At what time of year was Jesus really born?

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I have previously published my own research on different aspects of Christmas, and now have quite a collection of articles. This week I am planning, without apology, to repost those which generated most interest.


One of the problems about the development of traditions around Christmas is that people writing hymns or plays set Jesus’ birth in their own world rather than in what we know of the first century. In particular, many assume that Jesus was born in winter, since Christmas is celebrated in winter in the northern hemisphere. (It would be interesting to see some genuinely antipodeal hymns: ‘In the deep midwinter’ would become ‘In the height of summer’…)

It is fairly widely recognised that the celebration of Christmas was not determined by the historical date of Jesus’ birth. There’s also a common (mostly anti-Christian) myth that the date of 25th December was chosen to displace the pagan festival of Sol Invictus, but Andrew McGowan of Yale University has demonstrated that this was 12th-century anti-Christmas propaganda. From the earliest times there appear to have been two contesting dates, December 25th in the West, and January 6th in the East of the empire. The December date comes from counting nine months on from the believed date of Jesus’ conception, March 25th, which was also (for theological reasons) believed to have been the same date that Jesus died on.

So can we know when in the year Jesus was born?


The first clue comes in noting the relation between the birth of Jesus and John the Baptist.

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. (Luke 1.26–27)

If Mary conceived soon after this, and assuming that Mary and Elizabeth both went to term, then Jesus was born five to six months after John. (Notice that the visit of Gabriel was in the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy.)

The second clue comes in noting when John’s father, Zechariah, was serving his term as priest in the temple. Zechariah belonged to the priestly division of Abijah (Luke 1.5) and we know when this division served from 1 Chronicles 24.7–19:

The first lot fell to Jehoiarib, the second to Jedaiah,
the third to Harim, the fourth to Seorim,
the fifth to Malkijah, the sixth to Mijamin,
the seventh to Hakkoz, the eighth to Abijah,
the ninth to Jeshua, the tenth to Shecaniah…

calendar-lgEach of the 24 divisions served for a week, but all divisions served together at major festivals. We need to remember that the ecclesiastical calendar began in the month of Nisan, around the end of March, whereas the domestic calendar began at Rosh HaShannah (‘the head of the year’) at the end of September. (We also need to remember that the Jewish calendar uses lunar months of 29 or 30 days, and has to add an extra month in six years out of every 19 to align with the solar year. So correspondences with months in the Gregorian calendar vary from one year to another.) This pattern of service was interrupted during the exile when Solomon’s temple was destroyed, but it was restored (presumably from this text) on the return from exile and the rebuilding of the temple.

Assuming Zechariah was on his first duty of the year, the timing would look like this:

EventPriestly division on dutyMonthWeek
1. Jehoiarib1
Nissan
1
2. Jedaiah2
Passover FestivalAll 243
3. Harim4
4. Seorim2
Iyar
5
5. Malkijah6
6. Mijamin7
7. Hakkoz8
8. Abijah3
Sivan
9
Schavuot (Weeks or Pentecost)All 2410
Zechariah returns home: John conceived 9. Jeshua11
10. Shecaniah12

So John was likely conceived in the second half of Sivan, which is around the beginning of June. Adding the six months between John and Jesus, and the nine months of Mary’s gestation, brings us to around the middle of September the following year.

So Jesus would have been born in September.


Some interesting points arise from this calculation:

1. This would mean that the shepherds in their fields were outdoors in September (Luke 2.8). Given the mild weather at this time of year, this is highly plausible. The hill country around Jerusalem and Bethlehem is cold in the winter, often with snow, so this would be less likely in December.

2. There is a tradition that Jesus was conceived on or around 25th December (rather than born then), and this would fit with Elizabeth’s visit to her in her sixth month.

3. There is also a tradition that ‘Elijah’ who comes to prepare the way for the Messiah would be born at Passover, which is John’s date of birth by this calculation.

4. If Jesus was born in September, that would be close to one of the three major pilgrim feasts, that of Succoth, also called Tabernacles or ‘Booths’. This feast commemorates the period of time that Israel lived in tents in the wilderness. ‘Tents’ is succoth in Hebrew, tabernacula in Latin and skenai in Greek; we get our word ‘scene’ from this, since tent material would have been hung at the back of the stage in a Greek theatre. This connects with John 1.14:

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling [Gk: skenoo] among us.

which some have translated ‘tabernacled among us’ to bring out this connection. So it might be that John’s theological reflection on Jesus was prompted by knowing the date of his birth.

It is worth pointing out that it is rather unusual that we can be relatively confident of historical events at this kind of level of detail. The root source of this is the Jewish interest in schedules and calendars, in this case, the rota of priestly duties. Such precision and organisation is relatively rare in the ancient world, and it offers a historical framework for the material of the New Testament that is unrivalled.


A further theological point of interest is that Jesus’ life, death and ministry are then connected with all three of the pilgrim feasts. He was born at Succoth, crucified and risen at Passover (Pesach) and the Spirit was poured out at Pentecost (Shavuot). [Many years ago I read David Pawson arguing that Jesus’ return would happen at Pentecost, to complete the three, but I think he missed the significance of the outpouring of the Spirit at this festival.]

Of course, Gabriel’s appearance to Zechariah could have taken place during his second duty as priest, which would have been around six months later, putting the Annunciation in June and Jesus’ birth in March. I have found no arguments either for or against this in the literature.

Does this all mean we are wasting our time celebrating Christmas in December in the northern hemisphere? Not at all. The main point of Christmas is not chronology but theology. As I comment elsewhere:

As the nights close in, and the days shorten, we long to see light. As the winter gets colder, we long for warmth. As nature around us seems strangled by death, we need signs of hope and life. And as the inconvenience of going out gets greater, and we are more isolated from friends and neighbours, we long for company…Who can bring us light but the light of the world (John 8.12)? Who can bring us warmth but the one who has poured God’s love into our hearts (Rom 5.5)? Who gives us hope beyond death, but the one who not only tasted death for us but swallowed it up in victory (1 Cor 15.54)? And who else can bring us into friendship with God (2 Cor 5.18–19)?


Additional Note: for some further fascinating and detail debate around this, see the previous post of this article here.


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45 thoughts on “At what time of year was Jesus really born?”

  1. Here’s an Antipodean Christmas Carol. It tells the story of the first recorded Christian ermon in Aotearoa New Zealand delivered jointly by Rev Samuel Marsden and Ruatara, the Ngāpuhi leader to a large assemby of Maori and European. It was “Glad Tidings Of Great Joy” and accepted as such.

    Not on a snowy night
    By star or candlelight
    Nor by an angel band
    There came to our dear land
    Te Harinui
    Te Harinui
    Te Hari-nu-i
    Glad tid-ings of great joy

    But on a summer day
    Within a quiet bay
    The Maori people heard
    The great and glorious word

    The people gathered round
    Upon the grassy ground
    And heard the preacher say
    I bring to you this day

    Now in this blessed land
    United heart and hand
    We praise the glorious birth
    And sing to all the earth

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ST4HYOsGvYw

    Reply
      • Yes, the first preaching of the Gospel in New Zealand on the text: “Behold, I bring you glad tidings of great joy!”
        I imagine there was a beach barbecue (or hangi) afterwards, so establishing an unbroken Antipodean tradition!
        I think it was in Russell in the Bay of Islands and Marsden had come over from Botany Bay. IIRC, he also had to deal with the Bounty mutineers as part of his duties in NSW.
        The Christmas Day service was commemorated on a postage stamp many years ago.

        Reply
        • Correction: I was mixing him up with William Bligh who went on to become Governor of New South Wales. Marsden was a magistrate in NSW, of rather fearsome reputation. He went on to found the Australian wool industry, as well as doing mighty works in establishing the Anglican Church in New Zealand and disseminating the Gospel in Maori.
          Bligh’s reputation seems to havd been unfairly treated by Hollywood (I’m shocked, shocked).

          Perhaps at some point in the future (when all the statues have been toppled, the streets and cities renamed and offending books have been banned and burned), people in the west will begin to understand that great men in the past were not always perfect in their lives as a later age judges “perfection”. But not in my lifetime.

          Reply
  2. I’m not sure that the Christmas festival overlay of Pagan Yuletide can be rejected. It is a fact that it occurs just after the winter solstice in northern hemisphere. Indeed usually 3/4 days after. I was once read it purported that the three days is significant, in that it mirrors the resurrection three days from darkest day of Calvary, and marks the beginning of light returning.
    Surely appropriating established cultural festivals would be an obvious evangelistic tool, and not necessarily a negative propaganda thing.
    The Christian church has long adapted methods of communication to different contexts. The previous commentators interesting observation of witness to Maori people being an example.
    Happy Christmas!

    Reply
      • I found this quite helpful:

        “It’s a mistake to say that our modern Christmas traditions come directly from pre-Christian paganism, said Ronald Hutton, a historian at Bristol University in the United Kingdom. However, he said, you’d be equally wrong to believe that Christmas is a modern phenomenon. As Christians spread their religion into Europe in the first centuries A.D., they ran into people living by a variety of local and regional religious creeds.

        Christian missionaries lumped all of these people together under the umbrella term “pagan,” said Philip Shaw, who researches early Germanic languages and Old English at Leicester University in the U.K. The term is related to the Latin word meaning “field,” Shaw told LiveScience. The lingual link makes sense, he said, because early European Christianity was an urban phenomenon, while paganism persisted longer in rustic areas.

        Early Christians wanted to convert pagans, Shaw said, but they were also fascinated by their traditions.

        “Christians of that period are quite interested in paganism,” he said. “It’s obviously something they think is a bad thing, but it’s also something they think is worth remembering. It’s what their ancestors did.” “

        But I also think there is evidence to suggest that there is a slight anti-Catholic sentiment in all of this stuff about Christmas not being derived from previous celebrations at mid-winter. Celebration of Christmas was banned by Cromwell along with other Catholic celebrations. The Puritans didn’t want celebrations of that scale. Perhaps that’s still the case?!

        Reply
      • I suppose that depends on the criteria required for evidence. Simply because there is no written record of a decision made at some or other council that 25th December should be the anniversary of The Nativity, that does not mean there is no evidence.
        As I understand it, celebration of Jesus birth was not part of very early church theology, but instead it appears that it grew organically in later centuries. As Christianity spread through the Roman Empire, it had to engage with existing cultures and belief systems of subjected peoples, which were primarily what we might now categorise as Pagan, in that they had belief systems that were centred around cycles of the seasons, solar and lunar cycles, and the natural world.
        We know that as Christianity became rooted in these cultures, it’s relationship with older beliefs and assumptions was ambiguous. For example archeological evidence of grave goods, coinage etc in the early Saxon period in England shows both Christian and pagan imagery. We do not of course know whether this demonstrates muddled theology, as we might define it, or simply political expediency. Since early Saxon culture was not widely literate, we cannot be sure.
        Later medieval church architecture, when Christianity was more culturally and politically entrenched, still has plenty of evidence of residual pagan beliefs, eg Green Man stone reliefs.
        In order to assess the reasons for the Christmas festival being when it is, we have to look at where the bulk of circumstantial evidence lies. Your rigorous, and I have to say, convincing study and conclusion of the time of year when the Nativity took place , in itself raises questions as to why we do not celebrate Nativity in September.
        Although we cannot be certain why it is late December, I do think it is a bit of a stretch to say that there is no evidence for it having basis on pre existing pagan beliefs and practices.

        Reply
        • “Simply because there is no written record of a decision made …”
          No, not because of that but the December 25th Christmas date can already be found in early 3rd century church father Hippolytus and thus preceded Sol Invictus by half a century and even longer any first contact between Christians and some Yul-feast on the outskirts of the Germanic world. The Saturnalia, often mentiond in that regard, also never fit the Christmas date. What remains among factors not deriving from Christianity itself, is the winter solstice but that again is no pagan influence at all but using nature symbolism.

          Also, it is quite wrong to speak of pagan influences. Sure, Christians took in influences from the peoples they met and converted. But that would be international influences, maybe even gentile influences, but not influences that were specifically “pagan”, a term clearly associated with non-Christian religions. That the word “pagan” derives from pagus, countryside, is not as clearly established as you might think. Allan Cameron for example rejected that etymology.

          Reply
      • Like Rob Buxton, I feel that mid-winter and the Solstice are excellent images over which the early Church was quite right to lay the narrative of the birth of the Saviour. You argue convincingly that Jesus was probably born in September, so why choose December ? The re-birth of the Sun, which is the physical ‘Light of the World’, is so aligned with the message, it makes the same sense as those archaeological studies which show that some churches were built on the sites of Roman temples, and some of those Roman temples were built on the sites of ancient British (presumably Druid) shrines.

        Reply
  3. Good thoughts.

    It’s difficult to say for certain when Christ was born. Clement of Alexandria claimed Jesus’ birth date was at Nisan.

    “Therefore, from the birth of Christ to the death of Commodus are a total of one hundred ninety-four years, one month, and thirteen days. There are those who have calculated not only the year of our Lord’s birth, but also the day. They say that it took place in the twenty-eighth year of Augustus, on the twenty-fifth day of Pachon [May 20] … Others say that He was born on the twenty-fourth or twenty-fifth day of Pharmuthi [April 19 or 20]”

    Clement of Alexandria (c. 195)

    Reply
    • “Clement of Alexandria claimed Jesus’ birth date was at Nisan.”

      I don’t think that’s actually true.

      You quote three different birth-months, of which only the last can be associated with Nisan. The May-date cannot possibly be Nisan and if we calculate back from the death of Commodus (31st December 192), you will end up in mid-November 2 BC. Far away from any Nisan date.

      Reply
  4. For what it’s worth – I’ve thought that a census would not have been ordered to conflict with peak agricultural activity so ruling out either a spring or autumn timing. However, I enjoyed reviewing the wisdom of this post. Thank you.

    Reply
    • I recall reading somewhere that in those days a census was a drawn out affair. Not at all like the kind of census we have today where everything has to relate to a particular date.

      Reply
    • And presumably not ordered during winter or in rainy seasons too if journeys of 70 miles across mountainous terrain were not untypical? Add to that that the Empire covered a number of geographical and therefore times and seasons varied …… or did the will of Caesar simply override all this?

      Reply
      • ….. and, of course, not ordered during the scorching heat of summer when people would find a 70 mile journey unbearable. So we’ve basically proved that it didn’t happen.

        Reply
    • It wasn’t a census anyway as a census counted Roman citizens. Neither Joseph nor Mary were that and Luke also never speaks of a census.

      Reply
  5. In the early autumn
    Gentle rain did fall.
    Earth was slightly boggy,
    But really that was all.
    So it happened, so and so,
    So and so
    In the early autumn.
    (No one knows.)

    Reply
  6. A birth day at the equinox would be a compromise between the northern and southern hemispheres.

    Day 1 of Tishri, the seventh month, fell on 22 September in 4 BC (though months began after observing the new moon, so there is a margin of uncertainty). I have not been able to establish the date of the autumnal equinox in that year (can anyone link to a reliable site?) but it was either 22 or 23 September.

    September 4 BC to early AD 28 equals thirty years plus a few months – hence Luke’s ‘about thirty’. I take the phrase to mean ‘thirty’, but not exactly.

    Reply
  7. Timing Jesus’ birth from Zechariah’s turn in the Temple does depend upon the interval between v23 and v24 of Luke 1 being short. I’m not sure that the phrase “after these days” (start of v24 in ESV) implies that it was.

    There is a similar question of timing in ch 2, between v5 and v6, between the arrival of Joseph and the pregnant Mary in Bethlehem and the birth of Jesus. v6 starts with egeneto which the Step Bible has as part of its meaning: “It is used in certain contexts to introduce a new section or paragraph in a narrative in Hebrew narrative style.”

    Reply
    • The first gap:
      Mary conceives after Gabriel visits her. At the annunciation Elizabeth is in her 6th month of pregnancy. At some point Mary, now pregnant, visits Elizabeth and stays about 3 months. She seems to depart before Elizabeth gives birth (Luke 1:56-57). So Mary seems to have conceived soon after the angel’s visit, as one might have expected. By the same token, Elizabeth probably conceived soon after the angel’s appearance to Zechariah.

      The second gap:
      I agree a significant gap seems likely. Not a sensible thing to be travelling 50 miles on foot, or even on a mule, just days before the due date.

      Luke uses the phrase ‘those days’ a lot, and more than ‘these days’. Unfortunately the ESV is not consistent in its translation of the relevant Greek phrases, but in 1:24 the word is indeed ‘these’. I am inclined to understand ‘after these days’ as denoting a smaller interval than ‘after those days’.

      Reply
  8. Where does this guessing game leave those people (CON/EVO) who are absolutely wedded to the Bible being infallible! – about anything? And what does it matter where the exercise of faith (in things hoped for but unseen) about the underlying story of Jesus is involved? That’s the trouble with iconoclasts. Their only hope may exist in verification of the written word (of other people).

    Reply
  9. Ronald, you clearly don’t understand the meaning of “iconoclast” because *you are the iconoclast!
    For decades in your crusade to promote acceptance of homosexuality you, a self-proclaimed gay man with a wife, have endlessly attacked St Paul and the unbroken teaching of the Catholic Church on marriage and chastity. Yet you can be an uber-fundamentalist when it suits you in your beliefs about the eucharist and what Jesus sctually said and meant the (even though by your own admission you don’t know Greek or Aramaic). You can’t even grasp the strange contradiction in your ideas, the highly selective character of your scepticism and radicalism. You cannot see or reason as clearly as your onetime mentor, ex-Christian Richard Holloway, exactly where your ideas take you when you follow them through consistently- something you never do.
    Or as your onetime vicar at St Michael’s and All Angels, Jonathan Kirkpatrick who went on from his activism in Christchurch to distinguish himself in university administrstion in Auckland.
    Why can you not follow through where your guides Richard and Jonathan have gone in their biblical thinking? Where are thry wrong?

    Reply
  10. The search for the birthday of Jesus is all very interesting. You provide very good arguments, although (as David Wilson points out) it isn’t cast-iron (for the reason he states). This only goes to show that Scripture wasn’t actually trying to communicate this information to us, so we are `wise beyond Scripture’ if we try stating categorically that this is when it happened.

    But I strongly disagree with you, whatever any clever historian might say, with the statement `There’s also a common (mostly anti-Christian) myth that the date of 25th December was chosen to displace the pagan festival of Sol Invictus, but Andrew McGowan of Yale University has demonstrated that this was 12th-century anti-Christmas propaganda.’

    Andrew McGowan is most likely a very clever historian, who has come up with very clever historical arguments, based on a meticulous study of documents available to him. But the conclusion is divorced from reality and common sense.

    There is a maxim: if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck. When we see what is actually going on at the Christmas celebrations, it really does look like a pagan festival of materialism – so you can bet that its origins really *are* a pagan festival. Nowadays, we are encouraged to stimulate the economy by blowing the credit card and spending money we haven’t got on presents that are expensive but useless. Sales of liquor to provide Christmas cheer go through the roof – and then they have introduced a fashionable `dry January’ to salve the conscience of the true alcoholic.

    I’m not knocking it – in the mid-winter, we do need a good party to cheer things up a little. I’m just disappointed that they chose the winter solstice – which has always been a time for a good lively pagan party – and this was the case long before Jesus ever came along – to have the *Christian* celebration and the official birthday of Jesus.

    I always remember, from my church-going days that it really was an uphill struggle to get the Christian message into Christmas. The minister of the church I attended usually gave the same sermon in his evening service on the Sunday closest to Christmas, based on the passage from Galatians, `born under the law’ (you can infer the contents from this). You can tell just how separated the standard Christmas celebrations are from Christianity (even for church-going people) by the fact that such a Christmas sermon was considered to be highly non-standard – and some people even thought it wasn’t the sort of thing that should be part of the Christmas celebration.

    So, it seems to me a highly negative development that they chose the time of the winter solstice to celebrate the official birthday of Jesus rather than a different and more neutral time of the year that wasn’t already associated with pagan celebrations.

    Reply
      • Colin ….. well, I skimmed through it. I hadn’t actually heard of any of the claims that this guy was refuting, but I confess I find it very difficult to believe that it never occurred to people to have a good mid-winter party before the Christians came along and gave the world Christmas as we know it.

        On the other hand, it would make some sense. The Christian community is perfectly capable of duffing up the birthday of Jesus all by itself – it doesn’t actually need pagan input – and anything that we find ever so slightly revolting about the celebration of capitalistic materialism that we see at this time of year is entirely the work of the Christian community.

        You are quite right – we shouldn’t blame the pagans.

        Reply
  11. it’s still a duck!

    Have read your link, and I’m afraid The writer falls into the same trap of only relying on written records for evidence. He states that there is no written evidence for Jule before 9th century, whereas written evidence for Christian festival is much earlier. This can easily be explained by fact that Northern European, non Roman/ classical peoples did not have literacy until much later. The fact that there is no written evidence for Jule before then, is not evidence that beliefs did not exist before then, anymore than written evidence of Christian beliefs before pagan ones, is evidence that they predate pagan beliefs. His extended references to varying dates of Saturnalia are a red herring, and seem to me proof of nothing except confusions over precise calendar dates.
    I would suggest that the New World context of the writer perhaps skews his perception.
    The 12th century church I worshipped in where I used to live, had a stone carving of the face of the Green Man, who had a merry, not to say salacious, twinkle in his eye as we sang Christmas carols

    Reply
  12. Ian,

    Thank you for the enormous number of hours which your article writing and forum managing has seen you put in this year. I believe that many of us who contribute here feel as if it’s a way in which we can try ourselves out on others – and benefit from their responses – and to have a kind of quasi community experience. That we have this opportunity is because of the work that you put in all year round. I believe there are few who could do what you do for us.

    God bless you and Merry Christmas.

    Reply
  13. A bit late to this.
    Nisan has been mentioned as being linked to the birth of Jesus.
    Maybe there is some substance to linking the birth with the Festival of of Firstfruits.
    Here is a link to a chapter on the Festivalin a book by a Messianic Jew:

    http://www.mayimhayim.org/Festivals/Feast5.htm
    Theologically it would seem to carry weight that the birth of the Messiah were synchronised with the Festival of Firstfruits/ First/born.
    Yes, it is a reference to Christ’s resurrection, but does it not also align with Jesus as firstborn of a new creation and humanity in Him, first/born from above?
    Emmanuel.

    Reply
    • From, The Seven Festivals of the Messiah, which emphasises the symbolic, figural nature of the festivals pointing to fulfilment by Jesus, (Yeshua) in His birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension and return. The festivals are of theological rather than historical significance in seeking to attribute time/date of birth, I’d suggest.

      Reply
  14. The reasoning based on Zechariah belonging to the subtribe of Abijah dates back to Thomas Lewin’s 1865 work Fasti Sacri. Duty lasted one week (1 Chronicles 9:25). Josephus confirmed these details decades after Jesus (Antiquities of the Jews vol. 7, ch. 14, para 7). The rota was probably run through twice per year, plus the festivals; Zechariah’s service was during his subtribe’s turn (Luke 1:8).

    There is a greater cause of uncertainty, though, in supposing that the rota was run through exactly twice a year so that the first subtribe was always on duty at the start of the year. Also, slippage occurs because of discrepancy between the lengths of the lunar and solar year; to keep the former tuned to the latter (unlike the Islamic calendar), the Jews added an extra month (known as a further Adar, named after the month of the year to which it was adjacent) every few years. Before the Jews gained such mathematical capability they presumably kept their lunar calendar tuned to the solar by starting the year at the next new moon after Jerusalem’s barley had reached the ‘Aviv’ stage; the first month, Aviv, was named after a young head of grain. (A sheaf of barley was waved during Passover: Leviticus 23:5-11.) Even if some tours of Temple duty of some subtribes were made longer, to ensure that the first subtribe always opened the year, we do not know whether Jesus’ miraculous conception or Virgin Birth took place in a year with an extra Adar month added.

    Some believers suggest that, as Messiah was expected at Tabernacles (as his brothers understood in John 7), which is the time of his second coming (Zechariah 14:16), his first coming must have been then. This is the harvest festival and the only one of the three major festivals yet to find fulfilment in Christ. I tend to go with this argument, BUT (1) There is more uncertainty in Lewin’s argument for it than there seems at first sight; (2) since nobody thought the time of year worth stating in the New Testament, it matters little to God if the church knows it, or therefore if it celebrates it.

    Our choice of December 25th is based either on the pagan solstice celebration of sol invictus or an unlikely extrapolation from Deuteronomy 31 & 32. (For a detailed discussion, and for many early-church references to the question of the date of the Nativity, see chapter 4 of Roger Beckwith’s book Calendar and Chronology, Jewish and Christian; 2001.) For 300 years after Christ the church had no festival of his birth, which explains why it forgot the time of year. The New Testament contains no command to celebrate even Easter/Pascha, when Christ was crucified at a Jewish festival, let alone Christmas. St Paul scolded the Galatians (4:10-11) against mandatory Christian adoption of the Jewish Law, including its calendar. There is no ban on a Christian calendar in the New Testament, so we are free to keep one (Romans 14:5-6). Conversely, no calendar is demanded (Colossians 2:16), so no Christian leader should press observance on believers who prefer none (or prefer a different time of year for Christmas!) These are matters of private conscience, not apostasy.

    Reply
    • Anton – many thanks for this – a clear account presented in a clear way for non-experts such as me.

      Easter is, perhaps, off-topic for this thread (although it shouldn’t be), but I remember that the minister of the church that I attended did interrupt his sermon series to have a special Easter sermon (on Easter Sunday) in which he explained that every sermon should be an Easter sermon showing forth the crucifixion and resurrection – and what it means for us.

      Reply
  15. If Rev 12:1f is pointing back to the birth of Christ (rather than a future event) than the exact alignment of celestial bodies took place on September 11, 3 BC. Just a thought.

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  16. Have you dismissed Colin Humphrey’s view that Jesus was likely born in the Spring of 5 BC, sometime between March and May?

    This makes sense with the shepherds being out at night with their sheep, and may have been during the lambing season. Though his calculation is primarily based on his identification of the star of Bethlehem with a long-tailed comet which the Chinese recorded during that period – a comet with a tail ‘standing over’ Bethlehem makes perfect sense. Similar wording was used by a Roman historian to describe Haley’s Comet ‘standing over’ Rome.

    I notice that you accept that it could have been towards the end of March, which would also fit with Humphrey’s possible time period.

    Peter
    PS a belated Happy Christmas!

    Reply
    • Yes, Colin Humphreys has argued from Matthew’s description of the aster (‘star’) of Bethlehem, and by comparing it with ancient descriptions of comets, that it was a comet. A suitable candidate exists in Chinese astronomical records in the spring of 5BC (The Star of Bethlehem, Tyndale Bulletin vol. 43.1, p.31-56; 1992).

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  17. https://steadfastlutherans.org/2012/12/redeeming-holy-days-from-pagan-lies-christmas/
    You are right the Pagan Myth claim is false, it’s more likely the other way around. Things we Know that happened: Conception (Incarnation) happened. Jesus Birth Happened, and since he was the perfect man it is logical to assume that his birth was 9 Months. We also know his first birth was celebrated, by the people who witnessed it. Biologically speaking if we know his birth, we can figure out his Incarnation. And the fact is if he was born in Late September, then that would place the Incarnation in December. But I have had people who support the September date get upset at noting that that would place the Incarnation in December, sometimes it seems they are more committed to Dec 25 having Pagan Origins than working on what is historically correct. Maybe it’s coincidence that shortly before going to the Temple during the Festival of Lights Jesus first proclaimed himself the Light of the World. I hope this was OK to post.

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  18. “the Jewish calendar uses lunar months of 29 or 30 days, and has to add an extra month in six years out of every 19 to align with the solar year.”

    This is the way the Jewish Calendar has been calculated since the redaction of the Babylonian Talmud. However, at the time while the Temple stood the calendar was determined by observations of the moon. Starting on the 29th day of a month, the Sanhedrin would receive testimony on the appearance of the moon. Leap months were inserted based on the ripening of certain crops. They did not have a fixed cycle of 29 and 30 day months, nor of leap months.

    Any proleptic determination of a date under the modern Jewish calendar of an event in the fist centuries BCE or CE is guesswork. This further emphasizes your point that

    https://momentmag.com/the-origins-of-the-jewish-calendar/

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