Christmas – Throwback Christianity

guest-article

Christmas and Paganism Part 1: December 25th was not an Ancient Pagan Holiday – Throwback Christianity

According to popular myth, Christmas was an ancient Pagan Holiday. As a result of the wide range of belief in this myth Christmas has become an extremely touchy and controversial subject not only between Atheists and Christians, but sadly even among fellow believers in Christ. It is common around Christmas to hear, read or see protests by Atheists calling for the removal of Christ from the holiday. But in the last few years opponents of Christmas from within Christianity have steadily risen beyond the historical minority cults/sects into mainstream Christianity. Some follow Atheists seeking to remove Christ from Christmas stating that “He was never in it in the first place” and others advocate that Christians shouldn’t observe this holiday at all.

>As the myth goes, Christmas is linked to ancient pagan celebrations either for the false deities Mithras, Sol Invictus or the winter solstice celebration of Saturnalia. Constantine and his emerging Roman Catholic Church installed one of these three celebrations in place as Jesus’ birth date to counteract paganism, therefore, historically December 25th had nothing to do with Christianity or Christ.

Historically no one related Christmas to paganism until the 12th century when a Syrian bishop named Jacob Bar-Salibi wrote this in reference to the nativity being moved from January 6th to December 25th:

It was a custom of the Pagans to celebrate on the same 25 December the birthday of the Sun, at which they kindled lights in token of festivity. In these solemnities and revelries the Christians also took part. Accordingly when the doctors of the Church perceived that the Christians had a leaning to this festival, they took counsel and resolved that the true Nativity should be solemnised on that day.[1]

Sadly, many people believe that ancient proof exists to support these claims, but, in reality, there are only two pagan sources linked to December 25th. Both, however, postdate the Christian sources. The first is from 274 A.D. when Emperor Aurelian installed the games of Sol. The problem with this source is that these games took place in August, October, and December; it was December 11th, though, not the 25th when these games took place.

This leaves us with the second source—the Chronography of 354 A.D.—which lists Natalis Invicti on December 25th, as the one, sole source:

…on December 25 “N·INVICTI·CM·XXX” = “Birthday of the unconquered, games ordered, thirty races”[2]

As mentioned above, the Chronography is predated by the early Church writings which point to December 25th as the birth date of Christ. Furthermore, Scholars do not know for certain if Natalis Invicti was or was not used in reference to Christ as some Roman Christians called Jesus the Unconquered as well.

Alexander Hislop and Hermann Usener are two of the most frequently cited sources for the December 25th-is-pagan myth. Many people simply trust their research, yet few realize that their research was not based on the actual ancient texts from the cults of Sol, Mithras, and the festival of Saturnalia. During the 18th and 19th centuries authors like Hislop and Usener assumed that Sol and Mithras were the same deity. Therefore, if the Chronography of 354 listed an observance for Sol on December 25th, these authors presumed that there must have been an observance for Mithras long before this time on December 25th. This idea would, of course, predate the early Church, but nothing has ever been found to prove this presumption correct.

Many modern encyclopedias, including the Encyclopedia Britannica, reflect this fact in their updated works:

This view presumesas does the view associating the origin of Christmas on December 25 with pagan celebrations of the winter equinox—that Christians appropriated pagan names and holidays for their highest festivals. Given the determination with which Christians combated all forms of paganism, this appears a rather dubious presumption.[3]

If ancient texts using the December 25th date that predate Christianity do not exist, then the myth is proven to be fictitious. And that is exactly what Scholars have discovered today, but the popularity of the pagan Christmas myth still persists:

And indeed, ever since Usener’s studies of the feast of Christmas, the idea that December 25 was chosen as Christ’s birthday to counteract this important pagan festival has received wide acceptance.[4]

Fortunately that widespread acceptance is dying out among historians and scholarship as true historical data is being researched. Historians and Scholars now report that there isn’t any evidence in any original ancient text giving proof that December 25th is related to pagan festivals prior to the Chronography listed above:

The idea, particularly popular in the 18th and 19th centuries, that the date of 25 December for Christmas was selected in order to correspond with the Roman festival of Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, or “Birthday of the Unconquered Sun”, is challenged today.[5]

In point of fact, the evidence for a religious festival of any kind for the sun god on December 25 is not only meager but also exceptionally late, as it dates to the second half of the fourth century AD. In fact, it postdates our earliest evidence for the celebration of Christmas.[6]

In short, we have no firm evidence for a festival for Sol on December 25until Julian wrote his hymn to Helios in December of 362.[7]

The contention that December 25th was an especially popular festival for Sol in late antiquity is equally unfounded.[8]

There is no evidence that a religious celebration of Sol on that day antedated the celebration of Christmas … The traditional feast days of Sol, as recorded in the early imperial fasti, were August 8 and/or August 9 , possibly August 28 , and December 11. These are all dates that are unrelated to any important celestial alignment of Sol, such as the solstices and equinoxes.[9]

This means that in the early fourth century, when Christmas was established by the church on December 25, anyone surveying the calendar of festivities in honour of Sol would identify the period from October 19 to October 22 as far more important than December 25, and the festival of August 28 as far older. If the aim was to “neutralize” the cult of Sol by “taking over” its major festival,December 25thseems the least likely choice.[10]

So Christians did not borrow the birth date of Sol or Mithras for Jesus, but instead Jesus’ birth date was literally stolen beginning with Aurelian in 274:

There is quite simply not one iota of explicit evidence for a major festival of Sol on December 25th prior to the establishment of Christmas, nor is there any circumstantial evidence that there was likely to have been one.'[11]

The specific nature of the relation of Christmas to the then-contemporary feast of the birth of the sun, Natalis Solis Invicti, has up to now not been conclusively proven from extant texts, no matter how much some sort of causal relation might make perfect sense.[12]

Mithras

As far as Mithras (who is considered to be the same deity as Sol by some Scholars), history is absent of any connection to December 25th as well:

‘There is no evidence of any kind, not even a hint, from within the cult that this, or any other winter day, was important in the Mithraic calendar. Although three seasonal zodiacal signs are singled out in the iconography (Taurus, Leo and Scorpius), Aquarius, the sign that would correspond to notional mid-winter, being diametrically opposite to Leo, is never paid special attention. No Mithraic votive is dated 25th December (VIII A.D. KAL. IAN.). Nor is there any mention among the dipinti in the mithraeum of S. Prisca of Mithras’ birthday, though the first line of a zodiacal poem was written up on the wall, starting, quite unconventionally, with Aries, the first sign of Spring.[13]

Of the mystery cult of Sol Invictus Mithras we know little with certainty, and even if we leave aside the problem of the relationship between the Mithraic mysteries and the public cult of Sol, the notion that Mithraists celebrated December 25th in some fashion is a modern invention for which there is simply no evidence.[14]

Polemicists (and The Da Vinci Code) frequently state that 25 December was Mithras’ birthday, yet the renowned Mithraic scholar, Dr. Richard Gordon has corresponded to me that he is unaware of ‘a single date on a Mithraic inscription that falls in the winter, let alone late in DecemberWe know nothing about the cycle of rituals in the cult…’ So, Christmas owes nothing to Mithraism.[15]

Even those who claim that December 25th was the birth date of Mithras or Sol admit there is no evidence to prove it:

That an important Mithraic feast also fell on December 25th can hardly be doubted, although there is no direct evidence of the fact.[16]

Both the sun and Christ were said to be born anew on December 25. But while the solar associations with the birth of Christ created powerful metaphors, the surviving evidence does not support such direct association with the Roman solar festivals. The earliest documentary evidence for the feast of Christmas makes no mention of the coincidence with the winter solstice. Thomas Talley has shown that, although the Emperor Aurelian’s dedication of a temple to the sun god in the Campus Martius probably took place on the ‘Birthday of the Invincible Sun’ on December 25, the cult of the sun in pagan Rome ironically did not celebrate the winter solstice nor any of the other quarter-tense days, as one might expect. The origins of Christmas, then, may not be expressly rooted in the Roman festival.[17]

Since Sol is linked to Mithras and Mithras to Tammuz of Ancient Babylon, those who claim that Christmas began in Babylon have nothing to prove their claims. Remember the only semi-pagan source using the December 25th date is from 354 A.D.

Saturnalia

Another pagan festival is often cited as the precursor to Christmas. This celebration of the winter solstice was called Saturnalia. However, history and Scholarship once again prove that Saturnalia was not celebrated on December 25th, thus debunking the myth that Christians adopted this pagan holiday as the birthday of Christ:

But all our surviving calendars that preserve the month of December mark 17 December as the date for the Saturnalia. In his discussion of the origins of the Saturnalia, Macrobius explains that the Saturnalia was often celebrated over three days from 14 to 17 December, since the former was the date given by the Numan calendar, the latter the date given by the Julian calendar after Caesar added two days to the month[18]

The Saturnalia occupy a position exactly between the Consualia of the 15th and the Opalia of the 19th of December.[19]

Saturnalia was not a festival held on December 25th. Not even in the latter times of this festival when it was moved to December 17th through the 23rd:

Eventually, the carnival expanded to a full seven days, December 17 to 23.[20]

Although Saturnalia was close to December 25th, it was never on the same day. Thus Christmas is a distinct date from that of Saturnalia.

Conclusion

With the given information, we learn that Christmas was not historically pagan. The problem arises from the fact that people have been so indoctrinated with this myth, they simply believe it as a widely known fact without researching the actual evidence themselves.

The cults of Sol or Mithras and the festival of Saturnalia did not historically have any association with December 25th. The myth has been based on nothing more than presumption which scholarship and historical information have proven to be fictitious. It is clear the early Church observed this date prior to the other pagan groups. If there is any resemblance between the two, one must have to admit that it is the pagans who copied the Christians not vice versa. As a result modern scholarship has proven Christmas to be an entirely Christian holiday.
Part 1: December 25th was not an ancient pagan holiday
Part 2: Jesus’ Death, Christmas and the Early Church

Part 3: The Winter Birth
Part 4: Should Christians Celebrate Christmas?

 

Footnotes:
[1] Quote taken from Toward the Origins of Christmas by Susan K. Roll, p. 151
[2] Chronography of 345, Part 6 via Tertullian.org
[3] Encyclopedia Britannica: Easter
[4] Hijmans, Steven, Sol Invictus, the Winter Solstice, and the Origins of Christmas, Mouseion, Number 47/3 (2003), 277-298.
[5] Wikipedia: Sol_Invictus
[6] Steven Hijmans, Assoc. Professor of  Roman Art and Archaeology at the University of Alberta,  quote taken from, Usener’s Christmas: A Contribution to the Modern Construct of Late Antique Solar Syncretism, in Die Metamorphosen der Philologie. Hermann Usener und seine Folgen, (2011) p 139-152.
[7] Ibid
[8] Ibid
[9] Ibid
[10] Ibid
[11] Ibid
[12] Roll, Susan K., Toward the Origins of Christmas, (1995), p. 107.
[13] Ezquerra, Jaime Alvar. Romanising Oriental Gods: Myth, Salvation, and Ethics in the cults of Cybele, Isis and Mithras, in Gordon (ed. trans.), Religions in the Graeco-Roman World, p. 410 (2008).
[14] Hijmans, Steven. Usener’s Christmas: A Contribution to the Modern Construct of Late Antique Solar Syncretism
[15] Christmas: Pagan Festival or Christian Celebration? answering-islam.org quoting Dr. Richard Gordon
[16] Chambers, Edmund Kerchever. The Mediaeval Stage, Volume 1, (1903).
[17] Anderson, Michael Alan. Symbols of Saints, pp. 45
[18] Newlands, Carole E. Statius’ Silvae and the poetics of Empire, p. 236 (2006).
[19] Versnel, H.S. Inconsistencies in Greek and Roman Religion: Transition and Reversal in Myth, p. 165 (1993).
[20] Littleton, C. Scott. Gods, goddesses, and mythology, volume 11, p. 1255 (2005).

Christmas and Paganism Part 2: Jesus’ Death, the Early Church, Ancient Judaism and Christmas – Throwback Christianity

According to the myths of Atheists, the Hebrew Roots Movement, and even some Roman Catholics, the December 25th birth date for Christ was stolen from paganism. Sadly many Christians have bought into these lies.

In part 1 we looked at this myth and debunked it with Scholarship that states otherwise. We also touched on the fact that Constantine and the emerging Roman Catholic Church of his time did not create the December 25th date and observance because early Christian sources which predate this era prove that earlier Christians wrote of, and celebrated, the date as Jesus’ birth.

In part 2 of this series we are focusing on the early Church evidence for Christmas, and how they established the date which you will soon see is related to Judaism rather than paganism.

As we touched on in Part 1, historically there are only two connections to the pagan “sources” linking to December 25th. However, both come about in history after early Christians cited the date for the birth date of Christ. One of these didn’t even keep December 25th at all but instead August, October, and December 11th  (Aurelian 274 A.D.) and the other (The Chronography of 354) lists the birth date of the unconquered on December 25th. However, Scholars admit that they do not know for certain if the unconquered was not simply a reference to Christ. Previously authors such as Alexander Hislop used this text as the sole source of proof connecting Jesus’ birth date to various sun gods from Sol to ancient Babylon and Mithras or Tammuz. But this was all based on presumption as there aren’t any ancient texts from Rome or Babylonian religions that use the December 25th date in any way.

Therefore, the early Church is the earliest known source claiming a birth on December 25th and that of course is the birth of Christ. Some will accuse the early Church of adopting pagan practices before Constantine since obviously Christmas was kept before his time, however, the Ante-Nicene Church was very stern in not practicing paganism. Often we find that the writers of the Ante-Nicene era even mocked many practices of the pagans as ridiculous. This includes pagan practices that were later adopted by Constantine and the Roman Catholic Church such as venerating images, adorned sanctuaries and vested clergy (see the Early Church did not use Incense, Temples, Altars and Images in the Early Church and Early Church Quotes on Pagan Practices.)

The Historical Evidence

1. The Infancy Gospel of James 130 -136 A.D

The earliest Christian source proving the December 25th date of Jesus’ birth comes from the early 2nd century in the infancy gospel of James (130 to 136 A.D.). In this text we learn that Zacharias was thought to have served in the Temple during the Day of Atonement and right after this service period John the Baptist was conceived. This would be around late September on our calendars or Tishri on the Hebrew calendar. While the December 25th date is not mentioned in this text, we can calculate to find the month of Jesus’ birth based on John’s conception, which the Church has historically held to have been in September.

If John was conceived in September, he would’ve been born in June and Christ, therefore, would’ve been born in December according to the 6 month difference listed in the Bible. The September service of Zacharias in the Temple is also upheld by a course roster in the Dead Sea Scrolls and research by Josef Heinrich Friedlieb.

2. Clement of Alexandria 196 to 200 A.D.

The Catholic Encyclopedia on Christmas states that:

About A.D. 200, Clement of Alexandria (Stromata I.21) says that certain Egyptian theologians “over curiously” assign, not the year alone, but the day of Christ’s birth, placing it on 25 Pachon (20 May) in the twenty-eighth year of Augustus.”….. thought they did this believing that the ninth month, in which Christ was born, was the ninth of their own calendar.

Clement, however, also tells us that the Basilidians celebrated the Epiphany, and with it, probably, the Nativity, on 15 or 11 Tybi (10 or 6 January).

January 6th on the Julian Calendar is our December 25th. Some churches today, such as the Eastern Churches, keep the Julian Calendar, thus the Nativity is not on Dec 25th but Jan 6th with the Epiphany. Those that use the modern calendar keep it on the 25th of December. The Epiphany commemorates when the Magi visited the baby Jesus. So we know from Clement that the Basilidians were keeping Jesus’ birth in the late 2nd century on what would be our December 25th and that the Egyptians were in error for keeping Christmas in May thinking it was their ninth month.  Note that close attention needs to be paid to the January 6th date (Julian Calendar) and the ninth month (Hebrew Calendar) as we continue. You will soon see a pattern.

Clement himself believed that Christ was born on January 6th on the Alexandian Calendar:

Writing shortly after the assassination of Commodus on December 31, AD 192, Clement of Alexandria provides the earliest documented dates for the Nativity. One hundred ninety-four years, one month, and thirteen days, he says, had elapsed since then, which corresponds to a birth date of NOVEMBER 18TH or, if the forty-nine intercalary days MISSING FROM THE ALEXANDRIAN calendar are added, January 6TH. Moreover, “There are those who have determined not only the year of our Lord’s birth, but also the day” (Stromata, I.21), including dates in April and May, as well as another day in January. -Encyclopedia Romana, Sol Invictus

Clement of Alexandria gives us the date for the birth of Christ at least 75 years before Aurelian installed the games of Sol in 274 A.D. Clement also cites the March 25th date for the death of Christ and His conception or annunciation. The March 25th date is found in quiet a few early Church writings as well and closely related to why the Church settled on the December 25th date.

3. Hippolytus of Rome 200 A.D.

Hippolytus also lists the death on March 25th and the birth on December 25th:

For the first advent of our Lord in the flesh, when he was born in Bethlehem, eight days before the kalends of January [December 25th], the 4th day of the week [Wednesday], while Augustus was in his forty-second year, [2 or 3BC] but from Adam five thousand and five hundred years. He suffered in the thirty third year, 8 days before the kalends of April [March 25th], the Day of Preparation, the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar [29 or 30 AD], while Rufus and Roubellion and Gaius Caesar, for the 4th time, and Gaius Cestius Saturninus were Consuls.

Some discard Hippolytus’ commentary on Daniel as not authentic, however, even if it were not, Hippolytus upholds the March 25th conception and death multiple times in other works that are known to be authentic:

Hippolytus, a younger contemporary of Clement, does state that the Nativity had occurred on December 25 (Commentary on Daniel, IV.23.3). Although the statement may be a later interpolation, he reiterates several decades later (in AD 235) that Jesus was born nine months after the anniversary of the creation of the world, which Hippolytus believed to have been on March 25 (Chronicon, 686ff). The Nativity then would be on December 25.-Encyclopedia Romana, Sol Invictus

4. Julianus Africanus 221 A.D.

The writings of Julianus Africanus also state that the conception of Christ was the same date as the crucifixion which he lists as March 25th. Julianus wrote around 221 A.D. This is 52 years before the first possible pagan source for the December 25th date, Aurelian. The March 25th conception equals to a December birth. Therefore, the early Church apparently based Jesus’ birth date on the date of His death, simply counting nine months ahead and arrived at December 25th:

Sextus Julianus Africanus, before 221: 22 March = the (first) day of creation, 25 March = both the annunciation and the resurrection. -Roll, ‘Toward the Origins of Christmas’, p. 87 (1995).

March conception = December birth.

But a North African Christian named Sextus Julius Africanus had a different idea. He contended that the Son of God became incarnate not at his birth but at his conception, so if Mary conceived him on March 25, he would have been born nine months later on December 25.[2]

5. The Constitutions of the Apostles 250 A.D.

The December 25th date is listed once again before Aurelian in the Constitutions of the Holy Apostles dated to 250 A.D. The Constitutions list 25th of the ninth month as Jesus’ birth date on the Hebrew Calendar:

Brethren, observe the festival days; and first of all the birthday which you are to celebrate on the twenty-fifth of the ninth month (Tebeth/December); after which let the Epiphany be to you the most honoured, in which the Lord made to you a display of His own Godhead, and let it take place on the sixth of the tenth month; Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol VII: Constitutions of the Holy Apostles: Sec. III.—On Feast Days and Fast Days

Note: The ninth month on the Hebrew Calendar, Tebeth, corresponds to our modern December.

So why did the early Church base Jesus’ conception and birth on His death? The answer to this question is found in Ancient Judaism:

The Talmud 2nd Century A.D.

In ancient Judaism it was believed that all great prophets died on the date of their conception. Jesus, the early Church believed, was conceived on the day He died, March 25th. Therefore , He was born sometime in December:

The notion that creation and redemption should occur at the same time of year is also reflected in ancient Jewish tradition, recorded in the Talmud. The Babylonian Talmud preserves a dispute between two early-second-century C.E. rabbis who share this view, but disagree on the date: Rabbi Eliezer states: “In Nisan the world was created; in Nisan the Patriarchs were born; on Passover Isaac was born … and in Nisan they [our ancestors] will be redeemed in time to come.” (The other rabbi, Joshua, dates these same events to the following month, Tishri.)14 Thus, the dates of Christmas and Epiphany may well have resulted from Christian theological reflection on such chronologies: Jesus would have been conceived on the same date he died, and born nine months later  -Talley, Origins, pp. 81–82.

“It was a traditional Jewish belief that great men lived a whole number of years, without fractions, so that Jesus was considered to have been conceived on 25 March, as he died on 25 March, which was calculated to have coincided with 14 Nisan.” -William J. Colinge, Historical Dictionary of Catholicism

This idea, known as the Integral Age Theory, was the basis for the December birth date,  thus the Christmas date descended from Judaism not paganism.

French Scholar Duchesne was one of the first to point this connection out:

In a passage of only a few pages in his Origines Du Culte Chretien (first edition 1889, fifth edition 1920), Duchesne sets out his theory for the origins of Christmas. He first discounts the notion that Christmas was instituted to as a deliberate distraction for Roman Christians from the feast of Saturnalia (disproven because Saturnalia runs from 17-23 December) and secondly that Christmas was intended as a rival for the feast of Natalis Invicti, which Duchesne believes identical with Mithras, which fails to account for the 6 January date. While allowing for the historical indeterminacy of the date, Duchesne cites the 25 March date for Christ’s passion given by Clement of Alexandria, the De Pashca Computus, Lactantius, Tertullian and Hippolytus in both the Paschal Tables and the “Commentary on Daniel”.…..Therefore, according to Duchesne,the incarnation (or annunciation to Mary) must have taken place on 25 March, and the birth of Christ on 25 December” [2]

December 25th and Tebeth:

The Constitutions of the Apostles list Tebeth as the ninth Hebrew month. Some today may see this as an error citing Tebeth as the tenth month however,  Josephus shows us that the ninth month was Tebeth during his time:

according to the sentence of the elders, those that were of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin came together in three days, viz. on the twentieth day of the ninth month, which, according to the Hebrews, is called Tebeth, and according to the Macedonians, Apelleius. –The Antiquities of the Jews, Flavius Josephus

This means that not only was Jesus’ birth calculated based on ancient Judaism, but possibly His birth took place during Hanukkah:

The Christmas festival of December 25th rested on a very ancient tradition…Which was meant by the ninth month we have no difficulty in deciding. Reckoning after the Jewish and Roman Calendars…We have now verified this additional historical fact, that Christmas was henceforth celebrated on the twenty fifth day in the ninth month in the Jewish calendar, which corresponded to our December…if the body with which the divinity of Christ was like the Dedication of the Temple and Christmas day the feast of the true Dedication of the Temple. – The Leisure Hour, Volume 22

In the Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah by Messianic Scholar Alfred Edersheim, we read that there was once a Hebrew fast day on Tebeth ninth that was later concealed. Edersheim apparently believed that this was Jesus’ birth date, December 25th:

FOOTNOTE for this section: There is no adequate reason for questioning the historical accuracy of this date. The objections generally made rest on grounds which seem to me historically untenable. …but a curious piece of evidence comes to us from a Jewish source. In the addition to the Megilloth Taanith, the 9th Tebbeth is marked as a fast day, and it is added that the reason for this is not stated. Now, Jewish chronologist have fixed on that day as that of Christ’s birth and it is remarkable that, between the years 500 and 816 A.D. the 25th of December fell no less than twelve times on the 9th of Tebbeth. If the 9th Tebbeth, or 25th December, was regarded as the birthday of Christ, we can understand the concealment about it.The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah by Alfred Edersheim

Not only is the December birth date for Christ not pagan in origin as it predates any pagan observance, but it is likely that this was actually Jesus birth date and this took place sometime during Hanukkah in the month of Tebeth on the ninth or twenty fifth days both of which would at specific times correspond to our December 25th and the Julian Calendar date of January 6th.

Conclusion

Thus far we have shown that the December 25th date for the Nativity is exclusively Christian in origin and related to Ancient Judaism. In Part three we will look closer at the myth that Jesus could not have been born in winter.

Christmas and Paganism Part 3: The Winter Birth – Throwback Christianity

According to modern Scholarship and historical evidence, Jesus’ birth date is not related to paganism. In the last two articles we showed that December 25th is an historically Christian date based on historical evidence and the ancient Hebrew theory of Integral Age. We debunked the myth that Christians hijacked the pagan festivals for Sol, Mithras, and Saturnalia as history and Scholarship proves that these festivals were either not celebrated on December 25th or at anytime in history prior to the 4th century A.D.

In this article, we will look into the remaining myths that Jesus could not have been born in the winter as Shepherds were not in the fields during that time of the year, and that He was born during Sukkot.

These myths have many problems. The first being that there is no proof for any of this in the Bible. It would be virtually impossible for Jesus to have been born during Sukkot since the Bible clearly says that Joseph and Mary were going to Bethlehem, not Jerusalem, for a census not a feast. Most feasts required a journey to the Temple, including Sukkot. The Bible never mentions any such journey. If this had been the case, it would seem that this information would have been mentioned.

Additionally, the Bible states that Joseph and Mary were seeking shelter at an inn. If, however, they had been traveling to the feast of Sukkot they would have made shelter in a booth, not sought shelter in an inn or manger. The inns would not have been full as others would have been making shelter in booths as well. Therefore, the idea that Jesus was born during a feast is based on pure speculation and zero Biblical evidence. Instead the Bible refutes this theory.

Added in support of this myth is the theory that shepherds would not have their flocks outside during the winter. This is extremely popular as well, although it was debunked at least forty years ago by Bible Scholars. It is in fact not uncommon for modern Israelis to keep livestock out in the fields during the winter.  The truth is winter is rather mild in Israel with the average temperature around 50 degrees. Furthermore, we have proof in the Bible that shepherds did watch their flocks during the winter.

Genesis 31:38-40:

38 These twenty years have I been with you; your sheep, and your female goats have not failed in bearing; and I have not eaten the rams of your cattle. 39 That which was torn of beasts I did not bring to you; I made good of myself the thefts of the day, and the thefts of the night. 40 I was parched with heat by day, and chilled with frost by night, and my sleep departed from my eyes

Here we see that Jacob kept watch over livestock during the winter.

Further proof that this was a common practice in Israel during Jesus’ time can be found in the writings of Canon H.B Tristram (author and traveler) who visited Palestine frequently and is well known for his writings of Palestine and other Middle Eastern areas:

A little knoll of olive trees surrounding a group of ruins marks the traditional site of the angels’ appearance to the shepherds, Migdol Eder, ‘the tower of the flock’. But the place where the first ‘Gloria in excelsis’ was sung was probably further east, where the bare hills of the wilderness begin, and a large tract is claimed by the Bethlehemites as a common pasturage. Here the sheep would be too far off to be led into the town at night; and exposed to the attacks of wild beasts from the eastern ravines, where the wolf and the jackal still prowl, and where of old the yet more formidable lion and bear had their covert, they needed the shepherds’ watchful care during the winter and spring months, when alone pasturage is to be found on these bleak uplands. (Emphasis Added). Picturesque Palestine Vol 1 page 124

Migdol Eder is by local tradition the historical sight of the angels appearance to the shepherds. As stated in the excerpt above, this site is where the flocks were kept outside during the winter, because the winter rains allowed for the growth of grass, something that the flocks did not get to have during the Summer months. It makes sense that shepherds would allow Passover lambs out in the fields during the winter to fatten them on the green grass. It further makes sense that the lambs would be kept out at night, since the distance back to town would have been to far to bring them back and forth daily. Also note this excerpt from Messianic Jewish Scholars Alfred Edersheim:

That the Messiah was born in Bethlehem was a settled conviction. Equally so, was the belief that He was to be revealed from Migdal Eder, the tower of the flock.

This Migdal Eder, was not the watch tower for ordinary flocks which pastured on the barren sheep ground beyond Bethlehem, but lay close to town, on the road to Jerusalem. A passage in the Mishnah leads to the conclusion that the flocks which pastured there were destined for Temple Sacrifices, and accordingly that the Shepherds who watched over them were, no ordinary Shepherds. The latter were under the ban of Rabbinism on the account of their necessary isolation from religious ordinances, and their manner of life, which rendered strict legal observances unlikely, if not absolutely impossible.

The same Mishnic also leads us to infer, that these flocks lay out all year round , since they are spoken of as in the fields thirty days before Passover- that is, in the month of February, when in Palestine the average rainfall is nearly greatest. Thus Jewish traditions in some dim manner apprehended the first revelation of the Messiah from Migdal Eder, where Shepherds watched the Temple flocks all year round. Of the deep symbolic significance of such a coincidence, it is needless to speak –The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah By Alfred Edersheim

Another bit of  evidence for a winter birth is from a calendar found in the Dead Sea Scrolls which provides the sacerdotal courses for the Temple. Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist served during the course of Abijah. The Dead Sea Scrolls prove that this period was in September. John was conceived shortly after this course proving the traditional date of his birth, June 24th, was possible. Thus the annunciation date of March 25th for Mary’s pregnancy with Jesus would be accurate as well and place the birth in December:

Note on the date of Christmas, from 30 Days, an Italian publication:

December 25 is explained as the ‘Christianization’ of a pagan feast, ‘birth of the Sol Invictus’; or as the symmetrical balance, an aesthetic balance between the winter solstice (Dec. 21-22) and the spring equinox (March 23-24). But a discovery of recent years has shed definitive light on the date of the Lord’s birth. As long ago as 1958, the Israeli scholar Shemaryahu Talmon published an in-depth study on the calendar of the Qumran sect [Ed. based , in part, on Parchment Number 321 — 4 Q 321 — of the Qumran Dead Sea Scrolls], and he reconstructed without the shadow of doubt the order of the sacerdotal rota system for the temple of Jerusalem (1 Paralipomenon/Chronicles 24, 7-18) in New Testament times. Here the family of Abijah, of which Zechariah (Zachary) was a descendant, father of John the herald and forerunner (Luke 1, 5), was required to officiate twice a year, on the days 8-14 of the third month, and on the days 24-30 of the eighth month. This latter period fell at about the end of September. It is not without reason that the Byzantine calendar celebrated ‘John’s conception’ on September 23 and his birth nine months later, on June 24. The ‘six months’ after the Annunciation established as a liturgical feast on March 25, comes three months before the forerunner’s birth, prelude to the nine months in December: December 25 is a date of history.

While the quote above is Roman Catholic in origin, it’s irrelevant as the study of the calendar was conducted by an Israeli Scholar, Shemaryahu Talmon. This time frame is supported by the Infancy Gospel of James (136 A.D.) which states that Zacharias served during the Day of Atonement and John was conceived just after this period. Further research by Josef Heinrich Friedlieb established that the first priestly course of Jojarib would have been on duty during the destruction of Jerusalem on the ninth day of the month of Av. Thus the course of Jojarib was serving during the second week of Av and the course of Abijah would have been during the second week of the month of Tishri or the week of the Day of Atonement.

John Chrysostom, although writing after the time of Constantine,  wrote of the temple roster and the birth date of Jesus, which by Chrysostom’s calculations was in December:

His third argument follows the approach of the De solstitiis in using the Lucan chronology and the assumption that Zacharia was High Priest during the feast of Tabernacles in the year John the Baptist was conceived. Chrysostom counts off the months of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, and dates Mary’s conception from the sixth month of Elizabeth’s, Xanthikos on the Macedonian calendar, then counts off another nine months to arrive at the birthdate of Christ. -Sunsan K Roll {2} , ‘Toward the Origins of Christmas’, pp. 100-101 (1995).

Conclusion

While no one can say for certain when Jesus was born. The evidence of the early Church, the Integral Age theory of ancient Judaism, the Temple Roster of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the timing of the birth of John the Baptist all point to a winter birth. Coupled against this evidence, there is absolutely nothing that proves the theory that Jesus was born during Sukkot. This theory is based on nothing more than speculation by those who seek to persecute the probable true date of our Savior’s birth on December 25th.

Christmas and Paganism Part 4: Should Christians Celebrate Christmas? – Throwback Christianity

“Brethren, keep diligently feast-days, and truly in the first place the day of Christ’s birth.” -Clement of Rome, 98 A.D.

We have covered all the myths that slander the celebration of Jesus’ birth in December, debunking them with clear historical evidence and Scholarly sources. We have proven that December 25th is completely Christian in origin and unrelated historically to any ancient pagan festival or deity. We further demonstrated with early Church writings that Constantine and the Roman Catholic Church did not initiate the first celebrations of Jesus’ birthday. Nor did either borrow the date of December 25th for the Nativity from any outside sources. Having said that, the only hope left for those who hate Christmas is to claim that we are not commanded to keep Jesus’ birthday. And while there is not a direct command to keep Jesus’ birthday in the Bible, the Bible does provide proof that His birth was celebrated:

Luke 2:13-20:And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: 14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” 15 So it was, when the angels had departed from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go then to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. 18 And all those who heard it marveled about the things spoken by the shepherds to them. 19 But Mary treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was spoken to them.

Here we have clear evidence from the Bible of the great joy and amazement at the birth of Jesus. Not only did the shepherds praise God for Jesus’ birth, but “a multitude of heavenly host” praised God as well.  So the question is, if the angels knew how important the birth of Christ was and praised God celebrating it, why shouldn’t we? Although this is not a direct command, it is the perfect example of not only the importance of Jesus’ birth, but that it is not unbiblical to keep it. After all God did not condemn the angels for praising Him and celebrating the Nativity. Why would He condemn us for being thankful for the birth of His only Son?

Furthermore,  even if Christmas has some pagan trimmings, (Yule Logs or Santa Claus) in reality God is greater than paganism. We know who the one, true God is and direct our praise during Christmas to Him. The pagans on the other hand would worship false deities. Some did not know of the one true God, while others did and mixed worship of God with the worship of multiple other idols and deities. Either way, God’s problem with what we deem as paganism seems to be if the worship was evil, grotesque, and that the worship was forsaking Him or He was intermingled with false deities. With Christmas some may actually obsess and place the holiday above God, but true Christians do not. We keep the holiday for Christ alone.

Commercialism and Santa Claus are not part of Christmas but modern additions that distract from the true meaning. I have no problem with Christmas trees as they are symbolic of Christ. Nor with the story of St. Nicholas as he was a real person of the early Church. However, Santa is a lie who has stolen the limelight and directed the attention of our children from Christ to reindeer and the North Pole. But still even with these things many Christians do not participate in them and direct the fullness of the season to Christ. This is nothing like paganism which had little if any idea of the one true God and directed their worship to Him alone.

Conclusion

The bottom line is modern critics of Christmas base their opinions on nothing more than myths that are easily debunked once one digs into history. Christians need to investigate for themselves before buying into the anti-Christian lies. The truth is, Satan hates Christmas. This is why this holiday has become commercialized. This is why the lie of Santa Claus has been fed to our kids. And this is why atheists and sadly even those who say they are Christian dislike this holy day with so much venom and hatred. Christmas has been kept by Christians since the early Church. Christians need to reclaim this holy time for Christ and continue celebrating out heritage handed down to us by others of His body.

Part 1: December 25th was not an ancient pagan holiday
Part 2: Jesus’ Death, Christmas and the Early Church
Part 3: The Winter Birth
Part 4: Should Christians Celebrate Christmas?

For more information on the historicity of Christmas as a Christian celebration and Scholarship proving it to have no pagan connections please see:
Biblical Archaeology – How December 25th became Christmas
Answering Islam – Christmas: Pagan Festival or Christian Celebration? by Dr Anthony McRoy
Mere Christian – How the Pagans Stole Christmas!

The Hebrew Roots Movement, the Law and Christmas

I have been visiting a few Hebrew Roots Movement pages on Facebook and the web over the last few days since they are all abuzz again with the pagan/Christmas myths. I have literally (and kindly) asked them to provide evidence that would prove the myth of any pagan deity’s birthday, festival or feast day being honored on December 25th before Christians noted and observed it beginning in the 2nd century. Needless to say, not one has provided anything thus far.

Sadly the Hebrew Roots Movement and their teachers are blind to the historical evidence that supports the fact that the December 25th date is solely Christian in origin. While some of the trimmings may be attributed to paganism -Santa Claus, Yule Logs, etc- the date itself is not. However, the myths still persist without any historical basis with the Hebrew Roots Movement seeming very content in parroting this myth and persecuting Christians, even though doing so goes against the Law of the Bible and Jesus’ words that all lies are of Satan:

John 8:44: You are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father you desire to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has not stood in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he tells a lie, he speaks from his own [resources], for he is a liar, and the father of lies.

Since there is no historical proof that the December 25th date is pagan, it is a blatant lie. Furthermore, the Bible prescribes a specific amount of witnesses to verify a fact, or what is truth, when making claims against someone:

Matthew 18:15-16: “And if your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have won your brother. 16 But if he does not hear, take along with you one or two more, so that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’

John 8:17:  It is also written in your law that the testimony of two men is valid.

The Hebrew Roots Movement insists that Christians are committing an abomination by observing Jesus’ birth since they assert that it is pagan. However, where is their proof that it was a pagan date and we are committing a crime as required by the Bible?

Deuteronomy 19:15 One witness shall not stand to testify against a man for any iniquity, or for any fault, or for any sin which he may commit; by the mouth of two witnesses, or by the mouth of three witnesses, shall every word be established.

1 Timothy 5:19: Do not receive an accusation against an elder unless on [the basis of] two or three witnesses.

Going completely against the very Law they claim to follow, the Hebrew Roots Movement bases their claim that observing Jesus’ birth on December 25th originated in paganism on the testimony of only ONE semi-ancient witness in a vague mention to Sol in the Chronography of 354, which states that:

“…on December 25 “N·INVICTI·CM·XXX” = “Birthday of the unconquered, games ordered, thirty races” -Chronography of 345 Part 6 via Tertullian.org

This is the OLDEST reference to the birth of Sol on December 25th.  There is absolutely nothing else in history before 354 which links Sol or even Mithras to December 25th.

Aurelian in 274 is often pointed to however, those games where in August, October and on December 11th.

So going back to the sole source using the December 25th date, there are several problems with this citation as “proof” that the December 25th date is pagan. First, Scholars do not even know for a fact IF this was in reference to Sol or to Christ as Jesus was called the unconquered sun or Invicti by some Roman Christians:

The latter celebration attributed to Sol in the calendar of 354 could well mean Jesus as His birth is listed and the Bible along with the early Church did in fact consider Christ to be the Sun:

By “the sun of righteousness” in Malachi 4:2 “the fathers, from Justin downward, and nearly all the earlier commentators understand Christ, who is supposed to be described as the rising sun”.[65] -Carl Friedrich Keil, Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament (Eerdmans 1969), vol. 25, p. 468;

The New Testament itself contains a hymn fragment: “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”[66] -Ephesians 5:14

Clement of Alexandria wrote of “the Sun of the Resurrection, he who was born before the dawn, whose beams give light”.[67]-Clement of Alexandria, Protreptius 9:84″, quoted in David R. Cartlidge, James Keith Elliott, The Art of Christian Legend (Routledge 2001 ISBN 978-0-41523392-7), p. 64 -Wikipedia article on Sol Invictus and Christmas

Second, this does not pre-date the Christian application of the date to Jesus.

In order to prove that the date is pagan one would need two or three witnesses from BEFORE Christians first used the date in the 2nd century. But nothing of this sort exists!

There are no text, no inscriptions, nothing at all from the actual Cults of Sol or Mithras nor is there any from the festival of Saturnalia.

Bottom line, nothing in history predates the Christian application of the date to Christ, as the earliest witnesses to the December 25th date for Jesus’ birth come from the 2nd and early 3rd century A.D.  In all there are at least five witness, Clement of Alexandria (196 A.D), Hippolytus of Rome  (200 A.D. and 234 A.D),  Tertullian, Julianus Africanus (221 A.D) and The Constitutions of the Holy Apostles (unknown to 250 A.D).

But this is not the only that December 25th was not observed by pagans before the early Church. There are multiple Modern Scholars who have debunked the myth of pagan origins as well:

In point of fact, the evidence for a religious festival of any kind for the sun god on December 25 is not only meager but also exceptionally late, as it dates to the second half of the fourth century AD. In fact, it postdates our earliest evidence for the celebration of Christmas.- Prof. Steven Hijmans,

‘There is quite simply not one iota of explicit evidence for a major festival of Sol on December 25th prior to the establishment of Christmas, nor is there any circumstantial evidence that there was likely to have been one.’,- Prof Steven Hijmans,

It should be noted that Professor Hijmans is a notable Scholar and Professor of Roman History, Art and Archaeology.

‘There is no evidence of any kind, not even a hint,from within the cult that this, or any other winter day, was important in the Mithraic calendar. Although three seasonal zodiacal signs are singled out in the iconography (Taurus, Leo and Scorpius), Aquarius, the sign that would correspond to notional mid-winter, being diametrically opposite to Leo, is never paid special attention. No Mithraic votive is dated 25th December (VIII A.D. KAL. IAN.). -Jaime Alvar Ezquerra {2}, ‘Romanising oriental Gods: myth, salvation, and ethics in the cults of Cybele, Isis and Mithras’, in Gordon (ed. trans.), Religions in the Graeco-Roman World, p. 410 (2008).

Jaime Alvar Ezquerra is a Spanish historian, author and professor at the Charles III University of Madrid, specializing in ancient history.

There is no evidence of any kind, not even a hint, from within the cult that this, or any other winter day, was important in the Mithraic calendar. – Dr. Alvar, 410

‘Of the mystery cult of Sol Invictus Mithras we know little with certainty, and even if we leave aside the problem of the relationship between the Mithraic mysteries and the public cult of Sol, the notion that Mithraists celebrated December 25th in some fashion is a modern invention for which there is simply no evidence.‘, – Prof, Steven Hijmans

Polemicists (and The Da Vinci Code) frequently state that 25 December was Mithras’ birthday, yet the renowned Mithraic scholar, Dr Richard Gordon has corresponded to me that he is unaware of ‘a single date on a Mithraic inscription that falls in the winter, let alone late in December… We know NOTHING about the cycle of rituals in the cult…’ So, Christmas owes nothing to Mithraism. – Quote from Dr. Richard Gordon from answering-islam. org

Dr. Richard L. Gordon was honorary professor of Religionsgeschichte der Antike at the University of Erfurt, Thuringen.

Many Christians think that Christians celebrate Christ’s birth on December 25th because the church fathers appropriated the date of a pagan festival. Almost no one minds, except for a few groups on the fringes of American Evangelicalism, who seem to think that this makes Christmas itself a pagan festival. But it is perhaps interesting to know that the choice of December 25th is the result of attempts among the earliest Christians to figure out the date of Jesus’ birth based on calendrical calculations that had nothing to do with pagan festivals.

Rather, the pagan festival of the “Birth of the Unconquered Son” instituted by the Roman Emperor Aurelian on 25 December 274, was almost certainly an attempt to create a pagan alternative to a date that was already of some significance to Roman Christians. Thus the “pagan origins of Christmas” is a myth without historical substance. -Dr. William Tighe, Touchstone Magazine, Professor of History at Muhlenburg College

Add to this list, Anglican Scholar Andrew McGowan, French scholar Louis Duchesne and Thomas Talley among many others and that is well beyond the two or three witnesses prescribed by the Bible to establish a matter versus one witness from 354 A.D that could have been a reference to Christ anyway.

Plus there is not even one witness that pre-dates Christians in the establishment of the December 25th date for Jesus’ birth date. You see the problem is that Authors and Scholars from the 18th and 19th century made a crass presumption. The presumed that December 25th was kept for Mithras, Tammuz and so on dating back to Ancient Babylon based solely on the Chronography of 354. It was presumed that Sol was Mithras therefore this link was made backwards through history without any proof text aside from the Chronography. Scholars have never found any ancient references to December 25th to prove this presumption.

Many modern encyclopedias, including the Encyclopedia Britannica, reflect this fact in their updated works:

This view presumes—as does the view associating the origin of Christmas on December 25 with pagan celebrations of the winter equinox—that Christians appropriated pagan names and holidays for their highest festivals. Given the determination with which Christians combated all forms of paganism, this appears a rather dubious presumption. -Encyclopedia Britannica Online, Easter

Conclusion

Based on the abundance of actual evidence and not presumption and the complete lack of evidence from any ancient source to prove the December 25th was ever kept as anything but Jesus’ birth date before the 2nd century, the Hebrew Roots Movement sadly appears to be breaking God’s Law, even though they claim to follow it, and as usual have very little shame in doing so.

Previous articles:

Christmas 2016

In Defense of Christmas

Christmas & Herbert Armstrong

Christmas and the Bible

Christmas – Little Guy in the Eye

December 25th

YES! Evidence Indicates Jesus Really Was Born Dec. 25th – Kurt Simmons

“Unto You is Born this Day” – Kurt Simmons

John the Baptist Six Months Older than our Lord – Kurt Simmons

The Nativity of Christ & Death of Herod the Great – Kurt Simmons

Star of Bethlehem or Nazareth? – Kurt Simmons

Objections to Christmas and the Dec. 25th Birth of Christ Answered – Kurt Simmons

Refutation of Ernest Martin’s “The Star that Astonished the World” – Kurt Simmons

Dating the Birth of Jesus of Nazareth – Michal E. Hunt

How December 25 Became Christmas – Biblical Archaeology Society

Calculating Christmas: The Story Behind December 25 – William J. Tighe

Next article: December 25th & Paganism

Holidays

christian-holidays-2

blessing-4

Comments

comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *