The Rejection of Pascal's Wager
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The Date of Jesus' Birth

The issues and uncertainties surrounding Jesus' supposed birth date(s) of Jesus are interesting:

Four Separate Year-of-Births

The discussions about Herod and Quirinius should show why the date of Jesus' birth cannot be establish with any certainty. If Jesus was born during the reign of Herod the Great then it must before or around 4 BCE. If he was born during the Roman census, then it must have been in 6 CE.

These two dates are not the only discrepancies in determining the birthdate of Jesus. Luke stated that Jesus was about thirty years old when he began to preach (Luke 3:23) and that was during the "fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberias Caesar" (Luke 3:1). Now we know that Augustus Caesar died in 14 CE and that Tiberias was his successor. Thus the fifteenth year of his reign would be around 29 or 30 CE. This sets his birthdate around 1 BCE or 1 CE.

In John we have a passage that implies that Jesus was close to fifty years old during the time of his ministry:

John 8:57 RSV
The Jews then said to him, "You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?"

There is nothing symbolic about the number (or age) fifty. Thus it is likely that John meant the passage to show that Jesus was in his (probably late) forties. This will bring the birthdate of Jesus to slightly after 20 BCE.

In the references above we have four different birthdates of Jesus:

  • c20 BCE (John)
  • c4 BCE (Matthew and Luke)
  • c1 BCE or c1 CE (Luke)
  • 6 CE (Luke).

These dates gives a discrepancy of more than a quarter of a century! So much for Biblical inerrancy.

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The Bungling Monk

Our present system of counting years BC and AD (or the more modern-and secular- rendition BCE and CE: "before common era" and "common era") was first established by a Scythian monk named Dionysius The Less (Dionysius Exiguus) who lived in Rome during the sixth century CE.

Around the year 534 CE, Dionysius, aptly titled "The Less", based his calculations entirely on Luke 3:1 and Luke 3:23. He allowed for one year to pass between the commencement of John the Baptist's and Jesus'' respective ministries. This makes Jesus' preaching start around the sixteenth year of Tiberius Caesar's reign which he set at 30 CE with Jesus being 30 years old (Dionysius ignored Luke's about) then. So 1 CE became the year of Jesus' birth.

The monk did not make any cross referencing with the other gospels, nor did he have any external; means of fixing the date of Herod's death and the Judean census. Of course, he wouldn't have thought he needed to, as the gospels cannot in his belief contain any errors. So thanks to a bungling Christian monk we now figure our dates by BCE and CE with the year 1 CE actually based on an event of uncertain date!

Part of the current confusion about when the new millenium actually starts, at 2000 or 2001, was due to the fact that Dionysius started counting from the time of Jesus birth as 1 CE . Had there been a 0 CE, the new millenium would start at 2000 and not 2001 as is the case. [a] Of course, this is one issue where we should not be too harsh on Dionysius. The concept of zero as a number would not have been known to him at that time. Even the Hindus and Arabs did not develop the concept of zero in a complete way until around the late eighth or ninth centuries and the idea was not introduced into Europe until much later.[1]

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The Pagan Origins of Christmas

The next piece of fact should probably no longer come as a surprise to the reader: Jesus was not born on December 25th. Neither Luke nor Matthew gave any indication of Jesus' actual birthday. Like many things Christian, the origin of this date comes from the celebration of the pagan religions which nascent Christianity had to compete against. Here too, wee see Christianity assimilating portions of paganisms into its structure.

December 25th was the date of the winter solstice [b] After this, the winter, having reached its peak, slowly gives way to spring. The winter solstice therefore, had been traditionally in Roman times, a period of unrestrained celebration. The celebration was called the Dies Natalis Solis Invicti or "the birthday of the unconquered sun." In the pagan religion of Mithraism, which was a form of sun-worship, the winter solstice was naturally an occasion of great celebration. The worship of Sol Invictus, the Sun God, became so popular that by AD274, the Roman Emperor Aurelian (c212-275) gave official sanction to December 25th as the birthday of that God.

Christianity in it battle with the pagan religions for converts slowly assimilated their celebrations and beliefs. Christmas day became one of the assimilated celebrations. By the year 354 we already have documents referring to December 25th as the birthday of Jesus. By 440 Christians were celebrating the winter solstice as the birthday of Jesus. By the sixth century, during the reign of Emperor Justinian (527-565), it had become recognized as an official Christian holiday. [2]

In early on Christianity there were fierce debates about whether December 25th of January 6th should be celebrated as the birthday of Jesus. Why January 6th? January 6th was celebrated in ancient Alexandria as -you guessed it! - the birthday of Osiris-Dionysius. The Armenian church still celebrates January 6th as Christmas to this day. [3]

Thus one of the most important dates in the Christian calender, like so many portions of the Jesus story, is an assimilated pagan celebration.

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a.If there was a year 0 CE, the first millenium would be from year 0 to 999, that would be 1000 years. The second millenium would be from year 1000 to 1999. Making 2000, the new millenium. However with no year 0 CE, the first thousand years is from year 1 to 1000, thus making 1001 the first year of the new millenium. And 2001, the beginning of the next.

b.By the old Roman calendar, in our new slightly modified calendar, the winter solstice falls on December 21


1.Asimov, Guide to the Bible: p937
Asimov, Book of Facts: p372-373
Craveri, The Life of Jesus: p44
Guignebert, Jesus: p103
Gould, Questioning the Millenium: p109
2.Asimov, Guide to the Bible: p931-932
Asimov, Book of Facts: p370
Craveri, The Life of Jesus: p47
Keller, The Bible As History: p338
3.Freke & Candy: The Jesus Mysteries: p41

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