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January 04, 2003

The bris of Jesus

A NEW YEAR'S MYSTERY is the subject of an interesting post at The CounterRevolutionary. I suspect many Christians do not consider why December 25 is celebrated as the birth date of Jesus let alone consider that a corollary of this birth date is that January 1 would be the date of his circumcision. I posted the following to the comments section (with a minor edit here...). I am one of the "Puritans" who object to celebrating December 25 as Christ's birth date. In fact, my puritanism extends to objecting that such a date be celebrated at all. Is it the timing of his birth which is important? I also want to empathize with the CounterRevolutionary's "rising religiousness" after 9/11. There are, indeed, no atheists in foxholes.

And my comment on this new year's mystery:

The cult of Mithras was an initiatory, "mystery" tradition whose enthusiasts could largely be found in the Roman army. It is important, however, not to underestimate the political significance this leant Mithraism. The choice of the winter solstice as the birthdate of Jesus is also significant to "signifying a new age." This happens every year with the "rebirth" of the sun following the solstice and is the reason Dec. 25 was considered to be the birthdate of Mithras, a salvific figure and son of the sun. The emperor Constantine, often identified with a conversion to Christianity (somewhat over-blown) allied with the cult of Sol Invictus, the invincible sun. The coincidence of the Mithras cult of the Roman army and the monotheist character of Sol Invictus worship made the winter solstice the symbolic date of choice for aligning Christianity with 4th century Roman politics. That said, the choice of Jan. 1 as the new year is interesting. Why not the winter solstice itself? The Roman new year coincided roughly with the spring equinox, or rather, it did until 153 BC (later confirmed in 46 BC under Julius Caesar, thus the Julian calendar). January 1 had traditional importance as the beginning of the Roman civil calendar and the date when the Roman senate took office. I am afraid this last point suggests the bris of Jesus was rather too belated to effect the choice of January 1 as the new year.

Posted by Ghost of a flea at January 4, 2003 06:07 PM