We’ve seen a silly reason to abandon Christmas (the “Christ-Mass” argument), a flawed one (the “pagan / Catholic syncretism” argument), and a good but misapplied reason (the “God didn’t command it” argument). Now, we return to silly season again.
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“It’s the Wrong Date”
The argument is thus: we shouldn’t celebrate Christmas because Christ wasn’t really born on 25 December. The shepherds were in the fields with their sheep (Luke 2), and the sheep would be in out of the cold in the winter. It must have been March or April, when shepherds would be in the fields at night for lambing season. Jesus couldn’t have been born in December, so it is dishonest to celebrate His birthday at the wrong time of year.
Geographical Myopia and “The Bleak Mid-Winter”
If we can’t set aside our British / American mindset, we’ll make silly mistakes. “Myopia” is nearsightedness, and geographical myopia is seeing everything in terms of where we live.
This is an American / British oriented argument, similar to the English-only “Christ-Mass” argument. Lambing season varies around the world — in New Zealand, it starts in August! It isn’t March or April everywhere — particularly in Israel.
Google “lambing season in Israel” and LOTS of people tell us when it is and what we should believe / do as a result. But an expert with no religious agenda, the Professor Emeritus of Animal Breeding at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel, might know something. 🙂 Writing on the Awassi sheep (the main breed in Israel), Dr Epstein said:
In Iraq, the principal lambing season of Awassi ewes is in November, and in Lebanon, the Syrian Arab Republic and Israel in December-January.
It is silly to assume lambing season is the same in Israel as it is in Britain or North America. If shepherds were in the fields at night for lambing season when Christ was born, they were apparently there in the “bleak mid-winter” — or not so bleak.
Later comment: A commenter, below, noted that there is at least one breed of sheep in Israel that has a Spring lambing season. Awassi sheep are thought to be the only indigenous sheep in Israel, but we really can’t know for sure when lambing season was at the time of Christ, or if the shepherds were in the field because of lambing season or for some other reason.
“Snow had Fallen, Snow on Snow”
To say it is too cold for sheep in the fields at night in December (but not in March) is more geographic myopia.
Seeing snow yesterday in Glenrothes, I’d say, “Get the sheep inside!” But in Jerusalem at mid-day, it was 13 C/55 F and partly cloudy — almost like one of our summer days! The average low in December is 5 degrees C (41 F), the average high 12 C (53-54 F). In March, the averages are 6 C (43 F) and 15 C (59 F) — little difference.
This morning, the forecast shows no temperature below 5 C / 41 F in the next ten nights. (Time to move to Israel!) It isn’t too cold for sheep in the fields outside Bethlehem. This argument may make sense in Britain, but it is silly in Israel.
A Reason to Think December MIGHT BE Right
There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judaea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth.
Edersheim (The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Appendix 7) uses Jewish historical records (including Josephus) to try to calculate when the priestly course of Abia served in the temple and comes up with 2-9 October in the year we now know as 6 BC. He concludes Elisabeth conceived in mid-October of 6 BC, and Mary conceived in the sixth month (Luke 1:24-26) after that (between mid-March and mid-April of 5 BC). That would put Jesus’ birth in December of 5 BC or January of 4 BC, and December fits better with Matthew 2.
The Jewish records could be wrong, and Josephus may have erred, so we can’t know for sure. More could be said about the date — perhaps someday I’ll write more on this.
The Real Date is Unknown
We don’t know the real date — if we needed to, the Bible would have told us. The clues given by Scripture fit a late December date. If the date matters, arguments for December are better than arguments against it, once we cure geographical myopia. Anyone who says they know the date is shooting in the dark — as is anyone who claims it is wrong. They can’t prove the date is wrong anymore than anyone can prove it is right.
The Date Doesn’t Matter, Anyway
Having answered the unproven charge of a wrong date, we can ask why it matters. A commemoration does not have to be the exact date of the thing it commemorates.
Modern “Wrong-Date” Commemorations
Trooping the Colour is part of the Queen’s official birthday celebration, always celebrated in June. Her actual birthday is in April. No one says, “IT’S WRONG!” No one pretends it is the “right date” or cares if the “real date” is different. When the monarch changes, the “real date” will change. The official celebration will still be in June, and still no one will care that it is “wrong.”
In America, possible “real dates” for Memorial Day include 3 June, 1 May, 30 May, 5 May, 25 April, etc. Eventually standardised as 30 May, it changed again in 1968 to the last Monday in May. No one, except perhaps one senator, really cares if it is the “real date.”
Our daughter was born in September. We celebrated her birthday in August, before she left for university. It was the “wrong date,” but she still received gifts even though her birthday hadn’t come. She had a birthday cake so she could feel a year older, too. 🙂
No one really thinks a commemoration has to be on the “real date.” The point is to remember, not to sanctify a date.
Biblical “Wrong-Date” Commemorations
The Jewish calendar is a Lunar / Solar calendar and varies from year to year. The authorities have added a thirteenth month as needed to stay in line with the seasons. As a result, every Jewish feast has a varying date.
1 And the LORD spake unto Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying,
2 This month shall be unto you the beginning of months: it shall be the first month of the year to you.
3 Speak ye unto all the congregation of Israel, saying, In the tenth day of this month they shall take to them every man a lamb, according to the house of their fathers, a lamb for an house:
The lambs were chosen for Passover on the tenth day of the first Jewish month, and Passover was celebrated on the fourteenth day. But sometimes Passover is a few days after the spring equinox (2013) and sometimes it is four weeks later (2011). The precise scientific date (based on the earth’s rotation around the sun) changes every year.
God established Passover to commemorate Israel’s deliverance from Egypt. He didn’t tell them to use a solar calendar so it would be the same every year. He never told them which years to add a thirteenth month. He allowed them to use a calendar that would cause the feast days to move from year to year, and He didn’t specify the limits of that movement.
The Scriptures totally ignore the moving dates. God told them which month in their calendar to celebrate. Every feast changed every year, because the months moved. It doesn’t matter — the point was to teach and to remember.
I Corinthians 11:25
After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.
The Bible does not specifically state how often we should do this, or which day(s). The date doesn’t matter.
A person who makes this argument just hasn’t thought through either the climactic differences between where they live and Israel, or the nature of commemorations. If they had, they might use another argument, but they wouldn’t use this one.
If the date of God-ordained commemorations don’t matter, it surely doesn’t matter when we keep one which He permits but does not require. It would only matter if someone is lying and saying the Bible teaches a particular date, but I’ve never heard anyone claim that the Bible gives Jesus’ birth date. It is silly to make an issue of a date which might or might not be right, when no one is trying to claim it IS right.
If you choose to celebrate Christmas, the actual date isn’t important. Don’t let anyone tell you it is wrong to celebrate because the date is wrong. They don’t know if it is wrong or not, and it might actually be right. It doesn’t matter, anyway — commemorations don’t have to be on the “right date.”