First of all, I want to thank you for being a loyal reader… and wish you a Merry Christmas and a happy New Year. It’s a good time to be alive.
Secondly, I’d like to depart from our “regular programming” to talk about the birth of Jesus.
Did you know Jesus was NOT born on December 25?
You might wonder then, why do we celebrate December 25?
To answer this question, I’ve reprinted a portion of a book chapter from Secrets of Time by Stephen Jones below. He does a great job of explaining. The excerpt is from Chapter 9, and it starts here:
Astrological Events and Celebrations of 3-2 B.C.
From May 19, 3 B.C., to December 25, 2 B.C., a series of highly significant astrological events was observed in the heavens, which had a big impact on the Romans. We know this for sure, because modern astronomers have calculated these events with great precision. They are as follows, as given by Dr. Martin on page 66 of his book, The Star That Astonished the World and used by permission from the Griffith Observatory.
Planetary Conjunctions, 19 May, 3 B.C., to 25 December, 2 B.C.
19 May, 3 B.C.
12 June, 3 B.C.
12 Aug., 3 B.C.
31 Aug., 3 B.C.
14 Sept., 3 B.C.
17 Feb., 2 B.C.
8 May, 2 B.C.
17 June, 2 B.C.
26 Aug., 2 B.C.
25 Dec., 2 B.C.
Jupiter stationary over Bethlehem, as viewed from Jerusalem
From this table of planetary conjunctions, we can see that there were many significant astrological events occurring in the 18 months from May of 3 B.C. to December of 2 B.C. While we, as Christians, may not hold these as significant, the important thing to note is that the Romans took them very seriously, and these things gave them a heightened sense of optimism that the world was entering a great era of peace and prosperity. Augustus was viewed as the Messiah of the Roman world who had brought in this Golden Age. All of this must have had some influence upon the Senate when they passed the bill declaring Augustus to be “Father of the Country” in February of 2 B.C.
But who would have ever thought that these same astrological conjunctions would bring Magi from the east naively inquiring about the newborn King! This triggered a reaction from Herod that closely resembled the events surrounding Augustus’ own birth. On page 6 of Dr. Martin’s book, he quotes from Jack Lindsay’s Origins of Astrology,
According to Julius Marathus, a personal confidant of Augustus Caesar, the Roman Senate in the year 63 B.C. ordered all boy babies to be killed who were born in that year because prophetic dreams and astrological signs suggested that a “King of the Romans” was to be born.
In reconstructing the events during this time, we can see the very real possibility that the Magi followed the planet Jupiter as it tracked westward until it appeared to remain stationary over Bethlehem on December 25, 2 B.C. While this was not the date of Jesus’ birth, it appears very likely that this was the date the Magi arrived bearing their gifts to the young King.
The first significant planetary conjunction listed above occurred on May 19, 3 B.C. It was a conjunction between Mercury and Saturn. Mercury was known as the messenger of the gods. John the Baptist was also known as “the messenger” (Mal. 3:1). In fact, the name Malachi means “messenger,” and this is the primary theme of his book. Is it not probable that this sign in the heavens occurred at the time the angel announced to Zacharias that he was to have a son who would minister in the spirit and power of Elias?
The Magi were experts in astrological interpretations and would have viewed these things as signs. These signs motivated them to make the long trip west to the land of Judea, knowing that the Messianic King had been born. There is little doubt that these Magi knew the prophecies of Daniel, who, centuries earlier, had been the head of that religious order for about 70 years (Dan. 2:48). We have no way of knowing how much of the truth had been corrupted by the time of Christ’s birth, but we do know that the Magi arrived at the right time and were led by God to the One they sought. That should speak for itself.
In contemplating the significance of the conjunctions of Jupiter (see the table on the previous page), there is much that we can say. Jupiter was considered to be the Planet of the Messiah. The Hebrew name for Jupiter was sedeq, or “righteousness.” It is often spelled “Zadok.” It is connected to the Order of Melchi-sedec (Heb. 5:10), of which Jesus is the Chief Priest. And so the Messiah was connected to signs in Jupiter, or sedeq.
The Hebrews considered Jupiter to be the planet associated with and governing Jerusalem, although the Romans considered it to be the planet of Rome. However, the Magi did not go to Rome, but to Jerusalem, as they followed Jupiter westward. Isaiah 1:26 calls Jerusalem “the city of sedeq.” This can be translated either as “the city of righteousness” or as “the city of Jupiter.” The Magi thus followed Jupiter to the city of Jupiter-Jerusalem. In the nearby town of Bethlehem, they found the Messiah, the High Priest of the Order of Melchi-sedec.
Even as Jupiter was considered to be the planet of the Messiah, so also was Regulus considered to be the star of the Messiah. Regulus is located between the feet of the constellation Leo, the Lion of the tribe of Judah. This star is the “sceptre” and the “lawgiver” referred to in Genesis 49:9-10,
Judah is a lion’s whelp; from the prey, my son, thou art gone up; he stooped down, he couched as a lion, and as an old lion; who shall rouse him up? The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto Him shall the gathering of the people be.
When Jupiter and Regulus had three conjunctions in the constellation of Leo between September, 3 B.C., and May, 2 B.C., the Magi could not have missed the significance. In fact, the path of Jupiter actually formed a loop, or halo, directly above Regulus, as though the King’s Planet was “crowning” the King’s Star. On June 17, 2 B.C., it culminated in one of the most spectacular conjunctions ever seen. Jupiter and Venus came so close together that they appeared to merge as a single star (.01 degree of separation).
Immediately after these three conjunctions, Jupiter began moving westward across the sky. Perhaps knowing that the great celestial show was over, the Magi must have begun making preparations to “follow the star” to Jerusalem. It would have been about a four-month trip, since that is how long it took Ezra to make the same journey from Babylon (Ezra 7:6-9).
If the final conjunction occurred on June 17, then perhaps by the first part of July it would have been apparent that Jupiter was going to continue moving westward, and the Magi would have begun making preparations for the trip. If they left the end of August, they would have arrived toward the end of December. Jesus would have been born on September 29, while they were already on the road.
The first thing the Magi did upon arriving in Jerusalem was to inquire of the locals to learn where the King had been born (Matt. 2:1-2). Little did they know that they were walking into a hornet’s nest. Two weeks earlier Matthias, the high priest, and rabbi also named Matthias had incited some young students to tear down Rome’s golden eagle from the Temple wall. Herod went into a state of rage, not only at the affront, but also because he was becoming very ill and paranoid as he approached the age of 70. The students had committed treason, and Herod was very angry. Then, to make matters worse, the Magi arrived in the middle of the investigation, inquiring where the new King had been born!
Herod’s spies told him of the mysterious strangers, and so he called them in for an interview. Herod specifically inquired as to the time of the star’s appearance (Matt. 2:7). Their answer is not recorded, unfortunately, but we may presume that they told him about all the astrological signs for the past 19 months. Herod was upset, and Matthew tells us Herod “was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him” (Matt. 2:3).
Since astrology is not a precise science, interpretations always vary, even among those who take stock in it. It would be difficult to tell if the King had been born at the beginning of the heavenly conjunctions or many months later. To a paranoid king with no scruples against killing potential rivals, it would have been natural to simply kill all the children that had been born in Bethlehem in the past two years.
When the Magi left the palace, they probably looked into the sky and — using their measuring instruments — discovered that Jupiter had not moved from its position the previous night. It hovered toward the south of Jerusalem in the direction of Bethlehem, as if to confirm the word of the prophet Micah which they had learned from the chief priests (Matt. 2:4-6).
Herod sent the Magi to Bethlehem to find the King they sought (Matt. 2:8). Matthew certainly would have told us if they had found Jesus in another city, after Herod had told them to go to Bethlehem. Thus, it appears that they arrived on December 25, 2 B.C., to present the Messiah with their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. This appears to be the origin of the tradition of giving gifts on December 25th, although this was not the time of Jesus’ actual birth. And so, Matthew does not call Jesus an infant, but a young child, when the Magi arrived.
The Gospel writers use two different terms for the baby Jesus in telling the stories surrounding his birth. The Greek words used to describe Him are brephos and paidion. When the shepherds came to Jesus the same night that He was born, Luke says He was a brephos, an infant “babe” (Luke 2:16). But three months later the Magi came and found a paidion, a young child (Matt. 2:9). Many have argued that the difference between these two words is the difference between an infant and a toddler. This, along with the fact that Herod ordered all the children of Bethlehem who were two years old or less to be killed, leads people to believe that Jesus was about two years old when the Magi arrived. However, we should be careful not to try to read too much into these words.
The shepherds, after seeing Jesus, told everyone about the paidion that they had seen (Luke 2:16). But this does not necessarily mean that Jesus was a two-year-old toddler. When Jesus was circumcised on the eighth day, Luke describes Him at that time as a paidion (Luke 2:21). It is therefore apparent that the Greek word paidion could be used to describe a baby who was just eight days old.
The point is, let’s not insist that the Magi came to a toddler, just because he is said at that time to be a paidion. I believe that Jesus was three months old when the Magi arrived. He was no longer in the stable, of course, for we read in Matthew 2:11 that they found Him in a “house” in Bethlehem. It is also unlikely that Jesus’ parents would have remained in Bethlehem — even in a house — for two years after his birth. The most likely explanation is that Jesus was born in a stable, where the shepherds found him that same night. Perhaps the next day, after the testimony of the shepherds, someone opened up a house for them to stay in while Mary rested and recovered from her labor of childbirth. They ended up staying longer than anticipated for whatever reason, and then finally after three months had passed, the Magi arrived with their gifts on December 25th. That night, one or all of the Magi were warned in a dream to return home by another way (Matt. 2:12), and God also warned Joseph in a dream to go to Egypt (Matt. 2:13). At this point the family left Bethlehem.
Jesus had been born on the evening of the Feast of Trumpets, which in 2 B.C. fell on September 29. Precisely three months later, Joseph and Mary took Jesus to Egypt, the “house (nation) of Pharaoh.” This was done to fulfill the prophetic pattern of Moses’ birth.
Here ends the excerpt from Stephen Jones’s book. If you’d like to read the full chapter about Jesus’ birth, you can do so here.
On a side note, assuming Jesus was born on Sep 29, 2 B.C., he would have also been conceived on or around December 25 of the previous year. Yet another “timing coincidence” for why we celebrate on Christmas.
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