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Date of Yeshua's birth
scholar - 24-12-2017 at 03:13

In my preparation for the two Christmas services in which I will preach, I ran across some material about the date of Jesus' birth.

One author thought that he knew the dates during which Zachariah's course of priests would serve each year (he who was to be John the Baptizer's father). He figured that John would have been conceived just after the week during which Zachariah served, when Zachariah had enough time to return home. Since Mary was told Elizabeth was 6 months along when the angel announced Mary would bear the Savior, this author came up with a date in September.

I checked this against one of the greatest Christian authorities on the Judean religion, history, practices, and writing, Dr. Alfred Edersheim, author of The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. I have enlarged the main text so as to distinguish it from the footnotes.

Quote:
But as we pass from the sacred gloom of the cave out into the night, its sky all aglow with starry brightness, its loneliness is peopled, and its silence made vocal from heaven. There is nothing now to conceal, but much to reveal, though the manner of it would seem strangely incongruous to Jewish thinking. And yet Jewish tradition may here prove both illustrative and helpful. That the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem,18 was a settled conviction. Equally so was the belief, that He was to be revealed from Migdal Eder, 'the tower of the flock.'19 This Migdal Eder was not the watchtower for the ordinary flocks which pastured on the barren sheepground beyond Bethlehem, but lay close to the town, on the road to Jerusalem. A passage in the Mishnah20 leads to the conclusion, that the flocks, which pastured there, were destined for Temple-sacrifices,21 and, accordingly, that the shepherds, who watched over them, were not ordinary shepherds. The latter were under the ban of Rabbinism,22 on account of their necessary isolation from religious ordinances, and their manner of life, which rendered strict legal observance unlikely, if not absolutely impossible. The same Mishnic passage also leads us to infer, that these flocks lay out all the year round, 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.23 Thus, Jewish tradition in some dim manner apprehended the first revelation of the Messiah from that Migdal Eder, where shepherds watched the Temple-flocks all the year round. Of the deep symbolic significance of such a coincidence, it is needless to speak.

18. In the curious story of His birth, related in the Jer. Talmud (Ber. ii. 3), He is said to have been born in 'the royal castle of Bethlehem;' while in the parallel narrative in the Midr. on Lament. i. 16, ed. W. p. 64 b) the somewhat mysterious expression is used )br( trybb. But we must keep in view the Rabbinic statement that, even if a castle falls down, it is still called a castle (Yalkut, vol. ii. p. 60 b).

19. Targum Pseudo-Jon. On Gen. xxxv. 21. 20. Shek. vii. 4.

21. In fact the Mishnah (Baba K. vii. 7) expressly forbids the keeping of flocks throughout the land of Israel, except in the wilderness - and the only flocks otherwise kept, would be those for the Temple-services (Baba K. 80 a).

22. This disposes of an inapt quotation (from Delitzsch) by Dr. Geikie. No one could imagine, that the Talmudic passages in question could apply to such shepherds as these.

23. The mean of 22 seasons in Jerusalem amounted to 4.718 inches in December, 5.479 in January, and 5.207 in February (see a very interesting paper by Dr. Chaplin in Quart. Stat. of Pal. Explor. Fund, January, 1883). For 1876-77 we have these startling figures: mean for December, .490; for January, 1.595; for February, 8.750 - and, similarly, in other years. And so we read: 'Good the year in which Tebheth (December) is without rain' (Taan. 6 b). Those who have copied Lightfoot's quotations about the flocks not lying out during the winter months ought, at least, to have known that the reference in the Talmudic passages is expressly to the flocks which pastured in 'the wilderness' (wl) twyrbdm Nh). But even so, the statement, as so many others of the kind, is not accurate. For, in the Talmud two opinions are expressed. According to one, the 'Midbariyoth,' or 'animals of the wilderness,' are those which go to the open at the Passovertime, and return at the first rains (about November); while, on the other hand, Rabbi maintains, and, as it seems, more authoritatively, that the wilderness-flocks remain in the open alike in the hottest days and in the rainy season - i.e. all the year round (Bezah 40 a). Comp. also Tosephta Bezah iv. 6. A somewhat different explanation is given in Jer. Bezah 63 b.

It was, then, on that 'wintry night' of the 25th of December,24 that shepherds watched the flocks destined for sacrificial services, in the very place consecrated by tradition as that where the Messiah was to be first revealed. Of a sudden came the long-delayed, unthought-of announcement. Heaven and earth seemed to mingle, as suddenly an Angel stood before their dazzled eyes, while the outstreaming glory of the Lord seemed to enwrap them, as in a mantle of light.25 Surprise, awe, fear would be hushed into calm and expectancy, as from the Angel they heard, that what they saw boded not judgment, but ushered in to waiting Israel the great joy of those good tidings which he brought: that the long-promised Saviour, Messiah, Lord, was born in the City of David, and that they themselves might go and see, and recognize Him by the humbleness of the circumstances surrounding His Nativity.
24. There is no adequate reason for questioning the historical accuracy of this date. The objections generally made rest on grounds, which seem to me historically untenable. The subject has been fully discussed in an article by Cassel in Herzog's Real. Ency. xvii. pp. 588-594. But a curious piece of evidence comes to us from a Jewish source. In the addition to the Megillath Taanith (ed. Warsh. p. 20 a), the 9th Tebheth is marked as a fast day, and it is added, that the reason for this is not stated. Now, Jewish chronologists have fixed on that day as that of Christ's birth, and it is remarkable that, between the years 500 and 816 a.d. the 25th of December fell no less than twelve times on the 9th Tebheth. If the 9th Tebheth, or 25th December, was regarded as the birthday of Christ, we can understand the concealment about it. Comp. Zunz, Ritus d. Synag. Gottesd. p. 126.


To summarize: this expert on the history of the Jewish people in the Biblical era finds the December 25 date to be convincingly supported, and it entirely fits the fact that the shepherds whose flocks were designated for Temple sacrifice would be raising their sheep in Bethlehem in December.

And, did you catch the note, that this date later coincided with a fast day for which there was no acknowledged reason among the rabbis?


LSemmens - 24-12-2017 at 04:41

It is an interesting concept. Certainly worthy of more study.


Katzy - 24-12-2017 at 11:25

It's been postulated that Dec. 25th. was used, deliberately, so that it could be used to interfere with the summer solstice celebrations and kinda subsume them.

We all know that Dec. 25th. as a date, didn't even exist, then. Nor was Christ born in the year where 1BC ends and 1AD starts.

The thing that gets me, is that the people who celebrate Christmas, most vehemently, are atheists...


John_Little - 24-12-2017 at 11:36

Here! I resemble that remark!


marymary100 - 24-12-2017 at 11:43

We all know that some people are so heavily invested in a religion that they take extraordinary amounts of time and research to try and make every part of it fit, even when it beggars belief. The census story in Luke for example is at odds with the reign of Herod and the actual census of Quirinius.

Just because your birthday is on the 25th of December scholar, doesn't mean that Christ's was.


scholar - 25-12-2017 at 02:32

Quote:
Originally posted by Katzy
We all know that Dec. 25th. as a date, didn't even exist, then.

Your meaning isn't clear to me (unless, you are simply mistaken).

The month of December had the same number of days as we now use, 31, and was much like the modern calendar used in the Western world since Julius Caesar reformed the calendar (since then, there has been the Gregorian Calendar reform, which adjusted for the accumulated shift from the starting point with respect to the sun/earth position, and you occasionally hear in modern times that scientists have agreed to add some seconds in some years to keep such variances from accumulating again). The typical Roman did not refer to the days in a straight-line count from the first day of the month to the last one, but such dating is certainly workable and accurate, just as a person can refer to the same watch time as "a quarter to 2" or "one forty-five."

Historical documents indicate that the 25th day of December was known among the Roman Christians as the actual date of Jesus' birth, and they advocated that it be universally recognized as such because, according to their information, it was so. Rome was, after all, both the record-keeping hub of the Roman Empire, and also one of the great early centers of Christianity after it spread, with apostolic contact and influence. They felt bound to commemorate Jesus' birth on the same day of the year that it happened.

Was the day adopted by Christians to sort of appropriate a pagan holiday? No, their attitude was the opposite. Early Christian preaching bemoans the fact that a pagan holiday season led to confusion of the Christian Holy Day, and practices associated with paganism. But, they had no liberty to change the date to another season because the Lord was born a human being on that day, none other.

Is it possible they were mistaken? Well, since some Christians in other locations, centuries after His birth, were celebrating a different day, somebody either picked the wrong day or there was some mistake in information that was passed down. But, it is not like two versions of a novel (like the American editions of Harry Potter, worded differently from the British). Jesus was born, and it happened in our world, at one particular place and on one particular day. December 25 has the strongest historical testimonies in its support. But, the Biblical record does indicate a relationship between the service of one priest of Abia and the conception of John, and then later of Jesus. If the dates of service were really known [thus far, I'm not convinced that is solid scholarship. For one thing, two sources that advocate that framework disagree with each other on details. I want to see the source notes and sources] then it should be possible to estimate when Jesus was born. However, one wouldn't be able to know the exact date, because the Bible doesn't say exactly how much time elapsed before John was conceived, or how long Elizabeth carried him, or how long Mary carried Jesus.


LSemmens - 25-12-2017 at 10:02

Regardless of if the date were accurate or not, let us remember, the Gregorian calendar that we now us WAS NOT in existence back then. That did not come into existence until 1582. The Julian Calendar, although in existence from about 45 BC, was not referred to in the Bible, so there is really nothing to indicate the exact date of Jesus Birth. Regardless of what date he was born, we have come to celebrate it on he 25th day of December. What is so wrong with that?


scholar - 25-12-2017 at 19:23

Quote:
Originally posted by LSemmens
remember, the Gregorian calendar that we now us WAS NOT in existence back then. That did not come into existence until 1582. The Julian Calendar, although in existence from about 45 BC, was not referred to in the Bible

When you say "the Gregorian calendar was not in existence," it's not obvious to me if you understand what was involved in dating historical events with respect to the calendars.

The one-year calendar, as you know it in our lifetimes, is identical between the two systems; it's not like the difference between the former Roman Calendar and the Julian Calendar, which had different months and different numbers of days in months. The Julian Calendar year and the Gregorian Calendar year each have the same months, and the corresponding number of days in each month when not a leap year.

The Gregorian Calendar reform has to do with the fact that the solar year does not have exactly 365 1/4 days, down to the minute. The Julian Calendar had 365 days for years not divisible by 4, and added one day in each year divisible by 4 (so as to adjust for 4 years of about 1/4 of a day = one day).

Since the solar year is close to 365 1/4 days, the Julian Calendar was fairly close to the solar calendar, and over dozens of years, there was not enough difference to cause any practical problem. But, as the Julian Calendar got to the point of centuries of use, the small variance of each year accumulated to several days of seasonal position difference from the early days of the Julian Calendar. The dates of the equinoxes, for example, were something like 10 days different than they had been.

The Gregorian Calendar realigned the dates, and the rules were changed to keep the dates lined up better, that the same accumulation of error would not repeat.

So, the widely-used calendar had the month of December as the last of twelve months, and it had 31 days which could be counted from the beginning of the month. It was in use for decades before Jesus was born. There was no doubt as to what the date was on any particular day in Bethlehem or Jerusalem or Rome in that era. If something happened on December 25, anyone could note the date and there would be no disagreement or misunderstanding.

Now, the enumeration of the years was a different issue. Romans counted the years from when they thought a particular event happened in their own history. Christians later counted the year according to how many years one of them thought had elapsed from Jesus' birth (and made a error when he did so). Best evidence is that it actually happened in 5 B.C.

But, again, the consensus historical testimony to the month and the day, based on knowledge recorded in Rome, was December 25. They pressed to commemorate the birth of Jesus on that day because that's when they held it happened.


marymary100 - 25-12-2017 at 20:24

But, it's all just conjecture scholar and you know that. The theories around the 3rd Century contained such nonsense as prophets being conceived and dying on the same date and them having a finite time on Earth. They also thought that Jesus was a symbol of new beginnings and therefore had to have been conceived at the time of Spring and moreover his death at Passover pointed to a December 25th birth. Doesn't that sound convoluted, even to you?

There is no date in the bible of his birth. The nativity is not recounted in all gospels.

Why it is so important to you to have an actual date is the real question here.

Do you think that questioning the chosen date makes you less of a believer?


scholar - 25-12-2017 at 21:52

Quote:
Originally posted by marymary100
But, it's all just conjecture scholar and you know that.

Actually, the December 25 date ISN'T conjecture, and it is terribly frustrating when ignorant people are oblivious to the evidence.

Conjecture is when a person makes something up, out of their own thinking, when historical testimony or other actual evidence does not exist to support it. In some cases, conjecture actually goes against historical testimony. Stupid people sometimes actually believe ideas that are thought up, out of nothing, centuries after the events.

Since preaching from Church Fathers has survived in which they speak of December 25 as the established, well-known date in Rome, where records were kept, and they testified that this was the reason December 25 should be recognized in all Christendom as the date, that is the opposite of conjecture. With enough research, you can find such testimony.

An example of conjecture would be the oft-repeated falsehood that December 25 was picked so that the Christian faith could sort of take over a pagan festival in the same season. Christian pastors actually bemoaned the fact that Jesus's birth was in that season, because simple people sometimes blended/confused the pagan holiday with the Christian Holy Day. This is on record, not something imagined. But, those who value what they imagine took place--conjecture--over the actual surviving testimonies keep saying the same old false assertions.

This is like the old falsehood that people thought the world was flat until Columbus sailed to the New World. Anyone who checks historical records knows that the realization that the earth is round prevailed among educated people from the time of Hellenistic civilization.

I can understand ignorant people repeating falsehoods when they haven't heard anything else. But, when I review the evidence, and someone closes their eyes to it and says it is all conjecture--the evidence is still there.


LSemmens - 26-12-2017 at 05:41

The facts are that there are NO written records of the actual date of Jesus Birth until some 100 (give or take a few) years AFTER the event. I know the date of my birth and that of my wife and kids, but, beyond that, I could not recall what date my mother was born, let alone that of a teacher, whom Jesus was to his companions. I certainly have no idea when Abraham Lincoln was born. Given that record keeping is way better now, I could research that one. Back when the first gospels were written, there was no such thing as google, let alone a registrar of Births deaths and marriages that was available to all.


Nimuae - 26-12-2017 at 09:33

Quote:
Originally posted by LSemmens
The facts are that there are NO written records of the actual date of Jesus Birth until some 100 (give or take a few) years AFTER the event. I know the date of my birth and that of my wife and kids, but, beyond that, I could not recall what date my mother was born, let alone that of a teacher, whom Jesus was to his companions. I certainly have no idea when Abraham Lincoln was born. Given that record keeping is way better now, I could research that one. Back when the first gospels were written, there was no such thing as google, let alone a registrar of Births deaths and marriages that was available to all.


Exactly so , Leigh.


marymary100 - 26-12-2017 at 09:54

Quote:
Originally posted by scholar

and it is terribly frustrating when ignorant people are oblivious to the evidence.



You could always try being more persuasive and less insulting.


There is no evidence, only "belief".


scholar - 27-12-2017 at 02:19

Quote:
Originally posted by marymary100
Quote:
Originally posted by scholar

and it is terribly frustrating when ignorant people are oblivious to the evidence.


You could always try being more persuasive and less insulting.
There is no evidence, only "belief".

It is the nature of the transmission of information, in past centuries, that the evidence for this information is copies of written documents by those who knew of the information. The documents are not belief--they exist in the real, physical world.

In the case of the question of the date when Jesus of Nazareth was born, the documents indicate that those who sought to get all of Christendom to acknowledge December 25 as the date did so because that was the information that had been preserved and passed down in Rome. One doesn't have to draw that as a conclusion--that is what one of the authors, himself, says. The information was not newly discovered at the time of the discussion--it was common knowledge among Christians there, according to the written testimony.

And, the objection commonly stated, that shepherds in Bethlehem would not be raising sheep outside in late December, is just false. Documentation indicates that Bethlehem, which is about 5 miles from Jerusalem, produced sheep all through the year for the Temple sacrifices. The main document source for this is a rabbinic document of Judaism, which independently verifies that the shepherds and sheep would have been there any season of the year.


LSemmens - 27-12-2017 at 10:24

Ask all of your friends what date Apollo 11 was launched. That was the start of the Journey. Then Ask them what date they actually landed on the moon, you'll possibly get a more accurate response. Now ask the younger generation (i.e. those born just after the event.)


Katzy - 27-12-2017 at 15:08

Quote:
Originally posted by scholar
Your meaning isn't clear to me (unless, you are simply mistaken).


December got its name from the Latin word "Decem" (meaning ten) because it was originally the tenth month of the year in the Roman calendar, which began in March. The winter days following December were not included as part of any month and, later, the months of January and February were created out of this "monthless" period and added to the beginning of the calendar, but December retained its name. Some countries celebrate Christmas in March, because of this, I believe.

So, when Jesus was born has been moved, kinda. If January and February didn't exist, when they were added, what was December must've moved, somewhere.

Unless I have my datings for when these things happened is wrong (Quite probable).

To save any more of my waffle, this site sums things up rather well...

https://www.whychristmas.com/customs/25th.shtml

Thing is, as long as he WAS born and DID die, your faith's intact. The "when" is entirely irrelevant, surely?


scholar - 28-12-2017 at 00:23

Quote:
Originally posted by Katzy
Unless I have my datings for when these things happened is wrong (Quite probable).


You are describing aspects of the Roman calendar before the Julian calendar reform (yes, the famous fellow, Julius Caesar, is credited with it), which happened in 45 B.C. At that time, the months and days which have been in use, up the the present time, were adopted. The difference between the Julian calendar and the Gregorian calendar has to do with an adjustment that was made to reset the dates so as to line up with the solar calendar as they had formerly, since the accumulated length discrepancies between 365 1/4 days and the exact length of the solar year had added up over the centuries, and with additional rules added for adjustments so the problem would not recur.

There were a few mistakes with respect to the leap day very early on, but it was well-established in the areas of Roman influence for decades before Jesus was born. That is to say, the months and days were the same as have continued to the present. The Romans numbered the years according to an understanding of when Rome was founded.

So, at the time Jesus was born, everyone in the whole area knew every month, and could count which day in the month it was. It is not as if Jesus was born during the time of one of the old Roman calendars (the original old Roman calendar did not cover the whole year--it had a period during which days weren't counted on the calendar as part of any month, between one calendar year and the next), which would be somewhat chaotic to convert. December 25, or July 4, or any other date you care to name was in the same order and numbering as we use today. Mary certainly knew and remembered the month and day.


In case you wondered--since the various calendars, in various languages, eras, and locations, could cause confusion in modern historical discussions, writers commonly use dates from the proleptic Julian calendar before it was established. That is, they take the Julian calendar and express the dates in Julian terms, extending it backwards to cover dates before it was actually in use. So, using the Julian calendar among historians is sort of like speaking English greengrin


scholar - 28-12-2017 at 00:41

The account for the December 25 date in the whychristmas site doesn't match the early historical documents with respect to the reason. The early advocates for December 25, when the Christians were seeking to unify the commemoration, said that knowledge of the date of the birth was handed down, in Christian circles in Rome, from those who knew it. Romans were used to keeping track of such things--populations, taxes, notable events, etc. They said they wanted December 25 for one reason only--that's when it happened. The centuries-old written record of their reason contradicts what the author of the whyChristmas site imagines the reason to be.

It's not as if they had a motive to lie about it. No one gets rich, or more popular, if the date is December 25. And, it's not as if Rome were isolated from contact with early Christians--quite the contrary.

Many great scholars have concluded that the best evidence is for December 25. Dr. William F. Beck, who translated the entire Bible into modern English, noted the date in timeline notes at the nativity accounts. Adam Fahling, author of The Life of Christ, holds to it as well.


John_Little - 28-12-2017 at 10:09

Confirmation bias.


Katzy - 28-12-2017 at 10:11

Quote:
Originally posted by scholarMany great scholars have concluded that the best evidence is for December 25.


Many others more have concluded that there is no proof, either way.

In this case, what you believe is more important than "facts", as there aren't any facts.


LSemmens - 28-12-2017 at 12:34

Many innocent people have been tried, and convicted, on "the evidence".


marymary100 - 28-12-2017 at 14:49

Trolling imo.


scholar - 29-12-2017 at 23:50

Quote:
Originally posted by John_Little
Confirmation bias.

Before I did any research, I used to think that December 25 was just an assigned date, as one commonly hears and reads, without any evidence to support the idea.

So, in my case, if there were any confirmation bias, it would have been toward confirming the idea that there was no evidence for December 25.

But, when I actually researched the matter, I found that all the evidence pointed to December 25, and I didn't find any evidence that pointed to another date, or that it could not have been December 25. I found plenty of opinions by people who imagined how they thought it went, but no evidence that their made-up stories matched anything that people really did or wrote or said. In fact, the most commonly cited objection to December 25--that shepherds would not be outdoors raising sheep at that time of year--was flat-out wrong. Year-round sheep-raising was employed to supply the Jerusalem Temple sacrifices, and this is on written record from a well-known Jewish rabbinical source. Further, since there was no such practice after the Temple sacrifices were ended when the Romans attacked Jerusalem, the agreement between the December 25 date and the shepherding practice shows knowledge of contemporary local events. To put that another way: if someone a century or more later, from Rome, were inventing a date for Jesus' birth, with sheep in the fields, they would NOT have chosen December 25. They would ignorantly have thought December and sheep did not go together, and would have picked a date that made more sense to them. I might add, Judea has a warmer winter climate that some people imagine. [I was appalled to hear a Christian preacher on television say that it would be too cold, and he referred to the cold weather in his state in December! I've read 50 degrees F is not unusual for December in Israel in modern times.]

So, when I thought there was no evidence for Dec 25, I was wrong. When I thought winter sheep contradicted the December date, I was wrong. Since I conform my thinking to evidence, I now acknowledge that the best evidence is for December 25.

But, since I am open-minded to evidence, I am interested in the proposal that the time of Jesus' birth could be approximated from the time when the priests of Abia served. However, I haven't come across a source that establishes when they served.


LSemmens - 30-12-2017 at 00:35

You are arguing around in circles, Scholar, as has already been said, there is NO EVIDENCE for that particular date, but there is PLENTY of evidence for that time of year.


scholar - 30-12-2017 at 00:50

Quote:
Originally posted by LSemmens
You are arguing around in circles, Scholar, as has already been said, there is NO EVIDENCE for that particular date, but there is PLENTY of evidence for that time of year.

When there is ancient written testimony that December 25 was the date, how can you say there is no evidence for that particular date?

When you say I am arguing in circles, it would be more accurate to say that I am repeating the evidence and how it holds together. That is what real historians, who work with evidence, do--they stay with the evidence, and they don't move from it, or deny that it exists.


LSemmens - 30-12-2017 at 03:13

Ancient written testimony isn't necessarily correct, given that the only real external (i.e. non-biblical) references to Jesus of Nazareth are a few lines written by a historian. Time was when the earth was reported as flat and that only 4 elements made up all of creation.


scholar - 30-12-2017 at 17:12

Quote:
Originally posted by LSemmens
Ancient written testimony isn't necessarily correct, given that the only real external (i.e. non-biblical) references to Jesus of Nazareth are a few lines written by a historian.

That is not the case.

Here is an excellent, and brief, article, that covers the subject well:

Ancient Evidence for Jesus from Non-Christian sources


marymary100 - 30-12-2017 at 17:22

This is no longer "General chat" imo. It would be better placed in the religious section.


Katzy - 30-12-2017 at 19:45

Unless there's a "Here we go, again" section...?

:D


LSemmens - 31-12-2017 at 04:18

Look at the date of these "old texts" None of them report His birth date, and None were written when he was alive!

I'm with you there, Mary, maybe we should close this thread.