This is not the first time Meacham has attacked the historical accuracy of the Bible. Once identified by The New York Times as Newsweek's "Young Turk," the 35-year-old reporter has served as the magazine's managing editor since he was only 27. Earlier this year, Meacham wrote another cover story for Newsweek, arguing in that story that the passion narratives [accounts of Jesus' trial and crucifixion] are also untrustworthy as historical accounts. In "Who Killed Jesus?," the cover story of Newsweek's February 16 issue, Meacham asserted that the Bible "can be a problematic source." He went on to argue, "Though countless believers take it as the immutable word of God, Scripture is not always a faithful record of historical events; the Bible is the product of human authors who were writing in particular times and places with particular points to make and visions to advance." Meacham went on to argue that "overly literal readings" of the New Testament can become the basis for anti-Semitism and other forms of prejudice and distortion.

In a "live talk" feature published on the MSNBC website, Meacham responded to critics of his article by arguing, "Many of the Biblical writers had theological points to make with their stories and were understandably influenced by the circumstances of their times. This is not to say that scripture was not divinely inspired or revealed to the authors, but it is to say that to read the Bible as if every word were literally true is to misread the Bible--a view held by many, many Christian denominations and theologians and believers."

Repeatedly, Meacham asserts his identity as "a believing Episcopalian." Nevertheless, Meacham redefines what "believing" means when it comes to the Bible. He dismissively argues that we should not read the Bible "as if every word were literally true," and that to do so is not only wrong-headed, but simplistic and unsophisticated.

In a statement from Newsweek's editor published in the December 13 edition--the issue with the Christmas cover story--editor Mark Whitaker identifies Meacham as a graduate of the University of the South at Sewanee, "the only Episcopal university in America." Whitaker goes on to identify a professor who exercised a particular influence on Meacham, teaching him "that there is no inconsistency between belief in Christ and the willingness to question the worldly roots of Scripture."

Yet, Meacham does not merely question the "roots" of the story. Citing an entire corps of liberal scholars, Meacham subverts the truthfulness of the New Testament text and argues--often through the words of the sources he quotes--that the New Testament is basically untrustworthy as an historical document.

The Virgin Birth is a particular point of issue in Meacham's article. He passingly acknowledges that the Virgin Birth just might have actually happened, but he quickly dismisses the idea, noting, "It is somewhat odd that there is no memory of it recorded in the Gospel accounts of Jesus' ministry or in the Acts of the Apostles or in the rest of the New Testament." He proceeds to assume "for the sake of argument," that the story of the virgin conception of Jesus "is not a fact but an article of faith." Accordingly, the narratives of Jesus' virgin conception must be explained in terms of fiction and theological invention.

Like Van Biema, Meacham cites Raymond E. Brown as proposing that Jesus was actually the product of extramarital sex between Mary and some man--perhaps Joseph. If not Joseph, the situation would have been far more problematic. As Meacham suggests, "If Jesus had been conceived by a human father before Joseph and Mary had begun their lives together as husband and wife (either by Joseph himself, a soldier or someone else), then the Holy Ghost would have provided a convenient cover story for the early church."