Hope of Israel Ministries (Ecclesia of YEHOVAH):
The PAGAN Feast of Christmas!
Most of the "Christian" customs that now prevail in the world ARE NOT GENUINE CHRISTIAN CUSTOMS AT ALL, but are relics of old heathen ones that have been absorbed or tolerated by the Catholic Church and its offshoots. Christmas is a good case in point. If, then, the Messiah was not born on December 25 -- does the Bible indicate when he was born? The biblical accounts point to the fall of the year as the most likely time of the Messiah's birth, based on the conception and birth of John the Baptist.
by HOIM Staff
One of the greatest shocks to people who actually take the time to research into the origins of their "Christian" faith is to find that the Messiah was NOT born on December 25! That being said -- what real evidence is there for this traditional date?
The first reference we have to December 25 as the date of the Messiah's birth comes in a Roman city calendar for the year 354 A.D., at least 356 years after the original event being celebrated. This Chronographus Anni CCCLIIII (Chronograph of 354), as it later became entitled, was edited by Furius Dionysius Filocalus, who later became calligrapher to Pope Damascus (366-384 A.D.). Among other things the calendar contains a list of the burial places of martyrs, with the days on which they were remembered and on which festivals were held in their honor. This "depositio martyrum," as it is called, contains material from around 336 A.D. and makes the statement "VIII Kal. Ian. natus Christus in Betleem Iudeae," which means that the Messiah was born in Bethlehem of Judea on the eighth day before the Kalends of January -- in other words December 25.
John Chrysostom and Modern Christmas
The originator of our modern Christmas celebration has always been thought to be John Chrysostom. He was born in Antioch about 345 A.D., later preached there, subsequently became Bishop of Constantinople, and died in 407 A.D. In 386 A.D. he delivered two famous sermons on the subject of Christmas. In the first, given on December 20, he looked forward eagerly -- and urged his congregation to do the same -- to the Christmas festival which was to be celebrated in five days time.
Chrysostom says that the festival of the Messiah's birth must take its rightful place with the other great festivals of the "Christian" year because without the birth of the Messiah there would be no reason to celebrate his baptism at Epiphany, his crucifixion and resurrection at Easter, or the sending down of the spirit at Pentecost.
The second sermon was given on December 25 in 386 A.D. and was reported by Theodoret, Bishop of Cyprus. Chrysostom reminded the congregation that they had only known the festival for ten years, but he also stressed that it had long been very well known to those who lived in the west as well as to the people who lived between Thrace and Gades.
How did Chrysostom justify December 25 as the date of the festival? He was probably relying on the incorrect assumption that Zacharias was high priest and would have entered the Temple to burn incense on the Day of Atonement -- the one and only day of the year when the high priest entered the holy of holies. According to Leviticus 16:29 this occurred on the tenth day of the seventh month (Tishri 10). It was followed shortly afterward by the Feast of Tabernacles, which started on Tishri 15 and went on for a week. Tishri falls normally in September/October.
In 386 A.D. there was a New Moon on September 10, and the Day of Atonement fell on September 20. The Feast of Tabernacles occurred between September 25 and October 1. Chrysostom assumes that John the Baptist was conceived in September and he counts six months forward to arrive at April as the month of the conception of the Messiah. From here he counts nine months to December -- the supposed birth month of the Messiah. This, of course, assumes that the Messiah was a nine-months baby, but this is not certain.
The early writer Epiphanius, for example, was convinced that the Messiah was only in the womb for seven months. The Egyptians held the same view, Yeshua being in this respect similar to Osiris, who was also said to have been born seven months after conception. This association, in itself, throws doubt on the validity of a seven-month pregnancy for the Messiah's mother!
When we go back in time to the oldest work of Christianity apart from the Bible, we find the conception of the Messiah put in the spring, and the birth in the midwinter at a time in line with many of the old traditions.
One approach to this problem -- with its origins in deep antiquity -- relies on a "plan of the ages." According to this idea the seven days of creation represent seven periods of a thousand years. The Sabbath, or the seventh millennium which it becomes, represents the time in which the Messiah will reign over Israel. It was argued that the first appearance of the Messiah was in the middle of the sixth day, leaving five hundred years to run before the end. While the 7000-year-scenario for YEHOVAH's plan is indeed correct, the first appearance of the Messiah in the middle of the six-thousand-year-period has been proven false by the passage of time.
In the words of Cyprian, written about 243 A.D., there is an account of the lost research work by Hippolytus in which a very complicated proof was given that the Messiah's birth occurred on March 28. This was based on the idea that the first day of creation was the vernal equinox, Sunday March 25, the Sun and Moon being created on Wednesday March 28. Hippolytus concluded that the day of the Messiah's birth was the same day as that of the creation of the Sun. "Christian" tradition follows him here and often places Yeshua's birth on a Wednesday.
Another equally dubious argument simply puts the Messiah's birthday on the feast of the Passover, which in 225 A.D. fell on March 25. According to a rather cyclical argument it is concluded that as the paschal lamb was a type of the Messiah, he must be born at the time of the Passover. March 25 and 28 are obviously nowhere near the traditional midwinter Christmas and so the suggestion that the birth occurred in March was freely taken to mean that this was the day of conception -- so making December 25 the date of birth. Another tradition in favor of the March conception can be traced as far back as Tertullian, according to whom there is an exact number of years in a divine life, so that the Messiah must have been conceived at the same time of the year as his crucifixion.
January 6 Vs. December 25?
The Christmas feast was instituted in a rather complex way. Before the fourth century the celebration of the Messiah's birth -- if it occurred at all -- was on January 6, which is the Epiphany or Feast of the Baptism. It is also the feast day on which the visit of the Magi and the miracle at the wedding of Cana are celebrated. The birth was displaced from this date in Rome in 353/354 A.D. by Pope Liberius, being on January 6 in 353 A.D. and December 25 in 354 A.D. The minor point as to the date of the intervening Christmas is uncertain.
It is possible that the institution of Christmas on December 25 is associated with the foundation of the Church of S. Maria Maggiore, which was the center of the Roman celebration of the feast. Christmas services in Rome are now centered on the Church of Liberius while those of Epiphany are in the older basilica of St. Peter.
From Rome the celebration on December 25 spread throughout Christendom. In Constantinople it was introduced by Gregory Nazianzen in about 379 A.D. Before then, in the time of Theodosius, Constantinople was Aryan and January 6 was the favored day.
The two sermons of Chrysostom that we have discussed previously were given in Antioch at Christmas time in 386 A.D. It is thought that these were delivered at the first December celebration of the Messiah's birth at that church. In Cappadocia the December Christmas was definitely celebrated by Gregory of Nyssa in 383 A.D. By 394 A.D. the feast on December 25 had become general in Europe and Asia Minor. It arrived in Alexandria rather later -- somewhere between 400 A.D. and 432. Juvenalis (425-458 A.D.) introduced the observance of the Feast of the Nativity in Jerusalem.
In an interesting but probably unauthentic letter from Cyril of Jerusalem to Julius the Bishop of Rome (337-352 A.D.), Cyril asks Julius to go through the books brought from Jerusalem to Rome by the Jews at the time of Titus to see if he can find out what the REAL DATE of the Messiah's birth was. The reason was simply that he was finding it very difficult to be in two places at the same time and, because of the difficulties of travel, on the same day. These two places were Bethlehem for the celebration of the Messiah's birth and the banks of the Jordan River near Jericho for the celebration of the baptism.
In Armenia the observance of December 25 is still unknown and the birth and baptism are both celebrated on January 6.
The main point, however, IS THAT CHRISTMAS IS A RELATIVELY NEW FEAST in the "Christian" calendar and ONLY STARTED ABOUT 350 YEARS AFTER THE BIRTH OF THE MESSIAH! It is obvious that the birth of the Messiah was a MUCH LESS IMPORTANT event for celebration in the early church than, for example, his baptism, ministry, crucifixion and resurrection. The seemingly impenetrable uncertainty as to the actual date and time of year of the Messiah's birth is ample evidence of this.
Heathen Customs Given New Names
Most of the "Christian" customs that now prevail in the world ARE NOT GENUINE CHRISTIAN CUSTOMS AT ALL, but are relics of old heathen ones that have been absorbed or tolerated by the Catholic Church and its offshoots. Saturnalia is a good starting-point here. Many people believe that Christmas was moved to December 25 simply to replace the Roman feast of Saturnalia. There is some doubt about this since the dates do not coincide exactly. Originally the day of Saturnalia -- in the strict religious sense -- was December 17, and even though the popular holiday associated with this was extended according to common usage by as much as seven days, it still did not coincide with December 25.
While there seems to be little evidence that the early Christian writers connected the two feasts, we cannot dismiss the possibility completely as there is evidence of other Christian feasts being moved to replace Roman ones. For example, the procession with lights on the Feast of the Purification on February 2 at Candlemas, forty days after the birth of the Messiah, marks the end of the Christmas season and was possibly introduced to Christianize an obscure Roman procession known as the Amburbale.
As another example, the Litania major or greater litany on St. Mark's Day, April 25, took the place of the Robigalia -- a pagan Roman festival in which puppies of a red or reddish color were sacrificed in a rite of sympathetic magic. Similarly, the Latania minor or Rogation day occurred on the three days before Ascension Day and so took the place of the Ambarvalia, a rite with a procession of the sacrificial victims -- a bull, a sheep and a pig -- all around the fields, driven by a garlanded crowd carrying olive branches and chanting.
Was the Saturnalia the Origin of Christmas?
Since Christmas incorporated many elements of the feast of Saturnalia, could this pagan festival have been the immediate predecessor of the "Christian" celebration? Saturn was an ancient Greek agricultural god and in his Roman form he became connected with all things that are put into the earth -- seeds, treasure and perhaps even stores of produce. In Rome he was closely associated with the market, and market days were sacred to him. Even though the god was somewhat obscure, his feast was not. As a popular holiday it was extended from the one-day religious observance to about a week. Augustus, the emperor for part of the Messiah's life, limited it to three days in respect of legal business, but later on this was increased to five. Seneca tells us that in his day all Rome seemed to go mad on this holiday.
The popularity of Saturnalia was probably based on the human need to rest and enjoy oneself in midwinter. A widespread celebration took place among the northern tribes at about the time of the longest night, when the evenings ceased to draw in and the Sun began its return to the northern skies to warm the land. Saturnalia started on December 17 with a public sacrifice at the temple of Saturn followed by feasting, and December 18 and 19 were general holidays.
During the feast the day began with an early bath. Later, sucking pigs were sacrificed and cooked, friends were visited, and it was a time for happiness and merry-making, games and the PRESENTATION OF GIFTS. Noticeable among the many gifts were wax candles which rather like the traditional Yule log were thought to commemorate the returning power of the Sun's light after the solstice. During the festival the schools were closed, and no punishments were inflicted. The toga was replaced by a more informal garment.
The best-known feature of Saturnalia was the part played in it by the slaves. Distinctions of rank were laid aside, slaves sat at table with their masters, and in many cases the roles were completely reversed, the slaves actually being waited on by the masters. Slaves were allowed for once in the year to say exactly what they liked. They were allowed to gamble with dice, something that at other times was completely illegal.
So what of our present Christmas customs? The adoration of the cradle of the Messiah -- which takes place on Christmas Eve -- seems to have been taken over from the cult of Adonis. The Empress Helena took over the cave where THE CHILD ADONIS WAS BORN and this cave was richly decorated by the Emperor Constantine in 335 A.D. Christmas obviously INHERITED THE GENERAL MERRIMENT OF SATURNALIA, the excessive eating and drinking, the games, the gifts, the abundance of sweetmeats. It also inherited some of the ceremonial elements -- especially the burning of candles. Centuries later at the English Court a Lord of Misrule was appointed to organize the revels, while in Scotland the function was in the hands of the Abbot of Unreason.
The European Connection
Houses and churches were decked with evergreens, and mistletoe was especially important, being A DEFINITE REMNANT OF EARLY CELTIC, DRUIDIC RELIGIONS. The Christmas tree is AN OLD GERMAN CUSTOM which can be traced back to the seventeenth century, but its popularity in England owes a lot to Prince Albert, Queen Victoria's Consort. It was introduced to France by Princess Helena of Mecklenburg. The Yule log IS A SURVIVOR FROM THE ROMAN CALEND FIRES. In England a tenant had the right to feed at his lord's expense so long as the log would burn. Gervase of Tilbury told how grain was exposed on Christmas night to gain fertility from the dew which falls in response to the sacred text "Rorate coeli."
A tenth-century Arab geographer related the tradition that trees and flowers blossomed on Christmas night. In England Joseph of Arimathea's rod was supposed to flower at Glastonbury -- a phenomenon that was carefully investigated in 1752. This was the year in which the calendar was changed and the third day of September became the fourteenth. Apparently two thousand people watched to see if the thorn bush would flower on the new style Christmas. As it did not, they refused to accept the calendar change.
The day became a favorite for court ceremonial. On Christmas Day 800 A.D. Pope Leo III inaugurated the Holy Roman Empire by crowning Charlemagne. William the Conqueror was crowned on Christmas Day at Westminster. Woden and his wife Berchta descended from the Home of the Gods between December 25 and January 6. Other figures traditionally associated with Christmas are Knecht Ruprecht, Petzmartel mounted on a wooden horse, St. Martin on a white charger, St. Nicholas and his modern equivalent, who in a sense has elements from these -- Father Christmas.
Things apparently got so far out of hand that under Cromwell in 1644 the Dissenters banned Christmas by Act of Parliament. The day was to be a fast and a market day, with shops compelled to be open and plum puddings and mince pies condemned as heathen. Ironically, Christmas seems now to have more in common with the Roman Saturnalia than it has had for nearly two millennia!
"Dies Natalis Solis Invicti" and the Epiphany
Following the Saturnalia, which lasted from December 17 to 24, was the festival described as "dies natalis solis invicti" or "sol novus" which occurred on December 25. This was the feast of the unconquered Sun, on which the victory of light over darkness was celebrated. It took place when the lengthening of daylight became apparent. This day -- consecrated to the Sun -- was naturally ripe for conversion into a "Christian" festival. It stems from the supposition that the Messiah is equated to the Sun in the "plan of ages" creation story. It is possible that the coincidence was accidental, with the calculations of December 25 coming first, the adoption of the "sol invictus" trappings coming soon after.
At the end of the twelve days of Christmas we have the feast of Epiphany and it is clear that this day, January 6, WAS AN OLDER FEAST DAY than the one on December 25. Originally it was a PAGAN FEAST associated with the winter season and the Sun god. It is also clear that before the middle of the fourth century many churches celebrated both the baptism of the Messiah and his birth on the SAME DAY, January 6! Records show that the Epiphany was in general observance by 311 A.D.
After the separation of the Messiah's birth from the Epiphany the eastern church concentrated on its significance as the feast of baptism, whereas in the west it became chiefly associated with the visit of the Magi to Bethlehem. The twelve day interval between the feast of the Messiah's birth on December 25 and that of the Magi on January 6 is not significant. There is no indication or implication that twelve actual days elapsed between these two occasions.
Why was January 6 chosen for the ceremony? Nobody knows for sure. Epiphanius tells of the feast that used to be held in Alexandria at the Temple of Kore on January 6. The night preceding this day was spent in singing and in attending to the images of the gods. At dawn the worshippers descended into the crypt and brought up a wooden image which had the sign of a cross and a star of gold marked on the hands, knees and head. This was carried around and then returned to the crypt to celebrate "the Maiden giving birth to the Aeon."
January 6 was also associated with PAGAN water ceremonies. Water drawn and stored on that day had special powers and was supposed to improve with age like wine. Epiphanius goes further and says that the water actually became wine and he linked the PAGAN RITUAL with the marriage at Cana in which the Messiah actually turned the water into wine. An ancient belief was that water was especially dangerous at the turn of the year and it became propitious once more when the days started to lengthen and the Sun returned to the sky.
Epiphany used to be the time for blessing the water for baptism and was the feast of the two incidents in the life of the Messiah connected with water -- his baptism by John and the Cana marriage. Both of these elements, however, were secondary to the main element of the "Christian" feast -- the coming of the Messiah. In view of the importance of this coming and the manifestation of the power of YEHOVAH's holy spirit, by John and at Cana, it was natural that the visit of the Magi (the third manifestation) should also be celebrated at the same time.
We can conclude, therefore, that December 25 is not the birthday of Yeshua the Messiah! The calculation for this date relies on the ASSUMPTION that Zacharias was the high priest -- which simply is not true! The Epiphany celebration of the Magi's visit again produces ABSOLUTELY NO PROOF that January 6 was the actual date on which they paid homage to the newly-born Messiah.
If the Messiah was not born on December 25, does the Bible indicate when he was born? The biblical accounts point to the fall of the year as the most likely time of the Messiah's birth, based on the conception and birth of John the Baptist.
The Temple Ritual
In the New Testament we have a chronological feature which will show the season of the Messiah's birth. It concerns the time periods in which the Levitical priesthood served in the Temple. By comparing these prescribed times with certain New Testament references, we can arrive at the very season for the birth of the Messiah.
In the days of the Messiah, the Aaronic priesthood -- which offered the sacrifices in the Temple at Jerusalem -- was divided into 24 separate divisions. Each division (called a "course") had one chief priest who was chosen by lot to represent the whole division in the Temple for a week's period. This chief priest was to offer the evening and morning sacrifices and the incense offerings.
The priesthood was divided into 24 courses by David. In his time there had become so many priests that all could not possibly serve in the Sanctuary at the same time. So David divided them into 24 courses and gave instructions that one course should serve in the Sanctuary for one week, then the next course could serve the following week, etc. These 24 courses of the priesthood are described in 1 Chronicles 24. The names of the individual courses are given from verse 7 through 19.
We are further told by Jewish records that each of these courses began serving at noon on a Sabbath and continued their service until noon the next Sabbath -- a one-week period (Sukkah, 55b). The Jewish historian, Josephus, who lived during the time of the apostle Paul and was himself a priest belonging to the first of the 24 courses (Josephus' Life, 1), also tells us that each one of these courses served one week, from Sabbath to Sabbath (Antiquities, vii, 14,7).
The Jewish records again tell us that the courses also served bi-annually -- twice in the year. That is, the first would begin serving in the spring of the year, on the first week of the sacred year. The second course would serve the second week, etc. This went on until the twenty-fourth course had served. Then, in the autumn of the year, at the first week of the civil year, the first course would commence again and all of the courses would repeat the order. Thus, on each of the 48 weeks during the year one particular course of the priests served in the Temple.
But, added to these 48 weeks are 3 extra weeks in the year during which ALL of the courses served together. These 3 weeks were during the three major Holy Day periods: the Passover in the beginning of spring; Pentecost in the summer; and Tabernacles in the early autumn. Because multitudes of people were always in Jerusalem at these three times of the year, ALL 24 courses of the priests stayed on in Jerusalem and served together in the Temple (Sukkah, 55b).
So, the 51 weeks of the Hebrew Calendar are accounted for. (Occasionally, a 13th month was added to the calendar to allow the months to remain in their proper seasons of the year. When this extra month was added, the priests who officiated in the 12th month repeated their service in the 13th -- Miggalah, 6b).
It is important to realize that the first course of these 24 divisions began their ministration with the first Sabbath in the first Hebrew month -- that was Nisan, in the very early spring. See especially 1 Chronicles 27;1,2 and following verses.
With this information, it becomes possible to know the particular weeks in which each of the 24 priestly courses served in the Temple. And, consequently, we can know the time period in which some significant New Testament events took place. Let us now see the importance of this information with regard to the Messiah's birth.
The Course of Abijah
In the Gospel of Luke we are told that a certain priest named Zacharias was performing his service in the Temple at Jerusalem when a most marvelous thing happened. He was privately told that his wife Elisabeth, who was quite advanced in years, was going to conceive and bear a son and that the son's name was to be John. This, of course, is familiar to us all. But I wonder how many have noticed the time period in which Zacharias received this information? Let us notice this section of Scripture closely:
"There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of THE COURSE of ABIA [Abijah in Hebrew]: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth" (Luke 1: 5).
This scripture clearly tells us the particular course of the 24 priestly divisions that Zacharias was serving in. It was the course of Abijah.
"And it came to pass, that while he executed the priest's office before God IN THE ORDER of HIS COURSE, according to the custom of the priest's office, his lot was to burn incense when he went into the Temple of the LORD" (Luke 1:8, 9).
Now this is very significant! It shows that Zacharias was serving in the prescribed time intended for the course of Abijah. By referring to 1 Chronicles 24:10, you will see that the course of Abijah was the eighth in order!
This plainly means that he was ministering in the ninth week following the first Sabbath of YEHOVAH God's first month of Nisan. The reason it was the ninth week and not the eighth is that the Passover season always occurs in the first month and during the third week. Since all 24 courses served that particular week, according to the laws set down by David, this means that Zacharias officiated during the ninth week after the first Sabbath of Nisan, the first month in spring.
Now comes the question: On what days did Zacharias serve? The year in which all of this occurred was 4 B.C. The eighth day of Nisan was a Sabbath, the very day on which the first priestly course began its ministration. On our Roman Calendar, this day was April 3. Thus, by simple arithmetic, Zacharias, who served in the ninth week, was serving from Sivan 8 to Sivan 15 (June 1 to June 8). This was the time he was told that his wife was going to conceive and bear a son. But let us go one step further.
After this week he was free to return to his home in the hill country about 30 miles south of Jerusalem.
Now why are all these dates important? We will see if we pay attention to what the sacred writer tells us.
"And it came to pass that, as soon as the days of his ministration were accomplished, he departed to his own house (Luke 1:23-24).
This shows Zacharias returned home immediately after his ministration and then his wife conceived (verse 24). This would have occurred about the first week after he returned from Jerusalem. Gabriel had told him that he was to remain dumb, completely speechless, until the child was born. It should be obvious that no man would want to stay in such a condition -- and certainly no longer than necessary. And, too, Zacharias was a righteous man and was anxious to see YEHOVAH's command fulfilled. So, with reasonable assurance, Elisabeth must have conceived sometime immediately after the ninth week! This week was from Sivan 15 to Sivan 22 (mid-June). With this information we are able to come to the exact season for John the Baptist's birth.
The human gestation period is very near 280 days or 9 months and 10 days. If we go forward this amount of time from somewhere between Sivan 15 (June 8) and Sivan 22 (June 15) or mid-June in 4 B.C., we arrive at about the first of Nisan (March 15th) 3 B.C. The birth of John the Baptist was undoubtedly near this time -- in the very early spring.
Now, let us come to the main question: What about the birth of Yeshua the Messiah?
The Gospel says that the Messiah was just 6 months younger than John the Baptist (Luke 1:26, 36). And, by adding this six months to the time of John's birth (the 1st of Nisan), we come to about the 1st of Tishri or near mid-September for the birth of the Messiah. So again, we arrive at an early autumn birth for the Messiah. So the Messiah was not born in the winter after all!
Other Substantiating Information
There are many other evidences which show Christ's early autumn birth. For one, we are told that Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem to be taxed (Luke 2:1-5). At first sight we might think that this may have been the only reason for their journey from Galilee to Bethlehem. Such, however, was not the case. For if the journey was for taxation purposes alone, only Joseph, the head of the house, was required by law to go. There were absolutely no Roman or Jewish laws which required Mary's presence. But yet, Mary went with Joseph. This fact alone has puzzled commentators for centuries. Why was Mary there?
The fact is, this taxation was coincident with the end of the agricultural year in Palestine -- that is, in the early autumn just before the Feast of Tabernacles. It was customary to pay taxes on agricultural products at the end of the civil year -- at the end of the harvest. For example, the Law of YEHOVAH God commanded that the tithes of agricultural products could be paid year by year (Deuteronomy 14:22). The civil year for tithes and taxes was reckoned from early autumn to early autumn. Even the Jews today adhere to this method of reckoning the ending of the civil years. And also in ancient Palestine, the agricultural or civil year ended and began on the first of Tishri (Hebrew Calendar) -- in early autumn.
Some, however assume that while this was very true among the Jews, this particular taxation was decreed by Augustus Caesar, the Roman Emperor (Luke 2:1). Thus, they conclude, it must have been conducted in the Roman manner and not dependent upon Jewish laws. This assumption is not consistent with the facts of history. At the time of this taxing, Judea was merely a "protectorate" of Rome. The Romans did not exact direct taxes from the people during this early period. They were receiving tribute from Herod, but the Romans allowed Herod to gather the taxes as he saw fit. And, it is plainly known that Herod was endeavoring to follow the customary laws of the Jews. Even the most critical of scholars hold that this particular taxation in 3 B.C. was conducted purely in the Jewish manner (Ency. Biblica, cols, 3994-3996). This is, then, a plain indication that the taxation was very near the 1st of Tishri (the early autumn) -- the ending of the civil year in Palestine when such things were common.
This, again, shows an early autumn birth for the Messiah.
Another possibility, however, is found in the Res gestae divi Augusti -- a record of the public life and work of Emperor Augustus, written by himself at the age of 76 and preserved in Latin and Greek on the walls of the Monumentum Ancyranum. The Monumentum Ancyranum is a temple found in the Turkish city of Ankara (ancient Ancyra). Notice what the inscription says:
"In my thirteenth consulship the senate, the equestrian order and the whole people of Rome gave me the title of Father of my country (Pater Patriae)."
Comments Jack Finegan in the Handbook of Biblical Chronology --
"For 'the whole people of Rome' to bestow the honor there must have been some kind of universal registration, perhaps an oath of loyalty such as that of which Josephus (Ant. 17.41-45) tells 'when...the whole Jewish nation took an oath to be faithful to Caesar,' but which six thousand Pharisees refused to swear. The date of the honor for Augustus in his thirteenth consulship is the year 2 B.C.; the conferring of the title was on Feb. 5, 2 B.C.; the registering of the people must have been ordered and carried out sometime in 3 B.C. or at least before Feb. 5, 2 B.C." (Jack Finegan, Handbook of Biblical Chronology, Hendrickson Publishers, Inc. 1999, p, 306).
In Luke 2:2 the Greek word for the first "enrollment" -- which took place at the time of the Messiah's birth -- comes from the verb that means "to write out," "enter in a list" or "register" and can therefore be translated as "census" or as "registration." "Translated as 'census' it is usually taken to have to do with taxation," notes Jack Finegan, "but translated as 'registration' it can be understood to have to do with some other matter for which people were required to register" (p. 306). The above empire-wide registration or oath of loyalty to Augustus Caesar could very well be the event mentioned by Luke. It would be logical to carry out this "registration" during the autumn feast period when the people of Judea were gathered in Jerusalem and the surrounding environs. Once again, this shows an autumn birth for the Messiah.
Why "No Room at the Inn"?
Many people have wondered why there was such a large crowd of people in Bethlehem at the time of the Messiah's birth. Of course, there was the taxation or registration at the time (Luke 2:1) but it never was customary for many people to crowd a town and stay there for a period of time just for taxation or registration purposes. And, as already mentioned, why did Mary journey to the south with Joseph when there was no Roman or Jewish law which commanded her presence at such a place of taxation or registration?
The reason these historical indications are "difficulties" to many Biblical commentators, and seem to be beyond explanation, is because most people fail to realize the true time of year all these took place. Actually, Joseph and Mary had gone to Bethlehem just at the end of the Jewish civil year. This would have been just the beginning of the Hebrew seventh month of Tishri. During this particular month, Jerusalem and all the immediate towns were filled with people who had come to observe the Holy Days in this seventh month: the Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement and the Feast of Tabernacles.
Bethlehem was one of the towns right near Jerusalem (about 5 miles south) and was considered in the "festival area" of Jerusalem. (See Shekalim, vii, 4.) When the people would come to keep the ordained Holy Days of YEHOVAH God, Bethlehem became filled with people. Josephus, the Jewish historian, mentions that it was customary for over 2 million Jews to go to Jerusalem for Passover (one of the Holy Days). See War, vi, 9, 3. Normally, Jerusalem was a city of only 120,000 inhabitants. You can imagine what these 2 million people would do to the housing situation in Jerusalem and the surrounding towns. No wonder, then, that in Bethlehem "there was no room in the inn" (Luke 2:7). The time the Messiah was born was at a season when Bethlehem was filled with people coming to observe the Holy Days at Jerusalem.
And, no wonder that we find Mary along with Joseph. It was customary for Joseph and Mary (and later their family) to go to Jerusalem for the Holy Festivals (Luke 2:41; John 7:1-10). And, since this autumn time was the end of the civil year in Palestine, a normal year-end taxation by Herod was also associated with this period. Joseph did not want to leave his wife home alone since he had to go to pay taxes and/or to "register" his loyalty to Caesar and then observe the feast. It could hardly be plainer!
What Was the Inn?
It is also interesting to note that the "inn" in which Joseph and Mary were to stay was not an ordinary caravan hotel. This word in the Greek is used only two other times in the Bible -- Mark 14:14 and Luke 22:11. In both places it refers exclusively to temporary "guest-chambers" which housed people in Jerusalem during the festival periods. And, since Bethlehem was one of the "overflow" towns which housed many of the people coming to Jerusalem for the Holy Days, it is readily understandable why such "guest-chambers" would be in Bethlehem as well.
Actually, these "guest-chambers" were primarily in the private homes of people who had opened up their rooms for the influx of people attending the feast.
Rather than remaining at home as ordinarily would have been done, Mary had to come to Bethlehem, and while residing in the "overflow" town of Bethlehem (there being no room for them except in a manger), the Messiah was born.
With this evidence, we can confidently place the birth of Yeshua the Messiah sometime in the early autumn -- undoubtedly in the seventh Hebrew month. It could not possibly have been in any other season!
The time for the eighth course of Abijah indicates that John the Baptist was born very near the first of Nisan 3 B.C. -- the early spring. The Messiah was born six months after John -- or again, in the early autumn. We know that the particular taxation or "registration" mentioned in Luke was reckoned after the Jewish manner. Their civil or harvest year also ended in the early autumn.
And too, there was no room in the "guest-chamber" -- for there were many people staying in Bethlehem for a period of time. This again corroborates the early autumn birth -- during the festival period of the Hebrew seventh month.
But still, with all these indications of the proper season of the Messiah's birth, we still do not know the exact day! YEHOVAH God never intended us to determine it!
Let us wake up to the TRUTH about Christmas and quit the pagan superstitions we have inherited from childhood!
Hope of Israel Ministries -- Courage for the Sake of Truth is Better Than Silence for the Sake of Unity!
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