(Editors note) Please check out the radio program “The case for 12/25″ (blogtalkradio) located on the right of the page. Just push play and follow along with John’s excellent show notes “The Case for December 25, 2 B.C.”
I have been asked by a number of people, rather, told by a number of people that the Catholic Church opened the doors to pagan influence beginning with the celebration of Christmas.
Some of them have developed wild imaginative developments showing some connection with the old Babylonian mystery religion with Christmas.
Sir Arthur Weigall, a noted Archeologist, said:
December 25th was really the date, not of the birth of Jesus, but of the sun-god Mithra. Horus, son of Isis, however, was in very early times identified with Ra, the Egyptian sun-god, and hence with Mithra…
Is he correct with this assessment? Anti-Catholics say the following:
“In the end the effect is the same: “Christmas” is the birth not of the “son of God” but of the sun. Indeed, there is much evidence—including many ancient monumental alignments—to demonstrate that this highly noticeable and cherished event of the winter solstice was celebrated beginning hundreds to thousands of years before the common era in numerous parts of the world. The observation was thus provably taken over by Christianity, not as biblical doctrine but as a later tradition in order to compete with the Pagan cults, a move we contend occurred with numerous other “Christian” motifs, including many that are in the New Testament”.
I know some Christians who have this mindset! John and I give what we believe strong evidence that Christ was born on Christmas Day. This is attested by what we want to show through science, the bible, Jewish tradition, and history. You can check out this radio program in the Archives and follow along with John’s Christmas story.
The following is a defense for the historic truth behind Christmas. The opponents of Christmas coming from various points of view have a deep bias against the Catholic Faith. They have a canned ready response to Christmas and we see this all the time from Atheists to Anti-Catholic Protestants.
Two things to consider that is happening almost simultaneously yet independent of each other that bares much into this discussion:
October 3 B.C. The Day of Atonement-Yom Kippur, the busiest Temple day of the Temple year (Luke 1:10) sometime late March early April. The Angel of the Lord appeared to Zachariah and announced the coming of John the Baptist.
September 3 B.C. The planet Jupiter was in conjunction with Regulus, the brightest star in the constellation of Leo-Leo the Lion. This would be the star the wise men would follow leading them to Bethlehem. They followed the star for about 16 months until the Star rested over Bethlehem for six days beginning on Dec 25, 2 B.C.
For many Catholics, it matters not the actual day, so they do not get into the arguments but are often stumped when pressed about the “pagan” roots of Christmas.
The following research points to reliable, historical facts taken from scripture, history, tradition, and science.
“The Case for December 25, 2 B.C”.
Year after year, I hear the same arguments against the traditional date of December 25th as the date of the birth of Christ. Many of these arguments are based on incorrect interpretations and flawed logic. Some are downright silly.
The purpose of this article (and the accompanying show) is to refute the nonsensical claims that Christmas is derived from paganism. That case we will prove beyond a shadow of a doubt.
Misconception #1 December 25th was only chosen because it coincided with a Roman pagan feast.
Though it is true that December 25th was a pagan feast under the Roman calendar, the same is true of just about every other day on the calendar. It is also true that the early church made December 25th a Holy day of obligation, at the council of nicea in 325 AD, as a strategic move to prevent Christians from attending that pagan feast, but that does not mean the date was chosen for that purpose.
The truth is that the celebration of December 25th as the Nativity of Our Lord can be traced back at least to 125 AD and the institution of the Midnight Christmas Mass by Bishop Telesphorus of Rome. Early Church Fathers Tertullion, Hippolytus, Cyril of Alexandria, and John Chrysostom all identified either December 25th or January 6th as Christ’s date of birth. Pope Julius in the 4th century examined census documents brought by Titus to Rome to calculate the birth date of Christ and he, also, arrived at the date December 25.
In fact, as far back as we can go, only two dates were generally excepted- December 25th and January 6th, with the majority adhering to the December date. This is why the early church established this space of time as the Christmas season.
In the 2nd century, a massacre in the catacombs on December 25th was recorded as having occurred on the date of the Nativity.
Alfred Edersheim, a Messianic Jew, wrote, “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.”
Again, this does not prove that December 25th was in fact the birth date of Jesus Christ. however, it does prove- beyond a shadow of a doubt- that the celebration of Christmas on December 25th, predates the edict of Milan by at least 200 years and can be placed within less than a century from the death of the Savior.
Misconception #2 There is nothing in Scripture that suggests late December as the birth of Christ.
This misconception springs from the assumption mentioned above that the date was chosen out of thin air or specifically to compete with (or worse yet, to incorporate) the pagan feasts. The fact is that the Biblical case for a late December Nativity is very strong.
The biggest misconception occurs with Luke chapter 1 and Zachariah’s service in the Temple.
5* In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, * of the division of Abijah; and he had a wife of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. 7 But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.
8 Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, 9* according to the custom of the priesthood, it fell to him by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense.
Abijah was one of the 24 Priestly courses established under King David. You can read about it in 1 Chronicles. The rotation began with the start of the Jewish year. Abijah would have served in the 8th and 32nd weeks of the regular rotations, excepting the three major feast days. This filled the 51 weeks of the Jewish Calendar.
The biggest mistake many people make is that they go by the Priestly schedule set forth in 1 Chronicles 24:7-10 and apply it to Jesus time. The problem is that after the Temple was destroyed on the 9th of Av, B.C. 586 (Tish’a B’ Av), and rebuilt, this day of destruction became a fast day and was established as the new beginning day of the rotation.
We know that this new rotation was still in effect in 70 AD because the first course was serving on the 9th of Av of that year when- incredibly- the Temple was destroyed on the same day. Historical records prove this.
This means that Zechariah’s course would have been serving their second go around about October 2nd- 9th, commencing with the day of Atonement- Yom Kippor. As the busiest Temple day of the Temple year, it certainly would explain why the whole multitude was in the Temple (Luke 1:10).
The Scriptures tell us that Elizabeth was in her sixth month when Mary conceived ( Luke 1:26-35). That put us to Late March/ Early April. Add 9 months for her pregnancy and bang- Late December, Early January.
Misconception #3 The shepherds could not have been tending their sheep in the dead of winter. So Jesus must have been born in the spring or summer.
This argument really backfires on those who make it.
Southern Israel’s weather in late December is actually quite mild and would have have actually been the very best time for grazing sheep. This argues for the second course of Abijah in the Temple. If it had been the first course, it would have occurred in about February. Not only is this inadequate to explain the large multitudes, it places the sheep in the fields in late spring during the dry season when the fields would be barren.
The second- and even stronger- argument is the area of Israel that is cold and snowy- the hill country. If we are to believe that Jesus was born in spring or summer, then we must believe that Mary traveled to the hill country by herself, in the dead of winter, to visit her cousin Elizabeth.
Misconception #4- Herod’s death Herod the Great died in the spring of 4 BC and this does not fit with a winter birth because the Scripture says that his death occurred soon after Jesus’ birth.
It was commonly believed that Herod the Great died following an eclipse in March of 4 BC. However, the Jewish writer Josephus doesn’t give the date per se. He simply mentions an eclipse and other events.
The late Father William Most, one of the preeminent Scripture scholars of our time has much to say on this.
The date of the birth of Christ hinges on just one thing, the statement of Josephus (Antiquities
17. 6-8) that Herod died shortly after an eclipse of the moon. Astronomers supply the dates for such eclipses around those years: None in 7 or 6 BC. In 5 BC, March 23: 29 days to Passover. Also in 5 BC, Sept 15: 7 months to Passover. In 4 BC, March 13: 29 days to Passover. In 3 and 2 BC, no eclipses. In 1 BC, January 10: 12 1/2 weeks to Passover.
Josephus also tells what events happened between the Eclipse and the Passover (cf. Martin pp. 85-87). They would occupy probably about 12 weeks. Martin also, pp. 99-101, shows that the eclipse of Sept 15, 5 BC could not fit with known data, especially the fact that Herod was seriously ill in Jericho (over 800 feet below sea level) when the eclipse happened – but Jericho was a furnace of heat at that time, Sept 15. Herod would not have stayed there when he could have had the much better climate of Jerusalem. But if the eclipse was in midwinter — Jan 10 — Herod would find Jericho comfortable.
So Herod died in 1 BC, and the birth of Christ cannot be put too much earlier than that.
For a Scripture scholar of Father Most’s stature to insist on the January, 1 BC date as the death of Herod lends great credence to this position.
Further, Father Most addresses 2 of the most common objections;
Objection 1: Josephus gives two indications of the length of the rule of Herod: A) He says Herod had a reign of 37 years from the time he was proclaimed king by the Romans and; B) 34 years after the death of Antigonus, which happened just after Herod took Jerusalem.
These would make the death of Herod come in 3 BC. But there was no eclipse of the moon in that year. Nearest one was March 13, 4 BC- – so scholars said they had stretch the statements of Josephus.
Reply to objection 1: Herod took Jerusalem late in 36 BC. Josephus says Herod’s siege of Jerusalem was during a sabbatical year, and 36 was a sabbatical year. Otherwise would need to be 7 years before or after 36. Also, all sabbatical years ended on Yom Kippur. Josephus said Herod’s capture of Jerusalem coincided with Yom Kippur. He and the Jews would remember it well, for it was an outrage to press a siege on Yom Kippur. Josephus said it was 27 years to the day that Pompey committed his abominations, which he did in 63 BC. This gives again 36 BC for Herod’s capture of Jerusalem. If we use the common accession method of counting years of rule, the date to start his 34 years is the first of Nisan in 35 BC. So Herod’s 34th year of rule would start with the 1st of Nisan in 2 BC. and end with first of Nisan in 1 BC. Now 34 years after 35 BC would give 1 BC for the death and end of the reign of Herod, his death, soon after the eclipse of Jan 10, 1 BC.
Objection 2: Herod’s three successors, Archelaus, Antipas, and Philip, seem to have their reigns starting in 4 BC.
Reply to objection 2: Herod had two sons, Alexander and Aristobulus by Mariamme, a Hasmonean. They were popular with the people, but Herod had designated Antipater his oldest son as his successor, who saw the 2 sons, Alexander and Aristobulus as a threat to him — so he made false charges, led Herod to have them executed. Antipater became co-ruler with Herod in 4 BC. But Antipater plotted to kill Herod, who found out, had him executed in 4 BC.
Archelaus and Antipas were sons of Herod by Malthace, a Samaritan. Philip was a son by Cleopatra of Jerusalem. Archelaus, Antipas and Philip counted their reigns as starting also in 4 BC. However, antedating reigns was common, as coins show, and Herod gave his kingdom to them before his death. It was tactical to antedate the reigns of these three to the death of the two “royal” sons, Alexander and Aristobulus, who were of Hasmonean descent, so that Archelaus, Antipas and Philip would seem successors to these two.
This reason was intensified by the fact that Herod had been demoted by Augustus in 4 BC. Herod had sent troops to Arabia to end activities of robbers and to collect a large debt owed him by the Arabian ruler. Syllaeus the Arabian misinformed Augustus about Herod’s actions–Herod really had permission from the governors of Syria for that. Augustus wrote to Herod: “Whereas of old he [Augustus] had used him as his friend, he should now use him as his subject.” This was politically devastating. He had to have Caesar’s representatives for Syria hear the case against Alexander and Aristobulus and the trial was held in Beirut. Later before executing Antipater, Varus governor of Syria heard the case. Also in 4 BC began the joint rule of Antipater with Herod.
Misconception #5 The Census. The Census could not have occurred in the winter and Quirinius was not Governor until 6 AD.
Once again, Father Most dashes this myth.
We know from an inscription from Paphlagonia in Asia Minor — cf. Lewis and Reinhold, Roman Civilization, Source Book II, pp. 34-35 — that in 3 BC all the people took an oath of allegiance to Augustus. The same oath is also reported by the Armenian historian Moses of Khorene, and by the later historian Orosius.
Augustus was to receive the great title of Pater Patriae on Feb. 5, 2 BC. So the actual governor of Palestine, probably Varus, would have had to go to Rome for the festivities, and since sailing on the Mediterranean stopped about Nov. 1, and did not resume until Spring, he must have gone in the early fall of 3 BC. But Quirinius was nearby, had just finished a successful war against the Homonadenses. So he was left as acting Governor. Luke does not use the noun governor, but the participle, “governing”.
Therefore, it is highly possible, even probable, that Quirinius would have been acting as Governor for the implementation of the census in late 2 BC.
Now that these misconceptions have been dispelled, I would like to give the amazing evidence that I believe clinches it. The Star of Bethlehem.
Coinciding almost precisely with the time Zacharias would have been serving in the Temple, a mysterious star began rising over the middle east in what is now probably Iraq. This star was in fact the planet Jupiter. It would continue it’s rise for about 9 months.
What happens next is simply astounding. Again, Father Most;
In the evening of June 17, 2 BC, there was a spectacular astronomical event in the western sky. Venus moved eastward seemingly going to collide with Jupiter. They appeared as one star, not two, dominating the twilight of the western sky in the direction of Palestine. This conjunction had not happened for centuries, would not happen again for more centuries.
Jupiter was considered the Father, Venus the Mother. Then not many days later, Venus came within .36 degrees of Mercury. On Sept 11 came the New Moon, the Jewish New Year. This happened when Jupiter, the King planet was approaching Regulus, the King star. Further, there were three conjunctions of Jupiter and Regulus within the constellation of Leo, the lion which was considered the head of the Zodiac.
Now Gen 49:10 had foretold there would always be a ruler from Judah, whom Jacob called the lion, until the time of the Messiah. Leo was dominated by the star Regulus, which astronomers called the King Star. The Magi, being astronomers and astrologers, would surely read these signs. (The three conjunctions with Regulus were Aug 12, 3 BC; Feb. 17, 2 BC, and May 8/9 2BC). In Hebrew Jupiter was called sedeq, righteous, a term specially pertaining to the Messiah.
On Sept 11, Jupiter was close in the constellation of Virgo, the virgin. On Sept 3 of 3 BC Jupiter was in conjunction with Regulus, the brightest star in the constellation of Leo–Leo the Lion, which was associated with Kings, and the Lion of Judah, as foretold by the dying Jacob in Egypt in Genesis 49. 10.
Also, on Dec. 25 of 2 BC, Jupiter stopped for 6 days over Bethlehem.
The only thing that could add to this would be a neon sign saying Jesus Christ, born here December 25.
The June convergence of Jupiter and Saturn would have been so spectacular as to dwarf anything before or since. It also would have coincided with the birth of John the Baptist. The Magi would certainly have seen this as the sign and began their journey which would have led them to Jerusalem. As they arrive in Jerusalem and inquire about the child, Herod asks them when they first saw the star at it’s rising. This would have been about 15 months. It is not a stretch to say that Herod rounded this figure off to 2 years to determine which children to slaughter.
The star then went before the Magi and rested over Jerusalem on December 25th. It was about a 6-12 day journey from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. This does not take us beyond January 6th- the traditional day of the visit of the Magi.
It is less than a week to the eclipse that marks God’s judgment on the life of Herod for his abominable crimes.
After this, anyone who says there is no case for December 25th just isn’t being honest.
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