We know from the Bible what division Zechariah was in. We know when his division served in the Temple. We know that when he went home after his division was done, his wife Elizabeth conceived John the Baptist. We know that Mary visited Elizabeth when she was six months along, right after Gabriel appeared to her and by the Holy Spirit she conceived Jesus Christ, God the Son. From this we know that Jesus was born sometime in late December. The early Church did celebrate Christmas on December 25th before the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius invented the feast of Sol Invictus to try to compete with it.
When was Jesus born?
Astronomy plays an interesting role in this question. We know from the Bible that Mary, Joseph and the little Jesus returned from Egypt when they heard that Herod was dead. We know that Herod died in 4 B. C. We know that they had been in Egypt a little while. Church tradition says two years. A Dr. Mollnar decided to look at what sorts of planetary signs Babylonian Magi would have understood and gone by. He discovered a particular conjunction of planets that meant to them that a king was to be born in Judah. Remember that Daniel was the chief of the magi? His book tells roughly how many years it was from his time until Jesus rode into Jerusalem as king. His book would have been kept by the magi after his death. So, they were looking, as they knew a baby had to grow up before he could have a triumphal entry as king. There was the appropriate conjunction in 6 B.C., which recurred several months later, giving the magi time to debate, pack up and travel to Jerusalem, and when it occurred “the star which they had seen in the East went before them.”
Why was Herod worried? The magi had a reputation as king-makers. A number of years before, a group of magi had traveled to Rome, and told the Roman Senate that a king had been born to them. Rome had thrown off monarchy and was a republic at that time, and the Senate wanted nothing to do with a king. But they were afraid. So was Herod when the magi came to him. This sort of activity by the magi was not unknown, and was taken very seriously. And that is why there came to be weeping in Ramah.
Let’s see, though. 5 BC plus AD 33 is 38. But didn’t Luke say that Jesus was 30 when He started His ministry? Luke wrote “about thirty,” Not specifically 30.This age was important because you did not become a full man able to teach and to participate in government until you turned 30 (you became a man able to marry and be personally responsible before God to obey Him at 12-13 at bar mitzvah, or confirmation). Luke had to point out that Jesus wasn’t too young to go about preaching. Scholars believe that they see *at least* 4 passovers during Jesus’ earthly ministry, and there is nothing in the Bible that He ministered for only three years. Therefore that the crucifixion happed on Friday, April 3rd, A. D. 33 isn’t a problem. We know it happened then, because that is when there was a total eclipse of the moon (“the moon turned red as blood”) and there was a darkness recorded during the day over the eastern Mediterranean, and there was an earthquake felt as far as Athens. So, perhaps Jesus was 37 when He was crucified in atonement for our sins. That doesn’t disagree with Luke, with history or astronomy. It all fits together. It really happened. If you want to learn more about this part of the story, join the book club during Lent and read Dr. Paul Meier’s excellent novel _Pontius Pilate_ with the rest of us. Don’t worry, he keeps the historical and archaeological goodies in the end notes, while giving us an enjoyable, and extremely historically accurate novel, that puts us right there in the midst of things in the Judean desert, back during Jesus’ earthly ministry.