It seems that this question is given to us every year about this time (celebrations of Hanukkah and Christmas). With all the secularism and commercialism of our day and the continual ignoring of the Biblical nativity story, believers are trying to cope with all these attacks upon the birth of our Lord Yeshua and are often confused. While this article may be a bit different from what you have heard previously, it is our hope and prayer that it will receive some careful consideration by Bible students everywhere.
In my university days, Ancient History was of great interest to me and became one of my major fields of study. I was especially interested in Rome because so much of our Bibles is related to that period of time. Here are a few facts that may help you in trying to answer the question "When was Yeshua (Jesus) born?" We will begin with Luke 2:1-14 where in verse 1 we learn that Caesar Augustus made a "decree...that all the world should be taxed."
- CAESAR AUGUSTUS ruled from 43 BC to 14 AD. His real name was Octavian and he was the grandnephew of Julius Caesar. It was under his reign that the Pax Romana (the Roman peace) was declared throughout the empire beginning in 30 BC.
- CYRENIUS (Quirinius) is called the "governor of Syria" in Luke 2:2 and we are told that "this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria." The Greek text actually says that Quirinius "was governing" in Syria. Flavius Josephus refers to a census in 6 AD when Quirinius was the actual Governor. But, at this point (Luke 2:2) Quirinius was merely handling administrative duties in behalf of Varus, the actual Governor. Egyptian records state that a census was done by Rome every 14 years and that it took several years to accomplish it.
- HEROD THE GREAT was alive at the time of the Messiah's birth according to Matthew 2:1. One of the problems which scholars have had in dealing with the time of our Lord's birth is a reference in Josephus where he records an eclipse on March 13, 4 BC and says that it was "shortly before Herod died." Time between the birth of the Messiah and Herod's death is necessary since Joseph and Mary with the baby fled to Egypt and did not return until after Herod's death according to Matthew 2:18-21. The actual date of Herod's death (Roman history) was January 14, 1 BC.
- TERTULLIAN, church leader and historian, said that the birth of Jesus was 41 years after Augustus began his rule, and that Augustus died 15 years after the birth of Jesus. The actual date of the death of Augustus Caesar was August 19, 14 AD. It is interesting to note that Tertullian also said that Jesus was born 28 years after the death of Cleopatra who died in 30 BC.
- IRENAEUS, a disciple of Polycarp who was a disciple of the Apostle John, says that Jesus was born in the 41st year of the reign of Caesar Augustus. Eusebius, a great church historian, also says about the same thing. The 42nd year of Augustus ran from the autumn of 2 BC to the autumn of 1 BC.
- ZACHARIAS, the father of John the Baptist, was a priest "of the course of Abia (Abijah)" according to Luke 1:5. There are 24 courses (divisions) of priests according to I Chronicles 24. Abijah's course (division) was the 8th course among the 24 courses. When the Jewish Temple was destroyed by the Roman Governor Titus on August 5, 70 AD, the first course of priests had just taken office. By tracing back carefully, the 8th course would have ended their duties on July 13, 3 BC. The birth of John the Baptist would be 280 days later - around April 19-20, 2 BC (which, interestingly, was Passover that year!). The birth of Yeshua (Jesus) would have been six months later (Luke 1:36) which would place it in the fall of 2 BC. The very interesting fact in all this is that the actual date in the fall of 2 BC would have been Tishri 1 on the Jewish calendar - which is Rosh Hashanah - the Feast of Trumpets!
Our conclusion (if we have gotten all the facts straight!) is that the Messiah, our blessed Lord Yeshua was "probably" born on September 29 in 2 BC.
Personally, I am happy to celebrate the birth of the Messiah on any date of the year you wish it to be! The good news is that in the city of Bethlehem, ISRAEL, the city of King David, the Savior was born, and He is "Christ the Lord" - Messiah - KING of kings and LORD of lords!