Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Plain Truth About December 25th

[UPDATE: Massive update to this post. Please re-read.
Also, as this blog post has turned into a perpetually ongoing study, and much new information has been found that I think you'll enjoy, I have created a companion document which greatly expands the information here. I'll leave this post here, and update it as best as I can as a summary of the larger study document, but if you really want to understand December 25th, please download and read the whole study. Click here to access the document. Note that if you click this link you will be directed away from this site, and it will take a short while for the document to pop up in the browser window.
Finally, I apologize deeply for the horrid formatting on this post. Google Blogger is doing everything it can to ruin the formatting of the text. I have tried to fix it multiple times, but every time I fix one thing another new thing is messed up. Please Google, fix Blogger! Again, apologies.]

Have you ever wondered about the dating of Christmas? What on earth is December 25th all about and how did we come up with that? Was it adopted from the pagans in Rome? Does your very salvation rest on rejecting or accepting the date? Do we even know what the history is? I’ve wondered about it quite a bit.

Let me guess, you don’t need to study it because you already know that it’s pagan, right? I understand. That’s precisely what I thought …until I studied it. Well, there are so many theories floating around out there, so many claims, so much information, so many people saying so many things. Who has time to in this busy age to study history?

When I was a teenager, I joined the Worldwide Church of God, where we taught the keeping of holidays such as Easter and Christmas was evil. One fine day, while speaking out against Easter, a question was posed to me that made me desire to look into its origins. After decades of speaking out against celebrating Easter based on what I was told, I studied Easter for myself, and what I found didn’t match what I was preaching. I was forced, at great pain and internal turmoil, to change my entire outlook. The next logical step was to a study into Christmas. I wanted to test the spirits, so to speak. Shaken by my Easter experience, I had to know if what I had been preaching was really the truth. I wanted to know for certain how Christmas came about. “Just the facts.” The truth can handle itself. If something is true, then it’s true. If not, then not. So I set out to study Christmas as objectively as I could.

Certainly the people who are familiar with this topic should also already know a little about what is being asserted on the subject. The Wiccans, the Puritans, Protestant fundamentalist groups, certain religious historians - they all say Christmas was co-opted from the pagans. It is a staple feature of certain groups that annually as the stores start stocking their shelves for Christmas sales they start rolling out a barrage of material protesting Christmas. While the Christians are saying, “Put Christ back into Christmas,” the Wiccans are saying, “Put Wicca back into Christmas.” Fifty thousand Elvis fans can’t be wrong, as they say. Christmas must be pagan. Case closed.

Is any of that correct? Did Christians really co-opt Christmas from the pagans? Where does Sol Invictus fit in? Or how about Saturnalia, or Brumalia, or Yule? Well, in this writing I hope to straighten out the claims and separate truth from tale.

What this study is about is the dating of December 25th for Christmas. I will not be getting into customs added to Christmas long after it was set to December 25th, such as evergreen swags and wreaths, bobbing for apples, caroling, and etc. This study is not intended to answer every question or touch on every issue. This study is about dates and timing.

Bruma/Brumalia

The claims:

For sake of space, I cannot possibly give all details on what was claimed regarding the pagan festival of Brumalia over the years and in various places. I hear people say the wildest things! Suffice it to say that I’ve heard it claimed that the festival honored Bacchus or Dionysus and Chronos, was celebrated anywhere from November 24th to December 25th, was anywhere from one day to thirty days long, and that during Brumalia the pagans decorated their houses with greenery and there were raucous celebrations.

The facts:

People are confusing many distinct things here.

A man named John Raymond Crawford wrote what has been called “not only the latest, but by far the most careful and searching investigation ever made of two festivals which are little known.” Problem is, the writing is in Latin and there are no English translations readily available. Roger Pearse was sent a review of Crawford’s book – in English.

According to this review which Roger Pearse generously presents to us in his online article “A Review of Crawford on the Bruma and Brumalia”, (I will summarize here) true bruma is the Roman name for the winter solstice, which is also called “solstitium et initium hiberni” (or “solstice at the start of winter”). Roman tradition placed this solstice on December 25th. Meanwhile, Bruma is the name of a completely separate ancient celebration, which was celebrated on November 24th.

Notice the capitalization there. I have inserted this capitalization on my own to help you the reader distinguish the two brumas.
The word bruma (lower case b) comes from the superlative form of the Latin word for “brief”. The days grow shorter in winter so “bruma” came to mean the shortest day of the year; the winter solstice.
Bruma (capital b) was also the name of a festival on November 24th that marked a kind of unofficial start of winter, and this led up to the winter solstice.

It is important to keep in mind that bruma was the name of the winter solstice (or to be specific it was the name of the day when the sun began to grow stronger, which is usually after the solstice), and Bruma was the name of a winter festival, but they were not the same thing. The festival of Bruma was celebrated a month earlier than the solstice, on November 24th, lasted only one day, and was not observed on December 25th at any time.

Now we move forward in time, and far to the east. From the sixth century through the tenth century AD, in the Byzantine Empire, there was a festival called Brumalia. Notice the location here. We are talking Constantinople, not Rome. Also notice the dating here. The sixth century is centuries after Christmas became popular in Rome and the Roman Empire ceased to exist. Brumalia was a twenty four day festival lasting from November 24th through December 17th. It was not celebrated for twenty four straight days, rather it was divided up alphabetically – one day for each letter of the Greek alphabet – and each person celebrated on the day that matched the first letter of their name.

Roger Pearse wrote to me and informs us that it would appear that in the course of time Bruma was combined with Saturnalia to become Brumalia. This matches what was written in his review of Crawford. Thanks for the excellent research, hard work, and timely help, Roger!

Keep in mind this was centuries after Christmas became popular, and far to the east of Rome. If Bruma on November 24th was eventually combined with Saturnalia on December 17th by the sixth century, then Saturnalia was not replaced by Christmas at all. It lived on and was merged, in the opposite direction in the month, with Bruma and other holidays.

As Bruma became Brumalia it did come to honor Dionysus, Cronos/Saturn, and Demeter. There were dinner parties, games, and the slaughtering of a pigs and goats. From the ancient Roman mind, these things were what one would expect in the winter. They weren’t given to farming or going to war in the winter, so they would plant some seeds then slaughter some pigs and goats and throw a party. The parties were at night since Cronos was a god of time and harvest, and was pictured as being in darkness, just as seeds were in darkness. The pigs were symbolic, as were the goats. This wasn’t some random choice of animal for a generic feast. None of these symbols carried over into Christmas.
If we are looking at Bruma and Brumalia for sources of Christmas traditions, there is little resemblance here.

You can read more about this in Roger Pearse’s review of “De Mensibus”.
John the Lydian wrote De Mensibus (or “On the Months”) in the late 400’s AD. He points out that these things were opposed by the Christians of that time and the church turned away from them. I repeat for emphasis - opposed by Christians a century after they were supposedly adopted by Christians!
It appears that this distaste for such celebrations came to a head in the Quinisext Ecumenical Council (aka “Council in Trullo”) in 692. The Canon 62 begins this way:
“The so-called Calends, and what are called Bota and Brumalia, and the full assembly which takes place on the first of March, we wish to be abolished from the life of the faithful.”
It would appear that all of this business about the Church’s eagerness to adopt paganism after Constantine the Great’s reign is not necessarily as accurate as we would be led to believe. Were there converts still holding on to pagan practices? Yes. But was the church rushing to “cleanse” and adopt pagan practices? No!

Roger Pearse gives us a great deal more details in his article "On 'bruma' and 'brumalia' in ancient Rome, as found in the OLD".

Summary:

In ancient Rome, “bruma” was the winter solstice while “Bruma” was the winter festival. Bruma wasn’t celebrated in the same month as Christmas. Bruma eventually merged with Saturnalia and became Brumalia. As lengthy as the Byzantine celebration became, it was popular in the East long after Christmas caught on in the West and was never observed on the 25th. Neither had any bearing on the dating of Christmas.
Plus it has the distinction of being opposed by the Church a century and a half after it was supposedly adopted by the Church.

Saturnalia

The claims:

The wildest and most inane claims are reserved for Saturnalia. Mainly, I have heard claims that Saturnalia was on December 17th and December 25th, that it was celebrated for one day, three days, eight days, nine days, twelve days, and as long as a month, that it was in honor of Bacchus and Saturn, and that it was the most vile celebration imaginable. I have heard that from Saturnalia comes the tradition of the “twelve days of Christmas.” I have probably heard more claims about Saturnalia than any other ancient festival. If you believe the stories, every last portion of Christmas (with the exception of mistletoe and the Yule log) came from Saturnalia.

The facts:

Saturnalia honored Saturn the god of vegetation. Tom Schmidt at Chronicon.net, in his article "The dates of Saturnalia (and Sigillaria!) and Christmas," reviews an account from an ancient author named Macrobius.

Macrobius claims Saturnalia was originally celebrated on the 14th day before the Kalends of January ("Kalends of January" is the first day of January).

Julius Caesar reformed the Roman calendar in 45 BC and added two days to December (he took Rome from a lunar calendar to a solar calendar which is called the “Julian calendar”, and took December from 29 days to 31 days). The original date of Saturnalia now fell on the 16th day before the Kalends of January (and that's how we see it in the Philocalian Calendar), while the new date remained on the 14th day before the Kalends of January.

Filocalus, writing in 336 AD, agrees that Saturnalia was the 16th day before the Kalends of January.

Confused? Let me explain.

The Romans had a very messy calendar system; the details of which are still under much debate. But they never dated their days. They wouldn't ever say, "December 25." Instead, they divided each month into three parts, called the Kalends, Nones, and Ides, then counted their days from that. For example, Saturnalia was 16 days before the Kalends of January, and Christmas was 8 days before the Kalends of January.

The calendar was a general mess. I quote Wikipedia again to show that this information is readily available to anyone who is interested:

"Nevertheless, we do know that the pre-Julian calendar could be substantially out of alignment with the Julian calendar. Two precise astronomical synchronisms given by Livy show that in 168 BC the two calendars were misaligned by more than two months, and in 190 BC they were four months out of alignment."

Isn't it obvious why Julius Caesar had to reform it? But reforming a calendar would necessarily create some issues.
I'll just put this in plain language for you:

Saturnalia was on December 17th. Julius Caesar comes along, adds two days to December, and now it's on the 19th.

Most people kept it on the old date, some on the new date, with the result becoming a multi-day festival.

I have heard much about the shouting of “Io, Saturnalia!” but Macrobius says this was on the 17th only.

Macrubius also mentioned a decree by Augustus Caesar officially making the Saturnalia a three-day festival from 17th to the 19th. He mentions it was eventually blended together with other festivals (eg. “Ops” and “Sigillaria”) and then became treated as a seven day celebration, between the 17th and the 23rd.

We know from history that Caligula limited it to five days, from the 17th to 21st.

As mentioned above, Roger Pearse suspects Bruma and Saturnalia eventually joined to become Brumalia. Notice how we're moving away from the dating of Christmas, however, not towards.

Chronicon.net gives us a great deal more information on Saturnalia in their article "The Origins of Saturnalia and Christmas."

For another fine article, I would direct you to Crisis Magazine's "Christmas, Pagan Romans, and Frodo Baggins".

As for the twelve days of Christmas, there aren't 12 days between Saturnalia and Christmas. Fact is, those are the twelve days after Christmas, between Christmas and the feast of Epiphany. This was set officially in the second Council of Tours.

Epiphany was the original celebration of the major events in Jesus’ life (mainly His baptism). Until very recently, most people who celebrated Christmas didn’t start festivities until Christmas Eve, then they would celebrate for 12 days until Epiphany.

Summary:

Saturnalia was never celebrated on December 25th, ever. The official day of the Saturnalia was on the 17th. It has no bearing on the dating of Christmas.

Natalis Invicti

The claims:

I have heard this day called many things. Mostly, some variant of "Dies Natalis Solis Invicti". I have heard people state with absolute conviction that Christmas is the Sol festival (but if it is, then it can’t be Bruma, Saturnalia, or Brumalia). I have heard that the birthday of the sun was celebrated on December 25th, and in August and October.

The facts:

Here is a quote straight from Dave Pack’s own article on Christmas:

The Dec. 25 festival of natalis solis invicti, the birth of the unconquered sun, was ordered by the emperor Aurelian in A.D. 274 as a Winter Solstice celebration…
A definite claim stated adamantly. Is it true?
Steven Ernst Hijmans is currently a faculty member at the University of Alberta’s History and Classics department. He wrote a book titled “Sol – the Sun in the Art and Religions of Rome”. In Volume I, chapter 9, page 588, he has this to say:

The contention that December 25th was an especially popular festival for Sol in late antiquity is equally unfounded, as is as the notion that this festival was established by Aurelian when he supposedly instituted a new cult of the sun. Aurelian did of course build the sun a magnificent new temple and he raised the priests of Sol to the level of pontifices. A new festival on December 25th would not have been out-of-place in this context, but it must be stressed, pace Usener, that there is no evidence that Aurelian instituted a celebration of Sol on that day. A feast day for Sol on December 25th is not mentioned until eighty years later, in the Calendar of 354 and, subsequently, in 362 by Julian in his Oration to King Helios.

Well, isn’t that interesting!

Back in December 2010, Museumstuff.com had an article about this entitled “Dies Natalis Solis Invicti: Aurelian.” They listed some of the most common errors about what Aurelian did. WikiPedia still has the quote on their article about Sol Invictus. Look under the section "Aurelian". The third error is:

Aurelian inaugurated his new temple dedicated to Sol Invictus and held the first games for Sol on December 25, 274, on the supposed day of the winter solstice and day of rebirth of the Sun.
Please carefully read, and re-read if necessary, what they say in correction of the error:

This is not only pure conjecture, but goes against the best evidence available. There is no record of celebrating Sol on December 25 prior to CE 354/362. Hijmans lists the known festivals of Sol as August 8 and/or 9, August 28, and December 11. There are no sources that indicate on which day Aurelian inaugurated his temple and held the first games for Sol, but we do know that these games were held every four years from CE 274 onwards. This means that they were presumably held in CE 354, a year for which perchance a Roman calendar, the Chronography of 354 or calendar of Filocalus, has survived. This calendar lists a festival for Sol and Luna on August 28, Ludi Solis games for Sol for October 19–22, and a Natalis Invicti birthday of the invincible one on December 25. While it is widely assumed that the invictus of December 25 is Sol, the calendar does not state this explicitly. The only explicit reference to a celebration of Sol in late December is made by Julian the Apostate in his hymn to King Helios written immediately afterwards in early CE 363. Julian explicitly differentiates between the one-day, annual celebration of late December 362 and the multi-day quadrennial games of Sol which, of course, had also been held in 362, but clearly at a different time. Taken together, the evidence of the Calendar of Filocalus and Julian's hymn to Helios clearly shows, according to Hijmans and others, that the ludi of October 19–22 were the Solar Games instituted by Aurelian. They presumably coincided with the dedication of his new temple for Sol.

If Aurelian didn't create a Sol festival on December 25th but on another date entirely, then there is no reason to insist he did, is there? No. There is not. And if we don't beg that question, then there is no claim regarding Sol worship on December 25th prior to Christ being honored on that date, is there? No. There is not.

To help you get a better picture, here is the timeline of events:
· 202-211 AD - Hippolytus calculates Jesus’ birth as December 25.
· 218 AD - Elagabalus becomes Emperor at age 14. Introduces Sol to Rome. Attempts to force Sol as the only god. Fails.
· 274 AD - Aurelian elevates Sol worship. Dedicates a temple and institutes games to Sol – but not on December 25th. Dies the next year.
· 336 AD - The first mention of "Natalis Invicti" on December 25th (notice Sol is not mentioned). Same document mentions Jesus as born on December 25.
· 363 AD - Emperor Julian “the Apostate”, who despised Christianity and tried to replace Christianity with paganism, gives us the first explicit reference to a celebration of Sol in December.

Well, isn’t that interesting! Time for Dave Pack to review his information, no?

The Chronography

I need to introduce something to you at this point to help explain a few things.

The above mention of Natalis Invicti comes from a document known as the “Chronography of 354” (that’s 354 AD; well after Aurelian). The Chronography was compiled by Furious Dionysus Filocalus, a renowned calligrapher… and Christian.

Edwin Yamauchi, in his "Persia and the Bible" p. 521, says the calendar was actually composed in 336 AD, but that it was written for the year 354. That is why you see me placing the year 336 on some things.
Also, bear in mind that Filocalus didn't invent any of these things. We can safely assume that what he recorded was already well known by 336. I would give an earlier date but I simply have no definite fact telling me what to give, so I'll go with 336.

The Chronography is not just a calendar; there are several other parts to it, sixteen in all.

Part six of the Chronography is called the Philocalian Calendar and it lists only the words “Natalis Invicti” on December 25th. But if it doesn't say "Dies Natalis Sol Invicti" then we have no reason to inser that phrase here, do we? No. We do not. One might say Sol is implied. Problem is the evidence gives us no reason to imply that. If the evidence doesn't imply that, then it's improper for us to insist upon it, isn't it? Yes. It is.
It also lists Bruma on November 25th and Saturnalia on December 17th. Thus ends any possibility that either were on December 25th.

Here is exactly what it says for December 25th:
N INVICTI CM XXX

The “N” is short for “Natalis”. This is a term that can mean birthday, or it can refer to the dedication of a temple. Hence the conflict between people who wonder if some emperor [they assume Aurelian] initiated a new holiday or if he dedicated a temple. Invicti means “invincible”. There is no mention of Sol here. The “CM” is short for “Circenssus Misses” and it means “Games Ordered”. Generally this refers to horse races run on that day. There were usually 24 games on the ancient holidays. The odd thing about this date is there are “XXX” or 30 games ordered. This means the day was very recently added and not an ancient day, like December 17th.

Part twelve of the Cronography is called the “Commemoration of the Martyrs” which lists the important dates of prominent Christian martyrs. Who do you suppose is the first martyr listed? That would be Jesus Christ - listed as being born on December 25th.
Here is exactly what it says:
VIII kal. Ian. natus Christus in Betleem Iudeae

“VIII” is the roman numeral 8. “Kal” is short for kalends, which is the first day of any month. “Ian” is January. So now we know what month we’re referring to – January. When we put this section together we get, “eight days before the first day of January.” The rest is “birthday of Christ in Bethlehem, Judea.”

So now we have a very important problem! Same document, two mentions of December 25th, neither associated with Sol at all, one clearly associated with Christ. Does "Natalis Invicti" refer to Christ or to Sol?

This is heavily debated.

Many assert that "Natalis Invicti" refers to Sol because the rest of the calendar's dates are all pagan or secular. Games were ordered on that day. That would not have been done for Christ. That’s a valid point, but how do we get Sol specifically from this? We can’t. Sol festivals are clearly listed on other dates but not here. There is no evidence of any Sol celebration on this date nor any other solstice or equinox.

Others assert that it refers to Christ because the author was a Christian during the time of Constantine, and he clearly states Christ was born on this date. But this doesn’t explain the 30 games ordered on this day.

These facts lead a third group to believe that it does not refer to Christ or Sol, but to the sun specifically, in an astronomical way rather than a religious way. Sol is a sun god, but Sol is a specific sun god, not a generic sun god. Nor is Sol the sun itself. Helios was a sun god, but he pulled the sun in a chariot. With December 25 being the traditional date of the solstice, this mention in the Calendar could be purely astronomical. (Oh, how I wish it was definite!)

As a side note, I want to mention that I have heard many people blame Constantine for changing the December 25th festival from Sol to Christ. We do not know that is what happened! We have no proof that Constantine did this. But let's think about this for a second.

The claim is that all of Rome so loved the Sol festival that Constantine and the Catholic Church had little choice but to adopt it and paste Christ over Sol. (The claim confuses Sol with Saturnalia, but let's overlook this for now.)

If Aurelian in the last months of his life declared a Sol festival in December 274 as some claim, and if Constantine converted at the Milvian Bridge in 312 AD, then that leaves 38 years of Sol's prominence in Rome. But let's just say we count from the Edict of Milan where Christianity was officially legalized. This Edict was written in 313 AD. That leaves 39 years. The last coins depicting Sol were minted in 313 AD, so Sol most definitely fell out of prominence around this time.

So what did we see? If December 25th did honor Sol, it only did so for less than 50 years. That's not very long.
It has honored Christ for 1,675+ years!

Be aware of this fact - it wasn't until decades later, in a poem by Julian the Apostate, that the first solid connection between Sol and December 25th arrives. So, was it Constantine changing the Sol festival to a Christ festival? Or was it Julian the Apostate changing the Christ festival to a Sol festival?

Is there anything we can know or sure? Yes. And that is that speculation is the name of the game. People claim with fervency that December 25th is a pagan day. Not so fast! That is not only not proven, it isn't even the most compelling explanation for the facts. It is only speculation. We don't know for absolutely certain either way.

Are we willing to be so bold in accusing billions of Christians of paganism when we simply do not know that?

Conclusion:
There is no compelling evidence that there was a Sol festival on December 25th. If not, then Sol specifically has nothing to do with it. So we have no "Dies Natalis Sol Invicti" at all during the proper time period. So why put it there? The better to lead you on with, my dear! Something apparently non-Christian called “Natalis Invicti” happened on that date, but a Sol festival doesn’t appear to be it. And we'll get to that later.
Christ is clearly listed in association with December 25th well before Sol is.

Yule

The claims:

Yule was a pagan winter solstice celebration from which Christmas borrowed heavily. Christmas is just a continuation of Yule, and a pagan holiday that should be returned to the pagans.

The facts:

Our first records of Yule come from around 700 AD by our old friend the Venerable Bede in his work "De Temporum Ratione." [See page 54 of that link.]

Nor is it irrelevant if we take the trouble to translate the names of the other months. The months of Guili derive their name from the day when the Sun turns back [and begins] to increase, because of one of [these months] precedes [this day] and the other follows.


Roughly, Bede records that Yule was the name of the months of December and January. Yes, two months with the same name. Bede is speaking in rough terms, since he is trying to translate the German lunar calendar into the standard Julian calendar.

In searching for other things I happened across this quote from "Christmas in Ritual and Tradition" by Clement A. Miles:

One more name yet remains to be considered, Yule (Danish Jul), the ordinary word for Christmas in the Scandinavian languages, and not extinct among ourselves. Its derivation has been widely discussed, but so far no satisfactory explanation of it has been found. Professor Skeat in the last edition of his Etymological Dictionary (1910) has to admit that its origin is unknown. Whatever its source may be, it is clearly the name of a Germanic season—probably a two-month tide covering the second half of November, the whole of December, and the first half of January. 1-26 It may well suggest to us the element added to Christmas by the barbarian peoples who began to learn Christianity about the time when the festival was founded. Modern research has tended to disprove the idea that the old Germans held a Yule feast at the winter solstice, and it is probable, as we shall see, that the specifically Teutonic Christmas customs come from a New Year and beginning-of-winter festival kept about the middle of November. These customs transferred to Christmas are to a great extent religious or magical rites intended to secure prosperity during the coming year, and there is also the familiar Christmas feasting, apparently derived in part from the sacrificial banquets that marked the beginning of winter.
-Miles, Clement A., "Christmas in Ritual and Tradition", chapter 1 section IV, p.25

So historians have known for decades that Yule was not a solstice celebration falling on 25 December, as many people are to this day led to believe. I have just recently received email urging me to heed this very false information. Perhaps we all need to blow the dust off of our history books, eh?

It was only much later, when Christianity was widely accepted throughout Germania, that a certain tradition from Yule was associated with Christmas. The tradition we generally are referring to is the Yule Log. But that tradition has gone the way of the wood-burning fireplace. It was oddity anyway; never central to Christmas at any time or place.

Conclusion:

That the now practically defunct Yule Log tradition was adopted for a time in in some places in no way indicates the entire Christmas day is associated with paganism. Any way you slice it, there is no way a Germanic festival from the 600's AD influenced the Romans of the 200-300's AD.

Zagmuk/Akita

I have heard a little about an ancient Mesopotamian new year festival called "Zagmuk" (which is blended with a longer Babylonian festival called "Akita"). Some pretty inane claims are made about this festival, so I figured I would address it.

The claims:

Christmas comes from Saturnalia which comes from Zagmuk. Zagmuk was an ancient winter solstice festival nearly identical to Saturnalia. It started on the winter solstice and was celebrated for twelve days. Thus the origin of the Twelve Days of Christmas.

The facts:

Most people have never heard of Zagmuk/Akita. Details are utterly confused when you go looking for them. Here is a direct quote from an Encyclo.com article on Zagmuk to illustrate my point (underlining mine):

"Zagmuk is a Mesopotamian festival celebrated around the winter solstice, which literally means ‘beginning of the year’. The feast fell in March or April and lasted about 12 days."

Around the winter solstice in March or April, huh? OK. If you insist!

Zagmuk was the first day of the 12-day Akitu celebration, so it seems. So the 12-days similarity claim appears accurate, albeit superficial.
However, Zagmuk/Akita was not a winter solstice festival (neither is Christmas, nor was Saturnalia for that matter). In fact, it wasn't in the winter at all. I know Encyclo.com would like us to believe the winter solstice is in March, but that's obviously bad editing, and I'm just having some fun with it.

Truth is the exacting details of course are unknown since so much information has been lost these past 4,000 years, but we know more than enough to say that Zagmuk/Akita appears to have two main components: harvest and New Years.

It was a harvest-oriented festival.
Akita is derived the Sumerian word for barley. The base idea of Akita was to celebrate the crop-cycle; more specifically the sewing of barley in the fall and the cutting of barley in the spring. As we see in many other ancient cultures, the notions of life, death, and rebirth (in other words, the crop-cycle) appear in the symbolism of the day. Take the Isis & Osiris myths for example.
Christmas in contrast is about birth, not death and rebirth.

It was also a calendar-oriented festival.
Zagmuk is the Sumerian word for "beginning of the year". When was the beginning of the Mesopotamian/Babylonian year? Why, check your Hebrew calendar and find out for yourself. Since the Babylonian captivity, the Babylonian calendar and the Hebrew calendar are pretty much the same thing! And we should see that the beginning of the year for the Mesopotamians and Hebrews falls in the month of Nissan/Abib, which is usually March or April. Ancientworlds.net tells us that Zagmuk was the first new moon after the spring equinox.


Toss in a few traditions about Enlil/Marduk vs. Tiamat, and order vs. chaos, and you have a regular religious festival. Opa!

I can't tell you how many websites I've checked that assert something like "Zagmuk was a new year festival celebrated around the winter solstice." It is not wise to see "new year" and automatically assume January 1. The Mesopotamian/Hebrew New Year was not in winter it was in the spring! Anciently, even the Romans began their year in March when they used a lunar calendar.

It was also a harvest festival. Guess what's not going to be happening in late December at the start of the rainy season. That's right.. harvesting!

It is even less wise to see a holiday and simply assign it as a winter solstice festival. As we've seen so many, many times in this study most holidays that are commonly called winter solstice festivals were no such thing. Are people really that desperate to smear Christmas?

It has been speculated that the festival is 12 days long because they used a lunar calendar, and certain intercalations had to be made. These days are added days that help reconcile the lunar and solar calendars. It takes 11 extra days to reconcile the calendars. The twelfth day of Akitu was one where order had defeated chaos and life returned to normal, so it would seem incredibly logical that the "twelve days of Akitu" were eleven "leap days" plus one.

The idea isn't unreasonable. The Jews anciently added "leap months" every so often to reconcile their calendar. And the Egyptians had the 5 “heriu renpet” days to reconcile their 360-day year with a 365-day solar year. This is that same idea.

So far as Zagmuk/Akita being identical to Saturnalia, I cannot find any credible evidence that this is true. All such claims that Saturnalia is Zagmuk come from websites that insist Zagmuk was a winter solstice festival, therefore I give them very little weight. The twelve days of Zagmuk/Akita have defined meanings and ceremonies. They definitely do not match the symbolism of Saturnalia. As you recall, Macrobius recorded that the origin of Saturnalia was secular, and it was originally a one-day festival until Julius Caesar changed the calendar.

Conclusion:

Zagmuk wasn't a winter solstice festival after all. It was a spring festival, recalling New Years and the barley harvest. There is no good reason to believe it is the precursor to Saturnalia. It would seem that the only similarity that Zagmuk has with Christmas is the notion of twelve days. Unfortunately for this claim, we have seen where the 12 days of Christmas come from, and they aren't intercalary days. The similarity is a false cognate at best. As if anything with 12 days couldn't possibly be anything other than Zagmuk.

Winter Solstice

Touching again on the solstice, I feel it would be irresponsible to omit mentioning that the solstice is not on December 25th. People might even wonder how the solstice could have been celebrated on the 25th and not the 21st where we usually find it today (it varies somewhat). Well, it has to do with three separate calendars.

Prior to the Julian calendar, the Romans used a lunar calendar. Its accuracy was not the best. Julius Caesar reformed the calendar in 44-45 BC. He made a solar calendar with years of 365.25 days, and leap-years every four years. It wasn’t perfect because years aren’t exactly 365.25 days long, so it still lost around 11 minutes of time each year. You might wonder why that matters, but over time those eleven or so minutes add up to one day lost roughly every 128 years.

So, in 1582 AD, Pope Gregory XIII reformed the calendar again. He made the calendar more accurate, but the Gregorian calendar still loses 27 seconds each year, or one day every three thousand years. This latest calendar took centuries to catch on across the globe and for a while people in various places had all sorts of dating issues.

As the story goes, by the time Gregory XIII reformed the calendar in 1582, the solstice was on December 11th. He accounted for the 10 lost days between the Council of Nicea in 325 AD and his own time, and he corrected that loss. He did not account for the 3 days lost from Julius Caesar’s time and the Council of Nicea. Oops! Therefore today we see the solstice on December 21st or December 22nd, which is where it would have been in 325 AD.
The first indisputable mention of Jesus’ birth on December 25th was in 336. December 25th was not on the solstice in that century.

Splitting hairs? Perhaps. But this fact becomes important whenever someone argues that December 25th was a solstice day for other cultures, for example the Teutons, and they try to find the origin of Christmas in Yule. December 25th wasn’t the literal solstice at all. It was merely Roman tradition that it was the day the sun starts its return. Other cultures that watched for a solstice would have no reason to arrive at the same date of December 25th. The name “December 25th” is purely a construct of the Roman calendar which other cultures didn’t use, and the date was a matter of Roman tradition which other cultures didn’t follow. Therefore I find it important to point out how December 25th was not the literal solstice.
Now I feel I would be remiss to omit that the Romans certainly did see December 25th as being the date that the sun begins to increase in strength. In other words, December 25th had traditional and astronomical significance to the Romans.
The first reference we have to this comes from Pliny the Elder in his work “Natural History”. Pliny says this:

the bruma begins at the eighth degree of Capricorn, the eighth day before the calends of January

This “bruma” is not in reference to the festival Bruma, but merely the shortest day of the year. Take note that Pliny is not referring to this in a religious way at all, but merely astronomical. So we know the Romans saw this as a form of a solstice.

Just because the Romans thought anything of the day does not mean the Christians did.

In 243 AD a work was written that is claimed to have been authored by Cyprian. That claim is most likely false. The work is known as “The Pseudo-Cyprianic De Pascha Computus” (or “The Calculation of Passover”). I quote this selection from Tom Schmidt at Chronicon.net in his article “Cyprian, Christmas, and the Birth of the Sun”:

O! The splendid and divine Providence of the Lord, that on that day, even at the very day, on which the Sun was made, 28 March, a Wednesday, Christ should be born. For this reason Malachi the prophet, speaking about him to the people, fittingly said: ‘Unto you shall the sun of righteousness arise, and healing is in his wings.’

Many people have used a shortened version of this quote to demonstrate that the birth of the sun was on December 25th. Problem is when we see the entire quote that becomes impossible. But one thing it does in spades is demonstrate that in the mid-200’s the Christians could care less about the Roman view of the solstice. They were more interested in the Jewish tradition of the creation of the Sun in late March.

Christians in the mid 200’s didn’t seem to care what the Romans felt about the sun. Nor either did the Romans, for that matter. The evidence is that there really was nothing of great note happening on December 25th in Rome at this time. Why is it that 100 years later we see the Christians celebrating the birth of Christ on the same date that the Romans began honoring the return of the sun? Did the Christians adopt the solstice festival after all?
We are left with a hole in history.

If we stopped here, the evidence would be pretty damning. But even after all of this we still have to view one more bit of critical material that will muddy up the waters even more: Hippolytus. We’ll get to that in the next section.

Calculating December 25th

For those who wish to paint Christmas as a pagan celebration, the section on the solstice may come as welcome news. For others, that section may dismay you. However, I assure you, just because Christmas is on the Roman traditional date of the solstice is not prima facie evidence that Christmas is therefore a copy of the Roman solstice celebration. That would be hasty conclusion to come to without proving it out. We have not established that Christmas was taken from the solstice, or that there even was a solstice celebration to take Christmas from.

I promised you muddier waters, and so I shall deliver. We have some crucial testimony to consider that might yet vindicate December 25th.

In the mid second century and early third century AD many Christians were trying to deduce the dates of Christ’s birth and death. We have records from such names as Tertullian, Sextus Julianus Africanus, and others. All of these were using date calculation methods to determine when Christ lived and died.
At that time, Clement of Alexandria in his book “Stromata” mentioned that the Egyptian churches were calculating the date of Christ's birth in May as May 20th. I will quote from Tom Schmidt’s translation at Chronicon.net in his article “Clement of Alexandria and the Original date of Christmas as December 25th”:

From the birth of Christ, therefore, to the death of Commodus are, in all, 194 years, 1 month, 13 days. And there are those who have determined not only the year of our Savior’s genesis, but even the day, which they say took place in the twenty-eighth year of Augustus on the 25th of Pachon…” ~Stromata 1.21.145-146 [my translation]

Clement says, "there are those". I take this to mean he was building on other works completed perhaps by the late second century. What this means is that in the 100’s AD, perhaps even the mid 100’s AD, Christians were calculating the timing of Jesus’ life and death.

What Clement is saying is that Jesus was conceived (Clement uses the word ‘genesis’) on the 25th day of the Egyptian month of Pachon. Now, we don’t know what Egyptian calendar Clement was using. This throws a huge monkey-wrench into correctly translating that date into the Gregorian calendar that we use today. Most people think Clement means to say that Pachon is in late April and into May, therefore Jesus was conceived in mid-to-late May.
Notice how the 25th does seem to keep reemerging.
To put a second point on Clement, he also gives the time between Christ’s birth and the death of Emperor Commodus.
Any basic check will show that Commodus died on December 31st 192 AD. Subtract 1 month and 13 days from December 31st (we aren’t interested in the year) and we see that Clement believed Jesus was born on or around November 28th.

Why do we care what this old man thought? Simple. It establishes that from perhaps even the mid-to-late 100’s AD there were Christians believing that Jesus was born late in the year. And we know from what we learned earlier that in this time and decades afterwards Christians didn’t care about Roman solstice traditions. Right or wrong, it tends to take the legs out from under the claim that Christians only got December 25 by co-opting a pagan date. Not only that, but going through this information sets up a precedence for our next bit of information.

Here’s the real kicker - around 202-211 AD, Clement’s student, a man by the name of Hippolytus of Rome, in his work “Commentary on Daniel,” calculated the date of Jesus’ birth to be December 25th. This is well before Aurelian, and well before the Chronography of 354.

There are many people who doubt that this manuscript is genuine, but if one takes all of Hippolutys’ works together, along with the works of other writers of that period who appear to draw from Hippolytus, and along with the work of Clement his teacher, there becomes very good reason to believe that the December 25th date is exactly what Hippolytus believed. Tom Schmidt at Chronicon.net explains this in far greater detail in his article “Hippolytus and the Original Date of Christmas”.

People will no doubt be curious to know how people like Hippolytus came up with the December 25th date.

The date of the birth of Christ is not known. Speculation on when He was born started very early on. The Bible does not tell us on what day or year Jesus was born. Oh, how I wish it did!

But what most people overlook is that the Bible also leaves out the year of Jesus’ death. We may know that Passover is on the 15th of the Hebrew month of Abib/Nissan, but how that translates to the Roman calendar varies greatly depending on what year it is. In one year it could be a Thursday in March. In another year it could be on a Saturday in April. In fact, in 33 AD Passover began Friday night at sundown, which means Jesus could very well have been crucified on Friday in that year.

Apparently following in the footsteps of his teacher, Hippolytus determined a year for the crucifixion, then a day. He figured that since Christ was crucified on this day, he must also have been conceived on it. Then he counted forward 9 months from conception and arrived at December 25th.
All of this in the early 200’s AD.

You might ask yourself why on earth would any sane person believe you died on the date of your conception.

To understand a little more about why Hippolytus thought as he did, we can draw an example from modern claims about Jesus’ birth.

I can’t tell how very many times I have heard people speculate that Jesus was born in the Fall. “We can prove it from the Bible!”, they exclaim. During the Feast of Tabernacles or Trumpets is their favorite target. (If you can prove it from the Bible you would know exactly when it was, and not give a choice of dates.) The people who claim He was born during the Jewish holy days have no more fact to draw upon than anyone else who comes to a different conclusion, but at least they are on to something.
You see, the people who claim He was born during the Jewish holidays believe that important things happen over and over on certain days of the year. Turns out this belief comes from the Jews.
For example, the Jews hold the 9th day of the month of Av (Tisha b'Av) to be a day on which repeated calamities have fallen on the Jewish people. Or again, the Jews believed the date on which a person was conceived or born is tied to the date on which they will die. Tradition states that King David was born and died on Pentecost.

Well, turns out that at this time Christian’s didn’t care about Roman traditions but they were enamored with Jewish ones. It seems reasonable that the Jewish belief that things happen repeatedly on certain days of the year influenced the early Christians' speculation on the birth of Christ, too. They speculated that since Jesus died on a certain day in a certain year, then He must also have been conceived on that same day. Hippolytus calculated the date of His conception/death to be March 25th. From conception to birth is 9 months, normally. So, 9 months from March 25th is.... December 25th!
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) in his book “The Spirit of the Liturgy” argues this exact same thing. Even WikiPedia recognizes this phenomenon in their article on Christmas. In the very first paragraph (as of 12/20/2010) it says this:

The date is not known to be the actual birthday of Jesus, and may have initially been chosen to correspond with either the day exactly nine months after Christians believe Jesus to have been conceived...

I quote WikiPedia here only to demonstrate that there are valid alternatives to the dating of Christmas, and that this information is readily available to anyone who is interested.

Know this – these people didn’t set out to find December 25th at all. There is no way that anyone can accuse Hippolytus or Clement or any of these people of trying to co-opt a pagan December holiday that according to record probably didn’t exist for another several decades to come. Finding Jesus’ birth date was secondary. They primarily cared about finding the date of His death. They were after March 25th. Add 9 months to that and you get December 25th as a bonus prize. If they weren’t trying to adopt paganism, then the roots of Christmas on December 25th are not pagan.

Apparently Hippolytus’ dating lasted. Augustine wrote his work “On the Trinity” between 400 and 412 AD. Pay attention to the dating here; this is now well after Filocalus and well after December 25th was established. In chapter V of book IV, Augusting writes this:

For He is believed to have been conceived on the 25th of March, upon which day also He suffered…

Hippolytus apparently started this, and two centuries later Augustine confirms the notion was widely accepted. I would also have you know that to this very day March 25th is the Feast of the Annunciation in the Catholic Church, where the Catholics celebrate the conception of Jesus Christ. We now have book-ended evidence that the Christians calculated Jesus’ birth from a date given for His death, that date was March 25th. Nine months later is December 25th. Here is the story of how Christmas got its date.
Many people treat it as if the Christians stole the date from pagans, and that is that, case closed. This is simply not so. If you still must reject the holiday, please do. Just leave the grossly speculative story of pagan origins behind.

In addition, some people have theorized that December 25th was borrowed from the Jews in another way. Some people think it was influenced by the Jews keeping Hanukkah on the 25th of the month of Kislev, and Kislev usually falls in December. So when the Gentiles moved towards December as the date of Christ's birth, the 25th as a date may have been a natural choice as it already held significance. (Notice my use of words like "may". I'm only speculating here.)
I disagree with this assertion. Just mentioning it to tie up loose ends.

At the start of this section I mentioned that Hippolytus would muddy up the claim that December 25th was adopted because of a solstice festival. Hopefully you do see that there is ample evidence that Christians were calculating the date of Jesus’ birth to be late in the year and even on December 25th long before Diocletian. Should the 30 games ordered on December 25th truly indicate a late date of that festival, or even if indeed it does have something to do with Aurelian, we can see that the Christians beat him to it by half a century or more.
I conclude that it is impossible to say with conviction that December 25th was only adopted because of the Natalis Invicti celebration. That claim appears to be anachronistic.

Miscalculating December 25th

The more I learned about Christmas, the more I was astounded that it seems to be a genuinely Christian phenomenon – at least where the dating is concerned. People mention that “Christmas was not among the earliest festivals of the Church”, then they leave out any mention of Epiphany. Most Armstrongists wouldn’t even know what Epiphany is.

Yet people who aren’t quite as interested in finding what is actually true persist in finding what they wanted to find and ignoring what they don’t like.

Within the past week someone has told me how they saw this or that television program on the Discovery Channel or some such place that reinforced what Herbert Armstrong taught. Did they search as long and as hard for the other side of the story?

In a video called “Christmas Elements Have Pagan Roots” the Discovery Channel interviewed Joseph Wallace, Chair of the Department of Classics at Loyola.

If you start watching at 2:00 though 2:07, you will hear Mr. Wallace say this, “How did December 25th win out? Well, we don’t know exactly, but most likely what’s going on is…

If you watch at 2:33 though 2:36, you will hear Mr. Wallace say this, "What we think happened, though we have no direct evidence..."

Those are some incredibly speculative statements for a video with such a definite title.

Though they have “no direct evidence”, they proclaim “most likely what’s going on is” Christmas definitely has pagan origins. This should illustrate how ingrained the idea is that Christians took December 25th from the pagans.

And I am supposed to take “no direct evidence” as an excuse for condemning over a billion people, especially when we have direct evidence that things are not so definite as we were led to believe? But they saw it on the Discovery Channel, and that’s good enough for them. Funny how when the Discovery Channel is airing a program on Evolution, the Armstrongists aren’t nearly as convinced about their authority, but when they air a program that goes against Christmas, “It’s the truth!!”

One might say, "I am not condemning anyone" to which I would reply, very good!

However, I know from experience that there are many who condemn others over this. I mean condemn in a very literal sense. People are called "worldly", "non-Christian", "pagan", "Nimrod worshipers", "rebellious", "cursed by God", "anti-Christ", "Satanic" and etc. Good for you that you aren't condemning anyone over this. But keep in mind some people take this quite seriously (and not in a good way). And I know from first-hand experience that many of these both do not know the truth, nor do they care when they are presented with it.

In case you are interested in more, here is a fine article on this subject from William Tighe at Touchstone Archives, called "Calculating Christmas".
Here's another fine article from Marian T. Horvat, Ph.D on Tradition In Action called "Christmas Was Never A Pagan Holiday".

Garbage In, Garbage Out

How did this happen? How did we come to this state? Why didn’t we know about these things earlier? Were we lied to? Did Herbert Armstrong et al bury this information and feed us only what they wanted to believe? I believe the answer is yes and no.

Here's a quote from Ronald Nash's book "The Gospel and the Greeks" page 1:

"During the period of time running roughly from 1890 to 1940, scholars often alleged that primitive Christianity had been heavily influenced by Platonism, Stoicism, the pagan mystery religions, or other movements in the Helenistic world [by this he means the entire Roman Empire]. ... Today most Bible scholars regard the question as a dead issue."

Nash wasn’t talking about Christmas in that quote; he was talking about Christianity itself. But it goes to demonstrate something about evidence and how false information tends to persist.

Nash and most other modern historians have patently rejected the once widely accepted scholarship by groups such as the Religionsgeschichtliche schule (which in English is “History of Religions School”) and people like Richard Reitzenstein, Sir James Frazer, Franz Cumont, and Albert Schweitzer. And it was these people who influenced Herbert Armstrong.

In Lee Strobel’s book, “The Case for the Real Jesus” Mr. Strobel interviews Edwin Yamauchi, professor at Miami University of Ohio and recognized authority on Persian religions. On page 168, Mr. Yamauchi has this to say,

Much of what has been circulated on Mithraism has been based on the theories of a Belgium scholar named Franz Cumont. He was the leading scholar on Mithraism in his day, and he published his famous work “Mysteries of Mithras”, in 1903. His work led to speculation by the History of Religion School that Mithraism influenced nascent Christianity. Much of what Cumont suggested, however, turned out to be quite unfounded.

“Dead issue”? “Unfounded”? Well, that’s rather important to know, wouldn’t you think?

Yet these unfounded dead issues are continuously promoted as “God’s truth” in Armstrongist literature. This is exactly the same as when Ralph Woodrow wrote the Babylon Connection and proved Alexander Hislop to be a dead issue, yet to this day we still hear Hislop’s garbage from all quarters of Protestant fundamentalism. Hislop is still quoted throughout the Living Church of God's booklet on how to tell a false church from a true one. How can one use false information to find a true church? I'll guarantee you, someone out there is going to read this post and call me a Nimrod worshipper. Why? Because they still hold as true something that was long ago proven beyond a doubt to be false!

Then where does Mithra fit in to all of this? When I hear over and over again, including in the aforementioned Discovery Channel video, that December 25th was chosen as the birthday of Christ because that was the birthday of Mithra, based on no direct evidence mind you, I simply think of another quote from Edwin Yamauchi on page 171 of “The Case for the Real Jesus” where he said,

“[December 25th] was the date chosen by the emperor Aurelian for the dedication of his temple to Sol Invictus, the god called the ‘Unconquerable Sun.’ Mithras was closely associated with Sol Invictus; sometimes they’re depicted shaking hands. This is apparently how Mithras became associated with December 25.

So, in other words, Mithras became associated with Sol post facto, after Aurelian recreated his Sol Invictus. From this we can also conclude that Mithra could not be associated with December 25th before Sol was, and our first record of Sol being associated with December 25th comes two decades after Christ was shown to be associated with it (and if Hippolytus can be believed, more than a century after).

Here is a fine link to KingDavid8.com for more information on any Christ/Mithra similarities: “Jesus & Mithra Parallels – A Christian Response
You may also want to check his other similarities pages as well.

Such mistaken information was widely accepted during HWA’s formative years. This is why when we read Armstrongist literature even to this day we see so many references to works over 100 years old. How many times have you seen reference to the Catholic Encyclopedia 1911 edition? Well, now you know why.

In HWA’s defense (yes, we defend HWA when we the situation warrants it), not everything that HWA said was an outright lie, even if it was incorrect. He did what he thought was right with the information available at the time. We simply have far better information 100 years later. What a difference a day makes!

This doesn’t excuse the modern purveyors of what has been long known to be false. People like Dave Pack and Gerald Flurry simply have no desire to let go of the errors of the past. Too much of their reputation and income rides on tickling the itching ear with their self-serving lies. They teach people to judge and condemn based on false information for their own gain.

So, in my opinion, no, HWA was not necessarily lying when he was telling the world the only information available at the time, he was simply in error – but today people really should know better, and often do, so yes they are lying to us now.

Conclusion

So what have we seen about December 25th? We have “no direct evidence” that Christians co-opted December 25th from the pagans.

· Bruma has no bearing on the dating of Christmas; it wasn’t even celebrated in the same month. Christians opposed it. Brumalia has no bearing on the dating of Christmas; it is a Byzantine celebration from after the time of Christmas.
· Saturnalia has no bearing on the dating of Christmas; it was a week before Christmas and was never observed on December 25th.
· Yule has no bearing on the dating of Christmas. Yule was apparently not a merely a solstice celebration, as is often claimed. Our first records come too late and too far away to influence the beginning of Christmas.
· Zagmuk Akita has no bearing on the dating since this was a spring festival.
· The literal winter solstice has no bearing on the dating. Christmas has never once been on the literal winter solstice. The date is a Roman tradition, so there is no reason to tie December 25th to solstice celebrations of non-Roman cultures.
· And what of Dies Natalis Solis Invicti? What “Dies Natalis Solis Invicti”?? People can’t even decide what the real name is. Why call it so many different things if that’s its name? Properly it should be called “Natalis Invicti”. And Natalis Invicti appears to be a late addition. We have good reason to believe Sol was added to the day in 363 AD. The calculation of the December 25th predates this and was not dependent upon it.

It boils down to this – speculation. And here’s mine:

We have ample evidence to believe that Christians were calculating and celebrating the birth of Christ since before 200 AD, perhaps even the mid 100’s. There are good reasons to believe that Hippolytus of Rome, following the example of his teacher Clement, calculated Christ’s birth to be December 25th between 202-211 AD. Multiple Christians at that time were trying to determine the timing of Christ’s conception/death. They were not borrowing from paganism. They ignored Roman mythology. They preferred these dates because they meshed with Jewish (and in their minds this meant Biblical) traditions. It would appear that March 25th as the date of Jesus’ conception caught on in the West. Augustine was still writing about it in the 400’s. To this day it is the Feast of the Annunciation. Calculation from March 25th seems to be the way the Latin Church came to December 25th. When you count forward 9 months from March 25, you get December 25. It appears to be purely coincidental that December 25th was the Roman traditional date of the solstice. The church universally agreed on a winter birth at that time. Even in the East their celebration of the birth of Christ was a mere 12 days later.
In the late 200's or early 300's, the festival of Natalis Invicti was created to commemorate the Roman traditional solstice. We have no reason whatsoever to believe this festival was so popular the Christians had little option but to adopt it; the popular festival was Saturnalia which was over a week earlier. Moving forward in time again - in 363 Julian the Apostate appears to have applied Sol worship to the festival. Christmas was already well-established in the Latin West by this point. Julian the Apostate was trying to undo Constantine's reforms and return Rome away Christianity. I believe he applied Sol to this date specifically to co-opt it from Christ.

After this point, it appears the Christians began to use the sun imagery to explain how Jesus was greater than the Roman gods. Using imagery to explain Jesus to pagans is not the same as adopting pagan festivals. The Church leadership at that time, and for the next two centuries after, was in no mood to "adopt" anything. In 381-394, Emperor Theodosius I declared paganism illegal and took steps to eliminate all pagan worship.

Important things to ponder!

The fine people at Biblical Archaeology Review have posted an article titled "How December 25 Became Christmas" that agrees with what I've told you here. Thanks to Teresa Beem for this gem!

Is the information in today’s post news to you? Do we really suppose that the self-proclaimed apostles and leaders of their own church movements would tell you about information that exonerates the dating of Christmas and proves them wrong? Do we really suppose that they forgot to tell us these things?

You want the truth, right? Any group who still at this late date would reference Alexander Hislop’s “Two Babylons” and his nonsense ideas about Nimrod obviously have no interest in genuine truth. How much more ridiculous are childish anagrams like “SANTA = SATAN”, or blatantly misleading comparisons of Saint Nicholas, whose history is known, with recent English nicknames for Satan like “Old Nick”. Have we not considered that Santa means "saint"? They proclaim how they only want “the truth” and “proven fact” yet they give us anything but. They teach as truth that Jeremiah 10 is speaking of Christmas trees, when it is speaking of no such thing!

It is far past time to demand better.

Look, I’m not telling you that you have to run out and start celebrating Christmas. Perhaps if we can clear the old misinformation we might even see that the birth of Christ is in every way Biblical. Maybe if you don’t like the idea of decorations, you could still see that Jesus couldn’t have died for our sins if He wasn’t first born into this world. Maybe that will spark some acts of charity in your heart.

I would like everyone to stop the judging and condemning each other over something that clearly isn’t as simple as they had been led to believe. At the very least, consider giving people the benefit of the doubt that they aren’t pagans for celebrating Christmas. Then go do the research for yourself. Ask the tough questions. The attaining to truth is apparently going to have to start with you.

Post Script

As a gift for making it this far, dear reader, you may wonder if I have any recommendations about the origins of some of the traditions, like Santa or the Christmas Tree. Turns out I do!

Origin of the Christmas Tree here at As Bereans Did:
Falsely Accused? Christmas Trees and Germanic Paganism

Origin of Santa Claus at St. Nicholas Center:



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It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourself, it is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom. ; )
Acts 17:11

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Saturday, December 25, 2010

Psychology of the Spirit

I was watching a presentation given by a neurologist, Vilayanur Ramachandran. What he had to say regarding the mind was fascinating. I saw in what he was talking about parallels regarding spirituality and our relationship with God.

I have often wondered about the mental condition of angels who sinned by abandoning faith in God for faith in Satan, and what happened to Adam and Eve from a mental health perspective when they abandoned faith in favor of listening to Satan and their subsequent belief they could be, or were, self-sufficient. This may be describing the issue in a somewhat overly simplistic way, but the reader should get the idea.

Something happened to the minds of the angels who sinned. Something happened to the minds of Adam and Eve when they sinned. Something happened to me and others when they bought into the legalistic false gospel of sabbatarianism. Something happens to people in general who buy into false religion. All mankind suffers from a mental illness that defies diagnosis. But, because all mankind suffers from this mental illness, to one degree or another, it goes unnoticed, for if everyone suffers from the same neurological disorder, the disorder is perceived as the norm. This disorder is described in Scripture, and uses blindness as an analogy for this disorder. The sufferer of this disorder is blind to the fact they have this disorder. They do not perceive there is a disorder, therefore they conclude there is no disorder.

But something is definitely missing. Something is deficient.

Scripture diagnoses the problem in general terms, and Scripture relates the cure.

Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the LORD, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward. Why should ye be stricken any more? ye will revolt more and more: the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores: they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment. – Isaiah 1:4-6

And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh: That they may walk in my statutes, and keep mine ordinances, and do them: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God. – Ezekiel 11:19-20

Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them. And ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; and ye shall be my people, and I will be your God. I will also save you from all your uncleannesses: and I will call for the corn, and will increase it, and lay no famine upon you. And I will multiply the fruit of the tree, and the increase of the field, that ye shall receive no more reproach of famine among the heathen. Then shall ye remember your own evil ways, and your doings that were not good, and shall lothe yourselves in your own sight for your iniquities and for your abominations. – Ezekiel 36:25-31

And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive: For this people's heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them. – Matthew 13:14-15

But though he had done so many miracles before them, yet they believed not on him: That the saying of Esaias the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spake, Lord, who hath believed our report? and to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed? Therefore they could not believe, because that Esaias said again, He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them. – John 12:37-40

But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. – Matthew 9:12-13

The cure is this new heart. We understand this to be God's Holy Spirit. But this is only part of the equation of the cure.

The fallen angels had the Holy Spirit, and their sin resulted in mental disorders we would recognize as severe.

We also have the example from Scripture where king Saul of Israel was given God's Spirit, and he too succumbed to severe mental disorders.

The rest of the equation for a healthy individual is faith; faith in God. The cure then is twofold; faith in God in conjunction with being in possession of God's Holy Spirit. Faith is total reliance in God.

There's a category of people who refuse the cure because they think they have already gone through the therapy. These are those who have put their faith in the “quack” physicians who impersonate Christ and His ministers. Their cure is a placebo. The basis of their cure is the old covenant law they teach to be of faith, when in fact the apostle Paul stated that the law was not of faith. Their substitute Holy Spirit is also the law, for they teach that it is that law placed within the believer, and not a Spiritual “law” that Scripture shows to be God's Holy Spirit.

The result of this bogus cure is self-righteousness, arrogance, boasting, bragging, and other symptoms of an inflated Id and Ego. From this position, there is no perception of needing to be cured; there is no need of a physician. Their “righteousness” is embedded in the law and not Christ. Christ is given lip service. They have compounded their illness with a blindness now that cannot recognize the real Christ from their contrived one that is actually the law. Christ and the law become blurred. Paul recognizes this compounded illness in II Corinthians chapter 3.

When I was undergoing the process of throwing off the teachings of the old Worldwide Church of God, there was a day where I was grasping concepts of the new covenant, but the very next day, when I went to explain some aspect of it to another member, I couldn't do it. I couldn't remember what I understood so well the day before. That is when I started writing down everything. In time, I got to the point where I looked back on the beliefs of the WCG and could hardly believe that I believed that whole web of confusion. What then really happened to my mind?

It was rewired. God intervened and fixed the mind so that it was freed up from the circularly locked rationale common with those who accepted the wrong therapy.

I and others who have escaped sabbatarian legalism are now amazed when dealing with those who are still ensconced in that legalism how tenacious their minds hold on to those beliefs and reject any and all information contrary to that belief system. Why? They have a blindness we cannot cure. Like a horse, we can “lead them to water” but we can't make them drink.

When Paul preached to Jew and Gentile, some Jews believed the message of the gospel, and many did not. What was the common denominator regarding those who rejected the gospel message and thus rejected Jesus Christ? Their reliance on the law and the righteousness they believed they derived from it.

You can't drag a sick man to the doctor if he thinks he is well. They won't even admit to the symptoms they display, for the ego refuses to recognize itself as being a “hard heart.”



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It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourself, it is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom. ; )Acts 17:11
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Saturday, December 18, 2010

United Church of God - Divided

We haven't said anything on the disintegration of the United Divided Church of God - A (formerly) International Association. Some people might wonder why? Don't we care?
Sure we do! It's because we care that we're not saying anything about it.

There are already lots of places to get information on this. Felix is reporting on it. J is reporting on it. In fact, J has an informal and confidential survey for UCG members if you're interested. No2HWA is reporting on it. And others!
I also keep an eyeball on the FaceBook groups, like "United Church of God - Resolving Issues", and especially websites like the UCG Current Crisis.

**UPDATE**
Here is an interesting Google map which shows the locations of the loyal and breakaway ministers in this UCG Crisis. It's not completely comprehensive, but it's still pretty good as a reference.

I would ask everyone to pray for all of the people involved in this mess (I know a few).

Personally, I would like the people involved to finally realize that this is how it goes. The leadership of the UCG are technically causing this crisis, but they aren't the root of the problem. If they were the root of the problem, as if changing the leadership will make these problems go away, then explain how this very same thing has happened in one form or the other in nearly every COG splinter group. All of them exist because of a split, and most of them have splits of their own. UCG started as a loose association of splinter groups. And this is not UCG's first split.
Now think of the WCG, Eternal, Global/Living, Philadelphia, CGI, Intercontinental, Fellowship, etc. etc. etc. There are literally hundreds of splinter groups out there. Don't you know that the WCG started when HWA split from the COG7? Didn't you know the COG7 started when Gilbert Cranmer split from the SDA church? Don't you know that the SDA church started when William Miller's Adventist group split up after his prophecies failed in 1843-44? Read the COG Timeline on The Journal. There is an unbroken line of breakups going back 166 years.
Now think of Rod Merideth, Gerald Flurry, Dave Pack, Ron Weinland, Wade Cox, John Ritenbaugh, Harold Smith, etc, etc, etc,. Can this be just a cataclysmic stroke of bad luck in choosing shoddy leadership? That every splinter group's leadership has done this in one way or the other? Can't be.

Something else is the cause of this - something that is shared between each of these groups. The root of the problem is in the very doctrines themselves.

Here at ABD, and we aren't the only ones, we have tried to put the very doctrines themselves to the test. We have weighed them in the balance and found them wanting.
We put what we've found here for you, for free, IF you are inclined to test and prove. I really hope you do! We don't expect everyone to just agree with us, just ask those tough questions and prayerfully consider those tough answers. But we can promise you this much -- if you just keep going on and on, doing what you've always done, well, you'll go on and on getting what you've always gotten.

Beloved children of God who are in the crumbling UCG, may God bless you and speed you into the New Covenant in the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Jeremiah 10 and Christmas Trees?

There is a certain belief that is wildly popular in Armstrongism and it goes something like this, “There is a condemnation of a Christmas tree in the Old Testament.” But is this really so?
It doesn’t matter how you feel one way or the other, we are after truth are we not? Then we need to get to the truth of the matter. If the truth is that Jeremiah 10 speaks of Christmas trees, then that is the truth, and you'd better distance yourself from that tree post haste!! But if it does not speak of Christmas trees, then you'd better distance yourself post haste from claiming that it does. Only a person who has no interest in truth would persist in propagating a known falsehood.

I used to propagate this idea heavily, especially around Christmas. To be bluntly honest, I was taught that Christmas was wrong, so I very much wanted to dislike Christmas, and so I allowed myself to be convinced by a simple argument because that’s what I wanted to believe. Whether or not the claim really was true, it agreed with what I wanted to be true, and that was good enough for me. And many others!

Well, it’s getting to be about that time of year, so I thought it might be a good idea to put this claim through the As Bereans Did patented gauntlet to see if it can survive. I’m going to put this claim to the test as I should have long, long ago but never did. Is it true, or is it a convenient lie. Let’s test and prove this condemnation of Christmas trees, shall we?

HONESTY AND EVIDENCE

(JER. 10: 3-4) 3 For the customs of the peoples are futile; For one cuts a tree from the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the ax. 4 They decorate it with silver and gold; they fasten it with nails and hammers so that it will not topple.

This was so convincing to me that I went around for years of my life telling people that these two verses spoke about Christmas trees. But let's think about this critically.

If I took a person who was familiar with Christmas trees but had never read Jeremiah 10 before, handed them these verses and asked them what they think, would they look at me in astonishment and remark, "That's speaking about nothing other than Christmas trees!"? I have to tell you, I doubt that would happen (believe me, I've tried this quite a few times and I've never seen it happen).
Billions of people have lived and died, reading Jeremiah 10 several times - not just casual readings but scholarly readings as well - and have not come to this conclusion. They have to be "helped" into it.

Have you ever heard the brain teaser when you are asked to spell a few words that rhyme with "toast" and then you are asked "what do you put in a toaster"? Most people don't think, and just respond "toast." Well, that's a possibility, sure, but highly improbable. The correct answer is "bread." You put bread in a toaster. The brain-teaser is a trick. It purposefully leads you into answering "toast."

In the exact same way, Armstrongists purposefully lead people into a loaded discussion on Christmas trees, and then introduce Jeremiah 10. It's a trick; akin to slight of hand. You are meant to see verses 3 and 4 after your mind is already conditioned to be thinking of Christmas trees, and then you're far more likely to see what they want you to see. Of course they accompany the trick with a generous amount of commentary.
So what is really going on here? It's the power of suggestion. We call this "proof-texting."

We burst into chapter 10 of Jeremiah’s book, abscond a very few verses from their proper context, set them aside as if they are an island unto themselves, conjure up a whole new meaning for them, then go about telling the whole of Christendom how God is angry with them for such and such a thing. OK. And nobody has a problem with this?

“I’m just reading God’s word straight from the Bible,” we would plead. Oh really? Just innocently reading straight from God’s word? No commentary whatsoever to nudge people towards the desired conclusion? I see.
Then what is this, “There is a condemnation of a Christmas tree in the Old Testament”?
I don’t see those words in Jeremiah.

If the "plain truth" is so plain and so true, why do the verses always come packaged with the suggestive commentary? Because this is not just reading the Bible!

Are we so certain that Jeremiah is unambiguously speaking of Christmas trees, and there is no other possible explanation because it’s so very clear and so very well spelled out that all you’re doing is reading “God’s word” and not proof-texting whatsoever? So very confident, in fact, that you would go around judging others to be pagan and condemning others over it? Well, let’s just challenge that and see if it holds up.

One oft-repeated argument from Armstrongists is to say “The word ‘Trinity’ never appears in the Bible, therefore it isn’t a Biblical concept.” But Trinitarians counter that they believe the additional Biblical evidence points to a God in three Persons. Even though Trinitarians cite multiple verses across the Bible, Armstrongists reject all of it outright. I'm not arguing for or against the Trinity doctrine here. I'm speaking to standards of evidence. If this is the standard, then let’s be even-handed about it. By the Armstrongists’ own standard, the phrase “Christmas tree” never appears in the Bible, ergo Jeremiah is not talking about Christmas trees. To be fair, we should dismiss any additional evidence outright (good thing there is none). Sophomoric, but fair play. If you’re going to have a standard of proof, then have a standard.

I think that's the real root of this issue. It's about standards of evidence and being honest with ourselves.
The foundation of the Christmas trees in Jeremiah claim is constantly changing standards. One standard in one verse, a different standard in another. One standard here, another there. The claim absolutely relies on it. But is that Godly?

Usually, standards are low when people don't want to find out what really is actually, honestly true. Some just want to find what upholds their predetermined view. They've compromised truth in favor of the ideology. We all do it in one way or the other. The challenge is to stop that once we learn the truth. If standards of evidence were higher, and truth the priority, then in my opinion this wouldn't happen. And blogs like this one wouldn't be necessary.

ALL TREES PAGAN?

Someone might point out that trees were used in ancient pagan worship practices, but so what? Correlation does not imply causation. That "cum hoc ergo propter hoc" fallacy has absolutely no bearing on whether or not Jeremiah 10 speaks about Christmas trees.

When I mention the very many other things people do in church that were also practiced by pagans (singing, praying, sermons, etc), usually the response is "But God lists those things in the Bible."
OK, let's go with that idea. The reasoning is - if it's something God approved in the Bible, then it's approved.

Did God approve using trees in His worship?
If Herbert Armstrong had taught the keeping of the whole law then Armstrongists would know that God commands the use of trees in His worship.

(LEV. 23: 40) And you shall take for yourselves on the first day the fruit of beautiful trees, branches of palm trees, the boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook; and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God for seven days.

(NEH. 8: 13-15) 13 Now on the second day the heads of the fathers’ houses of all the people, with the priests and Levites, were gathered to Ezra the scribe, in order to understand the words of the Law. 14 And they found written in the Law, which the LORD had commanded by Moses, that the children of Israel should dwell in booths during the feast of the seventh month, 15 and that they should announce and proclaim in all their cities and in Jerusalem, saying, “Go out to the mountain, and bring olive branches, branches of oil trees, myrtle branches, palm branches, and branches of leafy trees, to make booths, as it is written.”

So, according to the reasoning, use of trees and greenery in the worship of God is OK because God approves of it in the Bible.

God also lists the use of statues in His worship (EXO. 25: 17-19), garland, bells, and fruit (EXO. 28: 33; II COR. 3: 16), and other things I could list but won't.
All of these things are used at Christmas, and condemned by people as pagan. Is this a double-standard? Once again we're right back to talking about having a standard and sticking to it.

Did pagans use trees in their celebrations? Yes. And so should you (if you truly believe that you must observe the Feast of Tabernacles)! So why don't you?
The Bible prescribes the use of trees at the Feast of Tabernacles, yet that is ignored. It says nothing directly about Christmas trees, yet they are condemned.

JUDGMENT AND CONDEMNATION

You want to read something that’s clear and unambiguous? Here:

(ROM. 2: 1-4) 1 Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. 2 But we know that the judgment of God is according to truth against those who practice such things. 3 And do you think this, O man, you who judge those practicing such things, and doing the same, that you will escape the judgment of God? 4 Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and long suffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?

To make a personal decision to not have a Christmas tree is one thing. Nothing ties salvation to Christmas trees. To judge someone based on a highly questionable reading of Jeremiah is something else entirely.

We had better be beyond certain that Jeremiah 10 is speaking of Christmas trees, my friends, because regardless of what God may think about idolatry, He is certainly not happy with judgment and condemnation – most especially that based on false accusation.
Truly one had better be exceedingly certain that Jeremiah 10 is talking only about Christmas trees. Because if it isn’t, then what happening in reality is people are going around proof-texting Jeremiah 10, propagating falsehoods, and violating the 10 Commandments to boot…

(EXO. 20: 16) You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

…that is not something I would take lightly. No, not at all.

Let’s ask if Jeremiah 10 condemns Christmas trees. But let’s start at the start.

CONTEXT, CONTEXT, CONTEXT

If Jeremiah isn't speaking of Christmas trees, then what is he speaking about?
Is it not clear that from the beginning that God is making a case against Jerusalem and Judah regarding their idolatry?

We focus on Jeremiah 10, so go up and read the many times in Jeremiah 3 and 5 where God describes “treacherous Judah.”
So we know to whom God is speaking – Judah.

From the start, from Jeremiah 1: 16, the case is laid out against Judah for worshipping what their own hands have made. Not just decorating the home. Worshipping! Kneeling down, praying to, expecting help from. Before, during, and after chapter 10, God is clearly angry about bowing down and worshipping idol gods.
So we know what God is angry at Judah about- worshipping gods who are no gods.

And by what standard is God measuring Judah? Go down and read Jeremiah 11 and see that this is specifically about the violation of the now abrogated Old Covenant.

We've gone to prior and post chapters. The context of this portion of Jeremiah is that God is angry at Judah for violating the Old Covenant by worshipping idol gods.
That is the greater context.

Now that we have some of the context framed in, let’s focus again specifically on chapter 10 so we can see the surrounding verses.

NOT SIMPLY A TREE

Have you ever noticed how the argument usually stops at verse 4 or sometimes 5? Why is that? Because the context undoes the argument! These verses must be proof-texted because if we look closely at them the argument will fail. Let's do that now. Let's look closely at these verses.

(JER. 10: 5) They are upright, like a palm tree, and they cannot speak; they must be carried, because they cannot go by themselves. Do not be afraid of them, for they cannot do evil, nor can they do any good.”

Cannot speak??? No one believes a Christmas tree can speak. But since Jeremiah is talking about false gods carved of wood and covered in precious metals, we would expect such an idol to have a mouth. Now it makes sense.
Must be carried because they cannot go by themselves??? No one carries around their Christmas tree. (Note this is after it was fastened.) But since Jeremiah is talking about false gods carved of wood and covered in precious metals, we would expect such an idol to have feet. Now it makes sense.
Cannot do evil or good??? No one expects a Christmas tree to do either evil or good. But since Jeremiah is talking about an idol god, to which people would pray for blessings or mercy from cursing, we would expect good or evil. Now it makes sense.

(JER. 10: 6-7) 6 Inasmuch as there is none like You, O LORD (You are great, and Your name is great in might), 7 who would not fear You, O King of the nations? For this is Your rightful due. For among all the wise men of the nations, and in all their kingdoms, there is none like You.

Why this inset? Because we are contrasting the idol god, that was built and fastened, that cannot speak nor move nor dress itself, that cannot bless or curse, with the actual and Living God, who is King of nations! We are not contrasting God with a holiday decoration.

(JER. 10: 8-9) But they are altogether dull-hearted and foolish; a wooden idol is a worthless doctrine.

"A wooden idol." Says everything we needed right there. A Christmas tree is not an idol. It is not a false god. That can't be stressed enough. It's a decoration, plain and simple.

(JER. 10: 11) Thus you shall say to them: “The gods that have not made the heavens and the earth shall perish from the earth and from under these heavens."

A Christmas tree is not a false god. Christmas trees didn't make heaven and earth. Yet Jeremiah is talking about false gods!

I have met some who insist that Christmas trees are idols. Not so. Just look at the definition of the word. The first definition of "idol" from Merriam-Webster, paying attention to the definition that fits a religious context, is this:
" a representation or symbol of an object of worship; broadly : a false god"
http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/idol

I have seen Armstrongist websites and literature replete with mentions of Herbert Armstrong or the current leadership, pictures and references to HWA or the current leadership everywhere, yet virtually absent any mention of Christ (I go into detail on this in the post "On Following Men" and Martha goes over it from another angle in "Herbert W Armstrong and Today's Churches of God"). So Christmas trees are idolatry, but this is not?

“But don’t people sing songs to their Christmas tree?” one might ask. The answer is no. No Christian sings songs to the tree.
Christians might sing songs about the tree. But so what? Don’t Armstrongists sing songs about Zion? Or about the law? Are those things idols now, too, because you sing about them?

"But don't people kneel before the tree. for example to get the presents?" one might ask. There is a universe of difference in kneeling to reach an item and kneeling in worship. Do we not also kneel to reach items out of our kitchen cabinets? They are wood and metal, too. So do you worship your cupboards? Preposterous.

(JER. 10: 9) Silver is beaten into plates; it is brought from Tarshish, and gold from Uphaz, the work of the craftsman and of the hands of the metalsmith; blue and purple are their clothing; they are all the work of skillful men.

Metal beaten into plates??? Christmas trees are not coated with metal beaten into plates. There are various things hung on the tree for decoration, but that isn’t beaten plates of metal from Tarshish coating the tree. But an idol god is covered in precious metals. Now it makes sense.
Clothing??? Not on a Christmas tree! There are tree-skirts, but that isn’t clothing by any stretch of the imagination. But an idol statue would be clothed to cover its nakedness. Now it makes sense.

Look back at verse 3. Read it again, slowly, and pay attention to what it is saying.

(JER. 10: 3) 3 For the customs of the peoples are futile; for one cuts a tree from the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe.

Look closely at the words there, "the work of the hands of the workman." The indication of the phrase "work of the hands" is that there is a final product here; an artwork or something complex. The next several verses go on to describe this craftsmanship in greater detail. Verse 3 is not merely describing the mindless chopping of a tree. And "workman" indicates a craftsman, a carpenter or other artists.

This didn't escape the notice of the commentary writers. Look at Matthew Henry's commentary on this verse:
"It was a tree cut out of the forest originally. It was fitted up by the hands of the workman, squared, and sawed, and worked into shape."
Read what John Gill's Exposition has to say on this verse:
"the matter and substance of it the body and trunk of a tree cut down with an axe, and then hewed with the same, and planed with a plane, and formed into the image of a man, or of some creature; and now, to fall down and worship this must be vanity and madness to the last degree"
This is no mean tree. This is an idol god, fashioned by artists and worshiped.

Some insist that this workman in verse 3 is simply a lumberjack and nothing more, because they very much want this idol to remain a tree. These very same people insist that silver beaten into plates refers to decorations hung on a tree because they very much do not want this to remain silver beaten into plates. If in one verse the tree must be nothing but a simple tree, why in another verse can't silver plates be nothing but silver plates? Why the double standard?

Jeremiah is also not talking about Judah using pagan traditions in their worship of YHWH. No. This is Judah worshiping another god altogether. This is a replacement for God. God does not say, "Do not learn the way of the Gentiles," and then proceeds to describe festivities and ornamentation. No, He says, "Do not learn the way of the Gentiles," and then proceeds to describe false gods.

Context is key!

Having specifically looked at Jeremiah 10, in the context of the book of Jeremiah, we do not see a tree decoration but a carved idol god. Let us now turn and look elsewhere in the Bible and see if we can't get some other examples that support this conclusion.
Look! Isaiah is very similar to Jeremiah. But obviously Isaiah isn't speaking about Christmas trees either.

IGNORED PARALLEL IN ISAIAH

(ISA. 40: 18-20) 18 To whom then will you liken God? Or what likeness will you compare to Him? 19 The workman molds an image, the goldsmith overspreads it with gold, and the silversmith casts silver chains. 20 Whoever is too impoverished for such a contribution chooses a tree that will not rot; he seeks for himself a skillful workman to prepare a carved image that will not totter.

It's speaking about idols; carved images, false gods. Not decorations. Not Christmas trees. But does anyone quote Isaiah? No. Because Isaiah is much more difficult to twist.
Look again!

(ISA. 41: 7) 7 So the craftsman encouraged the goldsmith; he who smooths with the hammer inspired him who strikes the anvil, saying, “It is ready for the soldering”; then he fastened it with pegs, that it might not totter.
24 Indeed you are nothing, and your work is nothing; he who chooses you is an abomination.

The idol god cannot tell the future. It cannot speak. It cannot be compared to God. This is the exact same thing God is trying to get across in Jeremiah. It is not that Isaiah is talking about idol gods and Jeremiah decorations. Both are talking about idols. Neither are talking about Christmas trees. God is upset about the vain worship of bits of wood and gold. God is not concerned with decorating the home.
Look yet again!

(ISA. 44: 9-17) 9 Those who make an image, all of them are useless, and their precious things shall not profit; they are their own witnesses; they neither see nor know, that they may be ashamed. 10 Who would form a god or mold an image that profits him nothing? 11 Surely all his companions would be ashamed; and the workmen, they are mere men. Let them all be gathered together, let them stand up; yet they shall fear, they shall be ashamed together.
12 The blacksmith with the tongs works one in the coals, fashions it with hammers, and works it with the strength of his arms. Even so, he is hungry, and his strength fails; he drinks no water and is faint. 13 The craftsman stretches out his rule, he marks one out with chalk; he fashions it with a plane, he marks it out with the compass, and makes it like the figure of a man, according to the beauty of a man, that it may remain in the house. 
14 He cuts down cedars for himself, and takes the cypress and the oak; he secures it for himself among the trees of the forest. He plants a pine, and the rain nourishes it. 15 Then it shall be for a man to burn, for he will take some of it and warm himself; yes, he kindles it and bakes bread; indeed he makes a god and worships it; he makes it a carved image, and falls down to it. 
16 He burns half of it in the fire; with this half he eats meat; he roasts a roast, and is satisfied. He even warms himself and says, “Ah! I am warm, I have seen the fire.” 17 And the rest of it he makes into a god, his carved image. He falls down before it and worships it, prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god!” 

A Christmas tree is not a god; it is not an idol. No Christian bows down to and worships a Christmas tree. No Christian prays to the tree and hopes for a response. When we put away the proof-texting and allow the Bible to interpret the Bible, this whole bit about Christmas trees crumbles to dust.

CONCLUSION

I have given you an explanation of Jeremiah 10 that is in context, has clear support from other parts of the Bible, is subject to one evenly-applied standard, and is supportable from history.
What do the "Jeremiah 10 speaks of Christmas trees" proponents give you? After ample commentary, they give you an explanation proof-texted completely out of context with absolutely zero additional Biblical support; one that relies on holding one verse to one standard and another verse to another standard entirely; not only that, but there is no support from history for their explanation either. No one has ever demonstrated that Christmas trees existed in ancient Israel nor the surrounding regions. The earliest that anyone has convincingly traced a Christmas tree is to about the 15th century AD. If they weren't there, then Jeremiah simply could not be reprimanding Judah about them.
(For more on the origin of the Christmas Tree, please read our series on the history of Christmas Trees: "Falsely Accused?".)

Of course you see how silly it was to answer "toast" after you realize you've been tricked. I hope this post has helped you to realize that you've been tricked!

This is not some distanced, objective, unbiased pursuit of truth we're getting from Armstrongism. I would hope that people who claim to be so very in favor of God and truth would put an exceedingly high value and priority on truth, and pursue it regardless of where it takes them. Yet, these claims of Christmas trees in Jeremiah are not truth. They're barely even opinion. And they're just wrong.

So in the end, what do we have? Another lesson on how proof-texting works.
They take only a few verses that appear to say what they want, they take them completely out of context, then they conjure up a new and improper context, and they accompany it with commentary in order to 'help' us reach the new and desired conclusion. Voila! Christmas trees!
The trick depends on our thinking the new context is interesting, and not doing our job of following through and proving it out. It depends on us having low standards of evidence.

How do we combat proof-texting? We PROVE! Read the surrounding chapters and verses. Look for parallel accounts to help explain the topic. And once we've proved, we abandon the lie and expose it for what it is.

"Now you know the rest of the story."


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It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourself, it is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom. ; ) Acts 17:11
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