Christmas and Paganism Part 3: The Winter Birth

Home Articles Common Myths Christmas and Paganism Part 3: The Winter Birth

According to modern Scholarship and historical evidence, Jesus’ birth date is not related to paganism. In the last two articles we showed that December 25th is an historically Christian date based on historical evidence and the ancient Hebrew theory of Integral Age. We debunked the myth that Christians hijacked the pagan festivals for Sol, Mithras, and Saturnalia as history and Scholarship proves that these festivals were either not celebrated on December 25th or at anytime in history prior to the 4th century A.D.

In this article, we will look into the remaining myths that Jesus could not have been born in the winter as Shepherds were not in the fields during that time of the year, and that He was born during Sukkot.

These myths have many problems. The first being that there is no proof for any of this in the Bible. It would be virtually impossible for Jesus to have been born during Sukkot since the Bible clearly says that Joseph and Mary were going to Bethlehem, not Jerusalem, for a census not a feast. Most feasts required a journey to the Temple, including Sukkot. The Bible never mentions any such journey. If this had been the case, it would seem that this information would have been mentioned.

Additionally, the Bible states that Joseph and Mary were seeking shelter at an inn. If, however, they had been traveling to the feast of Sukkot they would have made shelter in a booth, not sought shelter in an inn or manger. The inns would not have been full as others would have been making shelter in booths as well. Therefore, the idea that Jesus was born during a feast is based on pure speculation and zero Biblical evidence. Instead the Bible refutes this theory.

Added in support of this myth is the theory that shepherds would not have their flocks outside during the winter. This is extremely popular as well, although it was debunked at least forty years ago by Bible Scholars. It is in fact not uncommon for modern Israelis to keep livestock out in the fields during the winter.  The truth is winter is rather mild in Israel with the average temperature around 50 degrees. Furthermore, we have proof in the Bible that shepherds did watch their flocks during the winter.

Genesis 31:38-40:

38 These twenty years have I been with you; your sheep, and your female goats have not failed in bearing; and I have not eaten the rams of your cattle. 39 That which was torn of beasts I did not bring to you; I made good of myself the thefts of the day, and the thefts of the night. 40 I was parched with heat by day, and chilled with frost by night, and my sleep departed from my eyes

Here we see that Jacob kept watch over livestock during the winter.

Further proof that this was a common practice in Israel during Jesus’ time can be found in the writings of Canon H.B Tristram (author and traveler) who visited Palestine frequently and is well known for his writings of Palestine and other Middle Eastern areas:

A little knoll of olive trees surrounding a group of ruins marks the traditional site of the angels’ appearance to the shepherds, Migdol Eder, ‘the tower of the flock’. But the place where the first ‘Gloria in excelsis’ was sung was probably further east, where the bare hills of the wilderness begin, and a large tract is claimed by the Bethlehemites as a common pasturage. Here the sheep would be too far off to be led into the town at night; and exposed to the attacks of wild beasts from the eastern ravines, where the wolf and the jackal still prowl, and where of old the yet more formidable lion and bear had their covert, they needed the shepherds’ watchful care during the winter and spring months, when alone pasturage is to be found on these bleak uplands. (Emphasis Added). Picturesque Palestine Vol 1 page 124

Migdol Eder is by local tradition the historical sight of the angels appearance to the shepherds. As stated in the excerpt above, this site is where the flocks were kept outside during the winter, because the winter rains allowed for the growth of grass, something that the flocks did not get to have during the Summer months. It makes sense that shepherds would allow Passover lambs out in the fields during the winter to fatten them on the green grass. It further makes sense that the lambs would be kept out at night, since the distance back to town would have been to far to bring them back and forth daily. Also note this excerpt from Messianic Jewish Scholars Alfred Edersheim:

That the Messiah was born in Bethlehem was a settled conviction. Equally so, was the belief that He was to be revealed from Migdal Eder, the tower of the flock.

This Migdal Eder, was not the watch tower for ordinary flocks which pastured on the barren sheep ground beyond Bethlehem, but lay close to town, on the road to Jerusalem. A passage in the Mishnah leads to the conclusion that the flocks which pastured there were destined for Temple Sacrifices, and accordingly that the Shepherds who watched over them were, no ordinary Shepherds. The latter were under the ban of Rabbinism on the account of their necessary isolation from religious ordinances, and their manner of life, which rendered strict legal observances unlikely, if not absolutely impossible.

The same Mishnic also leads us to infer, that these flocks lay out all year round , since they are spoken of as in the fields thirty days before Passover- that is, in the month of February, when in Palestine the average rainfall is nearly greatest. Thus Jewish traditions in some dim manner apprehended the first revelation of the Messiah from Migdal Eder, where Shepherds watched the Temple flocks all year round. Of the deep symbolic significance of such a coincidence, it is needless to speak –The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah By Alfred Edersheim

Another bit of  evidence for a winter birth is from a calendar found in the Dead Sea Scrolls which provides the sacerdotal courses for the Temple. Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist served during the course of Abijah. The Dead Sea Scrolls prove that this period was in September. John was conceived shortly after this course proving the traditional date of his birth, June 24th, was possible. Thus the annunciation date of March 25th for Mary’s pregnancy with Jesus would be accurate as well and place the birth in December:

Note on the date of Christmas, from 30 Days, an Italian publication:

December 25 is explained as the ‘Christianization’ of a pagan feast, ‘birth of the Sol Invictus’; or as the symmetrical balance, an aesthetic balance between the winter solstice (Dec. 21-22) and the spring equinox (March 23-24). But a discovery of recent years has shed definitive light on the date of the Lord’s birth. As long ago as 1958, the Israeli scholar Shemaryahu Talmon published an in-depth study on the calendar of the Qumran sect [Ed. based , in part, on Parchment Number 321 — 4 Q 321 — of the Qumran Dead Sea Scrolls], and he reconstructed without the shadow of doubt the order of the sacerdotal rota system for the temple of Jerusalem (1 Paralipomenon/Chronicles 24, 7-18) in New Testament times. Here the family of Abijah, of which Zechariah (Zachary) was a descendant, father of John the herald and forerunner (Luke 1, 5), was required to officiate twice a year, on the days 8-14 of the third month, and on the days 24-30 of the eighth month. This latter period fell at about the end of September. It is not without reason that the Byzantine calendar celebrated ‘John’s conception’ on September 23 and his birth nine months later, on June 24. The ‘six months’ after the Annunciation established as a liturgical feast on March 25, comes three months before the forerunner’s birth, prelude to the nine months in December: December 25 is a date of history.

While the quote above is Roman Catholic in origin, it’s irrelevant as the study of the calendar was conducted by an Israeli Scholar, Shemaryahu Talmon. This time frame is supported by the Infancy Gospel of James (136 A.D.) which states that Zacharias served during the Day of Atonement and John was conceived just after this period. Further research by Josef Heinrich Friedlieb established that the first priestly course of Jojarib would have been on duty during the destruction of Jerusalem on the ninth day of the month of Av. Thus the course of Jojarib was serving during the second week of Av and the course of Abijah would have been during the second week of the month of Tishri or the week of the Day of Atonement.

John Chrysostom, although writing after the time of Constantine,  wrote of the temple roster and the birth date of Jesus, which by Chrysostom’s calculations was in December:

His third argument follows the approach of the De solstitiis in using the Lucan chronology and the assumption that Zacharia was High Priest during the feast of Tabernacles in the year John the Baptist was conceived. Chrysostom counts off the months of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, and dates Mary’s conception from the sixth month of Elizabeth’s, Xanthikos on the Macedonian calendar, then counts off another nine months to arrive at the birthdate of Christ. -Sunsan K Roll {2} , ‘Toward the Origins of Christmas’, pp. 100-101 (1995).

Conclusion

While no one can say for certain when Jesus was born. The evidence of the early Church, the Integral Age theory of ancient Judaism, the Temple Roster of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the timing of the birth of John the Baptist all point to a winter birth. Coupled against this evidence, there is absolutely nothing that proves the theory that Jesus was born during Sukkot. This theory is based on nothing more than speculation by those who seek to persecute the probable true date of our Savior’s birth on December 25th.

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?

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