Joseph Cotto, 11/29/2016 [Archive]

Is December 25 Really the Birthday of Jesus?

Is December 25 Really the Birthday of Jesus?

By Joseph Cotto

It is that special time of the year once again. America -- or at least most of it -- comes together so the birth of humanity's savior can be celebrated.

Before the festivities kick off, however, a few questions deserve consideration.

Just how do we know that December 25th, is Jesus Christ's birthday? How do we know he was the product of an immaculate conception? Furthermore, how might we say with certainty he even existed?

Such hard-edged queries are almost certainly unwelcome in most quarters; especially during the Christmas season. For the sociopolitical -- and by that virtue historical -- realist like myself, this is an open invitation for discussion. When defensiveness comes into play, fear reigns and the best antidote is cold, hard truth's liberation.

"The date of December 25th is not in the Gospels but was chosen by later theologians to mimic the birth of Sol [Invictus], a well-known Roman sun god," Joseph Atwill, the bestselling author of 'Caesar's Messiah', tells me. He maintains that Jesus was invented by Roman authorities to pacify domestic rebellion. "December 25th was the day the ancients believed that sunlight began to grow longer following the winter solstice."

Dr. Richard Carrier, who wrote the peer-reviewed 'On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt', disagrees with Atwill, yet does not believe a familiar story -- one which holds that Jesus was born to a young woman, Mary, and her carpenter husband, Joseph, in a Bethlehem manger during present-day Israel's winter census.

"It's built out of scripture and lore and symbolism," Carrier explains to me. "And the story was changed according to what each author wanted to say. We can't always know what they were thinking or intending, since most of that information has been lost to history. But we can detect plausible thinking in some of it. Just as we can for everything in the Gospel narratives widely agreed to be fabricated, like the scene of Jesus walking on water or murdering thousands of pigs."

Atwill says that "(t)he name of [Jesus's] mother 'Mary' was Roman humor. 'Mary' is the name of every female character central to Jesus' ministry" such as "Mary, the mother of Jesus", "Mary Magdalene", "Mary, the sister of Lazarus and Martha of Bethany", "Mary of Cleophas, the mother of James the less", "Mary, the mother of John Mark, a sister of Barnabas", and "Martha, the sister of Lazarus and Mary of Bethany".

He continues: "Martha, Lazarus' sister, is on this list because Martha is the Aramaic approximation of the Hebrew name Mary. The names both stem from the word for rebellion. Martha is Aramaic for 'she was rebellious' and Mary is Hebrew for 'their rebellion.'"

What about Jesus being conceived minus, well, the usual methodology?

Carrier specifies that, like Catholics, Protestants "believe Mary was a virgin all the way through the birth of Jesus. They only diverge from the Catholics in allowing Mary to have had sex afterward, thus producing Jesus's brothers in the normal way., Whereas the Catholics instead invented the legend that the brothers of Jesus were by a different woman (also conveniently named Mary), maybe from a previous marriage to Joseph.

"The reason they differ on that obscure point is that the Catholics were more disturbed by the mere notion of the mother of their god ever having had sex than most of the Protestants were. The earliest Christian scholars debated many theories of whether Mary ever had sex and only sort of settled on the answer being no sometime in the Middle Ages."

Atwill points out that, as far as the Gospels are concerned, "(v)irgin births were common for gods during this era and the authors included this detail simply to give the impression the character Jesus Christ was divine."

Then there is the matter of historical data establishing Jesus's existence -- or lack thereof. Said topic is complicated as it is controversial. We have been through enough for now; some things are better left for another day.

Heaven knows there is much more worth bringing to the table!


Copyright 2016 Joseph Cotto, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Joseph Cotto is a historical and social journalist, and writes about politics, economics and social issues. Email him at

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