The Date of Christmas...
a Christian -- not a Pagan Date

More Dating on Christmas - #1

William Tighe's Calculating Christmas has generated a lot of messages to Mere Comments. See Dating Christmas for one.

Here is a response from regular contributor Fr. Robert Hart:

The website, in its reference to Hannukah, raises a question I brought up with my friend William Tighe when he was initially preparing to write his article for Virtuosity [an Episcopal listserve] last year. I agree with his decision not to bring it up in his article, because it is based upon logic rather than upon historical evidence.

I like the idea of the 25th day of Kislev translating into the 25th day of December, giving the date of Christmas a Biblical basis (for those of us who regard I Maccabees as scripture). Someday I hope some evidence might prove that this was part of the consideration given to Dec. 25th; but the realization that all of the Jewish holidays were kept by the earliest Jewish "followers of the Way" must make one ask, what was the new significance of the other Jewish holidays? What did they do with the feast of Purim from Esther?

Especially, what did they do with the High Holy Days? Well, we know what they did with Passover, and that we still keep it (English being rare in renaming it from Passover -- Pascha, from the Hebrew Pasach -- to Easter). But, we have no evidence regarding Yom Kippur, Rosh Hoshanna, the Feast of Tabernacles, etc. We keep Pentecost because of its direct relevance to the birth of the Church. But, it seems that the rest are shrouded in mystery.

Alas, so too any direct connection of Kislev 25th to December 25th. It remains, however, an interesting, even a fun, question.

7:29 AM


More Dating on Christmas - #2

Here is another response to Dr. Tighe's article from a new contributor, Bill Paire:

The Calculating Christmas article was very enjoyable reading. However, you can also calculate a Dec 25 date from Scripture.

Reading the first few chapters of Luke, we see that everything is timed from when Zacharias was in the temple, let's assume for the sake of argument that this was in early October. That would place the likely time of John the Baptist's conception toward the end of October or early November. This is based on his week of service, his ritual cleansing time, and assuming he got right down to business with Elisabeth (if an angel told me I was going to have a kid, I'd expect things to move right along).

So, Elisabeth then hid herself for five months. In the beginning of April, the angel appeared to Mary. Let's call the date April 1. A normal gestation period of 270 days puts the birth of Jesus on Dec. 25.

Obvious question: Was Zacharias serving in October?

The Mishnah indicates that each course served a week during the first half of the year, the three festival weeks, and a week during the last half of the year, for a total of five weeks during a normal year.

We start counting weeks on the first Sabbath of Nisan (approx. March), here's when Zacharias would have served:

Week 3 Feast of the Unleavened;
Week 9 Pentecost (65 days after Nisan 14);
Week 10 (2 festivals + 8 courses);
Week 29 Tishri festival of booths;
Week 35 (24 courses + 3 feasts + 8 courses)

Week 35 is going to be sometime in October or November. However, there are various problems with the calendar translation with extra months getting thrown in, arguments about when exactly new moons happen, etc etc. Fortunately, it seems that Zacharias was serving during the Day of Atonement, which is easier to peg to a date. The Day of Atonement is the nineteenth day of Tischri, which falls in September/October. After the dust settles, you get the first week in October as the most likely date that Zacharias had his visit.

Early church lore (John Chrysostom) has Zechariah's visit from the angel happening on the Day of Atonement. Looking at Scripture (Sola Scriptura!) seems to indicate that Zechariah was in the Holy of Holies as he was apparently alone. Thumbing through relevant Scripture does seem to strongly indicate that Zechariah had his visit during the Day of Atonement. It seems that the only time someone was in his particular situation, as described in Luke, was
during the Day of Atonement.

Luke 1:9 "he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense."

Luke 1:21 "Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple."

Looking at what happens during the Day of Atonement:

Leviticus 16:12-13 "He is to take a censer full of burning coals from the altar before the LORD and two handfuls of finely ground fragrant incense and take them behind the curtain. He is to put the incense on the fire before the LORD, and the smoke of the incense will conceal the atonement cover above the Testimony, so that he will not die."

From Hebrews, it seems very likely that Zechariah was performing the ceremony of the Day of Atonement, that's the only explanation I've found for why he was in the temple alone. Also, notice the symbolism pointed out in Hebrews (not that I place much weight on typological arguments, it's just interesting).

Hebrews 9:1-7: "Now the first covenant had regulations for worship and also an earthly sanctuary. A tabernacle was set up. In its first room were the lampstand, the table and the
consecrated bread; this was called the Holy Place. Behind the second curtain was a room called the Most Holy Place, which had the golden altar of incense and the gold-covered ark of the covenant. This ark contained the gold jar of manna, Aaron's staff that had budded, and the stone tablets of the covenant. Above the ark were the cherubim of the Glory, overshadowing the atonement cover. But we cannot discuss these things in detail now. When everything had been arranged like this, the priests entered regularly into the outer room to carry on their ministry. But only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance."

So, this, taken with early Church's belief that Christ was born on December 25th (although the Eastern Church uses either Jan 1st or Jan 6th) seems to indicate that December 25th is the date.

7:29 AM


The Rev'd Dr. Peter Toon M.A., D.Phil. (Oxon.),
Christ Church, Biddulph Moor & St Anne's, Brown Edge;

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