On this Christmas Eve, waiting for the Midnight Mass, I have a little (or big, according to your sentiments) Christmas present for you: Jesus was really born on 25 December.
For some time now we’ve been hearing various people say that the 25th December is only a conventional date for the birth of Jesus Christ, as the Bible doesn’t say it.
We now know that this is wrong, although, as usual when you have an anti-Christian and pro-Christian stance on the same matter, the above claim on the pretended date for Christmas (anti-Christian, or rather anti-Church as it is usually attached to accusations of falsification and of a “Christian conspiracy”) finds many more people prepared to spread and publicise it than its counterclaim.
And many, even among Christians, have accepted and believed the widely propagandised idea that 25 December is only a conventional date in the absence of Biblical support, or a date derived from a Roman pagan festivity. But scholars have found in Qumran papers proof that it is the real date.
The 25th December date for the Nativity of Our Lord is indeed in the Bible.
And the scholar who found this out, Shemarjahu Talmon, is a professor at the University of Jerusalem in Israel, a Jew, hardly someone you can suspect of Christian apologetic purposes.
The discovery was made as early as the 1950s, but lots of uninformed sources have totally been ignoring it for decades and still do. In fact this discovery has later been confirmed by other scholars, including Annie Jaubert, Tommaso Federici and Michele Loconsole.
The mechanism of this is fascinating.
If Jesus was born on December 25, the virginal conception occurred, obviously, 9 months earlier. And, in fact, Christian calendars place the angel Gabriel’s Annunciation to Mary on 25th March.
But we know from the Gospel of Luke that just 6 months earlier the Precursor, John, who will be called the Baptist, had been conceived by Elizabeth. The Catholic Church does not have a liturgical feast for that conception, while the ancient Eastern Churches celebrate it solemnly between 23 and 25 September. And that is 6 months before the Annunciation to Mary. It was a succession of logical dates based on verifiable traditions, but not on events whose time was localised; or so it was believed until very recent times. But not now.
Indeed, it is right from John’s conception that we must start. The Gospel of Luke opens with the story of the elderly couple, Zachariah and Elizabeth, now resigned to sterility, one of the worst misfortunes in Israel.
Zachariah, who belonged to the priestly class of Abia (Luke 1,5), had the vision of the Archangel Gabriel (the same angel who 6 months later visited Mary in Nazareth), who announced to him that, despite his advanced age, he and his wife would have a son. They were to call him John and he would be “great before the Lord”. Zachariah, when he had the apparition, “was serving as priest before God in the appointed order of his priestly division” in the temple of Jerusalem (Luke 1,8).
This is where the discovery of Professor Talmon from the documents of Qumran comes in.
The papyri of Qumran are ancient Jewish religious manuscripts initially found in 1946 in the Qumran Caves in the Judaean Desert, near the northern shore of the Dead Sea, hence their more common name of Dead Sea Scrolls. Again and again they have been proving to be a real gold mine on the origins of Christianity.
Among the documents of Qumran was found the so-called Book of Jubilees, on the basis of which scholars were able to reconstruct the succession of priestly shifts relating to service in the Temple of Jerusalem.
According to what is in the Bible in 1Ch 24:1-19, King David had ordered that the “sons of Aaron” be distinguished in 24 turns, so that, alternating according to an immutable order, they would perform liturgical service for a week, from Saturday on Saturday twice a year.
The order of the priestly classes was already known (Iarib, Ideia, Charim, Seorim, Mechia, Miamin, Kos, Abia, Joshua, Senechia, Eliasib, Iakim, Occhoffa, Isbaal, Belga, Emmer, Chezir, Afessi, Fetaia, Ezekil, Iachin, Gamoul, Dalaia, Maasai). Then, thanks to the Book of Jubilees we discovered that the shift of Abia (the eighth in the order of classes) corresponded to the last week of September, that is, between the 23rd and 30th of the month.
Therefore, according to the Book of Jubilees, the announcement of the conception of the Baptist should have taken place in the last week of September. In fact, in the Byzantine area, this event is remembered precisely between 23 and 25 September: it is therefore possible that this date derives from an ancient tradition, perhaps oral, today confirmed by the discovery of Qumran.
Once the date of the announcement to Zachariah has been fixed, the whole Christian calendar comes out confirmed: the announcement to Mary 6 months later (25 March), the birth of the Baptist after another 3 (24 June), the birth of Jesus after 6 months more (25 December).
The true date of Jesus’ birth may seem secondary, but it’s not. Because all these fake stories about His birth, birth date or whatever else are spread to attack the credibility of the Gospels and therefore of His Word. Unfortunately even Christians may fall in these traps.
That’s why it’s important to be well informed.