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Thread: When was Jesus born?

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    Default When was Jesus born?

    When was Jesus born?

    Was Jesus really born on December 25th, as the western Christian tradition maintains, or does Scripture allow us to infer a different time for His advent here on earth? Two cases will be presented below: one case for a Tishri (Sukkot) birth, and the other for the traditional December 25th date.


    Background: The “Courses” of Temple Service

    As you will see, the crux of the arguments both for and against the December 25th dating of the birth of Jesus depend upon the date assigned to the “course of Abia” and the precise time that Zacharias, John the Baptist’s father, was in the Temple when he was visited by the angel Gabriel. But what is the “course of Abia” and why is it important?

    King David (1 Chr 28:11-13) divided the sons of Aaron into 24 “courses” or groups (1 Chr 24:1-4) to create an orderly schedule by which the Temple of the Lord could be staffed for the year. Once these courses were established, lots were drawn to determine the sequence each group would serve in the Temple (1 Chr 24: 7-19). Each of the 24 courses of priests would begin and end their service on the Sabbath for a tour of duty of one week (2 Chr 23:8, 1 Chr 9:25).

    The Jewish calendar begins in the Spring (Nissan), so the first course of priests (Jehoiarib) would serve for seven days. The second week would then fall to the family of Jedaiah. The third week would be the festival of Passover, when all priests would be present for service, so the schedule would resume with the third course of priests (Harim) on the fourth week. By the tenth week, since both Passover and Shavu’ot had occurred, the 8th course of Abia (Abijah) would be called for temple service (by means of this arrangement, after the 24th course was completed, the general cycle of courses would repeat, so that in a given year each group of priests would serve in the Temple twice (in addition to the three major festivals)).


    Argument for a Tishri (Sukkot) Birth

    There are several reasons to believe that Jesus was born during the Fall, in particular, during the festival of Sukkot. Among the reasons cited are as follows:
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    1. Jesus' cousin, John the Baptist, was conceived in mid Sivan (May/June) and born 40 weeks later on Nissan 15, the Passover.
      • John's father (Zacharias) was a Levite who was assigned to serve in the temple during the course of “Abia,” the 8th course of the year. (Luke 1:5, 1 Chron. 24:10)
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      • Since the cycle of service began on the first Shabbat of Nissan but both Passover and Shavu’ot require all priestly courses to serve, the actual time the 8th course would serve would be during the 10th week of the year. This places Zacharias' service in the Temple as beginning on the second Sabbath of the month of Sivan (May/June).
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      • It is written that John was conceived shortly after this tour of duty (Luke 1:23-4). Therefore, John the Baptist was probably conceived shortly after the third Sabbath of the month of Sivan (i.e., late Sivan).
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      • Therefore John the Baptist was born around Passover (Nissan 15). (Recall that Jesus said that John the Baptist was a type of Elijah the prophet (Matt 17:10-13, cp. Luke 1:17). Even today it is customary for Jews to set out a special cup of wine during the Passover Seder meal in anticipation of the arrival of Elijah for the festival.)
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    2. Jesus was conceived in late Kislev (Nov/Dec) and born 40 weeks later during Sukkot.


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      • Jesus was conceived six months after John the Baptist (Luke 1:24-27, 36). Note that the “sixth” month refers to Elizabeth’s pregnancy, not the month of Elul (cp. Luke 1:36).
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      • Six months added to late Sivan is late Kislev, which is the time of the conception of Jesus (note that the first day of the Jewish festival of Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, is celebrated on the 25th day of Kislev, and Jesus is called the Light of the world (John 8:12, 9:5, 12:46)).
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      • From the 15th day of Nissan (John’s birthday), we add six months to arrive at the 15th day of the 7th month, Tishri - the first day of the festival of Sukkot.
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        If the day of his birth were the first day of Sukkot, the day of his circumcision would be the eighth day, Shemini Atzeret/Sinchat Torah, which, like the first day, is a day of sacred assembly (Leviticus 23:39). On this day the Jews complete their annual cycle of Torah readings and start again from Bereshit (Genesis). Simchat Torah is considered to be a time of “fulfillment” of the Torah. The circumcision of Jesus at this time indicates how he had come to fulfill the Law and the Prophets (Matt. 5:17-18).
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    3. Circumstantial Evidences:


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      • John 1:14 states that the "Word became flesh and “dwelt” with us. The Greek word “dwelt” [skeinao] comes from the word skeinos, which the LXX (Septuagint) uses for the mishkan (tabernacle). The name given for the feast of Tabernacles itself is called Herotei Skeinon in the LXX.
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      • King Herod most likely would used the opportunity of the Festival of Sukkot (in Jerusalem) to perform the census (certainly not Chanukah, since he detested and feared the Hasmoneans).
        Shepherds would not be out with their sheep in the dead of winter in Israel.
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      • The angel who appeared to the shepherds said, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people” (Luke 2:10). Since Sukkot was known as both a festival of joy and also as the “Festival of the Nations,” the angel was actually giving them a greeting for the Festival of Sukkot. This is the only festival where the nations are positively encouraged to participate (Zechariah 14:16-19).
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      • After Jesus returns and sets up His kingdom on earth, it is written that only one festival will be celebrated by the nations: Sukkot (Zechariah 14:16) Why is that? Could it be that this will be a worldwide birthday party for the LORD Jesus? (all the other festivals would have been fulfilled - Passover, FirstFruits, Pentecost, Rosh Hashanah, and Yom Kippur, but the remembrance of His birth would remain as a celebration).
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    Argument for a late December Birth

    The argument for assigning late December as the rightful date of the birth of Yeshua is based on further reflection on the time Zacharias was told that Elizabeth would conceive a child.
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    1. Jesus' cousin, John the Baptist, was conceived just after Yom Kippur (Tishri 10) and born 40 weeks later in Tammuz (June/July).
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      • John's father (Zacharias) was a Levite who was assigned to serve in the temple during the course of “Abia,” the 8th course of the year. However, the 8th course would serve both on the 10th week of the year (see above) as well as on the 34th week: 24 (first complete cycle) +2 (festivals) + 8 = 34.
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      • This places Zacharias' service in the Temple as during the High Holiday of Yom Kippur, and this agrees with the description given about how Gabriel spoke to Zacharias in the narrative (Luke 1:8-23).
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      • It is written that John was conceived shortly after this tour of duty (Luke 1:23-4), perhaps on 17 Tishri. Therefore, John the Baptist was probably conceived shortly after the Yom Kippur and would have been born on the 17th of Tammuz (June/July).
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    2. Jesus was conceived in Nissan (Mar/Apr), near Passover, and born 40 weeks later during late December.

      • Jesus was conceived six months after John the Baptist (Luke 1:24-27, 36). Adding 6 months to Tammuz 17 leads us to Nissan 17 (two days after Passover).
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      • Since Jesus was born six months after John, we add six months John’s birthday (the 17th of Tammuz) to arrive at the 17th Tevet (late December).
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    3. Circumstantial Evidences:


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      • Church history since the time of the late first century has attested to a late December birth. Hippolytus, in the second century AD, argued that this was Christ's birthday. Only in the recent years this date was challenged.
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      • Early Jewish sources suggest that the sheep around Bethlehem were outside year-round.
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      • Alfred Edersheim, a Messianic Jew, wrote, "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." Edersheim notes that Megillot Taanit states that the 9th of Tevet is considered the day of Christ's birth, and that puts the birth of Yeshua sometime during late December.
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    Conclusion?


    It is apparent, however, that since we cannot definitively date the time of Zacharias’ service in the Temple, we cannot be dogmatic regarding the date of our LORD Jesus. And even if we could decide if Zacharias was visited by Gabriel during his first course of service (during the 10th week), we are faced with the textual ambiguity regarding the statement “after those days” (given in Luke 1:24). How much time is meant by this phrase? Is it a week? a day? a month?

    In light of these uncertainties, it is perhaps advisable to take a humble attitude and confess our ignorance of the matter. The important thing, of course, is that our LORD was indeed born and ransomed us from the wages of our sins.

    In other words, Scripture seems to be more focused on the life, death, and resurrection of the LORD Jesus, rather than His birth. As the Apostle Paul wrote:

    “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures...” (1 Cor 15:3-5)

    Every day, then, may we celebrate the Life of our LORD and Savior, Yeshua the Mashiach! Amen.
    Last edited by John Parsons; 12-28-2004 at 03:23 PM. Reason: emendation
    xyvmh [wvy ~vb ~wlv
    www.hebrew4christians.com

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