Saturday, December 22, 2007

Dia, mês e ano do nascimento de Cristo: um debate de séculos

Materiais enviados por Fernando Correia de Oliveira

Carpe diem... et noctem

O dia 14 de Janeiro corresponde ao dia 1 de Janeiro do calendário juliano. O ano 2008 da era vulgar, ou de Cristo, é o 8.º do século XXI e corresponde ao ano 6721 do período juliano, contendo os dias 2 454 467 a 2 454 832. O ano 7517 da era bizantina começa no dia 14 de Setembro. O ano 5769 da era israelita começa ao pôr do Sol do dia 29 de Setembro. O ano 4645 da era chinesa (ano do rato) começa no dia 7 de Fevereiro. O ano 2784 das Olimpíadas (ou 4º da 696ª), começa no dia 14 de Setembro, ao uso bizantino. O ano 2761 da Fundação de Roma «ab urbe condita», segundo Varrão, começa no dia 14 de Janeiro. O ano 2757 da era Nabonassar começa no dia 21 de Abril. O ano 2668 da era japonesa, ou 20 do período Heisei (que se seguiu ao período Xô-Uá), começa no dia 1 de Janeiro. O ano 2320 da era grega (ou dos Seleucidas) começa, segundo os usos actuais dos sírios, no dia 14 de Setembro ou no dia 14 de Outubro, conforme as seitas religiosas. O ano 2046 da era de César (ou hispânica), usada em Portugal até 1422, começa no dia 14 de Janeiro. O ano 1930 da era Saka, no calendário indiano reformado, começa no dia 21 de Março. O ano 1725 da era de Diocleciano começa no dia 11 de Setembro. Os anos 1429 e 1430 da era islâmica (ou Hégira) começam ao pôr do Sol dos dias 9 de Janeiro e 28 Dezembro. (dados do Observatório Astronómico de Lisboa)

Seja qual for o Calendário por que se reja, aproveite bem o Tempo, pois como diz o primeiro gramático português, o Padre Fernão de Oliveira, "Todas as coisas têm o seu tempo; e os ociosos o perdem".

Fernando Correia de Oliveira

E é verdade que Cristo nasceu em Abril, como ouvi hoje o Prof. Nuno Crato dizer?

E ele respondeu:
Ninguém sabe quando Jesus nasceu e até se pensa que terá nascido antes de Cristo... para aí uns quatro anitos
Alguns textos que ajudam a explicar este mistério:

Was Jesus born on December 25?

Was Jesus born on December 25? There is no evidence for this date. So then, who decided that Jesus' birth would be celebrated on that date? The early Christian church did not celebrate Jesus' birth. It wasn't until A.D. 440 that the church officially proclaimed December 25 as the birth of Christ. This was not based on any religious evidence but on a pagan feast. Saturnalia was a tradition inherited by the Roman pagans from an earlier Babylonian priesthood. December 25 was used as a celebration of the birthday of the sun god. It was observed near the winter solstice.

The apostles in the Bible predicted that some Christians would adopt pagan beliefs to enable them to make their religion more palatable to the pagans around them. Therefore, some scholars think the church chose the date of this pagan celebration to interest them in Christianity. The pagans were already used to celebrating on this date.

The Bible itself tells us that December 25 is an unlikely date for His birth. Palestine is very cold in December. It was much too cold to ask everyone to travel to the city of their fathers to register for taxes. Also the shepherds were in the fields (Luke 2:8-12). Shepherds were not in the fields in the winter time. They are in the fields early in March until early October. This would place Jesus' birth in the spring or early fall. It is also known that Jesus lived for 33.5 years and died at the feast of the Passover, which is at Easter time. He must therefore have been born six months the other side of Easter - making the date around the September/October time frames.

Other evidence that December 25 is the wrong date for the birth of Jesus comes from early writings. Iraneus, born about a century after Jesus, notes that Jesus was born in the 41st year of the reign of Augustus. Since Augustus began his reign in the autumn of 43 B.C., this appears to substantiate the birth of Jesus as the autumn of 2 B.C. Eusebius (A.D. 264-340), the "Father of Church History," ascribes it to the 42nd year of the reign of Augustus and the 28th from the subjection of Egypt on the death of Anthony and Cleopatra. The 42nd year of Augustus ran from the autumn of 2 B.C. to the autumn of 1 B.C. The subjugation of Egypt into the Roman Empire occurred in the autumn of 30 B.C. The 28th year extended from the autumn of 3 B.C. to the autumn of 2 B.C. The only date that would meet both of these constraints would be the autumn of 2 B.C.

John the Baptist also helps us determine that December 25 is not the birth of Jesus. Elizabeth, John's mother, was a cousin of Mary. John began his ministry in the 15th year of Tiberius Caesar. The minimum age for the ministry was 30. As Augustus died on August 19, A.D. 14, that was the accession year for Tiberius. If John was born on April 19-20, 2 B.C., his 30th birthday would have been April 19-20, A.D. 29, or the 15th year of Tiberius. This seems to confirm the 2 B.C. date, and, since John was 5 months older, this also confirms an autumn birth date for Jesus.

Another interesting fact comes from Elizabeth herself. She hid herself for 5 months and then the Angel Gabriel announced to Mary both Elizabeth's condition and that Mary would also bear a son who would be called Jesus. Mary went "with haste" to visit Elizabeth, who was then in the first week of her 6th month, or the 4th week of Dec., 3 B.C. If Jesus was born 280 days later it would place his birth on Sept. 29, 2 B.C. Some scholars interpret the 6 months to be in line with the Hebrew calendar or the August-September time frame. Since Mary's pregnancy commenced a little before the sixth month around July, Jesus would be born somewhere around March-June.

E uma visão mais cabalística:

Well, the Easter is the day to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who was made to the crucifixion by the cross and was killed. Then, by the modern scientific technology, we know that April 17 (Sat.), 6 B.C. was the true birthday when Jesus Christ was really born in the earth. Let's celebrate both the Easter and the true birthday of Jesus Christ (April 17) among all the Christians all over the world every year, too!

Before taking baptism at the Church of Latter-Day Saint of Jesus Christ many years ago, I took lessons from the missionaries, too. They told me that Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem in the spring when the sheep were grazed in the Israeli area in fact.

Since the time of his true birthday wasn't clear until now, I just tell it to other people that the Christmas is December 25. As for the date of December 25, Savior Mithra of Zoroastrianism, which was very popular in Babylonia area for a long time ago, was born at the day. It is said that the birthday of Mithra was borrowed by the Roman Catholic Churches in the age when the accurate birthday of Jesus Christ wasn't clear for a long time ago. Then, after medieval times came, the Christmas of December 25 became very popular around the Catholics and became celebrated very splendidly. (The day of the winter solstice in the old days was about December 25 because "the lunar calendar" was adopted and it was 28 days in one month long ago. But, since "the solar calendar" is adopted today and it is about 30 days in one month, the day of the winter solstice is about December 22 at present.)

It is said that the shepherds, who visited Jesus, were watching the sheep without sleep and were preparing for childbirth of the sheep in April-May of the spring. We hope that the true birthday of Jesus Christ will be celebrated among all the Christians in the world as soon as possible.

In December 2002, "the Star of Bethlehem" was taken up in the Christmas Special Program, "the Research of Holy Night" in the History Channel of SkyPerfec TV of the Satellite Broadcasting. The new theory of the Astronomer "Dr. Michael R. Molnar" was introduced there. He found the old coin which made it associate "the Star of Bethlehem" at a certain exhibition. The old coin was made in Syria in 13 A.D. On the side of it, Zeus of the Greek mythology which shows "a king" is drawn. On another side of it, the picture, which the sheep of 12 constellation is flying in the sky and is looking back at the star twinkling in the east, is drawn. An ancient constellation showed a specific area, too, and the Aries showed "the land of the Judea or Israeli area." Since Dr. Molnar found the old coin, he has been researching for "the Star of Bethlehem." Since the Magus, who came from Babylonia area when Jesus was born, were the scholars who used astrology to predict a future, Dr. Molnar thought that the Babylonian astrology had related "the Star of Bethlehem." And he got today's theory that Jesus was born at the time of the eclipse of the Jupiter.

We agree with the theory of Dr. Michael R. Molnar, Astronomer, about the Christmas Star based on "The Coins of Antioch." Following his theory, we also inspected the sky over the east of the birth place with the software of the astronomical simulator. And now we believe very strongly that the true birthday of our Savior, Jesus Christ, was April 17, 6 B.C.

And, in the astrology, the constellation of the person's birthday is the constellation that the sun was located in when he or she was born. Because the position of the constellation has been actually changed from that when the astrology was created about 3000 years ago from now by the influence of the annual difference movement which the rotation shaft of the earth changes into, the sun was actually located in the position of the Pisces when Jesus was born in about 2000 years ago. So then, early Christians began to use "a fish" as the mark which symbolized "Jesus."

(1) Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem, Israel around 11:00 a.m. on Saturday, April 17, 6 B.C. with the influence of the Mercury & Mars on the Taurus, the Sun, Jupiter & Moon on the Aries (Ram), and the Saturn, Venus & Uranus on the Pisces. The Jupiter means Zeus of the Greek Mythology and the King. Also the Aries (Ram) means Israel and a sacrifice. The eclipse of the Jupiter means that Jesus Christ would be killed by the others in the future. In addition, he was the King of the planets on the solar system. AB blood type. Since the parents of Jesus carried the albino gene, Jesus had blond hair, pale blue eyes, and white skin.

Outra, de um estudioso da Bíblia, à boa maneira dos evangélivos norte-americanos:

"When Was Jesus Born?"
By: Dr. Gregory S. Neal


I love the season of Advent and the Christmas celebration which follows. I enjoy the festive atmosphere, the joy of being with family and friends, the thrill and excitement of giving gifts to others, the parties, the gatherings, the special worship services, and most especially the annual practice of celebrating the incarnation and birth of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is a very special time, every year, during which most Christians pause to consider our expectation for the second coming (or "advent") of Jesus, followed by an annual remembrance of his incarnation and birth. I enjoy this celebration, and especially the symbols and traditions which have either evolved or been adopted to enhance the party. I also appreciate the discipline of combining a forward-looking expectation of Christ's return with a backward-looking remembrance of his first advent.

This being said, it is nevertheless a Biblical and historical certainty that Jesus was not born on December 25th. While early Christians certainly believed in the birth narratives as found in the Gospels, their faith-focus was upon the death and resurrection of our Lord, not his incarnation and birth. It wasn't until a couple of centuries had passed, and the Church stood on the brink of becoming the official religion of the Roman Empire, that the need for developing a nativity celebration was realized. The pagan Feast of Saturnalia, and other winter solstice festivals, presented the Church with a serious challenge: this popular religious bacchanalia, which focused upon the birth of the son god, was celebrated by pagans and Christians alike even despite official denouncements of the practice by leading Bishops and other Church Fathers. When such measures failed to stop the party, the church changed its tactics and attempted to co-opt the party, adopt and reinterpret some of the pagan symbols, and place a Christian "spin" on the entire festival. It worked. The 4th century Church shifted the focus of the winter solstice celebrations from the birth of the sun god to the birth of the Son of God. So popular was this adoption that, within just a century, it was hard to find anywhere in the Empire where the Christianization of the date hadn't taken hold. Soon, nearly every connection with the pagan religious roots of the date were lost to antiquity as the importance of celebrating the incarnation and birth of Jesus took center stage.

"So when was Jesus actually born?" Many will say that the question isn't important, so long as we celebrate it at some time during the year. Others will say that we'll never really know; the issue wasn't of any importance to the early Church, so no record was kept. Still others, like my good friend Dr. Gene Scott, will say that the matter is so critical that we should cease celebrating the birth of Jesus on December 25th and switch to the actual date. I disagree with the conclusions of all these points of view, while also agreeing with them at least in part. I agree that it is important that we celebrate the incarnation and birth of Jesus; I also agree that the early church appeared to not think it important to celebrate his birth; and, I also agree that we should recognize the historic truth of when Jesus was actually born as can best be determined by scripture and historical reference. I do not agree, however, that recognizing the actual birth date necessitates shifting the celebration away from a traditional date which has been accepted, and practiced, for nearly 1700 years. In short, I believe we can keep the traditions, recognize the historical facts, and be true to the theological message of the incarnation and birth of the Son of God, Christ Jesus our Lord, all at the same time.

The Year:

"But when was Jesus born?" There is a great deal of debate as to the year. Usually, scholars will attempt to identify Jesus' birth year by placing it a year or two prior to the death of Herod the Great. Josephus wrote (in his Jewish Antiquities, XVII, 167 [vi, 4]; 213 [ix, 3]) that Herod died prior to Passover and "shortly" after a major lunar eclipse; most historians identify this eclipse as being the one that occurred on March 11, 4 B.C., but since this was only a partial eclipse and was poorly visible from Judea, I tend to agree with several recent scholars who prefer the total lunar eclipse of December 29, 1 B.C.. This would place Herod's death either at the very end of 1 B.C. or, more likely, in January of 1 A.D. (there was no year 0). Since Jesus was born no more than two full years before the death of Herod, our candidate years are 1, 2, or the very end of 3 B.C.. Of these years, 2 B.C. is the strongest. Firstly, it agrees with what Tertullian, Irenaeus, and Eusebius all tell us about Jesus' birth-year (i.e., that it was 15 years prior to the death of Augustus Caesar in 14 A.D., and that it was also 28 years after the death of Cleopatra in 30 B.C.). Secondly, in 2 B.C. there was an important census/enrollment taken marking the 25th Anniversary of Gaius Octavius being given the name "Augustus" and being named Emperor by the Senate (even though he had ruled since 43 B.C., he wasn't granted the title of Emperor until 27 B.C.). And, thirdly, there was an important conjunction of Jupiter with the star Regulus in 2 B.C. which many (myself included) believe may have been the "Star of Bethlehem" that the Magi interpreted as foretelling the birth of the Messiah. All of this points to the year 2 B.C. for Jesus' birth.

The Month and Day:

While the New Testament fails to give us a direct statement regarding when Jesus was born, we do have enough information to establish, within a close proximity, the birthday of John the Baptist. In his Gospel, Luke writes:

In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. (Luke 1:5)

The priestly order of Abijah was, according 1 Chronicles 24:7-19, the eighth of twenty-four orders which served in the temple throughout the year. The Hebrew calendar is not like the Western calendar: it begins in March/April with the month of Nisan and is calculated upon the lunar-duration method. The third week of that first month is Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread, when all the priests regardless of their order would serve; this was also true for Pentecost and the Feast of Tabernacles. Apart from these three high holy weeks, the 24 courses would serve in the temple in order from first to the last, each order serving a week at a time. Zechariah was of the eighth order, and this means that, with Passover and Pentecost factored in, Abijah's first course of service in the Temple would have fallen the week immediately after Pentecost. And, it was most likely during this first tour of duty in 3 B.C. that Zechariah had the following encounter:

Once when he was serving as priest before God and his section ["order"] was on duty, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense. Now at the time of the incense offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside. Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him. But the angel said to him, "Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord." Zechariah said to the angel, "How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years." The angel replied, "I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur." (Luke 1:8-20)

Based upon what we are told above, this amazing event occurred while Zechariah was serving in the temple during the regular duties of the eighth course of Abijah. While it is just barely possible that this might have occurred during Zechariah's second annual tour of temple-duty in the eighth course of Abijah, other circumstances make this quite unlikely. In other words, this occurred during Zechariah's first Abijah tour of duty, which in 3 BC would have occurred the first week of June. After his service, Zechariah would have gone straight home:

When his time of service was ended, he went to his home. After those days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she remained in seclusion. (Luke 1:23-24)

The wording is quite abrupt but not at all surprising: given the punishment he had suffered for not believing Gabriel's announcement, Zechariah clearly didn't waste any time but went immediately home. Given both his age and the fact that his home was in a "Judean town in the hill country," we can surmise that it must have taken Zechariah at least a day or two to make the journey, but that within the week he would have been home. How much longer after that should we estimate that it took for Elizabeth to conceive? The passage doesn't say, other than to apply an aramaic idiom which indicates both a short but not abrupt temporal frame; in other words, it was "after those days" in the sense that the conception wasn't immediate, but neither did months pass. We can assume that a week or two transpired before the conception of John the Baptist and still be well within the intent and wording of the passage. Hence, we're looking at the last week of June or the first week of July before Elizabeth would have conceived. Assuming a July 1st conception for John the Baptist, we can project the date of Jesus' conception and birth from what Luke tells us next:

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary. (Luke 1:26-27)

The phrase "In the sixth month" means during the sixth month of Elizabeth's pregnancy. Unfortunately, Luke is not more specific as to when in that month Gabriel appeared to Mary, only that it happened during that month. If Elizabeth's first month had begun by July 1st, then Mary was visited by the Angel Gabriel at some point during the month of December ... probably somewhere between the middle of the month and its end. This would allow time for Mary to proceed directly to Elizabeth's immediately following her conception, spend "about three months" there, and then depart before John the Baptist was born.

To complete our speculation, if we assume that John the Baptist wasn't premature, he would have been born at the beginning of April, 2 B.C. -- right around Passover. This is an amazing, but not altogether surprising conjunction, since the Jewish expectation had long been that Elijah would return at Passover! In a typological sense, he did: John the Baptist -- the new Elijah -- would prepare the way for the messiah. Since John the Baptist was conceived 6 months prior to Jesus' conception, it obviously follows that 6 months after the birth of John the Baptist Jesus was born. It is a simple exercise to count the months:


If we project Jesus' conception on or about December 24, and if we assume a normal pregnancy of 280 days, Jesus would have been born on or about September 29, 2 B.C.. Of course, this is only an approximate estimation. It is conceivable that John the Baptist could have been conceived and born a week or so earlier than our conjecture, or a week later. Likewise, it is entirely possible that Mary could have received Gabriels annunciation and conceived the Christ child as early as the very first week of Elizabeth's 6th month, and not half to two-thirds of the way through the month. In this case, Jesus would have been born as early as the first week of September, rather than at the end of the month. Any combination of these factors might be possible, which could push Jesus' birth as much as a month earlier, or a half-month later, depending upon the variables, but this doesn't seem likely to me. I believe that the evidence points to a mid-to-late December conception and a late September birth for the Son of God.


What does it matter if Jesus was born on or about September 29th? In terms of our salvation and matters of eternal life: nothing. Salvation comes by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, not through the keeping of high holy days. However, it is important that we speak the truth, and this includes being truthful regarding what we are doing on December 25th.

We celebrate the birth of Jesus at a time other than its actual anniversary because doing so is convenient to the needs, history, and traditions of the Church. In the 4th century it was convenient because several pagan winter-solstice celebrations greatly appealed to many Christians, and since the Church couldn't stop the party they simply adopted and Christianized it. In our current day it's the religious, cultural, and historic inertia of 1700 years which makes it convenient and appealing to continue celebrating the birth of Jesus on December 25th. Granted, some don't consider historical inertia sufficient cause to continue the tradition, but in terms of practical reality that is precisely the reason the celebration continues even despite the political and cultural challenges which have risen to combat it in recent years. To put this another way, we continue with the tradition because we enjoy doing it.

Many who affirm the birth of Jesus on September 29th, however, are quick to jettison centuries of tradition and cease celebrating Jesus in December: they seem to believe that historical honesty, theological and Biblical purity require an almost iconoclastic disregard for the times and seasons of the church year which have evolved to both teach the theological claims of the faith and aid in the worship life of the Church. In my opinion, those who take this position should reconsider their time-lines. After all, if Jesus was born on September 29th then his conception must have happened on or about December 24th! Theologically speaking, our Lord's incarnation stands out as a crucial, critical, cosmically-transforming event in history. It was in December that the Virgin Mary was "overshadowed by the power of the Most High" enabling her to conceive in her womb the Son of God. It was in December that the "Word became flesh and dwelt among us." It was in December that a miraculous spark of eternal life entered into genetic codes and human cells and the Baby Jesus began to gestate. Indeed, to quote one of the iconoclasts, Dr. Gene Scott, it was in December that "God struck a tent in human flesh" and "moved onto the stage of human history" as an unborn baby boy. It was in the conception -- not the birth -- that humanity and Divinity became one in Jesus of Nazareth. This message is at least as important as the simple birth of the Christ Child, and yet these messages cannot be separated from one another. Hence, I believe that we can honestly, and with historical, theological, and Biblical integrity, celebrate both glorious events at once.

Finalmente, uma resposta um pouco mais cientítica

A summary of the debate on the dates of Christ's birth appears in The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church: "Though speculation as to the time of year of Christ's birth dates from the early 3rd century, Clement of Alexandria suggesting the 20th of May, the celebration of the anniversary does not appear to have been general till the later 4th century. The earliest mention of the observance on Dec. 25th is in the Philocalian Calendar, representing Roman practice of the year 336. This date was probably chosen to oppose the feast of the Natalis Solis Invicti (nativity of the unconquerable sun) by the celebration of the birth of the 'Sun of Righteousness' and its observance in the West, seems to have spread from Rome" (1983 edition, Oxford University Press, New York, 1983, p. 280, "Christmas").

Around 200, when Clement of Alexandria mentioned the speculations about Christ's birthday, he said nothing about a celebration on that day. He casually reported the various ideas extant at that time: "And there are those who have determined not only the year of our Lord's birth, but also the day..., the 25th day of Pachon... Furthermore, others say that He was born on the 24th or 25th of Pharmuthi" ("The Stromata, or Miscellanies," The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 2, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1986, p. 333).

Later, in 243, the official feast calendar of the time, De Pascha Computus, places the date of Christ's birth as March 28. Other dates suggested were April 2 and November 18. Meanwhile, in the East, January 6 was chosen, a date the Greeks had celebrated as the birth of the god Dionysus and the Egyptians as the birth of the god Osiris. Although pagans commonly celebrated the birthdays of their gods, in the Bible a birthday is never celebrated to the true God (who, of course, had no birth or day of origin).

December 25 popularized

In Rome December 25 was made popular by Pope Liberius in 354 and became the rule in the West in 435 when the first "Christ mass" was officiated by Pope Sixtus III. This coincided with the date of a celebration by the Romans to their primary god, the Sun, and to Mithras, a popular Persian sun god supposedly born on the same day. The Roman Catholic writer Mario Righetti candidly admits that, "to facilitate the acceptance of the faith by the pagan masses, the Church of Rome found it convenient to institute the 25th of December as the feast of the birth of Christ to divert them from the pagan feast, celebrated on the same day in honor of the 'Invincible Sun' Mithras, the conqueror of darkness" (Manual of Liturgical History, 1955, Vol. 2, p. 67).

Protestant historian Henry Chadwick sums up the controversy: "Moreover, early in the fourth century there begins in the West (where first and by whom is not known) the celebration of December 25th, the birthday of the Sun-god at the winter solstice, as the date for the nativity of Christ. How easy it was for Christianity and solar religion to become entangled at the popular level is strikingly illustrated by a mid-fifth century sermon of Pope Leo the Great, rebuking his over-cautious flock for paying reverence to the Sun on the steps of St. Peter's before turning their back on it to worshipinside the westward-facing basilica" (The Early Church, Penguin Books, London, 1967, p. 126).

If the date of Christ's birth had been celebrated in early Christianity, there would not have been the immense confusion of the dates and the ensuing controversy. Church historians of that time could have simply quoted the Bible for support or shown the examples of celebrations in the early centuries. But none did.

Simply speaking, the date chosen had nothing to do with biblical precedent and everything to do with ecclesiastical authority.

The Encyclopedia Americana makes this clear: "In the fifth century, the Western Church ordered it (Christ's birth) to be observed forever on the day of the old Roman feast of the birth of Sol (the sun god), as no certain knowledge of the day of Christ's birth existed" (1944 edition, "Christmas").

What about the internal biblical evidence for the timing of Christ's birth? We can at least determine the probable season of His birth, and all scriptural indications argue against a December or other winter date.

When were shepherds in the fields?

Israeli meteorologists tracked December weather patterns for many years and concluded that the climate in Israel has been essentially constant for at least the last 2,000 years. The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible states that, "broadly speaking, weather phenomena and climatic conditions as pictured in the Bible correspond with conditions as observed today" (R.B.Y. Scott, Vol. 3, Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1962, p. 625).

The temperature in the area of Bethlehem in December averages around 44 degrees Fahrenheit (7 degrees Celsius) but can drop to well below freezing, especially at night. Describing the weather there, Sara Ruhin, chief of the Israeli weather service, noted in a 1990 press release that the area has three months of frost: December with 29 F. (minus 1.6 C.); January with 30 F. (minus 1.1 C.) and February with 32 F. (0 C.).

Snow is common for two or three days in Jerusalem and nearby Bethlehem in December and January. These were the winter months of increased precipitation in Christ's time, when the roads became practically unusable and people stayed mostly indoors.

This is important evidence to disprove a December date for Christ's birth. Note that, at the time of Christ's birth, the shepherds tended their flocks in the fields at night. "Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields," wrote one Gospel writer, "keeping watch over their flock by night" (Luke 2:8 ). A common practice of shepherds was keeping their flocks in the field from April to October, but in the cold and rainy winter months they took their flocks back home and sheltered them.

One commentary admits that, "as these shepherds had not yet brought home their flocks, it is a presumptive argument that October had not yet commenced, and that, consequently, our Lord was not born on the 25th of December, when no flocks were out in the fields; nor could He have been born later than September, as the flocks were still in the fields by night. On this very ground the nativity in December should be given up. The feeding of the flocks by night in the fields is a chronological fact, which casts considerable light upon this disputed point" (Adam Clarke's Commentary, Abingdon Press, Nashville, note on Luke 2:8

Another study source agrees: "These humble pastoral folk are out in the field at night with their flock-a feature of the story which would argue against the birth (of Christ) occurring on Dec. 25 since the weather would not have permitted it" (The Interpreter's One-Volume Commentary, Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1971, note on Luke 2:4-7 ).

The census described by Luke

Other evidence arguing against a December birth of Jesus is the Roman census recorded by Luke. "And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered... So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem..., to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son..." (Luke 2:1-7

The Roman rulers knew that taking a census in winter would have been impractical and unpopular. Generally a census would take place after the harvest season, around September or October, when it would not seriously affect the economy, the weather was good and the roads were still dry enough to allow easy travel. According to the normal dates for the census, this would probably be the season of Christ's birth.

One author states that this census "could hardly have been at that season (December 25), however, for such a time would surely not have been chosen by the authorities for a public enrollment, which necessitated the population's traveling from all parts to their natal districts, storms and rain making journeys both unsafe and unpleasant in winter, except in specially favorable years" ("Christmas at Bethlehem," Holy-Days and Holidays, Cunningham Geikie).

Luke's account of the census argues strongly against a December date for Christ's birth. For such an agrarian society, an autumn post-harvest census was much more likely.

The birth of John the Baptist

We can find still more biblical evidence against a December birth of Christ. John the Baptist was born six months before the birth of his cousin Jesus. Just before Mary miraculously conceived Jesus, the angel said to her: "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren" (Luke 1:35-36

If we can determine when John was born, then six months later we will come to the approximate date of Christ's birth. Can we find evidence indicating the time of John's birth?

The Bible mentions that Elizabeth conceived shortly after her husband, the priest Zacharias, had finished serving his course at the temple, called "the division of Abijah" (Luke 1:5
This was six months before Mary became pregnant with Jesus. Back in King David's day, the priestly course had been separated into 24 turns, or divisions (1Chronicles 24:7-19
These began in the first month (1Chronicles 27:2
March or April of our modern calendar, and, according to Talmudic and Qumran sources, rotated every week until they reached the end of the sixth month, when the cycle was repeated (beginning in September-October) until the end of the year.

During the festival season, all the priests would come to the temple to serve. Luke shows us that Zacharias' service was not during a feast season, since it was the division of Abijah that was in charge of the temple, and Zacharias was chosen to present the incense offering.

The division of Abijah was the eighth division, or shift, which normally would take place close to three months after the start of the cycle in March-April. This would place Elizabeth's conception around June or, if it was Zacharias' second yearly turn, around December.

The Bible does not specify which of the two shifts it was. Regardless, nine months after one of the two dates John the Baptist was born. This would place his birth in March or September. Six months later, Jesus' birth would have been around September or the following March. Whichever way it occurred, according to the time of the division of Abijah, a December birth for Christ is out of the question.

What was celebrated by the early Church?

We find no command in Scripture by Christ or His apostles to celebrate His birth. In the 60 years of Church history after Christ's death recorded in the New Testament, we find that, rather than celebrating His birth, the Church commemorated His death through the biblically mandated observance of the Passover.

Around 55 the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian church: "For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth" (1Corinthians 5:7-8 ).

Christ's Church through the ages has faithfully remembered His sacrifice by observing the New Testament Passover. Neither Christ nor the apostles indicated, by word or example, that we should celebrate His birth. On the contrary, the Bible carefully conceals His exact birthday. The early Church never bothered to invent and celebrate such a feast but focused on the biblical celebration that foreshadowed and commemorated His sacrificial death for us.

Let us not fix on an artificially contrived date for Christ's birth at Christmas. If we follow Christ's instructions, we will annually commemorate His sacrifice: "With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I say to you, I will no longer eat of it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God... This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of me" (Luke 22:15-16

Fernando Correia de Oliveira

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