I decided to wait until after Christmas to write this article, so I didn’t cause any angst for those counting down the days to December 25th. Have you ever wondered why The Lord’s birth is celebrated on that date? I support Jewish Awareness Ministries, and the following was published in the Winter 2017 issue of their publication Israel’s Messenger. The guys who put this publication together are all Jewish Christians, and the two I’m quoting here are Rev. Mark Robinson and Rev. Dan Bergman.
It is highly unlikely Jesus was born on the 25th of December, and why that date was selected is unknown. Alfred Edersheim, a Jewish believer and scholar thinks its because the date of the feast of Dedication (Hanukkah) was the 25th of Kislev and the ancient church adopted that day as His birth. It is well established, according to Rev. Robinson, that there was considerable animosity between the early church and the Jewish people. When the church adopted Julius Caesar’s Julian calendar after the Temple was destroyed in 70 A.D., they apparently picked the closest 25th to Kislev, which happened to be December.
There are, according to Rev. Bergman, at least four reasons why it wouldn’t have been December 25th.
First, the census from Rome. Luke tells us (Luke 2:1-7) that Rome conducted a census for tax purposes that required Joseph and Mary to travel to Bethlehem. It’s highly unlikely this would have been done during the winter because it would require much travel on the part of many subjects of the empire.
Second, the shepherds in the field. Luke also tells us (Luke 2:9-11) that shepherds were spending the night in the field with their flocks. In 2016, for example, the coldest average low of the year in Bethlehem was at the end of December and the beginning of January. The average low was 39 degrees F. Israeli meteorologists say weather patterns today correspond with conditions in Bible times. After November sheep are usually kept in folds rather then in open fields during the winter months.
Third, the schedule of the priests. Here again Luke gives us a clue (Luke 1:5, 8-11) relative to the birth of John the Baptist. His mother would have conceived John approximately 15 months before Jesus was born. John’s father Zechariah was on duty burning incense in the Temple when Gabriel met him there. II Chronicles 23:8 gives the order of the course for priests, and I Chronicles 24:7-18 lists the priestly divisions. Using those scriptures, it can be determined that his course was the eighth. The courses started on the Hebrew New Year in Nisan (March/April on our calendar), and his shift would be on the tenth week of this rotation. When he got home from these duties his wife got pregnant. He served twice a year and we’re not told if he met Gabriel on his first or second trip to Jerusalem. Whichever one it was, John would have been born in either March or September of the following year. Assuming this happened on Zechariah’s first shift of service for the year (mid-June), John would have been born almost exactly at the beginning of Passover. According to Luke, Mary’s conception came in the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy which would correspond to Hanukkah, The Festival of Light. In just one passage John called Him Light 7 times (John 1:4-9).
Fourth, The Feast of Tabernacles. This feast, called Sukkot, is an 8-day festival where the Jews lived in make shift shelters to commemorate the wandering in the wilderness. There are a lot of connections between the Messiah’s birth and this festival. It was one of the most joyful times of the year in the life of an Israelite. John said, “the word was made flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). The word dwelt is “to tabernacle.” If the first three points above are accurate Jesus would have been born on the first day of Sukkot and circumcised on the last day. Based on these four reasons, Jesus would have been born on the 15th of Tishri, September 29th on our calendar.