Every Christmas, the same old historical mistakes re-appear and need to be corrected yet again. So let us, start at the beginning:

Joseph and his sons (by a previous marriage) were in effect, a house-building firm. It was customary for all Jewish boys, no matter what they were, to have a trade which they could fall back on in hard times. It is likely that Joseph and his sons each had a specialist trade that made them house builders. So Joseph was a substantial man. James (his son) records in his Protevangelium that he “returned from building houses” on one occasion.

Mary was the only daughter of two elderly parents who in gratitude, gave her to the Temple as one of the Temple Virgins. These Virgins wove the veils of the Temple and repaired the priest’s vestments. The virgins returned to ordinary life aged approximately fourteen or fifteen and got married. Since Mary’s parents were deceased, the Temple authorities were responsible for her and they sought a man who was financially well off and of good reputation. As a widowed house builder, Joseph would fulfil those requirements.

Mary was well-off in her own right, having, as an only child, inherited from her parents which under Jewish custom remained her property.



2:1 And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.

2 (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was procurator of Syria.)

3 And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.

The Jewish historian Josephus confirms that a general taxation was indeed overseen by Cyrenius (Quirinius).  He notes, however, that Cyrenius was appointed as Governor of the province of Syria when the Romans deposed Archelaus (Herod the Great’s son) as ruler of Judaea in 6 AD. Judaea was then taken under direct Roman rule and incorporated into the Roman province of Syria. This resulted in a revolt led by Judas of Gamala (‘Judas the Galilean’), a Jewish zealot (see Acts 5:37).

As Jesus was born in 6 BC, this Roman census occurred eleven or twelve years after his birth.

It appears, therefore, that Luke was mistaken when giving this Roman census as the cause of Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem.

Did Luke simply copy from James who in the Protevangelium recorded it the same way? James in the Protevangelium states: “And it came to pass, that there went forth a decree from the Emperor Augustus, that all the Jews should be taxed, who were of Bethlehem in Judæa”

So then, what caused Joseph to go to Bethlehem twelve years earlier? The problem remains, until one looks carefully at the terminology used. The terminology that Luke uses in stating that Quirinius controlled the Syrian area, Luke in the original Greek, doesn’t use the official title of “Governor” (“legatus”), but the lesser term “hegemon” which is a procurator. This means that Quirinius was not the official governor of Judea, but he was in charge of a census because he was a more capable than the rather inept governor Saturninus.

Justin Martyr’s Apology supports this view, writing that Quirinius was a “procurator”, not a governor of the area of Judea. It may well have been that Augustus put Quirinius in charge of the census-enrollment in Syria between the close of Saturninus’s administration and the beginning of Varus’s term as governor in 7 B.C, thus giving us a census in 6 BC. It was doubtless because of his competent handling of this census that Augustus later put him in charge of the 7 A.D census which Josephus records and Luke mistakes when writing many decades later.

Nonetheless, the 6 BC census required that men went to their ancestral (tribal) home and that, for Joseph, was Bethlehem

The very fact of a 6 BC inter-administrative local census gives a good date for the birth of Jesus.

Astronomer Michael Molnar argues that the “star in the east” refers to an astronomical event with astrological significance in the context of ancient Greek (Galatian?) astrology. He suggests a link between the Star of Bethlehem and a double occultation of Jupiter on March 20 and April 17 of 6 BC in Aries (signifying in those days, Judah), particularly the second occultation on April 17.

Firmicus Maternus, an astrologer to Roman Emperor Constantine, wrote that an occultation of Jupiter in Aries was a sign of the birth of a divine king. He argues that Aries rather than Pisces was the zodiac symbol for Judea at that time. Professor Karlis Kaufmanis, an astronomer, argued that this was an astronomical event where Jupiter and Saturn were in a triple conjunction in the constellation Pisces. Since planets in their orbits have a “stationary point”, a planet moves eastward through the stars but, as it approaches the opposite point in the sky from the sun, it appears to slow, come to a full stop, and move backward (westward) through the sky for some weeks. Again it slows, stops, and resumes its eastward course” Exactly as tradition recorded the Bethlehem Star as doing.

Grant Mathews, professor of theoretical astrophysics and cosmology in the Department of Physics at the University of Notre Dame has studied the Star of Bethlehem for more than a decade. According to the researcher, the sun, Jupiter, the moon, and Saturn were aligned in Aries, the house of Judah.

The Roman and Judean rulers knew that taking a census in winter would have been impractical and unpopular. Generally a census would take place after the harvest season, around September or October, when it would not seriously affect the economy, the weather was good and the roads were still dry enough to allow easy travel…Luke’s account of the census argues strongly against a December date for Messiah’s birth. For such an agrarian society, an autumn post-harvest census was much more likely.

If Luke 1 in talking about John’s conception and birth, is referring to the first rotation of priestly service, then the course of Abijah (the eighth course) would serve approximately eight or nine weeks into the Jewish religious cycle which began in Nisan (March or April) in spring. This means that John’s conception would have occurred at about two months after March or April that year. If we use April 1 as a starting point, we can then add two months (8 – 9 weeks) to allow for the first seven courses of priests, the week of Passover, and the week after Zachariah’s course finished his service. Two months after April 1 would be June. This would place Jesus’ conception roughly six months later at around December. In which case his birth would have occurred nine months later September of the following year – in the autumn.

Shepherds and their flocks would not be found “abiding” (Gr. agrauleo) in the open fields at night in December (Tebeth), for the reason that there would be no pasturage at that time. It was the custom then (as now) to withdraw the flocks during the month Marchesven (Oct.–Nov.) from the open districts and house them for the winter.

All this puts Jesus’ likely birth on or around the Feast of Trumpets – Rosh Hashanah – which falls in August- September.


Tradition has it that Joseph’s relatives in Bethlehem ran an inn. It was possibly his childhood home. The fact is that in Jewish custom, a woman did not give birth in a house full of people because of the blood involved, everyone became ritually impure. Hence that statement that there was “no room at the inn” woiuld merely mean that when it became obvious that Mary was about to give birth, some place outside the inn would quickly have to be found.

The prophet Micah tells us where that place was and archaeologists have pretty well confirmed it. The foundations of Migdal Eder have been identified and what archeologists are fairly certain was an inn is very close by.

Migdal Eder was a stone watchtower where the keepers of the Temple sheepyards could keep watch over the valuable (blemish-free) sheep. Such watchtowers still exist in the middle east today, so we know exactly what Migdal Eder looked like.

Jesus’ birth, which occurs on or around the Feast of Trumpets – (Rosh Hashanah – which falls in August- September) fulfills the prophecy found in the prophet Micah.


4:8 And thou, O Tower of the Flock, the strong hold of the daughter of Zion, unto thee shall it come, even the first dominion; the kingdom shall come to the daughter of Jerusalem.

5:2 But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.

Tower of the Flock – Migdal Eder – a very well-known place in Bethlehem. The Mishnah tells us that the Bethlehem sheepfolds were the holding place for sheep designated for Temple sacrifice. They were walled and had a great watchtower Migdal Eder. The Shepherds were Temple servants.

The Old Testament clearly states that the Messiah was to be be born at the “watch tower of the flock” this was the place to guard the sheep and the place where ewes brought forth their lambs, the place of Jesus’ birth – not a stable but as the Septuagint says a “stall” a different thing altogether – in the cave-like place that you can see in the picture at the bottom of the tower where the lambs were born – and precisely the place where the prophet said He would be born.

The Gospel records that He was wrapped in “swaddling clothes”. These were precisely what was kept in Migdal Eder to wrap the newborn lambs in to prevent them from thrasdhing around and damaging themselves. Again, the symbolism is strong.

These facts change somewhat the symbolism of His birth. The symbolism is greatly strengthened: He was born in the watchtower “because there was no room at the inn” in the cave-like place within the watchtower where Temple ewes gave birth to sacrificial lambs. Christ was the sacrifice to end all sacrifices, so the place of His birth is especially significant. Secondly, His birth is announced to the very keepers of the sacrifices, and they in turn became His guardians.

Archaeologists have now identified the remains of Migdal Eder near Bethlehem, and significantly, they have found what they identify as the remains of an inn quite nearby.

Joseph, on the eighth day after Mary gave birth, took the family to Jerusalem so that the Lord could be circumcised according to the law of God (Luke 2:21) probably on the way back to Nazareth.

Forty days after Jesus was born, fulfilling the purification requirement of Leviticus 12, Mary and Joseph travelled to Jerusalem’s temple to present him before God. His parents made an offering to the temple of two young birds. It was during this visit that the priest Simeon prophesied about Jesus’ and blessed His parents (Luke 2:22 – 35).

Before Mary and Joseph left the temple to return home a woman named Anna, a widowed prophetess who lived in the house of God (older widows ran the Temple Virgins), blessed them as well (Luke 2:36 – 38).


We know nothing of the three wise men other than that they said that they had seen the Star in the east, meaning that they had been east of Jerusalem when they saw it. East of Jerusalem is Babylon – a large area of modern Iraq where there was a Jewish population almost as large as that of Israel. And above that was Parthia.

Most royal courts at that time employed astrologers as advisers. They could be Zoroastrians or Druids both of which were highly regarded. It seems probable that there were more than one astrologer in some royal courts.

The Druids had a prophecy from some five hundred years earlier that one of their trinitarian god – Iesu -the saviour would be born around the time that Christ (Jesus -Latin Iesu) was born and that he would be the great king of the world. That prophecy would have been widely known amongst astrologers at that time.

The wise men saw the Star in the House of Aries which at that time signified Israel, so they would know where to go. They visited Herod at Jerusalem rather than at his winter quarters at Jericho, this indicates that they arrived in either the summer-autumn or the spring-summer. The 1300 mile journey from we assume, the Parthian summer capital of Ecbatana two hundred miles from the winter capital Ctesiphon travelling up the Euphrates from village to village to Aleppo then down to Jerusalem would have taken many months (Camels walk at about 4 mph) So it is likely that they arrived at least ten months months after Christ’s birth.

Were there only three wise men? We do not know. There could easily have been more as this occultation would have attracted the attention of astrologers.

What about their gifts? Valuable items were standard gifts to honour a king in the ancient world: gold as a precious metal, frankincense as perfume or incense, and myrrh as anointing oil.

The Wise Men are recorded in the Gospel as visiting Jesus in a “house”, which would be the family home in Nazareth, for by this time Jesus was a toddler 9-12 months old.


So, we assume that about twelve months elapsed from the birth until Joseph was warned to go to Egypt (say September 5 BC). The latest scholarship says that Herod died in 4 BC – possibly quite late in the year. This would mean that the Holy Family would return to Nazareth early in 3 BC having spent a full twelvemonth in Egypt.

Upon the return from Egypt, they found Nazareth, which is part of Galilee, was now ruled by a another son of Herod the Great named Herod Antipas who had a slightly less violent disposition than Herod Archelaus.

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