Month 10:7, Week 1:6 (Sheshi/Kippur), Year:Day 5941:273 AM|
Gregorian Calendar: Monday 25 December 2017
A Professor's Last Desperate Stand
SkyWatch Evangelicals Suddenly Excited
I never really thought, in my wildest imagination, that I would ever have to write another article about Christmas and was convinced, in 2015, when I last wrote what I thought would be my final piece on the subject, that I had truly covered evey base and angle, and every excuse offered, by orthodox christians trying to defend it. I like to think that I am at least thorough. So when, a month ago, I saw conservative Protestant Evangelical SkyWatch TV  gleefully proclaiming that the pagans had copied the early Christians after all (and not the other way round), I had to groan. After all, SkyWatch TV, though at times a little too sensationalistic for my taste, and not always correct, does include a number of important Evangelical Christian scholars who are making a valuable contribution to our knowledge about the Bible, ancient history and the modern world of politics, many of whom have authored excellent books which I have read.
An Extravagant Claim
What were they so excited about? An extravagant (and in my view, totally implausible and irrelevent) claim made by a Professor of History from a Lutheran-affiliated private liberal arts college in Allentown, Pennsylvania, called William Tighe. The Catholics, who are in the process of reabsorbing the Lutherans back into their Church, were naturally excited too, prompting a piece by Catholic writer, Daniel Lattier , Vice President of the website, Intellectual Takeout, which I shall be quoting from, and which SkyWatch TV referenced.
Introducing Professor William Tighe
It should be noted that Tighe's speciality is the political, religious and social history of Tudor and Stuart Britain , in which area I do not doubt for one moment he is extremely competent. However, his excursion into the origins of Christmas seems to me to be little more than speculative apologetics for the Protestant (and therefore Catholic) view that totally ignores the blatant paganism that is unquestionably a part of the 'Yule Season' today.
So what is this new claim? Professor Tighe maintains that the claim, which we and others make, that early Roman Christians adopted 25 December as the day of Messiah's birth in order to co-opt the pagan celebration of the winter solstice, is a myth. Does this claim undermine Christianity, which is what seems to worry Lattier and Tighe? Perhaps the Roman and Protestant forms, but not, we would maintain, authentic Christianity or Messianism which never knew of any 'Christmas' celebrated around the time of the winter solstice.
Blame It on the Pagans....
Tighe's thesis is the the 25 December date "arose entirely from the efforts of early Latin Christians to determine the historical date of Christ’s death" and that the old 25 December pagan feast of the "'Birth of the Unconquered Sun'... was almost certainly an attempt to create a pagan alternative to a date that was already of some significance of Roman Christians."
A Jewish Superstition is Recruited
That is quite a claim. But what evidence is there to back it up? Here Tighe's speculation runs unharnassed. Though he has no actual evidence to back it up, Tighe makes use of a Jewish tradition that was around in the early first century AD - a superstition, in fact - which was that the great biblical nevi'im (prophets) all died on the same days as either their conception or birth. This was known as the doctrine of the 'integral age'. Is there any concrete evidence for this? None that I am aware of so the first assumption in the thesis is already vapourous.
How Roman Christians Supposedly Calculated 25 December
"Early Christians spent much energy on determining the exact date of Christ’s death. Using historical sources, Christians in the first or second century settled on March 25th as the date of his crucifixion. Soon after, March 25th became the accepted date of Christ’s conception, as well.
"Add nine months — the standard term of a pregnancy — to March 25th, and Christians came up with December 25th as the date of Christ’s birth."
Lattier cites no sources so we cannot check up on them. One might as well subtract the first number one thought of in these whispy calculations. And sadly, this is the same kind of mystical mathematics that Messianics engage in today in an attempt to prove Yah'shua (Jesus) was born at Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles .
Enter Emperor Aurelian
"It is unknown exactly when Christians began formally celebrating December 25th as a feast. What is known, however, is that the date of December 25th 'had no religious significance in the Roman pagan festal calendar before Aurelian's time (Roman emperor from 270-275), nor did the cult of the sun play a prominent role in Rome before him.' According to Tighe, Aurelian intended the new feast 'to be a symbol of the hoped-for ‘rebirth,’ or perpetual rejuvenation, of the Roman Empire…. [and] if it co-opted the Christian celebration, so much the better.'"
So we are to accept the Catholic Christmas ... not because it is based on pagan sun-worship but because of what? Some speculative calculations which do not accord with Scripture but are based on Jewish superstion about nevi'im (prophets) dying on the same day they were either conceived or born?! And are we to ignore Aurelian's hope the new Christmas feast might serve to prop up Rome - that it might in some way aid in his desire for the 'rebirth' or 'perpetual rejuvenation' of his Empire? Is that supposed to reassure us that Christmas is somehow more worthy of observance?
Tighe's final point is that Paul Ernst Jablonski (1693-1757) was to blame for all the 'pagan fuss' - he was the big 'trouble-maker', who should be the scape-goat for all this uncomfortable emet (truth). Here was a professor who did some proper studying - he was not out to defend a pre-conceived tradition but just wanted to know what was real. Can we blame him for turning against false tradition? Any honourable man should be opposed to the "paganization" of Christianity. That Jablonski made a big fuss, as we do, about Christmas' pagan roots does not somehow absolve apostacy. It's easy to make truth-seekers into scape-goats.
The Final Cop-Out
Knowing that he can't really lay all blame for exposing the roots of Christmas at the feet of Jablonski, Lattier delivers (as he supposes) the usual liberal coup de grace and cop-out:
Why the Truth Matters
"Of course, to Christians, it really doesn’t matter that much whether or not they co-opted December 25th from the pagans, or vice versa. The Christian faith doesn’t stand or fall on that detail. But it’s nevertheless valuable for all of us to give closer scrutiny to shibboleths — such as that of the pagan origins of Christmas — which are continually repeated without being examined."
I confess to not having read Jablonski. I know he was a theologian at the University of Frankfurt-an-der-Oder in eastern Brandenburg. I am sure that he reached much the same conclusions as serious students of history and theology the world over have done and discovered that Christmas and a number of other Catholic traditions are absolutely, and without doubt, pagan-inspired. Of course, deep down Lattier and Tighe know this which is why Lattier added the quip "it really doesn’t matter that much whether or not they co-opted December 25th from the pagans, or vice versa". But it does. Why does it? Because Yahweh commands us not to imitate the pagans and their ways! He has given us all the festivals that we are to observe and Christmas isn't one of them. So the choice is between Christ or Christmas.
Lattier's final argument is, in the final analysis, exactly the same as all antinomians who refuse to obey the Davar (Word) and who love tradition more than the emet (truth). The disobedient will always find excuses. In the end, it doesn't really matter how the Christmas tradition started. What matters is what confronts us today and what we are going to do about it. In our world where paganism is resurging and displacing Christianity, pagans are rightly claiming their festival back and telling Christians that we have stolen it from them...which we have. Why should we even want it? Because of all the glitter and pretty lights? Because it's 'nice'? These are not excuses to disobey Yahweh. They constitute on-going rebellion. It's up to you to choose the Derech (Way) of Yahweh or the traditions of the pagans. At ground level, whether you accept Tighe and Lattier or not, Christmas remains ROMAN and all spiritual roads do not lead there. Almost none do - if any at all.
 SkyWatch Editor, The Myth of the Pagan Origins of Christmas
 Daniel Lattier, The Myth of the Pagan Origins of Christmas, 24 November 2017. Lattier is the Vice President of Intellectual Takeout and received his B.A. in Philosophy and Catholic Studies from the University of St. Thomas (MN), and his M.A. and Ph.D. in Systematic Theology from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. You can find his academic work at Academia.edu.
 William Tighe obtained his Ph.D. from Cambridge University with his thesis on Renaissance and Reformation: 16th-, 17th-, and 18th-Century Europe. A 1974 graduate of Georgetown University with a B.A. in History summa cum laude, William J. Tighe was subsequently a graduate student at Yale University, where he studied under J. H. Hexter and from which he received the degrees of M.A. in 1975 and M. Phil. in 1977, and at Cambridge University under Sir Geoffrey Elton, Regius Professor of History, where he took the Ph.D. degree in 1984. After a period as University Research fellow in history at the University College of North Wales, he became a member of the Muhlenberg College History Department in 1986. Although he has described himself betimes as an ecclesiastical historian manque, Tighe's field of research specialization is the political, religious and social history of Tudor and Stuart Britain (c. 1460 to c. 1715). His Ph.D. work focused on a corps of men known as the Gentlemen Pensioners at the court of Queen Elizabeth I and over the past decade he has embarked on a wide-ranging study of that group of the most initmate servants of that queen known collectively as the Privy Chamber. Among his publications are A Nottinghamshire Gentleman in Court and in Country: the Career of Thomas Markham of Ollerton (1530-1607), Transactions of the Thoroton Society of Nottinghamshire (1986); The Gentlemen Pensioners, the Duke of Northumberland and the Attempted Coup of July 1553, Albion (1987); Courtiers and Politics in Elizabethan Herefordshire: Sir James Croft, His Friends and His Foes, Historical Journal (1989); 'To Run with the Time': Archbishop Whitgift, the Lambeth Articles and the Politics of Theological Ambiguity in late Elizabeth England, Sixteenth Century Journal (1992); and Country into Court, Court into Country: John Scudamore of Holme Lacy and his Circles in Tudor Political Culture, ed. D. E. Hoak (Cambridge, 1995). His teaching interests include the whole of British History, Europe in the Renaissance, the Reformation and the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries and a range of introductory courses, first-year seminars and other departmental offerings.
 See our website, Messiah's Birthday