A question has come in about Christmas and Julius Africanus. Africanus (wrote 221/222AD) is a fascinating figure, whose work the Chronographia has been lost except for fragments and testimonies from later authors. An excellent edition has recently been released in the GCS series. Unfortunately none of the fragments specifically state when Julius Africanus thought that Jesus was born, in fact there are some contradictions, such as whether Africanus believed that Jesus died 5531 or 5532 years from creation. It is also not clear whether Africanus believed that Jesus died in 30 or 31 A.D.
Mosshammer has done the most recent work on this question and has released an essay on this topic and a book that incorporate some of the findings in the essay.
Mosshammer, Alden. Julius Africanus und die Christliche Weltchronik: The Christian Era of Africanus. Texte und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur 157 edited by Martin Wallraff.
Mosshammer, Alden A. Easter Computus and the Origins of the Christian Era. Oxford Early Christian Studies. Oxford University Press: Oxford, 2008.
Mosshammer provides many reasons for justifying the that Africanus believed that Jesus died in 31 A.D., here is one of them:
There are considerations of another kind in favor of the conclusion that Africanus dated the Passion to A.D. 31, not A.D. 30, and therefore to a standard Olympiad 202.2. In that year, March 23rd was a Friday and March 25th was a Sunday. The calendar date March 25th was associated with the Passion from very early Christian times. Roman tradition dated the Passion to Friday, March 25th, in the consulship of the two Gemini, A.D. 29. The date is attested as early as Tertullian (con. Jud. 8.18). In the Greek church, Sunday, March 25th was the date of the Resurrection. (The Christian Era of Africanus p.102-103)
I would add that there is evidence that Alexander of Jerusalem (c. 218 CE) also says that Jesus was resurrected on March 25 (Dobschutz TU 11.1 p.136f found here , (thanks to Stephen Huller for pointing this out in a comment on my blog)
The idea that Jesus died in 31 A.D. also solves another problem, given that he would have been resurrected on March 25, if Africanus counted cosmic years from the vernal equinox (as the evidence leads us to believe), then Jesus could have died in year 5531 but had been resurrected in year 5532, which solves the contradiction in the fragments nicely:
Indeed, if Africanus counted his cosmic years from the creation of the sun and the moon on March 25th, then it is literally the case that the Passion took place in the year 5531 and the Resurrection in the year 5532. (The Christian Era of Africanus p.107)
Here are the relevant testimonies concerning when Jesus was born. I quote from the GCS edition mentioned above.
Testimony T92 from Paschale Campanum anno 464-599, Epitoma temporum et indiculum Pascae (745,7-18 Mommsen) says:
Julius Africanus, whose five volumes on chronology are in circulation, established in his writing 5500 years from the first man to the Incarnation (latin=incarnationem) of the Lord.
Testimony T93c from Georgius Syncellus (395,8 – 396,4 Mosshammer) says:
So Africanus, in conformity with apostolic tradition , reckoned the divine Incarnation (σαρκωσιν) in the 5500th year, but he was in error by two years in dating the Passion and the Resurrection of the Savior, calculating this in A M 5531.
Assuming that “incarnation” refers to conception, Moshammer goes on to say that it seems most likely that Jesus was conceived in March and therefore born in December.
In the end, then, we must agree with Gelzer that the year 5500 corresponded to 2 B.C. and with Grumel that Julius Africanus dated both the Incarnation and the Nativity to the year 5501 from Adam, equivalent to 1 B.C. The long and tortuous path we have followed to reach that conclusion has been well worth the journey if the somewhat anti-climactic conclusion is now more firmly grounded in the evidence.
Grumel states that the Christian era of Africanus, beginning in 5501 = 1 B.C. is one year earlier than that of Dionysius Exiguus. In fact, Africanus’ dates for the Incarnation and Nativity in March and December of 5501 are the same as the dates implied by the usual understanding of Dionysius’ year “1.” (The Christian Era of Africanus p.112)
I must add that though this is the most likely possibility (and I think the correct one) it is not a certainty, George Syncellus (c800AD) quotes Africanus frequently and in the following passage he does not mention him as an author who believed that Jesus was born on December 25:
“At the completion of that day, our Lord and God Jesus Christ, the only-begotten son of God,was born according to the flesh from the blessed Mary, eternal Virgin, and in nature and in reality truly the holy Mother of God; his birth was on the next day, 25 December, in Bethlehem a city of Judaea, in the forty-third year of the reign of Augustus Caesar over the Romans, in the consulate of Gulpicius, and Marinus and Gaius Pompeius as it is reported in accurate and ancient manuscripts. We have not compiled this on our own. It is based rather on the traditions that have come down from Hippolytos, the blessed apostle, archbishop of Rome, and holy martyr; Annianos the most holy monk, who arranged a Paschal table of eleven cycles of 532 years, along with accurate scholia, and Maximos the most saintly monk and philosopher martyr, confessor, and great teacher of the Church.” -George Syncellus 382 (p455 The Chronography of George Synkellos: A Byzantine Chronicle of Universal History from the Creation Translated with Introduction and Notes by William Adler and Paul Tuffin
This, however, is evidence of omission; there are a number of reasons why Syncellus may not have included Africanus amongst authors who claimed that Jesus was born on December 25. Perhaps he just forgot, or, a more likely scenario, is that Julius Africanus did not mention specifically when Jesus was born (and possibly conceived), but like how his contemporary Hippolytus did in his own Chronicon, Julius Africanus left no room for doubt about the date of Jesus’ birth once all of the pieces of his Chronicle were compared with one another.
Just to clarify, Mosshammer determined that Africanus believed that the world was likely created in the early spring by looking at how all the ancient calendars that are used by Julius Africanus correlate with each other and concluded that Africanus must have believed that the world was created in early spring. In the article he summarizes what previous scholars have determined about this same issue, and they pretty much have all agreed, only differing slightly on the precise day, ranging anywhere between March and April. There is nothing certain in all of this, so we must be careful how we proceed.
Given that a March 25 date solves the contradiction about Jesus’ date of death it seems quite plausible that Africanus believed the world was created on March 25 or that it was created on March 22, but that the cosmic calendar started on March 25 when the sun was created (on the 4th day in the book of Genesis).
Now, given the above, Africanus also seems to have interpreted Luke’s statement about Jesus’s age literally. If he, like Hippolytus, also assumed that Jesus must have been conceived on or quite near the same day that he died (so that he was exactly 31 or 32 when he died), then it would make sense that Africanus believed that Jesus was conceived on or near March 25 and therefore born on or near December 25. However, though the evidence does support the idea that Africanus believed that Jesus was conceived on March 25 it is by no means conclusive and other arguments can be made.