Tuesday, March 22, 2005

The Beginning and the End

This year brings a couple of calendrical curiosities.

This year Good Friday falls on March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation. The significance of this is that this is that the supposed coincidence of these two dates is the reason that Christmas is December 25th.

In the West, Christians (mistakenly) found Good Friday to have occurred the 25th of March A.D. 29.

At this point, we have to introduce a belief that seems to have been widespread in Judaism at the time of Christ, but which, as it is nowhere taught in the Bible, has completely fallen from the awareness of Christians. The idea is that of the “integral age” of the great Jewish prophets: the idea that the prophets of Israel died on the same dates as their birth or conception.

This notion is a key factor in understanding how some early Christians came to believe that December 25th is the date of Christ’s birth. The early Christians applied this idea to Jesus, so that March 25th and April 6th were not only the supposed dates of Christ’s death, but of his conception or birth as well. There is some fleeting evidence that at least some first- and second-century Christians thought of March 25th...as the date of Christ’s birth, but rather quickly the assignment of March 25th as the date of Christ’s conception prevailed.

Is there some deeper significance to this calendrical coincidence? Is this perhaps a sign of the [cue dramatic music] End Times? I doubt it, but one never knows.

The Council of Nicea (A.D. 325) apparently established Easter as the Sunday after the first full moon of spring, which I had understood to coincide more or less with Passover. But this year Easter and Passover occur in different months (March 27 and April 23-May 1). I'm still trying to track down the exact reason for the disparity. Perhaps one of you out in web-land knows.

William J. Tighe, "Calculating Christmas," Touchstone (December, 2003).

1 comment:

CL said...

Passover is set on the Jewish Calendar. It begins on the 15th day of the month of Nisan, which is the 7th month in the Jewish calendar, and lasts 7 or 8 days, depending on where you are and whether you’re a Reformed Jew or not. The Jewish calendar is a lunar one, in comparison to the solar one the rest of us use (months are determined by full moons).

Easter is the first Sunday after the paschal full moon after the vernal equinox, which is said to be March 21. And then there’s Orthodox Easter. The same calculation is used, but they use the Julian calendar instead of the Gregorian one, which means Orthodox Easter is May 1 this year. (There is an advantage to this, though, because the Orthodox can get Easter candy on sale.)

A Morass of Movable Feasts
A quick guide to the dates of Passover and Easter