As Christmas approaches, debate often arises over when exactly Jesus was born. Did the Nativity really happen during winter in Bethlehem 2,020 years ago? Recent research by a group of Italian researchers suggests that it did.
Liberato De Caro, Ph.D., of the Institute of Crystallography of the National Research Council in Bari, Italy, who led the research, proposes that the date of Jesus’ birth can be ascertained through an understanding of the Jewish pilgrimages that took place at that time, and how their connections with Mary’s visit to Elizabeth — and Mary’s reaction to Elizabeth expecting John the Baptist, and the death of Herod the Great — point to the date of Jesus’ birth taking place in December 1 BC.
He explains his findings in this interview with the Register, the first of a series with De Caro, who has also investigated astronomical evidence of a Star of Bethlehem visible at the time of Jesus’ birth, and the true date of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection.
Dr. De Caro, your research has shown that there are valid historical, calendar and astronomical reasons to place the Nativity during the winter of 1 BC. Can you explain how you came to this empirical conclusion?
My studies on the chronology of Jesus’ life are the result of a fruitful collaboration with Prof. Fernando La Greca, of the Department of Humanistic Studies at the University of Salerno.
First of all, it is useful to recall that the Hebrew calendar is lunisolar. Twelve lunar months last 11 days less than a solar year, so 11 days times three equals about a month. Therefore, to realign the Hebrew calendar with the seasons, it is needed to add a 13th month about every three years, at the end of the year, that falls in early spring. The year with 13 months is called “embolismic.”
As well as this premise, it is also important to remember that a historical reconstruction of the events that happened in the life of Jesus is not the main reason why the Gospels were written. Nevertheless, they contain very compelling chronological information. Think, for example, of the birth of Jesus at the beginning of winter. How can this information be deduced directly from the canonical Gospels? When you think about it, if the chronological record in the Lucanian Gospel that Elizabeth was pregnant in the sixth month, at the time of the Annunciation, is related to the temporal frequency of the pilgrimage feasts in Jerusalem, this becomes very important regarding the possible period of the year when Jesus would have been born.
In fact, three pilgrimages took place: one at Passover, another at [Jewish] Pentecost (50 days after Passover) and the third at the Feast of the Tabernacles (six months after Passover). Therefore, the maximum period that could elapse between two successive pilgrimages was six months — from the Feast of the Tabernacles to the following Passover — or seven months according to embolismic years. Luke notes how Joseph and Mary were pilgrims in accordance with the Mosaic Law (Luke 2:41), which required a pilgrimage to Jerusalem on the three feasts previously mentioned.
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