When was Jesus born?
The date of Jesus’ birth is something that every Christian thinks they know. Ask any Christian, and many non-Christians, when Jesus was born, and they will say He was born on Christmas Day, December 25 when B.C. becomes A.D. This is one of the most common misconceptions on Earth. The reality is that no one can say for certain when Jesus was actually born. Ironically, what almost all scholars agree on is that Jesus was not born on December 25. The date was chosen because of its proximity to the pagan holiday Saturnalia. In the early days of Christian persecution, Christians could disguise their celebration of Christmas as the festival of Saturnalia to avoid detection. After Christianity became the law of the Roman Empire, pagans could adjust better to Christianity as it already had similarly timed holidays. By the time anyone was questioning when Jesus was actually born, late December had become so set in cultural memory that no one could say for certain. In attempting to unravel the actual date, scholars have been stumped. The Roman census mentioned in Luke is difficult to use as no one has been able to pin down when the census actually happened. Herod died before Augustus held a census, but both Herod and Augustus’ census really existed. The problem is that Herod died 10 years before Augustus’ census, but Herod may have carried out a census of his own before his death. There may also have been more than one Quirinius as the Census of Augustus would not have called for people to return to their ancestral homes or even affected Joseph’s family in Galilee as it would only have been counting the people of Judea.
Other attempts at finding the exact date of Jesus’ birth relied on astronomical events that could have been the Star of Bethlehem. Once again, however, scholars do not agree on what the star actually was. Some argue it was a comet or supernova as that would have been an unusually bright and noticeable object. Others claim the “star” was actually an unusual alignment of the planets or the eclipse of Jupiter by the moon, both of which would have been subtle enough that Herod was unaware of them but important enough for ancient wise men to read great significant into them. Unfortunately, as no one can agree on what the Star of Bethlehem was, the date of Jesus’ birth again varies by several years. All scholars can agree on is that the date of Christmas and the age of the Gregorian calendar are both wrong for the actual date of Jesus’ birth.