Cyprian, Christmas, and the birth of the Sun

Occasionally I find that people attempt to quote Cyprian as supporting the idea that Jesus was born on the same day that the Sun was born, typically linking this with December 25 and the Festival of the Birth of Sol Invictus.

The work which contains this quote is, according to George Ogg who provides a translation of it, not by Cyprian because it was written in 243 AD, which is probably before Cyprian was baptized. Also only two manuscripts exist of the work (one was lost in 1870 but a copy of it had been made) and only one of these ascribes it to Cyprian.  It is called the Pseudo-Cyprianic De Pascha Computus published by S.P.C.K.:  London, 1955. Or simply the The Passover Computation.  This translation is based off of the CSEL 3.3 text found here.  The work itself is very likely that this is based off of Hippolytus’ Canon, though scholars disagree (For what it is worth I do think it was based off of Hippolytus’ Canon but I have not studied the relationship closely).

The quote that concerns us is often presented inaccurately as the following:

O the splendid and divine Providence of the Lord, that on that day, even at the very day, on which the Sun was made, Christ should be born.

This is from the start of chapter 19, and the full quote actually reads:

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 [nascor].  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.” [Malachi 4:2]

As you can plainly see this does not refer to December 25. In fact the author believed that the world was created on March 25 and the Sun was made on the fourth day of creation, which was a Wednesday, March 28, and that Jesus was born several thousand years later 4BC on the exact anniversary of the creation of the Sun according to the author’s interpretation of the Bible.

That day [the first day of creation] is now understood to be the 25 March.  Some from among us, who previously desired to exhibit this new month and indicate the days of Passover according to the Jews, reckoned from it. ~The Passover Computation 4

The author previously argued in chapter 1 that in Exodus 12:2-11 God set the first day of the year to be the Passover, when the moon was full, so this must correspond to the 4th day of creation, when the sun and moon were created, which was a Wednesday.

Finally at the end of chapter 9 the author says,

And Jesus himself, our Lord and Savior, 1579 years after the Exodus, ate the Passover with his disciples on the 8 April, of Thursday; and he suffered on the following day, 9 April, a Friday [28AD].

The author correlates this date with the 16th year of Tiberius (chapter 22):

On completing the number of years from his Nativity, the Lord Jesus was baptized by John in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar. In the sixteenth year he suffered and rose again. Let us now add 31 years to the sum, and there are in all from the Exodus to the passion 1579 years. From that time, i.e. from the passion, to the fifth year of Gordian and the consulate of Arrianus and Papus 215 years have been completed, but from the Exodus in all 1794 years.

Ogg states that some scholars believe that 28 March refers to the conception of Jesus, However, the Latin “nascor” (chapter 19) pretty clearly refers to birth, even if “nativitatem” (chapter 18 and chapter 22) is more ambiguous (the author uses both words to describe the March 28 event).  The authors that Ogg refers to are Hufmayr “Die Pseudocyprianische Schrift de Pascha Computus” and Harnack “Die Chronologie der altchristlichen Litteratur bis Eusebius”, II 235, 381-383 and “Miszellen zu den pseudocyprianschen Schriften” in Texte und Untersuchungen, N.F.V.3 1900, 145f. I have not had time to consult any of those, so perhaps one of the authors makes some good points about how March 28 does refer to the conception of Jesus, and if so this would support a date for the birth of Jesus sometime in early winter.  However, as I said, I don’t think this is likely.

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2 Responses to Cyprian, Christmas, and the birth of the Sun

  1. Pingback: Steadfast Lutherans » Redeeming Holy Days from Pagan Lies — Pagan Solstice Celebrations

  2. Pingback: The First Christmas Liturgy — III | On Pilgrimage

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