55. The account given in Matthew of “the star” which drew the wise men to Judea gives no sure help in determining the date of the birth of Jesus, but it is at least suggestive that in the spring and autumn of B.C. 7 there occurred a remarkable conjunction of the planets Jupiter and Saturn. This was first noticed by Kepler in consequence of a similar conjunction observed by him in A.D. 1603. Men much influenced by astrology must have been impressed by such a celestial phenomenon, but that it furnishes an explanation of the star of the wise men is not clear. If it does, it confirms the date otherwise probable for the nativity, that is, not far from B.C. 6.
56. Can we go further and determine the time of year or the month and day of the nativity? It should be borne in mind that our Christmas festival was not observed earlier than the fourth century, and that the evidence is well-nigh conclusive that December 25th was finally selected for the Nativity in order to hallow a much earlier and widely spread pagan festival coincident with the winter solstice. If anything exists to suggest the time of year it is Luke’s mention of “shepherds in the field keeping watch by night over their flock” (ii. 8). This seems to indicate that it must have been the summer season. In winter the flocks would be folded, not pastured, by night.
57. It therefore seems probable that Jesus was born in the summer of B.C. 6; that he was baptized in A.D. 26; that the first Passover of his ministry was in the spring of 26 or 27; and that he was crucified in the spring of 29 or 30.
The Early Years of Jesus
Matt. i. 1 to ii. 23; Luke i. 5 to ii. 52; iii. 23-38
58. It is surprising that within a century of the life of the apostles, Christian imagination could have so completely mistaken the real greatness of Jesus as to let its thirst for wonder fill his early years with scenes in which his conduct is as unlovely as it is shocking. That he who in manhood was “holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners” (Heb. vii. 26), could in youth, in a fit of ill-temper, strike a companion with death and then meet remonstrance by cursing his accusers with blindness (Gospel of Thomas, 4, 5); that he could mock his teachers and spitefully resent their control (Pseudo-Matthew, 30, 31); that it could be thought worthy of him to exhibit his superiority to common human conditions by carrying water in his mantle when his pitcher had been broken (same, 33), or by making clay birds in play on the Sabbath and causing them to fly when he was rebuked for naughtiness (same, 27);—these and many like legends exhibit incredible blindness to the real glory of the Lord. Yet such things abound in the early attempts of the pious imagination to write the story of the youth of Jesus, and the account of the nativity and its antecedents fares as ill, being pitifully trivial where it is not revolting.