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Why December 25? The origin of Christmas had nothing to do with paganism
WORLD Magazine ^ | Dec 10, 2005 | Gene Edward Veith

Posted on 12/07/2005 2:36:38 PM PST by Charles Henrickson

According to conventional wisdom, Christmas had its origin in a pagan winter solstice festival, which the church co-opted to promote the new religion. In doing so, many of the old pagan customs crept into the Christian celebration. But this view is apparently a historical myth—like the stories of a church council debating how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, or that medieval folks believed the earth is flat—often repeated, even in classrooms, but not true.

William J. Tighe, a history professor at Muhlenberg College, gives a different account in his article "Calculating Christmas," published in the December 2003 Touchstone Magazine. He points out that the ancient Roman religions had no winter solstice festival.

True, the Emperor Aurelian, in the five short years of his reign, tried to start one, "The Birth of the Unconquered Sun," on Dec. 25, 274. This festival, marking the time of year when the length of daylight began to increase, was designed to breathe new life into a declining paganism. But Aurelian's new festival was instituted after Christians had already been associating that day with the birth of Christ. According to Mr. Tighe, the Birth of the Unconquered Sun "was almost certainly an attempt to create a pagan alternative to a date that was already of some significance to Roman Christians." Christians were not imitating the pagans. The pagans were imitating the Christians.

The early church tried to ascertain the actual time of Christ's birth. It was all tied up with the second-century controversies over setting the date of Easter, the commemoration of Christ's death and resurrection. That date should have been an easy one. Though Easter is also charged with having its origins in pagan equinox festivals, we know from Scripture that Christ's death was at the time of the Jewish Passover. That time of year is known with precision.

But differences in the Jewish, Greek, and Latin calendars and the inconsistency between lunar and solar date-keeping caused intense debate over when to observe Easter. Another question was whether to fix one date for the Feast of the Resurrection no matter what day it fell on or to ensure that it always fell on Sunday, "the first day of the week," as in the Gospels.

This discussion also had a bearing on fixing the day of Christ's birth. Mr. Tighe, drawing on the in-depth research of Thomas J. Talley's The Origins of the Liturgical Year, cites the ancient Jewish belief (not supported in Scripture) that God appointed for the great prophets an "integral age," meaning that they died on the same day as either their birth or their conception.

Jesus was certainly considered a great prophet, so those church fathers who wanted a Christmas holiday reasoned that He must have been either born or conceived on the same date as the first Easter. There are hints that some Christians originally celebrated the birth of Christ in March or April. But then a consensus arose to celebrate Christ's conception on March 25, as the Feast of the Annunciation, marking when the angel first appeared to Mary.

Note the pro-life point: According to both the ancient Jews and the early Christians, life begins at conception. So if Christ was conceived on March 25, nine months later, he would have been born on Dec. 25.

This celebrates Christ's birth in the darkest time of the year. The Celtic and Germanic tribes, who would be evangelized later, did mark this time in their "Yule" festivals, a frightening season when only the light from the Yule log kept the darkness at bay. Christianity swallowed up that season of depression with the opposite message of joy: "The light [Jesus] shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it" (John 1:5).

Regardless of whether this was Christ's actual birthday, the symbolism works. And Christ's birth is inextricably linked to His resurrection.



TOPICS: Culture/Society
KEYWORDS: belongsinreligion; borninmarch; christmas; christmasday; churchhistory; faithandphilosophy; godsgravesglyphs; johanneskepler; mithras; notahistorytopic; origins; paganism; romanempire; saturnalia; starofbethlehem; staroftheeast; waronchristmas
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Gene Edward Veith, Jr. is the Culture Editor of WORLD Magazine and the Executive Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary. He is the author of 14 books, including Loving God with All Your Mind and Postmodern Times.

1 posted on 12/07/2005 2:36:39 PM PST by Charles Henrickson
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To: Charles Henrickson
He points out that the ancient Roman religions had no winter solstice festival.

Saturnalia (from the god Saturn) was the name the Romans gave to their holiday marking the Winter Solstice.

2 posted on 12/07/2005 2:41:08 PM PST by steve-b (A desire not to butt into other people's business is eighty percent of all human wisdom)
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To: Charles Henrickson

O.K., trivia question:

The Roman Emperor thought that the shortest day of the year was Dec. 25th. Yet we see it as December 20th or 21st. Why?

Hint: the observations of his astronomers was probably correct, as are ours.


3 posted on 12/07/2005 2:41:34 PM PST by RonF
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To: Charles Henrickson

Thanks, and Merry Christmas.


4 posted on 12/07/2005 2:41:49 PM PST by Conservativegreatgrandma
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To: Charles Henrickson

Sounds a little bit like Calypso Louie trying to explain something.


5 posted on 12/07/2005 2:46:12 PM PST by Hoosier-Daddy (It's a fight to the death with Democrats.)
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To: Charles Henrickson
how many angels can dance on the head of a pin
6 posted on 12/07/2005 2:46:16 PM PST by sionnsar (†trad-anglican.faithweb.com† || To Libs: You are failing to celebrate MY diversity! || Iran Azadi)
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To: Charles Henrickson

The Jehovah's Witnesses aren't going to like this one bit.


7 posted on 12/07/2005 2:46:52 PM PST by TypeZoNegative (Future Minnesota Refugee)
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To: Charles Henrickson

Nonsense.
Trying to re-write history is always dangerous, and a is a favorite pass time of liberals. When conservatives do it they only harm themselves.

An alternative article at: http://www.revneal.org/Writings/jesusbirth.htm


8 posted on 12/07/2005 2:47:50 PM PST by TexasGreg ("Democrats Piss Me Off")
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To: Charles Henrickson
Luke 1:5 uses the phrase "course of Abia", (IChron. 24:10 and Neh. 12:17) describes a specific time of the year. During our present day of June, and it was after this "course" that John the baptist was conceived.

We are told that while John was 6 months in the womb he leaped when Mary came to tell Elizabeth her cousin about what had happened.

Six months from the end of June would be right about December 25th when the conception took place.
9 posted on 12/07/2005 2:51:07 PM PST by Just mythoughts
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To: RonF

Two possible reasons:

1. Precession of the solstices

2. Innaccuracy of the calendar w/regards to the way they did leap years.


10 posted on 12/07/2005 2:51:44 PM PST by RockinRight (It’s likely for a Conservative to be a Republican, but not always the other way around)
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To: Charles Henrickson; All
.......Note the pro-life point: According to both the ancient Jews and the early Christians, life begins at conception. So if Christ was conceived on March 25, nine months later, he would have been born on Dec. 25.

Exactly!

the '25th'.....'25th'......of Kislev.......Kislev is ALWAYS on the 25th!

Merry Christmas and Happy-Joyfull Hanukkah!

.....................................Kislev-December 25th!

Jesus is coming to Rapture the CHURCH.......NOT the kingdom!

'Narnia'......is NOT a christian work but is about an anti-Christ-lion!

.................'Narnia' is therefore......Pro U.N. and Pro Islam!

11 posted on 12/07/2005 2:52:39 PM PST by maestro
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To: RonF

When Pope Gregory XIII came up with the calendar reform in 1582, his purpose was to get the date of the vernal equinox back to where it was in A.D. 325, when the Council of Nicaea had set the rules for calculating the date of Easter.


12 posted on 12/07/2005 2:53:57 PM PST by Verginius Rufus
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To: RonF

Wild guess, but I'd say the additional days added to July, August and a couple others, pushed 12/25 back that many days, but obviously not the actual solstice.


13 posted on 12/07/2005 2:55:24 PM PST by HawaiianGecko (Facts are neither debatable nor open to "I have a right to this opinion" nonsense.)
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To: RonF

O.K., trivia question:

The Roman Emperor thought that the shortest day of the year was Dec. 25th. Yet we see it as December 20th or 21st. Why?

Hint: the observations of his astronomers was probably correct, as are ours"""




Karrl Rove changed it?


14 posted on 12/07/2005 2:56:42 PM PST by sure_fine (*not one to over kill the thought process*)
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To: RockinRight

Bingo! They didn't have telescopes, computers, and atomic cesium clocks in Boulder, CO.


15 posted on 12/07/2005 2:58:42 PM PST by Cobra64
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To: Charles Henrickson
Perhaps, but it has nothing to do with God's will, either. Christ established the memorial He wanted-- the Lord's Supper, for his death. Men presumed to create a holiday for His birth. ("My thoughts are not your thoughts; My ways are not your ways...")
16 posted on 12/07/2005 3:00:14 PM PST by mikeus_maximus (Voting for "the lesser of two evils" is still evil.)
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To: Charles Henrickson
to ensure that it always fell on Sunday, "the first day of the week," as in the Gospels.

I always thought that God rested on the seventh day.

17 posted on 12/07/2005 3:00:25 PM PST by AmusedBystander
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To: RonF
Until the Gregorian Calendar was accepted in the British Empire in 1752, the Winter Solstice occurred on Dec 25.
18 posted on 12/07/2005 3:03:32 PM PST by NathanR (Apri moi, le deluge.)
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To: Charles Henrickson
It may be a grammatical mote, but it is critical: we do NOT celebrate Christmas Day. We celebrate the Birth of Christ. Christ was born; of that we are certain. We don't know when. His birth was of so little moment that it was not recorded. He was not of a famous family, or the heir to great wealth. So His actual birth date is lost in obscurity. The fact that we choose to celebrate it December 25 is meaningless. It could just as well be June 42 or the Eleventeenth of Never.

It is not the DATE that is important; it is the EVENT.

Frankly, I'd like to see a True Christian Christmas celebrated ... oh, say, ... Jan. 31, just to set it aside from the bloated, secularized holiday that "Xmas" has become. There would be no fanfare, no slavering merchants hawking their Chinese junk in the Temple. No vacation days, no phony carols being Muzak'd through the malls. Just a quiet celebration with friends and loved ones of the greatest gift ever given Mankind. And a humble request to be worthy of it.

19 posted on 12/07/2005 3:05:38 PM PST by IronJack
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To: RonF
O.K., trivia question:

The Roman Emperor thought that the shortest day of the year was Dec. 25th. Yet we see it as December 20th or 21st. Why?

Hint: the observations of his astronomers was probably correct, as are ours

The 25th is the day the sunset begins to occur later. Between the 20th an 25th the day lengthens by an earlier occuring dawn

20 posted on 12/07/2005 3:08:22 PM PST by muir_redwoods (Free Sirhan Sirhan, after all, the bastard who killed Mary Jo Kopechne is walking around free)
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To: Charles Henrickson

Or it could just be that there was no Jesus and as such any date chosen for his birth is just arbitrary.


21 posted on 12/07/2005 3:09:12 PM PST by Moral Hazard ("Now therefore kill every male among the little ones" - Numbers 31:17)
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To: steve-b

"He points out that the ancient Roman religions had no winter solstice festival."

Saturnalia (from the god Saturn) was the name the Romans gave to their holiday marking the Winter Solstice.

______________________________________________

Next book he should write explains how Saturn'sDay, SunDay, and MoonDay are really not Roman at all.

/end sarcasm


22 posted on 12/07/2005 3:09:17 PM PST by Shermy
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To: RonF

"O.K., trivia question:
The Roman Emperor thought that the shortest day of the year was Dec. 25th. Yet we see it as December 20th or 21st. Why?
Hint: the observations of his astronomers was probably correct, as are ours."

Fascinating question, but to answer it requires asking questions.

When you say "the Roman Emperor thought that the shortest day of the years was December 25", do you mean by that, that if he consulted his Roman calendar of the time (this would have to be post-Augustus), that the solstice would have fallen on December 25? Or do you mean that if we were to project our calendar back to the Roman time, that the shortest day of the year would have been on December 25, by our reckoning of time, and not theirs?

Either your question relates to the change in the calendar, or it relates to the relative change in motion of the earth relative to the sun.

And in truth, a proper relates to both things. Even were the calendars identical then and now, and not have been changed at all in the interim, the precise times that certain celestial events occurred would differ, at least slightly, because things have moved about, the earth rotates a bit slower, the position of things relative to the sun is a little bit different, etc.

I don't know that 3000 years is enough to make for 3 days difference, but it will be interesting to hear your answer.


23 posted on 12/07/2005 3:09:50 PM PST by Vicomte13 (Et alors?)
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To: Charles Henrickson
Would there have been shepherds watching their flocks at night in the hills in December?
24 posted on 12/07/2005 3:09:55 PM PST by muir_redwoods (Free Sirhan Sirhan, after all, the bastard who killed Mary Jo Kopechne is walking around free)
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To: AmusedBystander

"I always thought that God rested on the seventh day."

Yes.
And the Seventh Day is Saturday.
Which is why the Sabbath, in the Bible and in Jewish practice, falls on Saturday.
The First Day is Sunday.


25 posted on 12/07/2005 3:11:04 PM PST by Vicomte13 (Et alors?)
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To: muir_redwoods

"Would there have been shepherds watching their flocks at night in the hills in December?"

In Israel?
Yes.
Not in Northern Europe, of course.


26 posted on 12/07/2005 3:14:02 PM PST by Vicomte13 (Et alors?)
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To: Charles Henrickson
Jesus and his disciples celebrated Hanukkah on the 25 of Kislev, which falls in December.

The original Christians were Jews who celebrated Christian holidays on Jewish dates, such as Passover giving rise to Easter.

IMHO, converting Hanukkah's date to Christmas was not a great stretch.

27 posted on 12/07/2005 3:15:41 PM PST by george wythe
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To: Vicomte13
Which is why the Sabbath, in the Bible and in Jewish practice, falls on Saturday.

So why did Christians change it to Sunday?

28 posted on 12/07/2005 3:15:44 PM PST by AmusedBystander
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To: Charles Henrickson

"Regardless of whether this was Christ's actual birthday, the symbolism works. And Christ's birth is inextricably linked to His resurrection."

Bingo. Christ's birth, Christ's resurrection and Christ's relationship with mankind is what matters. Who cares if we got the date right? I never remember my wife's, either!


29 posted on 12/07/2005 3:17:45 PM PST by Spok (Est omnis de civilitate.)
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To: AmusedBystander
So why did Christians change it to Sunday?
 

Blue laws.

30 posted on 12/07/2005 3:18:32 PM PST by Fintan (Suppose there were no hypothectical questions?)
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To: Charles Henrickson

December 25 was the birthday of Mithras, who was also born of a virgin, in a cave, died for mankind and ascended into heaven about two centuries before Christ.


31 posted on 12/07/2005 3:18:43 PM PST by Junior (From now on, I'll stick to science, and leave the hunting alien mutants to the experts!)
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To: AmusedBystander
So why did Christians change it to Sunday?

Christ rose from the dead on the first day of the week. Thus it quickly became "the Lord's Day."

32 posted on 12/07/2005 3:18:48 PM PST by Charles Henrickson (Lutheran pastor and Ph.D. student in Biblical Studies)
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To: Charles Henrickson
This article reads like a discussion between a couple of high college kids debating the significance of the word dog being God spelled backwards.

Sheesh, talk about not being able to see the message for the words. This guy's time would be better spent working at a local soup kitchen instead of churning out this factually wrong and wholey insignificant drivel.
33 posted on 12/07/2005 3:19:19 PM PST by NJ_gent (Modernman should not have been banned.)
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To: Charles Henrickson

The only useful information that can be extracted from this piece is that it wouldn't be a good idea to major in history at Muhlenburg College.


34 posted on 12/07/2005 3:24:02 PM PST by GovernmentShrinker
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To: Charles Henrickson

Actually Worship on Sunday and the date for the Christmas Holiday comes from Emperor Constantine. When he converted to Christianity he sought to also convert his military forces. The primary religion of the Roman military at the time was Mithraism. Now Mithraism had some similarities to Christianity. He was born of a virgin, heralded by shepards, visited by magi, and had 12 disciples. He also taught similar moral lessons as the Christians.

What Constantine did was create a bit of confusion between Jesus and Mithra. He decided that Jesus needed a birth celebration. Mithra's birth was celebrated on December 25 and his worship day was Sunday (Mithra was a Sun god). Constantine declared these the holy days of Christianity.

There are several other really strange coincidences between Mithra Worship and Jesus. The Vatican is build on top of the temple of Mithra in Rome. Also some Masonic ceremonies are similar to ones in Mithraism. Mithra also had a rebirth celebration that occurred in the summer which corresponded with the traditional Easter ceremony as held in Scotland.


35 posted on 12/07/2005 3:35:45 PM PST by Sentis
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To: Charles Henrickson
Christ rose from the dead on the first day of the week. Thus it quickly became "the Lord's Day."

Maybe, but that is not clear. We know by daybreak that Mary Magdalene had discovered Him gone but we really don't know when.

36 posted on 12/07/2005 3:36:08 PM PST by AmusedBystander
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To: Charles Henrickson

And quite apart from all the sage observations other posters have made re the Winter festivals, this author complete fails to address and rebut the old Mithras/Christ parallels for this celebration...not saying I accept them but a serious article has to address them.


37 posted on 12/07/2005 3:39:17 PM PST by Androcles (All your typos are belong to us)
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To: Charles Henrickson

Also the early church said that the similarities between Mithraism and Christ was the work of Satan mocking the birth of the Messiah (the Mithra story came into Roman society 60 years before the birth of Christ).

I think it may be closer to what C.S. Lewis wrote in "Mere Christianity" that God was telling the pagans the good news and they knew the truth even before it was revealed through their own Mythology.


38 posted on 12/07/2005 3:41:48 PM PST by Sentis
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To: maestro

What are you babbling on about Narnia and what does that have to do with Christ's date of birth?


39 posted on 12/07/2005 3:42:24 PM PST by GLDNGUN
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To: Charles Henrickson

...and evergreen trees in Nazareth with faux snow on them would have been growing in the manger outside the inn. The innkeeper himself was a roly poly man with a thing for red flannel. And don't get us started about easter bunnies.


40 posted on 12/07/2005 3:43:13 PM PST by gcruse (http://gcruse.typepad.com)
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To: Moral Hazard
Or it could just be that there was no Jesus and as such any date chosen for his birth is just arbitrary.

Oh, yeah. THAT must be it. NOT.

41 posted on 12/07/2005 3:46:35 PM PST by GLDNGUN
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To: Charles Henrickson

The STAR OF BETHLEHEM also indicates that the date of birth was December 25th by those who have studied this topic in depth.


42 posted on 12/07/2005 3:48:11 PM PST by GLDNGUN
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To: GLDNGUN

That guy is a nut job I have seen him on several of the Narnia thread attacking C.S. Lewis and his works. If it wasn't for those books especially "screwtape letters" and "Mere christianity" I would still be an atheist. It's hard for me to see somebody that can barely write attacking the writer who showed me Christ.


43 posted on 12/07/2005 3:48:11 PM PST by Sentis
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To: GLDNGUN
Oh, yeah. THAT must be it. NOT.

I used to posit a historical Jesus, whether he was Christ or not, but even that doesn't look too likely any more.  The forty year gap between 'resurrection' and the writing of Mark should have been filled with such religious turbulence it would have made the Antioch Evening News.  There was just Paul, and his writings suggest he had little to go on besides the Damascus apparition.
44 posted on 12/07/2005 3:51:20 PM PST by gcruse (http://gcruse.typepad.com)
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To: maestro
Jesus is coming to Rapture the CHURCH.......NOT the kingdom!

Will you source that.

45 posted on 12/07/2005 3:51:44 PM PST by Lester Moore (The headwaters of the islamic river of death and hate are in Saudi Arabia.)
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To: Charles Henrickson

bump for later disection!


46 posted on 12/07/2005 3:53:01 PM PST by aShepard
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To: Sentis
That guy is a nut job I have seen him on several of the Narnia thread attacking C.S. Lewis and his works. If it wasn't for those books especially "screwtape letters" and "Mere christianity" I would still be an atheist. It's hard for me to see somebody that can barely write attacking the writer who showed me Christ.

God bless you. This person sounds like some "Christians" I have run across on the internet who have such a narrow and rigid view that anyone slightly to the left or right of them are seeds of Satan. They think the people that will make it heaven can be counted on one hand, and of course that includes them.

47 posted on 12/07/2005 3:53:06 PM PST by GLDNGUN
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To: RonF

Precesion [sp] of the Earth on its axis.


48 posted on 12/07/2005 3:54:05 PM PST by Laz711 (The Barbarians are in Rome)
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To: gcruse
I used to posit a historical Jesus, whether he was Christ or not, but even that doesn't look too likely any more. The forty year gap between 'resurrection' and the writing of Mark should have been filled with such religious turbulence it would have made the Antioch Evening News. There was just Paul, and his writings suggest he had little to go on besides the Damascus apparition.

Perhaps you need to do a little more reading. The New Testament would be a good place to start.

49 posted on 12/07/2005 3:57:51 PM PST by GLDNGUN
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To: RonF

Because when the calendar was changed, we added three days.


50 posted on 12/07/2005 4:00:06 PM PST by Chickensoup (Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas! Merry Chri)
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