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Myth of the Lambing Season (Part 5 of 5)

We’re finishing our conversation with Dr. Jeff Chadwick, a New Testament scholar at BYU.  We’ll talk about what he calls, the myth of the lambing season.  How cold is it in Israel in December?

Jeff:  The average day in Jerusalem in December and January is partly cloudy with green grass and jacket temperatures, nothing like the winters of Utah and Idaho. That brings up another thing and this is what I call the myth of the lambing season.

GT: Oh really?

Jeff:  Yeah, because, you know, the idea that Jesus was born in the Spring, was not unique to Latter-day Saints in the 1800’s. Others were suggesting this as well. Protestant writers in America familiar with freezing North American winters, because they were usually from New England or somewhere like that, couldn’t imagine how shepherds could be in the fields abiding by their flocks in December, “Aww, just much too cold. No shepherd could be out with his flocks in December,” they ruled. So, it must be in the springtime because spring is when the lambs are born and since Jesus was the lamb of God, that’s when he would have been born, too, is in the spring. This, of course, plays in really well with the tradition among the Latter-day Saints that Jesus was born in April. The problem is it’s an entire falsity. The reason why is that shepherds did and still do go out with their flocks all Winter long.

I have stood in the fields outside of Bethlehem on several Christmas Eves because I get to be there from time to time and the shepherds are out there with their sheep and little lambs have been born already in December. They don’t wait. Now here in our climate, just because of the way that the lambs and the sheep bear, they’ll wait until it’s a little warmer and they’ll lamb in March and April. But that’s not the way that it works in the holy land because the climate doesn’t require it. Biology works partially because of its climate.

We’ll also talk about what projects he is working on.  Check out our conversation…

Would shepherds really be in their fields in December?  Isn't it too cold for that?
Would shepherds really be in their fields in December? Isn’t it too cold for that?

Check out our other conversations with Dr. Chadwick!

234: Is Christmas a Celebration of Sun? (Chadwick)

233: How Jesus’s Death Relates to his Birth Date (Chadwick)

231: Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith, & Birth of Christ (Chadwick)

229: Was Jesus Born in December? (Chadwick)

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Is Christmas a Celebration of Sun? (Part 4 of 5)

Many people have said that Dec. 25 is an old Roman holiday celebrating the Sun in the sky.  Did the Catholic Church co-opt this holiday for their own religious purposes, or are there reasons to believe Jesus might have been born in December?  Dr. Jeffrey Chadwick, New Testament scholar at BYU answers that question.

GT:  So do Catholics believe Jews was born in December?

Jeff: Yes.

GT:  Really?

Jeff:  Well, you know what Christmas means? Christ’s mass. They traditionally date Jesus’ birth to December.

GT:  I’ve always heard the Christmas came about because it was a pagan holiday of the Sun God, and it was December 25th. Was there some Roman [holiday]….

Jeff:  Well, this is certainly true. December 25th was Sol Invictus in the Roman pagan notion. But the Roman Empire became Christian right, by the fourth century. Particularly when Constantine comes in there, Christianity becomes even the preferred religion. But long before that, the notion that Jesus had been born in early winter existed within Christianity. The problem, I think, is that they didn’t know just when. The reason for this is that by the end of the second century, Christianity had become totally Gentile rather than Jewish, which was the way Christianity started out.

We will talk further about early Catholic/Christian beliefs about Christmas.  Dr. Chadwick doesn’t think it’s a problem that Christians re-appropriated a pagan holiday.  What do you think?  Check out our conversation….

Did early Christians appropriate a pagan holiday for Christmas? Do Catholics really believe Jesus was born in December?
Did early Christians appropriate a pagan holiday for Christmas? Do Catholics really believe Jesus was born in December?

Check out our other conversations about the first Christmas!

 

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The Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith, and Birth of Christ (Part 2 of 5)

We’re continuing our conversation with Dr. Jeffrey Chadwick, New Testament scholar at BYU.  We’ll talk about why Book of Mormon helps date birth of Christ.  We’ll also talk about critics who complain that it says Jesus was born at Jerusalem.  How does Dr. Chadwick respond to that charge?

Jeff:  Bethlehem is just five miles south of ancient Jerusalem in terms of a town in a town. Today. Bethlehem is to Jerusalem the lead the way Orem is to Provo. If there weren’t a political barrier there, because Israeli territory separates from Palestinian territory, you wouldn’t know you were crossing from Jerusalem to Bethlehem today. They’re literally that close. But they were five miles separate anciently. But Bethlehem was easily described in ancient texts as being in the district or county of Jerusalem or what Nephi himself calls, the Land of Jerusalem. In Alma 7:10, it does say Jesus was born at Jerusalem, the land of our forefathers. So, it is referring to Jerusalem as a land instead of a city. In other words, someone is born in Salt Lake County. Whether he’s in Salt Lake City or whether he’s in…

GT: Sandy or Herriman…

Jeff:   …somewhere else there. Well, if you’re born in the land of Jerusalem, you’re in the vicinity there. There are some ancient texts that do refer to, we think, to Bethlehem as being in the land of Jerusalem, including some Egyptian texts. So, there’s nothing wrong with that.

GT:  So Egyptian texts say he was born in Jerusalem?

Jeff: No, not that. They say that Bethlehem is a town in the district or Land of Jerusalem. One of the el Amarna texts, which actually dates long before 600 BC, notes, Bethlehem, a town in the Land of Jerusalem. So, it was not unusual in ancient times to refer to Bethlehem, if you had any reason to refer to it, as a town in the Land of Jerusalem. Alma 7:10 has never been one of those things that I’ve lost any sleep over. There are plenty of things you have to work to describe in scripture, but that one is not a problem.

We’ll also answer other questions, like this: Didn’t Joseph Smith say Jesus was born on April 6th?

Jeff: Joseph Smith made no statement on the timing of the birth of Christ. What Joseph Smith did was dictate the language of Doctrine and Covenants, section 20. But Doctrine and Covenants, section 20, verse one, which says that the church was established on the sixth day of April 1830 years after the coming of the Lord in the flesh. [This] was to note within the calendaring system, accepted at that time and still in ours, the date of the founding of the Latter-Day Saint Church, not the date of Jesus’ birth, in saying, and by the way, this is J. Reuben Clark in his book, ‘Our Lord of the Gospels,’ which was another Latter-Day Saint commentary on the life of Christ, which appeared 50 years after Brother Talmage’s. Brother Clark took the position that Doctrine and Covenants section 20 verse one is not giving the imprimatur of accuracy to our current calendar. That what Doctrine Covenant Section 20 verse one is simply doing is saying the church was established on April 6 in the year we generally refer to as 1830, the year of our Lord. That’s all, not more or less. In elder Bruce R. McConkie’s series called ‘The Mortal Messiah,’ he actually asks kind of in an end note to one of his chapters, what was the year of Jesus’ birth. Then after saying this is a question about which the learned delight to debate, he goes ahead and debates it. What he does is he states what Elder Talmage’s position was in Jesus the Christ where he used Doctrine and Covenant section 20, verse one to suggest that Jesus was born on April 6th, 1830 years before the church was founded, but then he also points out what President J. Reuben Clark said, which was that gospel scholarship in general throughout Christianity, based on historical documents available, particularly about the life of Herod the Great and about Roman dating, would say that Herod died in 4 BC and Jesus’ birth must be prior to that. Brother Clark, actually, in the dating scheme that he has in his book, puts Jesus’ birth in December of 5 BC.

How the Book of Mormon helps date the birth of Christ?  What are the clues Chadwick used to solve this puzzle?  Check out our conversation….

Dr. Jeff Chadwick examines the Book of Mormon and April 6 for the birth of Christ.
Dr. Jeff Chadwick examines the Book of Mormon and April 6 for the birth of Christ.