"Jesus was born sometime in the late summer or early autumn of 4 B.C." The first time I ever made this statement I was received with a combination of doubt, incredulity, hostility and outright pity. "How in the world could Jesus have been born before Christ?" I was asked. This article, excerpted from my new book The Real Jesus, will show you just how Christ could have been born B.C. and recount more of the fascinating circumstances surrounding His nativity.
From early on, Mary understood that she was pregnant — after all, hadn't an angel told her this would happen? And naturally, she and her new husband Joseph had been living with the pain of growing notoriety ever since it became obvious to friends and relatives that she had "jumped the gun." They were fully prepared to accept this social disgrace, but still it was tough — they were as human as you and I. There were, though, close friends and relatives who knew the truth. Joseph and Mary could spend time with such people, away from the smirks and knowing stares of the others. For example, Elizabeth and Mary were cousins, and Elizabeth was carrying a baby who would grow up to become John the Baptist. Both remembered the remarkable occasion when this unborn child had reacted so obviously when the two expectant mothers met (Luke 1). Even though Mary and Joseph had probably spent many sessions poring over the scriptural prophecies referring to the baby within her body — explaining this remarkable transformation in their own private lives which had turned their world upside down — they did not have perfect understanding of many vague scriptural references which only later came into focus after the events they referred to had transpired. So they suffered when friends talked behind their backs; they hurt when former friends shunned them; they probably had second, or even third, thoughts about the tremendous burden they had assumed. Still they had the courage to see it through. But now yet another trial faced them: the need to travel to Bethlehem, Joseph's family's city of origin, to be counted in the vast worldwide census decreed by the Roman government. Since Joseph was of the lineage of David (as genealogical records in both Matthew and Luke prove), he had to journey with his wife in an advanced state of pregnancy from Nazareth to Bethlehem, which is called the "city of David." It may have seemed a cruel twist of fate — to be required by the Romans to travel all that distance during Mary's final, crucial month of pregnancy. It is clear that Joseph and Mary were not deliberately acting out any Old Testament prophecy, or, knowing that the Christ was to be born in Bethlehem, they would have tried to travel earlier, at an easier time, and would have arranged accommodations more suitable than the hasty, last-ditch improvisation of a stable. Neither could they have known that at the end of a terribly difficult trip they would become exiles in a foreign country, waiting for Herod the Great to die.
Christ Was Born B.C.
The census in Palestine took place, according to faulty modern chronological reckoning, about the year 4 B.C. It so happens that in the Western Christian-professing world the present system of counting years as either prior to or subsequent to the Savior's birth was established by Dionysius the Little six centuries this side of the event. Most early Christian sources place the birth of Christ anywhere from one to five years "before Christ." (See part two, section III A 1 of the Handbook of Biblical Chronology by Jack Finegan) And Christ was not born on December 25, either. Abundant evidence exists proving Christmas is utterly pagan in origin; as pagan as belief in Dagon, Vishnu, Baal, or Isis and Osiris. Jesus was born in the autumn, though the exact date has been carefully concealed. Even Herod didn't know exactly when Christ was born, or he would not have risked a massive uprising by the people as a result of his brutal edict to butcher helpless babies up to two years of age! (For more on this subject, write for the free booklet The Plain Truth About Christmas and the free reprint "When Was Christ Born?") Most people have never heard the true facts surrounding Christ's birth; lodged in their minds is a purely mythological tale based on fantasy and erroneous religious tradition. The traditional picture of Jesus' birth includes the loveliest manger imaginable on the face of the earth; sadly smiling shepherds leaning on their crooks; Magi, gorgeously arrayed in kingly robes and crowns, opening up little gold boxes containing precious spices; a tiny baby nestled in the arms of a mother who stares reverently at Him with a halo around her head and a sweet smile curving at her mouth; cherubs flitting through the heavens; and a bright star hovering in the distance outside the stable. All of this is repeated endlessly in millions of Christmas cards, religious books, journals and magazines, illustrated pages in Bibles, on people's front yards, rooftops, and in displays and plays in churches at Christmastime — yet it bears little resemblance to the way it really happened. The shepherds were not there at the birth; they came later — and there is no reason to suspect that the shepherds and the wise men ever crossed trails. There is no way to determine the exact length of time that transpired from the moment the "star" (an angel, as shown by Scripture) appeared to the Magi "in the east" (most authorities believe Persia) until their arrival in Jerusalem. It could have been several weeks, or even months. Following their interview with Herod, and his request that they "search diligently for the young child," the Magi went outside, saw the "star" again, and followed it until "it came and stood over where the young child was" (Matt. 2:8-9). This was in Bethlehem, a short distance over steeply plunging trails from Jerusalem. Contrary to the assumption of millions, Jesus and His parents had found more permanent accommodations following the hasty emergency quarters in the stable, and the Magi came "into the house, [and] saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him..." (verse 11).
Escape to Egypt
That night, the wise men had a "bad dream," a warning from God, and sneaked out of the country without going back to Jerusalem. After they left, Joseph also had a dream. "And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him" (verse 13). Joseph got up, hustled Mary and the baby and any other servants or family members who might have been with them into their clothes, packed and loaded the animals and took off that same night, hitting the caravan route to Egypt. They probably stopped at little-known campsites, avoiding the usual watering places and towns or villages along the way. Little did Joseph know that inadvertently he was fulfilling another prophecy which said."I... called my son out of Egypt'. (Hosea 11:1). Since it was the major trade and commercial capital, Joseph probably had business interests in Jerusalem. His own building trade required that he deal from time to time with importers, distributors and craftsmen who were located there. So he and his family may have remained in Jerusalem up to about one year following Jesus' birth, though there is no actual proof. However, the murder of the children by Herod, risky even for a despotic king, offers some proof that Herod suspected Jesus would have been about one year of age, or even slightly older. After Joseph and his family had been somewhere in Egypt for a time, another dream occurred. An angel said to Joseph: "Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel: for they are dead which sought the young child's life" (Matt. 2:20). The following verses indicate Joseph probably would have gone to live in Jerusalem or its environs as his first choice. "But when he heard that Archelaus did reign in Judaea in the room of his father Herod, he was afraid to go thither; notwithstanding, being warned of God in 'a dream, he turned aside into the parts of Galilee: and he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene" (verses 22-23). Being a "Nazarene" merely meant Jesus was a citizen of the city of Nazareth. He is called "Jesus Christ. of Nazareth" several times in the Bible. Jesus was not an uncommon name (only the Greek form of Joshua); no doubt there were any number of individuals bearing the same name. It was quite common to name children after various attributes of God, or to include names of God (the prefix El and the suffix Yah were very commonly applied) in a person's name. The real Jesus was a Nazarene in the same sense a citizen of Chicago is a "Chicagoan," or someone living in Los Angeles is an "Angelino," or those in Paris are "Parisians." It was not a religious title of any sort, but a geographical and political term.
His Coming Predicted
But let's ask a few questions about Jesus' birth. How did God manage to convince the lowly and humble classes that in fact a Savior was that day being born? He did so by a number of divine miracles, intricately interwoven into the fabric of history, extending so far back in time that it boggles the mind. Although we cannot cover them here in detail, the miracles having to do with Jesus' birth — the decree of Augustus, the building of the Temple, the beginning of His ministry, the decrees of Cyrus and Artaxerxes, and many other events (see Daniel, chapter 11) — are tightly meshed into a network of Old Testament prophecies, and testify incontrovertibly to one fact: Jesus Christ of Nazareth was in truth the Son of God. All the religious leaders knew, and the common folk believed intensely in, Isaiah's prophecy: "Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel [which means 'God with us']" (Isa. 7:14). They knew Isaiah had said: For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor [wonder of a Counselor], The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even forever" (Isa. 9:2, 6-7). But how would God manage to avoid the contemptuous slander of "impostor" heaped upon Jesus, not only by His detractors, persecutors and religious antagonists, but even by His own closest disciples and personal friends? How would the common people be convinced utterly that Jesus was in fact fulfilling the many prophecies of Isaiah, Daniel and elsewhere, and was in fact the promised Messiah, that "Prophet" who would come to deliver Israel and to qualify to inherit the throne of David? First, God sent a humble group of shepherds from sufficiently far away so that no one could claim collusion. An angel appeared to them and said, "Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord" (Luke 2:11). They were not given any address — only a sign that they would find the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. This meant He would be so newly born that there would be no opportunity for either the purchase or making of clothes for Him, that He would still be wrapped in a soft blanket, lying on a bed of straw, and would not yet be moved to an inn or a private home. They were no doubt quite excited about the vision they had seen, and it is inconceivable that they were not elated with a combination of awe, fright, and yet subdued joy over having actually heard the voice of an angel, and seen an overwhelmingly bright light seemingly coming very near to them out of the heavens. Because of these miracles they fully expected to find the Savior of mankind lying in swaddling clothes in a manger. They probably asked any number of people around the streets and marketplaces of Bethlehem where they could find a baby who had been born in a manger, and repeated time and again to the excited questions they were asked precisely what had happened. Finally, with the question having been asked sufficiently about the town, perhaps one servant at a nearby inn recalled that Joseph or a friend had come urgently asking aid and that one of the women in the kitchen had rushed off to help during the birth. Several of them may have exclaimed about the fact that a woman had to be turned away from the inn in such an advanced state of pregnancy when a lot of other people had been put up in more suitable accommodations, and there no doubt was some tongue-wagging about the unfortunate circumstances that led to her giving birth in a stable. Actually, the Creator was succeeding in announcing the birth through three separate groups of individuals: the shepherds themselves, all the citizenry and town-folk they queried and who subsequently became involved, and Joseph and his own family.
The events of the first few weeks after Jesus' birth caused widespread attention. It is evident that Herod was terribly shaken by what he had heard. The Bible says "he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him" (Matt. 2:3), and claims he "gathered all the chief priests [who probably were Sadducees] and scribes of the people together" and "demanded of them where Christ should be born" (verse 4). All of the scholars were aware that this very likely was the time of the birth of Christ. Pious frauds and sincere scholars — astronomers, astrologers, seers and soothsayers alike — were almost universally expecting that some great event would occur at about this time in history, and were looking for the Messiah. When Herod called together the "chief priests and scribes of the people," this was tantamount to the President of the United States having a combined meeting of the Cabinet and Supreme Court. The "Supreme Court" of the Jewish nation, the Sanhedrin, the greatest religious body of the nation, declared in unanimity that Jesus the Savior would be born in Bethlehem, a city of David! (This they determined from the prophecy of Christ's birth found in the Old Testament book of [Micah 5:2]) Herod waited awhile, and then, in a fit of insane rage, "sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men" (Matt. 2:16). But by that time it was too late. Joseph and Mary had escaped to Egypt, taking the young Jesus with them and remaining until this vicious despot passed from the scene. From the young lad's return with His parents from Egypt to the northern Palestinian city of Nazareth, there is no further mention of Jesus until the moment He is seen sitting in the Temple at Jerusalem, both listening to questions and asking His own questions of the most learned doctors of the law, and astonishing them with His understanding and His answers (Luke 2:46-47).