When Was The “silent Night”?

When was the Silent Night? In Luke 2, an angel appeared to the shepherds in the fields and said to them, “I bring you good news … great joy for all the people[1]. When did that happen? When was this great joy declared? The Gospel writers either did not know the time of Jesus’ birth or didn’t consider it important, therefore the time of year that Jesus was born is a matter of debate and guesses. Of course the traditional date of celebrating Jesus’ birth is December 25, however most historians agree that Christmas was not observed until about 300 years after Christ’s death, and the origins of Christmas cannot be traced back to either the teachings or the practices of the first believers. Certainly, the Bible nowhere indicates that Jesus was born in winter.  So, if Jesus wasn’t born on December 25, when was He born?

Based on the New Testament accounts (first of all, on calculations regarding the conception and birth of John the Baptist), late summer or early fall seem to be the most likely time of Jesus’ birth. Many Messianic believers celebrate Jesus’ birth during Sukkot (the Feast of Tabernacles). Let’s look at their arguments.

The first argument is very simple and has to do with the weather. Anyone who has been to Israel at the end of December would definitely agree that December 25 couldn’t be the date for Christ’s birth. Here are two primary reasons: First, we know that the shepherds were in the fields watching their flocks at the time of Jesus’ birth.[2]  That would not happen in December, since December in Judea is very cold and wet, so the weather would not permit shepherds to stay in the fields at night.  The end of December is in the middle of the rainy season in Israel, which lasts from Sukkot through Passover. Of course there is no way of knowing whether that particular December was wet, however, in December the nights are always very cold, sometimes below zero even if the days are nice and sunny, so the shepherds, along with their flocks, would at least be in some shelter at night. On the other hand, early fall – the time of Sukkot – fits perfectly with Luke’s account.

Second, many scholars think that December would not have been an appropriate time for a Roman census either: such censuses were not taken in winter, when temperatures sometimes dropped below freezing and roads were in a very poor condition. And here again, early fall would be a great time for traveling to Bethlehem. There is even a theory that Joseph and Mary planned their trip to Bethlehem to coincide with the Sukkot pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Traveling with a pilgrimage caravan from Galilee could have provided them safety on the journey. The busy time of pilgrimage might also explain the “no room at the inn” situation in Bethlehem.

The third and most significant argument is based on the timing of John the Baptist’s birth. John’s father, a priest named Zechariah, belonged to the “priestly division of Abijah”.[3]  He was taking his turn to serve in the Temple when the angel Gabriel appeared to him and announced that Elizabeth, Zechariah’s wife, would conceive a son. After Zechariah returned home, his wife conceived, just as the angel had said.  In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, Gabriel visited Mary to announce the miraculous conception of Jesus.[4]

The 24 courses of the temple priesthood are found in 1 Chronicles 24.  Calculations are made showing that the Abijah division served in June. After Zechariah completed his service and traveled home, Elizabeth conceived.[5]  Assuming John’s conception took place near the end of June, adding nine months brings us to the end of March as the most likely time for John’s birth. If we add another six months, we arrive to the end of September – Sukkot time – as the likely time of Jesus’ birth.

However, all these arguments, as important and convincing as they might be, fade into insignificance if we think of the essence: why Jesus came to this earth and when it could – and had to – be done? I personally think that the most crucial aspects here are theological reasons – once we know and recognize God’s handwriting in history (His story), we can ascertain when, why and how Jesus had to be born. Here are some of the thoughts.

First of all, we already know that Sukkot is a biblical Feast of joy, zman simchateynu,  “the season of our joy”. Would it not be a proper time to declare “great joy for all people”?

Second, when John says that the “The Word became flesh and tabernacled among us”,[6] we can see this as an allusion to Him coming into this world during the Feast of Tabernacles.

A third possible reason for Jesus being born on Sukkot concerns bringing the nations of the world to the recognition and worship of the God of Israel – a theme common to Sukkot and to the mission and ministry of Jesus.  It was God’s original design that the festival of Sukkot would bring the nations of the world to the true God, and this theme of Sukkot is expressed in many prophecies. Thus, in the prophecy of Zechariah we read that at the end of days, all the nations will come to celebrate the festival of Sukkot: And it shall come to pass that everyone that is left of all the nations who came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to observe the festival of Sukkot.[7]  Anyone who has had the privilege of participating in, or even just watching the Jerusalem March that takes place every Sukkot, would know, without a shadow of a doubt, that the mission of Sukkot and the mission of Jesus – to reach the nations of the world and to bring them to God of Israel – are intertwined.

Fourth, King Solomon inaugurated the First Temple on the festival of Sukkot: And all the men of Israel assembled themselves to King Solomon at the festival in the month of Eitanim, which is the seventh month….[8]  Evidently, the timing of this event was not coincidental, but rather the result of Solomon’s thorough   planning. How much more then, would it be a proper time to inaugurate the One who is indeed greater than Solomon and greater than Temple.

Finally, let us remember that Sukkot is a time of renewed fellowship with God.  Moses came back with the second set of the tablets on Yom Kippur – so on Yom Kippur the people of Israel already knew they were forgiven. However, it was not until Sukkot that the presence of God filled  sukkot -the tabernacles. That is why Sukkot is the most joyful of all the holidays: the broken are healed; we are no longer orphans; God came again to tabernacle with us! Immanu El – God is with us! Would it not have been the most appropriate time for Immanuel to come to this Earth?


PS  Dear friends, my Rosh Hashanah gift is still available, so if you haven’t done it yet, you can now go to this link and download a free copy of my book “Abraham had two sons”.



[1] Lk. 2:10

[2] Lk. 2:7-8

[3] Lk. 1:5

[4] Lk. 1:26-36

[5] Lk. 1:23-24

[6] John 1:14

[7] Zech. 14:16

[8] I Kings 8:1-6



About the author

Julia BlumJulia is a teacher and an author of several books on biblical topics. She teaches two biblical courses at the Israel Institute of Biblical Studies, “Discovering the Hebrew Bible” and “Jewish Background of the New Testament”, and writes Hebrew insights for these courses.

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  1. John Ashcraft

    Yeshua was conceived on the first day of Chanukkah and it was a Sabbath according to Torahcalendar.com. (2015–they changed everything around and in 2016 they left out Adar 2 so they can’t be trusted today).
    He was conceived on Dec 15th, 4 BC or December 22nd according to some.

    Birth time using Stellarium (-4 BC) In 3 CE 9/11/3CE, there were two planets in the head of Virgo and none in Leo. On this day, the moon was not below the feet of Virgo although some say it was.
    On the Day of Atonement, the SUN/SON was together with Mercury at Spica. On the first Sabbath of Sukkot, the Sun was heading South but on the Second Annual Sabbath the Sun left the knees and the Moon was below her feet.
    In one CE, the moon was below the feet of Virgo on the Day of Trumpet as it is today. Also posted on the blog.

  2. Eivind Lundager

    Dear Julia Blum,

    Thank you for a most interesting article on “When was the Silent Night”.
    Now, I was just wondering if you had heared of Frederick Larsons “The Star Project” over the “Nine point star”?

    After studying the text over the Wise Men visiting king Herod the Great of Judah, Larson concluded that there were 9 nine major criterias within the gospel of Matthew chapter 2 that had to be satisfied in order to state that an astronomical object in fact was the Star of Bethehem – or not. Larsons research unravelled a series of bits and pieces both in th Old Testament and the New Testament that apparently added up. He claims to have resolved the nativity story as to when it actually happened, which in turn pointed out when the cruxificition of Christ happened.

    The arguments presented are not only based on Biblical scriptures like the books of Daniel, Joel and Nehemiah, but also on secular accounts from Josephus and Sejanus at the Roman Senate. Finally Larson was able to check out the skies 2.000 years back in time on his computer using the computer programme Starry Night. That is an advanced programme that simply runs on the scientific basics of the three laws for planetary movement which Johannes Kepler worked out around 1601.

    If you are interested you would probably like to study Larsons website or just listen to his presentations on YouTube or DVD, hence the links are given below. I
    would be delighted to hear your opinion. 🙂

    Enjoy !


  3. Hezekiah James

    This insightful knowledge that correspond to Biblical truth is timely. More grease to your elbow, dear Julia!

  4. Alfredo Quevedo

    Shalom Julia. I would like to add a couple of elements to this conversation.

    1. After being born, Yeshua was brought to the Temple on the 8th day for circumcision, entering into the Jewish community. Given that Yeshua was born on the first day of Sukkot, this 8th day would be Simchat Torah. Yes, the Living Torah was given to the people of Israel on that day.

    Let’s consider Luke 2:25-32

    Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: 
    “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
        you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
    For my eyes have seen your salvation,
        which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
    a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
        and the glory of your people Israel.”

    We find that Simeon embraced in his arms the Living Torah, just as Jewish people do nowadays with the Written Torah!

    2. If you count back 40 weeks from the 1st day of Sukkot (15th of the 7th month), you’ll end up on the 25th of the 9th month in the previous year: Hanukkah

    The Light of Genesis 1:3 was being lit again to this creation (after being hidden for so many years according to Jewish teachings), right there in Miriam’s womb!

    The hanukkiah with 9 lights, 9 months in Miriam’s womb, 9 feasts (8 from Leviticus 23 + Hanukkah)…

    Best wishes from El Salvador,

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you so much, Alfredo, your additions are just wonderful: yes, the 8th day , the day of Yeshua’s circumcision, today would be Simchat Torah – and taking into account the fact that a name of a Jewish boy is announced after his circumcision, it would mean that His name Yeshua would be proclaimed publicly for the first time on this day! How meaningful and how significant! Thank you for bringing it to our attention!

  5. Bobbie Cole

    I am with you, Julia, on your proposed timing for Jesus’ birth. One more reason in favor of this time of year is that the census would have had to be held at a time when agricultural peoples could get away – what better time than after the harvest in the fall?

    1. Julia Blum

      Great point, Bobbie! Thank you!

  6. Albert Nygren

    Regardless of when Jesus was born, the “silent Night” in the song refers to the “night of the Mind”, When all thought is silent and there is the Darkness of all sense and our true self, The Life of God shines forth. The “Night” where Christ is born. Thank you.

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you, Albert! Of course, you are right, and there is more to the “Silent Night” song than just specifying the date of Jesus’ birth. Yet, for most people it is a Christmas song (even Wikipedia defines it as “a popular Christmas carol”), and this is the reason I used these words for my post .

  7. Baruch

    The Biblical Case for a Late-December birth of the Messiah

    According to the Biblical account of Christ’s birth (Luk 1:5-2:20), Mary conceived in the 6th month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy (Luk 1:36, 42), which itself began immediately after her husband, Zacharias, returned from doing his turn of service in the Temple. The argument for assigning late December as the rightful date of the birth of Yeshua (the Hebrew name for Jesus) is based on the time Zacharias was told that Elizabeth would conceive a child.

    We are told Zacharias was serving during the “course of Abia” when the angel appeared to him. 900 years before, King David (1 Chr 28:11-13) had divided the priesthood into 24 “courses” or groups (1 Chr 24:1-4) to create an orderly schedule by which the Temple of the Lord could be staffed for the whole year. Once these courses were established, lots were drawn to determine the sequence each group would serve in the Temple (1 Chr 24: 7-19). Each of the 24 courses of priests would begin and end their service on the Sabbath for a tour of duty of one week (2 Chr 23:8, 1 Chr 9:25), twice a year.

    The problem is, the Bible never tells us when the First Course began. Many scholars argue whether it must have been the first week of Nisan or of Tishri. This comes from the belief that the First Course [naturally] began at the “New Year” which [naturally] puts it during the first week of Nisan. But ask a Jew, and s/he will tell you that the “New Year” begins on 1 Tishri — Rosh Hashannah. So the Jews actually have two “beginnings of years.”
    All of this is merely conjecture, however, since neither the Bible nor history tells us when the first course started.

    But when the Babylonian Captivity occurred, the Temple was destroyed — so there was no more service to be done. The date this occurred became a well-known fast-day for the Jews, the 9th of Av, B.C. 586 (Tish’a B’ Av). Indeed, according to traditional sources, when they returned to the land 70 years later, it was a very “bumpy” restart to the Temple services over the course of many years. They memorialized this fast-day by re-beginning the Courses beginning at the 9th of Av.

    The Temple was gradually rebuilt (called “the Second Temple”) and added to by the Herods (during the time of Jesus Birth). But it was destroyed again by the Romans in A.D. 70 — ON THE SAME DAY! The 9th of Av, A.D. 70. Now, the Jews had not only twice the reason to mourn that date, but a wake-up call that God was trying to tell them something — but that is another lesson.

    What is important to this discussion is that according to both Josephus (Jewish historian, AD 37 – c. 100) and more recent work done by Friedlieb (Leben J. Christi des Erlösers, Münster, 1887, p. 312), it was the First Course that was serving at the time of the destruction of the Second Temple in A.D. 70 — in the second week of Av.

    Stepping back 70 years (and assuming the courses were running then as they ran in 70 A. D.) to the time of Jesus’ birth, the First Course of priests (Jehoiarib) would serve during the second week of Av, Sabbath to Sabbath, followed in the third week by the Second Course (Jedaiah). The fourth week would fall to the Third Course (Harim). By the time the Eighth Course (Abijah) was called to service it was the second week of Tishri and the High Holy Day of Yom Kippur — The Day of Atonement (10 Tishri) — roughly, October 2-9.

    – Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist, was conceived shortly after Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement, Tishri 10) and born approximently 40 weeks later in the Jewish (lunar) month of Tammuz (June/July).

    Months in the Jewish Calendar are all 29.5 days long. In leap years, Adar is preceded by a 30-day intercalary month named Adar Aleph (Aleph being the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet), Adar Rishon (First Adar) or Adar I and it is then itself called Adar Bet (Bet being the second letter of the Hebrew Alphabet), Adar Sheni (Second Adar) or Adar II. According to the Metonic cycle, this is done seven times every nineteen years (specifically, in years 3, 6, 8, 11, 14, 17, and 19)

    John’s father (Zacharias) was a Levite who was assigned to serve in the temple during the course of “Abia,” (Luk 1:5) the 8th of 24 courses (1Ch 24:10). Each course served for one week, Sabbath to Sabbath. Thus, each priest served twice a year, plus at each of the three Pilgrimage Feasts (the red feasts in the figure, above).

    During the First Century, the cycle of service was such that the first course served in the second week of Av, thus the actual time the 8th course was serving was during the second week of Tishri (on the Jewish lunar calendar, months average 29.5 days long).

    This places Zacharias’ service in the Temple as during the High Holiday of Yom Kippur (Sep/Oct), and this agrees with the description given about how Gabriel spoke to Zacharias in the narrative (Luk 1:8-23).

    It is written that John was conceived shortly after this tour of duty (Luke 1:23-4), in the third week of Tishri, perhaps even on 17 Tishri. Therefore, John the Baptist would have been born on (approx.) the 13th of Tammuz (June/July).

    – Jesus was conceived near the beginning of Nisan (Mar/Apr), and born 40 weeks later during late December.

    Jesus was conceived in the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy (Luke 1:24-27, 36). This could have been anywhere from late-Adar to late-Nisan (March). Early tradition places Mary’s conception on 17 Nisan / March 20, but this is only proverbial. (The Catholic Church still celebrates it as the Annunciation, on March 25.) Nine Months later, Jesus was born — in mid-Tevet / late December.

    – Circumstantial Evidences:

    Although it was not initially celebrated as a Holy Day, Church history since the time of the late first century has attested to a late December birth. Hippolytus, in the second century AD, argued that this was Christ’s birthday. In the fourth century, John Chrysostom (347-407) argued that December 25th was the correct date. Chrysostom taught that Zechariah received the message about John’s birth on the Day of Atonement and John the Baptist was born sometime in June or July, and the birth of Jesus took place six months later, in late December. There was never a question about the period of Jesus’ birth either in the East or in the West; only in the recent years this date was challenged by “scholars” who believe they know something those in the “Early Church” didn’t.

    Early Jewish sources suggest that the sheep around Bethlehem were outside year-round. In the normal traffic of shepherds, they move around and come near Bethlehem from November to March of the year. But there were a special class of Levitical shepherds who kept the sacrificial lambs. They did not move around because they supplied the lambs for daily sacrifice from whom people bought their approved lambs, which are blemish-less. The fact that the Angels announced the arrival of the perfect sacrificial lamb to these shepherds is attractive.

    Alfred Edersheim, a Messianic Jew, wrote, “There is no adequate reason for questioning the historical accuracy of this date. The objections generally made rest on grounds which seem to me historically untenable.”

    Edersheim notes that the Jewish Megillot Taanit states that the 9th of Tevet is considered the day of Christ’s birth, and that puts the birth of Yeshua (Jesus) sometime during late December.

    Since Zacharias served during Yom Kippur and Elizabeth conceived shortly thereafter, we can place the date of Jesus’ birth during the month of Tevet, in late December.

    On the eighth day, according to Jewish law, He was circumcised and formally named Yeshua (the Hebrew for the Greek, “Jesus”), the Salvation of God. The day was January 1st, the beginning of a new era in the history of man — Anno Domini.

    1. Robert F. Smith

      Shalom Baruch:
      I’m sorry to say that your case for a late December Nativity may be flawed for several reasons:

      First of all, we do not in fact know that “John was conceived shortly after this tour of duty (Luke 1:23-4).” The NT text simply does not say that. It is an assumption too easily made. Indeed, we do not even know for certain when that tour of duty with the course of Abijah was completed. Furthermore, we do not know the cycle of menses and ovulation of either Elizabeth or Mary, and cannot be assured that conception took place with any sort of immediacy or mathematical certainty.

      In any case, if we follow Thomas Lewin’s Fasti sacri with some sort of mathematical precision, the priestly course of Abijah began on May 16, 7 BC, and ended seven days later. Thus, Zachariah could have gone straight home and his wife have immediately conceived John the Baptist on about May 22, 7 BC. The Annunciation to Mary then would have occurred in November 7 BC, followed by the Nativity nine months later in early August 6 BC (so Jack Finegan, Handbook of Biblical Chronology, 2nd ed., section 469). Naturally, as you (and Finegan) make plain, that is not the only theory employing the course of Abijah.

      I think it far more helpful to consider the variety of arguments presented to us by Julia Blum, along with some other pertinent factors: The great Cambridge scholar John Lightfoot argued that Jesus was born at the Jewish New Year (Tishri 1) in his Horae Hebraicae et Talmudicae: Hebrew and Talmudical Exercitations Upon the Gospels, the Acts, etc., revised ed., 4 vols (Oxford Univ., 1859), II:32-33.

      Not surprisingly, the Feast of the Blessed Name of the Virgin Mary takes place on the first Sunday after Sept 12 (= Sept 23 Old Style, i.e., Autumnal Equinox). Using the “Starry Night” software by Imaginova, Frederick A. Larson has likewise placed the birth of Jesus at the Jewish New Year (Rosh haShana), though in 3 BC (so Larson, “The Star of Bethlehem” [MpowerPictures, 2007], DVD; variously, http://www.bethlehemstar.com , and http://www.starrynight.com ).

      With extraordinary scholarship, Eric Werner showed that the ancient Christian liturgy of Christmas was taken originally from the Jewish liturgy for the Autumnal New Year and that Jewish-Christians first celebrated the Nativity then – see Werner, The Sacred Bridge: Liturgical Parallels in Synagogue and Early Church, 79-83, 89-90, and nn. 94, 110-111 (citing esp. L. Venetianer, Jüdisches im Christentum, 139). Such a chronology is certainly in keeping with a slightly later Nativity in Sukkot-Tabernacles as suggested by Blum.

      Finally, also as suggested by Blum, this was a time of great significance: If, as John Bright argued, the regular Jewish New Year was anciently combined with Tabernacles, then this was the time of temple dedication (Ex 40:2, I Ki 8:2-66, II Chron 7:8-10), and covenant renewal beginning the High Holy Days (Neh 8:2). In any case, the rabbis considered 1 Tishri to be the day of Creation of the World, the day of the accession of God to His Throne, and the day of birth of Adam; so it is no surprise to find Jesus as Second Adam born the same day. As John H. Eaton has put it:

      “In the festal hour . . . Yahweh overpowers chaos, takes his kingship, makes right order, sends forth life, and enters into intimate communion with his liberated people.”

      The late Frank Moore Cross, Jr., stated that an earthly Canaanite or Hebrew temple/ tabernacle was typically built on proportions “derived from a tabnit, a model of the cosmic Tabernacle,” and “the Canaanite temple was founded on New Year’s Day, identified with the foundation of the cosmic temple at creation, confirming the victory of the Divine Warrior over his enemies, who represent chaos and death.”
      Full documentation on request.

      1. Julia Blum

        Thank you, Robert, for so serious and so profound comment! I agree, Tishrey 1 also seems to be a very probable date for Yeshua’s birth – and the symbolism of this date is , of course, beyond any comparison. However, I personally think that the message of Sukkot: the great joy and the renewed fellowship with God, – more corresponds to the Good News that Yeshua brought to this world. I think, it has to do also with the broken tablets and the second set of the tablets – and according to the rabbis, Moshe came back with the second set only on Yom Kippur. Besides, it seems to me amazing that His name was first announced to Israel on the 8th day of Sukkot, when He was circumcised: the same name that Gabriel announced to Mary at the time of the conception, the same name an angel revealed to Joseph in a dream, – was voiced and proclaimed publicly for the first time after His circumcision, on the 8th day of Sukkot! The last day of the Sukkot is an additional festival day that the Torah calls “The Eighth Day” (Leviticus 23:36, 39). If Yeshua was born on the first day of the feast of Tabernacles, they circumcised him on the “Eighth Day”! I think, this symbolism is very meaningful!

    2. Julia Blum

      Thank you Baruch, for taking time to write such a detailed and thorough comment! Your knowledge is truly very impressive. However, if you just come to Israel at Christmas time and try to spend a night outside – you would definitely agree that the shepherds couldn’t be in the fields at this time. Luke 2 could not have happened in December! As for Edersheim, – with all due respect, he was a Hebrew Christian, not a Messianic Jew, so it’s kind of understandable that for him there was ” no adequate reason for questioning the historical accuracy of this date” (December 25). Undoubtedly Edersheim was a great scholar, but he lived and wrote a long time ago – and many things have been changed and revealed since then.

  8. Louise Brislane

    Thank you for your book on Abraham’s two sons! We were studying Hagar as our first of five ladies from scriptures in ‘know your bible’ in Australia. Then I got your book and read it and gained so much knowledge and was able to share this insight of yours with the other ladies of my group. It certainly changed the way I answered the questions, that’s for sure!

    God never does things by half! Have you read Jonathon Cahn’s new book called, The Book of Mysteries. In it the teacher tells him about why Barabbas had to be chosen and represented the scapegoat and Jesus the sacrifice. I had goosebumps reading it and tying it into what you were saying about Ishmael and Isaac.

    I have learnt so much and now both passages of Scripture make sense to me and I am sure learning about a lot of other little mysteries from the Hebrew while reading Jonathon’s book.

    Thank you Lord!

    Louise Brislane

    1. Julia Blum

      Hi Louise, thank you so much for your kind words about my book! (and if you be so kind as to write a review on this book on Amazon, here is the link https://www.amazon.com/Abraham-Had-Sons-Julia-Blum-ebook/dp/B0176LILH4?ie=UTF8&qid=1462416502&ref_=sr_1_2&s=books&sr=1). And I love Jonathan Cahn’s books, but I haven’t read this one yet, thank you so much for bringing it to my attention!

  9. Robbie Mills

    Everything you shared fits perfectly. Bless You.