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Adoration of the Magi - after illustration by J James Tissot
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Think you know what the New Testament says happened on the first Christmas? As TIME reported in a cover story in 2004, the answer — or lack thereof — may surprise you.

The Christmas-pageant version of the nativity (wise men, manger, angels) seems straightforward, at least as far as a virgin-birth narrative can be. But different gospels, not to mention more recent scholars, differ on what supposedly happened that night. As TIME explained:

Each of the different tellings may have its own reasoning — for example, which audience the gospel-writer was trying to reach — and scholars may continue to debate, but there is, at least, one thing everyone seems to agree on: the lobsters are a recent invention.

Read the full story, here in the TIME Vault: Behind the First Noel

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Write to Lily Rothman at

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