Come all ye skeptics (repeat) 6

[Apology: Earlier today we posted an article commenting on a speech by Pope Francis. We titled it The end of Roman Catholicism. We’ve leant (through Frank, the reader who had drawn our attention to it) that the speech was a hoax, so we’ve eliminated the article. We apologize for the mistake – with sincere regret that it wasn’t true.]

We first posted the following on December 23, 2009. We think it bears repeating.   

Was Christ born on Christmas Day?

Or put it this way: Is it likely that December 25 was the birthday of “Jesus”, putative messiah, and God of the Christians?

If you believe it is, you have at best a 1 in 365 chance of being right.

But nothing can be proved anyway.

December 25 was arbitrarily chosen for the Catholic Church as “Jesus’s birthday” in the 6th. Century, by a monk named Dionysius Exiguus, or Dennis the Short.

Here’s the story of how Dennis came to choose December 25, as told by James A. Veitch (writing for the Westar Institute which “promotes liberal Christianity”):

Dionysius Exiguus, a monk from Russia who died about 544, was asked by Pope John I to set out the dates for Easter from the years 527 to 626. It seems that the Pope was keen to produce some order in the celebration of Easter. Dionysius decided to begin with what he considered to be the year of Jesus’ birth. He chose the year in which Rome had been founded and determined that Jesus had been born 753 years later.

He was almost certainly acquainted with a suggestion by Hippolytus (170–236) that the date of Jesus’ birth was December 25, but the trouble was that Hippolytus had not backed up this claim with sound arguments. Dionysius, however, had just the argument:

His contemporaries claimed that God created the earth on March 25.

It was inconceivable that the son of God could have been in any way imperfect.

Therefore Jesus must have been conceived on March 25.

This meant that he must have been born nine months later—December 25.

(Dionysius also concluded that, as a perfect being, Jesus could not have lived an incomplete life so he must have died on March 25 as well!)

December 25 was an auspicious choice. In 274, in Rome, the Emperor Aurelian declared December 25 a civic holiday in celebration of the birth of Mithras, the sun god. By 336, in that same city, Christians countered by celebrating the birth of Jesus, the son of God, on December 25.

Christians in Antioch in 375 celebrated the birth of Jesus on January 6. Christians in Alexandria did not begin to celebrate Christmas at all until 430. So until Dionysius came along there was confusion over dates, and debates raged, even over the usefulness of celebrating the birth of Jesus at all. What had been universally important for all Christians—the pre-eminent event—was the celebration of Easter.

When, in 527, he formalized the date of Jesus’ birth, Dionysius put Christmas on the map. Jesus was born, he declared, on December 25 in the Roman year 753. Dionysius then suspended time for a few days, declaring January 1, 754 — New Year’s day in Rome — as the first year in a new era of world history….

But Dionysius made a mistake in his calculations. Perhaps he had never read the gospel account of the birth of Jesus. In Matthew Jesus is said to have been born while Herod was still King (2:1). That would translate into 4 b.c. (or even earlier) according to the calculations of Dionysius. …

Later, when Pope Gregory tidied up the calendar on 24 February 1582, the calendar lost eleven days. To synchronise the calendar of Dionysius with the movement of the sun, October 4 became October 15, and to avoid having to make further adjustments a leap year was introduced. Pope Gregory must also have known of the mistakes made by Dionysius but all he did was to confirm them, perhaps hoping that no one would notice.

There is one other problem. Bishop Ussher (1581–1656) worked out the precise year of creation as 4004 b.c. (He knew about Dionysisus getting the date of Jesus’ birth wrong.) But he also advanced the view that the earth had a total life span of six thousand years. In order to come up with this conclusion he based his calculations on all the generations mentioned in the Bible. …

In reality we do not know when Jesus was born — neither the year, the month, nor the day. …

However, we wish all our readers and commenters, atheist or Christian or anything else, hearty feasting, good cheer, and many a solid material satisfaction on Christmas Day!

Posted under Christianity, Commentary, History by Jillian Becker on Monday, December 23, 2013

Tagged with , ,

This post has 6 comments.

  • Frank

    This 11 minute video explains the most probable explanation for Jesus.

    • Jillian Becker

      Yes, Frank, it is quite good. (Is it Harris talking? It sounds like him, his tone and manner.) It incidentally endorses my own essays on the subject. He gets two things wrong. 1. Some of the letters he ascribes to Paul are now known not to have been written by Paul. And 2. Saul did not change his name from Saul to Paul “on the road to Damascus” but later – to pay a compliment to (or flatter) a certain Roman of importance. But his point is right that “Jesus” is a legend. Paul started it off, and his converts, in his lifetime and afterwards, added to it. Thanks for posting the video.

  • liz

    Not only do we not know when he was born, we don’t know that he was ever born at all! The whole story of all this date calculating helps to clarify what one is faced with as a Christian – someone who must try to force oneself to squeeze into a wetsuit made for a five-year old, or pound square pegs into round holes. As frustrating as it is pointless! I can enjoy the holiday so much more now that I’m free of that mind numbing exercise in futility.
    As for the Pope’s speech, after what he said about capitalism, I wasn’t surprised at any of it – it seemed quite plausible, except for the fact that he would have been knowingly committing professional suicide if he said it.
    Oh, well, we can always hope!
    And I’ll say along with Pat Condell, Merry Christmas to all!


      If Jesus was born, he was probably only a good, but very plain and simple man….not one thing more than that.

      Some biblical stories speak of him loving all men and living a simple life, yet other ones tell of him baffling his beloved disciples with impossible “miracles.” This enigma leads me to believe that he was a charlatan, capable of manipulating his friend’s minds.

      If you truly loved your friends and could actually do these miracles why would you not keep them to yourself, and allow these simple friends that you love to have their own real experiences of you?

      Teaching them by being an example and through life lessons, and not with fearful magic tricks, I believe is the higher way, the way of real love. A “God” would know this fact.

      IMHO, the embellishments brought to the biblical stories of his “supernatural exploits” bring great discredit to Christ being real, but Christians fail to see this one fact, for the blindness they allow the neediness of religious “faith” to bring to their eyes.

      • Jillian Becker

        REALBEING – if perhaps you are interested in our take on “Jesus”, you may find my essays on the birth and early history of Christianity worth looking at. You can find the titles, linked to the essays, here:

        • REALBEING

          Anyone who can understand simple psychology will see the discrepancies between the biblical texts which refers to Christ’s miracles, which interfere with the simple human being’s belief system, and his supposedly being a simple, loving man-God.

          This situation is similar to the modern explorer coming out of the jungle, only to show-off 21st century “miracles” of technology to tribal natives. He will generate instant confusion and distrust.
          Only in the case of Jesus, he loves these men!

          I just brushed quickly over a few of your writings briefly, Jillian, but I will take some more time in the near future to look them over completely! Thank you! RB.