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Question :

Given the specific details from the passages, is it possible to infer an approximate time of the year when John and Jesus were born?

Or, are certain times of the year excluded by the text?

Context :

NASB, Luke 1:5-9 - ... there was a priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah ... 8 Now it happened that while he was performing his priestly service before God in the appointed order of his division, 9 according to the custom of the priestly office ...
Note: Luke states that John's conception correlated with the Priestly service of Abijah, (Wikipedia Link). What times of the month/year would they be serving?

NASB, Luke 1:10 - And the whole multitude of the people were in prayer outside at the hour of the incense offering.
Note: There seems to be few festivals that would have brought "the whole multitude of people" to the Temple.

Luke 1:26 - Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph.

Luke 1:36 - And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month.

NASB, Luke 1:56 - And Mary stayed with her about three months, and then returned to her home.

NASB, Luke 2:6 - While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth.

NASB, Luke 2:8 - In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night.

NASB, Luke 2:22 - And when the days for their purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male that opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”), 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what was said in the Law of the Lord, “A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”
How many days were required? Possibly as a Levite/Priest, (Mary's Family), etc.

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    On the question of what time of year the division of Abijah would be serving, Wikipedia (Hebrew) notes that there is an order given but that sources in the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds suggest that the divisions didn't serve at any particular time of year – b a Dec 18 '17 at 15:20
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I don't believe so.

There is an order of priests that serve in the temple (a rotation of 24) but the starting priest varies from year to year.

Now these are the divisions of the sons of Aaron. The sons of Aaron; Nadab, and Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar. But Nadab and Abihu died before their father, and had no children: therefore Eleazar and Ithamar executed the priest's office. And David distributed them, both Zadok of the sons of Eleazar, and Ahimelech of the sons of Ithamar, according to their offices in their service. And there were more chief men found of the sons of Eleazar than of the sons of Ithamar; and thus were they divided. Among the sons of Eleazar there were sixteen chief men of the house of their fathers, and eight among the sons of Ithamar according to the house of their fathers.

Thus were they divided by lot, one sort with another; for the governors of the sanctuary, and governors of the house of God, were of the sons of Eleazar, and of the sons of Ithamar. And Shemaiah the son of Nethaneel the scribe, one of the Levites, wrote them before the king, and the princes, and Zadok the priest, and Ahimelech the son of Abiathar, and before the chief of the fathers of the priests and Levites: one principal household being taken for Eleazar, and one taken for Ithamar.

Now the first lot came forth to Jehoiarib, the second to Jedaiah, The third to Harim, the fourth to Seorim, The fifth to Malchijah, the sixth to Mijamin, The seventh to Hakkoz, the eighth to Abijah, The ninth to Jeshua, the tenth to Shecaniah, The eleventh to Eliashib, the twelfth to Jakim, The thirteenth to Huppah, the fourteenth to Jeshebeab, The fifteenth to Bilgah, the sixteenth to Immer, The seventeenth to Hezir, the eighteenth to Aphses, The nineteenth to Pethahiah, the twentieth to Jehezekel, The one and twentieth to Jachin, the two and twentieth to Gamul, The three and twentieth to Delaiah, the four and twentieth to Maaziah.

These were the orderings of them in their service to come into the house of the LORD, according to their manner, under Aaron their father, as the LORD God of Israel had commanded him. (1 Chronicles 24:1-19 KJV)

Luke 1 identifies that Elisabeth conceived sometime after Zacharias' experience with the messenger's visit, but we're not told exactly how long after.

The references to Elisabeth being hid five months in Luke 1:24 suggests the two references to "the sixth month" are specifically speaking of a point in her pregnancy term.

Luke 1 never identifies that Mary conceived prior to the birth of John the Baptist, so we have no way to gauge the age of Jesus in relation to John.

In Luke 2, the reference to the days of purification being over is referring to the number of days a mother is considered clean after childbirth according to Leviticus 12. It has no bearing on the time of year.

And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, If a woman have conceived seed, and born a man child: then she shall be unclean seven days; according to the days of the separation for her infirmity shall she be unclean. And in the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. And she shall then continue in the blood of her purifying three and thirty days; she shall touch no hallowed thing, nor come into the sanctuary, until the days of her purifying be fulfilled.

But if she bear a maid child, then she shall be unclean two weeks, as in her separation: and she shall continue in the blood of her purifying threescore and six days. And when the days of her purifying are fulfilled, for a son, or for a daughter, she shall bring a lamb of the first year for a burnt offering, and a young pigeon, or a turtledove, for a sin offering, unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, unto the priest: Who shall offer it before the LORD, and make an atonement for her; and she shall be cleansed from the issue of her blood. This is the law for her that hath born a male or a female. (Leviticus 12:1-7 KJV)

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A couple of people have already mentioned the animals grazing in the fields at night. I think this does indicate a time of year. The Babylonian Talmud, a collection of Jewish teachings, substantiates that this would occur only between the passover (March/April) and the first rainfall (October/November).

Our Rabbis taught: The following are pasture animals and the following are household animals. Pasture animals are such as are led out about [the time of] Passover and graze in [more distant] meadows, and who are led in at the time of the first rainfall.

Babylonian Talmud, Beitzah 40a

Also,

And it was taught: These are pasture animals: those that go out on Passover and re-enter [the town limits] at the rainfall; home animals: those that go out and graze beyond the tehum and re-enter and spend the night within the tehum.

Babylonian Talmud, Shabbath 45b

These references can be found here. An additional question may be how then did Jesus' birth come to be celebrated in December. The earliest Church Father to attempt to place a time of year was Clement of Alexandria in the 2nd century. He mentions a couple of possible dates ranging from April to May. Both would fit with shepherds being in the fields.

From the birth of Christ, therefore, to the death of Commodus are, in all, a hundred and ninety-four years, one month, thirteen days. And there are those who have determined not only the year of our Lord's birth,, but also the day ; and they say that it took place in the twenty-eighth year of Augustus, and in the twenty-fifth day of Pachon. And the followers of Basilides hold the day of his baptism as a festival, spending the night before in readings. And they say that it was the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar, the fifteenth day of the month Tubi ; and some that it was the eleventh of the same month. And treating of His passion, with very great accuracy, some say that it took place in the sixteenth year of Tiberius, on the twenty-fifth of Phamenoth ; and others the twenty-fifth of Pharmuthi and others say that on the nineteenth of Pharmuthi the Saviour suffered. Further, others say that He was born on the twenty-fourth or twenty-fifth of Pharmuthi.

Clement of Alexandria, Stromata 1.21

Both dates suggest being born on the 25th of the month. Andrew McGowan argues here that the celebration of his birth was dependent on the belief about his conception. In the West, it was believed that he was conceived on the 25th of March, and thus his birth was celebrated the 25th of December. In the East he was believed to be conceived on the 14th of Nisan, Passover, so his birth was celebrated on the 6th of January.

Overall, I find the most compelling answer is that Jesus was born on the 25th of one of the months in early spring. This is consistent with the shepherds. In time, that morphed into him being conceived then. Then, that resulted in the Winter celebration of Jesus' birth.

  • I am +1'ing this, because of the very well researched references to flocks grazing. However, I am not certain how strong the argument is that a reference to the sheep at pasture in the Talmud, (written hundreds of years after Jesus), indicates that any/every reference to that phrase during the time of Jesus was indicative of Passover. I think this answer could be made stronger if there was any other primary source reference, (Second Temple Period-ish), of Passover being directly linked to flocks out at night. – elika kohen Nov 21 '19 at 10:25
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    It should be noted that although the Talmud was compiled at a much later date, the rabbis who are being quoted in these sections, R. Simeon, R. Jochanan, and R. Nachum, are from the first century CE. I hope this helps. – Daniel Nov 21 '19 at 14:41
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Jesus was born in summer because at the time of his birth, there were shepherds with their sheep gracing on the field(Luke 2:8-12).

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    Pya : +1 A.) But how does this rule out the Spring or Fall? B.) Do Shepherds not go with their sheep in the winter, (even if were to snow)? – elika kohen Apr 19 '17 at 21:01
  • Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange pya, thanks for contributing! Be sure to take our site tour to learn more about us. We're a little different from other sites. – Steve Taylor Apr 20 '17 at 7:14
  • (-1) As Elika has pointed out, how do you know that first century Israelite shepherds only graze their sheep on the field in Summer? This Answer doesn't show its work, which is a requirement on this site. Don't just tell us what you know, tell us how you know it. – Steve Taylor Apr 20 '17 at 7:17
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It is unlikely that Jesus was born late autumn, winter, early spring (November-April) for the following reasons:

  1. The description of the shepherds minding their flocks by night indicates a warmer season.
  2. The innkeeper would not have made his stable available if it was occupied by animals.
  3. It would be unlikely that the Roman authorities enforce a nationwide census during the most awkward months for travel.

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