There have been many attempts throughout the centuries to ascertain exactly when Jesus was born. Researchers in Italy have offered a new approach to the question. Looking at the timing of Elizabeth’s pregnancy with John the Baptist, Jewish religious festivals, and some new astronomical data, they conclude that Jesus was born in December, 1 B.C.
First of all, despite what we keep hearing, Christmas was NOT a Christianization of the pagan feast of Sol Invictus. Nor the pagan feast of Juvenalia. Historians now agree on that. Follow this link for a historian’s explanation of why we celebrate Christmas on December 25. (It has to do with the ancient belief that prophets die on the anniversary of their conception. We know Jesus died around the Passover, which would be in our March. Nine months later brings us to December.)
As for the year of Christ’s birth, the calculations that gave us the numbering of the years as B.C. [Before Christ] and A.D. [Anno Domini, the Year of Our Lord] have long been thought to be off a few years. One factor is the necessity of going back and forth between the Jewish lunar calendar, the Julian solar calendar, and the Gregorian solar calendar, which we follow today. The consensus, I believe, is that Jesus was born sometime between 3 and 6 B.C.
But Liberato De Caro of the National Research Council in Bari, Italy, working with Prof. Fernando La Greca, of the University of Salerno have re-examined the issue. In an interview with the National Catholic Register, Dr. De Caro works from the time of the annunciation of the angel to Elizabeth, Mary’s visit to her in “the sixth month” (at which time she was already pregnant with Jesus, since the unborn John the Baptist responds to Jesus in utero), and the timing of the various Jewish feasts of pilgrimage that would account for everyone’s movements. He concludes that the Annunciation to Mary must have been just before Passover.
That would put it in our March, which means Jesus would have been born in our December. I would add that these calculations would accord with the liturgical calendar, which celebrates the Annunciation on March 25, and nine-months later, we have Christmas on December 25.
As for the year of Christ’s birth, Dr. De Caro says that since Herod figures into the Christmas story, the birth of Christ must have been before the king’s death. The ancient historian Josephus says that Herod died after a lunar eclipse. Scholars had found such an eclipse that would have been visible from Jerusalem in 4 B.C., leading them to conclude that Jesus must have been born before then, perhaps 5 B.C. at the latest. But Dr. De Caro says that astronomers now believe the 4 B.C. eclipse of the moon would not have been visible in Jerusalem after all, but other possible eclipses would suggest that Herod died in either 2 or 3 A.D., meaning that Jesus could have been born in the year One B.C., with his first year being the first Year of Our Lord. Thus giving credibility again to our calendar numbering.
The Visitation [of Mary and Elizabeth] by Sebastiano del Piombo (1519-1521) , CC BY 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons