is where the words of C.S. Lewis speak so loud and clear to our world. Lewis wrote, " I am trying to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him; I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things that Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic-on the level with a man who says he is a poached egg-or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is the Son of God, or a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to". This Christmas, as every Christmas since Jesus was born, the world is faced with the question "What think Ye of Christ? Whose Son is He?" We are caught on the horns of, not a dilemna, but as Josh McDowell says, on the "horns of a trillemna". Jesus is either a Lunatic who thought he was God, but obviously was a madman, and was not; or a Liar who knew He was not God, but so lived and plotted His life to deceive the world into thinking He was, and He convinced many of disciples that that is who He was; or He is the Lord of Glory, and any open-minded investigation of the historicity of the Gospel account does matter! What you believe about Jesus, and what you do with your encounter with Him now will determine what He will do with you in your encounter with Him in eternity. The horn of the Trilemna should end for us as it did for Thomas- as he kneeled before the glorified and risen Lord and confessed "My Lord and My God".