Biblical archaeology simply refers to archaeology within the context of the Bible, which spans several thousand years and covers the Middle East along with the Mediterranean coastline. Jewish and Christian scholars comprised the earliest teams of archaeologists, but many since have approached this discipline from less of a religious, and more of a scientific standpoint.

Christians often find this off-putting, as archaeologists may interpret the data in ways that conflict with the traditional biblical narrative. But there is a real difference between the actual data, and the interpretations that try to make sense of artifacts and ancient terrain. We do well to appreciate the record of antiquity carefully unearthed and conserved by archaeologists, and at least listen to their theories. We will learn quite a lot.

Still, in the end, we also need to be critical thinkers as we weigh physical evidence, artifacts, ancient ruins, grave goods, inscriptions, and all the rest against what we have already been given in the scriptures.

The contents of today’s post is taken from, and largely summarizes, a longer article written for the Biblical Archaeology Society—a great read, and I recommend it. Offered within the article are other, mostly free, resources. Why not benefit from the years of expertise and painstaking work of experts in the field! While at the same time, reserving our own interpretation.

Saturnalia or Mithras?

When I first researched the background behind the practice of an Advent season and Christmas Day, I came across two ancient Roman festivals that both occurred during the winter solstice and were later tied to December 25. Christian leaders also tied Jesus’ birth to December 25. Since several significant Christmas practices, such as

  • Advent wreaths with candles (turning the wheel of the earth back towards the sun),
  • Decking the halls with boughs of holly (evergreens representing the power of life overcoming the power of death),
  • Celebrating for twelve days (following the Festival of Saturnalia), and
  • Decorating with mistletoe

all stem from Saturnalia and the celebration of the birth of the sun god Mithras, it was logically extrapolated that Christmas itself also stems from these same festivals. But actually, it was not until the twelfth century that a written connection was made between the Roman festivals of antiquity and the Christian commemoration of Jesus’ birth.

Jesus’ Birth Not Observed

No early celebrations surrounding Jesus’ birth are even mentioned among the earliest Christian writers and historians. In fact, Origen of Alexandria (c. 165–264) apparently wrote disdainfully about the Roman practice of honoring birth anniversaries, naming it a “pagan” practice, seeming to indicate believers did not follow suit. Christians were much more concerned with Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension, and Jesus’ second Advent to come.

Then, early in the third century (200-299 A.D.) Christian writers became intent on piecing together the timeline of Jesus’ life and ministry.

Clement of Alexandria noted a number of different days had been submitted over time for Jesus’ birth—but none of them were December 25.

“[May 20] There are those who have determined not only the year of our Lord’s birth, but also the day; and they say that it took place in the 28th year of Augustus, and in the 25th day of [the Egyptian month] Pachon

“[March 21] And treating of His Passion, with very great accuracy, some say that it took place in the 16th year of Tiberius, on the 25th of Phamenoth

“[April 21] and others on the 25th of Pharmuthi

“[April 15] and others say that on the 19th of Pharmuthi the Savior suffered.

“[April 20 or 21] Further, others say that He was born on the 24th or 25th of Pharmuthi.”

Clement, Stromateis 1.21.145.

From Passion to Conception

Then Tertullian of Carthage (ca. 200 A.D.) made the calculation that the 14th of Nisan (the day of the crucifixion according to the Gospel of John) in the year Jesus died corresponded to March 25 in the Roman (solar) calendar.

Have you ever played that game when someone tells you their birthday and you count three months forward to see what month they were conceived in? For example, I was born in December, which means I was conceived in March—when spring is in the air, and people’s hearts are light and merry! And it is a well-known fact that in those countries where Mardi Gras or Carnival is celebrated, the birthrate experiences a spike nine months later.

The ancient Christians thought through something of the same process. They established the time of Jesus’ crucifixion—March 25—which affixed the time of His conception, eventually commemorated as the Feast of the Annunciation.

Evidently, there is an anonymous fourth-century Christian treatise called On Solstices and Equinoxes, that states:

“Therefore our Lord was conceived on the eighth of the kalends of April in the month of March [March 25], which is the day of the passion of the Lord and of his conception. For on that day he was conceived on the same he suffered.”

On Solstices and Equinoxes

It was believed that when the Holy Spirit had overshadowed the Virgin Mary, causing the conception of Christ, God prophetically foreshadowed Jesus’ crucifixion to come, on that very day thirty or so years forward.

Fragment eines Einhornaltars aus der Kirche in Heilsberg vom Meister des Allendorfer Altars (Erfurt um 1490). | By ErwinMeier – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Next time you look at artwork depicting that moment, you might notice the baby Jesus descending from the Father’s presence, holding a cross. Today, some nativity scenes subtly portray the shadow of a cross falling over the manger, or show the shape of the cross within the creche.

Fragment eines Einhornaltars im Domschatz des Erfurter Doms St. Marien | By ErwinMeier – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

It was a simple matter to count forward nine months from March 25 to December 25. Augustine of Hippo corroborated this thinking when he wrote his own treatise On the Trinity (c. 399–419):

“For he [Jesus] is believed to have been conceived on the 25th of March, upon which day also he suffered; so the womb of the Virgin, in which he was conceived, where no one of mortals was begotten, corresponds to the new grave in which he was buried, wherein was never man laid, neither before him nor since. But he was born, according to tradition, upon December the 25th.”

Augustine, Sermon 202

The earliest written record of this day as Jesus’ birth is found in a Roman almanac dating from the fourth century. In it are the dates of death for a number of Christian martyrs and bishops, but the very first date listed is December 25, when

natus Christus in Betleem Judeae: [“Christ was born in Bethlehem of Judea.”]

The Philocalian Calendar.

Feast of Epiphany

The Eastern Church also connected Jesus conception with His crucifixion, but instead of using the 14th of Nisan in the Hebrew calendar, they used the 14th of the first spring month (Artemisios) in their local Greek calendar. So, instead of March 25, they ended up with April 6, which inevitably led to January 6, a tidy twelve days after December 25!

An Eastern Bishop, Epiphanius of Salamis associated April 6 with when

“The lamb was shut up in the spotless womb of the holy virgin, he who took away and takes away in perpetual sacrifice the sins of the world.”

Epiphanius is quoted in Talley, Origins, p. 98.

Though some parts of the Church still observe Jesus’ birth on January 6 (for example, the Armenian church), most Christians worldwide celebrate December 25 as Christmas, and commemorate January 6 as the day the magi arrived in Bethlehem bearing gifts for the baby king.

(all references are cited in the original article, “How December 25 Became Christmas,” written by Andrew McGowan, originally appearing in the Bible Review, December 2002, and reprinted for the Biblical Archaeology Society.

By Johann Matthias Kager – Kunsthistorisches Museum, Public Domain,

4 thoughts on “Advent: Perfection in Numbers

  1. Reblogged this on Zero Lift-Off and commented:
    “Jesus came to bring life and peace to our immortal souls! Work toward meeting Him on those terms!” LM

    “Let us celebrate Holy Days all year long!”

    Well I have to admit I may have taken much for granted finding that there is a lot of debate regarding the celebration of Jesus’ birthday. Though I find many compelling points being made I can see pros and cons both ways as if we celebrate something that is saying on the one hand it is all about Jesus while participating in extravagant indulgences of eating being merry or getting gifts versus not doing anything to commemorate the actual birth of the Savior of mankind God Himself making His appearance as one of us in the same form of an innocent baby begotten and delivered through the sanctified womb of the Holy Mary the actual Mother of God! I see where often times protestants want to argue blue in the face about how Catholics and many other Christian denominations are so wrong about one thing or another and I ask those protestants how is it that you are so absolutely correct and right on all points? Not possible and Martin Luther was a heretic and I think the whole reformation was a deal gone amuck! So all this finger pointing and trying to discredit one another or call other people evil for supporting pagan holidays is not doing the world or any of us a bit of good! I ask myself would Jesus mind if I celebrate is being birthed by a human though Holy Blessed Virgin a bad thing to do and I get a resounding absolutely not he wants us to love the fact that He or God chose the Salvation of we fallen sinners to be achieved by His doing it through Humanity and become one of us because He loves us so much He wants to become that personal and not just a God in absolute Holiness who could have saved us by some sterile or God imagined Miraculous way but that would not be anything so personal and we could not relate to on a person to person basis!

    I think too many people these days are wasting time on things they should be and want to pick fights with others which if you think hard is exactly what the Devil wants us to do so we are further scattered and at war with each other, ourselves and God! I see how so many people just don’t get it when it’s so simple and in your faces! I also can say we should not over indulge in these celebrations but make it a beautiful time of reflection, meditation and prayer showing genuine love for our God and Savior Jesus Christ by also loving each other on that celebration and all year long! The same for Easter we absolutely should celebrate the Resurrection and our Lord’s overcoming death for any who will listen and follow Him! Sincerity and genuine love for our God is the key no bickering and saying this is all stupid or a waste and pagan; such a person is being ridiculous and selfish and perhaps even too self-righteous thinking they are closer to Jesus by doing it so I don’t want to put those individuals down but if they are happy not celebrating Christmas then fine be happy in your non-celebration! I love to at least acknowledge a beautiful occasion, the birth of my Jesus our Savior and my personal Savior with genuine love and appreciation in my heart, but not over indulging in anything that would be displeasing to our Lord God!

    So here are a few thoughts I found and some Scriptures to help I hope to consider the Truth of what is going on and now best we should proceed forward and “be saved which is what it’s all about!” None of us is perfect or able to account for all things and facts pertaining to when Jesus Christ was on earth; we do the best we can with what we have to work with and always consider there is room for improvements, further enlightenment, but not by shredding others or the Birth of Jesus to bits in the process!

    I start with something I found in a discussion where this mother said this!

    Jen H.
    When I was a child, reading Jeremiah 10 is what sold me on not keeping Christmas. I was attending a Sunday keeping church at the time, and had the experience of keeping xmas. Actually, I believe that many of the holidays…not all of them, are counterfeit of God’s holy days.. God set up holy days that he commands for us to keep. My experience in keeping these holy days are more fulfilling than the holidays, that were set up by man. After I grew up, I started attending a church of God, that was more aligned with what the Bible taught. My children did not keep the holidays, and saw other children keeping them. They kept the holydays, and knew how much fun they were, and the lasting joy that goes with them. I asked them, which they preferred to keep. And they replied God’s holy days. Especially the Feast of Tabernacles, which is the most joyous of all. You don’t know the joy of God’s holy days, until you experience them for yourself. The Feast of Tabernacles includes a time of travel, centered around family and last for 8 days and not ONE anti-climactic day!

    I Thessalonians 5:21. May God our Father and His Only Begotten Son Jesus Christ our Lord help you to test those spirits or spirit you are hearing. Are they or is it of God?

    Our Savior Jesus Christ was our Passover Lamb. These teachings are written in the 4 Gospels (Matt., Mark, Luke, and John)

    Autumn would be the time frame but also agree more accurately that it is most likely during the feast of tabernacles. But I would go further and say it would be precisely ‘The Day of Atonement’ which is exactly 6 months from Passover. That would make his public ministry 3 1/2 years exactly, or 42 months or 1260 days…

    Jeremiah 10:1-5
    [1]Heare ye the word which the Lord speaketh vnto you, O house of Israel.
    [2]Thus sayeth the Lord, Learne not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signes of heauen, for the heathen are dismayed at them.
    [3]For the customes of the people are vaine: for one cutteth a tree out of the forrest (the worke of the handes of the workeman) with the axe.
    [4]They decke it with siluer and with golde, they fasten it with nayles, and with hammers that it mooue not.
    [5]They are vpright as the palme tree, but speake not: they must needes bee borne, because they cannot goe: be not afraid of them, for they cannot doe euil, neither also is it in them to doe good.

    John 14:9 9 Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Show us the Father? John 10:30 I and my Father are one. John 6:38,39 For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but to do the will of Him who sent Me. 39And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that I shall lose none of all those He has given Me, but raise them up at the last day.

    Daniel V
    Jesus was born on September 23. Jesus stated his birthday when he spoke to Pontus Pilate a few weeks before his crucifixion. Although this conversation is not recorded in scripture, it was stated in Pilate’s report to Tiberius on Jesus trial. Google “Pontus Pilate report to Tiberius” He told Pilate he was born on the same day Augustus Ceasar brought peace to the world. This can only be a reference to either Augustus birthday which is Sept 23, 63 BC, or Pax Romana which started September 2, 31. Either way the numbers point to 9/23 (9/2/31)

    John the Baptist was born six months before Jesus……..and J. Vernon McGee while he was alive, Billy Graham said was the worlds most renown authority on the bible….and J. Vernon Mcgee studied the date of Christ’s birthday on the 29th of September, right down to the new star that appeared in the skys, and the first day of Jubilee year, this J. Vernon McGee was one smart Pastor of the Southern Baptist church, he has been dead for 20 years now and he still has a program on the radio going through the bible in five years, every five years.

    wayne herd had said:
    King James Bible Romans 14:5 One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. The real problem is this day has become less about Jesus and more about giving presents. you need to stop acting like the world and start acting like true Christians. Celebrate Jesus Birthday on what day you would like to but don’t tell others when they should.
    Pray and ask the Holy Spirit to guide you to the truth..All Glory To God 🙂

    Merry Christmas and I mean “Happy Birthday to our Savior” who was “Jesus Christ in the Flesh,” one of us our loving teacher and master the one True God Almighty on such a happy day because there are so many sad days built into this life in the flesh; so therefore we Rejoice when He who came down from heaven, our ever-living and ever-loving God Almighty our Father in Heaven; to show us how much He loves us! Amen.

    Brother in Christ Jesus,
    Lawrence Morra III

  2. Thank you Sister Joanne!
    Sorry about the typos and syntax mistake I made which I caught later when I slowed down a bit! Here it’s off but on the reblog its close to accurate as can be for now!
    Beautiful article and so insightful, thought provoking and inspiring for me to want to understand more!

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