Looking at when Christ was born inevitably goes to a discussion of calendars. How long did Jesus live? Can the Book of Mormon give us insight into when Jesus was born? BYU professor Dr. Jeff Chadwick says the Book of Mormon gives us the key to figuring out both Jesus’ death, but also his birth year.
Jeff: We only know that because of the Book of Mormon because Jesus has lived 33 full years in the space of the 3rd Nephi story. So, we know he’s lived 33 full years. I actually think he lives 33 years and a couple of months. He’s born in December of 5 BC and dies in early April of AD 30, which would make him like 33 and three months, but he lived 33 full years. That much is clear from the text of 3rd Nephi. He doesn’t live 34 full years. He is only 33, because his appearance in 3rd Nephi to the Nephites is dated to the ending of the 34th year. So, he’s been dead some time before the end of the 34th year gets there, meaning he only lived 33 years and whatever little time after that.
We also go deeper into the Jewish calendar. Many people have said that Dec. 25 is an old Roman holiday celebrating the Sun in the sky. Did the Catholic Church co-opt this holiday for their own religious purposes, or are there reasons to believe Jesus might have been born in December? Dr. Chadwick answers that question.
GT: So do Catholics believe Jews was born in December?
Jeff: Well, you know what Christmas means? Christ’s mass. They traditionally date Jesus’ birth to December.
GT: I’ve always heard the Christmas came about because it was a pagan holiday of the Sun God, and it was December 25th. Was there some Roman [holiday]….
Jeff: Well, this is certainly true. December 25th was Sol Invictus in the Roman pagan notion. But the Roman Empire became Christian right, by the fourth century. Particularly when Constantine comes in there, Christianity becomes even the preferred religion. But long before that, the notion that Jesus had been born in early winter existed within Christianity. The problem, I think, is that they didn’t know just when. The reason for this is that by the end of the second century, Christianity had become totally Gentile rather than Jewish, which was the way Christianity started out.
We will talk further about early Catholic/Christian beliefs about Christmas. Dr. Chadwick doesn’t think it’s a problem that Christians re-appropriated a pagan holiday. What do you think?
Some people believe shepherds weren’t in their fields in December due to the cold weather. How cold is it in Israel in December? Dr. Chadwick describes he calls, “the myth of the lambing season.”
Jeff: The average day in Jerusalem in December and January is partly cloudy with green grass and jacket temperatures, nothing like the winters of Utah and Idaho. That brings up another thing and this is what I call the myth of the lambing season.
GT: Oh really?
Jeff: Yeah, because, you know, the idea that Jesus was born in the Spring, was not unique to Latter-day Saints in the 1800’s. Others were suggesting this as well. Protestant writers in America familiar with freezing North American winters, because they were usually from New England or somewhere like that, couldn’t imagine how shepherds could be in the fields abiding by their flocks in December, “Aww, just much too cold. No shepherd could be out with his flocks in December,” they ruled. So, it must be in the springtime because spring is when the lambs are born and since Jesus was the lamb of God, that’s when he would have been born, too, is in the spring. This, of course, plays in really well with the tradition among the Latter-day Saints that Jesus was born in April. The problem is it’s an entire falsity. The reason why is that shepherds did and still do go out with their flocks all Winter long.
I have stood in the fields outside of Bethlehem on several Christmas Eves because I get to be there from time to time and the shepherds are out there with their sheep and little lambs have been born already in December. They don’t wait. Now here in our climate, just because of the way that the lambs and the sheep bear, they’ll wait until it’s a little warmer and they’ll lamb in March and April. But that’s not the way that it works in the holy land because the climate doesn’t require it. Biology works partially because of its climate.
What are your thoughts about Chadwick’s research