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Matthew 4:1 ►

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil (NIV).

In what month did this happen?

For most other great (or maybe all) events in the life of Jesus, you can see a connection with a feast or a month. Does the text provide any clues as to when this event occurred?

  • Personally, I've always disliked the beginning of the Lenten season falling sometimes so close to the winter holidays (the Lord's Baptism and Saint John being celebrated on January sixth and seventh), but, in light of your question, I am now beginning to understand the wisdom in this. – Lucian Aug 1 '17 at 2:19
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Lightfoot places the start of the 40 days in the beginning of October:

The time of his temptations was from the middle of the month Tisri to the end of forty days; that is, from the beginning of our month of October to the middle of November, or thereabouts....

Which would mean that Jesus could have very likely gone out into the wilderness at the start of or during the Feast of Tabernacles, which began on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, the month of Tisri or Tishri (Leviticus 23:34). This would have been quite fitting for Jesus to go out into the wilderness during the feast that was to commemorate the time all Israel wandered in the wilderness.

In sections II, V and VI of his commentary for Matthew 2:1 and in his commentary for Matthew 3:6, Lightfoot gives his reasons for placing the 40 days during the seventh month, namely that

  1. Luke 3:23 says that Jesus began His ministry at about age 30, which was right after He was baptized by John

  2. Gabriel's explanation of the vision in Daniel 9:27 that "in the middle of the week he shall cause the sacrifice to cease" refers to

    • the prophetic "week" that contained seven prophetic "days," with the seven prophetic days representing seven literal years. (This is taken from Ezekiel 4:4-6, where Ezekiel has to lay on his left side for 390 days, and then on his right side for 40 days, to represent the 390 years of Israel's iniquity and the 40 years of Judah's iniquity, respectively.)
    • the "he" that causes the sacrifice to cease is the Messiah
    • "causing the sacrifice to cease" in the middle of the week constitutes 3½ prophetic days, which would be 3½ literal years
  3. Jesus died during Passover; thus counting half a year backwards from Jesus' death takes you to the month of Tisri/Tishri.

Lightfoot's discourse is quite lengthy, and as such I have only included small portions of it below:

Matthew 2:1

II. [...] In the month Tisri Christ is baptized, when he had now accomplished the nine-and-twentieth year of his age, and had now newly entered upon his thirtieth.

V. Christ was born in the month of Tisri; somewhat answering to our September. This we conclude, omitting other things, by computing backwards from his death.

VI. It is probable Christ was born at the feast of Tabernacles.

  1. So it ariseth exactly to three-and-thirty years and a half, when he died at the feast of the Passover.

  2. He fulfilled the typical equity of the Passover and Pentecost, when, at the Passover, he offered himself for a passover, at Pentecost he bestowed the Holy Ghost from heaven, as at that time the law had been given from heaven. At that time the first-fruits of the Spirit were given by him (Rom 8:23), when the first-fruits of corn had been wont to be given, Leviticus 23:17. It had been a wonder if he had honoured the third solemnity, namely, the feast of Tabernacles, with no antitype.

  3. The institution of the feast of Tabernacles agrees excellently with the time of Christ's birth. For when Moses went down from the mount on the tenth day of the month Tisri, declaring that God was appeased, that the people was pardoned, and that the building of the holy tabernacle was forthwith to be gone in hand with (hitherto hindered by and because of the golden calf), seeing that God now would dwell among them, and forsake them no more; the Israelites immediately pitch their tents, knowing they were not to depart from that place before the divine tabernacle was finished, and they set upon this work with all their strength. Whence the tenth day of that month, wherein Moses came down and brought this good news with him, was appointed for the feast of Expiation [Day of Atonement]; and the fifteenth day, and seven days after, for the feast of Tabernacles....


Matthew 3:6

6. And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.

[And were baptized.] It is no unfit or unprofitable question, whence it came to pass that there was so great a conflux of men to the Baptist, and so ready a reception of his baptism?

I. The first reason is, Because the manifestation of the [Messiah] was then expected, the weeks of Daniel being now spent to the last four years. Let us consult a little his text:--

[Lightfoot then goes on to discuss Daniel 9:24-27.]

Interesting to note is what John says about the Word in his gospel:

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. -John 1:14 (NKJV)

The Greek word for "dwelt" in John 1:14 contains the idea of setting up a tabernacle:

Thayer's definition of σκηνόω

  1. to fix one's tabernacle, have one's tabernacle, abide (or live) in a tabernacle (or tent), tabernacle
  2. to dwell

You might even say that "the Word tabernacled among us..." as John Gill speaks of in his commentary on this verse:

and dwelt among us;
or "tabernacled among us"; in allusion to the tabernacle, which was a type of Christ's human nature: [...] or this is observed, in allusion to the feast of tabernacles, when the Jews dwelt in booths, in remembrance of their manner of living in the wilderness: the feast of tabernacles was typical of Christ, and of his tabernacling in our nature. Solomon's temple, which was also a type of Christ, was dedicated at the time of that feast [1 Kings 8:2]; and it seems probable, that our Lord was born at that time; for as he suffered at the time of the passover, which had respect unto him, and the pouring forth of the Spirit was on the very day of Pentecost, which that prefigured; so it is highly probable, that Christ was born at the time of the feast of tabernacles, which pointed out his dwelling among us; and is therefore very pertinently hinted at, when mention is here made of his incarnation.

John Trapp speaks of this as well in his commentary:

Dwelt among us] Dwelt as in a tent or booth, εσκηνωσεν. He alludes to soldiers pitching their tents; or rather to the feast of tabernacles, in or near the time of which celebrated, by consent of many authors of best note, our Saviour was born.

Revelation 21 also portrays the idea of God "tabernacling" with men on the new earth:

And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell [set up His tabernacle] with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. -Revelation 21:3 (NKJV)

As such, it would have been quite fitting for Jesus to

  • begin to dwell (or tabernacle) with men by being born during the Feast of Tabernacles
  • after being baptized by John, begin His ministry at about His thirtieth birthday and go into the wilderness at the start of or during the Feast of Tabernacles--the feast that was celebrated to remember the time all Israel wandered in the wilderness.

Addendum

While I was researching this answer, I ran across a write-up by John J. Parsons that offers evidence for Jesus' birth in relation to John the Baptist's conception occurring shortly after John's father Zachariah finished his priestly service, with John's birth occurring 9 months after Zachariah's service ended (John being born 6 months before Jesus). Zachariah was of the "course of Abia" (or Abijah), and as such would only be serving in the temple during certain times of the year. Parsons offers two main dates for Jesus' birth, with one being at the Feast of Tabernacles (the other being a late December birth). I encourage you to read it as it is really quite fascinating.

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  • 2
    Does Lightfoot give anything from the Gospels to anchor this placement? There is nothing in the link. – enegue Nov 1 '16 at 19:20
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    I have added some of Lightfoot's reasons. Though I must admit I am unsatisfied with how he arrives at several of his conclusions. For instance, he does not say where he gets the information that Moses came down from Sinai "on the tenth day of the month Tisri." He references heavily from the Talmud and Gemara elsewhere, but if he got that info from them I wish he would have said so. However he is the only one I have currently found to place a specific date on this part of Jesus' life. – Bʀɪᴀɴ Nov 2 '16 at 5:28
  • Thanks Brian. It seems the information about Moses coming down from Sinai is attributed to Rabbi Jarchi. – enegue Nov 2 '16 at 6:36
  • "Jesus could have very likely gone out into the wilderness at the start of or during the Feast of Tabernacles, which began on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, the month of Tisri or Tishri (Leviticus 23:34). This would have been quite fitting for Jesus to go out into the wilderness during the feast that was to commemorate the time all Israel wandered in the wilderness."(sounds good) – Aigle Nov 8 '16 at 19:45
  • Sounds to me like circular reasoning. Look at it this way: We believe that Jesus ministry lasted 3 1/2 years because of the three Passovers mentioned by John and the likelihood that He began His ministry around the middle of the Jewish year. And since His ministry lasted 3 1/2 years, we can count backwards from when He died and find that He began His ministry around the middle of the Jewish year. Do you see it? – A Child of God Apr 21 '17 at 17:26
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Introduction

According to Bargil Pixner1 and Mendel Nun, fishing expert specializing in fishing techniques of antiquity, This scene had to have taken place during the winter time, as made clear in his book, he Sea of Galilee and Its Fishermen in the New Testament.

What does Fishing have to do with Jesus' fasting?

Immediately following Jesus temptation, The Gospel of Matthew states in 4:12-14

Now when Jesus heard that John had been imprisoned, he went into Galilee. While in Galilee, he moved from Nazareth to make his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what was spoken by Isaiah the prophet would be fulfilled.

After Jesus time of fasting during which Jesus was incommunicado, it seems that he departed immediately for Galilee after hearing the news upon his return from the wilderness.

Based on this location, Nun explains in his book that during the winter months, the cold water causes Tilapia Galilea (also referred to as "St. Peter's Fish" or Musht which is still a popular fare in the region) school near Capernaum at Tabgah where seven warm springs empty into the Sea of Galilee. As this only happens during the winter months, this is typically the winter fishing ground for fishermen of the regeon.

This fishing would have occurred at night and during the early morning hours as the daylight would have illuminated the trammel nets used by fishermen of antiquity and the fishing would have been fruitless during the daylight hours. This is consistent with the scene in Matthew 4:21 where James, John and their Father appear to have been tending to their nets after the night's fishing

Going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in a boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets.

And Luke 5:2

He saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gotten out of them and were washing their nets.

As David Bivin explains,

According to Nun, fishermen using a trammel net fished at night and stopped their work at dawn because in the light of day the fish could see the netting. Before the fishermen turned in for the day, they carefully washed their nets and hung them to dry. If the linen nets were not dried promptly after use they would rot in a short time. From the gospel account of the miraculous catch we learn that Jesus arrived at the lakeshore while the fishermen were still washing their nets, and immediately got into one of the boats and began to teach. If, as Nun says, the washing of the trammel nets took place shortly after dawn, then Jesus must have begun teaching very early in the morning.

Other types of fishing would have used a seine, but that area near Capernaum is not suited to this type of tackle.

So what feast would this relate to?

If Nun's understanding of the geography and ecology of the region is correct, there are only a few notable dates during the winter. The only possible major feast this could have occurred near was Hanukkah, which is the only major winter feast and occurs on 25th Kislev each year on the Hebrew calendar. Assuming that Jesus was 30 years old at the beginning of his ministry, this would place Hanukkah on either 21 December AD 27 or 13 December AD 25 on the Gregorian calendar.2

(roughly) 40 days after these dates would correspond to January 30th/31st or January 22/23 or so on the Gregorian calendar, which would be approximately at the middle of the Hebrew month of Shevat. Remember however, that Hanukkah is 8 days long and that Jesus would have had to skip the last Hanukkah with his family before he began his ministry in order to fast in the wilderness, or he would have had to head off at the end of the Hanukkah festivities. It also seems that Jesus spent at least a day or two, if not a week or more in moving his things from Nazareth to Capernaum and getting his affairs in order after his time of fasting. This might put the commencement of his ministry at Tu B'Shevat - The New Year for the trees. The only other date of note on the Hebrew calendar is Asara B'Tevet which is a minor fast day in Judaism and commemorates the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylonia. With this date, his time of fasting and temptation could have began or ended at this date.

This would all of course, conflict with Lightfoot's proposed date.


1 The Miracle Church of Tabgha on the Sea of Galilee. Biblical Archaeologist 48:196-206

2 Note that you must add 10 days to any date given by the converter tool due to 10 days skipped in order to establish the Gregorian calendar.

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  • What about the fact that the fishermen didn't catch anything? The huge catch was a miracle, you know. – A Child of God Apr 21 '17 at 17:30
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There is nothing in Scripture which states definitively the time of year or season in which Jesus was baptized. Any answer is conjecture. Nevertheless, the event is important and it is reasonable to assume there would be some significance or historical relevance to this date. Other major events in The Gospel occurred on a special day:

  • The crucifixion happened at the time of the Passover and Unleavened Bread.
  • The resurrection occurred on the day of First Fruits.
  • The initial outpouring of the Holy Spirit occurred on the Feast of Weeks.

Given that other key events coincide with special dates it is reasonable to expect this would be true of the baptism and 40-days of fasting.

While there is no direct mention of the season, the text offers two clues which make certain dates less likely. The first is in the others who came to John:

But when he saw the Pharisees and Sadducees, coming… (Matthew 3:7) 1

Pharisees were those who were committed to obeying the Law. The Law required men to be present in Jerusalem at certain times of the year:

Three times a year all your males shall appear before the LORD your God in the place which He chooses: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, at the Feast of Weeks, and at the Feast of Tabernacles… (Deuteronomy 16:16)

It is unlikely a Pharisee (or Sadducee) would violate the Law in order to question John; instead they would bring their questions when there was no conflict with the Law. This makes the times immediately before and after the Feasts less likely.

The second textual clue is similar:

Then Jesus came from Galilee to John to be baptized by him. (Matthew 3:13)

Jesus was coming from Galilee, not from Jerusalem. While there is no reason to impose a strict requirement that Jesus would be following the Law about being in Jerusalem for the Feasts, it is unlikely that the initiation of His public ministry would start with an event that (potentially) conflicted with the Law and so the emphasis is on a starting point of Galilee.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke all state the length of time Jesus spent in the wilderness, was 40-days. A connection to the calendar can be found using the 40-day period:

In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep were broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened. And the rain was on the earth forty days and forty nights. (Genesis 7:11-12)

In addition to the 40-days following, there are several parallels between this event and Jesus' baptism: water, the heavens above being opened, something from above coming down to the earth are all found in the baptism:

When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. (Matthew 3:16)

In both cases there was an initial event followed by a 40-day period. According to the Scriptures God initiated the restoration of the earth with a 40-day period of rain in the life of Noah and the restoration of mankind with a 40-day period in the life of Jesus. Placing the baptism on the seventeenth day of the second month of the year connects that to Noah and the Flood.

In addition this date can be connected to the annual calendar:

”Speak to the children of Israel, saying: ‘If anyone of you or your posterity is unclean because a corpse, or is far away on a journey, he may still keep the LORD’s Passover. On the fourteenth day of the second month, at twilight, they may keep it…” (Numbers 9:10-11)

The second Passover date was the fourteenth day of the second month and the seventeenth day would correspond to crossing the Red Sea and entering the wilderness (a month after the Passover in Egypt). So placing the baptism on the seventeenth day of the second month also connects the baptism with the annual calendar when the second month Passover is included.

Additionally there is a connection with the ability to observe the Passover in the second month and the crucifixion of Jesus:

When Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth. (Matthew 27:59)

Those that buried Jesus could observe the Passover in the second month.

Given these facts, it is a reasonable conjecture to place the baptism as taking place on the seventeenth day of the second month. This means that Jesus could observe the Passover and Unleavened Bread in Jerusalem with His family as was their custom (Luke 2:41).2 Then after the date of second month Passover, Jesus left Galilee, went to the Jordan, and was was baptized on the seventeenth day of the second month.

One objection to this is that the Feast of Weeks would fall during the 40-days Jesus was in the wilderness and He would not be in attendance in Jerusalem, as required by the Law. This could be resolved on the basis that He was led by the Holy Spirit and was exempted. Another possibility is that Jesus actually went to Mount Sinai and observed the Feast of Weeks at the location Moses received the Law and broke the first set of tablets. Again this is conjecture, but it would allow for a complete connection with the Passover, Unleavened Bread, and Feast of Weeks at the beginning of the Gospel and the death, resurrection, and initial out pouring of the Holy Spirit at the beginning of The Church.


1. All Scripture is New King James Version

2. Additional conjecture: it is possible Jesus and His family were "unclean" due a death in the family and unable to observe the Passover in Jerusalem. For example, if Joseph died, his burial would make the household unclean. In that case, Jesus began His public ministry the year his earthly father died.

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  • Why do you start from Nisan, rather than Tishri ? Wouldn't it be more reasonable to assume that the five months of Noah's flood (150 days, see Genesis 7:24 and 8:3) coincided with the Israel's rainy season ? – Lucian Sep 25 '17 at 2:48
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The question cannot be answered on the basis of the Synoptic Gospels alone, but only on the basis of John's Gospel, when read in the context of the Synoptic Gospels.

As stated in a previous question and my answer to it [1], while John's Gospel does not record the event of Jesus' baptism directly, it records the event when Jesus, returning from the wilderness after the 40 days of fast, revisited John the Baptist in "Bethany, across the Jordan, where John was baptizing" (Jn 1:28). From the narrative in Jn 1:29-2:13, we can draw the tightest possible timeline of events as:

  • Jesus' Baptism + 40-day fast in the wilderness: 6 weeks (42 days);
  • Return to Bethany, walk to Galilee, wedding in Cana: 1 week;
  • Stay in Capernaum with Mary, brethren and disciples (Jn 2:12): 1 week;
  • Walk to Jerusalem, Passover (Jn 2:13): 1 week.

Total time from Jesus' Baptism to first Passover: 9 weeks

If Jesus' first Passover in his public life was that of 28 AD, which fell on 30 March, then the latest possible date of Jesus' Baptism was 9 weeks before 30 March 28 AD, i.e. 28 Jan 28 AD, implying a latest possible range for his fast from 29 Jan to 8 March (3 + 29 + 8 = 40).

IMO it is more probable that the timing of the events in Jn 1:29-2:13 was not so tight, so that Jesus was baptized in early January, implying in turn that the date of January 6, attested by Clement of Alexandria around 200 AD as that on which Jesus' Baptism was celebrated in Egypt [2], more or less reflected the actual calendar date of the event. In that case, Jesus would have fasted during most of January and the first half of February.

[1] Did Jesus re-visit John after his wilderness experience?

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epiphany_(holiday)#History

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