Almost everyone throughout the world celebrates Christmas. Christians celebrate Christmas as the birth of Jesus Christ, and we celebrate it on December 25. But is that really the birth date of Christ? Or was it on September 29, 2 B.C.? We are going on a genealogical treasure hunt and we will also explore a number of topics relevant to Christ’s birth. The first element we must consider is a genealogy—the genealogy of Christ. Genealogies are lists in the Bible that many of us skip over, and yet it is astonishing what they will reveal to the diligent student.
There are important questions that need to be answered. When was Jesus born? Why a virgin birth? Why was He born in Bethlehem? What makes Bethlehem so special? These topics are all worth exploring. There is also a great amount of tradition attached to the birth of Christ. It is so entrenched that even textbooks are full of traditions rather than data.
When Was Jesus Born?
Most serious Bible students realize that Jesus was probably not born on December 25. Since the Bible doesn’t explicitly identify the birthday of our Lord, many scholars have developed diverse opinions as to the likely birthday of Jesus. Just what do we know about the time when Jesus was born? We know that the flocks were in an open field (Luke 2:8). That means it was not after October, because it would have been too cold. We also know that no competent Roman administrator would require registration involving travel during a season when Judea is hard to travel through and generally impassable (Matthew 24:20). Therefore, we know the time of year was not in the winter.
It is commonly presumed that Jesus was born in 4 B.C. But, this date is primarily from erroneous conclusions made by Josephus. He recorded an eclipse that was assumed to be on March 13, 4 B.C., just before Herod died. Other scholars believe that the eclipse occurred on December 29, 1 B.C.
Irenaeus, a noted apologist, was born about a century after Jesus, and he also notes that the Lord was born in the 41st year of the reign of Augustus.
We also know that considerable time elapsed between Jesus’ birth and Herod’s death since the family fled to Egypt to escape Herod’s edict to slaughter the babes in Bethlehem. They did not return until after Herod’s death (Matthew 2:15; 19-22).
According to the Magillath Ta’anith, an ancient Jewish scroll contemporary with Jesus, Herod died on January 14, 1 B.C. (there is no “0” year Between B.C. and A.D.).
Tertullian (born about 160 A.D.) stated that Augustus began to rule forty-one years before the birth of Jesus and died fifteen years after that event, on August 19, 14 A.D.1 Since Augustus began his reign in the autumn of 43 B.C., this also appears to substantiate the birthdate of 2 B.C. for Christ.
Tertullian also notes that Jesus was born twenty-eight years after the death of Cleopatra (30 B.C.), which is also consistent with a date of 2 B.C.
Eusebius (264 A.D.-340 A.D.), the Father of Church History, ascribes the birth to the 42nd year of the reign of Augustus and the 28th year from the subjection of Egypt upon the death of Anthony and Cleopatra.
The 42nd year of Augustus began in the autumn of 1 B.C. The subjugation of Egypt by the Roman Empire occurred in the autumn of 30 B.C., sometime after the Battle of Actium. The 28th year extended from the autumn of 3 B.C. to the autumn of 2 B.C. Therefore, the only date that would meet both of these constraints would be the autumn of 2 B.C.
John the Baptist to the Rescue
At this point, the circumstances surrounding the birth of John the Baptist provide some help. Elisabeth, John’s mother, was a cousin of Mary and the wife of a priest named Zacharias who was of the course, or priestly order, of Abijah (Luke 1:5; 8-13; 23, 24). During the reign of King David, the priests were divided into twenty-four courses and each course officiated in the Temple for one week, from Sabbath to Sabbath. The course of Abijah was the eighth course, according to 1 Chronicles 24:10.
The Talmud and Josephus both record that the Temple was destroyed by Titus on August 5, 70 A.D., and the first course of priests had just taken office. Tracking backwards, Zacharias would have ended his duties on July 13, 3 B.C. If the birth of John the Baptist took place 280 days later (normal gestation time for a child), he would have been born on April 19-20, 2 B.C. (which was Passover of that year). Assuming John was born on April 19-20, 2 B.C., his 30th birthday would have been April 19-20, 29 A.D., in the 15th year of Tiberius. Numbers 4:3 tells us that the minimum age for the ministry was thirty. So John began his ministry in the 15th year of Tiberius Caesar, 28 A.D.
Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judaea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of Ituraea and of the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene, Luke 3:1
As Augustus died on August 19, 14 A.D., that was the accession year for Tiberius. All of this seems to confirm the 2 B.C. date for the birth of Jesus and, since John the Baptist was six months older than Jesus, this also confirms an autumn birth date for Jesus. John the Baptist’s repeated introduction of Jesus as the Lamb of God (John 1:29-30) is particularly interesting if John was indeed born on Passover.
Scripture states that Elisabeth hid herself for five months (Luke 1:25) and then the Archangel Gabriel announced to Mary both Elisabeth’s condition and that Mary also would bear a son who would be called Jesus. The Apostle Luke records that Mary went “with haste” to visit Elisabeth—who was then in the first week of her sixth month, which was the fourth week of December in 3 B.C. And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren. Luke 1:36
If Jesus was born 280 days later, it would place the date of his birth on September 29, 2 B.C. That would have been on the day of the Feast of Trumpets in that year. We realize all these things are speculative but they are intended to stretch the imagination away from the traditions. What’s the correct date? No one knows for sure.
Why December 25th as the Birth Date of Jesus?
The early church did not celebrate Christ’s birth. In fact, the Jewish tradition was to celebrate the death of a person, not the birth. The first recorded mention of December 25 is in the Calendar of Philocalus (354 A.D.), which assumed Jesus’ birth to be a Friday, December 25, 1 A.D. Incidentally, December 25, 1 A.D. was not on a Friday. With the Edict of Toleration (312 A.D.), the Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity; the persecuted Christians exchanged the rags of hiding in the caves for the silks of the court. Christianity became official, therefore, in 312 A.D.
Constantine recognized there was a huge population of slaves in the Roman Empire, and over half of them were Christians. Making Christianity legal was a very shrewd political move. Of course, as time went on, many of the previous pagan rituals were adapted to fit the new “Christian” trappings.
The date of December 25th was officially proclaimed by the church fathers in 440 A.D. This date was actually a vestige of the Roman holiday of Saturnalia, observed near the winter solstice4 (shortest day and longest night of the year), which itself was among the many pagan traditions inherited from the earlier Babylonian priesthood. The sun god was thought to have died on the winter solstice.
Virtually all occultic traditions have had their origins in the original city of Babylon (Isaiah 47). That priestly system from Babylon then moved to Persepolis during the era of the Persians and ultimately found itself in Rome. Virtually everything in pagan Rome consisted of Babylonian practices with a Latin name. It has been the continued adherence to these idolatrous influences that has evoked the intense criticism of Roman Catholicism by Protestants over many centuries.
All of this began with Bab-El, or Babylon, which has over 300 references to it in the Bible, and it is mentioned four times in Christ’s genealogy (Matthew 1:1-17). The tower of Bab-El was Nimrod’s (a descendant of Ham) centerpiece of his rebellion against God (Genesis 10). In a sense, the whole Bible is a saga between two cities: the City of God, called Jerusalem, and the city of man, or Satan, called Babylon. They both start in Genesis and they both climax in the Book of Revelation.
Bab-El has great meaning. Bab is the term for “gate or tower” and El is the term for God. Bab-El is the “tower to God” or the “gateway to the gods.” This is where we have God Himself intervening, causing the confusion of the tongues which occurs in Genesis 11. Not only was there a confusion of tongues, but the Mazzaroth (what we know as the “Zodiac”) was corrupted. It was in Babylon that the original concepts became distorted.
Babylon figures prominently in history and in prophecy. From the perspective of prophecy, Babylon is presently being rebuilt 100 kilometers (62 miles) south of Baghdad. Babylon is destined for a rebirth, and she will eventually receive the judgment that is explicitly described in Isaiah and Jeremiah. And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldees’ excellency, shall be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah. Isaiah 13:19
And saying, Alas, alas, that great city, that was clothed in fine linen, and purple, and scarlet, and decked with gold, and precious stones, and pearls! Revelation 18:16
And they cast dust on their heads, and cried, weeping and wailing, saying, Alas, alas, that great city, wherein were made rich all that had ships in the sea by reason of her costliness! for in one hour is she made desolate. Revelation 18:19
This may be a contemporary “litmus test” for taking prophecies literally, but as yet there is no evidence of this occurring. However, if we understand the Bible correctly, it would seem that there is a huge destiny yet ahead for this fabled city.
The Tammuz Legend
In order to understand the origin of the various occultic practices of Babylon, we need to look at the original city and the story of Tammuz, the son of Nimrod (the founder of Babylon) and his queen, Semiramis. Tammuz was identified with the Babylonian sun god and was worshipped following the winter solstice, which is around December 22-23. Tammuz was thought to have died during this time, and this was memorialized by burning a log in the fireplace. The Chaldean word for “infant” is “yule.” His “rebirth” was celebrated by replacing the log with a trimmed tree the following morning. So what we think of today as a Christmas tree actually had its roots in Babylon. Jeremiah 10 states the following: Thus saith the Lord, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them. For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workmen with the ax. They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers that it move not. They are upright as the palm tree, but speak not: they must needs be borne, because they cannot go. Be not afraid of them; for they cannot do evil, neither also is it in them to do good. Jeremiah 10: 2-5
In all candor, Jeremiah is talking about idol worship, a different thing altogether. Actually, the intent here is not to disdain the use of a Christmas tree, but rather to really understand the origins of some of our western traditions, including the Christmas tree.
When Christianity was established as the state religion of Rome, many of the previous religious traditions and practices of the earlier pagan worship were adapted and incorporated, including the Christmas tree, the mistletoe (a fertility symbol), the wassail bowl, and others. Again, all these things have their roots, strangely enough, in Babylon.
Many of our other holidays have their origins in ancient cultures. Perhaps one of the biggest of these is Halloween, which is clearly occultic. The Celts, the Druids, and many others observed October 31st [the Eve of Sahmain (Summer’s End)—pronounced “sow-ween”] as the end of the year. All of this is related to the planet Mars, called Baal, which may very likely have been interfering with the orbit of the earth on some previous occasions.
Easter is a holiday that retains its original pagan name. This celebration originally involved the worship of Ishtar, the Golden Egg of Astarte, and was held with all kinds of fertility rites in the spring. Prolific rabbits are a major symbol of fertility and that is how the rabbits got commingled with the eggs.
It is an interesting fact that the early Christians who attempted to worship Passover in accordance with the instructions in the Bible were excommunicated from the church and called the quartodecimens.
The Messianic Promise
In Genesis 3:15, God declares war on the Nahash, Satan, the Shining One, and there He announces for the first time in the written Scriptures the promise of the kinsman-redeemer (Jesus Christ), who will come from the line of Adam.
Satan understands that there is a war going on. He has continually attempted to eradicate the Messianic line from Eve onwards throughout history, even to today. Satan has attempted to interrupt the royal line from Cain and Abel to the Flood of Noah; from the slaughter of the infants in Egypt in the Book of Exodus, all the way to the slaughter of the babes in Bethlehem.
After the death of Abel, Satan tried to corrupt the human line with the shenanigans of the fallen angels in Genesis 6, attacking Abraham’s seed in Genesis 12 and Genesis 20, the famine in Genesis 50, the destruction of the male line in Exodus 1, and Pharaoh’s pursuit of the Hebrew nation (Exodus 14), which culminated with the destruction of Pharaoh’s army, and the populating of Canaan.
Before Abraham’s people returned from Egypt, Satan had four centuries to lay down a minefield, and that is why Joshua is instructed to wipe out every man, woman and child of certain tribes. As God revealed His plan more clearly, Satan focused his attack more tightly. God revealed that the Messiah would not only come from the line of Abraham, He would also come from the line of David. So, the family of David was singled out by Satan from 2 Samuel onwards. And all through here, we find him trying to kill all the heirs to the throne. But there was always one; one hidden by a servant or saved in some other way—and that kept the line going. The attacks on David’s line included:
Jehoram killed his brothers in 2 Chronicles 21
Arabians slew all but Ahazariah in 2 Chronicles 21
Athaliah killed all but Joash in 2 Chronicles 22
Hezekiah assaulted, etc. in Isaiah 36, 38
Haman’s attempt to kill all Jews in Esther 3
We notice this attempt to wipe out the Jews in the Book of Esther, when Haman, emboldened by Satan, devised a plan for their extinction. Satan’s other attacks were focused on key families; this attack was to be a wholesale massacre.
When we move into the New Testament, the stratagems of Satan continue:
Joseph’s fear for Mary in Matthew 1
Herod’s murder attempts in Matthew 2
Men at the synagogue in Nazareth in Luke 4
Two storms on the Sea in Mark 4; Luke 8
The Cross in Matthew 27; Mark 15; Luke 23; John 19
The Dragon in Revelation 12
In fact, Revelation 12 is a summary of Satan’s stratagems, and yet he is not through. Throughout history there has been extreme prejudice against the Jews, and we are seeing it even in our time.
Note: This was an excerpt from Chuck Missler’s topical study The Christmas Story: What Really Happened.
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