Is the “integral age” theory an apologetics myth? 9 things to know and share

by Jimmy Akin

in Apologetics, Bible, Bible History, Liturgical Year

prophet1Why do we celebrate Christmas on December 25th? Why is the Annunciation on March 25th?

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 . . .

BE SURE TO READ THE UPDATE TO THIS POST BY CLICKING HERE.

 

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.

So I decided to include search terms for specific Jewish sources where you might expect such a belief to be mentioned—like the Mishnah, the Talmud, or in a midrash.

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.

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{ 11 comments }

Nick from Detroit November 28, 2014 at 3:40 pm

Thank you, Mr. Akin, for this post. I’ve read about the March 25th date on several sites during the past couple of years. I don’t recall any sources cited, but some of them also referred to March 25th being the day that God created Adam. I’m pretty sure that some of them claimed that this was Jewish tradition.
But, a quick search couldn’t confirm this. At NewAdvent.com (Catholic Encycl.), under “The Annunciation,” I found the following:
The opinion that the Incarnation also took place on that date [March 25th] is found in the pseudo-Cyprianic work “De Pascha Computus”, c. 240. It argues that the coming of Our Lord and His death must have coincided with the creation and fall of Adam.
And, at wiki, under “Anno Mundi,” I found this claim:
The Alexandrian era, developed in AD 412, was the precursor to the Byzantine era. After the initial attempts by Hippolytus, Clement of Alexandria and others, the Alexandrian computation of the date of creation was worked out to be 25 March 5493 BC.[30]
With this citation:
Elias J Bickerman (1980). Chronology of the Ancient World (Aspects of Greek & Roman Life) (2nd sub ed.). Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell Univ. Press. p. 73. ISBN 0-8014-1282-X.
I hope that helps in some way. Hope you had a happy Thanksgiving. God Bless!

Bice November 29, 2014 at 5:21 am

Very interesting!

Michelle November 29, 2014 at 7:53 am

Mr. Akin, have you ever viewed “The Bethlehem Star?” It references possible dates for both the Nativity, Epiphany, and the Crucifixion based on astronomy. I was wondering, if you had, what your thoughts on it are.

Mary Ellen Thompson November 29, 2014 at 8:44 am

This is a great article. As you already know, the date of Jesus’ birth has always been a source of controversy among us Christians. Years ago I spent some time among Messianic Jews. They held that Jesus couldn’t have possibly been born in December because it was spring in Israel in December, and there was something about the position of the stars in the sky that meant the presence of the star that showed where Jesus was impossible. The position of the stars in the sky suggests that his birth happened sometime in the autumn, possibly near Rosh Hashana, which is the Jewish New Year, much like the first day of Advent for us. As far as I’m concerned, I don’t care when Jesus was born. The fact that he was born is what is important to me. I’m okay with celebrating his birth in December. I feel like we are celebrating Jesus as an infant at Christmas. With all that said, I find the idea of an “integral age” fascinating. Have you checked the writings of Josephus? He was a first century Jewish historian. Perhaps he could give you the information you need. Forgive me if you have already exhausted this source.

Jacqueline November 29, 2014 at 11:16 am

A while ago, I joined the Jimmy Akin Secret Information Club but the emails have stopped coming. Then, I joined the Jimmy Akin Blog and get the blog emails that sometimes lead to the Secret Info Club……What is going on? I am getting confused. What happened to the Secret Info Club? Are they one and the same? I like the idea of commenting when appropriate. Thanks.

Francisco Sandoval November 29, 2014 at 11:36 am

I personally think this particular theory was cooked apropos to counter charges of stealing pagan dates for Christian celebrations. I am no mystic nor theology expert, but it really does not sound to me like God’s M.O. It is too convenient, too facile if you will. Then again, I am no expert as I said.

Thanks for your articles. I really enjoy them.

Francisco Sandoval November 29, 2014 at 11:36 am

I personally think this particular theory was cooked apropos to counter charges of stealing pagan dates for Christian celebrations. I am no mystic nor theology expert, but it really does not sound to me like God’s M.O. It is too convenient, too facile if you will. Then again, I am no expert as I said.

Thanks for your articles. I really enjoy them.

Laura Peters November 29, 2014 at 7:55 pm

I always love reading about Christ’s birth in Alfred Edersheim’s “The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah” – I’m not sure how scholarly he would be found in modern times, but he quotes a lot from traditional rabbinic sources. And, I love the idea, for example, that the shepherds who came to see Jesus were the very ones in charge of lambs who would be slaughtered in temple sacrifice. I believe he talks quite a bit about the dating of the Nativity. You may be interested to read it – if you haven’t already. It’s in the first few pages of the book.

RGCheek November 30, 2014 at 2:43 am

Some key things I have read relevant to Jesus B-Day

1) The Romans used censuses not only to count people but to also collect taxes, so they timed the census to coincide with the largest cash crop harvest to maximize receipts. For Palestine at the time that would be olive oil and (since the inns were full and Mary couldn’t travel well while in 9th month of pregnancy) that places the B-day around the end of November.

2) It was common for ancients to use easily recognizable astronomical events like solstices and equinoxes as holidays for significant events like a birthday. Calendars were not in wide use but almost any farmer could ID a winter solstice; his success depended on recognizing astronomical signs indicating the beginning and end of seasons.

3) Who cares what a bunch of village atheists think anyway?

Paul Van Olson November 30, 2014 at 8:52 pm

“He who holds that they were born in Nisan holds that they died in Nisan, and he who holds that they were born in Tishri holds that they died in Tishri, as it says, I am a hundred and twenty years old this day. The word ‘this day’ seems here superfluous. What then is the point of it? [As much as to say], This day my days and years have reached full measure, which teaches that the Holy One, blessed be He, sits and completes the years of the righteous from day to day and from month to month, as it says, The number of thy days I will fulfil.”

http://juchre.org/talmud/rosh/rosh1.htm#11a

Frida December 1, 2014 at 12:59 pm

Check this out:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CtJ8Jjma5cM

It has info on the Star of Bethlehem and might shed some light on the date of Christ’s conception/birth… Would love to hear your thoughts on it…

Frida

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