Home / Heresies / Hebrew Roots Movement / Christmas and Paganism Part 2: Jesus’ Death, the Early Church, Ancient Judaism and Christmas

Christmas and Paganism Part 2: Jesus’ Death, the Early Church, Ancient Judaism and Christmas

According to the myths of Atheists, the Hebrew Roots Movement, and Muslims, the December 25th birth date for Christ was stolen from paganism. Sadly many Christians have bought into these lies.

In part 1 we looked at this myth and debunked it with Scholarship that states otherwise. We also touched on the fact that Constantine and the emerging Roman Catholic Church of his time did not create the December 25th date and observance because early Christian sources which predate this era prove that earlier Christians wrote of, and celebrated, the date as Jesus’ birth.

In part 2 of this series we are focusing on the early Church evidence for Christmas, and how they established the date which you will soon see is related to Judaism rather than paganism.

As we touched on in Part 1, historically there are only two connections to the pagan “sources” linking to December 25th. However, both come about in history after early Christians cited the date for the birth date of Christ. One of these didn’t even keep December 25th at all but instead August, October, and December 11th  (Aurelian 274 A.D.) and the other (The Chronography of 354) lists the birth date of the unconquered on December 25th. However, Scholars admit that they do not know for certain if the unconquered was not simply a reference to Christ. Previously authors such as Alexander Hislop used this text as the sole source of proof connecting Jesus’ birth date to various sun gods from Sol to ancient Babylon and Mithras or Tammuz. But this was all based on presumption as there aren’t any ancient texts from Rome or Babylonian religions that use the December 25th date in any way.

Therefore, the early Church is the earliest known source claiming a birth on December 25th and that of course is the birth of Christ. Some will accuse the early Church of adopting pagan practices before Constantine since obviously Christmas was kept before his time, however, the Ante-Nicene Church was very stern in not practicing paganism. Often we find that the writers of the Ante-Nicene era even mocked many practices of the pagans as ridiculous. This includes pagan practices that were later adopted by Constantine and the Roman Catholic Church such as venerating images, adorned sanctuaries and vested clergy (see the Early Church did not use Incense, Temples, Altars and Images in the Early Church and Early Church Quotes on Pagan Practices.)

The Historical Evidence

1. The Infancy Gospel of James 130 -136 A.D

The earliest Christian source proving the December 25th date of Jesus’ birth comes from the early 2nd century in the infancy gospel of James (130 to 136 A.D.). In this text we learn that Zacharias was thought to have served in the Temple during the Day of Atonement and right after this service period John the Baptist was conceived. This would be around late September on our calendars or Tishri on the Hebrew calendar. While the December 25th date is not mentioned in this text, we can calculate to find the month of Jesus’ birth based on John’s conception, which the Church has historically held to have been in September.

If John was conceived in September, he would’ve been born in June and Christ, therefore, would’ve been born in December according to the 6 month difference listed in the Bible. The September service of Zacharias in the Temple is also upheld by a course roster in the Dead Sea Scrolls and research by Josef Heinrich Friedlieb.

2. Clement of Alexandria 196 to 200 A.D.

The Catholic Encyclopedia on Christmas states that:

About A.D. 200, Clement of Alexandria (Stromata I.21) says that certain Egyptian theologians “over curiously” assign, not the year alone, but the day of Christ’s birth, placing it on 25 Pachon (20 May) in the twenty-eighth year of Augustus.”….. thought they did this believing that the ninth month, in which Christ was born, was the ninth of their own calendar.

Clement, however, also tells us that the Basilidians celebrated the Epiphany, and with it, probably, the Nativity, on 15 or 11 Tybi (10 or 6 January).

January 6th on the Julian Calendar is our December 25th. Some churches today, such as the Eastern Churches, keep the Julian Calendar, thus the Nativity is not on Dec 25th but Jan 6th with the Epiphany. Those that use the modern calendar keep it on the 25th of December. The Epiphany commemorates when the Magi visited the baby Jesus. So we know from Clement that the Basilidians were keeping Jesus’ birth in the late 2nd century on what would be our December 25th and that the Egyptians were in error for keeping Christmas in May thinking it was their ninth month.  Note that close attention needs to be paid to the January 6th date (Julian Calendar) and the ninth month (Hebrew Calendar) as we continue. You will soon see a pattern.

Clement himself believed that Christ was born on January 6th on the Alexandian Calendar:

Writing shortly after the assassination of Commodus on December 31, AD 192, Clement of Alexandria provides the earliest documented dates for the Nativity. One hundred ninety-four years, one month, and thirteen days, he says, had elapsed since then, which corresponds to a birth date of NOVEMBER 18TH or, if the forty-nine intercalary days MISSING FROM THE ALEXANDRIAN calendar are added, January 6TH. Moreover, “There are those who have determined not only the year of our Lord’s birth, but also the day” (Stromata, I.21), including dates in April and May, as well as another day in January. -Encyclopedia Romana, Sol Invictus

Clement of Alexandria gives us the date for the birth of Christ at least 75 years before Aurelian installed the games of Sol in 274 A.D. Clement also cites the March 25th date for the death of Christ and His conception or annunciation. The March 25th date is found in quiet a few early Church writings as well and closely related to why the Church settled on the December 25th date.

3. Hippolytus of Rome 200 A.D.

Hippolytus also lists the death on March 25th and the birth on December 25th:

For the first advent of our Lord in the flesh, when he was born in Bethlehem, eight days before the kalends of January [December 25th], the 4th day of the week [Wednesday], while Augustus was in his forty-second year, [2 or 3BC] but from Adam five thousand and five hundred years. He suffered in the thirty third year, 8 days before the kalends of April [March 25th], the Day of Preparation, the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar [29 or 30 AD], while Rufus and Roubellion and Gaius Caesar, for the 4th time, and Gaius Cestius Saturninus were Consuls.

Some discard Hippolytus’ commentary on Daniel as not authentic, however, even if it were not, Hippolytus upholds the March 25th conception and death multiple times in other works that are known to be authentic:

Hippolytus, a younger contemporary of Clement, does state that the Nativity had occurred on December 25 (Commentary on Daniel, IV.23.3). Although the statement may be a later interpolation, he reiterates several decades later (in AD 235) that Jesus was born nine months after the anniversary of the creation of the world, which Hippolytus believed to have been on March 25 (Chronicon, 686ff). The Nativity then would be on December 25.-Encyclopedia Romana, Sol Invictus

4. Julianus Africanus 221 A.D.

The writings of Julianus Africanus also state that the conception of Christ was the same date as the crucifixion which he lists as March 25th. Julianus wrote around 221 A.D. This is 52 years before the first possible pagan source for the December 25th date, Aurelian. The March 25th conception equals to a December birth. Therefore, the early Church apparently based Jesus’ birth date on the date of His death, simply counting nine months ahead and arrived at December 25th:

Sextus Julianus Africanus, before 221: 22 March = the (first) day of creation, 25 March = both the annunciation and the resurrection. -Roll, ‘Toward the Origins of Christmas’, p. 87 (1995).

March conception = December birth.

But a North African Christian named Sextus Julius Africanus had a different idea. He contended that the Son of God became incarnate not at his birth but at his conception, so if Mary conceived him on March 25, he would have been born nine months later on December 25.[2]

5. The Constitutions of the Apostles 250 A.D.

The December 25th date is listed once again before Aurelian in the Constitutions of the Holy Apostles dated to 250 A.D. The Constitutions list 25th of the ninth month as Jesus’ birth date on the Hebrew Calendar:

Brethren, observe the festival days; and first of all the birthday which you are to celebrate on the twenty-fifth of the ninth month (Tebeth/December); after which let the Epiphany be to you the most honoured, in which the Lord made to you a display of His own Godhead, and let it take place on the sixth of the tenth month; Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol VII: Constitutions of the Holy Apostles: Sec. III.—On Feast Days and Fast Days

Note: The ninth month on the Hebrew Calendar, Tebeth, corresponds to our modern December.

So why did the early Church base Jesus’ conception and birth on His death? The answer to this question is found in Ancient Judaism:

The Talmud 2nd Century A.D.

In ancient Judaism it was believed that all great prophets died on the date of their conception. Jesus, the early Church believed, was conceived on the day He died, March 25th. Therefore , He was born sometime in December:

The notion that creation and redemption should occur at the same time of year is also reflected in ancient Jewish tradition, recorded in the Talmud. The Babylonian Talmud preserves a dispute between two early-second-century C.E. rabbis who share this view, but disagree on the date: Rabbi Eliezer states: “In Nisan the world was created; in Nisan the Patriarchs were born; on Passover Isaac was born … and in Nisan they [our ancestors] will be redeemed in time to come.” (The other rabbi, Joshua, dates these same events to the following month, Tishri.)14 Thus, the dates of Christmas and Epiphany may well have resulted from Christian theological reflection on such chronologies: Jesus would have been conceived on the same date he died, and born nine months later  -Talley, Origins, pp. 81–82.

“It was a traditional Jewish belief that great men lived a whole number of years, without fractions, so that Jesus was considered to have been conceived on 25 March, as he died on 25 March, which was calculated to have coincided with 14 Nisan.” -William J. Colinge, Historical Dictionary of Catholicism

This idea, known as the Integral Age Theory, was the basis for the December birth date,  thus the Christmas date descended from Judaism not paganism.

French Scholar Duchesne was one of the first to point this connection out:

In a passage of only a few pages in his Origines Du Culte Chretien (first edition 1889, fifth edition 1920), Duchesne sets out his theory for the origins of Christmas. He first discounts the notion that Christmas was instituted to as a deliberate distraction for Roman Christians from the feast of Saturnalia (disproven because Saturnalia runs from 17-23 December) and secondly that Christmas was intended as a rival for the feast of Natalis Invicti, which Duchesne believes identical with Mithras, which fails to account for the 6 January date. While allowing for the historical indeterminacy of the date, Duchesne cites the 25 March date for Christ’s passion given by Clement of Alexandria, the De Pashca Computus, Lactantius, Tertullian and Hippolytus in both the Paschal Tables and the “Commentary on Daniel”.…..Therefore, according to Duchesne,the incarnation (or annunciation to Mary) must have taken place on 25 March, and the birth of Christ on 25 December” [2]

December 25th and Tebeth:

The Constitutions of the Apostles list Tebeth as the ninth Hebrew month. Some today may see this as an error citing Tebeth as the tenth month however,  Josephus shows us that the ninth month was Tebeth during his time:

according to the sentence of the elders, those that were of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin came together in three days, viz. on the twentieth day of the ninth month, which, according to the Hebrews, is called Tebeth, and according to the Macedonians, Apelleius. –The Antiquities of the Jews, Flavius Josephus

This means that not only was Jesus’ birth calculated based on ancient Judaism, but possibly His birth took place during Hanukkah:

The Christmas festival of December 25th rested on a very ancient tradition…Which was meant by the ninth month we have no difficulty in deciding. Reckoning after the Jewish and Roman Calendars…We have now verified this additional historical fact, that Christmas was henceforth celebrated on the twenty fifth day in the ninth month in the Jewish calendar, which corresponded to our December…if the body with which the divinity of Christ was like the Dedication of the Temple and Christmas day the feast of the true Dedication of the Temple. – The Leisure Hour, Volume 22

In the Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah by Messianic Scholar Alfred Edersheim, we read that there was once a Hebrew fast day on Tebeth ninth that was later concealed. Edersheim apparently believed that this was Jesus’ birth date, December 25th:

FOOTNOTE for this section: There is no adequate reason for questioning the historical accuracy of this date. The objections generally made rest on grounds which seem to me historically untenable. …but a curious piece of evidence comes to us from a Jewish source. In the addition to the Megilloth Taanith, the 9th Tebbeth is marked as a fast day, and it is added that the reason for this is not stated. Now, Jewish chronologist have fixed on that day as that of Christ’s birth and it is remarkable that, between the years 500 and 816 A.D. the 25th of December fell no less than twelve times on the 9th of Tebbeth. If the 9th Tebbeth, or 25th December, was regarded as the birthday of Christ, we can understand the concealment about it.The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah by Alfred Edersheim

Not only is the December birth date for Christ not pagan in origin as it predates any pagan observance, but it is likely that this was actually Jesus birth date and this took place sometime during Hanukkah in the month of Tebeth on the ninth or twenty fifth days both of which would at specific times correspond to our December 25th and the Julian Calendar date of January 6th.

Conclusion

Thus far we have shown that the December 25th date for the Nativity is exclusively Christian in origin and related to Ancient Judaism. In Part three we will look closer at the myth that Jesus could not have been born in winter.

Part 1: December 25th was not an ancient pagan holiday
Part 2: Jesus’ Death, Christmas and the Early Church
Part 3: The Winter Birth
Part 4: Should Christians Celebrate Christmas?

Check Also

Eternal Security, Producing Fruit, and John 15

Within modern American Christianity, the idea of Eternal Security seems to be quite common. It …

One comment

  1. There are Scriptural supports for celebrating his coming in Luke 2:10, Zech 9:9, and Psalm 98. I'd post more, but it doesn't like my comment length :/

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *