Was Jesus born on December 25th, 0 A.D.?

Question: Was Jesus born in the year 0 A.D.?
Reply: Our secular calendar has a long history. Originally the first month was March, so that the seventh month was September (septem = 7), and the 10th was December (decem = 10).
"The opening of the year was moved from 1 March to 1 January, probably in 153 B.C" (J.B. Segal, The Hebrew Passover, London: Oxford UP, 1963, p. 121).
Of course, it wasn't "B.C." back then, it was "AUC" - "years from the founding of the city of Rome." It stayed "AUC" until the Western Roman Empire was overthrown. So Pope John I asked a monk named Dionysius Exiguus to figure out how many years it had been since the birth of Jesus. He said 531 years, so the Pope announced that the next year would be called 532 A.D. (Anno Domini = Year of the Lord). It is now generally thought that Jesus was born 4 B.C. So B.C. now stands for "Before the Christian Era = B.C.E.", not "Before the birth of Christ". There was no year zero, so we count the years as 4 B.C., 3 B.C., 2 B.C., 1 B.C., 1 A.D., 2 A.D..... This is the year 2001 A.D., so it is 2004 years since the birth of Jesus. There was another little miscalculation which meant that each year was a bit too long. A change of a few days was initiated by Pope Gregory XIII in the 1500s. The standard secular calendar is now the Gregorian calendar. About 7,000 A.D. our calendar will be 1 day incorrect and will need further correction.

"The practice of celebrating Christmas on the 25th December began in the Western Church early in the 4th century, [probably 336 A.D.]; it was a Christian substitute for the pagan festival held on that date to celebrate the birth of the unconquered sun (sol invicta). Many Christmas customs are of non-Christian origin; for example Christmas trees, holly and mistletoe decorations are of north European pagan origin" [Dictionary of Beliefs and Religion, p. 105] ... Jeremiah 10:1-5

"The largest pagan religious cult which fostered the celebration of December 25th as a holiday throughout the Roman and Greek worlds was the pagan sun worship - Mithraism... This winter festival was called the Nativity of the Sun" [James Frazer: The Golden Bough]

The birth of the sun was widely celebrated with feasting in the Saturnalia festival held just before December 25th - the time of the winter solstice when the sun began to ascend from its lowest point in the heavens.

"The Deus Sol Invictus "God, the Unconquerable Sun" cult has an eastern, Syrian origin; and it was centred on the winter solstice. It was first imported to Rome in 219 A.D. By 274 A.D., it was proclaimed the dominant religion of the Roman state by the emperor Aurelian. It was during the reign of Constantine the Great (306-337 A.D.) that the cult of Deus Sol Invictus reached extraordinary heights, so that Constantine's reign was even spoken of as the Sun Emperorship. The heart of the cult centered on the celebration of the Dies Natali Invicti on December 25, and it was this date on which Constantine subsequently based the date of Christmas. Constantine established the date of Christ's birth as falling on December 25 - thus simultaneously incorporating the Saturnalia, "the merriest festival of the year" (Cattalus), the official Julian calendar date for the solstice, and the symbolism of Mithra's birth [from the cosmic egg on the winter solstice] into Christianity."
Kate Prendergast, "The Merriest Days of the Year: Unearthing the Pagan Origins of Christmas", Science & Spirit, January 2000, p. 20-21.

December 25th, Evergreen Trees and Mithras

"The largest pagan religious cult which fostered the celebration of December 25th as a holiday throughout the Roman and Greek worlds was the pagan sun worship - Mithraism... This winter festival was called the Nativity of the Sun" [James Frazer: The Golden Bough]. Mithras was sometimes called the "Unconquerable Sun" deus Sol Invictus

"December 25th was Mithras's particular festival, when the advent of the new light and the god's birth were celebrated. This birth was in the nature of a miracle, the young Mithras being forced out of a rock as if by some hidden magic power. He is shown naked save for the Phrygian cap, holding dagger and torch in his uplifted hands. He is the new begetter of light (genitor luminis), born from the rock (deus genitor rupe natus), from a rock which gives birth (petra genetrix). Even at this stage he is equipped for his future feats with bow and arrow, ready to perform the miracle of the striking of the rock with an arrow and causing water to flow, or the miracle of the hunting and slaying of the bull."
from "Mithras the Secret God" by M. J. Vermaseren, Barnes & Noble, New York, 1963. p. 75

The worship of Mithras, Mithraism, started in India about 600 B.C., spread to Persia (Iran), and then to Asia Minor. In 200 A.D., it was popular among the Roman soldiers in Germany who were recruited from Asia Minor (Turkey). Mithras is pictured in an evergreen tree. The modern "Christmas tree" originated in Germany and may trace back to the Mithras tree.

Pictures from Vermaseren (1963)
Click on the pictures to see them enlarged

Mithras newly born from a rock with attending shepherd.

Newly born Mithras holding a globe and touching the circle of the stars (zodiac).

Mithras in an evergreen tree.

Mithras, the unconquerable sun, and his two torch-bearers, Cautes, sunrise, and Cautopates, sunset, in a 3-branch pine tree form a Mithraic "Trinity"

Biblical References

What about the "Shepherds abiding in the fields"?

Were shepherds in fields (Luke 2:8) near Bethlehem in December?
Luke 2:8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

It is likely that the climate in Judea then was colder then than now. In recent years there have been photographs of Israelis sun-bathing on December 25th!

According to the Talmud:
i)Shepherds brought sheep in "from the wilderness" for winter.
ii)But shepherds supervised the birth of the lambs in the Temple-owned fields [situated between Jerusalem and Bethlehem] in February.

Luke 2:8-14. The Angelic Proclamation to the Shepherds.
It was in these pastures that David spent his youth and fought the lion and the bear (1 Sam. xvii. 34, 35). A passage in the Mishnah (Shek. vii. 4; comp. Baba K. vii. 7, 80 a) leads to the conclusion that the flocks which pastured there were destined for Temple-sacrifices, and accordingly, that the shepherds who watched over them were not ordinary shepherds. The latter were under the ban of Rabbinism on account of their necessary isolation from religious ordinances and their manner of life, which rendered strict religious observance unlikely, if not absolutely impossible. The same Mischnic passage also leads us to infer that these flocks lay out all the year round [their italics], since they are spoken of as in the fields thirty days before the Passover - that is, in the month of February, when in Palestine the average rainfall is nearly greatest. (Edersheim. Life and Times. i. pp. 186, 187).

v. 8. This statement is by no means conclusive against December as the time of the year. The season may have been a mild one; it is not certain that all sheep were brought under cover at night during the winter months.

It is of the flocks in the wilderness, far from towns or villages, that the often quoted saying was true, that they were taken out in March and brought home in November. These shepherds may have returned from the wilderness, and if so, the time would be between November and March.

From "International Critical Commentary", 1922, "Luke"

"The midst of the week"
Daniel 9:27 And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate.
This scripture is used to support a 32 year ministry (ending in the Spring and so starting in the Fall). Amazingly, the New Testament does not cite this prophecy despite the obvious interest of many authors (particularly Matthew) in finding OT prophecies that Jesus fulfilled. It seems that the early Christians did not perceive Jesus to be referred to in this prophecy. It is more likely they interpreted it literally as referring to the Temple. The "32 year" fulfillment is first mentioned 200 years after the time of Christ.

"Course of Abijah."
Luke 1:5 There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judaea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth.
There is still no precise information about when the priestly families served in the Temple. Such information as we have is hard to reconcile. Jewish tradition is that the first cycle (Jehoiarib) began on the weekly Sabbath on or immediately preceding Tishri 1 (Feast of Trumpets). Each order of priests would serve for one week and then be replaced by the next order. The priests themselves were two weeks at the Temple each time: one week of preparation, one week of service. Most orders of priests served in the Temple twice in the year, but some three times. This was because there are 24 cycles of priests, but the number of weeks per Temple year could vary from perhaps as low as 48 up to 53 or more, depending on harvest conditions, availability of Passover lambs, and other considerations. The Mishna (b. Ta'an 29a) states that Jehoiarib was on duty when the Temple was destroyed (9-10 Ab, about August 9-10, 70 A.D.), which indicates that months had been intercalated to make the year longer, probably due to the war. Some computations based on the priestly cycle place Jesus's birth around November or May.
The earliest recorded claim for the date of Jesus's birth is November 18 (Clement of Alexandria, Stromateis, ca. 194 A.D.)

The order of the Priests
1 Chronicles 24:7-19 Jehoiarib, Jedaiah, Harim, Seorim, Malchijah, Mijamin, Hakkoz, the eighth to Abijah, Jeshuah, Shecaniah, Eliashib, Jakim, Huppah, Jeshebeab, Bilgah, Immer, Hezir, Aphses, Pethahiah, Jehezekel, Jachin, Gamul, Delaiah, the four and twentieth to Maaziah. {19} These were the orderings of them in their service to come into the house of the LORD, according to their manner, under Aaron their father, as the LORD God of Israel had commanded him.

"About thirty years of age."
Luke 3:23 And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, which was the son of Heli,
The Greek term for "about" would be valid if Jesus were any age in the range 26 to 34. This scripture does not support any particular month.

"The Magi's Star"
Matthew 2:2 Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.
The nature of the "star" is much in dispute. Based on conjunctions of planets, some astronomers propose November dates.

"The Taxation"
Luke 2:1 And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. {2} (And this taxing was [the] first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) {3} And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. {4} And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)
The "taxation" was actually a Census. Those to be "taxed" were given about a year to register. It is unlikely that those to be taxed would travel in the rainy season or in winter.

One collection of papers illustrating the complexity of dating the Nativity is "Chronos, Kairos, Christos", J Vardaman & E Yamauchi (Eds), Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1989.

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