Rabbi’s Reflections – Sunday, December 22, 2019 

Shavuah Tov *|FNAME|*,  

Many thanks to Raymond Finney for another excellent RR.  Thank you also for my Shabbat rest that I’ve been enjoying since you started writing on Sunday.  You are a blessing to us all.

When Was Yeshua Born?

INTRODUCTION: Many Believers celebrate December 25 (Christmas) as the day Yeshua  was born. Continuing from the December 15 RR, I offer a few thoughts about Yeshua’s birth. 

If you read this RR, I suggest two things:

** The RR is didactic, tedious, and lengthy. Even so, I have only scratched the surface of this event. (Will a cup of coffee help you from nodding off?)

** I remind myself of the general who jumped on his horse and rode off in all directions. I realize I ramble (careen?) from one topic to another. Saddle up. You may find one of these directions is worth riding alongside with me. 

ETYMOLOGY OF CHRISTMAS: Believers develop different views. Some say Christmas was named by the Roman Catholic Church from Middle English Cristemasse, in turn from Old English Cristes-messe (translation = “Christ’s Mass.”) Others say the “-mas” in Christmas comes from the Latin missa (“something that has been sent”), but feminine missa is not properly linked to a Man’s name); or, comes from the Latin missio (“dismissal,” because the Catholic Mass is concluded with the Latin Ite, missa est– “Go, the dismissal is made”); or, from the Hebrew missah (“unleavened bread” or “matzah” which is part of the Communion meal ordered by Yeshua).

Christmas may be abbreviated as Xmas. Some conspiracists believe this abbreviation is a blasphemous attempt to remove the Christ from Christmas. Of course, some people do purposefully replace “Christ” with “X” (X = unknown, missing). Abbreviation defenders point to the New Testament Greek spelling of the Christ– Chi, rho, iota, sigma, tau, omicron, sigma. Ho Christos (Greek = the Christ) and HaMashiach (Hebrew = the Messiah) are the same titles for the same Man, Yeshua, both translating to “the Anointed One (of God).” The first letter of Christos, Chi, is pronounced in East Tennessee as Kai (long “i”), but was probably pronounced by ancient Greeks as Hee, with a slight guttural opening sound, as in “challah.”

The Greeks wrote Chi as two crossed lines, identical to our letter “X.” Greek chi becomes a “ch” sound in spoken English. Chi (X) was written as a substitute for Christos (Christ) as early as AD 1100. So, people who write “Christmas” as “Xmas” are probably not automatically destined to Hell for blasphemy.

LITTLE INFORMATION ABOUT YESHUA’S BIRTH: In our culture, birthdays are often major events (parties, gifts, nice song at Shomair, and so forth). Do you find it strange that so little is known about Yeshua’s birthday? First-century Jews apparently did not celebrate birthdays. First-century historian Flavius Josephus wrote in Against Apion, Book II, Chapter 26: “Nay, indeed, the law does not permit us to make festivals at the birth of our children, and thereby afford occasion of drinking to excess.”

New Testament authors, who wrote extensively about Yeshua, add little clarification about His birth. These authors were interested in Yeshua’s actions and words, but not personal issues (birthday, appearance, and so forth). 

OUR CALENDAR: I will piece together my understanding of the information we have about Yeshua’s birth. I first review proper designations for calendar dates:

** BC = Before Christ.

** Year Zero? The BC and AD designations might imply that Yeshua was born on Year Zero, and all years before this were BC. There is no Year Zero. 1 BC passes directly into AD 1.

** AD = is not After Death, as some erroneously state. AD abbreviates a Latin phrase, Anno Domini (translation = “Year of the Lord”). If, as some believe, Yeshua was born on 1 BC and died on AD 1, He would have been a newborn infant when crucified.

** BCE = Before the Common Era. Those who refuse to accept the Christ (the Messiah) – Muslims, atheists, academics, and others– peg our modern dates to Before the Common Era (BCE), rather than Before Christ (BC).

** CE = Common Era. Those who refuse to accept the Christ (the Messiah) peg our modern dates to Common Era, rather than the AD designation.

** BC, BCE, AD, and BCE may be correctly written with or without periods (example: BC or B.C.). I believe most authors write BC after the year and AD before the year (examples: 4 BC and AD 2019).

** ca = associated with a date, abbreviates the Latin circa = approximately (example: ca AD 33 would read, “In the Year of the Lord, approximately 33”).

YESHUA’S BIRTH YEAR: The year of Yeshua’s birth is unknown. A few Bible verses offer clues, although I will ramble getting there. (Time for more coffee?)

** Clue: In Luke 2:1-2, we learn the reason Joseph was required to take his family to Bethlehem. He was following Roman law to be registered in the census. This census occurred by decree of Caesar Augustus, when Quirinius governed Syria. Caesar Augustus’ reign extended from 27 BC until AD 14. 

One known census was ordered by Quirinius in AD 6-7. This census is too late to mark Yeshua’s birth. Critics point out that no known census occurred in the time period thought to represent Yeshua’s birth. The wording of Luke 2:2 may provide an explanation, however. This verse reads (my capitalization): This census FIRST took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. “First,” here, translates the Greek protos, which may indicate first in time or first in sequential order. Is Luke telling us that the census, which occurred at the time of Yeshua’s birth, was the first (protos) census (ca 6-4 BC), which occurred approximately ten years before a later, better-known census (ca AD 6-7)? 

** Clues: The story of Yeshua’s birth is beautiful in several ways. He was born to a very poor, betrothed couple– a young carpenter, just beginning his craft, and a teenage mother. Why was Yeshua not born into royalty (Herod’s household), so that He would fulfill His destiny as King of kings (Revelation 19:16)? Why was Yeshua not born into the High Priest’s household, so that He would fulfill His destiny as our eternal High Priest on the order of Melchizedek (Hebrews 7:21)? Instead, He was born into this very poor, working class family. The father and mother of this family were nondescript, except in God’s eyes. 

Joseph and Mary may have been a family of “nobodies” in Jewish society, but they were highly exalted in God’s eyes. How beautiful it is that God chose common folk for such an uncommon birth. He was telling common folk, such as we are, that He loves us and considers us most valuable and precious children!

Another beautiful act is that the angel of the Lord (God’s messenger) announced Yeshua’s birth to shepherds (Luke 2:8-11– continuing for several more verses): Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them,…. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. “For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” [“City of David” = Bethlehem]

The announcement was made to shepherds. Yeshua called Himself the Shepherd of His people. He likened people to straying, leaderless sheep in need of a Shepherd (see Matthew 9:36, John 10:11). Others called Yeshua the Good or Chief Shepherd (see 1 Peter 5:4, Hebrews 13:20). In first-century Jewish society, few jobs were less regarded or respected than shepherding. Shepherds were young boys and men too inept to do anything else in the community. Sitting on a hillside watching sheep graze is not the most demanding job imaginable.

This account is important in the timing of Yeshua’s birth, as Luke tells us (Luke 2:8): Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 

Shepherds may have had simple, disregarded jobs, but they were not stupid and they had feelings. Shepherds would not have been living outside in the hills of Israel on December 25. It would be miserably wet and cold for sheep and shepherds alike. Grass forage for the sheep would be poor. The reality is: sheep would be secured in pens and shepherds would be gathered around fires in their homes. A reasonable person would discount a December 25 birth of Yeshua. 

** Other clues: Other clues have been proposed.

>> Saturnalia: Church fathers were apparently influenced to incorporate a popular Roman pagan festival, Saturnalia, into the birth of Yeshua. For more information, see: https://www.britannica.com/topic/Saturnalia-Roman-festival .  

In early Colonial America, Puritans banned celebration of Christmas because of its early connection with pagan Saturnalia. Sidetrack: Of course, many Eastern religions (Hinduism, Shintoism, etc.) are not Christian and avoid Christmas. In America, major religious groups that do not celebrate Christmas include: Scientology, Judaism, Islam, Wicca, Buddhism, and Jehovah’s Witness.

>> Other views: Others disagree with this Saturnalia explanation, noting that the first reference to December 25 as Yeshua’s birthday came from Sextus Julius Africanus (ca AD 160 – ca AD 240). Hippolytus of Rome also wrote (in ca AD 235) that Yeshua was born on December 25. Such dates, established by counting generations from the time of creation to Yeshua, have multiple errors.

>> Zacharias: Zacharias, the father of John the Baptizer, was a Temple priest of the division of Abijah (see Luke 1:5). The Jews’ disrupted history (Babylonian exile, etc.) makes it difficult to determine when Zacharias would have served  Temple duty. If these dates were known, we could more accurately date the births of John and Yeshua. Zacharias’ wife Elizabeth (NT Greek = Elisabet), the mother of John the Baptizer, was in her sixth month of pregnancy, when Gabriel informed Mary that she would conceive and bear Yeshua, Immanuel (see Luke 1:36). John the Baptizer, then, would have been approximately six months older than Yeshua. (Incidentally, Yeshua and John were second cousins, through first cousins Mary and Elizabeth. The births of John and Yeshua were both miraculous. John the Baptizer was the one who announced Yeshua’s ministry.)

Some have been more specific, stating: When Zacharias was ministering in the Temple, he received an announcement from God of a coming son. The eighth course of Abijah, when he ministered, was the week of Sivan 12 to 18. Adding forty weeks for the usual pregnancy reveals that this son, John the Baptizer, was born on or about Passover (in Nisan). We know six months after John’s conception, Mary conceived Yeshua (see Luke 1:26-33). Yeshua would have been conceived six months later (in the month of Kislev). Hanukkah occurs in Kislev. Was the “Light of the world” conceived during the festival of lights (Hanukkah)? A December conception could fit with a birth the following Fall.

>> Influence of the Emperor Constantine I: The first and second centuries AD  were horrific for Christians. The Roman Empire was in chaos and financial distress. Roman emperors needed to distract the people to maintain civil order. One distraction was to make Christians the scapegoats for the Roman Empire’s woes (as Hitler made the Jews the scapegoats for Germany in 1933-1945). Civil war, led by opposing men (Maxentius and Constantine), was imminent in the Spring of AD 312. Constantine was advancing his army toward Maxentius, who enjoyed well-fortified positions with many legionnaires and weapons in Rome. 

While camped with his army in Gaul (some say just outside of Rome), Constantine said he envisioned a large cross in the sky. Underneath the cross was written, “In this sign, conquer” (or, “By this, conquer”).

Constantine added Yeshua to the Roman pantheon. He and his soldiers became Christ-followers. They painted crosses on their shields. Going to battle, they were victorious, which Constantine attributed to Yeshua. Anti-Christian persecution ceased, which was good. The fledgling Roman Church merged with the Roman government, becoming the Roman Catholic Church, which was bad (in my opinion). Church fathers tried to please both God and civil authorities. 

Pleasing both God and man can lead to strange doctrines. Even today, Vatican City is considered a nation and actively engages (meddles?) in the affairs of nations. Recall Matthew 22:21b: … And [Yeshua] said to them, “Render therefore to Caesar [the government] the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Yeshua also warned of not trying to serve two masters, which I believe could apply both to the Church, if it asserts it is the substitute for God, and to government. I paraphrase Matthew 6:24 for purpose of this RR: [Yeshua said] “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve the Church [paraphrased for God] and government [paraphrased for mammon].” 

What does this have to do with Yeshua’s birth? The Romans worshiped a pantheon (many gods and goddesses). A favorite god of Constantine and the patron god of Roman soldiers was Mithra (Mithras). Mithra, the Roman sun god, was depicted in statues as wearing a spiked crown, the spikes representing sun beams. His birthday was said to be December 25. This date was the first date the ancients could be certain the winter solstice was complete– that is, the sun had completed its “travel” to the south and would again journey north to bring warmth and favorable agricultural conditions. 

The winter solstice is usually December 21, but for several days the sun’s southerly descent cannot be considered completed by naked eye observation. By December 25, astronomers of the day could confidently announce that summer is returning (that is, the sun god has been “reborn”). The Romans borrowed these thoughts from Sol Invictus (the “Unconquered Sun/ Invincible Sun”), a Syrian god who was later adopted as the chief god of the Roman Empire under Emperor Aurelian. Sol Invictus’ birthday was traditionally celebrated on December 25 (the day that he was reborn for another year).

Did the merging of the Catholic Church and Roman mythology cause Mithra’s or Sol Invictus’ birthday (December 25) to become Yeshua’s birthday?

WHAT CAN WE BELIEVE? Many believe that Yeshua was born during one of the Fall Feasts of Israel. The time frame of September – early October (birth) to Passover (death) would be a half year, added to another three full years, would  account for the time (three and a half years) many believe Yeshua ministered. 

Many suggest the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot) is a favorite candidate for Yeshua’s birth. Well-regarded Bible scholar Matthew Henry wrote (my expansion with full Scripture quotations): “It is supposed by many that our blessed Saviour was born much about the time of this holiday [Sukkot]; then He left his mansions of light above to tabernacle among us (John 1:14), and he dwelt in booths. And the worship of God under the New Testament is prophesied of under the notion of keeping the Feast of Tabernacles perpetually (Zechariah 14:16): “And it shall come to pass that everyone who is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles.”

Henry continues: “The author of Hebrews may have also given a hint (Hebrews 13:13-14): Therefore let us go forth to [Yeshua], outside the camp, bearing His reproach. For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come.” (Note: Does “no continuing city” suggest living in wilderness booths? Is New Jerusalem the “city… we seek… to come?” Because of Yeshua’s birth, death, and resurrection, we have the Blessed Hope of eternal life in Heaven.)

In the first chapter of John, the Apostle importantly attempted to explain that “the Word” (Yeshua) was one with God. This “Word” came to dwell among us (see John 1:14). The Greek word for “dwell among us” is skenoo, which translates to “fix one’s tabernacle, have one’s tabernacle, abide (or live) in a tabernacle (or tent), tabernacle; to dwell.” The concept of Sukkot is living in booths and worshiping in tabernacles, as did Moses and the Israelites many centuries ago.

THE CALENDAR DAY OF YESHUA’S BIRTH: After two RRs, I have no definitive answer to the date of Yeshua’s birth. The birth was almost certainly not December 25. Probably the best guesstimate is that Yeshua was born during Sukkot in the range of 6 – 4 BC. 

THE SIGNIFICANCE OF YESHUA’S BIRTH: I do not need to tell a Believer about the significance of Yeshua’s birth. As you know:

God exists in three Persons– Father, Son, Holy Spirit. Two Persons– Father and Holy Spirit– are spirits and are invisible to the human eye. The Godhead determined that God must visit earth to teach divine ways and to become the perfect sacrifice for man’s sins. The second Person of the Godhead– Yeshua– assumed human form and became visible to the human eye. 

The manifestations of the three Persons of God– Father, Son, Holy Spirit– directly correspond to the three parts of humans– mind (Father), body (Son), spirit (Holy Spirit).

While living among mankind, Yeshua experienced the pain, doubts, sorrows, discomforts, and other trials humans experience. These trials were prophesied in Isaiah, chapter 53, the Suffering Servant chapter. Mankind’s trials were probably emphasized to Yeshua shortly before His crucifixion, through Yeshua’s three anguished prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-45).

Yeshua had to be born through what skeptics call an “impossible birth.” His birth was impossible for standard (natural) biologic processes, because it was supernatural. Yeshua’s birth was a creative miracle of God. If God can create the Universe, He certainly can create a baby in a virgin’s womb. (See prophecies of Daniel and Isaiah in the December 15 RR). If Yeshua had been born to a woman who was not a virgin, the obvious claim would be that Mary was just another teenage mom who got pregnant while cheating on Joseph. 

TWO BLASPHEMOUS CLAIMS: Satan, through his earthly demons and useful idiots, is constantly trying to tear down the Trinity, including Yeshua. I include two blasphemous allegations in order to speak against them and to encourage you to be ready to do the same:

** Lying allegation 1: Enemies of God (Satan’s demons) blasphemously allege that Yeshua did not have God as His Father. Instead, the Virgin Mary was a promiscuous teenager who became impregnated by a man in her village, quite possibly an unidentified Roman soldier. 

** Lying allegation 2: Enemies of God (Satan’s demons) blasphemously allege that the Virgin Mary was not impregnated supernaturally (a miracle of creation) by the will of the Holy Spirit, as the Bible claims. Rather these blasphemous enemies of Yeshua claim that God visited earth and raped Mary.

You should find these two allegations repulsive. I include them to show how the mind of Satan works. John heard a voice in Heaven, saying something about Satan that could apply to us today (Revelation 12:12b): “… Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea! For the devil [Satan] has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time.” As Satan’s time draws to a close, he WILL attack God, Yeshua, Jews, Believers, and Christians– and you– with increased fervor. We have the warning of Yeshua, prophets, and apostles that the attack is coming. Sitting in a congregation, wringing hands, and sweetly singing about Yeshua will not stop this monster. You can survive Satan’s attacks only by fighting this demonic horror fearlessly and standing with Yeshua. 

I believe we are approaching the end of time. If I know and believe this, Satan knows even more that he has only a short time. Expect Satan and his demons to kill, lie, and steal from us at every turn. I see and hear things in news reports today that would have been impermissible a few decades ago. The news media, Hollywood crowd, politicians, academics, many churches, and much of society in general have turned against Yeshua and those who worship Him. Expect an onslaught of lying wonders of the Unholy Trinity (2 Thessalonians 2:9), the closer we get to the return of the Lord.

A REMNANT MUST ARISE: God will NOT use most Christians/ Believers to fight Satan in the last days. He has always used a small number– a remnant– for His purposes. Pray that you will have the honor to be included in the small remnant tasked with taking a stand against Satan. Shalom and Maranatha.