The Sign Given to the Shepherds

This will be a sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:12-14)

Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus to register all the empire for taxes. This was the first registration, taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria. Everyone went to his own town to be registered.  So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family line of David. He went to be registered with Mary, who was promised in marriage to him, and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child.  And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. (Luke 2:1–7). 

Writhe and groan, O daughter of Zion,  like a woman in labor,  for now you shall go out from the city and dwell in the open country (Micah 4:10 a ESV)

During a census, Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem; however, finding no place to stay (11), they went out from the city of Bethlehem to the open country or fields surrounding it, and that is where the infant Jesus was born. Where precisely in the open field around the city of Bethlehem did these events take place? I am glad you asked!

As for you, watchtower for the flock, fortress of Daughter Zion— your former dominion will be restored, the sovereignty that belongs to Daughter Jerusalem. (Micah 4:8)

This verse from Micah 4:8 contains a prophecy that the former dominion of the nation of Israel from Jerusalem (i.e., the fortress of Daughter Zion) would be restored by the Sovereign Lord of Heaven and Earth, the Son of Man, the King of the Jews, the long-awaited Messiah! Furthermore, the shepherds would be first to hear the revelation of His arrival, and this would occur near the watchtower for the flock. So, where is the watchtower for the flock (i.e., Migdal Eder) located? I am so glad you asked!

Rachel died, and she was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem), and Jacob set up a pillar over her tomb. It is the pillar of Rachel’s tomb, which is there to this day. Israel journeyed on and pitched his tent beyond the tower of Eder. (Genesis 35:19–21)

“There was near Bethlehem, on the road to Jerusalem, a tower known as Migdal Eder, or the watch-tower of the flock. Here was the station where shepherds watched the flocks destined for sacrifice in the temple. Animals straying from Jerusalem on any side, as far as from Jerusalem to Migdal Eder, were offered in sacrifice. It was a settled conviction among the Jews that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, and equally that he was to be revealed from Migdal Eder.” (2)

“This “tower of the flock” must, therefore, be looked for between Bethlehem and Hebron. Jerome (5) says it was 1 Roman mi (1.5 km, 0.9 mi) from Bethlehem. It was probably not a town but simply a tower for guarding flocks against robbers (cf. “watchtower,” 2 Kings 18:8).” (3)

Similar towers were built for the protection of the flocks by the shepherd, in the enclosures in which the animals were placed for the night (comp. the term “tower of the flock,” Gen. 35:21; Micah 4:8), and it is expressly stated that Uzziah built such structures in the desert for his enormous herds (2 Chron. 26:10). (12)

Stone Shepherd’s Tower

Migdal Eder, the Tower of the Flockwas constructed on the side of a hill in the fields outside of Bethlehem, which was home to hundreds of lambs. These were not just any flock and herd of sheep but rather those used in ritual worship in the Temple. Two lambs were sacrificed daily with one in the morning (9:00 AM) and one in the afternoon (3:00 PM) (Numbers 28:3,4).

The Tower of the Flock is where shepherds brought all flocks that were destined for sacrifice in the Temple at Jerusalem. This included flocks as far north as Jerusalem, and within the area of Bethlehem on every side, the males were offered as burnt-offerings, the females as peace-offerings (8). 

The Tower of the Flock was a circular tower with a second floor from which the shepherds watched over the sheep for protection and to detect when a ewe was about to give birth. The first floor had only one unique purpose; it was ceremonially cleansed and sanctified by the Levitical priests as an inspection chamber for the lambs of sacrifice. In addition, I believe the first floor provided access to a cave in the side of the hill. (cf. 1 Samuel 24:3) This cave is where the ewes that were ready to deliver were placed. During the birthing process, the cave would become ceremonially unclean due to the birthing fluids which included blood.

As for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, seemingly insignificant among the clans of Judah— from you a king will emerge who will rule over Israel on my behalf, one whose origins are in the distant past. (Micah 5:2). 

“That the Messiah was to be 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 the ordinary flocks which pastured on the barren sheep-ground beyond Bethlehem, but lay close to the 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 not ordinary shepherds. The latter were under the ban of Rabbinism, on account of their necessary isolation from religious ordinances, and their manner of life, which rendered strict legal observance unlikely, if not absolutely impossible. The same Mishnic passage also leads us to infer, that these flocks lay out all the year round, since they are spoken of as in the fields thirty days before the Passover—that is, in the month of February, when in Palestine the average rainfall is nearly greatest. Thus, Jewish tradition in some dim manner apprehended the first revelation of the Messiah from that Migdal Eder, where shepherds watched the Temple-flocks all the year round.” (4)

Understand that it will not be ordinary shepherds, but rather priest shepherds that will be the subject of the angelic announcement. These priest shepherds of the Temple had the duty of keeping watch over the flock. The priest shepherds who kept them were men who were specifically trained for this royal task. Being themselves under special rabbinical care, these priest shepherds would strictly maintain the first floor of the tower as a ceremonially clean inspection chamber. They were educated in the requirements for an animal that was to be sacrificed, and they were responsible for making sure that none of the animals were hurt, damaged, or blemished. According to scripture, only a spotless lamb can temporarily cover sins (Exodus 12:5) or cleanse from all sin for all time (1 Peter 1:19. Hebrews 9:14).

When a ewe was about to give birth in the field, she was brought into the cave and attended by a priest shepherd.  Once the lamb is born, it was removed from the now ceremonially unclean cave, wrapped or bound in swaddling clothes or bands that were torn from priests’ old garments and placed in the ceremonially clean limestone manger that was situated within the ceremonially clean first floor. This binding by wrapping with swaddling bands prevented them from thrashing about and harming themselves until they had calmed down sufficiently to facilitate inspection for the quality of being without spot or blemish.

Furthermore, this activity was in accordance with the law of binding of sacrifices (Genesis, 22:9, Psalm 118:27). (9) The law of binding sacrifices called to remembrance the binding (Aqedah or Akedah) (10), and near-sacrifice of Isaac by his and our father Abraham (Genesis 22:9. Romans 4:11,12). The scripture records that it was then that God, our Father, gave a promise to Abraham that He will provide a sacrificial lamb for our sin (Gen 22:7,8). This promise was later announced fulfilled by John the Baptist (John 1:29,36) and attested by the Apostle Paul (Romans 8:32) and the Apostle John (Revelation 5:1-14).

Go up on a high mountain, O herald Zion! Shout out loudly, O herald Jerusalem! Shout, don’t be afraid! Say to the towns of Judah, “Here is your God!” (Isaiah 40:9)
Now there were shepherds nearby living out in the field, keeping guard over their flock at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were absolutely terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid! Listen carefully, for I proclaim to you good news that brings great joy to all the people: Today your Savior is born in the city of David. He is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:8–11)

What marvelous news the shepherds heard from the Angel of the Lord! After 400 years of not hearing from God, the God who is for us, He is now speaking to man again. Furthermore, while in times past He spoke through the prophets now He has come in the flesh as the Son of God, the Son of Man, our Lord Jesus the Messiah (aka, Christ) to speak in person (Hebrews 1:1,2). He is God with us (1), Immanuel! He is the Word that became flesh to become the mobile tabernacle of the glory of God, full of grace and truth! (John 1:1,14)

The message from the angel of the Lord was given in the traditional angelic form of reassurance, the informational message, and then the sign to confirm it. The Angel of the Lord stated that Jesus (the bread of life John 6:35;6:48-51 ) was recently born in the city of David (i.e., Bethlehem, which means House of Bread), so they knew to head away from the fields in that general direction. However, focus on the sign, as that is what enabled the shepherds to locate the Savior who is Christ the Lord!

This will be a sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:12–14).
Limestone Manger

The sign for them would be finding a newborn baby wrapped and bound in strips of cloth (aka, swaddling clothes) and lying in a stone manger (i.e., a feeding trough). The significance of this sign would not be lost on these priest shepherds. It could mean only one thing, Jesus was born in the cave at Migdal Eder and placed in the ceremonially clean manager within its ceremonially clean first-floor inspection chamber! The bread of life born in the city of bread and laid in a feeding trough! That is, God is bidding all to come and feed upon the bread of life!

I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that has come down from heaven, so that a person may eat from it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats from this bread he will live forever. The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (John 6:48–51 NET)

These priest shepherds become the first to receive the message of Jesus’ birth and from an Angel of the Lord. Why them? Again, so glad you asked! Recall, they are the ones that determined if a lamb was without spot or blemish and ready to be presented to the temple priests for sacrifice. Therefore, it was in keeping with the law for them to inspect the spotless Lamb of God that came to take away the sin of all the world! (John 1:29,36) In the plan of salvation, you will note that God keeps all of His scriptural laws!

Realize, infant Jesus is wrapped and bound with cloth from priestly garments as the Lamb of God that will take away the sin of the world (John 1:29,36) and our Great High Priest (1) who will mediate the New Covenant sealed in His blood. Furthermore, the binding provided notification to the priest shepherds that God’s sacrificial lamb had arrived.

Seh Ha’Elohim – God’s Lamb (Isaiah 53:6,7. John 1:29. Revelation 5:13) (14)

Once the Lamb of God is sacrificed at Calvary starting at 9:00 AM and then dying at 3:00 PM (i.e., the same times for the morning and evening temple sacrifices), there would be no more need for sacrificial lambs. Hallelujah!

Suddenly a vast, heavenly army appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among people with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:12–14).

I believe that the angels were saying the following:

Glory to God [the Father] in the highest and
[Glory to God the Son] on Earth!
Peace among people with whom he is pleased! (6) 

God is pleased because now the human sacrifice for our sins, our mediator, Savior of the World, Good Shepherd, Bread of Life, Light of the World, our Great High Priest was on Earth; consequently, peace has been declared between God and humanity. Realize, from the God Eye view, the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus are as good as done! Hallelujah!

“The song of the heavenly host was a sign of the new creation, the restoration of the covenant that meant the renewal of the earth. Whenever the angels or the heavens sing in the Old Testament, it is a sign of the new creation. At the beginning of creation, ‘the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy’ (Job 38:7). When the Lord called the Servant and announced a new beginning, there was a new song, or possibly a ‘renewing’ song (Isa. 42:10). Praise renewed the earth. When Isaiah heard the angels singing ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts’, he knew that the whole earth was full of his Glory (Isa. 6:3)”. (7)

When the angels left them and went back to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, that the Lord has made known to us.” So they hurried off and located Mary and Joseph, and found the baby lying in a manger. (Luke 2:15,16)

The priest shepherds hurried off, not following a star or angels, but instead, they knew the prophecies of the Messiah and the angelic message of their fulfillment. Again, they hurried off because they knew exactly where the birth had taken place ! He was born in the cave and then was placed in the ceremonially clean manager located within the ceremonially clean first-floor inspection chamber of Migdal Eder!

When they saw him, they related what they had been told about this child, and all who heard it were astonished at what the shepherds said. But Mary treasured up all these words, pondering in her heart what they might mean. So the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen; everything was just as they had been told. (Luke 2:17–20).

The shepherds’ actions indicated that they understood the significance of the circumstances. That Jesus was born of a virgin, a descendant of King David, born within the city limits of Bethlehem, God in the flesh, and the long-promised Messiah. God entrusted shepherds with the wonderful announcement that the prophecies concerning the Messiah’s birth had been fulfilled. The Messiah was born in the very location pinpointed by the prophet Micah. The priest shepherds spread this message to everyone they encountered! Hallelujah!

What about you? Do you know the lamb of God, Jesus, the Messiah?

You can know Him as Savior and Lord today. For all, that call upon the name of the Lord Jesus will be saved (1). (Romans 10:13)

Jesus said to them, “I tell you the solemn truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in yourselves. The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood resides in me, and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so the one who consumes me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven; it is not like the bread your ancestors ate, but then later died. The one who eats this bread will live forever.” (John 6:53–58 NET)

The basis for the March 20, 6 B.C. birth of Jesus (Yeshua)

The following graph indicates the various events that can estimate the most likely period of time that Jesus was born.

Events used to estimate the birth of Jesus (42)

The various events point to the time period from 8 B.C. to 4 B.C. for the birth of Jesus (Yeshua).

The Shepherds in the Fields

Now there were shepherds nearby living out in the field, keeping guard over their flock at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were absolutely terrified.But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid! Listen carefully, for I proclaim to you good news that brings great joy to all the people: Today your Savior is born in the city of David. He is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a manger.”Suddenly a vast, heavenly army appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among people with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:8–14 NET)

“During the rainy season—particularly the cold months (December through February)—shepherds typically brought their sheep in from the fields. Shepherds often watched over their flocks in lambing season—March through April (Hebrew, Nisan) —making a spring birthdate (1) most likely.” (43) Realize, the Lambs born during Nisan would be at the required age of one-year-old by Passover the following year.

The Wise Men’s Question

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, in the time of King Herod, wise men from the East came to Jerusalemsaying, “Where is the one who is born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When King Herod heard this he was alarmed, and all Jerusalem with him. After assembling all the chief priests and experts in the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. “In Bethlehem of Judea,” they said, “for it is written this way by the prophet: And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are in no way least among the rulers of Judah, for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’ ” Then Herod privately summoned the wise men and determined from them when the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and look carefully for the child. When you find him, inform me so that I can go and worship him as well.” After listening to the king they left, and once again the star they saw when it rose led them until it stopped above the place where the child was. When they saw the star they shouted joyfully. As they came into the house and saw the child with Mary his mother, they bowed down and worshiped him. They opened their treasure boxes and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. After being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they went back by another route to their own country. After they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to look for the child to kill him.” Then he got up, took the child and his mother during the night, and went to Egypt. He stayed there until Herod died. In this way what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet was fulfilled: “I called my Son out of Egypt.” When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he became enraged. He sent men to kill all the children in Bethlehem and throughout the surrounding region from the age of two and under, according to the time he had learned from the wise men. Then what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud wailing, Rachel weeping for her children, and she did not want to be comforted, because they were gone.” (Matthew 2:1–18 NET)

Note that the wise men did not locate Jesus in a stable but rather “the house.” Furthermore, if they had given their expensive gifts on the night of His birth then Joseph and Mary would not have given the offering allowed for the poor when Jesus was presented in the Temple after her days of purification were fulfilled. (Leviticus 12:1-8. Luke 2:22-24)

Herod the Great killed all children two years old and younger, which alludes to the wise men communicating to him that the star appeared two years earlier. According to the general consensus of research, Herod the Great died in the spring of 4 B.C. after a lunar eclipse that occurred on March 13, 4 B.C., and was buried before Passover on April 11, 4 B.C. This date is based on the Jewish historian Josephus’s work, who recounts the death of Herod the Great in two of his works, Jewish War I.665 and Jewish Antiquities XVII.191 and XVII.167. (40)(41)

In addition, since the thirty-fourth year of his reign would have begun on Nisan 1, 4 B.C. (March 29, 4 B.C.), his death would have occurred sometime between March 29 and April 11, 4 B.C. Therefore, Jesus could not have been born later than March/April of 4 B.C. (16)

Since the wise men visited Herod before his death in March of 4 B.C., the star appeared two years earlier, which puts the star’s appearance on or before April of 6 B.C.

The Wise Men’s Astronomy and Astrology

For the record, I do not endorse astrology, horoscopes, or anything associated with these demonic practices. (Revelation 21:8)

“The Bible condemns astrology (Lev. 19:26; Deut. 18:10; Isa. 8:19), yet God blessed the wise men (Magi) and seemed to even guide them with the stars to show the birthplace of Christ. First, astrology is a belief system that the study of the arrangement and movement of the stars can foretell events, whether they be good or bad.  Second, the star (singular) in the biblical story was to announce the birth of Christ, not to foretell it.  God gave the star to the Magi to let them know that the Christ child had already been born (Matt. 2:16).  Third, there are other instances in the Bible in which the stars and planets are used by God to reveal his desires.  The stars declare God’s glory (Ps. 19:1-6); creation reveals his existence (Rom. 1:18-20) and will be affected at the return of Christ (Matt. 24:29-30).  So the star guiding the Magi was not used to predict, but to proclaim the birth of Christ.” (47)

God put the stars and constellations in the heavens to indicate seasons, time, and to declare His glory.

God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them be signs to indicate seasons and days and years, (Genesis 1:14 NET)
By the Lord’s decree the heavens were made; by a mere word from his mouth all the stars in the sky were created. (Psalm 33:6 NET)
He counts the number of the stars; he names all of them. (Psalm 147:4 NET)
Look up at the sky! Who created all these heavenly lights? He is the one who leads out their ranks; he calls them all by name. Because of his absolute power and awesome strength, not one of them is missing. (Isaiah 40:26 NET)
Can you tie the bands of the Pleiades, or release the cords of Orion? Can you lead out the constellations in their seasons, or guide the Bear with its cubs? Do you know the laws of the heavens, or can you set up their rule over the earth? (Job 38:31–33 NET)
The heavens declare the glory of God; the sky displays his handiwork. Day after day it speaks out; night after night it reveals his greatness. There is no actual speech or word, nor is its voice literally heard. Yet its voice echoes throughout the earth; its words carry to the distant horizon. In the sky he has pitched a tent for the sun. Like a bridegroom it emerges from its chamber; like a strong man it enjoys running its course. It emerges from the distant horizon, and goes from one end of the sky to the other; nothing can escape its heat. (Psalm 19:1–6 NET)

However, Satan perverted this system, starting with Nimrod at the Tower of Babel to become a system to worship false gods. Unfortunately, the nation of Israel, including Judah, fell into this trap of worshipping the heavenly objects.

The king ordered Hilkiah the high priest, the high-ranking priests, and the guards to bring out of the Lord’s temple all the items that were used in the worship of Baal, Asherah, and all the stars of the sky. The king burned them outside of Jerusalem in the terraces of Kidron, and carried their ashes to Bethel. He eliminated the pagan priests whom the kings of Judah had appointed to offer sacrifices on the high places in the cities of Judah and in the area right around Jerusalem. (They offered sacrifices to Baal, the sun god, the moon god, the constellations, and all the stars in the sky.) (2 Kings 23:4–5 NET)

Ancient Persia (i.e., Babylon) had a priestly caste of wise men called magi. Astrology was prevalent in the ancient Near East, and the magi were astrologers, astronomers, and mathematicians who relied on calculations to predict signs in the stars. These signs included the birth of leaders, which was of great interest to ruling monarchs. (13)

“Early Jews also were interested in astrology. One of their messianic prophecies said, “A star will rise from Jacob” (Numbers 24:17). To them, Jupiter was “the King’s planet,” and Saturn was Israel’s “defender.” An old Jewish proverb said, “God created Saturn to shield Israel.”” (13)

‘I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not close at hand. A star will march forth out of Jacob, and a scepter will rise out of Israel. He will crush the skulls of Moab, and the heads of all the sons of Sheth. (Numbers 24:17 NET)

“Early astrologers observed that planets move in a belt in the heavens that they termed the zodiac. They divided the zodiac into twelve equal blocks or signs. According to Chaldean (Babylonian) astrology, each sign represented a different nation… Since many of the Jews did not return from the Babylonian captivity and continued to live in Persia, the magi would have been familiar with Jewish astrological beliefs.” (13)

Recall, Daniel, starting in 604 B.C., was in charge of the magi and may have communicated the prophecy of a coming king in Judah. Probably this is why the magi knew to look for the signs in the stars and came to find the king born during the reign of “Herod the Great” many years later.

Then the king elevated Daniel to high position and bestowed on him many marvelous gifts. He granted him authority over the entire province of Babylon and made him the main prefect over all the wise men of Babylon. (Daniel 2:48 NET)

The Magi considered Aries the Ram to be the constellation sign for Judea. Unknown to them, the ram represented God’s lamb (Genesis 22:8,13). On March 20, 6 B.C., the Magi calculated and observed that the Sun was in Aries the Ram, its sign of exaltation. Also, Jupiter and Saturn were in Aries on that day, with Jupiter helically rising (i.e., rising before the Sun). Immediately before sunset in Judea, the moon occulted (i.e., completed obscured) Jupiter while in Aries. According to the canons of the time, this was a significant sign to the Magi, a combination worthy of kings, emperors, and deities! This conveyed to the Magi that a king was born in the land ruled by Aries, Judea!

What the Wise Men Observed (46)

“I obtained a copy of the free astronomy program Stellarium. After getting a basic feel for it, I somewhat arbitrarily chose Persepolis, Iran, the ceremonial capital of the Achaemenid Empire ruled by Cyrus, as a possible home base of the Magi. Then I set the date for dusk on March 20, 6 BC (strangely, the software includes a year 0, so the year had to be set to -5), and the view due west from Persepolis. I confirmed for myself that there was an occultation of Jupiter by the Moon in Aries after sunset. Here is a screen capture from Stellarium of that information. One can see Jupiter and the Moon almost meeting on the horizon.” – Rick Lanser MDiv (46)

On the Hebrew religious calendar, March 20, 6 B.C. is Saturday, Nisan 1, the religious year’s first day. Therefore, Jesus was born on the night of the new year, in the Passover month, and on a Sabbath! He would later end His life and earthly ministry on a Passover!

Interestingly, being born on a Sabbath meant the infant Jesus would also be circumcised on the following Sabbath, which adds context to what Jesus said to the religious leaders and the Jews (Genesis 17:10-14. John 7:22-24).

However, because Moses gave you the practice of circumcision (not that it came from Moses, but from the forefathers), you circumcise a male child on the Sabbath. But if a male child is circumcised on the Sabbath so that the law of Moses is not broken, why are you angry with me because I made a man completely well on the Sabbath? Do not judge according to external appearance, but judge with proper judgment.” (John 7:22–24 NET)

So, why do we celebrate Christmas on December 25th?

Although the calendar we use today was essentially in use before the birth of Jesus, the era system, that is, the designations B.C. and A.D., was not implemented until much later. In A.D. 533, Dionysius Exiguus (Dennis the Little), a Christian monk in Rome, proposed that the enumeration of the years should be based upon the birth of Jesus. Dionysius added up the lengths of the Roman emperors’ reigns since the year of Jesus’ birth, which was in Dionysius’s time celebrated on December 25. He set December 25, 1 B.C., as the birthday and defined the Christian Era’s start one week later, on January 1, A.D. 1. As a result, the year of Herod’s death became 4 B.C. Since the historical evidence indicates that Jesus was born during Herod’s reign, Dionysius evidently made a mistake in summing the Roman emperors’ reigns. (Even scholars of his time argued over how many years he had skipped.) (42)

Another error or misconception that Dionysius perpetuated was the fixing of December 25 as the birthday of Jesus. Dionysius’s problem is that the correct date, if it had ever been known, had definitely been forgotten by his time. How the date was set as December 25 is a complicated story. In the early third century, Clement of Alexandria (ca. A.D. 150-215) wrote about theories that Jesus had been born in the spring, on April 20-21 or May 20.16 In the fourth century, Christians celebrated January 6 as the Epiphany of Jesus, which became associated with the Adoration of the Magi. However, the early Church was more interested in celebrating other dates in the life of Jesus, such as the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, and his baptism. The evidence indicates that there was no established birthday for Jesus early in the Church’s history. (42)

The earliest reference to a Nativity celebration on December 25 comes from a Roman document known as the Philocalian Calendar, which dates from A.D. 354 but may include an earlier reference to A.D. 336. Some people erroneously think that the feast day of Jesus’ birth was set to coincide with the Saturnalia, a Roman festival held at the close of autumn in honor of Saturn, the god of farming and the harvest. However, the Saturnalia, which fell on December 17 and lasted three to seven days, ended before December 25. Although historians note that the merriment of Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve may, in fact, be a vestige of this ancient Roman holiday, they note two much more important reasons why Christians would have selected December 25 for Jesus’ birthday. (42)

As it happens, pagan Romans celebrated two significant holidays on December 25. The first was one of the most significant holidays and was even grander than the Saturnalia. In A.D. 275, Emperor Aurelian had decreed that December 25 was Dies Natalis Solis Invicti (the birthday of the Unconquerable Sun). Sol Invictus was called “the heart of the universe” because the Sun played significant roles in nature and because, according to the Stoics, the Sun was the central divine fire of the universe. The Sun’s radiance regulated life on the earth seasonally and daily, and the Roman emperor was often considered the Sun incarnate-the essential, central source of Roman civilization. Furthermore, the Sun’s motion among the stars defined the zodiac path, to which the motions of all the planets and the Moon were confined. Thus, the Sun was worshipped for its influence, and the emperor shared in this glory. (42)

The second celebration on December 25 was connected to the secret cult of Mithras, which was very popular among the military across the empire. The Roman fascination with astrology eventually led to the incorporation of astrology aspects into religious beliefs. Mithras was a celestial god who was evidently seen as responsible for the precession of the equinoxes. According to the Mithraic art that has survived the ages, Mithras and the Unconquerable Sun ruled over the cosmos together; that is, they oversaw and controlled the motions of the stars and planets. (42)

Many scholars believe that December 25 was chosen as Jesus’ birthday because Christians wanted to give a Christian meaning to the popular pagan holiday. It is readily apparent that they succeeded, perhaps beyond their wildest expectations. Today December 25, is called Christmas in English, a name from medieval times when the “festival of Christ” was known as Christes maesse (Christ’s Mass). However, biblical scholars agree that December 25, 1 B.C., the date that Dionysius selected, does not mark the birth of Jesus. More evidence is needed to get a better estimate for his birth. (42)

Topical Index of Hal’s Blogs (1)

(1) Select the link to open another article in a new tab with additional information.

(2) Vincent, M. R. (1887). Word studies in the New Testament (Vol. 1, p. 269). New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.

(3) Masterman E. W. G. and Prewitt J. F. (1979–1988). Eder, Tower of. In G. W. Bromiley (Ed.), The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised (Vol. 2, p. 18). Wm. B. Eerdmans.

(4) Edersheim, A. (1896). The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (Vol. 1, pp. 186–188). New York: Longmans, Green, and Co.

(5) Translator of the Vulgate, a Latin translation of the Bible based on Hebrew texts of the OT and the oldest Greek texts of the NT available at the time. It was the standard Bible for Western Christendom. Commissioned by Pope Damasus I, Jerome labored upon this, his most important translation project, from 391–406 c.e. Born Eusebius Hieronymus (ca. 347/48) into a wealthy Christian family, Jerome received a classical education at Rome and was baptized at age 19 or 20. He embraced the monastic life until his death on 30 September 419/420, but he was active in the theological debates of his day. He defended the perpetual virginity of Mary and monastic celibacy, attacked Pelagianism and Origenism, and translated the homilies of Origen and works of Eusebius. He also published commentaries on the OT prophets and Ecclesiastes and a biography of Paul the Hermit.  Gregg, D. L. (2000). Jerome. In D. N. Freedman, A. C. Myers, & A. B. Beck (Eds.), Eerdmans dictionary of the Bible (p. 693). Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans.

(6) Realize punctuation was added to the Koine Greek text during translation, as in its original form, it had no punctuation. Inaccurate punctuation can change the initially intended emphasis.

(7) Barker, M. (2008). Christmas: The Original Story (pp. 81–82). London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.

(8) Mishnah, Shekalim 7:4. (1) 

(9) Bullinger, E. W. (2018). The Companion Bible: Being the Authorized Version of 1611 with the Structures and Notes, Critical, Explanatory and Suggestive and with 198 Appendixes (Vol. 2, p. 23). Bellingham, WA: Faithlife.

(10) Aqedah. A rabbinic term referring to the story and the interpretations of Abraham “sacrificing” Isaac as told in Genesis 22 (˓aqȇdȃ means “binding” [of Isaac]). Patzia, A. G., & Petrotta, A. J. (2002). In Pocket dictionary of biblical studies (p. 15). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

(11) If Mary were to give birth in the common living area of an Inn, she would defile others lodging there and make it necessary for them to be ceremonially purified by both a ritual immersion and a sacrifice. Consequently, it was probably not the lack of available space for the couple at the Inn even though it was crowded due to the census. Instead, it was more likely the lack of a private room for her to give birth; that was the reason for leaving the Inn.

Then she gave birth to her firstborn son, and she wrapped him tightly in cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. (Luke 2:7 CSB)

Realize, according to the Old Testament, when a woman had an issue of blood for any reason, she was ritually unclean for that time and seven days after that (Leviticus 15:19-23). While she was ritually unclean, she had to live separately from the rest of the family so as not to defile the people in the household by her presence, rendering them ceremonially unclean. During those times, the woman would leave and stay in a nearby area where she would not defile the home. During childbirth and with the issue of blood loss, the same rules applied (Leviticus 12:2-4). Consequently, women would leave home and give birth elsewhere. After the cessation of blood and the required time of waiting for purification, the woman and child would perform the necessary rituals of purification to be ceremonially clean and return to the household with the rest of the family.

(12)  Singer, I. (Ed.). (1901–1906). In The Jewish Encyclopedia: A Descriptive Record of the History, Religion, Literature, and Customs of the Jewish People from the Earliest Times to the Present Day, 12 Volumes (Vol. 12, p. 214). New York; London: Funk & Wagnalls.

(13) Rusten, S. with E. Michael. (2005). The complete book of when & where in the Bible and throughout history (p. 10,71). Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

(14) Vander Meulen, E. L., & Malda, B. D. (2005). His names are wonderful: getting to know God through his hebrew names (p. 46). Baltimore, MD: Messianic Jewish Publishers.

(16) Harold W. Hoehner, Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1977], 74–90

(40) Pettem, M. A. (2018). The Star of Bethlehem: Science, History, and Meaning. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

(41) Josephus, F., & Whiston, W. (1987). The works of Josephus: complete and unabridged (p. 462). Peabody: Hendrickson.

(42) Michael R. Molnar, The Star of Bethlehem: The Legacy of the Magi (New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1999). 

(43)  Ramos, A. (2016). Infancy Narratives in the New Testament Gospels. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

(46) The Daniel 9:24-27 Project, Rick Lanser MDiv

(47) Norman L. Geisler and Randy Douglass, Bringing Your Faith to Work, p. 169.

Hal has been teaching the Bible for over three decades. Presently, He desires to honor Jesus Christ through this Internet teaching ministry, thereby glorifying the Heavenly Father in the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. He believes, second to cultivating his relationship with God that raising his family unto the Lord is the most significant task for him while on Earth. Furthermore, Hal believes that being a successful leader in the church or workplace is no substitute for failing to be a successful leader at home.

Doulos Hal's Topical Index

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