Jesus and Saturnalia

    This time of year the internet is full of memes accusing Jesus and Constantine of hijacking the traditions of Saturnalia, an ancient festival honoring the pagan god Saturn.


    But Christians in northern Africa were celebrating Jesus' birth in December before Constantine was emperor. Perhaps because Jewish tradition stated great prophets were conceived and died on the same date. 


    Was Jesus born in December?


    Maybe not. There seems to be more evidence pointing to His Holy Spirit conception taking place in December. The Bible has a way of telling without actually stating a fact. Case in point: Zacharias and a field of sheep with their shepherds.


    Sheep first. Shepherds would not have been out in fields around Bethlehem in winter. Scholars say the latest they would have been out is October.


    Zacharias was part of the eighth group of priests scheduled to serve in the Temple. Priests served twice a year, and his group, the course of Abijah mentioned in 1 Chronicles 24:10, was scheduled to serve during the months of Sivan (May/June) and Kislev (November/December). It seems by the time of Jesus the priestly groups were fully reinstated for service. At one of these times Zacharias' son John the Baptist was conceived. John was six months older than Jesus. By calculating his birth, we can estimate the birth of Jesus.


    If John was born in the spring and Jesus six months later, then Jesus was born in the fall and conceived around December. Many scholars favor this view since it is near the feast of Tabernacles, and John 1:14 says Jesus came and dwelt, skēnoō, or tabernacled among us.


    Some others put  Zacharias serving in the Temple in October. That would make John's birth in June and Jesus' birth in December. 


    Another consideration is most scholars agree Jesus ministry was about three and a half years long and Luke 3:23 tells us Jesus was thirty when he began his ministry. Thirty was the age priests began to serve. If he was 33 and a half in the spring at the time of his death, his thirty fourth birthday must have been in the fall. Which means...He was conceived by the Holy Spirit sometime in December or early January.


    So by the looks of things, in December we are celebrating Jesus' conception. For more, check out our video on Facebook.


    Image by Freestocks.org courtesy of Unsplash


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