Birth of Jesus

Is is possible Jesus was not born in December? Why is there a suggestion he was not? When else might he have been born and what supports those ideas?


Gotta get the homework done before the Oscars, huh?

There isn’t a real “GQ” answer to this one, so I’ve moved the thread over to IMHO to gather opinions.

I read somewhere (sorry, no cite) that historians put the actual birth in the Spring, but the early Christians celebrated it in Winter to coincide with other holidays (e.g., Saturnalia) that were already in place, thus improving odds of acceptance. But that’s just a vague memory so I could be way off.

Plus, taxes are due in April, so there’s that.

Relevant column by Cecil Adams: Why do we celebrate Christmas on Dec. 25?

The better question is, why is there a suggestion that he was? The standard sources for the birth of Jesus, the gospels of Matthew and Luke, don’t give a date.

It’s possible Jesus didn’t exist at all. It’s also possible that the biblical narrative (that doesn’t mention the time of his birth) was totally made up and that Jesus’ actual birth was nothing like what was related in the bible.

But given that there is no mention of the time of year, and that Dec 25 wasn’t mentioned as his date of birth until long after his death, there is little reason to accept the date as anything but a random fabrication.

Non-fundamentalist Churches that believe in Jesus’ divinity can accept that the nativity narratives are not of the same level of witness as the public ministry parts of the gospels. In other words, the nativity stories are theological constructs written to make a point about who Jesus is and not so much a history. This makes searching records for the time of birthing in the fields, census taking, the murder of infants in Bethlehem, and astrological events (the star of Behtlehem) a rather vain task since they were not written to be historical but revelatory.

So, any mainline Christian biblical scholar will tell you: we haven’t one clue as to what time of year Jesus was born and only a rough idea of which year. As Cecil says, when the Church was looking for a date to celebrate it, replacing the Pagan solstice feasts was their decision.

The year of Jesus’ birth is pretty shaky. Matthew 2:1 says he was born “during the time of King Herod”. And we know from historical records that Herod died in 4 BC. But Luke 2:1 says that Quirinius conducted a census while Mary was pregnant with Jesus. And we have historical records of Quirinius’ term as Governor and the census he conducted - and Quirinius became Governor in 6 AD and conducted the census during his first year in office.

So if we’re not sure what year Jesus was born within a ten year window, you can see the difficulty of determining the specific day.

Saw a show, where they discussed that the guiding star was really a comet (or supernova) and fixed the exact date. April 24,6 BC (IIRC).

Which presumes that Matthew even cared to provide a real history, or if he did, that he got that history right.

Except the account of the ‘star’ in Matthew is an impossible event. No celestial object can move and then stop over a spot such that it leads people to a specific tiny town on earth. Think about it… if a comet passed by earth and you attempted to follow it… that’d just be crazy.

I can find no known record of a supernova in the Milky Way older then 185 AD (that’s the date for its visibility at Earth). I’d be quite surprised that if there were a known supernova from 6 BC, they would know a precise date for it. They could only have such from a contemporary record. I do not believe there is any way to date a 200 year old supernova remnant to within a 10 (and probably much larger) year period for its origin even if one were found.

In any case, a supernova is visible for a long time. Kepler’s supernova in 1604 was visible during the day for over three weeks. We happen to know when it first appeared because we have records of observers. We have no such records for a 6 BC supernova.

Comets, at least spectacular ones worthy of note, also last for some time. There could have been a spectacular one in 6 BC, but the only comet I can recall being proposed for the star of Bethlehem was one noted by the Chinese that first appeared in March in the year 5 BC.

My own opinion is that there is no Star of Bethlehem to explain. The Gospel stories were written much after the fact, and it’s incredibly unlikely that any note of all was taken in the birth of the one we now call Jesus. If there had been as much note of it as the stories we now tell, I’d think we’d know a lot more about his early life than we do because people would have been watching.

Whatever the celestial event, (now occurs to me it may have been planet alignment) one was used to date the birth.

The sources I have seen of late say that text of the gospels suggests the actual birth date of jesus would be some time in August or September. Of course, given that the gospels were written at earliest some forty years after the crucifiction, I find it difficult to imagine that the authors would have access to anyone who might have witnessed any of those events. If I am very much mistaken, jesus’ followers would have been too young to remember those events. In the end, the whole nativity story is as believable as The Dragon Riders of Pern, it is just pure fantasy and/or the product of moldy wheat.

If you think that the star of Bethlehem was a natural phenomenon that accurately foretold the birth of someone important in history, then you believe in astrology.

There are only two possible explanations for the star.

  1. A miracle sent by God, that defies any scientific analysis.

  2. a fictional story, with layers of symbolic meaning.

The “three kings” who supposedly were present at Jesus’ birth is a great example of how biblical passages grow in the retelling.

They’re only mentioned in Matthew and here’s the complete text:

That’s it.

Notice they’re identified as magi not kings. And there’s no mention of how many they were.

But here’s the relevant part: it doesn’t say they were present on the day Jesus was born. It’s actually pretty clear they arrived well after the birth. When Herod wants to kill Jesus, he orders the death of all boys up to the age of two years.

So the magi were some astrologers from the “East” (Persia, India, China, who knows). They cast a horoscope which told them somebody important had been born in Judea. So they decided to go check him out. Not having airline tickets, it took them well over a year before they arrived in Bethlehem. And a moving “star” guided them to the right house (notice the family is no longer in a manger).

That means that even if we can establish that a comet or supernova was visible on April 24, 6 BC, we still don’t have a date on when Jesus was born.

I think the idea of 3 Magi comes rather naturally from there being 3 gifts mentioned (which is a leap in logic, I think)

There is no other independant mention of Herod killing babies in history. None.