OF the TIMES OF the BIRTH AND PASSION OF CHRIST.
THE times of the Birth and Passion of Christ, with such like niceties, being not material to religion, were little regarded by the Christians of the first age. They who began first to celebrate the m, placed them in the cardinal periods of the year; as the annunciation of the Virgin Mary, on the 25th of March, which when Julius Caesar corrected the Calendar was the vernal Equinox; the feast of John Baptist on the 24th of June, which was the summer Solstice; the feast of St. Michael on Sept. 29, which was the autumnal Equinox; and the birth of Christ on the winter Solstice, Decemb.25, which the feasts of St. Stephen, St. John and the Innocents, as near it as they could place the m. and because the Solstice in time removed from the 25th of December to the 24th, the 23d, the 22d, and so on backwards, hence some in the following centuries placed the birth of Christ on Decemb. 23, and at length on Decemb. 20: and for the same reason they seem to have set the feast of St. Thomas on Decemb. 21, and that of St. Matthew on Sept 21.
So also at the entrance of the Sun into all the signs in the Julian Calendar, they placed the days of other Saints; as the conversion of Paul on Jan. 25, when the Sun entered Aquarius; St. Matthias on Feb. 25, when he entered Pisces; St. Mark on Apr. 25, when he entered Taurus; Corpus Christi on May 26, when he entered Gemini; St. James on July 25, when he entered Cancer; St. Bartholomew on Aug. 24, when he entered Virgo; Simon and Jude on Octob. 28, when he entered Scorpius: and if the re were any other remarkable days in the Julian Calendar, they placed the Saints upon the m, as St. Barnabas on June 1, where Ovid seems to place the feast of Vesta and Fortuna, and the goddess Matuta; and St. Philip and James on the first of May, a day dedicated both to the Bona Dea, or Magna Mater, and to the goddess Flora, and still celebrated with her rites. All which shows that these days were fixed in the first Christian Calendars by Mathematicians at pleasure, without any ground in tradition; and that the Christians afterwards took up with what they found in the Calendars.
Neither was the re any certain tradition about the years of Christ. For the Christians who first began to enquire into these things, as Clemens Alexandrinus, Origen, Tertullian, Julius Africanus, Lactantius, Jerome, St. Austin, Sulpicius Severus, Prosper, and as many as place the death of Christ in the 15th or 16th year of Tiberius, make Christ to have preached but one year, or at most but two. At length Eusebius discovered four successive Passovers in the Gospel of John, and the reupon set on foot an opinion that he preached three years and an half; and so died in the 19th year of tiberius. Others afterwards, finding the opinion that he died in the Equinox Mar. 25, more consonant to the times of the Jewish Passover, in the 17th and 20th years, have placed his death in one of those two years.
Neither is the re any greater certainty in the opinions about the time of his birth. The first Christians placed his baptism near the beginning of the 15th year of Tiberius; and the nce reckoning thirty years backwards, placed his birth in the 43d Julian year, the 42d of Augustus and the 28th of the Actiac victory. This was the opinion which obtained in the first ages, till Dionysius Exiguus, placing the baptism of Christ in the 16th year of Tiberius, and misinterpreting the text of #Lu 3:23. as if Jesus was only beginning to be 30 years old when he was baptized, invented the vulgar account, in which his birth is placed two years later than before. As therefore relating to these things the re is no tradition worth considering; let us lay aside all and examine what prejudices can be gathered from records of good account.
The fifteenth year of Tiberius began Aug. 28, An. J.P. 4727. So soon as the winter was over, and the weather became warm enough, we may reckon that John began to baptize; and that before next winter his fame went abroad, and all the people came to his baptism, and Jesus among the rest. Whence the first Passover after his baptism mentioned #Joh 2:13. was in the 16th year of Tiberius. After this feast Jesus came into the l and of Judea, and staid the re baptizing, whilst John was baptizing in Aenon, #Joh 3:22, 23. But when he heard that John was cast into prison, he departed into Galilee, #Mt 3:2. being afraid, because the Pharisees had heard that he baptized more disciples than John, #Joh 4:1. and in his journey he passed through Samaria four months before the harvest, #Joh 4:35. that is, about the time of the winter Solstice. For their harvest was between Easter and Whitsunday, and began about a month after the vernal Equinox.
Say not ye, saith he, there are yet four months, and then cometh harvest? Behold I say unto you, lift up your eyes, and look on the fields, for they are white already to harvest meaning, that the people in the fields were ready for the Gospel, as his next words show.
Therefore was imprisoned about November, in the 18th year of Tiberius; and Christ the reupon went from Judea to Cana of Galilee in December, and was received the re of the Galileans, who had seen all he did at Jerusalem at the Passover: and when a Nobleman of Capernaum heard he was returned into Galilee, and went to him and desired him to come and cure his son, he went not thither yet, but only said, Go thy way, thy son liveth; and the Nobleman returned and found it so, and believed, he and his house, John 4.
This is the beginning of his miracles in Galilee; and thus far John is full and distinct in relating the actions of his first year, omitted by the other Evangelists. The rest of his history is from this time related more fully by the other Evangelists than by John; for what they relate he omits.
From this time therefore Jesus taught in the Synagogues of Galilee on the sabbath-days, being glorified of all: and coming to his own city Nazareth, and preaching in their Synagogue, they were offended, and thrust him out of the city, and led him to the brow of the hill on which the city was built to cast him headlong; but he passing through the midst of the m, went his way, and came and dwelt at Capernaum, Luke 4: and by this time we may reckon the second Passover was either past or at hand.
All this time Matthew passeth over in few words, and here begins to relate the preaching and miracles of Christ.
When Jesus, saith he, had heard that John was cast into prison, he departed into Galilee; and leaving Nazareth, he came and dwelt at Capernaum, and from that time began to preach and say, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand, #Mt 4:12.
Afterwards he called his disciples Peter, Andrew, James and John; and then went about all Galilee, teaching in the Synagogues, and healing all manner of sickness: and his fame went throughout all Syria; and they brought unto him all sick people, and the re followed him great multitudes of people from Galilee, and from Decapolis, and from Jerusalem, and from Judea, and from beyond Jordan, #Mt 4:18, 25.
All this was done before the sermon on the mount: and therefore we may certainly reckon that the second Passover was past before the preaching of that sermon. The multitudes that followed him from Jerusalem and Judea, show that he had lately been the re at the feast. The sermon in the mount was made when great multitudes came to him from all places, and followed him in the open fields; which is an argument of the summer-season: and in this sermon he pointed at the lilies of the field then in the flower before the eyes of his auditors.
Consider, saith he, the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin; and yet Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of the se. Wherefore if God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, &c.
#Mt 6:28. So therefore the grass of the field was now in flower, and by consequence the month of March with the Passover was past. Let us see therefore how the rest of the feasts follow in order in Matthew’s Gospel: for he was an eye-witness of what he relates, and so tells all things in due order of time, which Mark and Luke do not.
Some time after the sermon in the mount, when the time came that he should be received, that is, when the time of a feast came that he should be received by the Jews, he set his face to go to Jerusalem: and as he went with his disciples in the way, when the Samaritans in his passage through Samaria had denied him lodgings, and a certain Scribe said unto him, Master, I will follow the e wherever thou goest, Jesus said unto him, the foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head, #Mt 8:19; #Lu 9:51, 57.
The Scribe told Christ he would bear him company in his journey, and Christ replied that he wanted a lodging. Now this feast I take to be the feast of Tabernacles, because soon after I find Christ and his Apostles on the sea of Tiberias in a storm so great, that the ship was covered with water and in danger of sinking, till Christ rebuked the winds and the sea, #Mt 8:23. For this storm shows that winter was now come on.
After this Christ did many miracles, and went about all the cities and villages of Galilee, teaching in their Synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness, and every disease among the people, Matthew 9; he then sent forth the twelve to do the like, Matthew 10; and at length when he had received a message from John, and answered it, he said to the multitudes, From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence; and upbraided the cities, Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, wherein most of his mighty works were done, because they repented not, Matthew 11. Which several passages show, that from the imprisonment of John till now the re had been a considerable length of time: the winter was now past, and the next Passover was at hand; for immediately after this, Matthew, in chap. 12:subjoins, that Jesus went on the sabbath-day through’ the corn, and his disciples were an hungered, and began to pluck the ears of corn and to eat, rubbing the m, saith Luke, in their hands: the corn therefore was not only in the ear, but ripe; and consequently the Passover, in which the first-fruits were always offered before the harvest, was now come or past. Luke calls this sabbath, the second prime sabbath, that is, the second of the two great feasts of the Passover. As we call Easter day high Easter, and its octave low Easter or Lowsunday: so Luke calls the feast on the seventh day of the unleavened bread, the second of the two prime sabbaths.
In one of the sabbaths following he went into a Synagogue, and healed a man with a withered hand, #Mt 12:9; #Lu 6:6. and when the Pharisees took counsel to destroy him, he withdrew himself from the nce, and great multitudes followed him; and he healed them from all, and charged them that they should not make him known, Matthew 12:14.
Afterwards being in a ship, and the multitude standing on the shore, he spake to them three parables together, taken from the seeds-men sowing the fields, Matthew 13:by which we may know that it was now seed-time, and by consequence that the feast of Tabernacles wa past. After this he went into his own country, and taught them in their Synagogue, but did not many mighty works the re because of their unbelief.
Then the twelve having been abroad a year, returned, and told Jesus all that they had done: and at the same time Herod beheaded John in prison, and his disciples came and told Jesus; and when Jesus heard it, he took the twelve and departed the nce privately by ship into a desert place belonging to Bethsaida: and the people when they knew it, followed him on foot out of the cities, the winter being now past; and he healed their sick, and in the desert fed them to the number of five thousand men, besides women and children, with only five loaves and two fishes, Matthew 14; Luke 9; at the doing of which miracle the Passover of the Jews was nigh, #Joh 6:4. But Jesus went not up to this feast; but after these things walked in Galilee, because the Jews at the Passover before had taken counsel to destroy him, and still sought to kill him, #Joh 7:1. Henceforward therefore he is found first in the coast of Tyre and Sidon, then by the sea of Galilee, afterwards in the coast of Caesarea Philippi; and lastly at Capernaum, #Mt 15:21, 29, 16:13, 17:34. Afterwards when the feast of Tabernacles was at hand, his brethren upbraided him for walking secretly, and urged him to go up to the feast. But he went not till they were gone, and then went up privately, #Joh 7:2; and when the Jews sought to stone him, he escaped, #Joh 8:59. After this he was at the feast of the Dedication in winter, #Joh 10:22; and when they sought again to take him, he fled beyond Jordan, #Joh 10:39, 40; #Mt 19:1; where he stayed till the death of Lazarus, and then came to Bethany near Jerusalem, and raised him, #Joh 11:7, 18; whereupon the Jews took counsel from that time to kill him: and therefore he walked no more openly among the Jews, but went the nce into a country near to the wilderness, into a city called Ephraim; and the re continued with his disciples till the last Passover, in which the Jews put him to death, #Joh 11:53, 54. Thus have we, in the Gospels of Matthew and John compared together, the history of Christ’s actions in continual order during five Passovers. John is more distinct in the beginning and end; Matthew in the middle: what either omits, the other supplies. The first Passover was between the baptism of Christ and the imprisonment of John, #Joh 2:13; the second within four months after the imprisonment of John, and Christ’s beginning to preach in Galilee, #Joh 4:35; and therefore it was either that feast to which Jesus went up, when the Scribe desired to follow him, #Mt 8:19; #Lu 9:51, 57; or the feast before it. The third was the next feast after it, when the corn was eared and ripe, #Mt 12:1; #Lu 6:1. The fourth was that which was nigh at h and when Christ wrought the miracle of the five loaves, #Mt 14:15; #Joh 6:4, 5; and the fifth was that in which Christ suffered, Matthew 20:17; #Joh 12:1.
Between the first and second Passover John and Christ baptized together, till the imprisonment of John, which was four months before the second. Then Christ began to preach, and call his disciples; and after he had instructed them a year, sent them to preach in the cities of the Jews: at the same time John hearing of the fame of Christ, sent to him to know who he was . At the third, the chief Priests began to consult about the death of Christ. A little before the fourth, the twelve after they had preached a year in all the cities, returned to Christ; and at the same time Herod beheaded John in prison, after he had been in prison two years and a quarter: and the reupon Christ fled into the desert for fear of Herod. The fourth Christ went not up to Jerusalem for fear of the Jews, who at the Passover before had consulted his death, and because his time was not yet come.
Thenceforward therefore till the feast of Tabernacles he walked in Galilee, and that secretly for fear of Herod: and after the feast of Tabernacles he returned no more into Galilee, but sometimes was at Jerusalem, and sometimes retired beyond Jordan, or to the city of Ephraim by the wilderness, till the Passover in which he was betrayed, apprehended, and crucified.
John therefore baptized two summers, and Christ preached three. The first summer John preached to make himself known, in order to give testimony to Christ. The n, after Christ came to his baptism and was made known to him, he baptized another summer, to make Christ known by his testimony; and Christ also baptized the same summer, to make himself the more known: and by reason of John’s testimony the re came more to Christ’s baptism than to John’s. The winter following John was imprisoned; and now his course being at an end, Christ entered upon his proper office of preaching in the cities. In the beginning of his preaching he completed the number of the twelve Apostles, and instructed them all the first year in order to send them abroad. Before the end of this year, his fame by his preaching and miracles was so far spread abroad, that the Jews at the Passover following consulted how to kill him. In the second year of his preaching, it being no longer safe for him to converse openly in Judea, he sent the twelve to preach in all their cities: and in the end of the year they returned to him, and told him all they had done. All the last year the twelve
continued with him to be instructed more perfectly, in order to their preaching to all nations after his death. and upon the news of John’s death, being afraid of Herod as well as of the Jews, he walked this year more secretly than before; frequenting deserts, and spending the last half of the year in Judea, without the dominions of Herod.
Thus have we in the Gospels of Matthew and John all things told in due order, from the beginning of John’s preaching to the death of Christ, and the years distinguished from one another by such essential characters that they cannot be mistaken. The second Passover is distinguished from the first, by the interposition of John’s imprisonment. The third is distinguished from the second, by a double character: first, by the interposition of the feast to which Christ went up, #Mt 8:19; #Lu 9:57; and secondly, by the distance of time from the beginning of Christ’s preaching: for the second was in the beginning of his preaching, and the third so long after, that before it came Christ said, from the days of John the Baptist until now, &c. and upbraided the cities of Galilee for their not repenting at his preaching, and mighty works done in all that time. The fourth is distinguished from the third, by the mission of the twelve from Christ to preach in the cities of Judea in all the interval. The fifth is distinguished from all the former by the twelve’s being returned from preaching, and continuing with Christ during all the interval, between the fourth and the fifth, and by the passion and other infallible characters.
Now since the first summer of John’s baptizing fell in the fifteenth year of the Emperor Tiberius, and by consequence the first of these five Passoversin his sixteenth year; the last of the m, in which Jesus suffered, will fall on the twentieth year of the same Emperor; and by consequence in the Consulship of Fabius and Vitellius, in the 79th Julian year, and year of Christ 34, which was the sabbatical year of the Jews. and that it did so, I further confirm by these arguments.
I take it for granted that the passion was on Friday the 14th day of the month Nisan, the great feast of the Passover on Saturday the 15th day of Nisan, and the resurrection on the day following. Now the 14th day of Nisan always fell on the full moon next after the vernal Equinox; and the month began at the new moon before, not at the true conjunction, but at the first appearance of the new moon: for the Jews referred all the time of the silent moon, as they phrased it, that is, of the moon’s disappearing, to the old moon; and because the first appearance might usually be about 18 hours after the true conjunction, they therefore began their month from the sixth hour at evening, that is, at sun set, next after the eighteenth hour from the conjunction. and this rule they called Jah, designing by the letters * and * the number 18.
I know that Epiphanius tells us, if some interpret his words rightly, that the Jews used a vicious cycle and the reby anticipated the legal new moons by two days. But this surely he spake not as a witness, for he neither understood Astronomy nor Rabbinical learning, but as arguing from his erroneous hypothesis about the time of the passion. For the Jews did not anticipate, but postpone their months: they thought it lawful to begin their months a day later than the first appearance of the new moon, because the new moon continued for more days than one; but not a day sooner, lest they should celebrate the new moon before the re was any. and the Jews still keep a tradition in their books, that the Sanhedrim used diligently to define the new moons by sight: sending witnesses into mountainous places, and examining them about the moon’s appearing, and translating the new moon from the day they had agreed on to the day before, as often as witnesses came from distant regions, who had seen it a day sooner than it was seen at Jerusalem. According to Josephus, one of the Jewish Priests who had ministered in the temple, tells us that the Passover was kept he 14th day of Nisan, according to the moon, when the sun was in Aries.
This is confirmed also by two instances, recorded by him, which totally overthrow the hypothesis of the Jews using a vicious cycle. For that year in which Jerusalem was taken and destroyed, he saith, the Passover was on the 14th day of the month Xanticus, which according to Josephus is our April; and that five years before, it fell on the 8th day of the same month.
Which two instances agree with the course of the moon. Computing therefore the new moons of the first month according to the course of the moon and the rule Jah, and the nce counting 14 days, I find that the 14th day of this month in the year of Christ 31, fell on Tuesday March 27; in the year 32, on Sunday Apr. 13; in the year 33, on Friday Apr. 3; in the year 34, on Wednesday March 24, or rather, for avoiding the Equinox which fell on the same day, and for having a fitter time for harvest, on Thursday Apr. 22. also in the year 35, on Tuesday Apr. 12. and in the year 36, on Saturday March 31. But because the 15th and 21st days of Nisan, and a day or two of Pentecost, and the 10th, 15th, and 22d of Tisri, were always sabbatical days or days of rest, and it was inconvenient on two sabbaths together to be prohibited burying their dead and making ready fresh meat, for in that hot region their meat would be apt in two days to corrupt: to avoid these and such like inconveniences, the Jews postponed their months a day, as often as the first day of the month Tisri, or, which is all one, the third of the month Nisan, was Sunday, Wednesday or Friday: and this rule they called Adu, by the letters * signifying the numbers 1, 4, 6; that is, the 1st, 4th, and 6th days of the week; which days we call Sunday, Wednesday and Friday.
Postponing therefore by this rule the months found above; the 14th day of the month Nisan will fall in the year of Christ 31, on Wednesday March 28; in the year 32, on Monday Apr. 14; in the year 33, on Friday Apr. 3; in the year 34, on Friday Apr. 23; in the year 35, on Wednesday Apr. 13; and in the year 36, on Saturday March 31.By this computation therefore the year 32 is absolutely excluded, because the Passion cannot fall on Friday without making it five days after the full moon, or two days before it; whereas it ought to be upon the day of the full moon, or the next day. For the same reason the years 31, and 35 are excluded, because in them the Passion cannot fall on Friday, without making it three days after the full moon, or four days before it: errors so enormous, that they would be very conspicuous in the heavens to every vulgar eye. The year 36 is contended for by few or none, and both this and the year 35 may be thus excluded.
Tiberius in the beginning of his reign made Valerius Gratus President of Judea; and after 11 years, substituted Pontius Pilate, who governed 10 years. Then Vitellius, newly made President of Syria, deprived him of his honor, substituting Marcellus, and at length sent him to Rome: but, by reason of delays, Tiberius died before Pilate got thither. In the mean time Vitellius, after he had deposed Pilate, came to Jerusalem in the time of the Passover, to visit that Province as well as others in the beginning of his office; and in the place of Caiaphas, then High Priest, created Jonathas the son of Ananus, or Annas as he is called in scripture. Afterwards, when Vitellius was returned to Antioch, he received letters from Tiberius, to make peace with Artabanus king of the Parthians. At the same time the Alans, by solicitation of Tiberius, invaded the kingdom of Artabanus; and his subjects also, by the procurement of Vitellius, soon after rebelled: for Tiberius thought that Artabanus, thus pressed with difficulties, would more readily accept the conditions of peace. Artabanus therefore straightway gathering a greater army, oppressed the rebels; and then meeting Vitellius at Euphrates, made a league with the Romans. After this Tiberius commanded Vitellius to make war upon Aretas King of Arabia. He therefore leading his army against Aretas, went together with Herod to Jerusalem, to sacrifice at the public feast which was then to be celebrated.
Where being received honorably, he stayed three days, and in the mean while translated the high Priesthood from Jonathas to his brother the ophilus: and the fourth day, receiving letters of the death of Tiberius, made the people swear allegiance to Caius the new Emperor; and recalling his army, sent them into quarters. All this is related by Josephus Antiq. Lib. 18. c. 6, 7. Now Tiberius reigned 22 years and 7 months, and died March 16, in the beginning of the year of Christ 37; and the feast of the Passover fell on April 20 following, that is, 35 days after the death of Tiberius: so that the re were about 36 or 38 days, for the news of his death to come from Rome to Vitellius at Jerusalem; which being a convenient time for that message, confirms that the feast which Vitellius and Herod now went up to was the Passover. For had it been the Pentecost, as is usually supposed, Vitellius would have continued three months ignorant of the Emperor’s death: which is not to be supposed. However, the things done between this feast and the Passover which Vitellius was at before, namely, the stirring up a sedition in Parthia, the quieting that sedition, the making a league after that with the Parthians, the sending news of that league to Rome, the receiving new orders from the nce to go against the Arabians, and the putting those orders in execution; required much more time than the fifty days between the Passover and Pentecost of the same year: and therefore the Passover which Vitellius first went up to, was in the year before. Therefore Pilate was deposed before the Passover A.C. 36, and by consequence the passion of Christ was before that Passover: for he suffered not under Vitellius, nor under Vitellius and Pilate together, but under Pilate alone.
Now it is observable that the high Priesthood was at this time become an annual office, and the Passover was the time of making a new high Priest. For Gratus the predecessor of Pilate, saith Josephus, made Ismael high Priest after Ananus; and a while after, suppose a year, deposed him, and substituted Eleazar, and a year after Simon, and after another year Caiaphas; and then gave way to Pilate. So Vitellius at one Passover made Jonathas successor to Caiaphas, and at the next the ophilus to Jonathas.
Hence Luke tells us, that in the 15th year of Tiberius, Annas and Caiaphas were high Priests, that is, Annas till the Passover, and Caiaphas afterwards.
Accordingly John speaks of the high Priesthood as an annual office: for he tells us again and again, in the last year of Christ’s preaching, that Caiaphas was high Priest for that year, #Joh 11:49, 51; 17:13. and the next year Luke tells you, that Annas was high Priest, #Ac 4:6. The ophilus was therefore made high Priest in the first year of Caius, Jonathas in the 22d year of Tiberius, and Caiaphas in the 21st year of the same Emperor: and the refore, allotting a year to each, the Passion, when Annas succeeded Caiaphas, could not be later than the 20th year of Tiberius, A.C. 34.
Thus the re remain only the years 33 and 34 to be considered; and the year 33 I exclude by this argument. In the Passover two years before the Passion, when Christ went through the corn, and his disciples plucked the ears, and rubbed them with their hands to eat; this ripeness of the corn shows that the Passover then fell late: and so did the Passover A.C. 32, April 14. but the Passover A.C. 31, March 28th, fell very early. It was not therefore two years after the year 31, but two years after 32 that Christ suffered.
Thus all the characters of the Passion agree to the year 34; and that is the only year to which they all agree.