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Why Christianity Prospered
The Birth-day Of Christ Jesus
Christmas--December the 25th--is a day which has been set apart by the
Christian church on which to celebrate the birth of their Lord and
Saviour, Christ Jesus, and is considered by the majority of persons to
be really the day on which he was born. This is altogether erroneous, as
will be seen upon examination of the subject.
There was no uniformity in the period of observing the Nativity among
the early Christian churches; some held the festival in the month of May
or April, others in January.[359:1]
The year in which he was born is also as uncertain as the month or
day. "The year in which it happened," says Mosheim, the ecclesiastical
historian, "has not hitherto been fixed with certainty, notwithstanding
the deep and laborious researches of the learned."[359:2]
According to IRENAEUS (A. D. 190), on the authority of "The Gospel," and
"all the elders who were conversant in Asia with John, the disciple of
the Lord," Christ Jesus lived to be nearly, if not quite, fifty years
of age. If this celebrated Christian father is correct, and who can say
he is not, Jesus was born some twenty years before the time which has
been assigned as that of his birth.[359:3]
The Rev. Dr. Giles says:
"Concerning the time of Christ's birth there are even
greater doubts than about the place; for, though the four
Evangelists have noticed several contemporary facts, which
would seem to settle this point, yet on comparing these dates
with the general history of the period, we meet with serious
discrepancies, which involve the subject in the greatest
Again he says:
"Not only do we date our time from the exact year in which
Christ is said to have been born, but our ecclesiastical
calendar has determined with scrupulous minuteness the day and
almost the hour at which every particular of Christ's
wonderful life is stated to have happened. All this is
implicitly believed by millions; yet all these things are
among the most uncertain and shadowy that history has
recorded. We have no clue to either the day or the time of
year, or even the year itself, in which Christ was
Some Christian writers fix the year 4 B. C., as the time when he was
born, others the year 5 B. C., and again others place his time of birth
at about 15 B. C. The Rev. Dr. Geikie, speaking of this, in his Life of
"The whole subject is very uncertain. Ewald appears to fix
the date of the birth at five years earlier than our era.
Petavius and Usher fix it on the 25th of December, five
years before our era. Bengel on the 25th of December, four
years before our era; Anger and Winer, four years before our
era, in the Spring; Scaliger, three years before our era,
in October; St. Jerome, three years before our era, on
December 25th; Eusebius, two years before our era, on
January 6th; and Idler, seven years before our era, in
Albert Barnes writes in a manner which implies that he knew all about
the year (although he does not give any authorities), but knew nothing
about the month. He says:
"The birth of Christ took place four years before the common
era. That era began to be used about A. D. 526, being first
employed by Dionysius, and is supposed to have been placed
about four years too late. Some make the difference two,
others three, four, five, and even eight years. He was born at
the commencement of the last year of the reign of Herod, or at
the close of the year preceding."[360:3]
"The Jews sent out their flocks into the mountainous and
desert regions during the summer months, and took them up in
the latter part of October or the first of November, when the
cold weather commenced. . . . It is clear from this that our
Saviour was born before the 25th of December, or before what
we call Christmas. At that time it is cold, and especially
in the high and mountainous regions about Bethlehem. God has
concealed the time of his birth. There is no way to ascertain
it. By different learned men it has been fixed at each month
in the year."[360:4]
Canon Farrar writes with a little more caution, as follows:
"Although the date of Christ's birth cannot be fixed with
absolute certainty, there is at least a large amount of
evidence to render it probable that he was born four years
before our present era. It is universally admitted that our
received chronology, which is not older than Dionysius
Exignus, in the sixth century, is wrong. But all attempts to
discover the month and the day are useless. No data
whatever exists to enable us to determine them with even
Bunsen attempts to show (on the authority of Irenaeus, above quoted),
that Jesus was born some fifteen years before the time assigned, and
that he lived to be nearly, if not quite, fifty years of age.[361:1]
According to Basnage,[361:2] the Jews placed his birth near a century
sooner than the generally assumed epoch. Others have placed it even in
the third century B. C. This belief is founded on a passage in the
"Book of Wisdom,"[361:3] written about 250 B. C., which is supposed to
refer to Christ Jesus, and none other. In speaking of some individual
who lived at that time, it says:
"He professeth to have the knowledge of God, and he calleth
himself the child of the Lord. He was made to reprove our
thoughts. He is grievous unto us even to behold; for his life
is not like other men's, his ways are of another fashion. We
are esteemed of him as counterfeits; he abstaineth from our
ways as from filthiness; he pronounceth the end of the just to
be blessed, and maketh his boast that God is his father. Let
us see if his words be true; and let us prove what shall
happen in the end of him. For if the just man be the son of
God, he (God) will help him, and deliver him from the hand of
his enemies. Let us examine him with despitefulness and
torture, that we may know his meekness, and prove his
patience. Let us condemn him with a shameful death; for by his
own saying he shall be respected."
This is a very important passage. Of course, the church claim it to be a
prophecy of what Christ Jesus was to do and suffer, but this does not
If the writer of the "Gospel according to Luke" is correct, Jesus was
not born until about A. D. 10, for he explicitly tells us that this
event did not happen until Cyrenius was governor of Syria.[361:4] Now it
is well known that Cyrenius was not appointed to this office until long
after the death of Herod (during whose reign the Matthew narrator
informs us Jesus was born[361:5]), and that the taxing spoken of by the
Luke narrator as having taken place at this time, did not take place
until about ten years after the time at which, according to the Matthew
narrator, Jesus was born.[361:6]
Eusebius, the first ecclesiastical historian,[361:7] places his birth at
the time Cyrenius was governor of Syria, and therefore at about A. D.
10. His words are as follows:
"It was the two and fortieth year after the reign of Augustus
the Emperor, and the eight and twentieth year after the
subduing of Egypt, and the death of Antonius and Cleopatra,
when last of all the Ptolemies in Egypt ceased to bear rule,
when our Saviour and Lord Jesus Christ, at the time of the
first taxing--Cyrenius, then President of Syria--was born in
Bethlehem, a city of Judea, according unto the prophecies in
that behalf premised."[362:1]
Had the Luke narrator known anything about Jewish history, he never
would have made so gross a blunder as to place the taxing of Cyrenius in
the days of Herod, and would have saved the immense amount of labor that
it has taken in endeavoring to explain away the effects of his
ignorance. One explanation of this mistake is, that there were two
assessments, one about the time Jesus was born, and the other ten years
after; but this has entirely failed. Dr. Hooykaas, speaking of this,
"The Evangelist (Luke) falls into the most extraordinary
mistakes throughout. In the first place, history is silent as
to a census of the whole (Roman) world ever having been made
at all. In the next place, though Quirinius certainly did make
such a register in Judea and Samaria, it did not extend to
Galilee; so that Joseph's household was not affected by it.
Besides, it did not take place until ten years after the
death of Herod, when his son Archelaus was deposed by the
emperor, and the districts of Judea and Samaria were thrown
into a Roman province. Under the reign of Herod, nothing of
the kind took place, nor was there any occasion for it.
Finally, at the time of the birth of Jesus, the Governor of
Syria was not Quirinius, but Quintus Sentius
The institution of the festival of the Nativity of Christ Jesus being
held on the 25th of December, among the Christians, is attributed to
Telesphorus, who flourished during the reign of Antonius Pius (A. D.
138-161), but the first certain traces of it are found about the time
of the Emperor Commodus (A. D. 180-192).[362:3]
For a long time the Christians had been trying to discover upon what
particular day Jesus had possibly or probably come into the world; and
conjectures and traditions that rested upon absolutely no foundation,
led one to the 20th of May, another to the 19th or 20th of April, and a
third to the 5th of January. At last the opinion of the community at
Rome gained the upper hand, and the 25th of December was fixed
upon.[362:4] It was not until the fifth century, however, that this
day had been generally agreed upon.[362:5] How it happened that this
day finally became fixed as the birthday of Christ Jesus, may be
inferred from what we shall now see.
On the first moment after midnight of the 24th of December (i. e., on
the morning of the 25th), nearly all the nations of the earth, as if by
common consent, celebrated the accouchement of the "Queen of Heaven,"
of the "Celestial Virgin" of the sphere, and the birth of the god
In India this is a period of rejoicing everywhere.[363:1] It is a
great religious festival, and the people decorate their houses with
garlands, and make presents to friends and relatives. This custom is
of very great antiquity.[363:2]
In China, religious solemnities are celebrated at the time of the
winter solstice, the last week in December, when all shops are shut
up, and the courts are closed.[363:3]
Buddha, the son of the Virgin Maya, on whom, according to Chinese
tradition, "the Holy Ghost" had descended, was said to have been born on
Christmas day, December 25th.[363:4]
Among the ancient Persians their most splendid ceremonials were in
honor of their Lord and Saviour Mithras; they kept his birthday, with
many rejoicings, on the 25th of December.
The author of the "Celtic Druids" says:
"It was the custom of the heathen, long before the birth of
Christ, to celebrate the birth-day of their gods," and that,
"the 25th of December was a great festival with the
Persians, who, in very early times, celebrated the birth of
their god Mithras."[363:5]
The Rev. Joseph B. Gross, in his "Heathen Religion," also tells us
"The ancient Persians celebrated a festival in honor of
Mithras on the first day succeeding the Winter Solstice,
the object of which was to commemorate the Birth of
Among the ancient Egyptians, for centuries before the time of Christ
Jesus, the 25th of December was set aside as the birthday of their gods.
M. Le Clerk De Septchenes speaks of it as follows:
"The ancient Egyptians fixed the pregnancy of Isis (the
Queen of Heaven, and the Virgin Mother of the Saviour
Horus), on the last days of March, and towards the end of
December they placed the commemoration of her
Mr. Bonwick, in speaking of Horus, says:
"He is the great God-loved of Heaven. His birth was one of the
greatest mysteries of the Egyptian religion. Pictures
representing it appeared on the walls of temples. One passed
through the holy Adytum[364:1] to the still more sacred
quarter of the temple known as the birth-place of Horus. He
was presumably the child of Deity. At Christmas time, or
that answering to our festival, his image was brought out of
that sanctuary with peculiar ceremonies, as the image of the
infant Bambino[364:2] is still brought out and exhibited in
Rigord observes that the Egyptians not only worshiped a Virgin Mother
"prior to the birth of our Saviour, but exhibited the effigy of her son
lying in the manger, in the manner the infant Jesus was afterwards laid
in the cave at Bethlehem."[364:4]
The "Chronicles of Alexandria," an ancient Christian work, says:
"Watch how Egypt has constructed the childbirth of a Virgin,
and the birth of her son, who was exposed in a crib to the
adoration of the people."[364:5]
Osiris, son of the "Holy Virgin," as they called Ceres, or Neith,
his mother, was born on the 25th of December.[364:6]
This was also the time celebrated by the ancient Greeks as being the
birthday of Hercules. The author of "The Religion of the Ancient
"The night of the Winter Solstice, which the Greeks named
the triple night, was that which they thought gave birth to
He further says:
"It has become an epoch of singular importance in the eyes of
the Christian, who has destined it to celebrate the birth of
the Saviour, the true Sun of Justice, who alone came to
dissipate the darkness of ignorance."[364:8]
Bacchus, also, was born at early dawn on the 25th of December. Mr.
Higgins says of him:
"The birth-place of Bacchus, called Sabizius or Sabaoth, was
claimed by several places in Greece; but on Mount Zelmissus,
in Thrace, his worship seems to have been chiefly celebrated.
He was born of a virgin on the 25th of December, and was
always called the SAVIOUR. In his Mysteries, he was shown to
the people, as an infant is by the Christians at this day, on
Christmas-day morning, in Rome."[364:9]
The birthday of Adonis was celebrated on the 25th of December. This
celebration is spoken of by Tertullian, Jerome, and other Fathers of
the Church,[365:1] who inform us that the ceremonies took place in a
cave, and that the cave in which they celebrated his mysteries in
Bethlehem, was that in which Christ Jesus was born.
This was also a great holy day in ancient Rome. The Rev. Mr. Gross says:
"In Rome, before the time of Christ, a festival was observed
on the 25th of December, under the name of 'Natalis Solis
Invicti' (Birthday of Sol the Invincible). It was a day of
universal rejoicings, illustrated by illuminations and public
games."[365:2] "All public business was suspended,
declarations of war and criminal executions were postponed,
friends made presents to one another, and the slaves were
indulged with great liberties."[365:3]
A few weeks before the winter solstice, the Calabrian shepherds came
into Rome to play on the pipes. Ovid alludes to this when he says:
"Ante Deum matrem cornu tibicen adunco
Cum canit, exiguae quis stipis aera neget."
--(Epist. i. l. ii.)
i. e., "When to the mighty mother pipes the swain,
Grudge not a trifle for his pious strain."
This practice is kept up to the present day.
The ancient Germans, for centuries before "the true Sun of Justice"
was ever heard of, celebrated annually, at the time of the Winter
solstice, what they called their Yule-feast. At this feast agreements
were renewed, the gods were consulted as to the future, sacrifices were
made to them, and the time was spent in jovial hospitality. Many
features of this festival, such as burning the yule-log on
Christmas-eve, still survive among us.[365:4]
Yule was the old name for Christmas. In French it is called Noel,
which is the Hebrew or Chaldee word Nule.[365:5]
The greatest festival of the year celebrated among the ancient
Scandinavians, was at the Winter solstice. They called the night
upon which it was observed, the "Mother-night." This feast was named
Jul--hence is derived the word Yule--and was celebrated in honor of
Freyr (son of the Supreme God Odin, and the goddess Frigga), who was
born on that day. Feasting, nocturnal assemblies, and all the
demonstrations of a most dissolute joy, were then authorized by the
general usage. At this festival the principal guests received
presents--generally horses, swords, battle-axes, and gold rings--at
The festival of the 25th of December was celebrated by the ancient
Druids, in Great Britain and Ireland, with great fires lighted on the
tops of hills.[366:1]
Godfrey Higgins says:
"Stuckley observes that the worship of Mithra was spread all
over Gaul and Britain. The Druids kept this night as a great
festival, and called the day following it Nolagh or Noel, or
the day of regeneration, and celebrated it with great fires on
the tops of their mountains, which they repeated on the day of
the Epiphany or twelfth night. The Mithraic monuments, which
are common in Britain, have been attributed to the Romans, but
this festival proves that the Mithraic worship was there prior
to their arrival."[366:2]
This was also a time of rejoicing in Ancient Mexico. Acosta says:
"In the first month, which in Peru they call Rayme, and
answering to our December, they made a solemn feast called
Capacrayme (the Winter Solstice), wherein they made many
sacrifices and ceremonies, which continued many days."[366:3]
The evergreens, and particularly the mistletoe, which are used all over
the Christian world at Christmas time, betray its heathen origin.
Tertullian, a Father of the Church, who flourished about A. D. 200,
writing to his brethren, affirms it to be "rank idolatry" to deck
their doors "with garlands or flowers, on festival days, according to
the custom of the heathen."[366:4]
This shows that the heathen in those days, did as the Christians do now.
What have evergreens, and garlands, and Christmas trees, to do with
Christianity? Simply nothing. It is the old Yule-feast which was held
by all the northern nations, from time immemorial, handed down to, and
observed at the present day. In the greenery with which Christians deck
their houses and temples of worship, and in the Christmas-trees laden
with gifts, we unquestionably see a relic of the symbols by which our
heathen forefathers signified their faith in the powers of the returning
sun to clothe the earth again with green, and hang new fruit on the
trees. Foliage, such as the laurel, myrtle, ivy, or oak, and in general,
all evergreens, were Dionysiac plants, that is, symbols of the
generative power, signifying perpetuity of youth and vigor.[366:5]
Among the causes, then, that co-operated in fixing this period--December
25th--as the birthday of Christ Jesus, was, as we have seen, that almost
every ancient nation of the earth held a festival on this day in
commemoration of the birth of their virgin-born god.
On this account the Christians adopted it as the time of the birth of
their God. Mr. Gibbon, speaking of this in his "Decline and Fall of
the Roman Empire," says:
"The Roman Christians, ignorant of the real date of his
(Christ's) birth, fixed the solemn festival to the 25th of
December, the Brumalia, or Winter Solstice, when the Pagans
annually celebrated the birth of Sol."[367:1]
And Mr. King, in his "Gnostics and their Remains," says:
"The ancient festival held on the 25th of December in honor of
the 'Birthday of the Invincible One,' and celebrated by the
'great games' at the circus, was afterwards transferred to the
commemoration of the birth of Christ, the precise day of which
many of the Fathers confess was then unknown."[367:2]
St. Chrysostom, who flourished about A. D. 390, referring to this Pagan
"On this day, also, the birth of Christ was lately fixed at
Rome, in order that whilst the heathen were busy with their
profane ceremonies, the Christians might perform their holy
Add to this the fact that St. Gregory, a Christian Father of the third
century, was instrumental in, and commended by other Fathers for,
changing Pagan festivals into Christian holidays, for the purpose,
as they said, of drawing the heathen to the religion of Christ.[367:4]
As Dr. Hooykaas remarks, the church was always anxious to meet the
heathen half way, by allowing them to retain the feasts they were
accustomed to, only giving them a Christian dress, or attaching a new
or Christian signification to them.[367:5]
In doing these, and many other such things, which we shall speak of in
our chapter on "Paganism in Christianity," the Christian Fathers,
instead of drawing the heathen to their religion, drew themselves into
[359:1] See Bible for Learners vol. iii. p. 66; Chambers's Encyclo.,
[359:2] Eccl. Hist., vol. i. p. 53. Quoted in Taylor's Diegesis, p. 104.
[359:3] See Chapter XL., this work.
[359:4] Hebrew and Christian Records, vol. ii. p. 189.
[360:1] Hebrew and Christian Records, p. 194.
[360:2] Life of Christ, vol. i. p. 556.
[360:3] Barnes' Notes, vol. ii. p. 402.
[360:4] Ibid. p. 25.
[360:5] Farrar's Life of Christ, App., pp. 673, 4.
[361:1] Bible Chronology, pp. 73, 74.
[361:2] Hist. de Juif.
[361:3] Chap. ii. 13-20.
[361:4] Luke, ii. 1-7.
[361:5] Matt. ii. 1.
[361:6] See Josephus: Antiq., bk. xviii. ch. i. sec. i.
[361:7] Eusebius was Bishop of Cesarea from A. D. 315 to 340, in which
he died, in the 70th year of his age, thus playing his great part in
life chiefly under the reigns of Constantine the Great and his son
[362:1] Eusebius: Eccl. Hist., lib. 1, ch. vi.
[362:2] Bible for Learners, vol. iii. p. 56.
[362:3] See Chamber's Encyclo., art. "Christmas."
[362:4] See Bible for Learners, vol. iii. p. 66.
[362:5] "By the fifth century, however, whether from the influence of
some tradition, or from the desire to supplant Heathen Festivals of
that period of the year, such as the Saturnalia, the 25th of December
had been generally agreed upon." (Encyclopaedia Brit., art. "Christmas.")
[363:1] See Monier Williams: Hinduism, p. 181.
[363:2] See Prog. Relig. Ideas, vol. i. p. 126.
[363:3] Ibid. 216.
[363:4] See Bunsen: The Angel-Messiah, pp. x.-25, and 110, and Lillie:
Buddha and Buddhism, p. 73.
Some writers have asserted that Crishna is said to have been born on
December 25th, but this is not the case. His birthday is held in
July-August. (See Williams' Hinduism, p. 183, and Life and Religion of
the Hindoos, p. 134.)
[363:5] Celtic Druids, p. 163. See also, Prog. Relig. Ideas, vol. i. p.
272; Monumental Christianity, p. 167; Bible for Learners, iii. pp. 66,
[363:6] The Heathen Religion, p. 287. See also, Dupuis: p. 246.
[363:7] Relig. of the Anct. Greeks, p. 214. See also, Higgins:
Anacalypsis, vol. ii. p. 99.
[364:1] "Adytum"--the interior or sacred part of a heathen temple.
[364:2] "Bambino"--a term used for representations of the infant
Saviour, Christ Jesus, in swaddlings.
[364:3] Bonwick's Egyptian Belief, p. 157. See also, Dupuis, p. 237.
[364:4] "Deinceps Egyptii PARITURAM VIRGINEM magno in honore habuerunt;
quin soliti sunt puerum effingere jacentem in praesepe, quali POSTEA in
Bethlehemetica spelunca natus est." (Quoted in Anacalypsis, p. 102, of
[364:5] Quoted by Bonwick, p. 143.
[364:6] Anacalypsis, vol. ii. p. 99.
[364:7] Relig. Anct. Greece, p. 215.
[364:9] Anacalypsis, vol. ii. p. 102; Dupuis, p. 237, and Baring Gould:
Orig. Relig. Belief, vol. i. p. 322.
[365:1] Anacalypsis, vol. ii. p. 99.
[365:2] The Heathen Religion, p. 287; Dupuis, p. 283.
[365:3] Bulfinch, p. 21.
[365:4] See Bible for Learners, vol. iii. p. 67, and Chambers, art.
[365:5] See Chambers's, art. "Yule," and "Celtic Druids," p. 162.
[365:6] Mallet's Northern Antiquities, pp. 110 and 355. Knight: p. 87.
[366:1] Dupuis, 160; Celtic Druids, and Monumental Christianity, p. 167.
[366:2] Anacalypsis, vol. ii. p. 99.
[366:3] Hist. Indies, vol. ii. p. 354.
[366:4] See Middleton's Works, vol. i. p. 80.
[366:5] Knight: Anct. Art and Mytho., p. 82.
[367:1] Gibbon's Rome, vol. ii. p. 383.
[367:2] King's Gnostics, p. 49.
[367:3] Quoted in Ibid.
[367:4] See the chapter on "Paganism in Christianity."
[367:5] Bible for Learners, vol. iii. p. 67.
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