According to some authors, it’s due to something called the “integral age” view that was common among ancient Jews.
But this idea itself might be a myth.
Here are 9 things to know and share . . .
1) What is the “integral age” view?
Supposedly, it is a belief that was common in ancient Judaism, and it held that prophets (and other holy men) died on the same day that they were born or—according to some accounts—the day they were conceived.
They thus lived their lives in whole or “integral” years (from the Latin integer = “whole”).
2) What does this have to do with the Annunciation and Christmas?
According to some early Christian authors, Jesus was crucified on March 25th.
If that were true, and if someone held the integral age view, then Jesus would have either been born or conceived on March 25th.
This would provide a rationale for why the Church celebrates the Annunciation of Jesus on March 25, and why it celebrates his birth on December 25th—nine months later.
3) Why is it relevant to apologetics?
If this is the rationale for the dates of Advent and Christmas then it would be clear that they weren’t picked because of pagan holidays. They were picked based on the day Christ was thought to have been crucified.
Thus, apologists sometimes cite the integral age theory.
4) Who said Jesus was crucified on March 25th?
Tertullian (c. A.D. 200) is frequently credited with saying this. He wrote that Jesus was crucified “in the month of March, at the times of the Passover, on the eighth day before the calends of April” (An Answer to the Jews 8).
On the Roman calendar, the calends were the first days of the month.
If Jesus was crucified eight days before the calends of April then he was crucified eight days before April 1st—in other words, on March 25th.
Tertullian seems to have been the earliest author to propose this date for the Crucifixion, though it was later picked up by other Christian authors.
5) Was Tertullian correct?
No. Modern scholars have almost universally concluded that Tertullian was mistaken.
The reason is that the four Gospels agree that Jesus was crucified on a Friday at Passover during the reign of Pontius Pilate (after the 15th year of Tiberius Caesar; see Luke 3:1).
None of the Fridays at Passover during the relevant years fall on March 25th, so Tertullian was mistaken.
Still, if people thought that’s when he was crucified, and if they held to the integral age view, that would still provide a rationale for the Annunciation on March 25 and Christmas on December 25.
6) Did they hold the integral age theory?
This is where it gets interesting. I’ve been doing extensive searching, both online and off, and I can’t find any ancient Jewish source attesting this view.
I can find modern Christian sources talking about it (like the apologetic writings mentioned earlier), but not ancient Jewish ones.
I also don’t find mentions of this in the scholarly literature I’ve checked.
For example, I can’t find any mention of it in Jack Finegan’s outstanding Hanbook of Biblical Chronology (2nd ed.)—and I really would expect to see some reference to it there.
I searched my Verbum library, which is very large. Nothing.
So I started searching on Google.
7) What did you find on Google?
Google shows different people different results, but here’s what I got.
If you search on “integral age”, you get 6,200 results, but most of the top ones have nothing to do with our question. A lot of them seem to have to do with a New Age concept.
If you search for “integral age” prophets, you get 3,070 results, but the top results are almost all about Christmas.
That’s a danger sign.
If this is a well-attested Jewish view then why does it only seem to be bringing up results about Christmas. Could it be an apologetics myth?
I checked several of the results that came up, but none of them cited an ancient Jewish source (or even a scholarly source which would be expected to include a reference to an ancient one). The ones I checked just said it was a Jewish belief.
We might be able to force Jewish references to the surface if we eliminate “Christmas” from the search, so I then searched on “integral age” prophets –Christmas. I got 648 results.
Now the Annunciation held the top spot in the results Google showed me. So I pulled out the Annunciation, too, by searching on “integral age” prophets –Christmas –Annunciation. I got 619 results.
Some New Age references were back. And none of the links I checked provided any ancient Jewish or modern scholarly references.
This was bad.
The search results I was coming up with did not make it look like this was an ancient Jewish belief.
The results I got were, respectively, 1 hit, 70 hits, and 10 hits.
Many of these had the term Talmud or midrash struck out because Google was trying to show me additional results even though these terms were not present.
And none of the ones I checked cited an ancient Jewish or modern scholarly source.
8) Is the “integral age” theory just a Christian apologetics myth, then?
From what I’ve been able to find, it could well be.
That’s not to say it’s a modern one. It could have been an idea that some ancient Christians had about what Jews believed. I haven’t tried tracing how far back in Christian history the claim goes.
But I have tried finding it in ancient Jewish and modern scholarly sources and not come up with anything.
As a result, I don’t feel safe citing this argument in my own apologetics at this point, because I can’t back it up. It has the earmarks of an apologetics myth.
So I have a request: Can anybody provide a quotation from an ancient Jewish source that talks about this belief?
How about a modern scholarly source that cites an ancient source (Jewish or otherwise)?
I’d much appreciate anything anyone can come up with! I’d love to have an ancient source for this claim.
9) If it is a myth, what then?
If the integral age theory is a myth then it means we shouldn’t be using it when we talk about the dating of the Annunciation and Christmas.
Of course, if it is a myth, that doesn’t mean these two Christian holidays were ripoffs of pagan ones. That’s a whole different matter.
Also, the difficulty in finding actual ancient references to back up this common contemporary claim should serve as a caution and as an illustration of the value of checking one’s sources and testing their claims.