"Unto You is Born this Day"

The Biblical Case for the Dec. 25th Birth of Christ

 

Kurt Simmons Esq.

- Updated November 2014 -

    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 Christianize the pagan solstice, or festival sol invictus. 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 and the December 25th birth of Christ are echoes of these ghosts  from Christmas 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

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

1.      The magi arrived after the presentment of the Christ-child

 Our primary sources for events surrounding Christ’s birth are the Gospels. The law imposed a forty-day period of ritual impurity upon women following birth of a male-child, and required a sacrifice in token of their purification at the period’s end (Lev 12:2–6). Moreover, firstborn sons were to be redeemed in token of God’s deliverance when he slew the firstborn in Egypt (Exod 13:3, 13; Num 3:46, 47). These time factors figure into the chronology of Christ’s birth: Luke tells us that following Mary’s forty-day period of ritual impurity, the holy family went to Jerusalem, where the required sacrifices were made for Mary and her firstborn son, then returned home to Nazareth (Luke 2:39).

Turning to Matthew’s Gospel, we find that after Jesus was born magi came to Jerusalem from the east, asking “Where is he who is born king of the Jews?” (Matt 2:1, 2). Word of this reached Herod, who called together the chief priests and scribes to ascertain where Christ should be born. Herod then called the magi, and inquired when the star they had seen in the east first appeared. Herod then sent them to Bethlehem, asking the magi to bring him word when they had found the Christ-child so he could worship him also (Matt 2:4–8). Matthew reports that when the magi departed, the star they had seen in the east went before them till it came and stood over where the child was (Matt 2:9). Popular assumption has it that the magi found the holy family at Bethlehem. However, Bethlehem is only about ten miles from Jerusalem. Since the magi hardly required the star to find Bethlehem and Herod had directed them there in any event, the better view is that the star was interposed by heaven to lead the magi to where the Christ-child had relocated; viz. Nazareth, about seventy miles north, where Luke tells us the holy family returned following the customary sacrifices at the temple. This may be alluded to by Matthew, when he says that the magi entered "the house;" not "an inn" as we would expect if they were still in Bethlehem, but "the house" viz. the family home (Matt 2:11).

That the magi found the holy family in Nazareth is confirmed by the flight to Egypt. Matthew informs us that after presenting their gifts, the magi were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, and that they therefore departed home another way (Matt 2:11, 12). Joseph, being warned in a dream that Herod would seek the child to destroy it, rose by night and fled to Egypt, where the holy family remained until Herod’s death (Matt 2:12–15). However, when Joseph heard that Archelaus reigned in Judea in place of his father Herod, he “was afraid to go there,” and being warned in a dream, “turned aside” into Galilee, avoiding Judea entirely (Matt 2:22). Taking the accounts of Matthew and Luke together, there are only two times when the presentment of the Christ-child could have occurred: either before the flight to Egypt or following the family’s return from exile. Since Matthew makes clear that Joseph by-passed Judea upon return from Egypt, the presentment of the Christ-child could not have occurred then. Therefore, it could only have occurred before the flight to Egypt, which means that the magi almost certainly found the holy family in Nazareth forty-odd days following the child’s birth and that the flight to Egypt originated from there, not Bethlehem as so often assumed. So Methodius (A.D. 260-312):

"Therefore the prophet brought the virgin from Nazareth, in order that she might give birth at Bethlehem to her salvation-bringing child, and brought her back again to Nazareth, in order to make manifest to the world the hope of life. Hence it was that the ark of God removed from the inn at Bethlehem, for there He paid to the law that debt of the forty days, due not to justice but to grace…The holy mother goes up to the temple to exhibit to the law a new and strange wonder, even that child long expected." (Oration Concerning Simeon and Anna in Ante-Nicene Fathers, eds. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson (Christian Literature Publishing, 1885), 6:385.)

Epiphanius is in accord:

“He was born in Bethlehem, circumcised in the cavern, presented in Jerusalem, embraced by Simeon, openly confessed by Anna the prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, and taken away to Nazareth” (Epiphanius, “De Incarnatione” in Panarion1.4). 

2.      The magi arrived before Herod departed from Jerusalem for the mineral springs at Callirrhoe

By the time the magi arrived, Herod wwould have been in the final weeks and months of his life. Antipater, Herod’s son by Doris, had been tried for treason before Quintilius Varus, who succeeded Saturninus as president of Syria. It was under the presidency of Saturninus that the registration, which brought Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem had occurred. [1] But with the new year, came the new administration of Varus. Condemned, Antipater was held in the palace prison at Jericho, and Herod sent letters and ambassadors to Augustus Caesar to accuse Antipater and learn Caesar’s pleasure concerning his son.[2] However, while waiting for word from Caesar, Herod fell gravely ill. This was now the seventieth year of his life, and he despaired of recovery. Herod therefore amended his will, temporarily settling the kingdom upon his youngest son, Herod Antipater. Facing death and knowing that he was hated by the Jews, Josephus reports that Herod “grew fierce, and indulged the bitterest anger upon all occasions,”[3] and more especially because of a sedition that now broke out.

Herod had placed a large Roman eagle above the gate of the temple, which the Jews considered an affront to their religion. Taking the opportunity of Herod’s impending death, several prominent rabbis moved the young men to cut the eagle down. When rumor came that Herod was dead, the young men assaulted the temple and eagle in broad daylight. However, soldiers came upon them suddenly, capturing many of them. Herod then had the young men and rabbis sent to Jericho, where the leaders were burned alive. Josephus reports that the night of the rabbis’ execution there was an eclipse of the moon.[4] This lunar eclipse is important for dating Herod’s death. For many years, it was supposed to be the partial lunar eclipse of March 13, 4 B.C. But this has now been thoroughly refuted, and leading scholarship agrees that this was the full lunar eclipse of January 10, 1 B.C. [5]

Herod’s final illness now grew worse; he thus travelled beyond the Jordon River to bathe in mineral springs at Callirrhoe as a curative for his disease. However, when this failed to improve his health, Herod returned to Jericho, dying shortly thereafter, never to return to Jerusalem again.[6] Matthew tells us that Herod was still at Jerusalem when the magi arrived (Matt. 2:1). Therefore, the magi had to arrive before Herod left Jerusalem and travelled to the mineral springs beyond the Jordan, probably sometime after the rabbis’ execution January 10th, toward the middle of February, 1 B.C.[7] 

2.     The Slaughter of the Innocents and the Execution of Antipater

  Matthew says that when Herod realized the magi were not going to return, he ordered the slaughter of all male children two years old and under in Bethlehem and the neighbor towns (Matt. 2:16-18). Although Mark and Luke do not mention the Slaughter of the Innocents, John alludes to it in the Apocalypse (Rev. 12:1-4), and thus becomes a witness to the verity of the Matthew’s record. The witness of Matthew and John is also corroborated by a pagan writer named Macrobius. Macrobius wrote an encyclopedic account of Roman culture entitled the Saturnalia, in which he records the legends and lore of the holidays marking the Roman calendar. In book two, Macrobius records some of the witty sayings of Augustus Caesar, and there reports:

“On hearing that the son of Herod, king of the Jews, had been slain when Herod ordered that all boys in Syria under the age of two be killed, Augustus said, ‘It’s better to be Herod’s pig than his son.’”[8]

The authenticity of Macrobius’ report is not disputed. However, it is sometimes read to include Antipater among those who perished in the Slaughter of the Innocents, which obviously would be incorrect. However, Macrobius may merely have intended to indicate that Antipater was executed at the same time the Slaughter of the Innocents was being carried out, not that he died with or among them. We need not enter into a discussion which is correct, for by either reading the death of Antipater and Slaughter of the Innocents were contemporaneous events. Thus, the timing of Antipater’s death allows us to establish the time of the Slaughter of the Innocents. Herod outlived the death of Antipater by only five days, dying shortly before Passover (April 8), 1 B.C. Hence, the Slaughter of Bethlehem’s innocents, like the death of  Antipater, would have been one of Herod’s last acts, the magi arriving a few weeks before this.

We know the magi arrived after the presentment of the Christ-child at the temple forty days following Jesus’ birth, but before Herod left Jerusalem and travelled to the mineral springs at Callirrhoe.  Therefore, assuming there was no extended period between the return to Nazareth and the arrival of the magi, and the arrival the magi and Herod’s departure from Jerusalem, we should be able to reckon backward from Passover following Herod’s death to his departure from Jerusalem, and from there to find the approximate time of the nativity. Here are the events recorded by Josephus following the eclipse of January 10th until Herod’s death just before Passover, 1 B.C., and the approximate time for their accomplishment as given by Andrew Steinmann (Novum Testamentum, Volume 51, Number 1, 2009 , pp. 1-29):[9]

Table 2, Chronology of Herod's Final Illness and Death 

Event

Days Elapsed

Total Minimum Days Elapsed 

Herod’s physicians tried many remedies

1 day minimum (more likely 2-3 weeks)

1 (more likely 14-21)

Travel from Jericho to Callirrhoe (about 50 miles)

3 days minimum

4

Treatment at Callirrhoe

1day minimum (more likely 1 week or more)

5 (more likely 11 or more)

Return to Jericho

5 day minimum

8

The Jewish elders throughout Herod’s realm are summoned

6 days minimum

14

Herod receives permission to execute Antipater and has him executed

1 day minimum

15

Herod’s death five days later

5 days

20

Funeral arrangments and funeral

5 days minimum

25

Seven days of mourning

7 days

32

Feast in Herod’s honor

1 day

33

Archelaus’ inintal governance

7 days

40

The Passover

1 day

41 (more likely 62)

Steinmann mistakenly has Herod depart from Jericho for Callirrhoe, when in fact it is clear that Herod was at Jerusalem when the rabbis’ were executed. Josephus expressingly states that Herod "sent the rabbis to Jericho" (Ant. 17.6.3), showing that he was not there, but was still at Jerusalem. The assumption Herod was at Jericho is based upon a misreading of Josephus where he says that, when the treatment at Callirrhoe failed, Herod returned to Jericho. But this merely refers to Herod’s passing through Jericho on the way to Callirrhoe, and does not indicate Herod originally set out from there.  A second mistake Steinmann makes is that he places Passover in 1 B.C. on April 11th, making ninety-one days between the eclipse of the evening January 9/10 and Passover that year, when in fact Passover was on April 8th in 1 B.C., making only eighty-eight days between the stated events. According to Finegan: "If the death of Herod was in 1 B.C...the relevant eclipse of the moon was a total eclipse on the night of Jan 9/10, and the full paschal moon of Nisan 14 was on Apr 8, twelve and a half weeks later."[10] April 11th was the date of Passover in 4 B.C., which Steinmann was arguing against; he thus appears to have carried it over to 1 B.C. from there.

Otherwise accepting Steinmann’s numbers as good approximations, let us say that forty-one days was the minimum period from the point where Herod’s illness worsened until Passover, but sixty-two days is more likely. Using this latter figure, then, we find that sixty-two days from Passover, April 8th, brings us to February 5th. This would be the point at which Herod's final illness worsened before departing Jerusalem for Callirrhoe. If we then reckon backward three days (the period needed for the holy family to travel from Jerusalem to Nazareth) we arrive at February 2nd, the traditional date of the Presentation of Christ at the temple. If we reckon backward forty-days more (the period of ritual impurity before the Presentation of Christ at the temple) we arrive exactly at December 25th.

It must be acknowledged that Steinmann's estimate of sixty-two days is fortunate: it brings us exactly to Dec. 25th with no gaps between the events associated with the birth of Christ and death of Herod. However, had Steinmann proposed another number, although the result would not have worked out as conveniently, it would hardly be fatal. Nothing requires that the events associated with the nativity be immediately adjacent to one another. In fact, nothing could be more natural and expected than for brief intervuls to come between them. By allowing a short time between the holy family's return home, the arrival of the magi, and the worsening of Herod's final illness the nativity will still fall on or near Dec. 25th even if we use the minimum number of days Steinmann proposed.

We are certain Steinmann did not intend this result or even realize the date of Christ’s birth was spread before him this way. By mistakenly placing Herod at Jeriocho when the rabbis were executed, Steinmann isolated Herod's final illness from the Nativity and the arrival of the magi, destroying the continuity of events. Moroever, Steinmann was concerned solely with the chronology of Herod’s reign, and therefore never considered the relationship between  the final illness and death of Herod and the date of Jesus’ birth. But there it is all the same. The traditional date of Christ’s nativity is fully authenticated quite unintentionally by this noted scholar.

3.     Estimates of Other Scholars

Steinmann is not the only writer to estimate the time needed to complete the events described by Josephus between the eclipse and Passover following Herod’s death. Barns, defending the view that Herod died in 4 B.C., thought the twenty-nine days between the eclipse of March 14, 4 B.C., until Passover, April 11th, that year was too short, and thus opted for the eclipse of September 15, 5 B.C. However, this creates far too much space (seven months) and, other than Bernegger, no one has followed him. Maier, on the other hand, rejecting Barns’ suggestion, felt that the twenty-nine days was adequate.

Martin, who argues for the 1 B.C. death of Herod, originally gave fifty-four days as necessary for the events, excluding the possibility of the eclipse March 14, 4 B.C. Martin later, expanded this to a minimum of ten weeks, though he preferred nearer to twelve. Martin based the longer periods upon the report of Josephus that Herod’s funeral procession marched eight furlongs (one Roman mile) to Herodium. Martin, following Whiston, interprets this as signifying that Herod’s procession began at Jericho and proceeded the whole distance to Herodium where Herod was interred (200 furlongs or 25 miles) in eight-furlong intervals, which would have required twenty-five days. However, this pace seems impossibly slow to have been maintained, especially in view of the fact that the whole army accompanied the bier, together with five hundred attendants bearing spices for embalming, plus the principal men of the country and the royal family. Steinmann believes the account of Herod’s funeral preparations is an exaggeration by Nicolas of Damascus, Herod’s friend and personal historian, whom Josephus consulted for his histories, and would allow no more than three days for the funeral preparations. If we consider that it would not take more than an hour to march, even slowly, one mile; that would mean the entourage would have sat idle for twenty-three hours every day for twenty-five days, which is more than reason can bear. The actual language of Josephus is “So they went eight furlongs to Herodium; for there, by his own command, he was to be buried.” [11] The better view therefore probably is that the entourage assembled eight furlongs from Herodium, where it then proceeded ceremoniously on foot to the final resting place of Herod. We will therefore assign seventy days to Martin, rather than the full twelve-weeks he prefers.

Finegan agrees that twenty-nine days is too short for the events described, but does not state the minimum he felt would be necessary. However, as he seems to suggest that the better part of the eighty-eight days were required, we will assign sixty-five days to Finegan. Excluding Barns who is virtually alone in placing the eclipse September 15, 5 B.C., we get the following results:[12]

Table 3. Estimated Days from Eclipse till Passover

Maier

29 days

Martin

70 days

Steinmann

62 days

Finegan

65 days

Total

226 days

Average

55.5 days

 

The average of fifty-five days suggests Steinmann’s estimate of sixty-two days is quite sound. The shortest (twenty-nine days) compresses the final illness of Herod into an implausibly narrow space, but does not otherwise affect the chronology of events. The magi would still arrive after the holy family returned to Nazareth but before Herod quit Jerusalem. The longest (seventy days) would bring us to January 29th, the point at which Herod’s final illness ostensibly grew worse. If we allow a week during which his physicians treated him before quitting Jerusalem for Callirrhoe, this would bring us to February 4th, two days after the presentment of the Christ-child at the temple and the Holy Family’s return home, again leaving our general chronology in tack. Thus, whether we adopt Steinmann’s or one of the others, the December 25th birth of Christ is amply capable of demonstration.

4.     No Gaps in the Chronology

The basic assumption underlying our chronology is that the events described were closely connected, so that by laying them end to end we can measure the span they bridge, reckoning backward from Passover, 1 B.C., to discover the time of Christ’s birth. There are two periods involved. The period from Herod’s quitting Jerusalem until his death and burial just before Passover 1 B.C. has been provided by Steinmann, whose results we have adopted. Similarly, Luke has told us the time involved between Christ’s birth and the return of the holy family to Nazareth. The only question is were they closely connected as we have assumed, or were there gaps between them undermining our chronology?

That there was no appreciable period between the arrival of the magi and Herod’s quitting Jerusalem seems clear enough. Matthew indicates that Herod settled upon the Slaughter of the Innocents as soon as he realized the magi were not going to return. Hence, the time between the arrival of the magi and Herod’s departure from Jerusalem and subsequent decision to slay Bethlehem’s babes cannot have been very great; just long enough to make apparent that the magi had returned home another way, perhaps a month or so at the most. This is the more apparent given that Herod had fallen into his final illness and was intent upon the succession of his throne, making the decision to order the Slaughter of the Innocents a thing to be settled upon without delay. The witness of Macrobius joining the Slaughter of the Innocents to the execution of Antipater is consistent with this conclusion. By providing a reference for the time of the massacre, we can estimate when the magi arrived, and find that it fits precisely within the window suggested, shortly before Herod’s departure from Jerusalem some forty to sixty days before his death, and that there is no gap in the sequence of events. Hence, the assumption of relative continuity in this case is quite sound.

That there was no significant gap between the return of the holy family to Nazareth and the arrival of the magi is slightly more problematic. The Slaughter of the Innocents stands in fixed relation to the magi’s arrival, so that the time between the two cannot have been very long. Further, knowing the magi arrived before Herod quit Jerusalem and that the Slaughter of the Innocents occurred at the time of Antipater’s execution provides reference points from which we can estimate their distance from one another and determine if there was a gap in the sequence. However, there is no fixed relation between the return to Nazareth and the magi’s arrival. How can we know many months did not elapse between them?

First, the natural reading of Matthew’s account places the magi at Jerusalem near the time of Christ’s birth. In fact, the force of Matthew narrative is such that many assume the magi arrived the very night of the nativity. This being the case, the introduction of any significant gap in between the nativity and the arrival of the magi would do violence to the natural force of the narrative. It is true that Luke provides facts, which Matthew omits. But far from warranting the assumption additional chronological gaps exist (an assumption there is no evidence to support), the better view is that Luke filled the only gap that existed. Matthew may have skipped from Christ’s birth to the arrival of the Magi, omitting Christ’s Presentment at the temple and the Holy Family’s return to Nazareth, because this would have been understood by his readers. It is generally believed that Matthew composed his gospel for the Jews, who would have been thoroughly familiar with the forty-day period of impurity following the birth of a male-child and the sacrifices required at their end. Thus, Matthew may have omitted reference to these as things so well-known as to be in no need of mention. The magi arriving so soon after Jesus’ birth (as Matthew clearly implies) and the specific mention of the family house (Matt. 2:11), Matthew’s original readers may have readily inferred that the period of purification was past and the family recently returned home. But as the matter may have stood in doubt with some, and especially for the benefit of the Gentiles who would have had little knowledge of the law, Luke spells this information out, providing the details Matthew omitted.

Second, the chronology of Jesus’ baptism and first disciples, which is discussed in the next section, confirms that Jesus’ thirtieth birthday occurred sometime in late fall to early winter 29 A.D., placing his Nativity in same time frame in 2 B.C. From there, we may measure the distance to the death of Herod shortly before Passover 1 B.C. and find that the events do not admit of a gap, and that no more than about three and a half months can have elapsed between them.

Table No. 4, Chronology of Christ’s Birth and Death of Herod the Great

Birth of Christ – Presentment at temple – Return to Nazareth .…………………..43 days

Arrival of Magi – Herod travels to Callirrhoe – Death – Passover………………..62 days

Total……….…………105 days

Passover (April 8) 1 B.C         >               105 days           >                Dec.25th, 2 B.C.

The continuity achieved by placing the Presentment of the Christ-child at the temple forty days after his birth, followed by the holy family’s return to Nazareth and the arrival of the magi, coupled with the chronology of Herod’s final illness and death just before Passover April 8, 1 B.C., allows us to place the Nativity in the final quarter of December, 2 B.C.  This result is corroborated by the baptism, wilderness temptation, and first disciples of Christ.

 

Luke’s Chronology and the Baptism of Christ

“Began to be about Thirty” 

The only explicit reference to Christ's age and hint to his date of birth is in the gospel of Luke.  Following Jesus’ baptism, Luke tells us “And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age” (Lk. 3:23).   This phrase is problematic.  Does Luke mean Jesus had just recently turned thirty, or that he shortly would turn thirty?  Much depends upon our answer, so let us take a moment to decide.  There are about 136 instances where the scriptures provide someone’s age (a word search produces 127 returns for “years old”, and 9 for “years of age”).  Surveying these, we find that the overwhelming majority of cases simply state the subject’s age, typically in the past tense, though sometimes in the historic present.  Another group of cases adds a descriptive phrase to the subject’s age:  “And when he was full forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brethren” (Acts 7:23). “For the man was above forty years old, on whom this miracle of healing was shewed” (Acts 4:22). These cases are particularly insightful when compared with Luke. 

  • “He was full forty years old”
  • “The man was above forty years old”
  • Jesus “began to be” thirty years old.

This comparison makes it rather clear that “began to be” is the equivalent of “almost.”  The like phrase occurs in Matthew where he says Mary Magdalene came to the sepulcher “in the end of the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week” (Matt. 28:1).  “Began to dawn” shows that the sun was not yet risen even though it had begun to grow light.  In Nehemiah, we read “when the gates of Jerusalem began to be dark before the Sabbath, I commanded that the gates should be shut” (Neh. 13:19). “Began to be dark” shows that it was not dark yet, even though the evening shadows had begun to grow long.  In the same way, in saying Jesus “began to be” thirty, Luke indicates Jesus was approaching his thirtieth birthday, but had not yet attained thirty years of age.  

This is further confirmed by the word “about” (“Jesus himself began to be about thirty”). The word “about” in Lk. 3:23 is from the Greek “hosei” and is defined by Strong’s (#5616) as “as if: - about, as (it had been, it were), like (as)”.  Hence, hosei describes something that is not, as if it were.  In fact, the root of this word (“hos” #5613) occurs in Rom. 4:17 in almost exactly these terms “God who quickeneth the dead and calleth those things which be not as though they were. If “about” (“hosei”) is used to call that “which is not as though it were,” then it follows that Jesus was not 30 years old when baptized.  And since a man is thirty years old the whole period between his thirtieth and thirty-first birthdays, it remains only to determine whether Jesus was more or less than thirty; viz., whether he was twenty-nine or thirty-one years old.  Here there can be no doubt. Luke’s use of “began to be about thirty” excludes the possibility the Lord was thirty-one, for one who is thirty-one has past his thirtieth year and is not about to begin it as Luke describes. 

15th of Tiberius, Christ’s Baptism, and Dec. 31st A.D. 29 

Luke says that Jesus was baptized in the 15th year of Tiberius (Lk. 3:1).  Roman emperors dated their reigns from Jan. 1-Dec. 31st following their accession (the "non-accession" method).  Augustus Caesar, who preceded Tiberius and was the reigning emperor when Jesus was born, died August 19, A.D. 14.  Thus, the 1st regnal year of Tiberius would have been the calendar year A.D. 15. Counting forward from here, the 15th year of Tiberius would have been Jan. 1-Dec. 31st, A.D. 29. 

The A.D. 29 baptism of Christ is corroborated by Daniel's seventy prophetic weeks where he states that the Messiah would appear 483 years ("seven weeks and three score and two weeks") from the commandment to restore and rebuild the gates and walls of Jerusalem (Dan. 9:25). Dating from the commandment of Artaxerxes given to Nehemiah in 454 B.C. (Neh. 1:1; 2:1), this would bring us to A.D. 29 (454 - 483 = 29 A.D.).  Christ’s baptism is the point at which Jesus was publicly declared to be the Messiah and his ministry is dated.  Thus, the testimony of Luke and Daniel agrees. 

When Luke states Jesus was 29 going on 30 the 15th of Tiberius that is the same as to say he was 29 going on 30 in A.D. 29. And since undoubtedly Luke's intention is to indicate Jesus turned 30 that very year, Dec. 31st becomes a boundary or terminus on one end, and Jesus' baptism a boundary or terminus on the other, with his birthday falling somewhere in between. Thus, if we can identify when Jesus was baptized, we can identify the weeks and months remaining to the year in which Jesus' birthday would have occurred, and where Dec. 25th stands in relation thereto.[13] The simplest way to identify when Jesus was baptized is to first determine the length of his ministry and then reckon backward from its end to its beginning, from Calvary to Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan by John. 

The Duration of Christ’s Ministry 

Scripture teaches that Jesus had a three-and-a-half-year ministry.  This is seen in Daniel’s seventy prophetic weeks, in which it is said that Messiah would “confirm the covenant with many for a week” (seven years) and in the “midst of the week” (three and a half years) would be "cut off," causing the sacrifice and oblation to cease (Dan. 9:27; cf. Isa. 53:8).  This is almost universally taken in reference to Jesus’ death upon the cross, three and a half years after his baptism. 

“On the ordinary Christian interpretation, this applies to the crucifixion of our Lord, which took place, according to the received calculation, during the fourth year after his baptism by John, and the consequent opening of his ministry.”[14]  

The 3 ½ yr. ministry of Christ is confirmed by the gospels, particularly the gospel of John, whose record of events and succession of annual feasts allows us to determine the duration of Jesus’ ministry:   

  • Jn. 2:13, 23 – John records a Passover shortly after the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry.  Passover was typically in April, though it could occur as early as March or as late as May.
  • Jn. 4:35 – Jesus commented that there were “yet four months, and then cometh harvest.”  Harvest occurred about 50 days following Passover, and was marked by the feast of Pentecost.  Since there were four months remaining until harvest, this would place Jesus’ comments in January or February.  Thus, between the first Passover (Jn. 2:13) and the time recorded here, almost one year has transpired.
  • Jn. 5:1 – John mentions another, unnamed feast.  Many believe this was Passover (the second), but the evidence is unclear.  In Jn. 6:4, another Passover is recorded, which was preceded by Jesus’ feeding the five thousand (Jn. 6:5-14).  Luke records the feeding of the five thousand in Lk. 9:10-17. Before this, Luke records an occasion where the disciples plucked ears of grain while passing through a field, placing this near harvest (Lk. 6:1).  However, this harvest was too early to be associated with the Passover preceded by the feeding of the five thousand, but too late to be associated with the Passover in Jn. 2:13. Thus, without identifying the feast in Jn. 5:1, we are able to determine that another year has passed.
  • Jn. 6:4 – A third Passover is mentioned.  Jesus’ ministry has thus covered the space of about two and a half years (three Passovers, plus the partial year prior to his first Passover).
  • Jn. 7:2 – John records the Feast of Tabernacles, which occurs in the fall.
  • Jn. 10:22 – John mentions Jesus’ presence at the Feast of Dedication commemorating the re-dedication of the altar by Judas Maccabaeus following its desecration by Antiochus Epiphanes (I Macc. 4:59).  He specifically mentions that it was winter.
  • Jn. 11:55 – The fourth, and final Passover.

Thus, Jesus’ ministry spanned four Passovers, plus the period from his baptism to the first Passover, for a total of three and a half years. [15]   Passover occurs the 14th day of Nisan at the full moon (Ex. 12:2-6, 18). Jesus died on the Preparation (Friday) before the Sabbath, the day following Passover, or Nisan 15, A.D. 33 (Mat. 27:62; Lk. 23:54).  He rose the third day, the morning of the first day of the week (Matt. 28:1; Mk. 16:1; Lk. 24:1).  Reckoning backward three and a half years from Nisan 15, A.D. 33, will thus bring us to the time of Christ’s baptism.  There are some issues with the Jewish calendar that we must take into account to identify the specific date (so far as this may be known), but without more, we can already place Jesus’ baptism in autumn A.D. 29 (four Passovers brings us to the spring of A.D. 30; the period between the first Passover and Christ’s baptism brings us to the preceding autumn).  Knowing, therefore, that Christ’s birthday occurred sometime between fall and the close of the year A.D. 29, the traditional, early winter birth becomes a distinct possibility.

Can we get more specific?  Indeed, we can.  We can narrow the window to within 53 days.  But to do this we must discuss the niceties of the Jewish calendar.    

 

Table No. 5, Ministry of Christ 

Baptism A.D. 29 – Passover A.D. 30

Yr. 1 – Passover A.D. 30-31

Yr. 2 – Passover A.D. 31-32

Yr. 3 – Passover A.D. 32-33

Total – 3 ½ yrs

 

  

The Jewish Calendar and Ministry of Christ 

If we were dealing with only the Julian or Gregorian calendar, identifying the specific date of Christ’s baptism would be relatively straightforward.  We could simply reckon backward from Jesus’ crucifixion 3 ½ years to the desired date.  This is possible because our calendar has a fixed number of weeks and months, which stand in fixed relation to our world and its astronomical phenomena.  The summer and winter solstices and the vernal and autumnal equinoxes occur at precisely the same point in our calendar each year (June 21/Dec. 21 and March 21/Sept. 21, respectively).  However, the Julian and Gregorian calendars are relatively new in terms of their universal use and acceptance. The Julian calendar dates from 45 B.C., the Gregorian from A.D. 1582.  (The Gregorian calendar reformed small errors in the Julian calendar by adjusting the method of intercalating leap years to keep it in closer synchronization with the solar year.) The Julian calendar, which was the civil calendar of the Romans, existed side by side with local calendars and methods of dating used by the various nations of the Roman Empire.    The chief difference between the Julian and other calendars used by ancient peoples is its complete break with the lunar month, establishing a fixed relation between civil dates and the annual course of the sun.   

In ancient times, most of the world used a moveable calendar, whose months tracked the cycles of the moon.  The Jews used a lunar calendar.  Months were determined by the new moon and hence lunar, but the beginning of the year was adjusted periodically to the vernal equinox and hence solar. The first month in the Jewish calendar was Nisan (or Abib), when Passover was celebrated. Passover occurs at evening, the 14th day of Nisan, at the first full moon on or after the vernal equinox. 

Most readers will have noticed that Passover and Easter occur at different times from year to year. The reason for this is that they are based upon lunar cycles, which occur at their own seasons without regard to the solar year.  The vernal equinox may occur 365 1/4 days apart from year to year, but the full moon occurs in 29 1/2 day cycles, independent of the course of the sun.  Depending upon where the moon is in its cycle when the vernal equinox occurs determines the period remaining until Passover and Easter. Because the phases of the moon are not synchronized with the astrological points of the year, all dates in the Jewish (lunar) calendar shift against the backdrop of the Gregorian (solar) calendar this way, so that from one year to another the correlation between their dates is never the same. 

The lunar year does not synchronize with the solar year because the lunar year is 11 days shorter than the solar year.  The lunar year is approximately 354 1/3 days; the solar year is 365 1/4.  This difference keeps the two systems forever out of sync and is why a luni-solar calendar historically created so many challenges for civilization (and why the Romans finally abandoned it).  Because it is 11 days shorter than the solar calendar, in the period of three years, the lunar year leaps ahead of the solar year about 33 days.  Hence, it was necessary to periodically bring the two systems back into synchronization, or feasts nominally set to occur in spring will soon occur in the dark of winter.  To accomplish this, the Jews and other ancient peoples alternated the length of their months between 29 and 30 days (6 x 29 + 6 x 30 = 354), and added a 13th month at regular intervals in a 19-year cycle.  This intercalation was originally determined by observation of astronomical and other phenomena, but eventually was reduced to mathematical formula.     

 

The Babylonians are credited as the first to discover a 19-year cycle and a fairly complete record of Babylonian intercalations exists from as early as 629 B.C.  However, the cycle settled into its classic form beginning about 432 B.C. by the discovery of the Greek mathematician, Meton of Athens.  Meton found that the time covered in 19 solar years was equal to 235 lunations, and that by adding seven months in 19 years the lunar and solar years could thus be reconciled.  Leap years are tabulated on the Metonic table, and occupy the years 3, 6, 8, 11, 14, 17, and 19 in the cycle. [15] It is known that the Jews also used a nineteen year cycle. However, whereas under the Metonic cycle the month intercalated was always 30 days, with the Jews the extra month might be either 29 or 30 days as to them seemed best.  Moreover, the Jewish cycle is so arranged that its first year answers to the ninth year in the Metonic cycle, with the result that one leap year out of seven in a 19-year cycle does not match.  The eighth year (a leap year) in the Jewish cycle falls on the sixteenth year (a regular year) in the Metonic (see illustration).

Since leap years were intercalated about once every three years, this means that in the course of Jesus’ three-and-half-year ministry at least one leap year of thirteen months would have occurred.   In fact, due to the differences we have been discussing, by the Metonic cycle there were two intercalary months, one in A.D. 30, and one in A.D. 32, but by the Jewish cycle there was only one, in A.D. 32.[16]    

All this to say, that the difference in length between lunar and solar years and the intercalation of an extra month in A.D. 32 prevents us from identifying the date of Christ’s baptism by simply reckoning backward from Christ’s crucifixion in Gregorian years.  The succession of feasts by which we track the length of Jesus' ministry in the gospels and Daniel's prophecy of Christ's crucifixion are based upon a lunar calendar and must be reckoned accordingly. 42 months (3 ½ yrs) in the Gregorian (solar) calendar equal 1277 days.  But 42 months on the Jewish (lunar) calendar equals 1240 days (20 months of 29 days, 22 months of 30 days). Thus there is a difference of 37 days between them.  Jesus was crucified on Good Friday, following Passover, on the 15th day of the Jewish month Nisan, A.D. 33.  3 ½ years backward from this date will bring us to Heshvan 15, A.D. 29.  Heshvan 15th in the Jewish calendar that year translates into Nov. 8th in our Roman calendar.  This then becomes the date of Jesus' baptism, Nov. 8th. [17]

 

 Table No. 6

 42 Lunar Months Comprising 3 1/2 years between Christ's

Baptism and Crucifixion 

Nisan 15, A.D. 33

(Crucifixion)

Adar,

Shevat,

Tebet,

Cesleu,

Heshvan,

Tishri,

Elul,

Ab,

Tammuz,

Sivan,

Jyar

 

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

Adar II, (leap year)

Adar,

Shevat,

Tebet,

Cesleu,

Heshvan,

Tishri,

Elul,

Ab,

Tammuz,

Sivan,

Jyar

 

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

Adar,

Shevat,

Tebet,

Cesleu,

Heshvan,

Tishri,

Elul,

Ab,

Tammuz,

Sivan,

Jyar 

 

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

Adar,

Shevat,

Tebet,

Cesleu,

Heshvan 15, A.D. 29 (42 months, Baptism of Christ)

 

A Nov. 8th baptism leaves only 53 days, or less than 15% of the calendar year remaining in which Jesus' birthday would have occurred. This proves that the Dec. 25th birth of Christ was fully and historically possible. 85% of the year was spent, 15% of the year remained, and both Jesus' birthday and Dec. 25th fell within the same narrow space. But we are not through, and can get closer still.

 

 Table No. 7

 Days Remaining to the Calendar Year A.D. 29 

Fall Baptism --------------- 53-Day Window ------------------Dec. 31st

30th Birthday Occurred within 53-day Window following Baptism

 

 

Jesus’ Forty-Day Fast and Wilderness Temptation 

Jesus was 29 years old when baptized Heshvan 15 (Nov. 8), A.D. 29.  He then undertook a forty-day fast (Lk. 4:2), after which he was tempted of the devil.  Following his temptation, Luke informs us that Jesus began active, pubic preaching (Lk. 4:14). The implication here is that Jesus’ fast and temptation were taken in preparation for his public ministry and timed to end on or about his 30th birthday, for Jewish men were required to be 30 years old before beginning active public teaching.  Forty days from Jesus’ Nov. 8th baptism, will bring us to Dec. 18th.  We are not told how long Jesus’ temptation following his fast lasted, but we are told that he hungered and was tempted to turn stones into bread, then was taken to a high mountain where he was tempted with the kingdoms of the world, then to Jerusalem where he was tempted to cast himself down from a pinnacle of the temple (Lk. 4:3-13). 

It seems improbable that these were supernatural events or transportations, which happened in an instant of time.  The better view is that they transpired over a period of several days, and that Jesus was in fact wrestling against the lusts of his flesh as we all do.  The flesh is the source of all human lust and temptation, and scripture affirms that Jesus was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin (Heb. 4:15; cf. Gal. 6:18-22; Jm.1:14-16).  Jesus' fast following his baptism ended Dec. 18th. If we therefore allow seven days in which these temptations were accomplished, that will bring us to Dec. 25th. 

There are 365 days in the year.  The chances are 365-to-one that Jesus' birthday should fall anywhere near Dec. 25th.  Yet, we find to the contrary that simple chronology places Jesus' birthday in the part of the year occupied by the one day historically associated with his birth, and this in the course of events whose narrative makes specific reference to his impending birthday. Surely, this is too great a coincidence to assign to chance.  If Luke had not mentioned Jesus’ birthday, perhaps the coincidence could be dismissed.  But Luke did mention Jesus’ impending birthday, and this makes the conclusion almost impossible to resist: Jesus’ fast and temptation were taken in preparation for his public ministry and calculated to end on or about his 30th birthday, which simple arithmetic places on or about Dec.25th.

 

 Three and a half years backward from Christ's crucifixion Nisan 15, A.D. 33, brings us to Heshvan (Nov. 8) 15, A.D. 29.  Jesus' fast and temptation ended Tebet 3 (Dec. 25th), forty-seven days later.

 The Baptism and First Disciples of Christ 

Other evidence showing Jesus' 30th birthday occurred in the closing days of A.D. 29 consists in Jesus making his first disciples.  It was a law and custom with the Jews that Jewish men must attain 30 years of age before beginning active, public teaching.  In fact, this is why Luke tells us Jesus was on the threshold of the 30th birthday when baptized; viz., he was about to turn 30 and so begin his public ministry.  Since Jesus would not have made disciples before he was 30, by determining when he did begin making disciples and teaching, we can determine when his 30th birthday would have occurred.

The synoptic gospels (Mathew, Mark, and Luke) tell us that, following his baptism, Jesus underwent a period of fasting and temptation in preparation for his ministry.  John tells us that, following this, Jesus returned to John the Baptist at Bethabara where he proceeded to make his first disciples.  John enumerates seven consecutive days, ending with the wedding at Cana. 

  • Christ baptized in the Jordan by John shortly before his 30th birthday.

 

Nov. 8th, A.D. 29

  • Jesus undertakes a forty-day wilderness fast in preparation for his ministry.

 

40 days

  • Jesus is tempted by the devil, being led to a high mountain, then to Jerusalem (Lk. 4:3-13; cf. Matt. 4:2).

 

-----

  • Jesus returns to Bethabara, where John was baptizing. 

 

-----

  • Jesus remains with John four days. The four days occur at Jn. 1:26, 29, 35, and 43. During these four days, Jesus made disciples of Andrew and Peter, Phillip and Bartholomew (Nathaniel).

 

4 days

  • The third day there is a wedding in Cana of Galilee (Jn. 2:1) where Jesus performed his first miracle (Jn. 2:1-11), commemorated by the Feast of Epiphany (Jan. 6th).

 

3 days/Jan 6

At the wedding in Cana, Jesus manifested his glory to his disciples by turning the water into wine. This first miracle is commemorated by the Feast of Epiphany. "Epiphany" means a "manifestation." Many are unsure what the Feast of Epiphany commemorates. Some suppose it commemorates Jesus' baptism, or his Nativity, or even the arrival of the magi.  But Ephiphanius tells us that it celebrates the miracle of Cana, and this fits the chronology where the others do not. The Feast of Ephiphany has been kept Jan. 6th from at least as early as the 3rd century A.D. If we count backward seven days from Jan. 6th, that will bring us to Dec. 31st. This then becomes the day Jesus returned to John at Bethabara - Dec. 31st, the same boundary or terminus as before and with the same result.  For if Jesus was making disciples the first three or four days of January, then his birthday almost certainly occurred sometime after his baptism, but before his return to John Dec. 31st.  Irenaeus makes this point very clear when he notes that Jesus would not have made actual disciples before he turned 30: 

“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).”[18] 

Disciples require a master, but a master must be 30 years old.  Andrew and Nathaniel called Jesus Rabbi, indicating he was recognized as being of age to be a master or teacher (Jn. 1:38, 49; cf. 3:2, Nicodemus). Therefore, although at his baptism Jesus was still only 29 years old, when he returned to Bethabara about 53 days later (Dec. 31st), he had turned 30, and thus began actively to teach and to make disciples.  Since his birthday occurred within the narrow period between his baptism and return to John at Bethabara, and since within that same narrow window the traditional date of Jesus' birth occurred, we have every reason to accept the received date as authentic, established by the voice of two witnesses as required by scripture. [19]

AD 70, the Course of Jehoiarib, and Nativity of John the Baptist 

Other evidence that may be offered in proof of Christ’s December 25th birth consists in the priestly courses.  David divided the priests into 24 courses, which served at appointed times in the temple (I Chrn. 24:7-18).  The two courses that concern us here are Jehoiarib, the first, and Abijah, the eighth.  Luke informs us that Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, was a member of the course of Abijah, and was burning incense in execution of his priestly office when Gabriel appeared and announced that his wife, Elizabeth, would conceive a son.  Based on statements in Luke, John was about six months older than our Lord (Lk. 1:36, 56).  If it can once be determined when Zechariah was serving, and therefore when John was conceived, it is thus possible to identify the approximate time of Christ’s birth 15 months later.    

To identify when Zechariah may have been serving requires that we first recreate the priestly courses; to do this we require a point of reference from which to begin.  Happily, history has not left us without a witness.  The Jerusalem Talmud records a saying of Rabbi Yose ben Halafta, which dates to about A.D. 150, or 80 years of the event, stating that the course of Jehoiarib was serving when the temple was destroyed in A.D. 70 by the Romans: 

“Whence do we know that the second Temple was also destroyed on the 9th of Ab? We have learned in a Boraitha: ‘A happy event is credited to the day on which another happy event happened, while a calamity is ascribed to the day when another calamity occurred;’ and it was said that when the first Temple was destroyed it was on the eve preceding the 9th of Ab, which was also the night at the close of the Sabbath and also the close of the Sabbatical year. The watch at the time was that of Jehoiarib, and the Levites were chanting in their proper places, at that moment reciting the passage [Psalms, xciv. 23]: ‘And he will bring back upon them their own injustice, and in their own wickedness will he destroy them’; and they did not have time to end the passage, which concludes, ‘yea, he will destroy them--the Lord our God,’ before the enemy entered and took possession of the Temple. This happened also at the destruction of the second Temple.”[20] 

That Jehoiarib is reputed to have been serving the 9th of Ab (August 4) when the temple was destroyed tells us the courses were not static and did not serve the same weeks and months year after year.  For Jehoiarib being first could not have served in Ab unless the rotation of courses somehow advanced in their ranks.[21]  However, while this tells us that the courses did advance, it does not tell us how they advanced.  Two basic models have emerged.  The continuous succession model supposes that each course followed its immediate predecessor through the 24 courses, at which point the first course began again, and so on ad infinitum. This model has been shown to conflict with basic facts in the gospel narratives, and therefore is not used here.[22]  The approach adopted here is that the priestly rotations were framed within a 24-year cycle, originally set in motion by Solomon and renewed by Ezra, which commenced the Sabbath on or next before Tishri 1 (I Kings 8:2; Ezra 7:1).[23] Each course served one week twice annually, plus such additional weeks necessary to fill out the year, coming in the evening of the Sabbath (Friday) and going out the evening of the Sabbath (Friday) following. Assuming each course advanced annually to the next station, the cycle of priestly ministration would be completed in 24 years, at which point it would begin anew.[24] 

Rabbinic tradition placing Jehoiarib on service when the temple was destroyed allows us to identify the station in the twenty-four year cycle.  From there we can find when the cycle began. Then, by reckoning backward in twenty-four year increments to the course preceding the conception of John the Baptist in 3 B.C., we can putatively identify the week and month Zechariah was serving. The number of steps from the first station of Jehoiarib’s second ministration (for the first does not reach so far) to the week of Ab 9 is twenty-one stations. Thus, A.D. 70 was the twenty-first year in the twenty-four year cycle. To return to the beginning of the cycle we subtract twenty years from A.D. 70, which brings us to A.D. 50. Subtracting twenty-four more years brings us to A.D. 26; this course would therefore have consisted of the years A.D. 26-49. Twenty-four more years brings us to A.D. 2; this course would have consisted of the years A.D. 2-25. 24 years more bring us to 23 B.C. (there was no year zero).  This course would have consisted of the years 23 B.C. to 1 A.D.

    Counting forward from 23 B.C. to 3 B.C. when John was conceived shows that the course of Abijah would have been serving at its twenty-first station when Gabriel appeared to Zechariah (23 B.C. to 3 B.C. = 21).  Assuming Zechariah’s course was in its second ministration, this would mean he was on duty the week of Elul 27-Tishri 4 (Sept. 5-11).  We do not know how long after Zechariah’s ministration his wife conceived.  Human fertility cycles run about 28 days, during which a woman is fertile only about 7.  If we allow that Elizabeth conceived the third week after Zechariah returned home, this would place conception in the week of Tishri 26-Heshvan 2 (Oct. 3-9). Normal human gestation is 38 weeks.   A 38-week gestation would place John's birth the week of Tammuz 20-26 (June 20-26), 2 B.C. Based on statements in Luke, John was six months older than our Lord (Lk. 1:36, 56).  Six months is 26 weeks.  Twenty-six weeks from John’s birth brings us to Tebet 26-Shebat 3, which answers to the week of December 21-27. 

Thus, assuming the model suggested herein is correct, rabbinic tradition regarding the priestly courses and destruction of Jerusalem corroborates the received date of Christ's birth.  (To consult tables of priestly courses, click here.)

Herod Captures Jerusalem

 

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. 

 



[1]Tertullian, Against Marcion, IV, xix; Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 3, p. 378; cf. Justin Martyr, Apology, 1, xxxiv, xlvi; Dialogue with Trypho, 78. See generally, Jack Finegan, Handbook of Biblical Chronology, Revised ed. (Hendrickson, 1998), pp. 302-306; F.W. Farrar, The Gospel According to St. Luke, (Cambridge, 1882), pp. 62-64. 

[2] Josephus, Antiquities, XVII, v.

[3] Josephus, Antiquities, XVII, vi, 1.

[4] Josephus, Antiquities, XVII, v-vi, 4.

[5] W. E. Filmer, The Chronology of the Reign of Herod the Great, JTS 17 (1966), pp. 283-298; Earnest L. Martin, The Birth of Christ Recalculated (Pasadena: Foundation for Biblical Research, 1978); idem The Nativity and Herod’s Death, CKC 85-92; idem, The Star that Astonished the World (2nd ed.; Portland: ASK Publications, 1996); Jack Finegan, Handbook of Biblical Chronology (Revised ed.;  Hendrickson, 1998); Andrew E. Steinmann, When Did Herod the Great Reign?, Novum Testamentum 51 (2009), pp. 1-29.

[6] Josephus, Antiquities, XVII, vi, 5.

[7] Steinmann is mistaken here, in that he has Herod already at Jericho when the rabbis are executed and leaves from there for the mineral springs at Callirrhoe; but Josephus is clear that Herod sent the rabbis to Jericho for execution, showing Herod himself was not there. ("And when the king had ordered them to be bound, he sent them to Jericho, and called togther the principal men among the Jews" (Ant. 17.6.3). The better view therefore is that magi found Herod at Jerusalem shortly after the rabbis’ execution; Herod then left for Callirrhoe soon thereafter. Steinmann, When Did Herod the Great Reign?, p. 13. For a copy of Steimann’s piece, go to http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/brill/not/2009/00000051/00000001/art00001

[8] Macrobius, Saturnalia, II, 11; Loeb ed.

[9] Steinmann, When Did Herod the Great Reign?, pp. 15, 16.

[10] Finegan, Handbook of Biblical Chronology (1998 ed., Hendrickson), p. 299 § 514.

[11] Josephus, Antiquities, 17.8.3

[12] Timothy D. Barns, The Date of Herod’s Death, JTS 19 (1968): 204-209; Ernest L. Martin, The Birth of Christ Recalculated (Pasadena, Foundation for Biblical Research, 1978): chapter 13; The Nativity and Herod’s Death, CKC 85-92); The Star That Astonished the World (2d ed.; Portland, ASK Publications, 1996); P. M. Bernegger, Affirmation of Herod’s Death, JTS 34 (1983): 526-531; Paul L. Maier, The Date of the Nativity and the Chronology of Jesus’ Life, CKC 113-130; Jack Finegan, Handbook of Biblical Chronology, (1998 ed., Hendrickson) p. 300 § 515

[13] Assertions Jesus was born as early as 6 B.C. based upon Herod's asserted death in 4 B.C. contradict scripture and are wrong.  This dating was based upon a lunar eclipse reported by Josephus near the time of Herod’s death (Antiquities, XVII, vi, 4).  Since there was an eclipse March 13, 4 B.C., it has been assumed that this identifies the year Herod died.  However, modern scholarship has reopened this question, showing that a 4 B.C. death of Herod cannot be reconciled with the chronological facts in our possession, and that the Jan. 10, 1 B.C., eclipse alone is consistent with the evidence.  (See W. E. Filmer, the Chronology of Herod’s Reign, and The Date of Christ’s Birth Corrected.)  A 2 B.C. birth and the fact Jesus was not yet 30 yrs. old at the time of his autumn baptism A.D. 29 also obviates the possibility of a Jan. 6th birthday as held by the early Eastern Church.  Finegan, § 473, p. 278.  

[14] J. E. H. Thomson, Daniel – The Pulpit Commentary (Hendrickson, Peabody, MA), p. 275.  

[15] This conclusion is joined by Eusebius who, based upon Josephus, confirms that Christ's ministry was confined within the space of four years, bounded by the high priesthoods of Ananus and Caiaphas. Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, Bk. X. 

[16] “There is much to make it look as if, in general, the Babylonian system came to prevail relatively early, but with some variations in Jewish practice from the Babyonian…Therefore, in spite of the fact that the Jewish system used only added Adars, the result was the same as in the Babylonian system and seven months were intercalated in nineteen years.”  Finegan, pp. 35-39, §§ 71-80.  Of course, the 19-year cycles merely accomplish mathematically what can otherwise be determined by observation; the regular accumulation of extra days due to the difference in the lunar and solar year mean that approximately every third year an extra month would have been added in any event.  Thus, provided the same starting point is used, the placement of leap years will be the same whether mathematical tables are used or not.    

[17] 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.  

[18] See the date converter at http://roarbush.com/jewcal/calsec10.htm  where Nov. 8, will return Thursday, Chesvan 15, A.D. 29. Our charts of the priestly courses place Heshvan 15, A.D. 29, on a Wednesday. The Nov. 8th, A.D. 29 baptism of Christ is confirmed by Epiphanius. See footnote 18, below.

[18] Irenaeus, Contra Haeresies, II, 4, 5; Anti-Nicene Fathers, Vol. I, p. 391 

[19] This chronology is confirmed by Epiphanius, Bishop of Salamis on the island of Cyprus. Epiphanius originally supposed Epiphany celebrated both the Nativity and miracle at Cana, but later changed his mind and agreed that Dec. 25th was the correct date of the Nativity, placing the baptism of Christ on Nov. 8th, and assigning Jan. 6 to the miracle at the wedding in Cana: “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). 

[21] Seder ‘Olam Rabbah (30.86-97).  Rabbi Yose ben Halafta is confirmed in part by Josephus, who says that the first and second temples were destroyed upon the same day 556 years apart. Wars VI, iv, 1, 5.  

[22] That the courses were not static but advanced is confirmed by the saying of Rabbi Abbahu (AD 300) in Jerusalem Talmud y. Sukka 5.7-8.  Finegan, 133, §242.  

[23] According to this model, the courses may be extrapolated backward in continuous succession from the 9th of Ab, A.D. 70, to the relevant year to determine where any particular course would have been serving.  To do this, we multiply 365.25 days by the number of years covered, divide this by seven to obtain the number of weeks, and then divide this number by 24 to obtain the number of courses fulfilled in the period.  In the present case, there were 72 years between the fall of Jerusalem Ab 9, A.D. 70 and Ab 9, 3 B.C., the year John would have been conceived.  This equals 156 complete cycles of priestly courses, plus 13 additional weeks (365.25 x 72 = 26,298 ÷ 7 = 3,756.857 ÷ 24 = 156.53. 0.53 x 24 = 12.72).  We have been working backward.  To arrive at the beginning of the 156th cycle, we count forward 13 steps to the last week of October.  This is the point where Jehoiarib would have been serving.  Abijah is the eighth course, which would place it on duty eight weeks later in the middle of December 3 B.C.  The birth of Christ 15 months later would thus occur in mid-March, 1 B.C.  This is too late, for we have already seen from Luke that Jesus’ was born in 2 B.C.  The courses served twice annually. Abijah would also have been on duty 24 weeks earlier, the first week of July.  What is the result in this case?  15 months from this point would place Jesus’ birth at the end of September 2 B.C.  This will not do either, for Luke tells us that Jesus’ was not yet 30 when he was baptized in November A.D. 29, which would have been the case had he been born in September. Thus, the continuous succession model cannot be reconciled with the facts in our possession.  See also Seldon, Theanthropos, pp. 72-74.  

[24] Tishri (October) is the Jewish New Year for accession of kings, rotation of priests, and all things except the cycle of feasts, which took their start with Passover in the spring. Other sources (rabbinic, Qumran) show that the priestly courses took Tishri 1 as their regular beginning point, which would have no meaning under the continuous succession model.  For the rotations once set in motion, Tishri 1 could have no further significance to their progression. It is only under a system where the courses were static or advanced as herein proposed that recurring reference to Tishri 1 can have any meaning.  Finegan, p. 134, §§243, 246.  

[25] Since there are 24 courses, if they served twice annually, this will fill up 48 weeks, leaving just less than 3 weeks remaining in the normal lunar year, but 8 weeks in a leap year.  The approach taken in our tables of priestly courses is that the extra weeks in normal years were filled by the courses next in order (Jehoiarib, Jedaiah, and Harim), after which the cycle advanced anew, so that in effect, the first three courses served three times annually.  However, for all anybody knows, these extra weeks may have been filled by lot.  The assumption with leap years is that the courses whose lot it was to be on duty in Adar each served an extra week during the intercalated month of Adar II to allow for the unbroken progression of the courses.  That a course served extra weeks does not mean that the same men served, however, only that their course provided the extra men necessary to fill out the weeks.  

[26] Hippolytus, Commentaire sur Daniel (trans. Maurice Lefevre; SC 14; Paris: Cerf, 1947; trans Beckwith, RQ9 (1977): 74.  For an account of the manuscript authority for Hippolytus’ commentary, see the comments here.

 

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