The Infancy of Christ by John E. Remsberg 1909
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When was Jesus born?
Matthew: "In the days of Herod" (ii, 1).
Luke: "When Cyrenius was governor of Syria" (ii, 1-7).
Nearly every biographer gives the date of his subject's birth. Yet not one of the Evangelists gives the date of Jesus' birth. Two, Matthew and Luke, attempt to give the time approximately. But between these two attempts there is a discrepancy of at least ten years; for Herod died 4 B.C., while Cyrenius did not become governor of Syria until 7 A.D.
A reconciliation of these statements is impossible. Matthew clearly states that Jesus was born during the reign of Herod. Luke states that Augustus Caesar issued a decree that the world should be taxed, that "this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria," and that Jesus was born at the time of this taxing.
The following extracts from Josephus, the renowned historian of the race and country to which Jesus belonged, give the date of this taxing and the time that elapsed between the death of Herod and the taxing, and which reckoned backward from this gives the date of Herod's death:
"And now Herod altered his testament upon the alteration of his mind; for he appointed Antipas, to whom he had before left his kingdom, to be tetrarch of Galilee and Berea, and granted the kingdom to Archelaus.... When he had done these things he died" (Antiquities, B. xvii, ch. 8, sec. 1).
"But in the tenth year of Archelaus's government, both his brethren, and the principal men of Judea and Samaria, not being able to bear his barbarous and tyrannical usage of them, accused him before Caesar.... And when he was come [to Rome], Caesar, upon hearing what certain accusers of his had to say, and what reply he could make, both banished him, and appointed Vienna, a city of Gaul, to be the place of his habitation, and took his money away from him".
"Archelaus's country was laid to the province of Syria; and Cyrenius, one that had been consul, was sent by Caesar to take account of people's effects in Syria, and to sell the house of Archelaus".
"When Cyrenius had now disposed of Archelaus's money, and when the taxings were come to a conclusion, which were made in the thirty-seventh of Caesar's victory over Antony at Actium," etc.
The battle of Actium was fought September 2, B.C. 31. The thirty-seventh year from this battle comprehended the time elapsing between September 2, A.D. 6, and September 2, A.D. 7, the mean of which was March 2, A.D. 7. The mean of the tenth year preceding this -- the year in which Herod died -- was September 2, B.C. 4.
It has been suggested by some unacquainted with Roman history that Cyrenius [Quirinus] may have been twice governor of Syria. Cyrenius was but once governor of Syria, and this not until 7 A.D. During the last years of Herod's reign, and during all the years of Archelaus's reign, Sentius Saturninus and Quintilius Varus held this office. Even if Cyrenius had previously held the office the events related by Luke could not have occurred then because Judea prior to 7 A.D. was not a part of Syria.
The second chapter of Luke which narrates the birth and infancy of Jesus, conflicts with the first chapter of this book. In this chapter it is expressly stated that Zacharias, the priest, lived in the time of Herod and, inferentially, that the conceptions of John and Jesus occurred at this time.
Christian chronology, by which events are supposed to be reckoned from the birth of Christ, agrees with neither Matthew nor Luke, but dates from a point nearly intermediate between the two. According to Matthew, Christ was born at least five years before the beginning of the Christian era; according to Luke he was born at least six years after the beginning of the Christian era This is 1907: but according to Matthew Christ was born not later than 1912 years ago; while according to Luke he was born not earlier than 1901 years ago.
At least ten different opinions regarding the year of Christ's birth have been advanced by Christian scholars. Dodwell places it in 6 B.C., Chrysostom 5 B.C., Usher, whose opinion is most commonly received, 4 B.C., Irenaeus 3 B.C., Jerome 2 B.C., Tertullian 1 B.C. Some modern authorities place it in 1 A.D., others in 2 A.D., and still others in 3 A.D.; while those who accept Luke as infallible authority must place it as late as 7 A.D.
It is generally assumed that Jesus was born in the last year of Herod's reign. How long before the close of Herod's reign was he born?
Matthew: At least two years (ii, 1-16).
Matthew says that when the wise men visited Herod he diligently inquired of them the time when the star which announced the birth of Jesus first appeared. When he determined to destroy Jesus and massacred the infants of Bethlehem and the surrounding country, he slew those "from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men," clearly indicating that Jesus was nearly or quite two years old at this time.
In attempting to reconcile Matthew's visit of the wise men to Jesus at Bethlehem with the narrative of Luke, which makes his stay there less than six weeks, it has been assumed that this visit occurred immediately after his birth, whereas, according to Matthew, it did not occur until about two years after his birth.
In what month and on what day of the month was he born?
Not one of his biographers is prepared to tell; primitive Christians did not know; the church has never been able to determine this. A hundred different opinions regarding it have been expressed by Christian scholars. Wagenseil places it in February, Paulius in March, Greswell in April, Lichtenstein in June, Strong in August, Lightfoot in September, and Newcome in October. Clinton says that he was born in the spring, Larchur says that he was born in the fall. Some early Christians believed that it occurred on the 5th of January; others the 19th of April; others still on the 20th of May. The Eastern church believed that he was born on the 7th of January. The church of Rome, in the fourth century, selected the 25th of December on which to celebrate the anniversary of his birth; and this date has been accepted by the greater portion of the Christian world.
What determined the selection of this date?
"There was a double reason for selecting this day. In the first place it had been observed from a hoary antiquity as a heathen festival, following the longest night of the winter solstice, and was called "the Birthday of the Unconquerable Sun." It was a fine thought to celebrate on that day the birth of him whom the Gospel called "the light of the world."...The second reason was, that at Rome the days from the 17th to the 23rd of December were devoted to unbridled merrymaking These days were called the Saturnalia.... Now the church was always anxious to meet the heathen, whom she had converted or was beginning to convert, half-way, by allowing them to retain the feasts they were accustomed to, only giving them a Christian dress, or attaching a new and Christian signification to them" (Bible for Learners, vol. m, pp. 66, 67).
Gibbon says: "The Roman Christians, ignorant of the real time of the birth of Jesus, fixed the solemn festival on the 25th of December, the winter solstice when the Pagans annually celebrated the birth of the sun."
What precludes the acceptance of this date?
Luke: At the time of his birth "there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night" (ii, 8).
Shepherds did not abide in the field with their flocks at night in mid-winter. The Rev. Cunningham Geikie, D.D., a leading English orthodox authority on Christ, says:
"One knows how wretched even Rome is in winter and Palestine is much worse during hard weather. Nor is it likely that shepherds would lie out through the night, except during unseasonably fine weather" ("Christmas at Bethlehem," in Deems' Holydays and Holidays, p. 405).
"The nativity of Jesus in December should be given up." -- Dr. Adam Clarke.
In regard to the date of Christ's birth Dr. Farrar says: "It must be admitted that we cannot demonstrate the exact year of the nativity.... As to the day and month of the nativity it is certain that they can never be recovered; they were absolutely unknown to the early fathers, and there is scarcely one month of the year which has not been fixed upon as probable by modern critics."
The inability of Christians to determine the date of Christ's birth is one of the strongest proofs of his nonexistence as a historical character. Were the story of his miraculous birth and marvelous life true the date of his birth would have been preserved and would be today, the best authenticated fact in history.
Where was Jesus born?
Matthew and Luke: In Bethlehem of Judea (Matt. ii, l; Luke ii, 1-7).
Aside from these stories in Matthew and Luke concerning the nativity, which are clearly of later origin than the remaining documents composing the books and which many Christian scholars reject, there is not a word in the Four Gospels to confirm the claim that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Every statement in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, as well as Acts, concerning his nativity, is to the effect that he was born in Nazareth of Galilee. He is never called "Jesus of Bethlehem," but always "Jesus of Nazareth." According to modern usage "Jesus of Nazareth" might merely signify that Nazareth was the place of his residence and not necessarily the place of his birth. But this usage was unknown to the Jews. Had he been born at Bethlehem, he would, according to the Jewish custom, have been called "Jesus of Bethlehem," because the place of birth always determined this distinguishing adjunct, and the fact of his having removed to another place would not have changed it.
Peter (Acts ii, 22; iii, 6), Paul (Acts xxvi, 9), Philip (John i, 45), Cleopas and his companion (Luke xxiv, 19), Pilate (John xix, 19), Judas and the band sent to arrest Jesus (John xviii, 5, 7), the High Priest's maid (Mark xiv, 67), blind Bartimaeus (Mark x, 47), the unclean spirits (Mark i, 24; Luke iv, 34), the multitudes that attended his meetings (Matt. xxi, 11; Luke xviii, 37), all declared him to be a native of Nazareth.
To the foregoing may be added the testimony of Jesus himself. When Paul asked him who he was he answered: "I am Jesus of Nazareth" (Acts xxii, 8).
Many of the Jews rejected Christ because he was born in Galilee and not in Bethlehem. "Others said, This is the Christ. But some said, Shall Christ come out of Galilee? Hath not the scriptures said, That Christ cometh out of the seed of David, and out of the town of Bethlehem, where David was?" (John vii, 41, 42).
Concerning this subject the Bible for Learners says: "The primitive tradition declared emphatically that Nazareth was the place from which Jesus came. We may still see this distinctly enough in our Gospels. Jesus is constantly called the Nazarene, or Jesus of Nazareth. This was certainly the name by which he was known in his own time; and of course such local names were given to men from the place of their birth, and not from the place in which they lived, which might constantly be changing Nazareth is called in so many words his own, that is his native city, and he himself declares it so" (Vol. III, pp. 39, 40).
That Jesus the man, if such a being existed, was not born at Bethlehem is affirmed by all critics. That he could not have been born at Nazareth is urged by many. Nazareth, it is asserted, did not exist at this time. Christian scholars admit that there is no proof of its existence at the beginning of the Christian era outside of the New Testament. The Encyclopedia Biblica, a leading Christian authority, says: "We cannot perhaps venture to assert positively that there was a city called Nazareth in Jesus' time."
His reputed birth at Bethlehem was in fulfillment of what prophecy?
"And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda; for out of thee shall come a governor that shall rule my people Israel" (Matthew ii, 6).
This is a misquotation of Micah v, 2. The passage as it appears in our version of the Old Testament is itself a mistranslation. Correctly rendered it does not mean that this ruler shall come from Bethlehem, but simply that he shall be a descendant of David whose family belonged to Bethlehem.
Concerning this prophecy it may be said, 1. That Jesus never became governor or ruler of Israel; 2. That the ruler referred to was to be a military leader who should deliver Israel from the Assyrians. "And this man shall be the peace, when the Assyrian shall come into the land ... thus shall he deliver us from the Assyrian" (Micah v, 5, 6).
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