Messiahmas? On the Birth Date of Jesus of Nazareth

Uri Marcus has some very profound insights into the birth of Jesus. Consider:

"The single most important event in history was the birth of Jesus (Y'shua) the Messiah. All the world, since Adam and Eve had been waiting for "the seed of the woman, who would bruise the head of Satan" (Genesis 3:15). The entire Bible was written about him and for him. From Genesis to Revelation the nature and purpose of the Messiah is depicted in explicit references and hidden "types". 

Most Gentile Christians wouldn't bother to speculate about the time when Jesus was born. We celebrate it on December 25th even though we suspect that there is no Biblical basis for choosing that date. However, there are many Jewish Believers who feel with a reasonable degree of certainty, the time of year when Jesus was really born, taking into account certain Jewish customs and traditions was probably in September of October.

There is quite a wide consensus of opinion that Jesus was born at some time during the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashana (New Year), Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), or Succoth (Tabernacles). These festivals normally occur in the Autumn, about September or October, but it varies from year to year because the Jewish calendar is based on the cycles of the moon and doesn't track with the Gregorian calendar.

The calculation of the time of Jesus' birth begins with Zechariah ( Z'chariyahu), the father of John (Yochanan) the Baptist. According to Luke 1:5 he was a priest of the order of Aviyah. He was performing his duties, burning incense in the Temple, when an angel appeared and said his wife Elizabeth (Eli-Sheva) would conceive and bear a son, and he would be called John.

The order in which the priestly families performed their duties is given in 1 Chronicles 24:7-18. According to the Mishnah, the cycle begins on the first Sabbath of Nisan, and each family of priests would minister in turn for one week. Since there are 24 families, each family would minister about twice a year. The cycle would be delayed slightly because all priests, regardless of their families, were required to be at the Temple for the three festivals of Passover (Pesach), Pentecost ( Shavu'ot) and Tabernacles (Succoth).

The family of Aviyah was eighth in line, so Zechariah would have had his first period of duty during the Jewish month of Sivan (about June) and his second period during the month of Kislev about six months later. There is no way of knowing for sure which period of duty is referred to in Luke's Gospel, but if we suppose it is the first period we get some very interesting results.

Zechariah finished his first period of duty about the middle of Sivan. Because of his unbelief, God struck him dumb, but his reproductive system was still working. He went home to his wife and she became pregnant. Count off 40 weeks, the usual period of gestation, and we get to the month of Nisan the following year. Beginning on the 14th of Nisan, and lasting for eight days, we have the festivals of Passover, unleavened bread ( Matzoth) and First Fruits (Bikurim), which all occur in the spring. This raises the distinct possibility that John the Baptist was born at Passover, which coincides with the Jewish expectation that Elijah (Eliyahu) would come at Passover. It has always been a Jewish custom to put an extra cup of wine on the table at Passover, in the hope that Elijah will come and drink it.

If John the Baptist was born at Passover, Jesus must have been born during the autumn feasts, and most probably at the Feast of Tabernacles. In Luke 1:26 and 36 we are told that Jesus was six months younger than John.

When the decree went out for everyone to go to their home town to be registered, Joseph (Yosef) and Mary (Miriam) set off for Bethlehem (Beit Lechem). They would have set out in good time, before Mary was fully 40 weeks pregnant, because she wouldn't want to be jogged into childbirth while riding on a donkey. Besides, they would have wanted to complete the journey before New Year.

We are given a clue about the time of the birth by the angel who appeared to the shepherds and said "Fear not. For, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.". (Luke 2:10).

There are actually two clues here. The Feast of Tabernacles is known as "The Season of our Joy", and it is also known as the "Festival of the Nations (or Gentiles)". The angel was actually giving them a greeting for the Festival of the Feast of Tabernacles. This is the only festival where the nations are positively encouraged to participate with negative results if they do not. (Zechariah 14:16-19).

During the Feast of Tabernacles (Succoth), Jewish families construct a flimsy shelter called a "Succah", made of loosely assembled walls and a leafy overhead covering. In the Succah, they eat or sleep. This is a reminder to them that they were completely dependent on God as they wandered for forty years in the desert after departing from Egypt and were led by "a pillar of cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night." Because of this experience, we recall that "God is with us" (Emmanu-El).

And so, the birth of Jesus at the Feast of Tabernacles fulfills another prophecy: "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Emmanu-El - which means, "God is with us". (Matthew 1:23, quoting from Isaiah 7:14).

If this is not enough, we also have to consider the type of dwelling in which Jesus was born. Had it not been for the inconvenience caused by the census, he would have been born in a house like all other children. But he wasn't, he was born in a type of Succah where servants of a household slept, or where they kept sheep and cattle. Luke uses the Greek word for "manger" but because Jesus was Jewish, and it was most likely the Feast of Tabernacles, the text probably describes a Succah.

This would make sense since we know that Jesus would fulfill every aspect of the Law (Torah) from his birth until his death. The link here is directly to commandment in Leviticus 23: 42, "Live in Succoth for seven days: All native born Israelites are to live in Succoth so your descendants will know that I had the Israelites live in Succoth when I brought them out of Egypt. I am the LORD your God."

John, in his Gospel narrative of Jesus' birth, confirms this truth when he indicates that God had come to earth to dwell with (and serve) humanity. We read in John 1:14 about how "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling (Tabernacled) among us," which is a clear and obvious reference to the Feast of Tabernacles.

Eight days later, according to Luke 2:21, Jesus was circumcised. Mary would still have been ceremonially unclean for 33 days after Jesus' birth, in accordance with Leviticus 12. Owing to her requirement to present a purification offering at the Temple in Jerusalem after this period, she would most likely have remained in Bethlehem, just a short distance from Jerusalem.

If the day of Jesus' birth was the first day of the Feast of Tabernacles, then the day of his circumcision would be the eighth day after the Feast of Tabernacles which, in accordance with the Law is also day of sacred assembly. (Leviticus 23:39). On this day, called "Shemini Atzeret," or "the Eighth day of Solemn Assembly" and later called "Simchat Torah" or "Rejoicing in the Law," the Jews complete their annual cycle of Torah readings and start again from Genesis. It is considered to be a time of "fulfillment" of the Law and also a new beginning for it, since the Law is never abandoned. This indeed would seem to be a fitting holiday for Jesus' circumcision and dedication before God, since He came to set the Law on a firm foundation by correctly interpreting it and fulfilling it (i.e., becoming the goal to which the Law and the Prophets pointed), thereby making a way to renew the Law in all our lives. (Matthew. 5:17-19).

When the days of Mary's purification were over, they would have then returned back to Nazareth (Luke 2:39). But each year, and in accordance with the required pilgrimage commandments in the Law, Joseph and Mary went up to Jerusalem for the Passover. (Luke 2:41). During one of these visits, probably when Jesus was about two years old, they went to Bethlehem and stayed, not in a Succah or stable this time, but in a house. (Matthew. 2:11). They were visited there by the Magi, and then had to flee to Egypt to escape from Herod because he was killing all the male children two years old and under.

One final thought. In the book of Luke, chapter one, we have a picture of a group of Shepherds to whom an angel of the Lord appears, while they are watching over their flocks, AT NIGHT. The angel brings them a message that their Messiah was born in the town of David, that day.

This message was accompanied by the appearance of a great heavenly host, praising God. When we consider the seasons in Israel, and the weather patterns, one might ask "What is the latest time of year in which shepherds would still be outside with their flocks in the Judean hills, , AT NIGHT?" November through February are far to cold in Israel to be doing this kind of activity. The answer of course points to the end of October, at the latest, for temperature reasons alone. Depending of the Hebrew calendar in any given year, the Feast of Tabernacles always falls in the September-October time frame, when the weather is still warm and pleasant outside, especially AT NIGHT. For these reasons, and many others not documented here, we think Jesus is very likely to have been born during the Feast of Tabernacles.

And so, by starting from Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, and his first period of duty in the Temple, and doing a few simple calculations, we discover that the Jewishness of the Gospel becomes profoundly evident, giving new importance to many passages of Scripture previously misunderstood.

What then should we do now? Should Christians continue observing Christmas on December 25th (which incidentally is entirely pagan in its origins), or are we going to begin recognizing the Jewish roots of the Gospel and understanding the purpose of the feasts which the Father in His wisdom has bestowed.

Some may believe that it does not matter when we celebrate the birth of the Christ; it can be any of the twelve months of the year! What is important is to celebrate His birth.

But this defeats the importance of Messianic prophecy and fulfillment! The birth of Jesus at the Feast of Tabernacles was for prophetic reasons foreshadowing the entire Law, the goal to which is pointing to the seventh millennium and the kingship of Messiah from Jerusalem. These are important pictures to treasure in our hearts! If it is important enough to God that He would cause Jesus' birth AND coronation as King to takes place at an appointed season on the Jewish Calendar, then it should be important to us, regardless of the world's traditions. Therefore, we should heed the words of Paul who quoting the Father, urged the Church at Corinth to:

..."come out from them and be separate," says the Lord. "Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters," says the Lord Almighty."
(Marcus, 1996)

Created: 23 - Jan - 1997.
Last modified: 18 - Sept - 1998.
Copyright © 1998, Graham Brodie.

Maintainer: Graham Brodie, Email