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Monday, 18 December, 2000, 08:26 GMT
Church nativity bans wise men
Wise men banned from church play
The three wise men have been banned from a church nativity play because members insist they were not around at the birth of Christ.

In fact, members of the Porth Christian Centre at Elim Pentecostal Church, in the Rhondda, south Wales, dispute several points in the traditional interpretation of the birth of Christ.

Children's nativity play
Wise men are traditionally part of nativity plays
They range from the visit by the three wise men to the belief that Mary rode into Bethlehem on a donkey.

On Sunday night, members of the church performed their version of the nativity and they dramatically sent back the bearers of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

"As Evangelists we want to tell the story properly," said Ian Willis, a church youth worker.

"People think they know this story, but they are wrong.

"Every church falls into line every Christmas and I think we should put it right.

"The wise men were never part of the nativity - they turned up much later. It is likely they visited Jesus two years after his birth."

Bethlehem nativity church
The Basilica of the Nativity marks Christ's birthplace
Mr Willis explained that nowhere in the Bible does it state that there were three wise men at the birth of Jesus.

"And people have merely surmised there were three because there are three gifts mentioned," he continued.

"It is probable that when the wise men did visit Jesus, there were many more than three because at that time travel was dangerous and it was normal to journey in a camel train - around 50 or more - for protection."

Mr Willis is also at pains to point out other cherished traditions with no Biblical foundation.

"There is nothing in the Bible to say Mary rode into Bethlehem on a donkey," he said.

'Angel of the Lord'

"This is a supposition - because she was heavily pregnant, people have said she would have been unable to walk all that way."

Mr Willis also refuses to concede that Jesus was born in a humble stable, pointing out that the Bible mentions only a manger.

But all is not lost. Those who took on the role of one of the shepherds in primary school productions, can hold their heads high.

Their presence and visitation by an "angel of the lord" is fully recorded in the ancient text and has been given the stamp of authenticity by Evangelists in Porth.

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