Date of birth of Jesus
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The date of birth of Jesus is not stated in the gospels or in any historical reference, but most biblical scholars assume a year of birth between 6 and 4 BC. The historical evidence is too incomplete to allow a definitive dating, but the year is estimated through three different approaches: (A) by analyzing references to known historical events mentioned in the nativity accounts in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew, (B) by working backward from the estimation of the start of the ministry of Jesus, and (C) astrological or astronomical alignments. The day or season has been estimated by various methods, including the description of shepherds watching over their sheep.
Year of birth
The nativity accounts in the New Testament gospels of Matthew and Luke do not mention a date or time of year for the birth of Jesus. Karl Rahner states that the authors of the gospels generally focused on theological elements rather than historical chronologies.
Both Luke and Matthew associate Jesus' birth with the time of Herod the Great. Matthew 2:1 states that "Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king". He also implies that Jesus could have been as much as two years old at the time of the visit of the Magi, because Herod ordered the murder of all boys up to the age of two years, "in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi". Matthew 2:16 In addition, if the phrase "about 30" in Luke 3:23 is interpreted to mean 32 years old, this could fit a date of birth just within the reign of Herod, who died in 4 BC.
Luke 1:5 mentions the reign of Herod shortly before the birth of Jesus, and places the birth during the Census of Quirinius, which the Jewish historian Josephus described as taking place circa AD 6 in his book Antiquities of the Jews (written c. AD 93), by indicating that Cyrenius/Quirinius' governorship of Syria began in AD 6 and a census took place during his tenure sometime between AD 6–7. Since Herod died many years before this census, most scholars discount the census and generally accept a date of birth between 6 and 4 BC, the year in which Herod died. Tertullian believed, some two centuries later, that a number of censuses were performed throughout the Roman world under Sentius Saturninus at the same time. Some biblical scholars and commentators believe the two accounts can be harmonized, arguing that the text in Luke can be read as "registration before Quirinius was governor of Syria", i.e. that Luke was actually referring to a completely different census.
Other gospel evidence
Another approach to estimating the year of birth is based on an attempt to work backwards from the point when Jesus began preaching, using the statement in Luke 3:23 that he was "about 30 years of age" at that time. Jesus began to preach after being baptized by John the Baptist, and based on Luke's gospel John only began baptizing people in "the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar" (Luke 3:1–2), which scholars estimate would place the year at about AD 28–29. By working backwards from this, it would appear that Jesus was probably born no later than 1 BC. Another theory is that Herod's death was as late as after the January eclipse of 1 BC or even AD 1 after the eclipse that occurred in December 1 BC.
This date is independently confirmed by John's reference in John 2:20 to the Temple being in its 46th year of construction when Jesus began his ministry during Passover, which corresponds to around 27–29 AD according to scholarly estimates.
Theories based on scientific evidence
University of Cambridge Professor Colin J. Humphreys has argued in the Quarterly Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society that a comet in the early 5 BC was likely the "Star of Bethlehem", putting Jesus' birth in or near April, 5 BC.
Day and season
Despite the modern celebration of Christmas in December, neither the Gospel of Luke nor Gospel of Matthew mention a season for Jesus' birth. Scholarly arguments have been made regarding whether shepherds would have been grazing their flock during the winter, with some scholars challenging a winter birth for Jesus and some defending the idea by citing the mildness of winters in Judea and rabbinic rules regarding sheep near Bethlehem before February. Support for the December date also comes from the fact that the most common breed of sheep in the area are the Awassi. When Awassi rams and ewes are raised together, lambing occurs in nearly 85 percent of the ewes between mid September and mid March, but mostly in January.
Alexander Murray of History Today argues that the celebration of Christmas as the birth day of Jesus is based on a date of a pagan feast rather than historical analysis. Saturnalia, the Roman feast for Saturn, was associated with the winter solstice. But Saturnalia was held on 17 December of the Julian calendar and later expanded with festivities only up through 23 December. The holiday was celebrated with a sacrifice at the Temple of Saturn and in the Roman Forum, as well as a public banquet, followed by private gift-giving, continual partying, and a carnival atmosphere that overturned Roman social norms. The Roman festival of Natalis Solis Invicti has also been suggested, since it was celebrated on 25 December and was associated with some prominent emperors. It is likely that such a Christian feast was chosen for Christ's marked contrast and triumph over paganism; indeed, new converts who attempted to introduce pagan elements into the Christian celebrations were sharply rebuked.
Alternatively, 25 December may have been selected owing to its proximity to the winter solstice because of its symbolic theological significance. After the solstice, the days begin to lengthen with longer hours of sunlight, which Christians see as representing the Light of Christ entering the world. This symbolism applies equally to the celebration of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist on 24 June, near the summer solstice, based on John's remark about Jesus "He must increase; I must decrease." John 3:30 NRSV[better source needed]
In the 1st and 2nd centuries, the Lord's Day (Sunday) was the earliest Christian celebration and included a number of theological themes. In the 2nd century, the Resurrection of Jesus became a separate feast (now called Easter) and in the same century Epiphany began to be celebrated in the Eastern Churches on 6 January. The festival of the Nativity which later turned into Christmas was a 4th-century feast in the Western Church notably in Rome and North Africa, although it is uncertain exactly where and when it was first celebrated.
The earliest source stating 25 December as the date of birth of Jesus is likely a book by Hippolytus of Rome, written in the early 3rd century. He based his view on the assumption that the conception of Jesus took place at the Spring equinox which Hippolytus placed on 25 March, and then added nine months to calculate the date of birth. That date was then used for the Christmas celebration. 25 March would also roughly be the date of his crucifixion, which ancient Christians would have seen as confirming the date of his birth, since many people of that era held the belief that the great prophets were conceived into the afterlife on the same date they were conceived into the world. John Chrysostom also argued for a 25 December date in the late 4th century, basing his argument on the assumption that the offering of incense mentioned in Luke 1:8–11 refers to the offering of incense by a high priest on Yom Kippur (early October), and, as above, counting fifteen months forward. However, this was very likely a retrospective justification of a choice already made rather than a genuine attempt to derive the correct birth date. John Chrysostom also writes in his homily on the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ (Εἰς τὸ γενέθλιον τοῦ Σωτῆρος ἡµῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ) that the date of 25 December was well known from the beginning among Westerners.
Other sources stating 25 December as the date of Jesus are:
- Evodius in an epistle reported in part by Nikephoros Kallistos Xanthopoulos in his Ecclesiastical History II, 3
- Saint Jerome described a commentary by Victorinus of Pettau on papers by Alexander of Jerusalem:
- We have found, among the papers of Alexander, who was Bishop in Jerusalem, what he transcribed in his own hand from apostolic documents: on the eighth day before the calends of January Our Lord Jesus Christ was born, during the consulate of Sulpicius and Camerinus [sic: Quintus Sulpicius Camerinus was consul in AD 9]
- Theophilus, bishop of Caesarea, as reported in Historia Ecclesiae Christi (or Centuriae Magdeburgenses, cent. II. chapter VI
Lastly, 25 December might be a reference to the date of the Feast of Dedication, which occurs on 25 Kislev of the Jewish calendar. This would require that early Christians simply translated Kislev directly to December.
- Adoration of the shepherds
- Anno Domini
- Ante Christum Natum
- Baptism of Jesus
- Christ myth theory
- Chronology of Jesus
- Common Era
- Detailed Christian timeline
- Dionysius Exiguus
- Gospel harmony
- Historical Jesus
- Historicity of Jesus
- Jesus in Christianity
- Life of Jesus in the New Testament
- Timeline of the Bible
- Venerable Bede
- Dunn, James DG (2003). "Jesus Remembered". Eerdmans Publishing: 344. Cite journal requires
- Doggett. (2000). "Calendars" (Ch. 12), in P. Kenneth Seidelmann (Ed.) Explanatory supplement to the astronomical almanac. Sausalito, CA: University Science Books. ISBN 0-935702-68-7. p579: "Although scholars generally believe that Christ was born some years before AD 1, the historical evidence is too sketchy to allow a definitive dating".
- Paul L. Maier "The Date of the Nativity and Chronology of Jesus" in Chronos, kairos, Christos: Nativity and chronological studies by Jerry Vardaman, Edwin M. Yamauchi 1989 ISBN 0-931464-50-1 pp. 113–129
- New Testament History by Richard L. Niswonger 1992 ISBN 0-310-31201-9 pp. 121–124
- Molnar, Michael, The Star of Bethlehem: The Legacy of the Magi, 1999, Rutgers Univ. Press
- "New Testament History" by Richard L. Niswonger 1992 ISBN 0-310-31201-9 pp. 121–124
- Encyclopedia of theology: a concise Sacramentum Mundi by Karl Rahner 2004 ISBN 0-86012-006-6 p. 731 /ref> Karl Rahner states that the gospels do not, in general, provide enough details of dates to satisfy the demands of modern historians. Most mainline scholars do not see the Luke and Matthew nativity stories as historically factual according to Marcus Borg ("The Meaning of the Birth Stories" in Marcus Borg, N T Wright, The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions (Harper One, 1999) page 179: "I (and most mainline scholars) do not see these stories as historically factual.")
- Funk, Robert W. and the Jesus Seminar. The Acts of Jesus: The Search for the Authentic Deeds of Jesus. Harper, San Francisco. 1998 page 499: "There is very little in the two infancy narratives that reflects historical reminiscence." For this reason, they do not consider them a reliable method for determining Jesus' date of birth. (Sanders, E. P. The historical figure of Jesus. Penguin, 1993, pages 85–88)
- Encyclopedia of theology: a concise Sacramentum Mundi by Karl Rahner 2004 ISBN 0-86012-006-6 page 731
- Freed, Edwin D (2004). "Stories of Jesus' Birth". Continuum International: 119. Cite journal requires
- Barnes, Timothy David (1968). "The Date of Herod's Death". Journal of Theological Studies (19): 204–219. doi:10.1093/jts/XIX.1.204.
- Bernegger, P. M. (1983). "Affirmation of Herod's Death in 4 B.C". Journal of Theological Studies. 34 (2): 526–531. doi:10.1093/jts/34.2.526. JSTOR 23963471.
- Gelb, Norman (21 February 2013). Herod the Great: Statesman, Visionary, Tyrant. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. p. 140.
- Vardaman, Jerry (1989). Chronos, Kairos, Christos: Nativity and Chronological Studies Presented to Jack Finegan. Eisenbrauns. pp. 93–94. ISBN 9780931464508.
- Emil Schürer; Géza Vermès; Fergus Millar (January 1973). History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ. A&C Black. p. 328. ISBN 9780567022424.
- Steinmann, Andrew E. (2009). "When Did Herod the Great Reign?". Novum Testamentum. 51 (1): 1–29. doi:10.1163/156853608X245953.
- Flavius Josephus. The Antiquities of the Jews, Book 18, Chapters 1–2. Josephus indicates that the census under Cyrenius (another form of the name "Quirinius") occurred in the 37th year after Octavian's (i.e., Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus') victory over Marcus Antonius at the Battle of Actium, which secular historical records date to 2 September 31 BC. Therefore 31 BC + 37 years = AD 6–7. Most scholars therefore believe Luke made an error when referring to the census.Archer, Gleason Leonard (April 1982). Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Pub. House. p. 366. ISBN 978-0-310-43570-9.
- Nikos Kokkinos, 1998, in Chronos, kairos, Christos 2 by Ray Summers, Jerry Vardaman ISBN 0-86554-582-0 pages 121–126
- C.F. Evans, Tertullian's reference to Sentius Saturninus and the Lukan Census in the Journal of Theological Studies (1973) XXIV(1): 24–39. Raymond E. Brown notes that "most critical scholars acknowledge a confusion and misdating on Luke's part". (Raymond E. Brown, An Adult Christ at Christmas: Essays on the Three Biblical Christmas Stories, (Liturgical Press, 1988), p. 17.
For example, Dunn, James Douglas Grant (2003), Jesus Remembered, Eerdmans. p. 344. ISBN 0-8028-3931-2 Similarly, Erich S. Gruen, "The expansion of the empire under Augustus", in The Cambridge ancient history Volume 10, p. 157.
Geza Vermes, The Nativity, Penguin 2006, p. 96.
W. D. Davies and E. P. Sanders, "Jesus from the Jewish point of view", in The Cambridge History of Judaism ed William Horbury, vol 3: the Early Roman Period, 1984
Anthony Harvey, A Companion to the New Testament (Cambridge University Press 2004), p. 221.
Meier, John P., A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus. Doubleday, 1991, v. 1, p. 213.
Brown, Raymond E. The Birth of the Messiah: A Commentary on the Infancy Narratives in Matthew and Luke. London: G. Chapman, 1977, p. 554.
A. N. Sherwin-White, pp. 166, 167.
Fergus Millar Millar, Fergus (1990). "Reflections on the trials of Jesus". In P.R. Davies; R.T. White (eds.). A Tribute to Geza Vermes: Essays on Jewish and Christian Literature and History (JSOT Suppl. 100). Sheffield: JSOT Press. pp. 355–81. repr. in Millar, Fergus (2006), "The Greek World, the Jews, and the East", Rome, the Greek World and the East, 3, pp. 139–163
- Nikos Kokkinos, 1998, in Chronos, kairos, Christos 2 by Ray Summers, Jerry Vardaman ISBN 0-86554-582-0 pp. 121–126
- The Life of Jesus of Nazareth by Rush Rhees 2007 ISBN 1-4068-3848-9 Section 54
- Archer, Gleason Leonard (April 1982). Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Pub. House. p. 366. ISBN 978-0-310-43570-9.
- Frederick Fyvie Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? (1943; republished Eerdman, 2003), p. 87–88.
- Vermes 2006, p. 28–30 In the words of Geza Vermes, these arguments have been rejected by the mainstream as "exegetical acrobatics",Vermes 2006, p. 28–30 springing from the assumption that the Bible is inerrant,Novak 2001, pp. 296–297 and most scholars have concluded that Luke's account is an error.Brown 1978, p. 17Vermes 2006, p. 28–30
- The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown: An Introduction to the New Testament by Andreas J. Köstenberger, L. Scott Kellum 2009 ISBN 978-0-8054-4365-3 page 114
- Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible 2000 Amsterdam University Press ISBN 90-5356-503-5 page 249
- The Bible Knowledge Background Commentary: Matthew-Luke, Volume 1 by Craig A. Evans 2003 ISBN 0-7814-3868-3 pages 67–69
- Christianity and the Roman Empire: background texts by Ralph Martin Novak 2001 ISBN 1-56338-347-0 pages 302–303
- Hoehner, Harold W (1978). Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ. Zondervan. pp. 29–37. ISBN 978-0-310-26211-4.
- Revillo, Juan, & Keyser, John. "Did Herod the 'Great' Really Die in 4 BC?". Hope of Israel Ministries.
- "Where Was Jesus Born?". Koinonia House.
- Pratt, John. "Yet Another Eclipse for Herod". International Planetarium Society.
- Jack V. Scarola, "A Chronology of the nativity Era" in Chronos, kairos, Christos 2 by Ray Summers, Jerry Vardaman 1998 ISBN 0-86554-582-0 pages 61–81
- "The Star of Bethlehem a Comet in 5-BC and the Date of the Birth of Christ", Humphreys, C. J., Quarterly Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society, Vol. 32, NO.4/DEC, P.389, 1991 http://adsabs.harvard.edu/full/1991QJRAS..32..389H
- "When was Jesus born? | Bibleinfo.com". www.bibleinfo.com. Retrieved 1 December 2017.
- "New Testament History" by Richard L. Niswonger 1992 ISBN 0-310-31201-9 pp. 121–124
- Luke: an introduction and commentary by Leon Morris 1988 ISBN 0-8028-0419-5 p. 93
- Stories of Jesus' Birth by Edwin D. Freed 2004 ISBN 0-567-08046-3 pp. 136–137
- "Awassi". Retrieved 24 December 2020.
- Murray, Alexander, "Medieval Christmas", History Today, December 1986, 36 (12), pp. 31–39.
- Bishop Jacob Bar-Salabi (cited in Christianity and Paganism in the Fourth to Eighth Centuries, Ramsay MacMullen. Yale:1997, p. 155)
- T. Talley, The Origins of the Liturgical Year, Liturgical Press, 1991, pp. 88-91. "Library : History & Origin: Feast of the Nativity". www.catholicculture.org.
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- "On the Day of the Birth of Our Savior Jesus Christ" by St. John Chrysostom. 1, para. 1
- Translation: He [Evodius] says the period from the nativity of Christ unto the passing of the mother of God was forty-four years; but the whole of her life, fifty-nine years. This sum obtains if it was in fact the case that she was presented at the temple when she was three years old and there in the holy precincts spent eleven years. Then, by the priest’s hands was placed in the custody of Joseph, with whom she resided four months when she received the joyful announcement from the angel Gabriel. However, she gave birth to the Light of this World, the twenty-fifth day of the month of December, being fifteen years of age.
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- ut Theophilus indicat: Quid nobis necesse est ad lunae computum cum Iudaeis Pascha facere? Quin sicut Domini natalem, quocunque die VIII Calendarum Ianuarii venerit; ita et VIII Calendarum Aprilis, quando resurrectio accidit, Christi debemus Pascha celebrare.
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