Jesus’ Birth Date

So, was Jesus born on December 25 in Year 0?

Well, no.

In our current year reckoning system (whether you use the traditional BC/AD scenario or the newer BCE/CE one), there was no Year 0. 1 BC(E) was followed promptly by AD (CE) 1.

What year was he actually born?

Boy is there debate about THAT. If you look at a variety of resources you get everything from 7 BC to AD 1. Folks base their reasoning on comments about Herod’s death and the 15th year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar.

Most of the sources center around a 4-2 BC time frame.

How about the December 25 part?

Not likely, but there’s a lot of hubbub about this, too.

One of the arguments against a December birth date involve the shepherds tending their flocks at night in the open air. It can snow in Jerusalem and Bethlehem, which are higher altitude locations. Shepherds were probably not hanging out in the open fields with snow likely. Other folks refute this by saying that it doesn’t get that cold and these people were sturdier sorts than we are today, so they’d handle it. I don’t know about that. Even 40 degrees is mighty chilly.

Another suggestion involves the feast days of Israel. Jesus’ death and resurrection line up with the spring feasts (Passover). The church’s birthday was Pentecost, the one really different holiday in the middle. What lines up with the fall feasts? Well … there are those who say that Jesus was born in conjunction with those. No chance of snow in the mountains to impede traffic headed for the census, and the One who will provide atonement shows up on/near Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement).

A third point against the December 25 date is the way it was assigned. Roman Emperor Constantine picked December 25 and a few years later Pope Julius I nailed it down. Why? So it’d coincide with some non-Christian holidays as a sneaky way to get folks to convert to Christianity without losing all their fun and frivolity. In fact, many of the “Christian” traditions around the holiday (yule logs, decorated trees, spiced fruit/alcohol drinks, etc) were direct carry-overs from the non-Christian holidays celebrated right about then.

A different idea supports the December 25 date. This one involves signs in the stars and software (like Stellarium) that can backtrack where the stars were 2000ish years ago. One presentation I saw some 2 decades ago suggests that some interesting shenanigans occur in the sky right around the end of December about 4 BC. Stuff like the constellation Leo being directly opposite the sun relative to Earth and a natural phenomenon (supernova? It’s been a while, so I don’t remember) accounting for the Star in the East that led the wise guys. The Bible does mention signs in the sky as a way to mark major events.

So, what is Jesus’ birthday for real?

No solid ideas here. The Bible doesn’t give any absolute dates. It gives a couple relative reference points (15th year of Tiberius, the death of Herod, John the Baptist’s birth — combined with the timing of when his daddy would have served in the Temple and had his angelic visitor), but nothing to hang a stocking cap on. My personal opinion is that Jesus was probably born sometime around September-October-ish in the 6-2 BC time frame.

What do you think?

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