Richard Horsley is professor of Religious Studies at the University of Massachusetts; he has written/edited many other books, such as Christmas Unwrapped: Consumerism, Christ, and Culture, Jesus and Empire: The Kingdom of God and the New World Disorder, Christian Origins (People's History of Christianity), etc.
He wrote in the Introduction to this 1993 book, "Christmas is now a fantasy that has considerable commercial but little historical significance. It would be difficult indeed for the Christmas story to be heard in such an overwhelming cultural context... The conflict that the sensitive reader may feel between the infancy narratives of Jesus and the current celebration of Christmas, therefore, cannot be understood in terms of a conflict between religion and economics or 'materialism.' ... If we want to appreciate biblical literature on its own terms... we must adjust our mode of appropriation... This means ... attempting to understand that politicoeconomic affairs are inseparable from religious matters in most biblical material, and... import of the biblical material is thus also broader than simply religious." (Pg. x-xi)
He proposes, "If we no longer feel compelled defensively and categorically to dismiss the stories of Jesus' birth, or the narrative details in them, as 'myth'---then perhaps we could read the stories as history-like narratives ... that provide a meaningful presentation or representation of certain historical circumstances and relationships." (Pg. 19)
He argues, "To have a decree of an alien imperial census juxtaposed with the birth of the messiah is the height of political-economic-religious conflict: the messiah now being born would lead the people's successful resistance against that false and intolerable lordship and subjection." (Pg. 38) Later, he adds, "The star in Matthew 2, in sum, fits perfectly with the politicohistorical thrust of the story of the birth of a liberating king revealed to and by the distinguished sacral-royal Magi, eager for such signs and such deliverance." (Pg. 60)
He suggests, "for [the shepherds] to receive the message and visit the child dramatically portrays that the messiah has been born among the lowly ordinary people as the leader of their liberation. What the angel had announced and what Mary and Zechariah has sung about in Luke 1 has been inaugurated among the shepherds with the child laid in the manger." (Pg. 106) He adds, "the infancy narratives... provide the crucial first step in Matthew's and Luke's gospel history. That, with the birth of Jesus, the people of Israel is finally being liberated was not only historically given but was necessary, according to the biblical understanding in terms of promise and fulfillment." (Pg. 122)
He asserts, "The memory of Christmas in the infancy narratives, however, keeps alive the hopes for and the commitment to the unfilfilled historical possibilities that the birth of the child inaugurated. There is nothing in the infancy narratives themselves... to suggest that the possibilities of 'deliverance from our enemies' is deferred as only eschatological, that is, possible only at the end of historical conditions." (Pg. 153) He concludes, "The infancy narratives of Jesus... once freed both from the domesticating cultural context of 'the holidays' and from rationalist dismissal as 'myth,' can be read again as stories of people's liberation from exploitation and domination." (Pg. 161)
Although Horsley's "political" interpretation of Jesus and the gospels will repel some readers, his status as a scholar of the historical Jesus make this an interesting and thought-provoking study.