Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Advent & The Birth of Christ (a.s.)

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

Advent is a season on the Latin Church’s liturgical calendar.  Other Catholic and non-Catholic Churches observe their own version of it.  Advent is a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus (a.s.) at Christmas.  The term is an anglicised version of the Latin word “adventus”, meaning, “coming”.

The Latin adventus is the translation of the Greek word, “parousia”, commonly used to refer to the Second Coming of Christ (a.s.).  “Parousia” is an ancient Greek word meaning presence, arrival, or official visit.  The main use is the physical presence of a person, where if that person is not already present, refers to the prospect of the physical arrival of that person, especially the visit of a royal or official personage.  Sometimes, as an extension of this usage, it may refer to a formal occasion.  In astrological usage, it refers to the presence of a planet at a point on the zodiac.

The term occurs only twice in the Septuagint in its ordinary meaning of “arrival”:

2 Maccabees 8:12
12 No sooner did Judas hear of Nicanor’s advent, than he gave warning of it to the Jews who bore him company.


2 Maccabees 15:21
21 Judas, when he saw the advent of his assailants, how manifold were their appointments, how fierce the temper of the beasts, was fain to lift hands heavenward, and to the Lord make his appeal; the Lord, that is wondrous in his doings, and at his own pleasure crowns right, not might, with victory.

The word is used 24 times in the New Testament.  Six uses refer to the coming of individuals: Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus; Titus; and the physical presence of Paul himself.

1 Corinthians 16:17
17 I am glad at the advent of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus; they have made up for your absence …

2 Corinthians 7:6-7
6 But there is one who never fails to comfort those who are brought low; God gave us comfort, as soon as the advent of Titus.  7 It was not only because of his advent; he inspired us with that courage he had derived from you.  He told us how you longed for my advent, how you grieved over what had happened, how you took my part, until I was more than ever rejoiced.

2 Corinthians 10:10
10 His letters, some people say, are powerful and carry weight, but his advent in person lacks dignity, he is but a poor orator.

26 Yes, you shall be prouder of me than ever in Christ Jesus, when in my advent to visit you.

Philippians 2:12
12 Beloved, you have always shown yourselves obedient; and now that I am at a distance, not less but much more than when I advent, you must work to earn your salvation, in anxious fear.

2 Thessalonians 2:9
9 His advent, with all Satan’s influence to aid him; there will be no lack of power, of counterfeit signs and wonders

And a 7th use pertained to the coming of the “lawless one”, the “man of sin” or the “champion of wickedness”.  Nearly all commentators, both ancient and modern, identify him as the Antichrist, although they vary greatly in their belief as to his identity.  The Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions consider the “man of sin” to come at the end times, when the katechon, the one who restrains, will be taken out.  Katechon is also interpreted as the Grand Monarch or a new Orthodox Emperor, inaugurating a rebirth of the Holy Roman Empire.

2 Thessalonians 3
3 Do not let anyone find the means of leading you astray.  The apostasy must come first; the advent of the champion of wickedness first, destined to inherit perdition.

The other seventeen uses refer to the Second Coming of Christ, except the one case in which it refers to the coming of the “Day of God”.

2 Peter 3:12
12 … as you wait, and wait eagerly, for the advent of the Day of the Lord, for the heavens to shrivel up in fire, and the elements to melt in its heat!

The “Day of the Lord” is a term found in both the Old Testament and the New Testament.  In the Hebrew bible, the phrases refers to temporal events such as the invasion of a foreign army, the capture of a city and the suffering that befalls the inhabitants.  In the New Testament, it may also refer to the writer’s own times, or to predicted events in a later age, including Final Judgement and the hereafter.  The expression here may refer to the second comings of Jesus Christ (a.s.).  “Parousia” is found in approximately 20 instances in the New Testament.  The main use in theology is to refer to the second coming of Christ (a.s.).

For Christians, the season of Advent anticipates the coming of Christ (a.s.) from two different perspectives.  The season offers the opportunity to share in the ancient longing for the coming of the Messiah (a.s.), and to be alert for his Second Coming.  Advent is the beginning of the Western liturgical year and commences on Advent Sunday in the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, Moravian, Presbyterian and Methodist calendars.  Advent starts on the fourth Sunday before Christmas, which is the Sunday between the 27th November and the 3rd December inclusive.  Christians of the above churches observe the season through practices such as keeping an Advent calendar, lighting an Advent wreath, and praying an Advent daily devotional which may or may not include fasting.  They also prepare for Christmastide, which includes setting up of Christmas decorations.

The Eastern churches’ equivalent of Advent is known as the Nativity Fast.  It differs in both length and observances and does not begin the church year.  Their liturgical year begins on the 01st September.  Eastern Christmas fast does not use the equivalent parousia in its preparatory services.

From the 4th century onwards, the season was kept as a period of fasting as strict as in Lent.  The Anglican and Lutheran later relaxed this fasting rule.  The Roman Catholic Church abolished the precept of fasting in the last century, later, but kept Advent as a season of penitence.  In addition to fasting, dancing and similar festivities were forbidden in these traditions.  On Rose Sunday, relaxation of the fast was permitted.  Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches still hold the tradition of fasting for 40 days before Christmas.

The Refreshment Sundays or Rose Sundays are Sundays within the two major fasts of Lent and Advent.  On these days, the fast was allowed to be relaxed, hence the name “Refreshment Sunday”.  Correspondingly, the liturgical colours of the season are replaced with rose, hence the name “Rose Sunday”.  In this case, it is Gaudete Sunday, the third Sunday in Advent.  On Gaudete Sunday, where churches are using an Advent wreath with purple candles, the candle for the third Sunday in Advent is also rose instead of purple.  “Gaudete” is from the Latin, meaning “to rejoice”.

Advent has a twofold character.  It is a season to prepare for Christmas when Christ’s (a.s.) first coming to us is remembered and a season when that remembrance directs the mind and heart to await Christ’s (a.s.) Second Coming at the end of time.  This is the Catholic understanding from their doctrine.  The season of Advent brings to mind the Two Comings of Christ (a.s.).  Although local authorities can establish additional penitential days, there is a complete listing of the penitential days and times of the Latin Church as a whole, and Advent is not one of them.

There are four Sundays of Advent: the First, Second, Third, and Fourth Sundays of Advent.  Church ascribes particular importance to these Sundays, and they take precedence over other liturgical celebrations.  Because of its special importance, the Sunday celebration gives way only to solemnities or feasts of the Lord.  The Sundays of the seasons of Advent, Lent, and Easter, however, take precedence over all solemnities and feasts of the Lord.  Solemnities occurring on these Sundays are observed on the Saturdays preceding.  Funeral Masses cannot be celebrated on the Sundays of Advent.

Since Advent is about the coming of Christ (a.s.), the next question then is: What year was Jesus born (a.s.)?  The idea has been prevalent for a little more than a century, that Jesus (a.s.) was born in 6 or 7 BC.  Jesus (a.s.) was born late in the reign of Herod the Great, who died in 4 BC.  Also, the wise men saw the star rise in the east two years before they came to visit Jerusalem, where they met Herod.  That would put it at 6 BC.  And in case Herod did not die immediately after they visited, and we approximate 7 BC.

However, the problem is that the arguments that Herod died in 4 BC are weak.  The Gospel according to Matthew records that Jesus (a.s.) was born during the reign of Herod the Great.  The Gospel according to Luke does not say it explicitly.  It does indicate that the birth of John the Baptist (a.s.) was foretold during Herod’s reign.

In the late 1800s, a German scholar named Emil Schurer proposed that Herod died earlier than previously thought.  Specifically, he claimed that Herod died in 4 BC.  This view caught on amongst scholars.  Based on statements in the Jewish historian, Josephus, Herod was first appointed king in 40 BC, and then reigned for 36 years putting his death at 4 BC.  Again, based on Josephus, after Herod was appointed king, he conquered Jerusalem in 37 BC, and reigned for 33 years, again, dying in 4 BC.  And yet again, based on Josephus, Herod died between a lunar eclipse and Passover.  In 4 BC, there was a partial lunar eclipse 29 days before Passover.

However, we must consider that since the BC / CE system of dates had not been invented yet, Josephus used ancient methods of dating that we no longer use.  One method was dating events in terms of which Olympiad they took place in.  An Olympiad was a four-year period based on when the Olympic Games took place.  Each Olympiad began in mid-year and ran for four years.  Josephus said that Herod was appointed king during the 184th Olympiad, which ran from the 01st July, 44 BC to 30th June, 40 BC.  He also says that he was appointed during the consulship of Gnaeus Domitius Calvinus and Gaius Asinius Pollio.  Consuls were Roman officials who reigned during specific years, and it was common to date events by the consuls who were in office at the time.  Calvinus and Pollio began their consulship after the 2nd October, 40 BC.  That would put it in the 185th Olympiad.  The 184th Olympiad ended before Calvinus and Pollio were consuls.  That is not possible and there has to be an error in one of those statements.

Josephus said that Herod conquered Jerusalem in the 185th Olympiad during the consulship of Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa and Lucius Caninius Gallus.  That does put 37 BC within the time period.  But Josephus also said that Herod conquered Jerusalem exactly 27 years to the day, after it fell to the Roman general Pompey.  But Pompey conquered Jerusalem in 63 BC, and 27 years later would be 36 BC, not 37 BC.  Furthermore, he said that the Hasmoneans, who ruled Jerusalem prior to Herod, ruled for 126 years. According to 1 Maccabees and Josephus himself, they began ruling in 162 BC.  That would put the date of Herod’s conquest in 36 BC.  Again Josephus had given contradictory information about when Herod conquered Jerusalem, indicating in some places that it was in 37 BC and in others that it was 36 BC.

There was, indeed, a partial lunar eclipse in 4 BC, which took place 29 days before Passover.  But, this was not the only lunar eclipse in the period.  There was another lunar eclipse in 1 BC, 89 days before Passover.  Since there was more than one eclipse in this period, the eclipse of 4 BC cannot be cited as supporting evidence fir a 4 BC date.  In 4 BC it was a partial lunar eclipse, but in 1 B.C, it was a full lunar eclipse.  Josephus did not say it was a partial lunar eclipse.  He mentioned a lunar eclipse, and likely a full lunar eclipse.  In 4 BC, the span of 29 days between the eclipse and Passover was too short time since Josephus did not simply write that Herod died between the eclipse and Passover.  He also mentioned many events in Herod’s itinerary during that period, including trips that required travel time.  All of the events that happened between the lunar eclipse and Passover would have taken a minimum of 41 days had each one of them taken place as quickly as possible.  A more reasonable estimate is between 60 and 90 days.  The 1 BC lunar eclipse, the 89 days before Passover, better fits what Josephus described.

On the issue of succession, it is true that we have multiple lines of evidence indicating that Herod’s sons began to reign in 4 BC.  That does not mean that Herod definitively died then.  It was very common for aging rulers to take their successors as co-rulers during the latter part of their reign.  This both took some of the pressure off the aging ruler and helped ensure a smooth succession when he died by lessening the chance of a power struggle after his death.  We have to determine then, whether a particular ruler's assumption of office was as co-ruler or as sole ruler.

Detailed evidence disputing the date may be found in Dr. Jack Finegan’s “Handbook of Biblical Chronology”, and Dr. Andrew Steinmann’s “From Abraham to Paul” .  It is safe to say then that Jesus’ (a.s.) date of birth being 3 to 4 BC is untenable.

Another problematic assumption is that the star was first visible in the east at the moment of Jesus’ (a.s.) birth and also that it was visible for a full two years prior to the magi’s arrival.  The appearance of the star could be connected with his conception, as opposed to his birth.  Further, the Gospel according to Matthew does not mention that a star appeared two years earlier.  What it does says is that Herod killed all the boys in Bethlehem two years old and under, and this in accordance with the time he learned from the magi.

Whilst this may be used as an indicator that Jesus (a.s.) was much younger than two then, I do not consider this a particularly important point.  We have no independent verification of magi and their identity.  We have no independent corroboration of the Slaughter of the Innocents.  But if we were to accept that this happened, the Herod may have been told that the star appeared a year before and he decided to kill all the boys a year on either side of this to be sure of killing the infant Jesus (a.s.).  We must remember also, that the ancients often counted parts of a year as a full year in their reckoning.  “Two years” might mean, “one year plus part of a second year.”

All this suggests that with two years as the maximum amount of time earlier that Jesus (a.s.) was born, and likely it was less than that, we are left with 2 or 3 BC.  This is the date if we start with Herod’s death in 1 BC, taking into account the factors named above, and backed up a year, suggesting 2 BC.  If we back up another year to allow for the fact Herod did not die immediately, that would suggest 3 BC.  This would be reasonable based on what we find in the Gospel according to Matthew.

The Gospel according to Luke offers some clues about the timing of Jesus’ (a.s.) birth.  It records that John the Baptist (a.s.) began his ministry in “the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar.”

Luke 3:1
1 It was in the fifteenth year of the emperor Tiberius’ reign, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judaea, when Herod was prince in Galilee, his brother, Philip in the Ituraean and Trachonitid region, and Lysanias in Abilina …

Tiberius became emperor after Augustus died in August of 14 CE.  Roman historians such as Tacitus and Suetonius, however, tended to skip part years and began counting the emperors’ reigns with the first January after they took office.  By that reckoning, the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar would correspond to 29 CE.  Jesus’ (a.s.) ministry began soon after John’s (a.s.).  Thus, it also likely started in 29 CE.

Luke 3:23
23 Jesus himself had now reached the age of about thirty.  He was, by repute, the son of Joseph, son of Heli, son of Mathat …

Counting back, we arrive at his birth at 2 BC, or even the end of 3 BC, if the Gospel according to Luke counted Tiberius’ reign from when he became emperor rather than from the next January.  This makes 2-3 BC a reasonable estimate.

There is somewhat of a consensus among early Christian sources regarding the year of Jesus’ (a.s.) birth.  The following information was taken from Dr. Jack Finegan’s “Handbook of Biblical Chronology”, giving the dates proposed by different sources:

The Alogoi
4 BC or 9 CE
Cassiodorus Senator
3 BC
Irenaeus of Lyon
3 BC or 2 BC
Clement of Alexandria
3 BC or 2 BC
Tertullian of Carthage
3 BC or 2 BC
Julius Africanus
3 BC or 2 BC
Hippolytus of Rome
3 BC or 2 BC
Hippolytus of Thebes
3 BC or 2 BC
Origen of Alexandria
3 BC or 2 BC

We can see that there is strong support for Jesus’ (a.s.) birth date being either 3 BC or 2 BC.  Some of the sources in this table are ancient, although none of them are contemporary.  Irenaeus of Lyon, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Julius Africanus, and Hippolytus of Rome all wrote in the late 100s or early 200s.

Since now, we are at the Gospel according to Luke, was there a contradiction in the Gospel on the birth of Jesus (a.s.)?  The second chapter begins with a chronological note about Jesus’ (a.s.) birth date.

Luke 2:1-2
1 It happened that a decree went out at this time from the emperor Augustus, enjoining that the whole world should be registered; 2 this register was the first one made during the time when Quirinius was governor of Syria.

This passage seems problematic.  The Gospel according to Luke had already linked the birth of Jesus (a.s.) to reign of Herod the Great:

Luke 1:5
5 In the days when Herod was king of Judaea, there was a priest called Zachary, of Abia’s turn of office, who had married a wife of Aaron’s family, by name Elizabeth …

Quirinius did not become governor of Syria until years afterwards.  Precisely when Herod’s reign ended is a matter of dispute.  Historically, the most common view in accordance with the Church Fathers is that Herod died in 1 BC.  After Herod’s death, his kingdom was divided, and his son Archelaus became the ruler of Judaea.

Matthew 2:22
22 But, when he heard that Archelaus was king in Judaea in the place of his father Herod, he was afraid to return there; and so, receiving a warning in a dream, he withdrew into the region of Galilee …

Archelaus turned out to be a terrible ruler.  In 6 CE, he was removed from office by the Romans and banished to what is now France.  In his place, a Roman prefect was appointed to govern the province, which explains why Pontius Pilate, rather than one of the descendants of Herod the Great, ruled Judaea at the time of Jesus’ (a.s.) ministry.

According to Josephus, Quirinius was sent to govern Syria after the banishment of Archelaus.  He also took a tax census of Judaea at this time and made an accounting of Archelaus’s finances.  From this, the sequence of events is clear that Herod the Great died at 1 or 4 BC.  Archelaus became his successor in Judaea Archelaus was then deposed.  Quirinius conducted his census after appointment in 6 CE.

Considering this, if the author of the Gospel according to Luke identified Jesus’ (a.s.) birth with a census conducted in 6 CE, then we have implicit contradiction with Luke 1, which links Jesus’ (a.s.) birth to the reign of Herod the Great, and an even clearer contradiction with Matthew 2, which is explicit about the fact that Jesus (a.s.) was born during the reign of Herod the Great.

Bishop Nicholas Thomas Wright, the former Anglican bishop and noted Christian scholar wrote, regarding this, “The question of Quirinius and his census is an old chestnut, requiring a good knowledge of Greek.  It depends on the meaning of the word ‘protos’, which usually means ‘first’.  Thus most translations of Luke 2.2 read ‘this was the first census, when Quirinius was governor of Syria’, or something like that.  But in the Greek of the time, as the standard major Greek lexicons point out, the word ‘protoscame’ sometimes to be used to mean ‘before’, when followed, as this is, by the genitive case.”

Luke 2.2
2 … this register was the first one made during the time when Quirinius was governor of Syria.

The genitive case is a grammatical feature in Greek.  It is often used to indicate possession, as in “Jesus’ disciples,” or origin, as in “Jesus of Nazareth”.  Bishop Wright, however, was pointing to a special use of the genitive when it follows the word ‘protos’ and ‘protos’ ends up meaning ‘before.’  He further wrote, “A good example is in John 1.15, where John the Baptist says of Jesus ‘he was before me’, with the Greek being again protos followed by the genitive of ‘me’.”

John 1.15
15 We have John’s witness to him; I told you, cried John, there was one coming after me who takes rank before me; he was when I was not.

Bishop Wright suggested that the most natural reading of the verse would be: “This census took place before the time when Quirinius was governor of Syria.”

He notes that this solved an otherwise odd problem of why the authors of the Gospel according to Luke apparently said that Quirinius’ census was the first.  He did not refer to any similar later ones.  This does not resolve all the issues.  We do not know, from other sources, of a census earlier than Quirinius’.

Luke 1:5
5 In the days when Herod was king of Judaea, there was a priest called Zachary, of Abia’s turn of office, who had married a wife of Aaron’s family, by name Elizabeth …

Here, it was established that John the Baptist (a.s.) was conceived by his mother Elizabeth (r.a.) during the reign of Herod the Great.

Luke 1:26
26 When the sixth month came, God Sent the angel Gabriel to a city of Galilee called Nazareth …


Luke 1:36
36 See, moreover, how it fares with thy cousin Elizabeth; she is old, yet she too has conceived a son; she who was reproached with barrenness is now in her sixth month …

Here, it is established that Gabriel (a.s.) announced the conception of Jesus “in the sixth month” of Elizabeth’s pregnancy.  This means Jesus (a.s.) was conceived much too early to have been born during Quirinius’ census.  Since the authors of the Gospel according to Luke have established this, it gives a reason when they record that Jesus (a.s.) was born in connection with an enrolment that it was not the famous census of Quirinius.  It was an earlier one, in keeping with the time frame established.

The second chapter of the Gospel according to Luke begins with a connection to the birth of Jesus (a.s.) to the reign of Augustus Caesar.  The third chapter begins with an even more elaborate time cue linking the beginning of Jesus’ adult ministry to the reign of Augustus’s successor, Tiberius.

Luke 3:1-2
1 It was in the fifteenth year of the emperor Tiberius’ reign, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judaea, when Herod was prince in Galilee, his brother Philip in the Ituraean and Trachonitid region, and Lysanias in Abilina, 2 in the high priesthood of Annas and Caiphas, that the Word of God came upon John, the son of Zachary, in the desert.

This was 28 or 29 CE.  After John (a.s.) began his ministry, Jesus (a.s.) came along, was baptised, and began his own ministry.

Luke 3:23
23 Jesus himself had now reached the age of about thirty.  He was, by repute, the son of Joseph, son of Heli, son of Mathat …

Counting back 30 years from 28 / 29 CE, we arrive back at in 2 / 3 BC, the year that the early Church Fathers overwhelmingly believe is the year of Jesus’ (a.s.) birth.  The author of the Gospel according to Luke likely added an additional nugget of information to ensure there was no confusion about Jesus (a.s.) being born before the famous census of Quirinius.  All this establishes the year of Jesus’ (a.s.) as likely in the second or third year before Common Era.

Regarding the time of the year, the 25th of December was chosen as the birth since it was 9 months after the 25th of March, the traditional date of the Annunciation.  This was because of the integral age doctrine.  This was is a belief common in ancient Judaism that prophets and saints passed away on the same day that they were born or conceived.  Thus, they were considered to have lived their lives in integral years.  The Latin word ‘integer’ means ‘whole’.  Some early Christian authors believe Jesus (a.s.) was crucified on the 25th March.  Were that true, for a believer in this integral age doctrine, Jesus (a.s.) must have either been born or conceived on the 25th March.  This is a rationale why the Church celebrates the Annunciation of Jesus on the 25th March, and his birth on the 25th December 25th, nine months later.  This is important because it undermines the idea that the dates for Advent and Christmas were those of co-opted pagan holidays.  They were picked based on the day Christ (a.s.) was thought to have been crucified.

Tertullian is frequently credited with saying this.  In his letter, An Answer to the Jews, Tertullian wrote that Jesus (a.s.) was crucified “in the month of March, at the times of the Passover, on the eighth day before the calends of April.”  According to the Romans, the calends were the first days of the month.  If Jesus (a.s.) was crucified eight days before the calends of April then he was crucified eight days before the 01st April, on the 25th of March.  Tertullian is the earliest authority of the Church that we know of to propose this date for the Crucifixion.

However, modern scholars have concluded that Tertullian was very likely mistaken.  The four Gospels agree that Jesus (a.s.) was crucified on a Friday at Passover during the reign of Pontius Pilate, after the 15th year of Tiberius Caesar.  None of the Fridays at Passover during the relevant years fall on the 25th March.  As a Muslim, I reject the idea that Jesus (a.s.) was crucified.  But if we held to the integral age doctrine, that would still provide a rationale for the Annunciation on March 25th and Christmas on December 25th.

The doctrine, however, is weak.  There are no ancient Jewish writings attesting to this, pertaining to Jesus (a.s.).  The Jews had rejected him, so it is only logical that they not anything equating Jesus (a.s.) with their prophets and saints.  There are a lot of modern Christian sources, however, but none of them from scholarly sources.  In any case, this was not an orthodox belief in ancient Judaism.  There is far greater evidence that the dates of Christian feasts and events were co-opted from pagans.  This does not mean Christmas is of pagan origin, merely that they have replaced their old gods with a new god.

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