I have pasted a link below to the most definitive article I have yet seen on the historical basis for December 25 as the day of Jesus’ birth. The answer will surprise you and you have to stick with the article though it is on the longish side.
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Thanks for posting this, it’s an honest and studious article.
I must say, I was surprised! You described this article as definitive, so I half-expected to find some ultimate conclusion that Jesus really was born on the 25th of December. To my surprise, the author comes to no such conclusion, ending with,
How did December 25 become Christmas? We cannot be entirely sure. Elements of the festival that developed from the fourth century until modern times may well derive from pagan traditions. Yet the actual date might really derive more from Judaism…than from paganism. Then again … we may perhaps also be touching upon something that the pagan Romans who celebrated Sol Invictus, and many other peoples since, would have understood and claimed for their own too.
One particular point of interest is where the author writes,
The earliest mention of December 25 as Jesus’ birthday comes from a mid-fourth-century Roman almanac that lists the death dates of various Christian bishops and martyrs
…and at the same time, the author concedes,
From the mid-fourth century on, we do find Christians deliberately adapting and Christianizing pagan festivals.
Taken into consideration, and given other elements of the Christmas holiday are admittedly from pagan religions, it is plausible (likely?) that the date of the 25th was borrowed from the celebrations of the numerous pagan deities that occurred on this date.
I would say the article makes a good case that the church would have resisted December 25 if the Roman festival for Sol Invictus was the only reason. By the time December 25 was a firm tradition, the church was differentiating itself from paganism. Thus, the tradition that Jesus had been conceived on March 25, died on the same date, and the fact that December 25 is nine months later, is a tight case. The author shows from Augustine and a fourth century treatise that March 25 was thought by some (many) to be the date of his conception as well as his death.
Anyway, there is a lot of good information in the article and it clarifies the pagan connection to some Christmas customs. I do not believe this makes Christmas-celebrators directly guilty of idolatry. I do think, however, it is a good basis for Christians to consider changing customs.
If you get the chance find and watch a DVD called the Star of Bethlehem. Has a very interesting look at when Yeshua was born
Regarding your comment that since some pagan influences were assimilated into into Christmas practices, it also casts doubt on the date itself. Derek gave a good response, and the author of the article himself stated:
“There are problems with this popular theory, however, as many scholars recognize. Most significantly, the first mention of a date for Christmas (c. 200) and the earliest celebrations that we know about (c. 250–300) come in a period when Christians were not borrowing heavily from pagan traditions of such an obvious character … in the first few centuries C.E., the persecuted Christian minority was greatly concerned with distancing itself from the larger, public pagan religious observances … This was still true as late as the violent persecutions of the Christians conducted by the Roman emperor Diocletian between 303 and 312 C.E.
This would change only after Constantine converted to Christianity. From the mid-fourth century on, we do find Christians deliberately adapting and Christianizing pagan festivals.”
So it does seem convincing that although the actual date of Yeshua’s birth is unknown, the tradition of Dec. 25th predates active incorporation of pagan influences (despite later assimilations).
Joshua, I have zero motivation to argue over dates. In the past, these have proven fruitless.
My initial comment wasn’t meant to start an argument, but rather as a comment describing my understanding of the article.
>> the tradition of Dec. 25th predates active incorporation of pagan
Yeah, that’s where we disagree: all I see is speculation for that, as the author says the dating of the 25th doesn’t appear until the mid-4th century.
Clarity over agreement.
Judah – I agree it’s a little sloppy on that point. And I’m someone who celebrates Christmas and accept Catholic Sacred Tradition. He probably should have emphasized that mid-4th century is the earliest “extant document with Dec 25th date”. But his point about the Donatists and various 4th century fathers commonly referencing a judeo/christian theological basis implies they were referencing an inherited tradition (maybe from the 3rd century or very early 4th-maybe largely an oral tradition). That seems legitimate as some evidence to me. It is hard to discern exactly when the Church went from revulsion/seperation from pagan trappings to assimilation – it was an evolution in my view. But if it had been a sudden compromise with paganism even in mid-4th, certain contrary personalities like Jerome would have barked and we have most of his writing. He certainly complained that as Christianity had become tolerated and encouraged in his day, it was attracting average folks who just wanted to fit in the new order and that christians were generally getting spiritually soft. If he thought Dec 25th was caving into paganism he would likely have thundered against it the date and celebration. To my knowledge he didn’t. He in fact defended the Dec 25th date against Jan 6th (that reflects his roman/latin bias too).
Ernest L. Martin’s research convinced me that Yeshua was born on September 11, 3 BCE which was Yom Teruah. See info here:
Re: picture posted with the Biblical Archeology article…. Caption: “The baby Jesus flies down from heaven on the back of a cross, in this detail from Master Bertram’s 14th-century Annunciation scene.”
That is one of the most offensive “Jesus pictures” I have ever seen. No wonder God gave a commandment against graven images (2nd Commandment in the Decalogue). Grotesque icons like this made it very difficult for me to find true salvation in the authentic Jewish Messiah, Yeshua, who. btw, is no longer in a cradle or on a cross, but is King of Kings and LORD of Lords!
Is it true that Roman Catholics are taught to believe that the infant Jesus departed his mother’s body miraculously and that she remained a perpetual virgin who never bore other children and who was conceived miraculously herself? (Immaculate Conception). Is it still taught that the Virgin Mother is Co-Mediatrix? Is this not idolatry?
As one who originally posted the BAR link a few weeks ago, I think the article can definitely serve to quell a great deal of the paganoid rhetoric we see out there this time of year. At the same time, Christmas on December 25 was not God’s original intention, and it was established as an observance long after the Apostles were gone.