Loosing the Riddle of Clement Alexandria's Dates

For the Nativity, Baptism, Passion, and

Epiphany of Christ


Kurt Simmons, Esq. 

Clement Alexandria (AD 153-217), Theophilus of Caesarea (A.D. 115-181), and Hippolytus of Rome (A.D. 170-240) represent the three earliest traditions we have about the date of Christ's birth.  Hippolytus[1] and Theophilus[2] give the date of Christ's birth as Dec. 25th, but the authenticity of their reports has been disputed.  However, the authenticity of Clement's account, which on its face disagrees with that of Theophilus and Hippolytus, has never been questioned.  The lives of all these men over-lapped.  Theophilus was forty years older than Clement, but still his contemporary, and Hippolytus was Clement's student. What if after all their accounts could be shown to agree? That would certainly tend to authenticate the reports of Theophilus and Hippolytus by proving the received date of Christ's birth was already current when they wrote, and not the invention of later times.  It would also make Clement's the earliest undisputed testimony to the Dec. 25th birth of Christ. Here are Clement's comments: 

"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. And the followers of Basilides hold the day of his baptism as a festival, spending the night before in readings. And they say that it was the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar, the fifteenth day of the month Tybi; and some that it was the eleventh of the same month. And treating of his passion, with very great accuracy, some say that it took place in the sixteenth year of Tiberius, on the twenty-fifth of Phamenoth; and others the twenty-fifth of Pharmuthi and others say that on the ninetheeth of Pharmuthi the Saviour suffered. Further, others say that he was born on the twenty-fourth or twenty-fifth of Pharmuthi." [3] 

There are three dates given for the birth of Christ, and two for his baptism, and three for his crucifixion:  

Table No. 1

Egyptian Dates given by Clement 




Pachon 25 or Pharmuthi 24 or 25

Tybi 15 or 11

Phamenoth 25 or 19, Pharmuthi 24, 25

The months given are from the Egyptian calendar in use in Alexandria, Egypt, where Clement lived.  The first month in the Egyptian year was Thot, which began on the equivalent of August 29 in the Julian/Gregorian calendars.  Thus, with the exception of three days, the Egyptian month Thot answers to our September.  The rest of the Egyptian calendar and the Julian/Gregorian equivalents are as follows: 

Table No. 2

Egyptian vis-à-vis Roman Calendar[4] 

Thot 1-30

Paophi 1-30

Athyr 1-30

Choiack 1-30

Tubi 1-30

Mechie 1-30

Phamenoth 1-30

Pharmuthi 1-30

Pachon 1-30

Payni 1- 30

Epiphi 1 -30

Mesori  1-30

Epagomenal days

Aug 29-Sept 27

Sept 28-Oct.27

Oct. 28- Nov. 26

Nov. 27-Dec. 26

Dec. 27-Jan. 25

Jan. 26-Feb. 24

Feb. 25-Mar. 26

Mar. 27-April 25

April 26-May 25

May 26-June 24

June 25-July 24

July 25-Aug. 23

Aug. 24-Aug.28

The Egyptian calendar was a solar calendar, similar to the Julian/Gregorian. However, where the Julian/Gregorian calendars distribute the 365 1/4 days of the solar year by alternating months between thirty and thirty-one days (except February), and providing for a leap year every fourth year, the Egyptian year consisted of twelve months of thirty days each (360 days) with five "epogomenal" ("inserted") days added at the end of the calendar, and a leap year intercalated every fourth year, or as necessary. The distribution of days in the Egyptian calendar therefore appears identical with the calendar used during the time of Noah, which was also a solar calendar with months of 30 days (see Gen. 7:11-8:4 where 150 days fulfilled five months between the seventeenth day of the second month and the seventeenth day of the seventh month). This was changed by the law of Moses, however, where time was marked, and the annual cycle of feasts were governed, by a lunar calendar, which was true of most ancient peoples at that time. We believe the use of lunar calendars by Jews and other ancient people is reflected in the dates given by Clement.  The primary and alternative dates provided for the nativity and passion of Christ (Pharmuthi 25/Pachon 25, Phamenoth 25/Pharmuthi 25) are each set exactly thirty days apart, and are best interpreted as reflecting the intercalation of an extra month for leap years in a lunar calendar. Since questions about the different types of calendars have come up, let us take this matter first. 

Clement's Dates and Lunar Calendars 

The lunar year is 11 days shorter than the solar year. Twelve lunar months equals 354 days. The Greeks, Jews, and other ancient peoples therefore added an extra month seven times in 19 years in order to bring the lunar year back into synchronization with the solar year. The formula by which an extra month was intercalated is credited to the Greek mathematician, Meton of Athens, and the Metonic table allows us to determine where extra months were inserted by the Greeks. The Jews also used a 19 year cycle, but the mathematical formula they used was so contrived that once in 19 years the Jews' leap year does not correspond with the Metonic table and vice versa.[5] By consulting these tables, we can determine if the years preceding the nativity and passion of Christ were leap years.  If so, the alternative dates provided by Clement should reflect this fact. 

Clement says Jesus was born in the twenty-eighth year of Augustus. The twenty-eighth year of Augustus, numbering from the death of Antony and Cleopatra in 30 B.C., would be 2 B.C. As it happens, 3 B.C. was a leap year by both the Jewish and Metonic formulae.  Hence, insertion of an extra 30 days in 3 B.C. would mean that Jesus' birth in 2 B.C. fell thirty days later vis-à-vis the solar calendar of the Egyptians and Romans than it would otherwise have fallen. This fact once realized would have caused hesitation about the correct date of Jesus' birth, some supposing that because of the leap year it was thirty days later than previously reported.  In this event, the twenty-fifth day of the following month would be the corrected date of our Savior's birth, changing the supposed date from Pharmuthi 25 to Pachon 25. We see this also in the two dates given by Clement for Christ's passion.   

Clement states that Christ's passion was believed by some to have occurred Pharenoth 25 but others Pharmuthi 25. Jesus' actual death was Nisan 15, A.D. 33. By both the Jewish and Metonic tables, A.D. 32 was a leap year. Thus, Nisan 15, A.D. 33, would have fallen one month later than it otherwise would. But Clement does not give A.D. 33 for Jesus' death, but the sixteenth year of Tiberius or A.D. 30.  Here, too, however, we find that according to the Jewish formula the preceding year (A.D. 29) was a leap year.  Thus, in both cases - the actual and assumed dates of Christ's death - the preceding year was a leap year, causing the date of Christ's passion to fall thirty days later than it would have otherwise.   

The coincidence that in both cases (the nativity and passion) the alternative dates given by Clement are exactly thirty days apart and were both leap years makes all but inescapable the conclusion that they reflect an attempt to take account of variables arising in lunar calendars. Finegan does this very thing in his Handbook of Biblical Chronology, where he gives a range of possible dates for Christ's crucifixion with alternative dates one month later in the event the preceding year was a leap year. However, Finegan makes a mistake for the year A.D. 33, by putting forward alternative dates of May 2 or 3 for Christ's passion assuming A.D. 32 was a leap year, not realizing that the primary dates of April 3 or 4 already reflect the intercalation of an extra month.[6]  Finegan's mistake demonstrates the difficulty inherent in working with foreign calendars, and how the very thing we are describing is the best explanation for Clement's dates.  Certainly, those who put forward the alternative dates reported by Clement had a reason for doing so. And as there is no other or better explanation than the unique characteristic of lunar calendars and the method by which an extra month was added in leap years, we may take this much of the riddle as all but settled. 

The Twenty-fifth in Clement's Scheme 

One of the first things that strikes us as curious about Clement's report is the appearance of the twenty-fifth as the date of Christ's birth, once in the month Pachon and again in Pharmuthi. When speaking of the date of Christ's passion, Clement says some gave the date of Phamenoth 19 or 25, others Pharmuthi 24 or 25. Thus, the twenty-fifth day of the month appears twice more.  We will look at the other dates shortly, but for now let us focus on the significance of the dates given as the twenty-fifth.  

Phamenoth 25 (March 21) is the date of the vernal equinox. The rest of the natural divisions of the year in the Egyptian calendar are the summer solstice Panyi 27 (June 21), the autumnal equinox Thot 25 (Sept. 22), and the winter solstice Choiack 25 (Dec. 21). In the Roman calendar, the civil dates of the vernal and autumnal equinoxes were March 25 and September 24, and the summer and winter solstices June 24 and December 25, respectively. We say "civil dates" as distinguished from natural dates, meaning the dates marked in the calendar for religious holidays when government offices were closed versus the actual astronomical events they nominally marked. Although originally the natural divisions of the year coincided with the civil dates, through mismanagement of their calendar and irregular placement of leap years, the civil dates and astronomical events they marked grew out of synchronization. Because of this, Julius Caesar reformed the Roman calendar, but even his efforts failed. The length of the solar year is 365 days 5 hours 49 minutes 12 seconds. The Julian calendar set the year at exactly 365 days 6 hours - a difference of just less than eleven minutes. This difference caused the Julian calendar to lose one day about every 131 years (60 x 24 = 1440 ÷ 11 = 130.9090909). Because of this and other factors, when Christ was born the equinoxes and solstices anticipated the civil dates by about a day and a half. That is, the equinoxes and solstices occurred before their dates marked in the calendar. This difference continued to grow until A.D. 325, when, in order to establish the uniform observation of the Pasche (Easter), the Council of Nicea was forced to correct the date of the equinox by four days, from March 25 to March 21, so that it corresponded with the actual astronomical event. However, this was only a temporary fix; the same defect in the Julian calendar still remained uncorrected until institution of the Gregorian calendar in 1582.  When the Gregorian calendar was instituted, ten days had to be removed to return the vernal equinox to March 21, where it has remained ever since (allowing for variation due to leap years). In correcting the date of the vernal equinox, the remaining divisions of the year were also necessarily moved, so that today the winter solstice falls Dec. 21, the summer solstice June 21, and the autumnal equinox September 22. 

Thus, the twenty-fifth occupies a special place in both the Roman and Egyptian calendars as a number associated with the natural divisions of the year. Three dates in the Egyptian calendar - the autumnal equinox, the winter solstice and the spring equinox - fell on the 25th of their respective months, and two dates in the Roman calendar - the winter solstice and spring equinox - fell on the 25th of their respective months. We believe that the dates given by Clement ultimately have in view the spring equinox and winter solstice in the Roman calendar. Let's take each of these in order. 

Clement's Dates and the Civil Equinox of Rome 

The principal date give by Clement for Jesus' crucifixion is Phamenoth 25 (March 21), the date of the vernal equinox in the Egyptian calendar. That this date is ultimately derived from the Roman calendar is clear.  First, it is impossible that Christ died on the vernal equinox as supposed by the Egyptian date of Phamenoth 25. The Jews had a lunar calendar and Passover was so timed as to always occur at the full moon (Abib/Nisan 14) on or after the vernal equinox (Ex. 12:1-28; Lev. 23:5; Num. 9:4, 5). But Christ died Good Friday, Nisan 15, the day following Passover (Matt. 26:2, 17; Lk. 22:7, 15; Jn. 13:1, 2). Since the earliest Passover can occur is the day of the equinox where this corresponds with the full moon, Jesus' death the day following makes impossible his crucifixion on the day of the equinox itself. Thus the date of Phamenoth 25 is clearly incorrect: Jesus did not die on the equinox.  Second, although it is impossible that Jesus died on the equinox, it is possible, at least in theory, the Lord died on the date of the civil equinox in the Roman calendar. As will be recalled, the actual equinox anticipated the civil date of March 25 by about one day. Thus, Passover could have occurred on the equinox March 24, with Jesus' death on the date of the civil equinox March 25 the day following.  This is apparently what men believed occurred.  For the years A.D. 30-33, the possible range of years covering Christ's ministry in which Passover occurred, the following dates appear: 

Table No. 3

Dates of Passover in the Gospels 

Passover A.D. 30

Passover  A.D. 31

Passover  A.D. 32

Passover  A.D. 33

April 4

March 24

April 12

April 1

From the table above, we see that in A.D. 31 Passover occurred on March 24, what was probably the actual date of the equinox. Supposing Christ died that year, the day following would have been the day of the civil equinox in the Roman calendar. Thus, belief Jesus died in A.D. 31 is almost certainly the source of the error that he died on the day of the vernal equinox.  This is the date given by Tertullian (the seventy "hebdomads" refers to Daniel's seventy prophetic weeks allotted to the coming of the Messiah and destruction of the Jewish state - Dan. 9:24-27):  

"And the suffering 'extermination' was perfected within the time of the lxx [70] hebdomads, under Tiberius Caesar, in the consulate of Rubellius Geminius and Fufius Geminus, in the month of March, at the times of the Passover, on the eighth day before the calends of April."[7] 

Eight days before the calends of April is March 25. Finegan's table of consuls gives the consulship of Gemino et Gemino as A.D. 29,[8] but this is clearly not the date contemplated by Tertullian. By comparing Hippolytus and Epiphanius, it becomes clear that Tertullian has in mind A.D. 31. Here is Hippolytus: 

"For the first advent of our Lord in the flesh, when he was born in Bethlehem, was December 25th, a Wednesday, while Augustus was in his forty-second year, but from Adam, five thousand and five hundred years.  He suffered in the thirty-third year, March 25th, Friday, the eighteenth year of Tiberius Caesar, while Rufus and Roubellion were Consuls." [9] 

The consul Hippolytus calls "Rufus," Tertullian calls "Fufius," for these are variations of the same name and thus signify the same year. These same consuls are mentioned by Epiphanius: 

"All this was fulfilled beginning with Christ's birth in Bethlehem, in the forty-second year of the whole reign of Augustus…For in fact, it was in the thirty third year of his incarnation that the Only-begotten suffered for us…For after that consulship which came, as I indicated in Christ's thirtieth year, there was another, called the consulship of Rufus and Rubellio. And then, at the beginning of the consulship after the consulship of Rufus and Rubellio  - the one which later came to be called the consulship of Vinnicius and Longinus Cassius - the Savior suffered on the thirteenth before the Kalends of April in his thirty-third year, which was the eighteenth year of Tiberius Caesar."[10] 

Both Hippolytus and Epiphanius date Jesus' birth to the forty-second year of Augustus, and his death to the same age, but to different consulships and years. Both say Jesus died in the eighteenth year of Tiberius in the thirty-third year of his life. However, where Hippolytus and Tertullian say Jesus died in the consulship of Rufus and Rubellio, Epiphanius places Jesus' death in the following year under Vinnicius and Longinus. The reason for this appears to be that Hippolytus believed Jesus was born Dec. 25th, but Epiphanius believed he was born Jan. 6th and therefore carries his death over to the following year.  Dating from the death of Julius Caesar in 44 B.C., the forty-second year of Augustus would be 2 B.C., making Christ's thirty-third year A.D. 32. Augustus died in August, A.D. 14, making the eighteenth of Tiberius also A.D. 32. This seems to be the date contemplated by Epiphanius. This would make the preceding year - A.D. 31 - that contemplated by Tertullian and Hippolytus. Hence, mistaking the year of Jesus' death is clearly seen to be the source of the notion Jesus' died on Friday, March 25th, the Roman civil date of the vernal equinox.

This raises an important question:  If Christ did not die on the actual equinox, how is it that the Egyptians placed Christ's death on the day of the equinox in the Egyptian calendar, unless that tradition was first published abroad based upon the error inherent in the Roman calendar? No year in the possible range of Jesus' life allows for his death on the Egyptian equinox (March 21). Nisan 15 may have answered March 25 in the relevant range of years, but never did Nisan 15 equate with March 21. The only equinox possible is the civil equinox of the Romans, and this based upon the erroneous assumption Christ died in A.D. 31. Hence, Phamenoth 25 must be seen as actually pointing to March 25 and not to a date in the Egyptian calendar at all. No one sitting in Alexandria, Egypt, knowing Jewish law, could possibly conclude Jesus died March 21, since this would mean Jesus died before Passover could lawfully be observed. Hence, the dates reported by Clement do not originate in the Egyptian calendar nor are based upon the calculations of men living in Alexandria, but are derived from foreign sources, which used the Roman calendar. Of this we may be certain. 

If, as we have seen, Phanemoth 25 refers to the civil date of the vernal equinox in the Roman calendar, what about the date given for Jesus' birth, does it too actually refer to a date in the Roman calendar, viz., the winter solstice December 25? We believe it does.   

Clement's Dates and the Winter Solstice in the Roman Calendar 

According to the report of Clement, Jesus was born either Pachon 25 (May 20) or Pharmuthi 25 (April 20), and baptized Tybi 11 or 15 (Jan. 6 or 10).  However, these dates conflict with established chronology in the gospels.  Luke tells us that Jesus was baptized the fifteenth year of Tiberius (A.D. 29), on the threshold of his thirtieth birthday (Lk. 3:1, 23). Following his baptism, Jesus underwent a period of fasting and temptation in preparation for his ministry (Lk. 4:1, 2).  He then returned to John at Bethabara where he proceeded to make his first disciples, Andrew and Peter, Phillip and Bartholomew (Jn. 1:26-51). Jesus then attended the wedding at Cana (Jn. 2:1-11), followed several months later by the first Passover of his ministry (Jn. 2:13).  Passover in A.D. 30, the first Passover of his ministry, was April 3. Clement's scheme places Jesus' 30th birthday April 20 or May 20, following  Passover.  Thus, according to Clement, Jesus was baptized in early January, preceded to make disciples, perform his first public miracle, and attend Passover at Jerusalem where he cleansed the temple the first time, all before turning thirty years old. Clearly, this will not do. The reason Luke tells us Jesus was on the threshold of his thirtieth birthday when baptized is that this was the age Jewish men had to attain before beginning active, public teaching (Num. 4:3; I Chron. 23:3). As Irenaeus states,  

“For how could he have had disciples, if He did not teach? And how could He have taught, unless He had reached the age of a Master?  For when He came to be baptized, He had not yet completed thirty years of age (for thus Luke, who has mentioned His years, has expressed it: ‘Now Jesus was, as it were, beginning to be thirty years old,’ when He came to be baptized).”[11] 

In other words, at that point where Jesus began making disciples and teaching he had turned thirty and this must have occurred before his return to John at Bethabara, not following the first Passover of his ministry months later. Hence, Clement's scheme placing Jesus birthday in late April or May is clearly erroneous. Since Clement's dates for the nativity are erroneous on their face, they argue, as in the case of the vernal equinox and the Passion of Christ, that they have been misapplied from another calendar.  As the impossibility that Jesus' died on the equinox in the Alexandrian calendar proved that the date given by Clement originated in the Roman calendar, so here, the impossibility of Jesus' thirtieth birthday occurring several months into his ministry convince us that Clement's dates derive from foreign sources. But what sources are we to look to? 

Clement's Dates Misapplied from Athenian Calendar 

What we propose is that the date of the nativity was translated early on from the Jewish to the Roman, but arrived in Alexandria in such a way that the dates were assumed to originate in or refer to the Athenian calendar, and were misapplied to the Egyptian calendar on that basis. We believe something like this also occurred regarding the date of Christ's baptism, which likewise bears evidence of having arrived in Alexandria by way of the Athenian calendar. Below is a table of comparative calendars, containing Egyptian, Roman, Jewish, and Athenian calendars. Egyptian months are placed in the order in which they appear in the Egyptian calendar or year.  The first month, Thot, begins on what equates with our August 29. Thus, with the exception of three days, the entire month of Thot falls in September and for convenience sake is so portrayed in our chart. We have not numbered the Egyptian months since they occur in the correct order, beginning with the first and ending with the twelfth.  The months in the Roman calendar are arranged to correspond with their equivalents in the Egyptian year.  We have not numbered them because they are well known. The Jewish and Athenian months are numbered because they are less well known, and in order to indicate how the first month in the Athenian calendar (ignoring variations due to lunar cycles) answers the eleventh month in the Egyptian, and so forth.  

Table No. 4

Egyptian, Roman, Jewish, and Athenian Calendars 








Elul (6)

Boedromion (3)



Tishri (7)

Pyanopsion (4)



Heshvan (8)

Maimakterion (5)


December = "tenth"

Casleu (9)

Posideion (6)



Tebet (10)

Gamelion (7)



Shebat (11)

Anthesterion (8)



Adar (12)

Elaphebolion (9)



Nisan (1)

Mounychion (10)



Jyar (2)

Thargelion (11)



Sivan (3)

Skirophorion (12)



Tammuz (4)

Hekatombaion (1)



Ab (5)

Metageitnion (2)

The Roman calendar originally began the year in March. This is seen by the names of the several months, beginning with Quintilis, derived from the Latin for fifth, and Sextilis, derived from the Latin for sixth. These were later substituted for July and August in honor of Julius Caesar and Augustus Caesar. However, the remaining months through December still bear witness to the original beginning of the year with March. Thus, September is derived from the Latin for seventh, October, from the Latin for eighth, November, for the ninth, and December, for the tenth. In this way, Jesus' birthday may have been translated to the Roman calendar by the first disciples, who circulated that Jesus was born the 25th day of month the Romans call the tenth (December).  This information, having found its way to Athens and thence to Alexandria where it was supposed the "tenth month" had reference to the Athenian calendar, was misapplied to the Egyptian calendar, the tenth month of the Athenian calendar (Mounychion) being taken as seasonal equivalent for the eighth month (Pharmuthi) of the Egyptian. This would account for the report given by Clement that some thought the date of the nativity was Pharmuthi 25. It also allows for the alternative date of Pachon 25 to reflect dating issues arising in the Jewish lunar calendar, for Pachon 25 is thirty days later than Pharmuthi 25.  In other words, December 25 became Mounychion 25, which became Pharmuthi/Pachon 25.

That this sort of thing may have happened is likely enough. Unlike today where there is a universal method of dating time, in the time of Christ each country and even city had their own calendar with years starting at different seasons, with weeks and months of different lengths beginning at different times. The hemerologium, a calendar of months of different cities, which exists in two manuscripts, gives the Roman calendar beginning in January and the calendars of some sixteen other cities in comparison of it, including the 1) Alexandrians, 2) Syrian Greeks, 3) Tyre, 4) Arabia, 5) Sidon, 6) Heriopolis, 7) Lycia, 8) Asia, 9) Crete, 10) Cyprus, 11) Ephesus, 12) Bethynia, 13) Cappodicia, 14) Gaza, 15) Ascalon, and 16) Seleucia Pieria.[12] Similarly, when Epiphanius gives the supposed date of Christ's baptism, he uses the Roman date first, and then proceeds to translate it into ten different calendars.[13] With so many calendars in use along side one another, it is not difficult to imagine how dates originating in one calendar might easily be mistaken to refer to another and so be misapplied. Indeed, we have seen this very thing in the case Christ's passion where the date of the civil equinox in the Roman calendar was mistaken with the equinox of the Alexandrian. This also occured in regard to celebration of the Nativity in the Apostolic Constitutions: 

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

Almost all scholars agree that the twenty-fifth day of the ninth month signifies December twenty-fifth, April being taken as the first month among many of the early fathers. Since the date given by Clement for Christ's birth conflicts with scripture and is untenable, we are forced to explain it by other means.  When viewed through the prism of the Athenian calendar, we find that the traditional date of December 25 comes forth quite naturally.[14]  

Clement and the Baptism of Christ 

Clement gives the date of Jesus' baptism as either Tybi 11 or 15 (Jan. 6 or 10). These dates are also erroneous on their face. It is a well established fact that Jesus' ministry was 3 1/2 years long, beginning with his baptism and ending with his death on Calvary, encompassing the space of four Passovers.  The first Passover occurred some months after his baptism (Jn. 2:23); the second Passover thirteen months later (for it was a leap year) (see Jn. 4:35 where harvest is four months off, making it about February, and Jn. 5:1, which is probably Pentecost, Passover coming between them); the third Passover, twelve months later (Jn. 6:4, 5-13; cf. Lk. 9:13-17); the fourth, wherein he was crucified, twelve months more (Jn.13:1), fulfilling 42 months or 3 1/2 years. (See also Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, I, x.) Jesus died on Good Friday, Nisan 15, A.D. 33.  Given that Jesus' ministry spanned three and a half years, the correct date of Jesus' baptism (so far as this may be known) can be obtained by counting 42 lunar months (3 1/2 years) backward from Jesus' crucifixion. 

Table No. 4, Forty-two Lunar Months of Christ's Ministry 

Nisan 15, A.D. 33 (Crucifixion)













Nisan 15, A.D. 32 (12 months)

Adar II, (leap year)













Nisan 15, A.D. 31, (25 months)














Nisan 15, A.D. 30, (37 months)





Heshvan 15, A.D. 29 (42months)


Reckoning three and a half years backward from this date will bring us to Heshvan 15, AD (Nov. 8).  Thus, Christ was baptized in November, not January.  Epiphanius' chronology of the first sixty days of Jesus' ministry following his baptism is in accord, beginning in November and ending January 6 at the wedding in Cana: 

"And so you see that after the twelfth of Athyr, when he had gone away and been tempted for forty days, and then come to Nazareth and stayed there for about two weeks and three days, he next went down to the Jordan to see John and spent a first day there, and a second; and then he returned to Nazareth, and likewise stayed there for a first and a second day. And on the third day he went to Cana of Galilee. This makes a total of sixty days after the baptism: the forty days of the temptation; the two weeks and two days at Nazareth, and the other two, and on the third day the miracle of the water was performed at the wedding." [15] 

The twelfth of Athyr answers to November 8, which answers to Heshvan 15 in the Jewish calendar.[16]  Jesus' baptism fell on the fifteenth day of the month, and Clement reports that the followers of Basilides kept the fifteenth in commemoration of that event.  Although the months do not correspond (Heshvan 15 = Nov. 8, Tybi 15 = Jan. 10), the coincidence that the days correspond suggests another example where dates derived from one calendar have been misapplied to the Egyptian.  Now, Heshvan 15 in the Jewish calendar corresponds with Metagitnium 15 in the Athenian calendar. Metagitnium is the fifth month in the Athenian calendar. Assuming that information about Jesus' baptism was conveyed to Egypt from Athens saying only that Jesus was baptized the fifteenth day of the fifth month, we can see how this information could be misapplied to the Egyptian calendar, producing the mistaken result that Jesus was baptized Tybi 15. For Tybi is the fifth month of the Egyptian calendar. The alternative date of Tybi 6 was probably the result of yet further confusion among dates between the calendar systems.   

Thus, in both the nativity and baptism of Christ, the dates given by Clement can be explained by reference to the Athenian calendar as the immediate source, and the dates thus corrected are free of contradiction and fit the chronology of scripture. They also tend to authenticate Theophilus and Hippolytus, by joining their testimony regarding the Dec. 25th birth of Christ. 

What about the Nineteenth & Twenty-Fourth of Pharmuthi?

The twenty-fourth of Pharmuthi is given as an alternative date for Christ's birth. How is this explained? We believe this reflects the difference between Roman usage, which begins the day at midnight, and Jewish and other ancient peoples who began the day at sunset, making the twenty-fifth fall six hours earlier in those places. This, coupled with the tradition that Jesus was born before midnight, would place his birth on the twenty-fourth in the Roman calendar, but the twenty-fifth by Jewish and Egyptian reckoning. Something similar to this may be seen in Epiphanius, where Jesus is said to be born Jan. 5th by Roman reckoning, but Jan. 6th by other accounts. 

"For the fleshly birth of our Savior, who was born at the eighth hour…in the month of January, that is, on the eighth before the Ides of January - in the Roman calendar this is the evening of January fifth, at the beginning of January sixth."[17]

Epiphanius later came to the opinion that Dec. 25th was the correct date of Jesus' birth,[18] but for now let us note that he places the nativity at 8 o'clock the evening of the 5th by Roman reckoning, but the dawn of Jan. 6th by Egyptian reckoning.  In this same way, the difference between Pharmuthi 24 and 25 may be accounted for. Of course, the notion that Jesus was born at a particular hour of the night cannot be proved and we have no reliable testimony that would allow us to accept this tradition. Hence, as men rejected the tradition Jesus was born at 8 o'clock p.m., the alternative date of the 24th was eventually lost to history. The nineteenth is very likely an alternative date based upon the five days difference between the Egyptian and Roman calendars for the month of Pharmuthi vis-à-vis April.  Realizing the dates were in fact of Roman origin, someone attempted to correct the date of Pharmuthi 24 by five days, changing it to Pharmuthi 19. 

Tybi 11 and the Feast of Ephiphany 

One date remains to give account. According to Clement, the followers of Basilides (a famous Gnostic) kept Tybi 15 (Jan. 10) as a festival in honor of Christ's baptism, though certain others thought Tybi 11 (Jan. 6) was the correct date. As noted above, the former date appears to be a corruption of Heshvan 15, the date of Christ's baptism in the Jewish calendar.  The latter date has found a permanent place in church calendars and history as the Feast of Epiphany.  Although Tybi 6 was originally observed in connection with Christ's baptism, this is no longer true. Owing to its proximity to Christmas, today the Feast of Epiphany is most closely associated with the Nativity, but its true meaning has  largely been lost.  In this section we will attempt to recover that meaning briefly. 

The word "ephiphany" is from the Greek faneow (phanero), to render apparent; appear, manifestly declare, make manifest. The sense of the terms as used in the feast is best captured by I Tim. 3:16: 

"And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest [efanerowqh] in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentles, believed on in the world, received up into glory." 

Historically, four different events have been proffered as manifestations of Christ's divinity that Epiphany celebrates: 1) Christ's nativity, 2) the arrival of the Magi, 3) Jesus' baptism, 3) and 4) the miracle at Cana. The fact that so many events are proposed is evidence that, although the date itself was preserved in the church's memory, the real meaning of the feast was lost early on, perhaps due to the almost universal martyrdom of the first generation of Christians under Nero.  Knowing the date, but not precisely what it commemorated, men thus shifted about to recover its true meaning. It is significant that although any number of events manifesting Christ's divinity might have been advanced, all of the events proposed, including Christ's baptism, occurred putatively, if not actually, within a two month window at the beginning of Jesus' ministry (Nov. 8-Jan. 6).  Hence, we believe the first open manifestation of Christ's divinity connected with the beginning of his ministry and the gospel narratives, is the key to unlock the mystery of Epiphany.  Here are the events in the life and ministry of Christ as given by Epiphanius for the origin of Epiphany: 

I have been obliged to prove this with many examples because of those who do not believe that "The Ephiphany" is a good name for the fleshly birth of our Savior, who was born at the eighth hour and manifested by the angels' testimony to the shepherds and the world - but he was manifested to Mary and Joseph as well. And the star was manifested to the magi in the east in that hour, two years before their arrival at Jerusalem and Bethlehem, when Herod asked the magi themselves the precise time of the star's manifestation, and they told him it was no more than two years before. And this very word gave the Epiphany its name, from Herod's saying, 'the manifestation of the star'…For the magi themselves reached Bethlehem, after a two year interval, on this very day of the Epiphany, and offered their gifts, the myrrh, the gold and the frankincense. For the beginnings of many of the signs of Christ's manifestation came on this day of the Manifestation."[19]

In any case it has been shown by every means that the Lord's birth in the flesh took place on the eleventh of the Egyptian month Tybi.  And the first miracle in Cana of Galilee, when the water was made wine, was performed on about the same eleventh day thirty years later.[20] 

Epiphanius assigns Jesus' birth, the herald angels' announcement to the shepherds, and the appearance of the star to the Magi in the east, and the miracle at Cana as the events commemorated by Epiphany. Of these events, only the last is chronologically supported.  The rest will not withstand scrutiny. Epiphanius says that the name of the feast is derived from the word used by Herod, but this is not true.  Matthew uses fainomenou (phainomenou), whence we get our English word phenomenon.  Moreover, the arrival of the Magi Jan. 6 is contradicted by Macrobius, who connects the Slaughter of the Innocents with the execution of Antipater, Herod's son.[21] Herod outlived Antipater only five days, expiring shortly before Passover 1 B.C.[22]  Passover in 1 B.C. was April 5th. Hence, the Magi could not have arrived Jan. 6, if the Slaughter of the Innocents did not occur until almost Passover. Hence, Jan. 6th is too early for the arrival of the Magi. But if Jan. 6 is too early for the arrival of the Magi, it is too late for the birth of Christ. 

Both Clement and Epiphanius date Jesus' birth to 2 B.C. (the forty-second year of Augustus dating from Julius Caesar's death in 44 B.C., and the twenty-eighth year from the death of Antony and Cleopatra in 31 B.C.). A person born in 2 B.C. would have turned thirty by Dec. 31st A.D. 29.  This rules out a Jan. 6 birthday, for Jesus had to turn 30 by Dec. 31st. Hence, the events associated with the nativity will not work for Epiphany either. That leaves the wedding at Cana, and here the pieces all fall nicely together. 

As we have already noted, based upon a three and a half year ministry, Jesus would have been baptized Heshvan 15 (Nov. 8), A.D. 29, leaving only fifty-three days to the calendar year in which Jesus' thirtieth birthday would have occurred.  Forty days of these fifty-three were taken up in Jesus' wilderness fast undertaken in preparation for his ministry (Mk. 1:12, 13; Lk. 4:1, 2). That brings us to Dec. 18th. Luke tells us that, after his fast, Jesus hungered and was tempted of the devil (Luke 4:2). We are not told how long the temptation of Christ lasted, but we are told that he traveled to a high mountain and was tempted with the kingdoms of the world (v. 5), then traveled to Jerusalem where he mounted a pinnacle of the temple and was tempted to cast himself down.  If we allow a week for the temptation of Christ, that would bring us to Dec. 25th.  Following his temptation, Luke says Jesus returned in the power of the Holy Spirit into Galilee and began teaching in their synagogues (Luke 4:14, 15). Luke's purpose is to indicate that, Jesus' fast and temptation now ended, his active teaching ministry had begun. This would place Jesus birthday no later than his fast and temptation. If we put off confirmation of his birthday until Jesus' return to John at Bethabara, this allows that it could have occurred slightly later, but still before Dec. 31st.   

Seven days are enumerated in John's gospel beginning with Jesus' return to John and ending with the wedding at Cana (Jn. 1:26, 29, 35, 43, 2:1). During the first four days, Jesus made disciples of Andrew and Peter, and Philip and Bartholomew or Nathaniel.  They call him "Rabbi" indicating that he had attained the age of a teacher and his active ministry was fully begun.  The wedding at Cana is dated to Jan. 6th by Epiphanius and other early fathers.  Counting back seven days from Jan. 6 will bring us to Dec. 31st. This becomes the date Jesus returned to John having already turned thirty. Hence, Jesus birthday occurred sometime during the 53 day window following his baptism before his return to John.  

At the wedding, Jesus performed his first miracle by turning water into wine (Jn. 2:1-10).  John says "this beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him" (Jn. 2:11).  "Manifesting his glory" means his veiled divinity, for men cannot do miracles except God be with them. The word used by John is efanerwsen, the same word that occurs in I Tim. 3:16.  Thus, it is to the miracle at Cana that the Feast of Epiphany looks, not Jesus' baptism, his birthday, or the arrival of the Magi.


The dating scheme recorded by Clement Alexandria contradicts basic gospel facts if taken as is directly from the Egyptian calendar, but if interpreted as misapplied from the Athenian calendar, based upon dates originating in the Roman and Jewish calendars, all difficulties and contradictions are resolved and Clement is found to agree with other early writers who place Jesus' birth on Dec. 25th.  Moreover, Epiphany is correctly seen to commemorate Jesus' first public miracle Jan. 6th at the wedding in Cana.




[1] “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

[2] "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

[3] Clement, Stomata, I, XXI, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 2, pg. 333. 

[4] Jack Finegan, Handbook of Biblical Chronology (Hendrickson, 1998),  p. 62, table 29.

[5] For the years A.D. 30 and 32 the equation works like this: 747 + 30 = 777 ÷ 19 = 40 with remainer of 17.  747 + 32 = 779 ÷ 19 = 41 with no remainder.  Because the divisor is nineteen, a remainder of “zero” equals the nineteenth year of the cycle.  Thus, A.D. 30 and 32 were both leaps year.  See the article The Babylonian Calendar after R.A. Parker & W.H. Dubberstein, Babylonian Chronology at http://www.friesian.com/calendar.htm.  Another formula, that used by modern Jews, is to multiply the Jewish year × 235, subtract 234, and divide by 19. If the remainder is larger than 12, it is s leap year, if less, it is a regular year.  For the year A.D. 32 the formula is 3792 × 235 = 891120 – 234 = 890886 ÷ 19 = 46888.73684.  46888 × 19 = 890872. 890886 – 890872 = R14.  Thus, by Jewish reckoning, A.D. 32 is also reckoned a leap year, however, by this same method A.D. 30 is not.  For a complete explanation of the modern Jewish calendar, see http://roarbush.com/jewcal/index.html.  

[6] Finegan, p. 363, Table 179.

[7] Tertullian, Answer to the Jews, VIII; Ante-Nice Fathers, Vol. 3. pg. 160.

[8] Finegan, p. 80, table 40.

[9] Hippolytus, Commentary on Daniel 4.23.3

[10] Epiphanius, Panarion, 54, 22, 22; 23, 3-5; translated Frank Williams, E. J. Brill (New York, 1987), Nag Hammadi Studies, XXXV, James M. Robinson, editor.

[11] Irenaeus, Contra Heresies, II, xxii, 5; Ante-Nicene Fathers, I, p. 391 

[12] Finegan, pp. 52, 53; § 119.

[13] "Christ lived through these twenty-nine full consulships, but in the thirtieth consulship, I mean the consulship of Silanus and Nerva, he came to John in about the eleventh month, and was baptized in the River Jordan, in the thirtieth year following his birth in the flesh, on the sixth before the Ides of November. That is, he was baptized in twelfth of the Egyptian month Aythr, the eighth of the Greek month Dius, the sixth of the third Choiak in the Salaminian, or Constantian calendar, the sixteenth of Apogonicus in the Paphian, the twenty-second of Angalthabaith in the Arabian, the sixteeth of Apellaeus in the Macedonian, the fifteenth of Aratates in the Cappadocian, the seventh of Metagitnium in the Athenian, and the seventh of Marchevan in the Hebrew. As I have often remarked, the holy Gospel according to Luke bears me out with some such words as, 'Jesus began to be about thirty years old, being, as was supposed, the son of Joseph.'" Ephiphanius, Panarion, Bk. 2, sec. 24, 4.

[14]Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) and John Selden (1584-1654) offered a similar explanation, saying that Clement's dates reflect an error conveyed to Alexandria by the Greek fathers: 

"For the first, which cast it on the 25th of Pachon, and is very ancient; it may be well interpreted to agree with this of December, for in consideration of it we must, first, remember that according to the old Jews, there was among the Fathers of the Primitive times a reckoning of their Months as well by the order of enumeration as by proper names; so that September and October were known as well by the names of the 7th and 8th Months (as also their names denote) as by their names themselves being accounted from March, which was the first. 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, in those Constitutions attributed to the Apostles, in Macarius, Stephanus, Gobarus, and in other testimonies of the ancients, where the Julian April is made the first, as the Hebrew Month Nisan was; and therefore also they had the very day of his Birth known by the name of the 25th day of the 9th Month December, being the 9. from April; and this kind of thing it is like enough to have deceived those which said it was on the 25th of Pachon; for Pachon is the 9. Month reckoned from Thoth, being the first among the Egyptians, as December is, being accounted from April; so that when the tradition was delivered in those terms of the 9th Month, no designation being of the account of the Months, nor of what Months were meant, it was perhaps rashly received by some, and instead of the 25th of the 9th Month in the Roman year (account to that account of the Fathers) it was apprehended to be, and so by mistaking placed on the 25th of the 9th of the Egyptian year." John Selden, Theanthropos (1664) pp. 80, 81.

[15]Panarion, Bk. 2, sec. 30:4, 5 

[16] Thomas J. Talley, The Origins of the Liturgical Year (1986, Pueblo Publishing, New York, NY), p. 112.

[17] Parnion, Bk. 2, sec. 22, 12; 24, 1.

[18] “Epiphanius boldly removed the date of the Baptism to the 8th of November. ‘January 6’ (= Tobi 11), he writes, ‘is the day of Christ’s Birth, that is, of the Epiphanies.’  He uses the plural, because he adds on January 6 the commemoration of the water miracle of Cana. Although in 375 he thus protested that January 6 was the day ‘of the Birth after the Flesh,’ he became before the end of the century a convert, according to John of Nice, to the new opinion that December 25 was the real day of this Birth.” Encyclopedia Britannica, Feast of Epiphany, 11th ed (1911).

[19] Panarion, Bk. 2, sec. 22:12; 22:17

[20] Panarion, Bk. 2, sec. 29:7; cf. 16:7-9.

[21] Macrobius, Saturnia, II, iv, 11: "Cum audisset inter pueros quos in Syria Herodes rex Iudaeorum intra bimatum iussit interfici filium quoque eius occisum, ait: Melius est Herodis porcum esse quam filium." 

[22] Josephus, Antiquities XVII, vi, vii; Wars I, xxxii.



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