The Date of Christmas 


Some people, including Fox News anchormen, seem to know little about Christianity other than that Christianity is that religion which celebrates the Savior's birth on December 25th. But wait a minute,— some Christians, like the Puritans of old, and the Seventh Day Adventists of the present day, do not celebrate Jesus' nativity at all. Puritan Cotton Mather and the great apostle of religious liberty, Roger Williams, did not agree on much, but they did agree that Christmas-keeping was popery:

"I willingly acknowledge, that if the members of a church of Christ shall upon some delusion of Satan kneel at the Lord’s supper, keep Christmas, or any other popish observation, great tenderness ought to be used in winning his soul from the error of his way; and yet I see not that persons so practising were fit to be received into the churches of Christ now, as the Jews, weak in the faith, that is, in the liberties of Christ, were to be received, Rom. xiv. 1." (Roger Williams, The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution for Cause of Conscience Discussed, p. 72).

Other Christians, like the Eastern Orthodox, do celebrate Christ's birth, but not on this day, December 25th. Perhaps mindful that Paul scolded the Galatians for observing days, "Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years" (Galatians 4:10), the earliest authors show no interest in fixing this day. When later authors start to take an interest in this matter, what evidence do they accept as relevant? At a fairly late date, December 25th turns up: "Brethren, observe the festival days; and first of all the birthday which you are to celebrate on the twenty-fifth of the ninth month;. . ." (Apostolic Constitutions, Book 5, Section 3, Chapter XIII, p. 882 ECF 0.07). ('Ninth' month may seem off, but it occurs alongside a discussion of passover as occurring in the first month; counting from April, December is the ninth month). Where does this come from? Is there any possibility it's legit?

Universal Birthday Close Enough for Government Work
Clement of Alexandria Epiphanius of Salamis
Speculation vs. Revelation Bible Evidence

“By the way, December 25 is also the birthday of Osiris, Adonis, and Dionysus.” (Chapter 55, The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown).

Universal Birthday

The accusation that their shared birthday of December 25th proves that the figure of Jesus of Nazareth was lifted from these pagan worthies is a staple of atheist web-sites. The Protestant authors who originated the accusation did not, of course, claim that Jesus did not exist nor that He was copied from these deities. They sought rather to point out that the Bible does not provide His birth-date, nor did the church of the first few Christian centuries know much about it. They wondered, when did His birthday become December 25th? Was it at the same time and for the same reason as these pagan worthies, whose birthdays were also not originally celebrated on December 25th? Christmas, scorned by the Puritans, has become so popular that many who know nothing else about Jesus know that He was born on December 25th. But was He? For that matter, were Osiris and Dionysus?

Compiling vital statistics for pagan non-entities presents its own unique challenges, including diverse traditions. But according to Plutarch, originally Osiris' birth was celebrated, along with that of other major Egyptian deities, during the five days tacked on to the close of the Egyptian year:

“The following myth is related in the briefest terms possible, divested of everything unnecessary and superfluous. They tell that the sun having discovered Rhea secretly copulating with Saturn, laid a curse upon her, that she should not bring forth a child in either month or year: that Hermes being in love with the goddess copulated with her; and afterwards playing at counters with the Moon and winning from her the seventieth part of each one of her lights, out of the whole composed five days, the which he added to the three hundred and sixty, which days now the Egyptians call 'additional,' and keep as the birthdays of the gods; that on the first of these was born Osiris, and that, a voice issued forth with him in the birth, that 'the Lord of all is entering into light.'” (Plutarch, Isis and Osiris, Chapter XII)
Isis and Osiris

The Egyptian new year began during the summer, which is when Osiris celebrated his birthday. When was Dionysus' birthday? He has at least two; he was "twice-born." His mother, Semele, priestess and lover of Zeus, fatuously asked her omnipotent boyfriend to show himself to her in all his glory. Thus liberated to do meteorology, he fried her with his thunder-bolt. He dissected her unborn child from her smoking body and, quite naturally, sewed it into his thigh, where the child grew to term.

 Homeric Hymn 
To Dionysus

This unique way of entering the world makes a little more sense when the reader realizes Dionysus personifies the vine. In autumn the grapes are harvested: this is his first birth-day. His second birth is celebrated during the Lenaia, in January, when the new wine has fermented. Other observances associated with Dionysus commemorate subsequent life events of the vine, such as pruning, flowering, etc.; all of his varied life milestones are celebrated much the same way, with drunken rioting.

How did Osiris' and Dionysus' birthdays get moved to December 25th? Though not originally solar deities, they came to be squeezed into the solar mold. The quality of the argumentation establishing their new solar identity is displayed by Macrobius:

"That Adonis too is the sun will be clear beyond all doubt if we examine the religious practices of the Assyrians...In the story which they tell of Adonis killed by a boar the animal is intended to represent winter, for the boar is an unkempt and rude creature delighting in damp, muddy, and frost-covered places and feeding on the acorn, which is especially a winter fruit. And so winter, as it were, inflicts a wound on the sun, for in winter we find the sun's light and heat ebbing, and it is an ebbing of light and heat that befalls all living creatures at death." (Macrobius, The Saturnalia, Book I, Chapter 21:1-4).

Get it? The boar is damp and muddy, kind of like winter, so Adonis is really the sun. What about those boars who are dry and fluffy, snorting in the summer sun? Never mind. According to Macrobius, not only are the dying-and-rising vegetation gods really the sun, but so are Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Hercules, and the whole rest of the pagan crew. To this author, all gods are really the sun, and all goddesses are really the earth. This is fitting after all, as god is really One:

"That the discourse may not wander too far afield, by mentioning all the gods by name, let me tell you what the Assyrians believe about the sovereignty of the sun. To the god whom they revere as highest and greatest of the gods they have given the name of Adad, a name which, being interpreted, means 'One One.' Him, then, they worship as the most powerful god, but they associate with him a goddess called Adargatis, and to these two deities, by whom they understand the sun and the earth, they ascribe full power over all things." (Macrobius, The Saturnalia, Book I, Chapter 23:17-18).

The pagan polytheists had not originally believed, however, not while they were still alive and kicking, that all their gods were one. It was only when there were few surviving polytheists to dispute the point with the Christians or with the solar monotheists that it was conclusively established that the pagans believed in only one god, the sun, and that the profusion of deities who multiplied throughout their stories were only intended as varied names and operations of this one, sole (Sol, get it?) deity.


The sun is worshipped in one form or another by almost all pagan peoples. He can be a surprisingly minor deity like the Greek Helios, Hyperion, or Sol in his original Roman garb; or he can be a major deity like Apollo, a sometime sun god. There is inevitably confusion, overlap, and mutability in the pagan pantheons, because these collectors' cabinets of deity grew by accretion; no one sat down and planned them. In some places he was always Mr. Big: the colossus of Rhodes was a statue of the sun. Sol Invictus rose from the minor leagues to the very top of the Roman pantheon under the tutelage of emperors from away, the unlamented Elagabalus and Aurelian. This latter solarist emperor decreed Sol's promotion to chief god in the late third century. "The sun-god, Helios or Sol as distinct from Apollo, had not played an overly important role in Greek religion at the time of Pericles or Plato. But under Asiatic and Egyptian influence he rose to supreme magnificence in the Hellenistic age. . .It was the natural climax of a development extending over centuries when Aurelian proclaimed the 'Never Vanquished Sun' (...'Sol Invictus') the supreme divinity of the Roman Empire." (Erwin Panofsky, Meaning in the Visual Arts, Albrecht Durer and Classical Antiquity, p. 257). Emperor Aurelian came by his solarist views honestly, he learned them on his momma's knee: she was a priestess of the sun.

The old Roman religion revolved around the twelve Capitoline gods. But foreign sects were advancing during the early Christian centuries, both softening up the old pagan establishment and competing with the eventual victor. Every foreign cult already had a devoted nucleus of foreign-born slaves, imported in chains, in Rome, and popular observances like Isis-worship added many native-born adherents. The devotees of the sun evidently felt it would be solarism's gain to draft popular deities like Osiris and Dionysus into the solarist camp by moving their birthdays to the winter solstice.

Nature displays a likeness to death and rebirth in the annual dying-off of vegetation in autumn and its renewal in the spring. Agriculture likewise moves from sowing to reaping, back to sowing again. The annual apparent decline, and then resurgence, of the sun, is also a little like a death and rebirth. These two natural paradigms of death and rebirth don't necessarily track together, however; in most climes, mid-winter is not a busy time for the gardener. Because the dying-and-rising vegetation gods are more plausibly tied to the agricultural calendar, one cannot know how many followed Aurelian's religious reform and how many ignored it. Religious reforms from above do not always take, as Pharaoh Ikhnaton discovered when he tried to impose solar monotheism on Egypt centuries prior.

Because Aurelian's religious reform occurred three centuries into the Christian era, some Catholic apologists accuse him of copying the date from the Christians. But solar monotheists were no less sincere in their convictions than anyone else, and December 25th is in the vicinity of the winter solstice. It was not an important date to Aurelian and his co-religionists because the Christians honored it, if indeed they did, but because his god, the sun, 'turns around' on it. His god, having grown so enfeebled he could not defeat winter's chill blasts, now tosses away his walker, dances with renewed vigor, and begins his arduous climb back up the sky.

The solarists' ambition to incorporate all other religious observance into their own cult was not a matter of liberating the other deities to be what they already were, namely stand-ins for the sun, because they were not that. The pagans deified other heavenly luminaries, not just the sun; they deified also many features of the natural world, like the sea, the earth, the rivers, the winds; they deified the crops in the field; besides that they deified deceased kings and living emperors, along with a wide variety of unclassifiable entities and plenty of non-entities: swamp gas and bad dreams. Not everything is the sun; most things aren't. Yet the solarists wanted it all. They went around stealing cult objects from the other temples to deposit them in their own, or so they were accused of doing:

"But when he [Elagabalus] first entered the city -- to leave out what was done in the provinces -- he enshrined Heliogabalus [the sun god] on the Palatine Hill next to the temple of the emperors, and built a temple for him, being eager to transfer to that temple both the emblem of the Mother Goddess and the fire of Vesta, the Palladium, the sacred shields and all the objects sacred to the Romans, so that no god should be worshipped at Rome except Heliogabalus. He used to say, furthermore, that the religion of the Jews and Samaritans and the rites of the Christians ought to be transferred there, so that the priesthood of Heliogabalus might include the mysteries of every cult." (Lives of the Later Caesar (Augustan History), Penguin edition, p. 292.)

This arrogant act of appropriation was not a discovery; these stolen temple objects were not all about the sun all along. Our three Decembrist deities, Dionysus, Osiris, Adonis, who were belatedly discovered to be the sun, only became the sun very late in their careers. They were not originally forged in that mold, but only squeezed into it late in antiquity. The atheists force history to run in reverse when they say that Jesus, a historical person whose life was recorded many years before Dionysus, Osiris and Adonis ever became solar deities, was modelled after them, offering as proof December 25th.

An autocrat cannot, by edict, make something so which is not so. If Osiris and Dionysus are real entities, their birthdays remain as they were. But fictions are whatever you will make of them. The atheists ought not to be so gullible: since Osiris and Dionysus' birthday did not become December 25th until centuries after the New Testament was written, the figure of Jesus of Nazareth cannot have been copied from these pagan worthies. If there is a resemblance, it is in the common promise of a life to come, not by virtue of a shared birth-date. Curious enquirers who wonder how Dionysus treats those who trust in him, like his devoted servant Agave, may find it illuminating to read of his promises made and promises kept:

 The Bacchae 

This is not a god who calls, Come unto me, all ye who labor and are heavy laden. Those who know him best, hide when he comes. It is difficult to escape the impression that either Euripides or someone close to him must have been an alcoholic who sought, but did not find, freedom from Dionysus.

Robert M. Price

Close Enough for Government Work

The problems associated with correlating different calendars, even fixing a common date between a lunar calendar and a solar calendar, can be quite daunting: just ask the bishops who met at Nicaea, and labored with such under-appreciated diligence to arrive at a once-per-year passover date. Dates are quite important to people; but it cannot be forgotten, in treating of dates in the ancient world, that many people were not using a perfectly accurate calendar. Some calendrical systems even left room for manual intercalation, which throws an unpredictable wild card into the system. We are forced to accept December 25th as the winter solstice; why? At present the winter solstice occurs around December 21st. Prior to Pope Gregory's calendrical reform the Julian calendar still wandered just a bit; it takes careful aim to jump past the ten days Gregory axed and land in just the right spot. Writing shortly after Julius Caesar's calendrical reform, Varro identifies December 24th as the winter solstice; the Julian calendar's over-aggressive leap year schedule would have pushed it forward a little in the following centuries.

No fancy equipment is needed to find the day nearest the winter solstice, as atheist web-sites allege; all that is required is a gnomon, a piece of paper and a pencil, and a lunch-hour lengthy enough to sit and watch for the shortest shadow of the day. The longest such pencil-mark is made on the day of the solstice: it is the longest shortest shadow. These dates are not imprecise because no one could find the solstice, but because the length of the calendar-year was 'off' until Pope Gregory fixed it, a rare occasion when something good came out of the Tridentine church. The best ancient number was pretty darn good: "The most exact calculation of the tropical year which the ancient world was acquainted with, that of Hipparchus, put it at 365 d. 5 h. 52' 12"; the true  length is 365 d. 5 h. 48' 48"." (Theodor Mommsen, History of Rome, footnotes to Book V, Chapter XI, Kindle location 36369). The imprecision of ancient calendars means we must allow ancient dates to shed a penumbra all around them, spreading out to encompass nearby dates, so that realistically anything within a week is close enough.

Because not all peoples had fully mastered this material in antiquity, the modern inquirer must append an 'or thereabouts' to legacy dates. The pagan Julius Caesar understood that the year was 365-1/4 days long, which is almost right. The Egyptian government was already aware of this:

". . .and, in order also that the seasons may always do as they should, in accordance with the now existing order of the universe, and that it may not happen that some of the public feasts held in the winter are ever held in the summer, the star changing by one day every four years, and that others of those now held in the summer are held in the winter in future times as has happened in the past and as would be happening now, if the arrangement of the year remained of 360 days plus the five days later brought into usage (be it resolved) for a one-day feast of the Benefactor Gods to be added every four years to the five additional days before the new year, in order that all may know that the former defect in the arrangement of the seasons and the year and in the beliefs about the whole ordering of the heavens has come to be corrected and made good by the Benefactor Gods." (The Canopus Decree, 238 B.C., quoted in 'The Jewish People in Classical Antiquity,' by John H. Hayes and Sara R. Mandell, pp. 91-92).

When the prior (pretty good) figure of 365 came to be known in Rome is unclear,— it had long been in use in Egypt,— though somebody thought it could be back-dated as far as Numa: "And then besides, King Numa dedicated the statue of the two-faced Janus; a deity who is worshipped as presiding over both peace and war. The fingers, too, are so formed as to indicate three hundred and sixty-five days, or in other words, the year; thus denoting that he is the god of time and duration." (Pliny, Natural History, Book XXXIV, Chapter 16 (7).) Some manuscripts of Pliny, however, have 355 instead of 365. Plutarch, in his Life of Numa, offers the same information: "Numa reckoned the variation to consist of eleven days, as the lunar year contains three hundred and fifty-four days, and the solar year three hundred and sixty-five." (Plutarch's Lives, Life of Numa, Chapter XXVIII). While 365 isn't so bad, that wasn't the basis of the traditional Roman calendar.

Scientific astronomy flourished at Alexandria, albeit of a Ptolemaic bent, and it is to the credit of Julius Caesar that he realized this foreign product was far superior to the hopelessly backward Roman calendar: "The republican calendar, which strangely enough was still the old decemviral calendar — an imperfect adoption of the octaeteris that preceded Meton — had by a combination of wretched mathematics and wretched administration come to anticipate the true time by 67 whole days, so that e.g. the festival of Flora was celebrated on the 11th July instead of the 28th April. Caesar finally removed this evil, and with the help of the Greek mathematician Sosigenes introduced the Italian farmer's year regulated according to the Egyptian calendar of Eudoxus, as well as a rational system of intercalation, into religious and official use. . ." (Theodor Mommsen, The History of Rome, Book V, Chapter XI, Kindle location 34731).

Though the best ancient calendars are good, not everyone used the best calendar. Certainly the Jews were never talked out of their Babylonian lunar/solar calendar, with its variable year-length. Moreover the Sanhedrin retained the liberty, into Talmudic times, of making manual, unscheduled interpolations. The Roman and Egyptian calendars, though excellent solar calendars, is it happens, fail to keep faith with the moon, turning the 'month' into an arbitrary period untethered from the lesser time-keeper. In the older Egyptian civil calendar, as criticized in the 'Canopus Decree,' the length of the year is controlled to 365 days exactly. This, unfortunately, is wrong; the actual length of the solar year is just shy of 365-1/4 days. That is why the festivals 'wandered.' Julius Caesar corrected the Roman calendar to 365-1/4 days, a reform which Pope Gregory later 'tweaked' to arrive at our present stable and reliable calendar, wherein the same months recur yearly at the same seasons. Like sliced bread, this is a luxury which much of the world never knew; most ancient calendars are 'off' much of the time, lurching from one intercalation to another like an unbalanced wheel.

The months in the Egyptian civil calendar were controlled to 30 days in length. Twelve 30-day months leaves us short of 365 by 5; these five extra days were tacked on to the end of the year, which fell in mid-summer. It is characteristic of this system that, if not corrected, the months will 'wander' through the seasons, the year being slightly too short. It will indeed happen that summer festivals will end up celebrated in the winter, and vice versa. This 365-day calendar is of great antiquity: "Around 2,900 B.C., a civil calendar was adopted based on a solar year of 365 days. It had 12 months of 30 days each -- with three 10-day weeks -- plus five days between the old and new years set aside for religious feasts." (What Life was Like on the Banks of the Nile, edited Denise Dersin, p. 22).

Egyptians also used a lunar calendar, even more ancient than the errant civil calendar, controlled by the rising of the dog-star Sirius. The first new moon after this luminary's re-appearance in the dawn sky was the first month of the new year. The rising of this star greatly interested Egypt's farmers, because it tracked with the Nile's annual flood. This was the people's calendar of ancient Egypt. A similar approach: a lunar calendar corrected, not according to a regular schedule of intercalation but annually, by an astronomic event, was taken by the bishops at Nicaea in their dating of Easter. The bishops adopted neither the Jewish (Babylonian) lunar/solar calendar nor Julius Caesar's Gentile calendar; instead they defined Nisan as the first month after the vernal equinox: a lunar calendar corrected annually by an astronomical event, like the Egyptian popular calendar. There was also a third Egyptian calendar, a compromise between the two already mentioned. In 25 B.C. Augustus Caesar corrected the Egyptian civil calendar to track with the Julian. As this improved calendar was not in universal use, this Coptic calendar counts as a fourth variant.

Because the uncorrected 365-day calendar loses nearly six hours every year, over the centuries the months in the old Egyptian civil calendar wandered through the seasons. If uncorrected by manual interpolation, by the Christian era, the year would have made the entire circuit twice since its establishment, and have come round to approximately where it must have started: with the new year falling in the summer. The Christian era begins, promisingly enough, with pretty good calendars in place in Rome and Egypt; however, not everybody, as best as one can determine by reading the popular astronomical surveys of calendar lore, was actually using those calendars. The older calendars still had a tendency to live on as people's calendars. These considerations complicate the discussion of ancient chronology.


Clement of Alexandria

An early discussion of the date of the nativity is found in Clement of Alexandria. Another early reference cited is in Hippolytus, the third century anti-pope, or rather works conventionally assigned his authorship, but the manuscripts are in conflict, and thus the date, the important thing, might be interpolated. Clement helpfully provides, not one, but multiple potential dates for Christmas. . .in different seasons! One is the twenty-fifth of Pachon, an Egyptian month:

“From the birth of Christ, therefore, to the death of Commodus are, in all, a hundred and ninety-four years, one month, thirteen days. And there are those who have determined not only the year of our Lord’s birth, but also the day; and they say that it took place in the twenty-eighth year of Augustus, and in the twenty-fifth day of Pachon.” (Clement of Alexandria, Stromata (Miscellanies), Book 1, Chapter XXI).

A date in Pachon or Pharmuthi would fall in the spring, the same season as Easter. Phamenoth is the seventh month of the Egyptian calendar, Pharmuthi the eighth, and Pachon the ninth (the year ends in late summer). Some of Clement's sources do in fact time the Savior's birth to the same season as His passion:

“And treating of His passion, with very great accuracy, some say that it took place in the sixteenth year of Tiberius, on the twenty-fifth of Phamenoth; and others the twenty-fifth of Pharmuthi and others say that on the nineteenth of Pharmuthi the Saviour suffered. Further, others say that He was born on the twenty-fourth or twenty-fifth of Pharmuthi.” (Clement of Alexandria, Stromata (Miscellanies), Book 1, Chapter XXI).

Such an abundance of riches Clement offers the reader! At least three different dates for the nativity: 25 Pachon, 24th or 25th Pharmuthi...and a countdown curveball. The reader who does a quick calculation in his head has discovered, or thinks he has discovered, an autumn date identified as: 194 years, one month, and thirteen days counting backwards from December 31, 192 A.D., i.e., mid-November.

The traditional date of Jesus' baptism, January 6th, sometimes does double duty as a nativity date. Clement mentions the followers of the heretic Basilides as observing the anniversary of Christ's baptism:

"And the followers of Basilides hold the day of his baptism as a festival, spending the night before in readings. And they say that it was the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar, the fifteenth day of the month Tubi; and some that it was the eleventh of the same month." (Clement of Alexandria, Stromata, Book 1, Chapter 21).

This date is in January. There remains a difficulty in interpreting any and all of Clement's various dates as found in the Stromata: more than one calendar was in use in Egypt, which one is he using?

The index date for translating Clement's backward countdown is the assassination of emperor Commodus, which occurred December 31, 192 A.D. This fixed point illuminates his dating system, which assigns a date to Augustus of 30 B.C.: "In all, from Augustus to Commodus, are two hundred and twenty-two years;..." (Clement of Alexandria, Stromata, Book 1, Chapter XXI). This seems an odd date: 192 years plus 30 years equals 222 years. What happened in 31 B.C.? The famed battle of Actium, which sounded the death knell for Antony and Cleopatra. Augustus sailed to Egypt in 30 B.C., and the Egyptocentric Clement would seem to be dating his reign from that time. Thus his date for the nativity: "And our Lord was born in the twenty-eighth year, when first the census was ordered to be taken in the reign of Augustus." (Clement of Alexandria, Stromata (Miscellanies), Book 1, Chapter XXI). Twenty-eight years from 30 B.C. is 2 B.C. Many modern writers date Herod's death to 4 B.C. in line with a partial lunar eclipse of that year,-- Josephus mentions an eclipse,-- but there was also a lunar eclipse in 1 B.C.

From 2 B.C. we get to 192 A.D. in 194 years: "From the birth of Christ, therefore, to the death of Commodus are, in all, a hundred and ninety-four years, one month, thirteen days." (Clement of Alexandria, Stromata (Miscellanies), Book 1, Chapter XXI). There is no year zero; 1 B.C. is one year, 1 A.D. is one year. 2 B.C. is one year, 2 A.D. is one year. Therefore 2 B.C. to 2 A.D. = four years. If we report Clement's date according to the Roman calendar, this would be November 17, 2 B.C., because Commodus was assassinated on December 31st.

November 17th or 18th, who uses that date? No tradition has shed its halo over this date. Or is he perhaps using the old Egyptian system? Is it possible this outmoded calendar remained in popular use? It is not likely he is using the pure Julian system, because his months are not the familiar Roman months. Some people have actually made this argument, if I may impose upon the reader's patience to show how November can be made over into January, a date which does possess some traditional resonance. Every fourth year the Roman year is 366 days in length, but the old Egyptian civil year remained constant at 365 days. Suppose (for the sake of argument) Clement is using this outmoded short year. In the space of nearly two centuries, Clement would come up 'short' twenty-five days a century, or 49 total. His excess 'capital' of one month, 13 days is exhausted thereby. Therefore his 194 years = 194 * 365 = 70,810 days, plus one month = 30 days, plus 13 days = 70,853 days. To convert into Roman years, 70,853/365.25 = 193.985 years. To put it another way, exactly 194 years would be 70,858 or 70,859 days: 194 * 365.25 = 70,858.50. We are 5.5 days shy of exactly 194 years: 70,858.50 - 70,853 = 5.5 days. This brings us to January 5 or 6, 1 B.C.

But surely the possibility also exists that Clement was using the corrected Roman/Egyptian system. The 365-1/4 day year had been known for centuries by his time. If so we are left with November 18, 2 B.C. (Julian), a nativity date nowhere else attested. A calendar of this form is used at the present day by the Coptic Church, and features the familiar 12 months of 30 days each, followed by 'extra' days. The new feature is that every four years, six 'extra' days are tacked on rather than five. This modified calendar's years track with the Julian, though the months are different. The new year begins at the end of summer. This Coptic calendar in its present form was introduced in 25 B.C., but its use did not become universal for some years. Its continuing popularity with modern Copts may be owing to its superiority to the Muslim calendar, a wandering, uncorrected lunar calendar.

The claim that Clement was in fact using an older calendar leaves the skeptical reader wondering: why would anyone use an outmoded, inferior calendar when a better was available? Or is this like wondering why Americans do not use the metric system, when they know it is harder to work with twelve than ten. They know what they know: there are twelve inches in a foot. If Clement was familiar with the older system, it may have seemed right to him, even if he knew it possessed the annoying feature that the months are not securely tethered to seasons, but 'wander.' The conflicts accompanying the introduction of the Gregorian system show that people do not always agree the new system is better, even when it is. Modern Muslims employ an uncorrected lunar calendar, whose months wander through the seasons, with no apparent regret at what they're missing. However it strains credulity to suppose Clement would by-pass the excellent calendars readily available to him precisely when touching upon the topic of chronology. November 17 or 18 must remain standing as an unexplained outlier.

Clement unfortunately offers no explanation for his various dates, other than assuring us they are the work product of parties who took pains to determine them. On what information did these ancient inquirers rely to calculate this date? The Bible is certainly one vein waiting to be mined. One thing is clear: the date of the nativity was not a feature of the gospel Clement inherited from his predecessors; if it had been, it would not have been a topic of inquiry and speculation. From this it is clear that the church of his day did not celebrate Christmas.

Though Clement's spring dates strike the reader as unheard-of, in fact additional evidence in their favor comes from the statue of the anti-pope Hippolytus in Rome, whereon is inscribed a pascal cycle. Next to an entry for April 2 is scratched, 'birth of Christ.'


Christmas Music

At this point there was no Liturgical Calendar, no commonly accepted date for Christmas, nor for the complex of other dates that hang thereon: the birth of John the Baptist, the Annunciation, etc. Clement mentions a heretical group, the Basilidians, as observing the date of Jesus' baptism: "And the followers of Basilides hold the day of his baptism as a festival, spending the night before in readings." (Clement of Alexandria, Stromata (Miscellanies), Book 1, Chapter XXI). In latter days it would be, not the heretics, but the orthodox, who would observe the day of His baptism.

However, since Dionysus and Osiris were still celebrating their nativities in the summer, or rather their votaries were festooning their lifeless idols at this season, neither Clement's winter date nor his autumnal date nor his spring date can have been borrowed from them. Not in Clement's Egypt at least, though the Athenians held winter observances for Dionysus. The safest thing is to say, we don't know when the Lord was born: it might have been in winter, or it might have been in the spring. Or autumn, maybe.

Epiphanius of Salamis

Late in the fourth century Epiphanius of Salamis would take up the question of Jesus' nativity. He offers the traditional early January date, which does seem to have some antiquity behind it, and helpfully also provides a link with the winter solstice. This is helpful information indeed, not because we ought to join the pagans in celebrating the sun's rebirth, but because God's astronomical benchmarks give us a boundary mark to find our way back through man's wandering calendars. That was His intent: "And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years:. . ." (Genesis 1:14). Yet anyone who uses God's benchmarks, such as the vernal equinox in determining the date of Easter, hears the cry of 'Pagan!':

“For Christ was born in the month of January, that is, on the eighth before the Ides of January -- in the Roman calendar this is the evening of January fifth, at the beginning of January sixth. In the Egyptian calendar it is the eleventh of Tybi.” (Epiphanius, Panarion, Section IV, Chapter 31 (51), 24,1).
"For the magi themselves reached Bethlehem, after a two year interval, on this very day of the Epiphany. . .As I have said before and am obliged to say over and over, this was the day in the thirteenth consulship of Octavius Augustus and the consulship of Silanus which fell on the eighth day before the Ides of January, thirteen days after the increase of the daylight. This lasts from the winter solstice, the eighth before the Kalends of January, until the actual day of Christ's birth and Manifestation, because of the type I spoke of -- the Savior himself and his disciples, making thirteen." (Epiphanius, Panarion, Section IV, Chapter 31 (51), 22, 18).

Late in the fourth century, the winter solstice was occurring on the eighth day before the Kalends of January (the first of the month), i.e., December 24th. Correcting to the present occurrence of the winter solstice would give January 3 as the nativity. Thanks to Pope Gregory's subtraction of ten spurious days, January 6th is still in the ball-park!

Epiphanius, while a plodding theologian, is an indefatigable fact-collector; unfortunately he is willing to rely on suspect sources. So in Epiphanius' day, nearly four centuries after Christ's birth, we hear of a nativity date with a thirteen-day offset from the winter solstice. But is this date simply the traditional date for the baptism? The equation of the date of the baptism with the nativity, made by some, is debatable, and debated by Epiphanius himself, who separates the two dates:

"Thus the overall order of events is this: first, he was baptized on the twelfth of the Egyptian month Athyr, the sixth before the Ides of November in the Roman calendar. In other words, he was baptized a full sixty days before the Epiphany, which is the day of his birth in the flesh, as the Gospel according to Luke testifies, 'Jesus began to be about thirty years old, being, as was supposed, the son of Joseph.' Actually, he was twenty-nine years and ten months old—thirty years old but not quite—when he came for his baptism. This is why it says, 'began to be about thirty years old.'" [November 7th + 60 days=nativity] (Epiphanius, Panarion, Section IV, 31 [51] p. 41, 15.13-16.1)

Reportedly, the December 25th date also turns up in an illuminated work produced by an artist in 354 A.D.: "Take Furius Dionysius Filocalus, a famous artist, who prepared a calendar book for the year 354 CE and dedicated it to a wealthy friend, Valentinus. Though the book is now lost, careful medieval copies allow us to reconstruct its contents and artistic program with great success. It was something like what moderns might call an almanac. . .The year for the martyrs in particular begins with December 25, marked as the nativity of Jesus— and therefore this is a very early indication of celebration of that particular date." (O'Donnell, James J. (2015-03-17). Pagans: The End of Traditional Religion and the Rise of Christianity (p. 205-207). HarperCollins.)

It depends on how "careful" these "copies" were, whether we are looking at a medieval date or one which actually goes back to 354 A.D.


Speculation vs. Revelation

The moral of the story is, if it's in the Bible, you can take it to the bank. If it's not in the Bible,-- and December 25th is not,-- then you're taking your chances. The Da Vinci Code shows how to draw away the unsuspecting. Da Vinci's 'Last Supper' is, to some people, the last word in spirituality: but Vasari, a contemporary observer, does not report its creator a Christian. How many people gaze in awe at Michelangelo's beautiful paintings, and think he must have seen God? How many would do so if they knew the same man also wrote homoerotic poetry?

Author Dan Brown would have his readers disbelieve the deity of Jesus...because His birth-date is not recorded in scripture. Atheists would have us disbelieve the existence of Jesus, because His birth-date is not recorded in scripture. But this does not follow. Rather, readers should disbelieve that December 25th is the birth-date of Jesus, because this date is not recorded in scripture. Trust in God, it is He who is the strong tower; His word is a sure guide, not human traditions of uncertain origin.


 Bible Evidence 

Course of Abijah Sheep
Baptism Feast of Tabernacles

Course of Abijah

What passages in the Bible might illuminate the question of when the Savior was born? A perennial favorite is the priestly courses. John the Baptist's father was in the course, or company, of Abijah (Luke 1:5). There were twenty-four of these priestly courses:

“Then David with Zadok of the sons of Eleazar, and Ahimelech of the sons of Ithamar, divided them according to the schedule of their service...Thus they were divided by lot, one group as another, for there were officials of the sanctuary and officials of the house of God, from the sons of Eleazar and from the sons of Ithamar....Now the first lot fell to Jehoiarib, the second to Jedaiah, the third to Harim, the fourth to Seorim, the fifth to Malchijah, the sixth to Mijamin, the seventh to Hakkoz, the eighth to Abijah, the ninth to Jeshua, the tenth to Shecaniah, the eleventh to Eliashib, the twelfth to Jakim, the thirteenth to Huppah, the fourteenth to Jeshebeab, the fifteenth to Bilgah, the sixteenth to Immer, the seventeenth to Hezir, the eighteenth to Happizzez, the nineteenth to Pethahiah, the twentieth to Jehezekel, the twenty-first to Jachin, the twenty-second to Gamul, the twenty-third to Delaiah, the twenty-fourth to Maaziah. This was the schedule of their service for coming into the house of the LORD according to their ordinance by the hand of Aaron their father, as the LORD God of Israel had commanded him." (1 Chronicles 24:3-19).

1 Jehoiarib 13 Huppah
2 Jedaiah 14 Jeshebeab
3 Harim 15 Bilgah
4 Seorim 16 Immer
5 Malchijah 17 Hezir
6 Mijamin 18 Happizzez
7 Hakkoz 19 Pethahiah
8 Abijah 20 Jehezekel
9 Jeshua 21 Jachin
10 Shecaniah 22 Gamul
11 Eliashib 23 Delaiah
12 Jakim 24 Maaziah

They followed in a regular order. David established them, and they were reconstituted after return from exile. Josephus describes the succession:

“But David, being desirous of ordaining his son king of all the people, called together their rulers to Jerusalem, with the priests and the Levites; and having first numbered the Levites, he found them to be thirty-eight thousand, from thirty years old to fifty; out of which he appointed twenty-three thousand to take care of the building of the temple, and out of the same, six thousand to be judges of the people and scribes, four thousand for porters to the house of God, and as many for singers, to sing to the instruments which David had prepared, as we have said already. He divided them also into courses: and when he had separated the priests from them, he found of these priests twenty-four courses, sixteen of the house of Eleazar, and eight of that of Ithamar; and he ordained that one course should minister to God eight days, from sabbath to sabbath. And thus were the courses distributed by lot, in the presence of David, and Zadok and Abiathar the high priests, and of all the rulers; and that course which came up first was written down as the first, and accordingly the second, and so on to the twenty-fourth; and this partition hath remained to this day. He also made twenty-four parts of the tribe of Levi; and when they cast lots, they came up in the same manner for their courses of eight days. He also honored the posterity of Moses, and made them the keepers of the treasures of God, and of the donations which the kings dedicated. He also ordained that all the tribe of Levi, as well as the priests, should serve God night and day, as Moses had enjoined them. (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book 7, Chapter 14, Paragraph 7).

When Josephus counts "eight" days, he is using the Jewish count where a partial day counts as a whole day; the priests serve "from sabbath to sabbath," one course of priests replacing the other. The shift changed at noon: "...other priests succeed in the performance of their sacrifices, and assemble together at mid-day..." (Josephus, Against Apion, 2:8). We would count one week exactly.

Some interpreters assume that this cycle of priestly courses must have 'reset' once a year, to coincide with the beginning of the year in the spring, perhaps. Thus, these interpreters start each new year's count with 'Jehoiarib.' But there is no historical evidence that anyone ever pressed the 'reset' button on this schedule, either in the spring or in the fall or at any other time. Rather, each week the next course 'on deck' succeeded the retiring one. It may be objected, this way the priestly courses will 'travel' through the year, only coming out at the same point after a cycle of years. The available evidence, of the Talmud for instance, is that so they did.

Aligning dates between different calendars can be difficult. God ordained luminaries for time-keepers:

"And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years..." (Genesis 1:14).

These ever-faithful heavenly time-pieces stand to their stations indefatigably, but for some reason it is very common for human beings to become confused and befuddled by the data they yield. God did not reveal a calendar in His word, but rather instructions that require a calendar for their accurate completion: Passover, for example, must fall in the first month of the year. The year is the province of the sun; a year is the time it takes this luminary to complete his (apparent) circuit. A calendar, like the uncorrected Muslim lunar calendar, which allows Passover to fall twice within the same year, would plainly defeat God's instruction for a yearly festival.

The Jews adopted the pagan Babylonian luni-solar calendar to meet these requirements. This calendar is pretty good, but not great. Because twelve lunar months are shy of a solar year, approximately every two years out of three count the customary twelve months, but then every third year includes an extra intercalated month. Readers counting on their fingers and toes will be alarmed to realize this does not come out right, but not to worry, because over a cycle of 19 years, we do come back close to the starting point.

In the fourth century A.D., Rabbi Hillel II 'automated' this calendar. Nowadays it is possible to predict dates under the Jewish calendar looking forward, as well as calculate historical dates. But this only became possible after Rabbi Hillel II switched on the auto-pilot. Prior to this time, the rules allowed the religious authorities to exercise their free will. The vernal equinox was one factor they were obliged to consider, but not the only one, in deciding when to intercalate a month or a day. This is a license for mischief-making! No one now can be absolutely sure which years of the first century had an extra month and which did not. As will become apparent, this is a wild card in the system.

Julius Caesar inaugurated the western calendar later perfected by Pope Gregory. Caesar set the length of the solar year at 365-1/4, which is just a little too much. Two years out of three in the Babylonian luni-solar calendar are shorter than the solar year, and the third year (on average) is longer; only on average does this system do justice to the sun and respect the sun's ever-constant year. By contrast, while Julius Caesar's system boasts a rock-solid solar year, it cheats the other luminary, the moon. Months on the Julian calendar have faded into abstract conventions; they need not begin with the new moon, nor reach full moon at mid-way, nor wane away to completion. Dates transferred from one calendar to the other do not remain constant but jump around. Julius Caesar inaugurated his system in 45 B.C.; the prior year, 46 B.C., was the "final year of confusion," with no fewer than 445 days. Acceptance was neither immediate nor total:

"Every fourth year an extra day was meant to be inserted...After Caesar's assassination in 44 B.C., the priests initially inserted the extra day by mistake every three years, leading Augustus in 9 B.C. to omit any further intercalation for sixteen years. The Julian year began to function properly from only A.D. 8." (The Discovery of Time, edited by Stuart McCready, p. 89).

This odd set of circumstances was recorded by the antiquarian Macrobius in his 'Saturnalia,' Book I, Chapter 14. It's difficult to avoid the impression that the correct solution remains to be found. It is not good to fail to keep time with the solar year, which is where the pagan Babylonians failed; but neither is it good to fail the moon, to the extent of throwing up one's hands and not even trying, as Julius Caesar failed. In any event, the reader who keeps his eyes narrowly focused upon these two heavenly luminaries will navigate the calendrical swamp. There are days, weeks, months and years; the sun governs the days and the years, the moon the months. Weeks have no luminary assigned to them but succeed each other seven by seven, like an ever-flowing stream. These various time-units are not evenly divisible into one another, leaving no remainder. Our priestly courses run with the weeks, not the year nor the months.

Josephus records that the second temple was destroyed in 70 A.D. on the same date Solomon's temple was destroyed by the Babylonians:

“So Titus retired into the tower of Antonia, and resolved to storm the temple the next day, early in the morning, with his whole army, and to encamp round about the holy house. But as for that house, God had, for certain, long ago doomed it to the fire; and now that fatal day was come, according to the revolution of ages; it was the tenth day of the month Lous, [Ab,] upon which it was formerly burnt by the king of Babylon; although these flames took their rise from the Jews themselves, and were occasioned by them; for upon Titus’s retiring, the seditious lay still for a little while, and then attacked the Romans again, when those that guarded the holy house fought with those that quenched the fire that was burning the inner [court of the] temple; but these Romans put the Jews to flight, and proceeded as far as the holy house itself. At which time one of the soldiers, without staying for any orders, and without any concern or dread upon him at so great an undertaking, and being hurried on by a certain divine fury, snatched somewhat out of the materials that were on fire, and being lifted up by another soldier, he set fire to a golden window, through which there was a passage to the rooms that were round about the holy house, on the north side of it. As the flames went upward, the Jews made a great clamor, such as so mighty an affliction required, and ran together to prevent it; and now they spared not their lives any longer, nor suffered any thing to restrain their force, since that holy house was perishing, for whose sake it was that they kept such a guard about it."
(Josephus, Wars of the Jews, Book VI, Chapter 4.5).

Jeremiah gives the date as 10 Ab:

"Now in the fifth month, in the tenth day of the month, which was the nineteenth year of Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon, came Nebuzaradan, captain of the guard, which served the king of Babylon, into Jerusalem, and burned the house of the LORD, and the king’s house; and all the houses of Jerusalem, and all the houses of the great men, burned he with fire..." (Jeremiah 52:12-13; but see 2 Kings 25:8).

The Talmud gives this date as 9 Ab:

“On the ninth of Ab . . . the Temple was destroyed the first and second time.”
(Mishna, Ta'anith 4:6; BT, Ta'anith 26b, quoted Kenneth F. Doig, New Testament Chronology).

Moreover, the Talmud records which priestly course was on duty to watch the destruction of the temple.

“Good things come to pass on an auspicious day, and bad things on an unlucky day. It is reported that the day on which the First Temple was destroyed was the eve of the ninth of Ab, a Sunday, and in the year following the Sabbatical year, and the Mishmar of the family of Jehoiarib were on duty and the Levites were chanting the Psalms standing on their Duchan (platform)...And hardly had they time to say, `The Lord our God will cut them off,' when the heathens came and captured them. The same thing too happened in the Second Temple."
(Ta'anith 29a)

"It is said, The day on which the first Temple was destroyed was the ninth of Ab, and it was at the going out of the Sabbath, and the end of the seventh [Sabbatical] year. The [priestly] guard was that of Jehoiarib, the priests and Levites were standing on their platform singing the song...They had no time to complete `The Lord our God will cut them off,' before the enemies came and overwhelmed them. The same happened the second time."
(Arakin 11b, quoted Kenneth F. Doig, New Testament Chronology).

So we know that the course of Jehoiarib was serving in August of 70 A.D. when the temple fell. This is a huge step forward. Or is it? The language of the Talmud leaves one wondering:

"Whence do we know that the second Temple was also destroyed on the 9th of Abh? 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 Abh, 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 Jehoyoreb, 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.'" (The Babylonian Talmud, edited by Michael. L. Rodkinson, Volume VIII, Tract Ta'anith, Chapter IV, Kindle location 33083).

One hopes the event is 'ascribed' to this day because there is independent, verifiable information and documentation that so it occurred.

New possibilities must occur to the reader. Jesus must have been born 15 months (more or less) after Zacharias served in the temple. Following the priestly courses backward from 70 A.D. will provide several time windows during which the nativity might have occurred.

We cannot know, of course, exactly what length of time elapsed between Zacharias' return home and the conception of John the Baptist. Nor do we know whether the 'sixth month' of Luke 1:36 means early in the sixth month, late in the sixth month, or smack dab in the middle. Nor can we know that the Zealots who seized control of the temple prior to its destruction did not innovate, change or 'correct' the schedule of priestly courses, as they innovated in other areas of temple practice. Of course, this sequence of priestly courses did not, in the first century A.D., stretch back in an unbroken chain to David. The temple had been destroyed by the Babylonians. It had been rebuilt and the priestly courses re-established; but then the rebuilt temple was profaned by Antiochus Epiphanes. No one can know for sure if there were no changes or adjustments made subsequent to these interruptions or at any other time.

Nor can we know whether either child was premature or late. This procedure will yield only an approximate time window in which Jesus' nativity is possible, not a precise date. Even this much depends upon our willing to make assumptions, but not unreasonable ones.

At the three major festivals, the temple authorities called 'all hands on deck,' and priests of all twenty-four courses were found serving in the temple. Some calculators take this to mean that the three major festivals should be counted as interruptions in the twenty-four course weekly succession. But this is not so according to the Talmud, which takes it for granted there will be a regularly scheduled cohort serving during the festivals, in addition to the multitude of walk-ons:

"MISHNA: Three times in the year all the twenty-four orders of priests were alike entitled to share the pieces of offerings of the festival, and in the shewbread; and on the Feast of Pentecost the distributors say to each priest: "Here is leavened bread for thee, and here is unleavened bread for thee." The order of priests whose regular time of service occurs in the festivals offer the continual daily offerings, vows, and voluntary offerings, and all congregational offerings, and every sacrifice." (Tract Succah (Booths), Bablyonian Talmud, Book 4: Tracts Pesachim, Yomah and Hagiga, tr. by Michael L. Rodkinson, [1918], at, Chapter V, Volume VII.)

Our conclusion as to the nativity date will depend also on the year assigned to the nativity, itself a disputed point.

These priestly courses run by week, and the solar year is no more evenly divisible by weeks than it is by lunar months. Moreover, the Babylonian luni-solar year only averages out to the length of a solar year; two years out of three are shorter, one year longer. In years which include an extra 'leap' month, we must count four extra courses than we count for the shorter, twelve-month, 50-1/2-week years. But, recall, during this time-frame months were intercalated at the discretion of the religious authorities, and we cannot know with certainty which years these were! So using the Jewish calendar to make our calculations fails. Fortunately, we do not have to. Realizing that the Jewish temple fell on August 5, 70 A.D., we can count backwards using the non-discretionary Julian calendar. Weeks are always seven days, regardless of what calendar is used to keep track of them. These weekly courses are an event in the world; we can record them in whatever format comes to hand. After all, one can ask, 'On what date in the Gregorian calendar did Passover fall this year?'; one cannot report, 'Passover occurred but did not fall on any date in the Gregorian calendar this year.'

In 70 A.D., the course of Jehoiarib ran from August 4 to August 11, Maaziah July 28 to August 4. Delaiah served July 21 to July 28, Gamul July 14 to July 21, Jachin July 7 to July 14, Jehezekel June 30 to July 7, Pethahiah June 23 to June 30. Happizzez was on duty June 16 to June 23, Hezir June 9 to June 16, Immer June 2 to June 9. Bilgah was on duty May 26 to June 2, Jeshebeab May 19 to May 26, Huppah May 12 to May 19, Jakim May 5 to May 12. Eliashib served the week of April 28 to May 5, Shecaniah April 21 to 28, Jeshua April 14 to April 21. Abijah, the course of Zacharias, served April 7 to April 14, 70 A.D. Hakkoz ministered March 31 to April 7, Mijamin March 24 to 31, Malchijah March 17 to March 24, Seorim March 10 to March 17, Harim March 3 to March 10. Jedaiah served February 24 to March 3, and we are back to our starting point, Jehoiarib, for the week of February 17 to February 24. The easiest way to do this is to download a free-ware calendar like Calendar Magic. 24 courses of 7 days each is 168 days. Happy counting! We do find the course of Abijah serving in September of 5 B.C. and in October of 6 B.C., making a winter nativity in 4 B.C. possible, but the year of Christ's birth is every bit as much a disputed point as the month and day.

Calculators known to Clement or other early witnesses may have been able to employ the 'priestly courses' strategy successfully, relying upon historic information then available. It would be best to have a 'check' on this information to be sure that the turbulence of the Jewish War did not disrupt the orderly succession of these courses.



At the time of the Lord's birth, there were shepherds and sheep abiding in the fields. If it was normal agricultural practice in that time and place for sheep to be kept in enclosures during the winter, as is often stated, then this points to a spring or fall date:

"The flocks had to spend the greater part of the year in the open air: they were led out the week before the Passover, and they did not come back again until half-way through November, at the first rains of Hesvan. They passed the winter under cover; and from this alone it may be seen that the traditional date for Christmas, in the winter, is unlikely to be right, since the Gospel says that the shepherds were in the fields." (Daily Life in Palestine at the Time of Christ, Henri Jules Charles Petiot, p. 230).

But winters in the holy land are not overly harsh. Agriculturalists are always opportunists, in any case, poised to take advantage of the weather, whether usual or unusual. Additionally, there may have been special circumstances in this case. Bethlehem is near Jerusalem, whose still-standing temple required large numbers of animals, some of whom may have been pastured there, in-season and out-of-season, awaiting purchase:

"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 [Shek. vii. 4.] 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 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." (Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Book II, Chapter VI, Kindle location 3994).

So this point actually tells neither one way nor the other. It is however insisted upon by certain groups:

“For each season we would have what we called 'special debunkers.' Around Christmas time we would maintain and dramatically demonstrate that Jesus was born in October; around Easter we would explain that Easter was a pagan holiday and that the egg, the bunny, the pomegranate were merely pagan symbols. So on throughout the year we would have special seasonal 'debunkers.'”
(Schnell, William J. (2002-01-01). 30 Years a Watchtower Slave: The Confessions of a Converted Jehovah's Witness (p. 136). Baker Publishing Group.)

While it is certainly true that the date of the Lord's nativity is not known in any provable and demonstrable fashion, the factual basis for these groups' speculations is if anything even more slender.



Some interpreters identify the date of the Lord's baptism also as His birthday: "And Jesus himself was beginning to be about thirty years old;.." (Luke 3:23 Darby translation). If Jesus was "beginning to be about thirty years old" on this date, then it must have been His birthday, because it is on your birthday when you begin to be a certain age. For that matter, if Jesus began to be thirty in Tiberius' fifteenth year: "Now in the fifteenth year of the government of Tiberius Caesar..." (Luke 3:1),-- Tiberius began to rule August 19, 14 A.D.,-- then Jesus must have been born 1 B.C. However it is not clear why Luke says "about" if he intends to give the Lord's birthday. You do not begin to be "about" a certain age on your birthday, but 'exactly.'

Does Luke mean that Jesus' baptism occurred, not exactly on the anniversary of His birth, but only "about" that time? Or does he mean, that his informants were sure Jesus' baptism occurred on His birthday, but they were not sure if this was His thirtieth, thirty-first or thirty-second birthday?

Some readers understand the meaning to be, 'He began [His ministry]' at that time, as the NIV has it, not that He began to be about 30 years of age. But the simplest and most natural reading of the text does correlate the baptism with the Lord's passing of an age milestone, even if the link is only approximate. The language reported by Luke: "Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased" (Luke 3:22),-- was so reminiscent of Psalm 2:7, "I will declare the decree: the LORD hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee.",-- that this latter phrase at times even migrated into the text. The traditional date for the Lord's baptism, January 6, is old and might conceivably be historical. Making this date do double duty also has some antiquity behind it:

"In the country of Egypt this custom is by ancient tradition observed that — when Epiphany is past, which the priests of that province regard as the time, both of our Lord’s baptism and also of His birth in the flesh, and so celebrate the commemoration of either mystery not separately as in the Western provinces but on the single festival of this day, — letters are sent from the Bishop of Alexandria through all the Churches of Egypt, by which the beginning of Lent, and the day of Easter are pointed out not only in all the cities but also in all the monasteries." (John Cassian, Conferences, Part I, Section 10, The Second Conference of Abbot Isaac, Chapter 2, p. 821 ECF 2.11).

Feast of Tabernacles

A popular alternative date for the nativity is the Feast of Tabernacles. Those who endorse this theory believe they find confirmation in John 7:2-6:

"Now the Jews’ feast of tabernacles was at hand...Then Jesus said unto them, My time is not yet come: but your time is always ready." (John 7:2-6).

A speaker who says "My time is not yet come" might conceivably mean, 'it isn't my birthday yet, though it will be in a few days.' Or it might reflect the inner clock impelling Him on to Calvary, as when He says,

"And he said, Go into the city to such a man, and say unto him, The Master saith, My time is at hand; I will keep the passover at thy house with my disciples." (Matthew 26:18).

This argument has more punch when combined with a count of the priestly courses that hits the 'reset' button every new year. If history were to corroborate the report of an annual reset feature, that would be impressive; but it does not.

Those who advocate this theory also believe the Feast of Tabernacles to be uniquely well-suited for typological reasons for the Lord's nativity, because then he came to pitch his tent amongst us:

"And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt [tabernacled] among us..." (John 1:14).

Once one starts with this approach, where to end? The festival of lights is uniquely well suited to the Lord's incarnation, because He is the light of the world; the Passover is uniquely well suited, because He is the lamb who takes away the sins of the world, etc.

The traditional mid-winter nativity date assigns the Feast of Tabernacles rather to the conception of John the Baptist, finding confirmation in the presence of a "multitude" in the temple:

"And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense." (Luke 1:10).

One might expect a larger "multitude" to assemble for the major festivals, though it is unlikely the temple was ever deserted.

The Case Against Christmas
The War On Christmas
O Christmas Tree
Why December 25th?
Gee Whiz
Columbus Day
Easter and the Equinox

The Case Against Christmas

Christmas was once banned in Boston, on the strength of the Puritan accusation that it was borrowed from the pagans:

“Hospinian speaketh judiciously, when he saith, that he doth not believe that they who first of all observed the Feast of Christ’s Nativity in the latter end of December, did it as thinking that Christ was born in that Month, but because the Heathen's Saturnalia was at that time kept in Rome, and they were willing to have those Pagan Holidays metamorphosed into Christian.” (Increase Mather, A Testimony Against several Prophane and Superstitious Customs, Now Practised by some in New-England, The Evil whereof is evinced from the Holy Scriptures, and from the Writings both of Ancient and Modern Divines, Chapter III).

If Christmas is, indeed, Saturnalia in disguise, then Christians should not observe it because, "Now for Christians thus to practise, is against clear Scripture, which commands the Lord’s People not to learn the way of the Heathen, nor do after their manner, Jer. 10:2. Lev. 20:23. Ezek. 11:12." (Increase Mather, A Testimony Against several Prophane and Superstitious Customs, Now Practised by some in New-England, The Evil whereof is evinced from the Holy Scriptures, and from the Writings both of Ancient and Modern Divines, Chapter III).

The deity Rev. Mather accuses Christmas-keepers of adoring is, not Dionysus, not Osiris, nor the sun, but rather Saturn, whose festival was celebrated in December. The Romans had fused a benevolent Italian king, who may or may not be historical, with the Greek deity Cronos, the dysfunctional father of Zeus. Saturn is many things: that planet with the rings, and also a king of long ago who instituted a communist regime, as well as a car line they are discontinuing. One thing he is not is the sun, though that doesn't stop Macrobius from trying:

"And Saturn himself, the author of times and seasons...must assuredly be understood to be the sun; since there is handed down a regular succession of first principles, a succession separated by the multitude of times and seasons, made visible by light, bound together in an everlasting bond, and distinguished by our sense of sight, wherein we see everywhere the action of the sun." (Macrobius, The Saturnalia, Book I, Chapter 22:8)

Saturn's reign was recalled as a Golden Age of justice and peace. The observance of Saturnalia was anything but peaceful, though, with drunken rioting the rule. Rev. Mather can make no comparable case against the date the Eastern churches celebrate the Lord's baptism and birth, which he admits holds priority in time: "Moreover, when that superstition of keeping a stated Festival in commemoration of the day of Christ’s Nativity did first obtain in the Church, not the 25th of December, but the 6th day of January was the time observed." (Increase Mather, A Testimony Against several Prophane and Superstitious Customs, Now Practised by some in New-England, The Evil whereof is evinced from the Holy Scriptures, and from the Writings both of Ancient and Modern Divines, Chapter III).

Rev. Mather's case against Christmas has been forgotten by most Bible-believers, though not only groups on the margin like the Jehovah's Witnesses, but also very many Seventh Day Adventists, continue to believe it and repeat it. The case against December 25th is strong; that date finds no support in any early record. What is looked for is a date so early and widespread as to convince the inquirer that it might well reflect an authentic tradition; but December 25th begins to be spoken of only in the late fourth and early fifth centuries. But the lateness and shakiness of December 25th seems rather to be an argument for adopting January 6th rather than for abandoning the observance of Christmas, which is not commanded but also is not forbidden.

The War Against Christmas

Certain TV personalities have drawn a line in the sand marking the latest battleground in the culture wars. Those commercial enterprises who seek to avoid antagonizing their Seventh Day Adventist customers by milding down 'Merry Christmas' to 'Happy Holidays' are waging war against Christianity, or so we are told. No doubt the Seventh Day Adventists are surprised to find themselves thus left outside the fold.

These pundits' argument runs thus: This country has a Christian heritage which runs through the Puritans...the very same Puritans who condemned Christmas as a pagan abomination. Now this is certainly true. Oliver Cromwell's epitaph: "Christ, not man, is king," -- became a slogan of the Revolutionary War. Great Britain had its own abortive revolution prior to our Revolution. They boldly and resolutely beheaded their monarch...then later thought better of it and tried to put his head back on, recalling his son as king. The indecisive and vacillating British failed at their revolution. The promise of England's Puritan revolution did not come to fruition; instead of issuing in a new birth of liberty as promised, it ended in military dictatorship. Yet this same set of slogans were shouted again during our revolution, and did not miscarry this time. The religion of the Puritans, as is said of the Muslims, is not a religion only but a political system as well. These people thought, and believed they had sound Biblical basis for so thinking, that the only fit form of government for a Christian people was representative democracy. So we all owe them a debt of gratitude for the freedom we enjoy; they plowed the ideological ground which later bore fruit for us, if not for them. So let us honor celebrating Christmas, which they thought to be a pagan abomination? Something is off here.

Most Evangelical Christians do observe Christmas, but on the basis of indifferentism: since we do not know the day on which Jesus was born, they say, we might as well observe this day as any other. It is a far cry from this to the Fox commentators' claim that millions of Christians hold this particular day sacred, so much so as to be actually offended by 'Happy Holidays.' What Evangelicals ought to say to the 'War on Christmas' is 'no mas.' We do not have a dog in this fight.

With wars come alliances. Who would have expected America to stand shoulder to shoulder with Soviet Russia; yet we did, against Hitler. In the Christmas War, the Roman Catholic and Mormon commentators Fox News has hired step solidly to the middle of the front ranks, because these groups observe Christmas. Sadly, the Seventh Day Adventists must be tossed over the ramparts. Now we must aim our missiles and darts at our one-time friends; saving Christmas demands it. But not to worry; what we have gained by selling our brothers and sisters down the river are a whole new set of friends. We have exchanged the monotheist and trinitarian, but not Christmas-keeping, Seventh Day Adventists for the Mormons, who maintain a very nice choir which sings Christmas carols. Incidentally, thinking Catholics are aware that December 25th has no weight of early tradition behind it; see the online Catholic Encyclopedia, which freely concedes this point.

But what excused this low treachery? The New Testament explicitly prohibits expelling believers from the congregation because they will not keep a holiday:

"One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. (Romans 14:5)."

It is doubtful these TV personalities ever intended to marginalize the Seventh Day Adventists when they launched their War; they probably are scarcely aware of who these people are. But what else are they accomplishing with this pointless exercise?

Some of these TV personalities have likely concluded that Christmas-keeping is the very essence of Christianity on the strength of their own family heritage. Surely showing up at church on Christmas and Easter makes one a Christian! It is thus on this Maginot line, marked out by others, that we find ourselves massed for battle. But these mercenary generals are not running a well-planned campaign. We must find firm ground to stage our battle with the world, not suspect terrain which crumbles beneath the defenders' feet. What is so wrong with calling it a 'Holiday Tree'? Why not name the holiday, and call it a 'Winter Solstice Tree,' thus adorning oneself with the virtue of accurate statement? Madalyn Murray O'Hair used to send out Winter Solstice cards: "At Christmastime, she [Madalyn Murray O'Hair] paused long enough to send out a few of her traditional cards, which contained in her opinion 'the true meaning of Christmas.' Each card's message began with 'Greetings on the Winter Solstice Season!' It then went on to tell how Christians had taken over the ancient pagan holiday as the birthday of their 'mythological Christ.' (William Murray, My Life Without God, p. 71). To give the devil her due, those winter observances which center around lights and fires generally were observed by pagan peoples long before they were Christians. These shivering folks were concerned that the sinking winter sun had lost its mojo and imagined their yule logs and the like would help it recover its strength.

Mythological Christ?

When young Christians go out into the world and encounter atheists, it is a shame the first 'fight' they pick will leave them deflated, defeated, retreating in ignominy. 'Oh yes, Jesus was too born on December 25th!' -- why not defend instead the gospel, the deity of Christ, something that really can be defended from scripture? There is so much in Christianity which is founded on the solid rock. Why deliberately set the battle line amongst the uncertain detritus of human tradition, rather than God's sure promise in His word?

There is an unfortunate tradition in right-wing demagoguery of misidentifying the opponent. Thus enthusiasm for a compulsory pledge of allegiance became an issue when George H. W. Bush ran for President; and who are the people who will not pledge allegiance to the flag? Atheistic communists? No, the Jehovah's Witnesses; all the court cases are theirs. When it is so easy to avoid offending one's neighbors, why go out of the way to embarrass and inconvenience them?

December 25th as a nativity date was not known to Clement of Alexandria in the third century. The Seventh Day Adventists do not deserve to have their good name demeaned. This in-house debate need not be conducted in the public arena. Evangelical Christians should stop being so gullible, should stop doing as they are told, and should declare neutrality in the 'War on Christmas.'

O Christmas Tree

"As the Bible clearly states in Jeremiah 10:2-4, "Thus saith the Lord, learn not the way of the heathen; and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven. For the heathen are dismayed at them. For the customs of the people are vain. For one cutteth a tree out of the forest. The work of the hands of the workman with the axe. They deck it with silver and with gold. They fasten it with nails and with hammers that it move not."

"So, what is wrong with Christmas?

"1. To say that Jesus was born on December 25th is a lie! The true date is sometime in September according to the Scriptures.

"2. Trees, wreaths, holly, mistletoe and the like are strictly forbidden as pagan and heathen! To say that these are Christian or that they can be made Christian is a lie!

"3. The Lord never spoke of commemorating his birth but rather commanded us to remember the sacrifice of His suffering and death, which purchased our salvation."
(David Meyer, Last Trumpet Ministries)

The lighted Christmas trees which make such a magical sight on a winter's night are not of Christian origin. Rather, these beloved household decorations belong to a family of practices, like the yule log, intended to help the sun get its mojo back as the world slips into the cold and dark of a northern winter.

Where does that leave Christians? The pagan peoples wanted to help; why not assist the sun by lighting fires as it declined in the sky. The sun slips lower and lower until it reaches its feeblest noon-time height on the winter solstice. If even modern investors require to be reminded over and over that past performance is no guarantee of future results, then perhaps the human mind is hard-wired to expect present trends will continue, and the trend-line of December is alarming indeed. What if the sun keeps getting lower until it disappears altogether? These helpful aids to the weakening sun, like the lighted tree, keep that from happening...and like the island witch doctor's daily dance to make the sun rise, they always work, too! But should Christians adopt them, even if only for aesthetic, not functional, reasons? And having adopted them, should they pretend these things are 'Christmas trees' when they have nothing to do with Christmas?

While this pastor does have a point with the Christmas trees, one must wonder if he thinks no pagan gods were born in the month of September. If they were they must, by his own debate rules, be identified with Jesus. In fact, there is no day of the week on which Jesus can be born without trespassing on the turf of a pagan god: if He is born on Wednesday, that is Wotan's day; if He is born Thursday, that is Thor's day. Heaven help Him if He is born on Sunday; can we never get away from that glaring, inescapable pagan deity, the sun? You have to avoid looking up at the sky if you want to steer clear of him; live in the cellar, eat sprouts. Saturday is no better, that is Saturn's day...Saturn, who devoured his children. Yuck.

Jesus could never be born into the world at all if He cannot be born on a day sacred to the pagans, because every day is sacred to the pagans. There were, in the Kaba, before Mohammed ibn Abdallah cleansed it, 365 idols. That's one for every day of the year! There is not one single day of any year in which Jesus could be born which does not have a pagan idol squatting sullenly in possession. But what hope is there for sin-sick, lost humanity, if Jesus cannot be born any single day of the year?

Why December 25th?

Atheists and Puritans agree, we can thank the pagans for this date. Again, we are presented with a superabundance of riches: not one, but a crowd of pagan deities to be thanked for the date of December 25th: Osiris, Dionysus, Adonis, Sol Invictus, and Saturn. Perhaps our roster counts too many deities, as these deities are by no means the same, and if Jesus is to be identified with one of them, He cannot also be identified with the others.

If the atheists would stop and think, mightn't they wonder how these various deities ever came to have the same birthday? Those which are vegetation gods must have life-cycles which track with the agricultural calendar, so that it can be said, 'John Barley-corn is dead.' But mid-December is a time when the farmer has a lot of free time on his hands; it is not a inflection point in the agricultural year nor a natural birth-date for crop gods.

It is alleged that the Roman church adopted the Saturnalia to tempt pagans. But Christmas is one day, not several, nor do masters serve their slaves at table on this day, nor is the date even correct. It is difficult to find a link between Saturn and Jesus Christ, though some pagan anti-semites identified Saturn as the God of the Jews:

"We are told that the rest of the seventh day was adopted, because this day brought with it a termination of their toils; after a while the charm of indolence beguiled them into giving up the seventh year also to inaction. But others say that it is an observance in honor of Saturn, either from the primitive elements of their faith having been transmitted from the Idaei, who are said to have shared the flight of that God, and to have founded the race, or from the circumstance that of the seven stars which rule the destinies of men Saturn moves in the highest orbit and with the mightiest power..." (Tacitus, History, Book V, Chapter 4).

On what is Tacitus' identification based? Perhaps on no more than the happenstance that the Sabbath of the Jews falls upon Saturday: Saturn's day. This would have impressed no one familiar with monotheism. During the dark ages the Roman church adopted an autocratic form of government; the Roman bishop ruled his own church, and such of the other churches as would submit to his tyranny, according to his sole desire, and himself appointed that body which was to select the next pope, the College of Cardinals. But during the period in question, the late fourth century, the bishop of Rome was still elected by popular suffrage of the clergy and laity of Rome. The decision to fix this date must have been justified to the people somehow. How?

In our own times we have seen cases of churches adopting observances from motives of competition with the pagan world. Such get-togethers as church-sponsored Super Bowl Sunday parties and First Night New Year's Eve observances are not found in scripture. What is offered is a wholesome alternative to a worldly observance that is thought inappropriate for Christians because of excessive drinking and the like. Yet Rev. Mather claims precisely what was brought in from Saturnalia was the drinking and rioting.

There are cases also where different observances begin to converge without any agreement in principle: Hanukkah, not originally a gift-giving holiday, has become so under pressure from Christmas. Not that the Jews who celebrate Hanukkah by giving gifts agree with the theological premises of Christmas; but no one wants to explain to a child why his friends got gifts, and he did not. While some of the things people do at Christmas, like decorating Christmas trees and lighting Yule logs, are pagan customs, that does not mean the holiday is of pagan origin, anymore than Hanukkah was originally the same as Christmas. And no explanation at all is required why drunkards take advantage of a holiday to do their thing. Drunkards do not get drunk because they are guarding the memory of an ancient pagan festival, but because that is what drunkards do.

Dionysus is no more promising an exemplar than Saturn; those who find a close resemblance between the deity who thought it a cool joke to induce Agave to tear her son Pentheus to pieces, and Jesus, may test their assumptions by reading the play-by-play:

 The Bacchae 

Was it the solstice? We've already seen two instances where pagan deities whose birthdays had fallen in the summer had their birthdays moved to conform to the winter solstice: the emperor Aurelian did this to Osiris and Dionysus. Did something similar happen to Jesus, a historical person with an actual birthday? Some authors of the period are willing to discuss the issue in terms of nature mysticism rather than any historical reminiscence of an actual date. For authors who thought in such terms, the winter solstice may have seemed an attractive date for the birth of the Sun of Righteousness (Malachi 4:2):

"Which is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,
And rejoices like a strong man to run its race." (Psalm 19:5).

But any new date must be sold to, not one, but two constituencies: the pagan solarists who purportedly would find a solstice festival an attractive inducement to join the church, as well as people already in the church who may have been accustomed to a different date, like January 6, or no date at all, in conformance with apostolic practice. It is difficult to see how the latter constituency could have been delivered, without some gee-whiz theory explaining why December 25 actually was the date.

The Da Vinci Code


Some people think that December 25th was set when the Bishop of Rome inspected the census records from Bethlehem. This would be compelling evidence, if available. After all, Joseph and Mary travelled to Bethlehem on a governmental errand; wouldn't records have been made which recorded the date of their stay? If one could know on what date they were counted by the census, this would be almost the same as knowing the date of the nativity.

Unfortunately when the question was raised, the nativity lay 400 years in the past. This is like suggesting, today, that it is very easy to ascertain what Peter the Great, tsar of Russia, said and did; just inspect his briefing books, which would record such things. In fact, that is a lot to ask; it was a long time ago. When these records lay the recent past, the church had no interest in them, because the early church did not celebrate Christmas. Once fixing the date became a consuming passion, because the church did want to celebrate Christmas, the records lay in the distant past. Between that night in Bethlehem and Pope Julius' day, Rome had suffered several major fires, including the catastrophic fire when Nero was emperor. If it is suggested these records were kept in Palestine, the situation becomes even more hopeless. Rome had suppressed the first and second Jewish revolts with such fury as to inaugurate the diaspora of the Jewish people; there was massive loss of life and destruction of property. How likely is it that every flammable paper document of the prior administration remained intact and unburnt, filed for ready inspection?

The intent of a census is to count the inhabitants of the country. Would the date on which particular individuals presented themselves to be counted ever have been recorded on the documents sent to Rome? There were plenty of documents around which purported to be, for example, the dispatches of Pontius Pilate, but these documents were spurious. If genuine information of this sort were available, it would be conclusive. However, it is asking a lot to expect people to take it on trust that this is how it was done.

Gee Whiz

The history of Christmas runs from total unawareness in the early church centuries to perfect certainty in the fifth century that Jesus was born on the 25th day of December: "Under this Herod, in the thirty-third year of his reign, CHRIST was born on the twenty-fifth of December in the consulship of Sabinus and Rufinus." (Sulpitius Severus, The Sacred History, Book 2, Chapter 27, p. 231 ECF 2:11). What happened in the mean-time? According to some, the church nonchalantly picked up the birth-date from the pagans: "In response let me first acknowledge that when Christmas was originally instituted, December 25 was indeed a pagan festival commemorating the birthday of a false god. While this is historical fact, what is frequently overlooked is that the church's choice of December 25 was intentional. Instead of Christianizing a pagan festival, the church established a rival celebration." (Hank Hanegraaff, The Complete Bible Answer Book, Chapter 18, Kindle location 1004). Is this likely? Christian authors writing in this period do not show the same enthusiasm as do their sun-worshipping fellow citizens for roping in alien gods and identifying them with him who they adore; quite the contrary. Did they think they had found a 'smoking gun'? What could it have possibly been?

Was there, in fact, a Gee Whiz argument that surfaced in the latter part of the fourth century? We still hear talk of silver-tongued orators even in this inarticulate age, but John the golden-mouthed was one metallurgical step up from them. John Chrysostom gave a sermon on December 20, 386 A.D., in which he counselled the people to Antioch to celebrate Christmas five days later,-- December 25th,-- even though that was not the traditional date. Why? The reason can hardly be 'to coordinate with solarism.' As far as it is possible to reconstruct the argument, it runs this: he thought he knew the very day Zacharias heard he would have a son, and that that day was the Day of Atonement. Let's say the Day of Atonement is September 25th, then John the Baptist must be born March 25th, and Jesus six months later:

“There was a great and wonderful man named Zechariah. He had received the honor of the high priesthood. He had been entrusted with the leadership of all the people. This man Zechariah came into the Holy of Holies, to the innermost sanctuary, upon which he alone of all men had the right to look...As proof that Zechariah's prayer had been heard, the angel promised that a son, John, would be born to him (St. John Chrysostom, Homily II, Section 9-10, pp. 74-75, St. John Chrysostom, On the Incomprehensible Nature of God, translated by Paul W. Harkins).

There was daily offering of incense in the temple:

"And thou shalt make an altar to burn incense upon...And Aaron shall burn thereon sweet incense every morning: when he dresseth the lamps, he shall burn incense upon it. And when Aaron lighteth the lamps at even, he shall burn incense upon it, a perpetual incense before the LORD throughout your generations." (Exodus 30:1-8).

This was the responsibility of the common priests. But on one day of the year, on the Day of Atonement, the high priest offered incense:

"And he shall take a censer full of burning coals of fire from off the altar before the LORD, and his hands full of sweet incense beaten small, and bring it within the vail: and he shall put the incense upon the fire before the LORD, that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy seat that is upon the testimony, that he die not..." (Leviticus 16:12-13)

John's Christmas argument must have been, 'If Zacharias is the high priest, then the occasion must be the Day of Atonement.' Cosmas, a sixth century Egyptian monk, makes it explicit: "When Zacharias on the tenth day of the seventh month had gone into the temple, according to the tradition of the law, and it had been announced to him that John would be born to him by Elisabeth, word also came to the Virgin in Elisabeth's sixth month that her own first month had begun." (The Christian Topography of Cosmas, an Egyptian Monk, Book V, p. 142). If this was John's argument, then it is formally sound. If it can be shown that John the Baptist was conceived shortly after the Day of Atonement, say September 25th, then he would have been born around March 25th, and Jesus six months later, December 25th. And if Zacharias were the high priest, he would have been burning incense on the Day of Atonement, not on the other days of the year. But the premise is counter-factual: Zacharias was not the high priest. Where did John get the information that Zacharias was the high priest? This information can be learned nowhere but from an apocryphal work known as the Protevangelion:

"Then replied the priests to Zacharias the high-priest, Do you stand at the altar of the Lord, and enter into the holy place, and make petitions concerning her...Then the high-priest entered into the Holy of Holies, and taking away with him the breast-plate of judgment made prayers concerning her; and behold the angel of the Lord came to him, and said, Zacharias, Zacharias Go forth..." (The Protevangelion, Chapter VIII, Paragraph 4-6, p. 28, The Lost Books of the Bible.)

It may not be apparent at first that this personage is the same as the father of John the Baptist, but keep reading: "But Herod made search after John, and sent servants to Zacharias, when he was ministering at the altar, and said unto him, Where has thou hid thy son?" (Protevangelion, Chapter XVI, Paragraph 9.) The Protevangelion, even today still widely read, records that Mary grew up in the Holy of Holies of the Jerusalem temple. Eastern orthodoxy even has a feast day, November 21, which commemorates the entry of the Virgin Mary into the temple. Here is an actual picture of the event:

Theotokos Entering the Temple

In reality, only one man ever entered into the Holy of Holies, the high priest, on the Day of Atonement:

“Into the first court everybody was allowed to go, even foreigners, and none but women, during their courses, were prohibited to pass through it; all the Jews went into the second court, as well as their wives, when they were free from all uncleanness; into the third court went in the Jewish men, when they were clean and purified; into the fourth went the priests, having on their sacerdotal garments; but for the most sacred place, none went in but the high priests, clothed in their peculiar garments. (Josephus, Against Apion, 2:8).
"Now when these things were thus ordained, the priests went always into the first tabernacle, accomplishing the service of God. But into the second went the high priest alone once every year, not without blood, which he offered for himself, and for the errors of the people..." (Hebrews 9:6-7).

Why does the author of Hebrews know nothing about Mary's supposed residence in the Holy of Holies? They used to tie a rope around the high priest, so that if he dropped dead in there, they could extract him. If a grown man conversant with the purity code must exercise caution, who would have allowed a little kid to run around in there? These tall tales strain credulity. Nevertheless, this engaging fable was taken for fact; the information that Mary was brought up in the sanctuary even turns up in the Koran. Augustine was also under the impression that Zacharias was the high priest in Israel:

"'For such a High Priest,' says [the apostle], 'became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens; who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins.' Amongst the high priests here referred to was Zacharias, amongst them was Phinehas, yea, Aaron himself, in whom this priesthood had its beginning, and whatever others there were whose lives were worthy of commendation for the righteous discharge of their priestly functions. . ." (Augustine, page 91, The Anti-Pelagian Works of Saint Augustine, 'A Treatise on the Merits and Forgiveness of Sins, and the Baptism of Infants,' Book Second, Chapter 19).

Is the December 25th date based on the Protevangelion, with its promotion of Zacharias to high priest? If so, this date might well be avoided by prudent people. What Luke says about Zacharias: "...a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia...while he executed the priest’s office before God in the order of his course..." (Luke 1:1-8) -- are not things that can be said of the high priest, who did not serve "in the order of his course." Zacharias was not the high priest, and his interview with the angel did not occur on the Day of Atonement.

Mary: Mediatrix?

Columbus Day

"These two Babylonian days, Christmas and Easter, are the greatest feasts of the Devil. There is no instruction in the Bible to celebrate them." (John D. Christian, 'Gladiator: Witchcraft, Propaganda, and the Rise of the World Hero,' p. 157)

God did not command His people to observe the anniversary of Christ's birth: no such instruction is recorded in scripture, and as late as 200 A.D. Clement records disagreement on the date, which is unlikely if the church of the apostles had continuously marked this anniversary. Because this observance is not commanded, is it therefore forbidden, as some say?

The Bible records holidays which were not ordained by God. One such is Purim:

"So they called these days Purim, after the name Pur. Therefore, because of all the words of this letter, what they had seen concerning this matter, and what had happened to them, the Jews established and imposed it upon themselves and their descendants and all who would join them, that without fail they should celebrate these two days every year, according to the written instructions and according to the prescribed time, that these days should be remembered and kept throughout every generation, every family, every province, and every city, that these days of Purim should not fail to be observed among the Jews, and that the memory of them should not perish among their descendants." (Esther 9:26-28).

No prophet condemns Purim, though as the Bible explains, it was "the Jews" who established this holiday for themselves, not God. Another Jewish holiday not ordained by God is Hanukkah, which celebrates the rededication of the temple by the Maccabees. Jesus preached in the temple during this holiday:

"Now it was the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem, and it was winter. And Jesus walked in the temple, in Solomon’s porch." (John 10:22).

Showing up at the temple on a certain day is no endorsement of the holiday therein being celebrated, but neither does the narrator betray any hostility to this man-made holiday when he says, "Now it was the Feast of Dedication. . ." If John believed this holiday to be illegitimate, would he not say, 'Now they said it was the Feast of Dedication. . .'? The rule of thumb, that if a holiday is not commanded by God then it is prohibited, is no more laid down in scripture than is the observance of Christmas.

Easter and the Equinox

The Case Against Easter First Month
Once a Year New Moon
The Solar Circuit Luminaries
Metonic Cycle Hillel II
Wild Card The Talmud
Moses Sunday
What's in a Name?

The Case Against Easter

"The truth is that Easter has nothing whatsoever to do with the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

"We also know that Easter can be as much as three weeks away from the Passover, because the pagan holiday is always set as the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox.

[...] "These customs of Easter honor Baal, who is also Satan, and is still worshipped as the 'Rising Sun' and his house is the 'House of the Rising Sun.'

"How many churches have 'sunrise services' on Ishtar's day and face the rising sun in the East?"
(David J. Meyer, Last Trumpet Ministries)

Some of the same preachers who inveigh against Christmas don't much care for Easter either. The Council of Nicaea devised a protocol for computing the date of Easter, controlling the start of the new year with the vernal equinox. But don't the pagans just love the vernal equinox! Ergo, Easter is pagan.

Easter Day