Monday, January 21, 2008

Dialogue on Christmas and Birthdays

[My interlocutor]
"Jesus may not have been born on Dec. 25, but for all we know He was born on Dec. 25, or on a date close to that. But then it makes no difference whether or not Jesus was born on Dec. 25. The Catholic Church still has a divine right to institute a nativity festival if it deems fit, and the date of Dec. 25 is founded on an ancient tradition that reportedly is attested to as early as Tertullian and possibly St. Hippolytus in the first half of the 200s A.D., so that date is as good as any."

If you do not know the date that someone was born, then any date will do, right? The whole system for deriving December 25 in ancient times was faulty. First, Bible prophecy (Daniel 9:24-27) suggests that Christ was not born on December 25 or in the winter season. If Christ was 33 1/2 years old when he died, then he could not have been born in December. The account found at Luke 2:8-11 also indicates that Christ was not born in winter since the shepherds are spoken of as having their flocks out of doors then. What sane shepherd would have been keeping his flock in the fields during rough Palestinian winters? M'Clintock and Strong's _Cyclopaedia_ wisely observes:

"The day of Christ's birth cannot be ascertained from the NT, or indeed, from any other source" (II:276).

[My interlocutor]
"Wow. What are you talking about?? Saturn wasn't the sun god, Fos, and Saturnalia wasn't celebrated on Dec. 25. Even that Kelly quote doesn't make that mistake. "Christians" also didn't worship the sun god, though sometimes Christians apostatised during persecutions."

Maybe you need to give the inet a rest in order to do some research. The Saturnalia was a festival to Saturn and the unconquered sun. Moreover, it took place on December 25 and many of its customs are evidently retained in the Christmas celebration. The NET Bible (a non-JW source found at notes:

"December 25 as the celebrated date of Jesus' birth arose around the time of Constantine (ca. a.d. 306-337), though it is mentioned in material from Hippolytus (a.d. 165-235). Some think that the reason for celebration on this date was that it coincided with the pagan Roman festival of Saturnalia, and Christians could celebrate their own festival at this time without fear of persecution."

While the NET Bible does not give an opinion one way or the other on this issue, it does mention that it some scholars do associate Christmas with the Roman Saturnalia.

[My interlocutor]
"Oh, I agree that the fact that Origen's opinions about birthdays are erroneous has no bearing on the point at hand. I do wonder, though, why you seemed to suggest that Origen's erroneous arguments were correct, if you don't think Origen was right."

I did not say that Origen's arguments were erroneous or incorrect. If you will read carefully, you will find that my point was that it does not matter whether his arguments are sound or valid (TERMINI TECHNICI in logic). The point is that Origen, Arnobius and other Christians manifested antipathy toward birthdays. That is the salient *historical* point.

[My interlocutor]
"Yes, I know what your argument is. We know that the early Christians did not usually celebrate birthdays, and therefore it is likely they did not celebrate the birth of Jesus during those early times. However, we don't know that the early Christians opposition to celebrating birthdays was universal, and we don't know that, even if they didn't celebrate birthdays, they didn't begin to make an exception in the case of Jesus' birth, say, by 250-300 A.D. In fact it would be surprising if Christians waited until 300 A.D. to start celebrating Christmas, given the fact that even in the early 200s A.D. Christians were quite interested in determining the date of His birth. To make the dogmatic and bold claim that "it is ludicrous to contend that they would have celebrated the feast of Jesus' birth at this time" is simply going much, much, much further than the evidence can justify."

You have it all wrong. Show me evidence that Christians prior to the fourth century celebrated birthdays at all. Indeed, their opposition to birthdays does seem to have been universal. The practice of observing Christ's birthday evidently began with fourth century Christians, who considered the sun an object of veneration or who saw a nexus between the Son and the Sun. You cannot successfully date the observance of Christ's birth before the fourth century. Read Paul Johnson's work [referenced in an earlier dialogue] for an account of how sun worship affected the "Christian" observance of Jesus' supposed birthday. The [historical] evidence from the time of Constantine and Julian the Apostate favors Johnson's narratival account.


Pertinacious Papist said...


Edgar Foster said...

Pertinacious Papist,

Interesting and ambiguous choice of words. I didn't expect you to be so excited about my refutation of birthday celebration propriety. :-)