None of us know for sure, but In what month do you think it most likely Jesus was born? (If two consecutive, choose one)

0% (0 votes)
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6% (1 vote)
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6% (1 vote)
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18% (3 votes)
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6% (1 vote)
24% (4 votes)
No inkling at all
18% (3 votes)
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Total votes: 17
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There are 5 Comments

Ed Vasicek's picture

I lean toward the traditional date.

The date for the annunciation (March 25) is very old indeed. That would mean 9 months later was December 25. Arguments for varying dates get complex, I know!

"The Midrash Detective"

Mike Durning's picture

Dr. Alfred Edersheim's arguments for December 25th (or thereabouts) have always seemed to me to be the most compelling.

"The first and most certain date is that of the death of Herod the Great. Our Lord was born before the death of Herod, and, as we judge from the Gospel-history, very shortly before that event. Now the year of Herod's death has been ascertained with, we may say, absolute certainty, as shortly before the Passover of the year 750 A.U.C. [anno urbin conditae — in the year of the founding of Rome, 753 B.C. ], which corresponds to about the 12th of April of the year 4 before Christ. Thus the death of Herod must have taken place between the 12th of March and the 12th of April — or, say, about the end of March. Again, the Gospel-history necessitates an interval of, at the least, seven or eight weeks before that date for the birth of Christ (we have to insert the purification of the Virgin — at the earliest, six weeks after the Birth — the Visit of the Magi, and the murder of the children at Bethlehem, and, at any rate, some days more before the death of Herod). Thus the birth of Christ could not have possibly occurred after the beginning of February 4 B.C., and most likely several weeks earlier." (Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah 2:704.)

Edersheim also describes a procession of dates that works this way:
Zechariah would have executed his priestly function (Luke 1:8 according to his course) (I Chron. 24:10) around the 1st week of October. This places the pregnancy of Elizabeth in that time-frame. March 25th then (the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy per Luke 1:26), the traditional date of the Feast of Annunciation, seems a reasonable date also. Counting forward the correct number of weeks places Jesus’ birth within easy striking distance of December 25.

Some might notice that Zechariah could have served six months earlier, but the calculation in the first paragraph rules this out.

Edersheim also notes the following: “And yet Jewish tradition may here prove both illustrative and helpful. That the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, was a settled conviction. Equally so, was the belief , that He was to be revealed from Migdal Eder, 'the tower of the flock.' 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 Mishnah [951 ] leads to the conclusion, that the flocks, which pastured there, were destined for Temple-sacrifices [952 ], 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 legal observance unlikely, if not absolutely impossible. The same Mishnaic 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.”

Dick Dayton's picture

It would seem that when He was born is not nearly as critical to us as the fact that He was born. The speculation is a good intellectual exercise, but not one that I would want to invest a large amount of time in.

I do appreciate the above comments explaining Edersheim's analysis.

Dick Dayton

Mike Durning's picture

There are, also, several ancient sources that claim to have seen the census records of Joseph and Mary in Bethlehem at the time. One of them confirms a time-frame around the Dec. 25 date (after adjustment of calendars). These records were extant at the time these sources viewed them, but no longer in modern times.
If Edersheim and these other sources are correct (and I suspect they are), it illustrates how the "question all traditions" crowd can be wrong. Too often, the modern scholarship that questions such things does so by asking a lot of clever questions but not reading a lot of ancient source materials.
In this case, it generates an error that is inconsequential (who cares what the real date is?), but in some cases (like the "Constantine and his Church Council thugs suppressed their opposition and now we'll never know what early Christianity looked like" gang's claims) it creates a real danger of unbelief.

JobK's picture

Occurs during late September and early October.

The visit of the Magi ... I know that Christmas pageants and nativity scenes tend to place that visit shortly after the birth of Jesus Christ and often coinciding with the visit of the shepherds, but is there anything that would cause us to join Matthew 2 (the only place where the Magi are mentioned) and Luke 2, which is the only actual birth narrative, other than tradition?

Herod asked the Magi when the star appeared, and also consulted with his own scribes, and the conclusion based on that information was that the birth of Jesus Christ could have happened as much as 2 years prior. (Incidentally, the Luke narrative does not mention the star.)

So if Edershem's analysis relies on "Christmas pageant tradition" that joins the shepherds, the Magi, the star, the slaughter of the male children etc. on the same night (or shortly thereafter) then it is difficult to use it to establish the date.

Solo Christo, Soli Deo Gloria, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Sola Scriptura