Is Jesus really the reason for the season?

Is this the true meaning of Christmas?
Is this the true meaning of Christmas?
The author getting festive
The author getting festive

The short answer is yes. Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ who, according to tradition, is a god made into a man in order to save humankind from their sins.

So for the world’s Christians, Jesus is the reason for the season, however how did this tradition start? A short delve into church history reveals much about how the Christian Church adopted Gnostic and pagan celebrations in order to sell Christianity to the masses. Let’s start at the beginning, did Jesus ever exist?

Was Jesus a Historic Figure?

Jesus was one of many ‘messiahs’ during the first century AD who walked Palestine claiming to be able to deliver Jerusalem from the Romans. This tradition goes back to the Maccabee period during the inter-testamental period (between the Old & New Testaments) when the Jews fought back against foreign invaders and were able to establish an independent kingdom with alliances to the major regional powers. For more information on this period I can recommend the excellent book by Simon Sebag Montefiore ‘Jerusalem: The Biography’. During the reign of Herod the Roman’s started to exercise more influence in the region and this made the Jews unhappy.

Jesus was born around 4BC during the reign of Herod. We can date his birth due to the census conducted at that time and his birth in Bethlehem. It is doubtful that he was born to a virgin (in fact this is a borrowed pagan belief that a similar god was born to a virgin). Jesus was born into a world of turmoil as the Roman’s attempted to exercise more power and influence in the region and a nation that was constantly uprising in what remains today to be a very unstable region.

Once Jesus became of age be became one of many people who said that they could save the Jews from both their earthly and heavenly hardships. Many of the messiahs took up arms against the Romans, whereas others such as Jesus advocated non-violent protest. In the end Jesus was executed and the start of the Jewish Cult of Christianity began.

While there is no specific reference to Jesus in historical texts outside of the bible, Josephus does mention a Jesus who was the Christ in his ‘The Antiquities of the Jews’ opus. Josephus wrote his chronicle about 20-30 years after the death of Jesus. He was a general in the Jewish army which was fighting for Jewish independence in the war of 60-66 AD. He was defeated but had his life spared if he joined the Roman cause as a translator. During the war he wrote the history of the Jews to at least preserve the culture that Rome was intent on destroying. In Book 18 chapter 3 he recites the gospel’s account of the trial and execution of Jesus and then gives a biography of the man Jesus:

‘Now, there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works – a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ.’

So we have an independent witness that Jesus Christ did exist as a historical figure and was considered a revolutionary by the ruling regime (there is some conjecture to the Jospehus passage and whether it was a forgery as it is very similar to the Bible text - thanks AKA Winston).

Now let’s consider other elements from the Christmas story:

Was Jesus born on December 25?

No he wasn’t! The forecast for Bethlehem this Christmas day is about 10oC (49oF) with rain, which means that there definitely would not have been shepherds watching their flocks by night! The best guessimate for the birth date of Jesus is sometime during October when the nights are still warm enough for shepherds to be outdoors and not in shelter. It is not unusual for snow to appear in Israel during the Christmas period

December 25 was decided as the birth date of Jesus by the Early Church in the 3rd Century AD. This birth date coincides with the birth date of another god, Mithra.

Mithra is a god from the Zoroastriandivinity (yazata) of covenant and oath and was the god of Roman soldiers. While much has been made of the similarities between Christianity and Mithra worship (baptism, cleansing through a blood sacrifice, similar birth dates, etc) the fact is that Mithra worship was for initiatives only and was a secret cult, therefore it was not a popular Roman religion outside the military.

However, this shows the marketing power and foresight of the Early Church. They were able to adopt pagan festivals and celebrations to ensure that Christianity gained stickiness for new converts and future targets. Once Constantine made Christianity the official religion it was easier for the Church to use existing events to continue growth. In fact we see this today in the commercial world as marketers attempt to build stickiness and attraction to a brand.

So while Jesus wasn’t born on December 25, he was born in around 4BC during October.

Was Jesus born of a Virgin?

The answer is no. Many Roman and Middle Eastern cults and religions of this period used the concept of a virgin birth to show the power of their god and a reflection to the fertility rites of centuries past.

So Christianity wasn’t the first religion to adopt this philosophy. In essence it is the celebration of a fertility cult where an innocent is impregnate miraculously by a god to reproduce another god. These rites go back to Egyptian period and beyond. This is another example of the Early Church adopting similar stories and theology of other religions to increase the popularity of the new religion.

Was there a Census & did Herod Murder Children?

Yes there was, but it was after the birth of Jesus in 4 BC. Some scholars believe that Jesus could have been 8-10 years old at this time. AD or CE history starts with the birth of Christ. We know that there was a census during this 10 year period, most likely in 6 AD. A medieval monk sort of got the birth date wrong and this got accepted by history. So while a census might have been unlikely perhaps Joseph and Mary were travelling during her pregnancy and Jesus could have been born in a manger in Bethlehem – we will never know for sure (thanks AKA Wiston).

Herod was a maniac and as his reign was coming to an end he was getting more insane, some suggest he had syphilis. While there is no recorded history of an execution of Children around this period, there is a chance that he did murder people to protect his authority.

Why did this Christmas Story and Christianity get so popular?

Marketing! Jesus did pretty well getting Jews interested in his philosophies (not as much as he could have – they ended up executing him!) and had build a reasonable following until his death. Once Jesus died the sect maintained membership mainly within his disciples and the people he had touched during his life. It was known at this time as the Jewish Sect of Christianity.

To this end Christianity could have been confined to history like a number of the Gnostic sects of the same period but for one person. This person was a phenomenal marketer – the Apostle Paul.

Paul was able to take this foundling religion and to sell it to the world. Paul made the message of Jesus simple for people, started adopting similar elements from other religions and bought the message to a larger target market – the Gentiles (non Jews). Let’s think of Paul’s activities in the 4Ps marketing mix methodology:

Product – eternal salvation based upon the basic cultural philosophies and theology that existed in first century AD. A highly moralistic religion that offers a safe afterlife

Price – free* Conditions Apply (* one has to give up earthly desires and believe in Jesus Christ as their personal saviour)

Promotion – Paul spent years on the road selling his style of Christianity. This proselytizing of Christianity wasn’t always appreciated by the local authorities or other Apostles (Paul & Peter fought quite often) but it helped to build a solid following

Placement – in each town or city that Paul visited he set up a home Church, but the beauty of Christianity from a marketing sense is that Church can be anywhere; your body is a temple, so if you believe you can communicate with God.

So, Paul was the ultimate marketer of the brand of Christianity and of Jesus Christ. This was then adopted and morphed again by the Early Church Fathers to ensure that it became embedded within the Western culture and religion. In essence we can thank Paul for Christianity and our celebration of Christmas today.

Xmas at my house - 1
Xmas at my house - 1
Xmas at my house - 2
Xmas at my house - 2

Final Thought

When you break down the word Christmas it means Christ Mass – a mass to celebrate the birth of the saviour of the world (to Christians at least!) Today Christmas is a commercial activity of buying gifts, not really about celebrating the new born life of a person born 2000 years ago.

In our modern culture we might have lost the true meaning of Christmas, it not about gifts, it’s not even really about Jesus Christ as I have highlighted. I think that the real reason of Christmas is about family and friends and celebrating life – whether to you this could be the birth of a child in Bethlehem in 4BC or the specialness of the season, only you can determine this.

Thanks for reading, I wish you all a Merry Christmas and look forward to writing more hubs for you next year.

So, is Jesus the reason for the season...yes, among other reasons! Cheers Michael

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Comments 25 comments

Disappearinghead profile image

Disappearinghead 4 years ago from Wales, UK

Mmm. If Jesus was not born of a virgin then Joseph was the father. If Joseph then Jesus was not the son of God. If not the son of God then He did not die as a sacrifice for sin.


charmike4 profile image

charmike4 4 years ago from Adelaide, South Australia Author

It all depends on your belief system Disappearinghead. To some it doesn't matter whether Mary was a virgin or if Jesus did die or rose again. For these people it is about faith and 'other'. For some they need to be sure in order to believe. The real question is does it really matter?


AKA Winston 4 years ago

charmike,

A couple of factual inaccuracies. One, there was no worldwide census as is described in Luke. The closest census occured in the year 6 or 7 in Syria and Judaea (Bethlehem is Palestine) and this census was written about by Josephus.

Second, in Antiquities, there is a high degree of consensus among scholars that the passage of Josephus was added after the fact as a forgery.

One of the better arguments against Antiquities is that none of the early Christian apologists ever quoted Josephus as a neutral witness.


charmike4 profile image

charmike4 4 years ago from Adelaide, South Australia Author

Thanks AKA Winston for clearing up some of these facts. I recall from my degree that this debate was still raging in the late 80s.


oscarwms profile image

oscarwms 4 years ago from PA

A faulty belief system gives faulty information. This post is full of faulty information. Er, of course you can turn that back on me and say mine is faulty. I will die for what I believe will you?


AKA Winston 4 years ago

(I will die for what I believe will you?)

I believe in being a gentleman at all times. Please, after you, sir.


oscarwms profile image

oscarwms 4 years ago from PA

Oh! That's very kind of you, I take that as a no.


Bible Studies profile image

Bible Studies 4 years ago from PA

The only thing I can agree on in this article is that Jesus was not born on December 25, and that pagan worship was brought in, but that was well after the movement started. The original movement without the pagan worship is still around.

Paul spread it just through promotion? I can believe it with some of these modern day churches. Do you realize who Paul was before his name was changed to Paul? The last thing he could have done was waltz into town, sweet talk the people, set up a church, and leave. There was a reason for that, and a reason why the people listened to him after God got hold of him.

Disappearinghead 100% agree. Also, if a virgin birth could not happen, then God can not do the impossible. Therefore God could not be God, Jesus could not be the son of God. Then there is no sin, and no salvation.

oscarwms if the time ever comes, I pray I will stand strong and not chicken out. There is no doubt I know I would be scared, but I know I love God with all my heart.


AKA Winston 4 years ago

Bible Studies,

Have you compared the birth story in Matthew and Luke? The births occured at different times and under different circumstances and the actions of Joseph and Mary do not match when the narratives are compared. So why are the stories to be believed at all?

There is also the argument that the virgin birth was included in these books due to a faulty translation of the Hebrew that a young woman would give birth, not specifically a virgin.

And, of course, there is also the geneologies in Matthew and Luke, which do not match, and are of Joseph, tracing his line back to David, which is irrelevant if Joseph is not the father because then the lineage would need to be of Mary to show that Jesus traced back to David.

Also, isn't it interesting that the virgin birth seems critical to Matthew and Luke but in Mark and John it is not mentioned at all.

Then there is the really critical lack of divinity of Jesus in the synoptic gospels - if you are a bible scholar you will know that only in John is it claimed that Jesus and god were the same, that Jesus was the word, the Logos, with god at the beginning.

Virgin birth falsification does not destroy all Christianity, but it does wipe out evangelical Christianity and the ideas of orignal sin, sacrifice, and redemption.


charmike4 profile image

charmike4 4 years ago from Adelaide, South Australia Author

Thanks oscarwms, Bible Studies & AKA Winston for your thoughts. This is the beauty of Theology, it invites debates and alternate thoughts...this is how doctrine has evolved for centuries.


Bible Studies profile image

Bible Studies 4 years ago from PA

"it does wipe out evangelical Christianity and the ideas of original sin, sacrifice, and redemption."

Then there would be no need for Jesus, and the Bible would then be just a bunch of fairy tales. God would be someone or something to possibly fear. That is what someone in particular would love me to believe. I don't.

I know about the discrepancies. In matter of fact you forgot about the different versions of the resurrection if you want to get technical. I'm not in for a theological debate right now. I know as I learn more that the things that seem contradictory somehow eventually fit into place.

Mark and John didn't mention the birth, since it wasn't important to their portrayal of Jesus. If your mother, spouse, child after he/she grows up, and best friend wrote a biography about you, wouldn't they all be different? Each one would have something different to say about you, some may overlap events, and some would have events that would not be included in any of the other versions. Each one would show you in a different light.

Faith comes from more than just words. From experience and knowing. From being pulled out of ditches that we would never have been able to get out of ourselves. The deeper the ditch is, the louder the voice is. I'm not talking about in it for the money.

If I'm wrong, then so be it. At least I know I tried to do good in this world. Who knows what awaits after death. What if I'm right, and your only nit-picking seemingly unimportant inconsistencies?


Bible Studies profile image

Bible Studies 4 years ago from PA

PS. Last line is suppose to be What if I'm right, and your only nit-picking unimportant issues that seem inconsistent? Caught that after the edit time was up.


oscarwms profile image

oscarwms 4 years ago from PA

The word "theology" means the study of God. the greek word Theo = god, and ology = the study of. If you did a proper study of God we would all believe the same thing.

Of course you can always wax ignorant and say what god are you talking about.


Artin2010 profile image

Artin2010 4 years ago from Northwestern Florida, Gulfcoast

61 Old Testament writers and 40 something New Testament Writers all pointing to the same Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Could this be mere coincidence? Too many prophets and too many witnesses to second guess this event. We could be wrong about the timing of the event but 2 plus billion believers out of 6.9 billion people and more coming in each day. Even some of the Romans who were present in Jesus's time and ministry concurred that He was a special being and convinced that He was / is the Messiah, the King of Kings. Great Hub my friend in Christ Jesus,I am pleased to read. merry Christmas, yes, Jesus IS the reason! Thank you


charmike4 profile image

charmike4 4 years ago from Adelaide, South Australia Author

Thanks Artin2010 for your sharing your thoughts and kind words about the hub. Merry Xmas!


Artin2010 profile image

Artin2010 4 years ago from Northwestern Florida, Gulfcoast

hello again, just thought you would find this hub interesting. http://hubpages.com/religion-philosophy/The-Truth-... I did. A Merry Christ Mass to you friend.


charmike4 profile image

charmike4 4 years ago from Adelaide, South Australia Author

Great hub on an alternate view of Christmas traditions Artin2010. Thanks for the link.


InTuneWithCooking profile image

InTuneWithCooking 4 years ago from Australia

Voted up for being very interesting and starting such a lively debate! No matter what the reason for the season is, it's still a great time to spend with family and friends.


oscarwms profile image

oscarwms 4 years ago from PA

Mattew, Mark, Luke, and John are not different acounts of Jesus' birth. they do not conflict with each other. The problem comes from not studying the scripture. If you saw an accident and you were on the north side of the street looking south and you gave a detaild acount of it that includes who else was there, you would have one narrative. If you were on the south side of the street you would have a different narrative leaving out the people and suroundings that the other person saw in his narative and so will it be with people on the east and west of the street or someone looking down on top of it from a second story window. The same accident but no matching details of what they have seen and heard. There is no conflict in the story they tell because it is the same story from differnt angles.


AKA Winston 4 years ago

(Mattew, Mark, Luke, and John are not different acounts of Jesus' birth. they do not conflict with each other. The problem comes from not studying the scripture.)

oscarwms,

Perhaps if you studied a bit more you would come to realize that only Matthew and Luke deal with the birth of Jesus - John and Mark are mute on the subject.

Once having narrowed our study to the only two authors who did write about the birth, it is simplicity itself to compare the two books side-by-side and see if they said the same thing.

Hmmmm. Nope. Lots of differences.


oscarwms profile image

oscarwms 4 years ago from PA

Well AKA You are right about the birth, but my point is is that there are non conflicts between the four Gospels. The story is still told with no error. I was more concerned with the life and time of Jesus Chrst, not his birth. By the way I have a B.A. in Biblical studies


AKA Winston 4 years ago

(I have a B.A. in Biblical studies)

oscarwms,

Then you, above others, should know your claim about no errors is total crap.


oscarwms profile image

oscarwms 4 years ago from PA

AKA Winston, I see why you got that Joka icon. I believe with all my heart that the Word of God is enerrant and totlaly true. In all my studies I have found no errors. I am also an ordained minister and I preach and teach Gods Word. This is the last post on this matter. Watch out the Batman alwys wins.


AKA Winston 4 years ago

oscarwms,

I respect that you don't want to answer any further, but I can't help but wonder why someone combines true and innerancy when such does not have to be the case. Two writers with totally different motives can retell a story differently, with gross errors between the two, but still be telling the truth as they know it.

Now, if you suggest historical veracity, though, I have to totally disagree. The differences in the various books make it more likely to me that the messiah story is an example of what we now call urban legend.


voodoo123 profile image

voodoo123 4 years ago from Provo, Utah,United States

many people who said that they could save the Jews from both their earthly and heavenly hardships.

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