He Doesn’t FREAKING Get Us – Part 1: Jesus was a Refugee?

“He gets us. That’s a tagline that’s been popping up in banner ads online, on highway billboards and soon in Super Bowl commercials. The he is Jesus Christ. And the ads say things like Jesus was a refugee and Jesus was sick of hypocrisy, too. And while it’s clear who the marketing campaign is about, the ads’ goals and the money behind them are a little bit harder to figure out.”

The ‘He Gets Us’ campaign promotes Jesus. But who’s behind it — and what’s the goal? – NPR


Advertising campaigns are NOT known for their honesty and truth, so a reasonable person will look at this advertising campaign with a bit of healthy skepticism. Furthermore, the promotion of a religion or a particular religious viewpoint by people who are devoted followers of the religion in question can reasonably be assumed to be biased and to present inaccurate and incomplete information. So, we have two good reasons to strongly suspect that this “He Gets Us” campaign about Jesus falls short on some important intellectual virtues: honesty, truth, accuracy, and objectivity.

I plan to take a close look at the ideas and claims put forward by the HGU campaign and to point a bright spotlight on any falsehoods, lies, half-truths, inaccuracies, fallacies, and dubious statements that are put forward by this campaign to promote Jesus and Christianity. Since Jesus allegedly stated that his followers should know the truth and that the truth would set them free, any follower of Jesus ought to be delighted to have a skeptic critically analyze and evaluate the ideas and claims put forward by the HGU campaign (right?).

There are a dozen or so posts on the official HGU website. Here are a few topics covered:

Jesus invited everyone to sit at his table
Did Jesus live in poverty?
Jesus was a refugee.
How did Jesus deal with injustice?
Jesus was fed up with politics, too.
Four ways Jesus supported women’s equality.

Let’s get started with the post titled “Jesus was a refugee.


The title of the post makes a claim: “Jesus was a refugee.”

The opening paragraphs of the post present the alleged historical details behind this claim:

Most everyone knows the Christmas story. The star. The shepherds. The manger. The wise men. But one chapter in the story of Jesus’ birth is often neglected. Quite possibly because of its horrific nature. After the Magi from the East visited Mary and Joseph, King Herod requested they disclose where young Jesus resided. But being warned in a dream, the wise men departed a different way without telling the king of Jesus’ whereabouts. Enraged and threatened by a new potential ruler, Herod ordered all males 2 years old or younger to be killed.

With Herod’s henchmen bearing down on Bethlehem, Joseph and Mary fled with their young child to Egypt. Imagine the circumstances. Two young parents grab their toddler and whatever they can carry on their backs and flee the country. There was no safety for them in their homeland, so the only option was to seek foreign soil.

“Jesus was a refugee.”

The closing paragraph of the post makes a claim about how this alleged experience impacted Jesus:

After King Herod’s death, Joseph and Mary returned to Israel [from Egypt]. But the impact of being displaced always stuck with Jesus. We can see it in his compassion toward others who were labeled outsiders — the Samaritans, the lepers, the tax collectors, and the sinners.

“Jesus was a refugee.”

Jesus had compassion towards others who were labeled outsiders because of his experience of being a refugee, according to this HGU post.

The claim that Jesus was a refugee is based on the birth narrative in the Gospel of Matthew.

What the author of the post does not mention, however, is that no other Gospel contains or confirms this story about the family of Jesus moving to Egypt when Jesus was an infant.

In fact, only two of the four Gospels contain stories about the birth of Jesus: the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke. Furthermore, the birth narrative in Luke is completely inconsistent with the birth narrative in Matthew:

The clearest cases of invention are in the birth narratives. Matthew and Luke write that Jesus was born in Bethlehem but grew up in Nazareth. This probably reflects two sorts of ‘facts’: in ordinary history, Jesus was from Nazareth; according to salvation history, the reedemer of Israel should have been born in Bethlehem, David’s city. The two gospels have completely different and irreconcilable ways of moving Jesus and his family from one place to the other.

The Historical Figure of Jesus – by E.P. Sanders*, page 85

This casts serious doubt on the historicity of both birth narratives.

The author of the post also fails to mention that most NT scholars view these birth narratives as LEGENDS, not as reliable historical accounts of actual events.

There is also historical evidence, or lack of historical evidence, that casts doubt on the birth narrative in Matthew. There is no evidence that King Herod ordered male infants to be slaughtered:

Herod was ruthless, and he did kill people who seemed to pose a threat to his reign… . Did he slaughter ‘all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under’ (Matt. 2.16)? It is not likely. Josephus narrated a lot of stories about Herod, dwelling on his brutality, but not this one.

The Historical Figure of Jesus – by E.P. Sanders, page 87

Finally, the author of Matthew often appears to invent historical events and details based on Old Testament passages that were thought to be predictions about a coming Messiah. This is particularly evident in the birth narrative found in Matthew. The flight to Egypt by the family of Jesus was thought by the author of Matthew to have been predicted in the Old Testament:

13 Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”

Matthew 2:13-15 (New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition)

Passages from the Old Testament appear to be the source of “information” behind the birth narrative in the Gospel of Matthew:

Matthew probably derived this information [about Herod’s alleged attempt to kill the baby Jesus] from the story in Exodus 1.21f., according to which Moses, when an infant, was threatened by a similar order from the Egyptian Pharaoh. Matthew saw Jesus as a second, superior Moses (as well as son of David), and he cast a good deal of his opening chapters in terms of the stories about Moses. The narrative of the flight into Egypt and the return reminds the reader of the history of Israel and the exodus from Egypt. Matthew cites a statement in Hosea: ‘Out of Egypt I have called my son’ (Matt. 2.15). This originally referred to Israel as God’s (collective) son, led out of Egypt by Moses (note the past tense). Matthew applies the quotation to Jesus, whom he considered the Son of God, and the statement in Hosea, which referred to the exodus at the time of Moses, was probably the only source of Matthew’s story about Jesus and his family.

The Historical Figure of Jesus – by E.P. Sanders, page 88

The birth narratives constitute an extreme case. Matthew and Luke used them to place Jesus in salvation history. It seems that they had very little historical information about Jesus’ birth (historical in our sense), and so they went to one of their other sources, Jewish scripture. There is no other substantial part of the gospels that depends so heavily on the theory that information about David and Moses may simply be transferred to the story of Jesus.

The Historical Figure of Jesus – by E.P. Sanders, page 88

So, there are a number of good reasons to believe that the birth narrative in Matthew is fiction rather than history:

=>No other Gospel contains or confirms this story about Jesus’ family moving to Egypt.

=>The birth narrative in Matthew conflicts with the birth narrative in Luke.

=>The author of Matthew frequently invents events and details based on Old Testament “prophecies”, and the birth narrative in Matthew is clearly driven by such Old Testament “prophecies”.

=>The alleged slaughter of infant males commanded by King Herod is absent from historical evidence about Herod’s rule.

=>Most NT scholars view the birth narrative in Matthew as a legend rather than as a reliable historical account.

The historical evidence for the claim that “Jesus was a refugee.” is extremely weak, so this claim is historically DUBIOUS. It is probably FALSE that Jesus was taken by his parents to Egypt when Jesus was an infant, so it is probably FALSE that “Jesus was a refugee”. Therefore, the central claim in this HGU post is probably FALSE.

Furthermore, even if we suppose that Jesus’ family moved to Egypt in accordance with the dubious birth narrative in Matthew, they supposedly returned to Palestine when King Herod died. King Herod probably died in 4 BCE. Matthew’s birth narrative suggests that Jesus was about 1 year old when his parents allegedly moved to Egypt. But since Jesus is generally thought to have been born shortly before 4 BCE (like one or two years before), that would mean that Jesus and his parents moved back to Palestine when Jesus was only about two years old.

But if Jesus was living in Egypt when he was only one or two years old, then it is unlikely that he would remember events and experiences from that early period of his life:

Can you remember your first birthday? Your second? Adults rarely remember events from before the age of three, and have patchy memories when it comes to things that happened to them between the ages of three and seven. It’s a phenomenon known as ‘infantile amnesia’.

“Why you can’t remember being a baby” by Dr Keori Ikeda, science policy officer, Australian Brain Alliance
and Hayley Teasdale, PhD student, University of Canberra.


So, even if, contrary to what the historical evidence indicates, Jesus and his family did live in Egypt when Jesus was an infant, it is unlikely that Jesus retained memories of events and experiences during this early part of his life, and thus it is unlikely that the experience of living in Egypt had a significant impact on Jesus’ beliefs and attitudes.

In short, this HGU post is BULLSHIT, just like most other major advertising campaigns, just like most attempts to promote a religion put forward by people who are devoted followers of the religion.

* Jesus scholar N.T. Wright says this about E.P. Sanders:

Probably the most influential NT scholar in the English-speaking world.

The Original Jesus by N.T. Wright, page 155