C h r i s t m a s T i m e

Christmas is not a holiday that I particularly care for. It's a time when people celebrate an imaginary guy in a red suit, mutant reindeer, and elves, by dressing up their home with Las Vegas style lighting, and dragging a dead tree into the living room. I don't participate in those festivities, but it's everyone's right to celebrate anything they want. That being said, I do dislike the association placed between December 25th and the birth of Christ. The only part of this "holiday season" that is remotely related to the birth of Christ is New Year's; We move our calendars ahead one year based on the birth of Jesus Christ. Even then, the date itself is probably wrong.

It doesn't take a lot of research to reach the conclusion that that Jesus was probably not born on December 25th.

And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

Luke 2:7 - 8

According to these scriptures in Luke, at the time of the birth, the shepherds and their flocks were in fields. Not only were they in the fields, but they were also there at night. This would not ordinarily occur during December. Going back to the previous verses in Luke, we can see that Joseph and Mary, who was "great with child", went to Judaea because of a decree by Caesar Augustus.

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.

Luke 2:1 - 6

In my Greek interlinear Bible, the word "taxed" does not appear. The word "enrolled" appears in it's place. Based on that, the text is more understandable. The Roman ruler declared that a census would take place. This mandatory census required the citizens to go to the city where they were born, and enroll/register. OK, this makes sense. Israel is a very small country. From the extreme tip of one end, to the furthest tip of the other, is about 260 miles. Looking at a map, it's about 125 miles if you travel in a straight line from Nazareth to Bethlehem. It's a bit of a hike, but it could be done. What doesn't make sense is for a Roman ruler to order the entire populous of a country do this in the winter. At the time, Rome was trying to keep a tranquil environment. Upsetting the Jews had previously resulted in the Maccabean revolt. The lessons of the past had not been so quickly forgotten, as to force the Jews into a death march, by ordering them to walk all over the country in the winter. For those of you who don't know what the Israeli winters are like, I was in Jerusalem during early January one year; it was hailing and snowing at 2:00 in the afternoon. I cannot picture the citizenry of a nation being told to walk hundreds of miles through hail and snow explicitly for a census. Let alone, the exact scenario we are looking at - A man going for a 125-mile stroll through hail and snow, with his wife who happens to be nine months pregnant. This is also why the shepherds were probably not in the fields; it was the wrong time of the year. Shepherds don't spend their nights in desert fields when it is cold enough for hail and snowfall.

So if Jesus wasn't born in December, when was He born? Many people say the date was 4 BC. This presents two problems. 1) That doesn't give us a clue as to the month, and (2) there is good reason to believe that date is incorrect. The 4 BC date is derived from some poor assumptions made a long time ago. Flavius Josephus reported that an eclipse occurred shortly before Herod died. (For those that are unfamiliar with Josephus, he was a Jewish historian, born in Jerusalem of both royal and priestly lineage. His original name was Joseph Ben Matthias. He was learned, worldly, a member of the Pharisees, and a public figure who, before the Jewish revolt against Rome (66 AD), had made friends at the court of Emperor Nero.) A long time ago, some scholars assumed this eclipse to have occurred on March 14, 4 BC. I have read of two major problems with the assumed date of 4 BC. The first problem is if we go by the current solar cycle, that eclipse occurred on December 29, 1 BC. The second problem is that many historians say Herod died on January 14, 1 BC.

Aside from Josephus, there are the writings of Tertullian. (For those that don't know, Quintus Septimus Florens Tertullianus (Tertullian) lived between 160 and 220 AD, was a Roman lawyer, converted to Christianity, and is regarded as a Christian ecclesiastical writer). In Tertullian's writings, he states that Augustus died 15 years after the birth of Jesus. Augutus died on August 19, 14 AD. Tertullian's writings also state that Jesus was born 28 years after the death of Cleopatra. Cleopatra died in 30 BC. Simple math points to the year of birth being 2 BC.

Irenaeus wrote that Jesus was born during the 41st year of the reign of Augustus. Augustus began his reign in the fall of 43 BC. This also points to the year of birth as being 2 BC. Irenaeus was a Christian prelate and a Father of the Church. Irenaeus was appointed Bishop of Lyon. From that office he made many converts among the Gauls and was an active opponent of Gnosticism. He is well note for his literary work "Against the Heresies".

These three writers, along with numerous historians, lead me to believe that Jesus was born in 2 BC. This still doesn't answer the question as to what day and month. I don't know the answer to that one. I have heard some intersting conjecture on the subject. One commentary I have states that clues to the exact date may be derived from information about John the Baptist.

The Birth of John the Baptist -

Elisabeth, John's mother, was a cousin of Mary, and the wife of a priest named Zacharias who was of the "course" of Abijah. (Priests were divided into 24 courses and each course officiated in the Temple for one week, from Sabbath to Sabbath.)

When the Temple was destroyed by Titus on August 5, 70 AD, the first course of priests had just taken office. Since the course of Abijah was the eighth course. If you track backwards, you will see that Zacharias would have ended his duties on July 13, 3 BC. If the birth of John took place 280 days later, it would have been on April 19-20,2 BC. This is an interesting date, because it occurs exactly on Passover of that year.

John began his ministry in the 15th year of Tiberius Caesar. The minimum age for the ministry was 30. As Augustus died on August 19, 14 AD, that was the accession year for Tiberius. If John was born on April 19-20, 2 BC, his 30th birthday would have been April 1920, 29 AD, or the 15th year of Tiberius. This seems to confirm the 2 BC date and, since John was 5 months older, this also confirms the autumn birth date for Jesus.

John's repeated introduction of Jesus as "The Lamb of God" is interesting if John was indeed born on Passover.

The Birth of Jesus -

Elisabeth hid herself for five months and then the Angel Gabriel announced to Mary both Elisabeth's condition and that Mary would also bear a son. Mary was told her son would be called Jesus. Mary went "with haste" to visit Elisabeth, who was then in the fourth week of her sixth month, or the fourth week of December, 3 BC. If Jesus was born 280 days later it would place the date of his birth on September 29, 2 BC.

If Jesus was born on September 29, 2 BC, This date would also be interesting. In the Jewish calendar, September 29, 2 BC is the First of Tishri; the Feast of Trumpets.

This does not mean I can state assuredly that Jesus was born on September 29, of 2 BC. Like I wrote a few paragraphs back, this reading makes for interesting conjecture. I believe that most people who give all of this any thought would agree that whenever Jesus was born, it probably wasn't December 25th. Among scholars, the actual date is a subject of endless debates. What we do know (or think we know), is that in 440 AD (or 336 AD, depending on which authors you consider to be the most credible) the church decided to set the date as December 25th. This date was mainly picked to offset the pagan celebration of the winter solstice at the Saturnalia. Never heard of Saturnalia? In Rome, Saturnalia was a holiday celebrated in honor of Saturn (the god of agriculture). Saturnalia began in the week leading up to the winter solstice and continued for a full month. Saturnalia was a hedonistic holiday, when food and drink were plentiful and the normal Roman social order was turned upside down. I hope to wri te about Saturnalia and other "Christmas" celebrations in a later article. Here is the story of the birth of John the Baptist and Jesus:

There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judaea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. And they had no child, because that Elisabeth was barren, and they both were now well stricken in years. And it came to pass, that while he executed the priest's office before God in the order of his course, According to the custom of the priest's office, his lot was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense. And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his na me John. And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth. For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb. And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years. And the angel answering said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to shew thee these glad tidings. And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season. And the people waited for Zacharias, and marvelled that he tarried so long in the temple. And when he came out, he could not speak unto them: and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple: for he beckoned unto them, and remained speechless. And it came to pass, that, as soon as the days of his ministration were accomplished, he departed to his own house. And after those days his wife Elisabeth conceived, and hid herself five months, saying, Thus hath the Lord dealt with me in the days wherein he looked on me, to take away my reproach among men. And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be. And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end. Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren. For with God nothing shall be impossible. And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her. And Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Juda; And entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elisabeth. And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost: And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord. And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord, And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name. And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation. He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree. He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away. He hath holpen his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy; As he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever. And Mary abode with her about three months, and returned to her own house. Now Elisabeth's full time came that she should be delivered; and she brought forth a son. And her neighbours and her cousins heard how the Lord had shewed great mercy upon her; and they rejoiced with her. And it came to pass, that on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child; and they called him Zacharias, after the name of his father. And his mother answered and said, Not so; but he shall be called John. And they said unto her, There is none of thy kindred that is called by this name. And they made signs to his father, how he would have him called. And he asked for a writing table, and wrote, saying, His name is John. And they marvelled all. And his mouth was opened immediately, and his tongue loosed, and he spake, and praised God. And fear came on all that dwelt round about them: and all these sayings were noised abroad throughout all the hill country of Judaea. And all they that heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, What manner of child shall this be! And the hand of the Lord was with him. And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Ghost, and prophesied, saying, Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he hath visited and redeemed his people, And hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David; As he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began: That we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us; To perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant; The oath which he sware to our father Abraham, That he would grant unto us, that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve him without fear, In holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life. And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways; To give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins, Through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us, To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace. And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his shewing unto Israel.

Luke 1:5 - 80