December 25th

december-25th

There are four scenarios/theories I’ve seen about the birth of Christ which use the Bible (priestly course of Abijah) and history (early Church writings or signs in the heavens) which make compelling cases for the correct date of the birth of Jesus.

All four have either December 25 (winter solstice) as the conception, birth or visit of the Magi on December 25.

The Scriptures allude to this date as well in reference to the coming of Christ in Haggai 2:18-23.  It is interesting to note that Haggai means ‘my feast or festival.’
Hag 2:18  Consider now from this day and upward, from the four and twentieth day of the ninth month, even from the day that the foundation of the LORD’S temple was laid, consider it.
Hag 2:21  Speak to Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, saying, I will shake the heavens and the earth;
Hag 2:22  And I will overthrow the throne of kingdoms, and I will destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the heathen; and I will overthrow the chariots, and those that ride in them; and the horses and their riders shall come down, every one by the sword of his brother.
Hag 2:23  In that day, saith the LORD of hosts, will I take thee, O Zerubbabel, my servant, the son of Shealtiel, saith the LORD, and will make thee as a signet: for I have chosen thee, saith the LORD of hosts.

It was interpreted in ancient times that Zerubbabel in this prophecy is a “code” name for Christ.

John Gill commentary
will I take thee, O Zerubbabel my servant, the son of Shealtiel, saith the Lord; that is, the Messiah, as is owned by Abarbinel; who says (x),

“the King Messiah shall come, who is of the seed of Zerubbabel; and he shall be the seal of the structure, and the end of the kingdoms; as it is said, “I will make thee as a signet, for I have chosen thee, saith the Lord of hosts”; for this no doubt is said concerning the days of the Messiah:”

and another Jewish writer (y), quoting the above author for the sense of this passage, and Eze_37:25, adds,

“for the King Messiah he will be David, and he will be Zerubbabel, that he may be a rod going out of their stem;”

and another (z) on these words observes,

“without doubt this is said concerning the expected Messiah, who will be of the seed of Zerubbabel; and therefore this promise was not at all fulfilled in him; for in the time of this prophecy he was but governor of Judah, and he never rose to greater dignity than what he then had:”  (x) Mayene Jeshuah, fol. 13. 4. Vid. & Mashmiah Jeshuah, fol. 67. 2. (y) Abendana in Miclol Yophi in loc. (z) R. Isaac, Chizzuk Emunah, par. 1. c. 34. p. 289, 290.

Going back to verse 7 in Haggai’s prophecy is the reference to the “desired” of all nations who is Christ.

Hag 2:7  And I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come: and I will fill this house with glory, saith the LORD of hosts.

The constellation Coma (desired one) is a picture of a woman with child. It is a ‘decan’ constellation of Virgo the Virgin.  According to an 8th century Arabic astronomer named Albumazer, the Persians, Chaldeans and Egyptians said this was a young woman, which is the same as saying virgin in Hebrew (עלמה ‘alma’) nourishing an infant boy which has a Hebrew name ‘Ihesu”…

For many years I held to the belief that Christ was born in Autumn during the Fall Feasts of the Lord based heavily upon the work of Ernest Martin and Fred Coulter.  If Christ was born in the Fall then His conception would have been around the winter solstice, during the holiday of Hanukkah.

Others believe Christ was born in the Spring and that the Star of Bethlehem stopped over Bethlehem on December 25th when the Magi visited Messiah.

In this article I am going to share some of the information I’ve learned which points to December 25th as the actual birth date of Christ Jesus.

The date of December 25th as the birth of Christ is based upon ancient Christian belief, not upon pagans.

december-25ab

Perhaps the strongest foundation of those opposed to Christmas is the idea that the date of December 25th for the birthday of Christ was adopted from pagans.  It is said that this date was chosen in the fourth century around the time of Constantine to appease pagans into adopting Christianity.  History however points to the early church celebrating the birth of Christ during this time and the pagans adopted this date to counter the message of the Gospel.

As mentioned before, there are four scenarios/theories I’ve seen about the birth of Messiah which have Biblical and historical backup and all four have either December 25 as the conception, birth or visit of the Magi on December 25 (winter solstice).

I’ve come to the belief that Christ was indeed born on December 25th based upon ancient writings and the Word of God.

“All the available information supports a birth date for Jesus of Nazareth on about December 25/January 6th, 3/2BC, with the beginning of His ministry when He was thirty years old in 28AD and His death during the Passover of 30AD.”  {DATING THE BIRTH OF JESUS OF NAZARETH}

Jesus promised the apostles the Holy Spirit would guide them “into all truth,” revealing to them things He had not spoken to them directly (John 16:12-15). So, then, did the Spirit design the Christmas season as we know it, and did He put Christ in Christmas? If He did, we must accept His word and “keep Christ in Christmas,” for to reject the Spirit is to reject God (I Corinthians 2:10-13; I Thessalonians 1:5; 2:13; 5:19; Cf. Acts 5:3,4,9). Has the Spirit revealed that He is the one who put Christ in Christmas and Christmas in the church?
To reject the word of the apostles is to reject the word of Christ and God (Luke 10:16; I Corinthians 14:37; I Thessalonians 4:1, 2, 8). The “apostles’ doctrine” is “the doctrine of the Lord” (Acts 2:42; 13:12).
Thus, if we can find the apostles putting and keeping Christ in Christmas, we may do likewise with the approval of heaven. Do we read of disciples who, at the behest of the apostles, observed the Christmas tradition, or who noted the birth of Jesus in any manner?  Is that what we find?
Again, to reject the word of the apostles is to reject the word of Christ and God (Luke 10:16; I Corinthians 14:37; I Thessalonians 4:1, 2, 8). The “apostles’ doctrine” is “the doctrine of the Lord” (Acts 2:42; 13:12).  Thus, if we find the early Church writings referencing the doctrine of the Apostles and these things agreeing with the writings of the New Testament we are not to reject them.

Clement of Rome d. AD 99
Clement of Rome d. AD 99

“For Clement, a glorious Martyr of Christ Jesus, (whom S. Paul reckons amongst his fellow laborers in the Gospel, whose names are in the book of life Phillipians 4:3) writes thus unto the Christian Church; Brethren, keep diligently Feast days, and truly in the FIRST place the day of Christ’s birth.  Clement Constitutions Apostolic lib. 5 ch. 10.12  {Feasts of Feasts pg 11-12  Edward Fisher A.D. 1644}

“When the blessed apostles had founded and built up the Church, they handed over the ministry of the episcopate to Linus. Paul mentions this Linus in his Epistles to Timothy. Anencletus succeeded him. After him Clement received the lot of the episcopate in the third place from the apostles. He had seen the apostles and associated with them, and still had their preaching sounding in his ears and their tradition before his eyes — and not he alone, for there were many still left in his time who had been taught by the apostles.”  {Irenaeus – Adversus Haereses}

12 Apostles
12 Apostles

In the Apostolic Constitutions we see an ancient witness to the birth of Christ on December 25th.  The Apostolic Constitutions are a compilation, whose material is derived from sources differing in age.  Early writers were inclined to assign them to the apostolic age, and to Clement of Rome.  They are now generally assigned to the second or third century.  In the Fifth book, Sec. III, we find:

“Brethren, observe the festival days; and first of all the birthday which you are to celebrate on the twenty-fifth of the ninth month.”  {Apostolic Constitutions – Circa A.D. 70-250}

The ninth month counting from Nisan (April) is Kislev (December) in the Jewish calendar. Transferred to our Roman calendar, the ninth month answers to December.

Theophilus, Bishop of Caesarea (A.D. 115-abt 195) – Theophilus lived in the time of Emperor Commodus; he lived within 100 years of the apostles, and was bishop of Caesarea in Palestine, the very fount whence sprang our faith.

“We ought to celebrate the birth-day of our Lord on what day soever the 25th of December shall happen.”  (Magdeburgenses, Cent. 2. c. 6. Hospinian, de orign Festorum Chirstianorum)

Saint Telesphorus
Saint Telesphorus

Telesphorus died about 137 AD.

The tradition of Christmas Midnight Masses, the celebration of Easter on Sundays, the keeping of a seven-week Lent before Easter and the singing of the Gloria are usually attributed to the Telesphorus who was the Roman Bishop between 126-137 AD.

“He established that on Christmas eve priests could say three masses and he introduced the Gloria in excelsis Deo, which he himself may have composed, at the beginning of the mass” {The lives of the pontiffs through 2000 years of history – Antonino Lopes  pg 3}

Telesphorus – Decretum de Ieiunio Septem Ebdomadarum ante Pascha

“But the holy masses to celebrate the nativity of the Lord and Saviour, and the angelic hymn in them sing it, the same night, that was announced by the angel, just as truth itself testifies, saying:  in the same country shepherds watching, and keeping the night watches over his flock, behold, an angel of the Lord came upon them, and they feared a great fear. And the angel said to them: Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good news which shall be to all the people, because he is born to you a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord, in the city of David. And this shall be a sign all we shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And at what instant there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men of good will..”

Hippolytus of Rome
Hippolytus of Rome

Hippolytus of Rome – A.D. 170-240

Hippolytus of Rome speaks of December 25 as the birth of Christ in his commentary on Daniel.  Chrysostom says that the Feast of the Nativity was kept “from the beginning” by those in the west, and we find corroboration of this in Hippolytus:

“The first coming of our Lord, that in the flesh, in which he was born at Bethlehem, took place eight days before the calends of January, a Wednesday, in the forty-second year of the reign of Augustus, 5500 years from Adam.”  (Commentary on Daniel 4:23)

The eighth before the calends of January is the twenty-fifth day of December, and the forty-second year of Augustus was 3/2 BC.

Gregory Thaumaturgus or Gregory the Miracle-Worker AD 213 – 270
Gregory Thaumaturgus or Gregory the Miracle-Worker AD 213 – 270

Gregory Thaumaturgus

“Gregory Thaumaturgus (A.D. 205-265) was born to pagan parents, and was a native of Neo-Caesarea, the first city of Pontus. He became a student of Origen in Palestinian Caesarea, where he was instructed in logic, geometry, physics, philosophy, and ancient literature. Under Origen’s influence, Gregory soon converted to the faith. After about five years of remaining with Origen, Gregory returned to his native Neo-Caesarea, where he became bishop and served with great distinction. The passage in question has to do with the annunciation and conception, which Gregory places at Passover, which occurs at the full moon in the month of Nisan (Abib). Since Gregory almost certainly equated Passover the year Christ was conceived with March 25th, the nativity nine months later would have been December 25th, making this one of the earliest evidences of the traditional date of Christ’s birth:
“‘And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house and lineage of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary;’ and so forth. And this was the first month to the holy Virgin. Even as Scripture says in the book of the law: ‘This month shall be unto you the beginning of months: it shall be the first month among the months of the year to you.’ ‘Keep ye the feast of the holy Passover to the Lord in all your generations.’ It was also the sixth month to Zacharias”[1]

The passage is from the second of four sermons delivered at the feast commemorating the Annunciation. The sermons come down to us in Gregory’s name, but were judged by 18th century patristic scholars of doubtful or unknown (“spurious”) authorship, and continue under the cloud of that aspersion until today. The objection to Gregory’s authorship is that the date of March 25th for the annunciation was allegedly derived from the December 25th nativity, which (it is argued) was not celebrated in the east until introduced there by Chrysostom in A.D. 386, so that the feast of the annunciation must originate later still. Also, the sermons make repeated use of the phrase “mother of God” in reference to Mary, which is asserted to be an anachronism belonging to a later time.

Against these objections it may be observed that scholars believe the March 25th—December 25th—March 25th triad of conception—nativity—passion/resurrection was already extant in Gregory’s day, as evidenced by the writings of Julius Africanus and others. Africanus, who was hugely influential as the earliest Christian chronographer, was a contemporary of Origen and corresponded with him, so it is unlikely that Gregory should fail to have been exposed to Africanus’ views.  Moreover, the March 25th passion is based upon the so-called “short chronology” of Jesus’ ministry of one year and several months, which early writers saw in the synoptic gospels. Jesus was baptized in the fall of A.D. 29, the fifteenth year of Tiberius; the short chronology would place his crucifixion in the spring of A.D. 31 when Passover was on March 25th. Since Origen and Origen’s teacher, Clement Alexandria, were both adherents of the short chronology,[2] there is good cause to believe Gregory would have held to it also. And if he held to this part of the triad, why may we not conclude he embraced the remainder of it as well? And even if the December 25th nativity was not received in Antioch until the time of Chrysostom, there is nothing to prevent Gregory from having preached the sermons in question in Neo-Caesarea. Indeed, Chrysostom states that the December 25th celebration of Christ’s nativity was kept from “the beginning” in Thrace, which was a close neighbor to Pontus, so that its late arrival in Antioch offers no objection to its early arrival elsewhere.[3]  That the feast of the annunciation may find its origins this early finds confirmation in the fact that the feast of the Purification was celebrated very little afterward (about 60 years) as witnessed by Methodius (A.D. 260-312) in his Oration Concerning Simeon and Anna, where we encounter repeated occurrence of the phrase “mother of God” in reference to Mary, so that this objection comes to nothing also.[4] As to which is more likely to have been celebrated earlier, the annunciation and conception, or purification and presentment, surely the former has the stronger claim, for without it there could never have been the latter. On the whole then, there is no good reason to reject history’s witness attributing the subject homilies to Gregory, or the conclusion that he subscribed to the March 25th—December 25th—March 25th triad already current in his day.”

diocletian-2
Diocletian A.D. 244-311

Nicephorus wrote an ecclesiastical history in which he reports Diocletian’s destruction of a church on Dec. 25th, filled with worshippers celebrating the Lord’s Nativity:

“At Nicomedia (a city of Bethenia) when the festival of Christ’s birth-day came, and a multitude of Christians in all ages had assembled together in the temple to celebrate that birth-day. Diocletian the tyrant, having gotten an advantageous occasion whereby he might accomplish his madness and fury, sent men thither to enclose the temple, and to set it on fire round about, and so consumed them all to ashes, even twenty thousand persons.”

This event is usually dated to A.D. 302. Selden (Theanthropos, pp. 33, 34) confirms Nicephorus’ report, saying that in ancient Greek and Roman martyrologies this event is dated to Dec. 25th.”

roman-city-calendar

Roman City Calendar A.D. 336

Further evidence for December 25th is found in the Roman city calendar for the year 354.  This calendar lists burial places of the martyrs (Depositio martyrum) arranged in the order of the days of the year on which festivals were held in their honor. It is believed by some that the calendar first dated to 336, but was later revised and extended to the year 354. The sequence of festivals in the church year begins with the item:

“VIII Kal. Ian. Natus Christus in Betleem Judeae”

The eighth day before the calends of January is December 25th. Thus, in the year AD 336, the festival of the birth of Christ was held on Dec. 25.

We  note that in each of these cases the tradition that Jesus was born on December 25th stands upon scripture or the received testimony of earlier ages and nowhere upon the “Christianization” of the pagan solstice or festival of the “unconquered sun” (sol invictus) as is so often suggested. The circumstance that Jesus was born at the time of the solstice should no more disturb us than his resurrection at the vernal equinox when pagans celebrated the rebirth of the earth following the pall of winter death. To the contrary, we should glory at the appropriateness and poetic beauty of a winter birth when the dark of sin and death began to recede before the Sun of Righteousness (Mal. 4:2) and light of salvation.

Conclusion

The evidence for the December 25th birth of Christ is as conclusive as the nature of the case will allow: The chronology of Christ’s Presentment at the temple and Herod’s last illness, Luke’s and John’s chronology of Jesus baptism and first disciples, the testimony of Jewish tradition and Josephus regarding the destruction of the temple and the priestly courses, and the voice of the church fathers all combine to affirm that the traditional date for the Savior’s birth is scripturally based and scripturally sound. May God bless you and your family at Christmas as you pause to remember the day when the Christ-child was born in Bethlehem.

St. Augustine – A.D. 354-430
St. Augustine – A.D. 354-430

St. Augustine – A.D. 354-430

Augustine was bishop of Hippo and one of the most influential writers of the early church; his imprint remains even to this day. Augustine is not the earliest source for the Dec. 25th birth of Christ, but he announces a principle regarding the universal practice of the church that is important at the outset, so we will take his evidence first. In his 118 Epistle to Jannuarius, speaking of the yearly feasts then observed, Augustine states:

“Those feasts concerning which we have no express scripture, but only traditions, which are now observed all the world over; we ought to know that the keeping of them was commended unto us, and instituted (or commanded) either by the apostles themselves, or general councils, of which there is a most wholesome use in the church of God; such are the feast of our Lord’s Passion, Resurrection and Ascension into heaven, and the coming down of the Holy Ghost, which are now kept holy with a yearly solemnity.”

In the following epistle (119), Augustine then says:

“It chiefly behooves us that upon the day of our Lord’s nativity, we should receive the sacrament in remembrance of him that was born upon it, and upon the return of the year to celebrate the very day with a feasting devotion.”

“The return of the year” appears to signify the winter solstice, when the days begin to grow longer. However, the point we should consider here is Augustine’s statement that whatever was practiced universally throughout the church in the whole world was presumably set in place by the apostles or by a general church council.  But as no council established the Feast of the Nativity, it exists by tradition, and this presumably from either “word or epistle” (II Thess. 2:15; 3:6; I Cor. 11:2, 23) handed down from the time of the apostles. Although ordaining no set form of commemoration for the Nativity, yet certainly the apostles would have known the date of Christ’s birth, as would his mother and brethren, all of whom were active in the primitive church. Therefore it should not stretch our credulity to believe that the Dec.25th birth of our Lord was set in the church by those early sources and has been handed down without interruption ever since. Concerning the date of Christ’s birth, Augustine states:

“He was born, according to tradition, upon December the twenty-fifth.” (On the Trinity, 4.5, Post Nicene Fathers 3.74)

Regarding the Baptist’s June birth, Augustine said:

“John came into this world at the season of the year when the length of the day decreases; Jesus was born in the season when the length of the day increases.” (Sermon In Natali Domini xi).

Thus, Augustine places John’s birth at the summer solstice and Jesus’ birth upon Dec. 25th, at the season of the winter solstice.

Much of the above information came from the following article:  Objections to Christmas and the Dec. 25th Birth of Christ Answered.  Here is the article in full for those interested.

In this article, we answer common objections to the celebration of Christmas and the Dec. 25th birth of Christ, including allegations it was

Invented by the Catholic Church,
Is of pagan origin,
Takes its date from the Saturnalia, Sol Invictus, and solstice,
The shepherds would not have been in the field in December, and that
Jesus was probably born in September.

Objection: The Dec. 25th birth of Christ invented by the Catholic Church in the 4th century.

Answer: There is no evidence supporting any part of this allegation.  The Nativity has been celebrated from at least as early as the second century, hundreds of years before the Catholic Church even existed.

The Catholic Church and Papacy as we know them today did not grow up until the 6th and 7th centuries. Boniface III, in 607, was the first Bishop to actually use the term Pope.  Prior to this, there was no centralized authority in the church to institute observance of the Nativity.  Not even the emperor Constantine (AD 242-337), who is sometimes associated with the beginnings of Catholicism and a centralized power in the church, ever addressed the issue of the Nativity.

Objection: If there was no Catholic Church or Papacy prior to the 6th or 7th centuries responsible for instituting celebration of Christ’s birth Dec. 25th, what about an ecumenical council?

Answer: Here again there is no evidence supporting this supposition.

The first ecumenical council was the Council of Nicea in AD 325, long after the Nativity was already being celebrated.  This council took up the question of the uniform celebration of the Pasche (Easter), but history is silent about it or any other council instituting the Feast of the Nativity.  So far as may be authoritatively shown, if not set in the church by the apostles, celebration of the Nativity grew up spontaneously as a way of commemorating important events in sacred history, like the miracle at Cana, the Passion, Resurrection, and Ascension.  In the East, January 6th (Epiphany) was kept as the date of Christ’s birth until late in the fourth century, (though the same date was supposed by others to commemorate Jesus’ baptism, the arrival of the Magi, or the miracle at Cana).  In the West, the Nativity was celebrated Dec. 25th for as long as history remembers.  The fact that the Nativity was celebrated differently in differnt places proves that no pope or council established the Feast of the Nativity, for if that were the case there would be no place for this difference to have grown up. Among the earliest testimonies to celebration the Nativity include the following:

Theophilus, Bishop of Caesarea (A.D. 115-181) – Theophilus lived in the time of Emperor Commodus; he lived within 100 years of the apostles, and was bishop of Caesarea in Palestine, the very fount whence sprang our faith.

We ought to celebrate the birth-day of our Lord on what day soever the 25th of December shall happen.”  (Magdeburgenses, Cent. 2. c. 6. Hospinian, de orign Festorum Chirstianorum)

Clement of Alexandria (AD 153-217) – In the second century, Alexandria became the intellectual center of Christianity, beginning with Clement, followed by his student, Origen.

“And there are those who have determined not only the year of our Lord’s birth, but also the day; and they say that it took place in the twenty-eighth year of Augustus, and in the twenty-fifth day of Pachon.” (Stromata, I, xxi)

Counting from the death of Antony in 30 B.C., the 28th year of Augustus would have been 2 B.C. The first month of the Egyptian calendar was Thoth, answering to late August (Thoth 1 = August 29). The ninth month was Pachon. The 25th of Pachon answers to the 20th of May. However, this is usually explained by the fact that the months originally took their names from where they occurred in the year. Hence, October, November and December were the eighth, ninth, and tenth months counting from March in the original Roman calendar, which had only ten months. But the Greek Fathers frequently took April, instead of March, for the first month of the year, as we see expressly in St. Chrysostom, in Anastasius Patriarch of Antioch, the Apostolic Constitutions, in Macarius, Stephanus, Gobarus, and other of the ancients. This would make December the ninth counting from April. Supposing therefore that some were informed Christ was born the 25th day of ninth month, who then transferred it to the Egyptian calendar, the 25th of Pachon would be the result. This is the belief of John Selden and Johannes Keppler.

Hippolytus of Rome (A.D. 170-240) – Hippolytus of Rome provides one of the earliest known references to the December 25 birth of Christ in his commentary on Daniel.  Chrysostom says that the Feast of the Nativity was kept “from the beginning” by those in the west, and we find corroboration of this in Hippolytus:

“The first coming of our Lord, that in the flesh, in which he was born at Bethlehem, took place eight days before the calends of January, a Wednesday, in the forty-second year of the reign of Augustus, 5500 years from Adam.”  (Commentary on Daniel 4:23)

The eighth before the calends of January is the twenty-fifth day of December, and the forty-second year of Augustus counting from the death of Julius Caesar was 2 BC.

Apostolic Constitutions (circa A.D. 70-250) – The Apostolic Constitutions are a compilation, whose material is derived from sources differing in age.  Early writers were inclined to assign them to the apostolic age and to Clement Romanus (A.D. 70), but they are now generally assigned to the second or third century.  In the Fifth book, Sec. III, we find:

“Brethren, observe the festival days; and first of all the birthday which you are to celebrate on the twenty-fifth of the ninth month.

The ninth month counting from Nisan (April) is Casleu in the Jewish calendar. Transferred to our Roman calendar, the ninth month answers to December.

Diocletian (A.D. 303-304) – Nicephorus wrote an ecclesiastical history in which he reports Diocletian’s destruction of a church on Dec. 25th, filled with worshippers celebrating the Lord’s Nativity:

“At Nicomedia (a city of Bithynia) when the festival of Christ’s birth-day came, and a multitude of Christians in all ages had assembled together in the temple to celebrate that birth-day. Diocletian the tyrant, having gotten an advantageous occasion whereby he might accomplish his madness and fury, sent men thither to enclose the temple, and to set it on fire round about, and so consumed them all to ashes, even twenty thousand persons.”

John Selden in his monumental work, Theanthropos (1661, pp. 33, 34), confirms Nicephorus’ report, saying that ancient Greek and Roman martyrologies date this event to Dec. 25th. It is probable that this occurred in A.D. 303-304.

Objection: Dec. 25th was assigned for celebration of Christ’s birth to Christianize the pagan solstice, Saturnalia, Feast of the Unconquered Sun, and other pagan festivals.

Answer: Not one word from antiquity has ever been produced supporting this assertion. The whole notion is supposition at best, or deliberate slander at worst. The church fathers never spoke of Dec. 25th in connection with Christ’s birth except as the traditional, received date of the Nativity.

Saturnalia – The Saturnalia was originally celebrated on only one day, the fourteenth Kalends of January (Dec. 17). With the Julian reform of the calendar, two days were added to December, causing the festival to fall on the sixteenth Kalends of January. Macrobius reports that the addition of two days to December caused the festival to be celebrated more days than one, which, coupled with the Sigarillaria, came to be celebrated a full week, or Dec. 17-23.

“I judge that I’ve now abundantly demonstrated that the Saturnalia used to be celebrated on one day only, the fourteenth before the Kalends, but that it was later extended to three, first as a result of the days that Caesar added to the month, and then by the edict of Augustus in which he assigned to the Saturnialia a three day holiday. As a result, they begin on the sixteenth day before the Kalends and end on the fourteenth, when the one day observance was formerly held. But the addition of the Sigillaria extends the public bustle and religious celebration to seven days.” Saturnalia I.10.23, 24

Thus, the Saturnalia reached only as far as Dec. 23rd and therefore cannot account for Christmas occurring Dec. 25th.

 

Solstice – It is true that pagan peoples throughout the ancient world had various celebrations at the major turning points of the calendar, including the winter solstice, and that this anciently fell upon Dec. 25th. However, due to defects in the Roman calendar, by the time of Jesus’ birth the winter solstice anticipated Dec. 25th by about two days. By the Council of Nicea in A.D. 325, the astronomical event anticipated the calendar by four days.

Therefore, to correct this deficiency and provide for the uniform observance of the Pasche (Easter), the council set the vernal equinox, which anciently fell on March 25th, to March 21st, moving it four days. But in correcting the civil date of the vernal equinox to correspond with the astronomical event, the winter solstice was also necessarily corrected, for the two stand in fixed relation one to another.  Hence, the solstice now falls on Dec. 21st. However, the coincidence that the Nativity is celebrated on the day the solstice anciently occurred in the civil calendar is no more evidence that the date is contrived than the coincidence that Christ’s passion and resurrection occurred near the vernal equinox. Indeed, might not God have chosen man’s salvation to come about precisely this way because of its poetic symbolism and value? Malachi associated Christ with the sun over 400 years before his birth, saying, “the Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in his wings” (Mal. 4:2). New Testament writers make similar use of the metaphor (Lk. 1:78; Jn. 1:4, 9; 2 Pet. 1:19). Thus, it is altogether fitting that Christ should come into the world in the dark of winter, bringing spiritual light and salvation, and be raised from the dead in the spring when the earth is reborn after the pall of sin and winter death.

Sol Invictus – This is a facet of the winter solstice, but we treat it here separately. In A.D. 274 following his victories in the east, the emperor Aurelius built a temple and instituted quadrennial games in behalf of Sol Invictus, a pagan sun god to whom he attributed his victories.  An illuminated codex manuscript produced for a wealthy Christian named Valentinus contains, in part six, a calendar for the year 354 (the Chronography of 354).  (The Codex is available on-line here) This calendar bears the following inscription for Dec. 25th: “N INVICTI CM XXX”.  N = Natalis (“birthday/nativity”). INVICTI = “Of the Unconquered one”. CM = Circenses missus (“games ordered”). XXX = 30. Thus, for birthday of the “unconquered one” that year, thirty games were ordered.  Many believe this refers to Sol Invictus and the “birthday” of the sun god worshipped by the Roman Emperor Aurelius. Although this has been questioned and others believe the games instituted by Aurelius were kept in October, we may accept as true for present purposes that Sol Invictus was honored Dec. 25th.

The same codex, in part 12, contains reference to the birth of Christ in the first entry under a section devoted to annual commemoration of the martyrs:

ITEM DEPOSITIO MARTIRVM

VIII kal. Ian. natus Christus in Betleem Iudeae

Eight days before the Kalends of January is Dec. 25th. It is generally agreed that the Item Depositio Martirum originally dates to A.D. 336, but was updated to A.D. 354 for inclusion in the codex. (The Codex is available on-line here) Based upon the codex of Valentinus, the following observations are in order:

1) By A.D. 336, the Nativity was already so well established as to obtain a permanent place at the head of the ecclesiastical year. Since this was true at a time when there was neither papacy nor Catholic Church, and no ecumenical council had addressed the issue, we may conclude that it attained its place at the head of the ecclesiastical year by popular assent to received tradition, presumably from the apostles and first disciples.

2) Hippolytus’ commentary on Daniel (A.D. 170-240) and numerous other early witnesses give Dec. 25th as the birth of Christ considerably earlier than Aurelius instituted his games, giving lie to the argument that Sol Invictus was the source of this date.

3) The fact that reference to Sol Invictus and the Nativity occur in the same codex argues against the latter being derived from the former.  If the intention was to Christianize the festival Sol Invictus by replacing it with the Nativity, we would not expect both to occur in the same codex; we would expect reference to Sol Invictus to be suppressed. However, that both in fact appear shows that the owner who commissioned the codex felt there was nothing to hide by the coincidence of these occurring on the same day, thus arguing for a separate providence of the Nativity.

4) The erection of a temple and celebration of quadrennial games at Rome cannot account for annual celebration of Christ’s nativity in such diverse and remote places as Egypt, Syria, Bithynia, Cadiz and Thrace.

Other than the mere coincidence that the civil date of the solstice occurred on Dec. 25th, there is no evidence Christians elected to celebrate of the birth of Christ on this date owing to pagan custom.”

Objection: Shepherds would not have been in the field keeping watch over sheep in winter.

Answer:  This argument assumes that weather conditions in Jerusalem and Judea are similar to those of Europe and other northern climes.  However, Judea is a desert climate. Its average high temperature in December is 57.2° Fahrenheit; its average low is 47.1°. Its record high in December is 79°. The Bible fully confirms the ability of shepherds to be in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks in December.  Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob lived year round in tents their whole lives (Heb. 11:9; cf. Gen. 128; 13:3, 18; 18:1, 9), as did many of the Jews for centuries after conquering Canaan (Jud. 4:18; Jer. 35:7, 10). Moreover, scripture specifically relates that Jacob kept watch over Laban’s flocks by winter frost at night (Gen. 31:40). The pictures below were taken in Bethlehem at Christmas 1890 and 2006. As may be seen, the climate is perfectly suitable for being out of doors. Hence, there is simply no basis to this objection.
Objection: Jesus was probably born in September.

Answer: The usual method used as proof Jesus was born in September is the priestly courses. A second method is an interpretation of Rev. 12:1-5 vis-à-vis astronomical events. Both are wrong.

Priestly Courses: We know that Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, was a priest and was executing his priestly office when told that his wife, Elizabeth, would conceive a son (Lk. 1:5, 9).  John was conceived six months before our Lord (Lk. 1:24, 26, 36).  If it can be determined when John was conceived, it can be identified when Jesus was born some fifteen months later. There were twenty-four courses of priests (I Chron. 24:18). Zechariah was a member of the course of Abijah, the eighth course (Lk. 1:5; I Chron. 24:10).  If it is assumed that the courses began their ministration in the spring on Nisan 1, the course of Abijah would have been serving the week of Jyar 20-26 (the eight weeks are as follows: Nisan 1-7, 8-14, 15-21, 22-28, 29-5 Jyar, 6-12, 13-19, 20-26). This is sometimes extended a week based upon the assumption that the normal progression of the course was interrupted by Passover Nisan 14. If so, Zechariah would then have been serving the week of 27 Jyar – 4 Sivan.  Working from this latter date, and assuming John was conceived the first week Zechariah returned home, a normal 38 week gestation would place John’s birth the week of Shebat 29- Adar 5. Jesus’ birth 6 months (26 weeks) later would thus fall on Elul 4-10. If it is then assumed that Nisan 1 answers to April 1, Elul would then translate into September 4-10, for it is the fifth month from Nisan. In this way, therefore, it is argued that Jesus was born in September.  However, there are several errors and oversights in this approach that render it untenable.

First, postponing of the normal service of Abijah in the eighth week cannot be justified. Although the Mishna indicates all the courses served at the three great feasts of the year (Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles) (Finegan, p. 133, § 241), there is no basis for assuming that the normal rotation of the courses was suspended, rather then merely supplemented. The extra work associated with the great feasts might require additional courses to serve, but the regular evening and morning sacrifices and other priestly duties still had to be made throughout the remainder of the week. Hence, we would expect this responsibility to fall to the course whose duty it was to minister that week. The better view therefore is that the course whose turn it was to serve received assistance of other courses, not that the normal rotation was entirely suspended.  Second, there were twenty-four courses of priests, but about 51 1/2 weeks in the Jewish lunar year of 354 days (about 54 3/4 weeks in leap years of 384 days). Each course therefore served twice annually, plus such additional weeks as necessary to fill out the year (e.g., some courses served a third time). The model above assumes Zechariah was serving in the first weekly ministration and does not allow for the possibility he was serving six months later, which would place Jesus’ birth in March. Third, and most important, the best scholarship agrees that the priestly courses began their annual rotations in the fall on Tishri 1, not in the spring on Nisan 1 as proposed by the model above (Finegan, p. 134 § 243). It was the seventh month when the temple was dedicated by Solomon for which the courses were created in the first place, and the seventh month when the sacrifices resumed again under Ezra after the Babylonian captivity (I Kn. 8:2; Ezra 3:6). Hence, Tishri is the correct point for the annual rotation to begin, not Nisan.  The most basic assumption underlying September birth model is therefore false. On the other hand, we have shown in our tables of priestly courses that, working from 1 Tishri and constructing the courses in twenty-four year cycles from A.D. 70 backward to 21 B.C., it is fully possible that John was conceived in the fall and born in June, placing Jesus’ birth six months later in December.

Rev. 12:1-5: Another method of placing Jesus’ birth in September was proposed by Ernest L. Martin in his book, The Star that Astonished the World (ASK Publications, 1996). Therein, Martin asserts that Rev. 12:1-5 provides an exact time for the birth of Christ, right down to the day and hour.  Martin is able to do this by interpreting the woman as the constellation Virgo.  He then urges that her being “clothed with the sun” signifies that the sun was midway in the constellation, thus clothing her.  For Martin, the key is the moon beneath her feet, which he says could only happen within a 90 minute window one day in the year 3 BC.  Thus, according to Martin, we have the precise means of dating Jesus’ birth:

“The Moon has to be positioned somewhere under that 7 degree arc to satisfy the description of Revelation 12. But the Moon also has to be in that exact location when the Sun is mid-bodied to Virgo. In the year 3 B.C.E., these two factors came to precise agreement for about an hour and a half, as observed from Palestine or Patmos, in the twilight period of September 11th The relationship began about 6:15 p.m. (sunset), and lasted until around 7:45 p.m. (moonset). This is the only day in the whole year that the astronomical phenomenon described in the twelfth chapter of Revelation could take place.”

Of course, at the critical moment that the moon is allegedly in position the sun has set, so it difficult to see how Martin can argue for the literalness of the vision. Moreover, the constellation Draco does not answer the description of the dragon in Revelation, nor for that matter does Virgo match the description of the woman (Virgo does not have a crown of twelve stars and Draco does not have seven heads and ten horns). Hence, Martin insists upon the literalness of the vision only when it suits him and not at all points. However, by far the most glaring discrepancy between Martin’s account and scripture is the year of Jesus’ birth. Luke is emphatic that Jesus was 29 going on 30 at his baptism in the fall of 15th of Tiberius (A.D. 29). This would place Jesus’ birth in 2 B.C. Thus, Martin’s interpretation of Rev. 12:1-5 is contradicted by God’s inspired word.  (For a full refutation of Martin, click here).

“Unto You Is Born This Day”

The Biblical Case for the December 25th Birth of Christ

“We often hear it said that Jesus was not “really” born December 25th; that this date is a mere fiction, surreptitiously appropriated by church authorities in an attempt to off-set and Christianize the pagan solstice; that, in fact, Jesus was probably born in September, 6 or 7 B.C.  However, such charges are relatively recent.  For most of church history, December 25th was received as the actual date of Christ’s birth, handed down from earliest times.  Questions regarding Christmas were first raised during the Reformation by Puritans and Scottish Presbyterians, who attempted to outlaw its celebration in England, Scotland the Colonies, and other places where they came into political power.  The objections we hear today to Christmas are echoes of these ghosts from the past.

However, the evidence from scripture and sacred history supporting the December 25th, 2 B.C., birth of Christ is actually very substantial. In fact, as we shall see, not just the season but the very month, week, and day of Dec. 25th all freely emerge from the record, by straightforward chronological reconstruction from the gospels and other available sources.  The evidence from scripture and sacred history may be summarized as follows:

1)     The Presentment f the Christ-child and Chronology of Herod’s Final Illness

2) The Baptism, Wilderness Temptation, and First Disciples of Christ

3)      The Priestly Courses and Nativity of John the Baptist

For more on this see: “Unto You Is Born This Day”

 

How December 25 Became Christmas – Biblical Archaeology Society

“There are two theories today: one extremely popular, the other less often heard outside scholarly circles (though far more ancient).

The most loudly touted theory about the origins of the Christmas date(s) is that it was borrowed from pagan celebrations. The Romans had their mid-winter Saturnalia festival in late December; barbarian peoples of northern and western Europe kept holidays at similar times. To top it off, in 274 C.E., the Roman emperor Aurelian established a feast of the birth of Sol Invictus (the Unconquered Sun), on December 25. Christmas, the argument goes, is really a spin-off from these pagan solar festivals. According to this theory, early Christians deliberately chose these dates to encourage the spread of Christmas and Christianity throughout the Roman world: If Christmas looked like a pagan holiday, more pagans would be open to both the holiday and the God whose birth it celebrated.

Despite its popularity today, this theory of Christmas’s origins has its problems. It is not found in any ancient Christian writings, for one thing. Christian authors of the time do note a connection between the solstice and Jesus’ birth: The church father Ambrose (c. 339–397), for example, described Christ as the true sun, who outshone the fallen gods of the old order. But early Christian writers never hint at any recent calendrical engineering; they clearly don’t think the date was chosen by the church. Rather they see the coincidence as a providential sign, as natural proof that God had selected Jesus over the false pagan gods.

It’s not until the 12th century that we find the first suggestion that Jesus’ birth celebration was deliberately set at the time of pagan feasts. A marginal note on a manuscript of the writings of the Syriac biblical commentator Dionysius bar-Salibi states that in ancient times the Christmas holiday was actually shifted from January 6 to December 25 so that it fell on the same date as the pagan Sol Invictus holiday. 5 In the 18th and 19th centuries, Bible scholars spurred on by the new study of comparative religions latched on to this idea.6 They claimed that because the early Christians didn’t know when Jesus was born, they simply assimilated the pagan solstice festival for their own purposes, claiming it as the time of the Messiah’s birth and celebrating it accordingly.

More recent studies have shown that many of the holiday’s modern trappings do reflect pagan customs borrowed much later, as Christianity expanded into northern and western Europe. The Christmas tree, for example, has been linked with late medieval druidic practices. This has only encouraged modern audiences to assume that the date, too, must be pagan.

There are problems with this popular theory, however, as many scholars recognize. Most significantly, the first mention of a date for Christmas (c. 200) and the earliest celebrations that we know about (c. 250–300) come in a period when Christians were not borrowing heavily from pagan traditions of such an obvious character.

Granted, Christian belief and practice were not formed in isolation. Many early elements of Christian worship—including eucharistic meals, meals honoring martyrs and much early Christian funerary art—would have been quite comprehensible to pagan observers. Yet, in the first few centuries C.E., the persecuted Christian minority was greatly concerned with distancing itself from the larger, public pagan religious observances, such as sacrifices, games and holidays. This was still true as late as the violent persecutions of the Christians conducted by the Roman emperor Diocletian between 303 and 312 C.E.

This would change only after Constantine converted to Christianity. From the mid-fourth century on, we do find Christians deliberately adapting and Christianizing pagan festivals. A famous proponent of this practice was Pope Gregory the Great, who, in a letter written in 601 C.E. to a Christian missionary in Britain, recommended that local pagan temples not be destroyed but be converted into churches, and that pagan festivals be celebrated as feasts of Christian martyrs. At this late point, Christmas may well have acquired some pagan trappings. But we don’t have evidence of Christians adopting pagan festivals in the third century, at which point dates for Christmas were established. Thus, it seems unlikely that the date was simply selected to correspond with pagan solar festivals.

The December 25 feast seems to have existed before 312—before Constantine and his conversion, at least. As we have seen, the Donatist Christians in North Africa seem to have known it from before that time. Furthermore, in the mid- to late fourth century, church leaders in the eastern Empire concerned themselves not with introducing a celebration of Jesus’ birthday, but with the addition of the December date to their traditional celebration on January 6.

There is another way to account for the origins of Christmas on December 25: Strange as it may seem, the key to dating Jesus’ birth may lie in the dating of Jesus’ death at Passover. This view was first suggested to the modern world by French scholar Louis Duchesne in the early 20th century and fully developed by American Thomas Talley in more recent years. But they were certainly not the first to note a connection between the traditional date of Jesus’ death and his birth.

Around 200 C.E. Tertullian of Carthage reported the calculation that the 14th of Nisan (the day of the crucifixion according to the Gospel of John) in the year Jesus diedc was equivalent to March 25 in the Roman (solar) calendar. March 25 is, of course, nine months before December 25; it was later recognized as the Feast of the Annunciation—the commemoration of Jesus’ conception.10 Thus, Jesus was believed to have been conceived and crucified on the same day of the year. Exactly nine months later, Jesus was born, on December 25.

This idea appears in an anonymous Christian treatise titled On Solstices and Equinoxes, which appears to come from fourth-century North Africa. The treatise states: “Therefore our Lord was conceived on the eighth of the kalends of April in the month of March [March 25], which is the day of the passion of the Lord and of his conception. For on that day he was conceived on the same he suffered.” Based on this, the treatise dates Jesus’ birth to the winter solstice.

Augustine, too, was familiar with this association. In On the Trinity (c. 399–419) he writes: “For he [Jesus] is believed to have been conceived on the 25th of March, upon which day also he suffered; so the womb of the Virgin, in which he was conceived, where no one of mortals was begotten, corresponds to the new grave in which he was buried, wherein was never man laid, neither before him nor since. But he was born, according to tradition, upon December the 25th.”

In the East, too, the dates of Jesus’ conception and death were linked. But instead of working from the 14th of Nisan in the Hebrew calendar, the easterners used the 14th of the first spring month (Artemisios) in their local Greek calendar—April 6 to us. April 6 is, of course, exactly nine months before January 6—the eastern date for Christmas. In the East, too, we have evidence that April was associated with Jesus’ conception and crucifixion. Bishop Epiphanius of Salamis writes that on April 6, “The lamb was shut up in the spotless womb of the holy virgin, he who took away and takes away in perpetual sacrifice the sins of the world.” Even today, the Armenian Church celebrates the Annunciation in early April (on the 7th, not the 6th) and Christmas on January 6.e

Thus, we have Christians in two parts of the world calculating Jesus’ birth on the basis that his death and conception took place on the same day (March 25 or April 6) and coming up with two close but different results (December 25 and January 6).

Connecting Jesus’ conception and death in this way will certainly seem odd to modern readers, but it reflects ancient and medieval understandings of the whole of salvation being bound up together. One of the most poignant expressions of this belief is found in Christian art. In numerous paintings of the angel’s Annunciation to Mary—the moment of Jesus’ conception—the baby Jesus is shown gliding down from heaven on or with a small cross (see photo above of detail from Master Bertram’s Annunciation scene); a visual reminder that the conception brings the promise of salvation through Jesus’ death.

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.) 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.

In the end we are left with a question: How did December 25 become Christmas? We cannot be entirely sure. Elements of the festival that developed from the fourth century until modern times may well derive from pagan traditions. Yet the actual date might really derive more from Judaism—from Jesus’ death at Passover, and from the rabbinic notion that great things might be expected, again and again, at the same time of the year—than from paganism. Then again, in this notion of cycles and the return of God’s redemption, we may perhaps also be touching upon something that the pagan Romans who celebrated Sol Invictus, and many other peoples since, would have understood and claimed for their own, too.”

 

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

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 25 until 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 25th seems 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.

Christmas and Paganism Part 3: The Winter Birth

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.

Previous articles:

Christmas 2016

In Defense of Christmas

Christmas & Herbert Armstrong

Christmas and the Bible

Christmas – Little Guy in the Eye

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

 

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