Errors in Taylor Marshall’s Dates for Christ’s Birth and Death

Here’s Dr. Taylor Marshall’s video on the topic: Was Christ Born on December 25? Yes! (Dr Marshall #195) from New Saint Thomas Institute.

The main problem with Dr. Marshall’s chronology is that he ignores 90% of the information used by biblical chronologists to date the birth of Christ. He is working with a very narrow subset of sources and information, and so he makes it seem as if his answer is well-supported, when it is not. The vast majority of Biblical chronologists have ruled out 1 B.C. as the year of Christ’s birth. And there is a wide range of opinions on the month and day as well.

Year of Christ’s Birth

For the year of Christ’s birth, Dr. Marshall suggests 1 B.C. This date is highly unlikely as Herod the great, who sought to kill the Christ child by killing all children 2 years of age and younger, would have been dead by December of 1 B.C. The usual date for the death of Herod is 4 B.C. The latest date given by scholars is late winter or early spring of 1 B.C. If Herod died even at that late date, he would not have been alive to seek the life of the Christ child.

Marshall seems to suggest 1 B.C. for the same unstated reason that he suggests December 25th: that is the timing in the liturgical calendar. But the Church does not teach that the calendar is historically accurate.

How does Marshal explain the death of Herod? He claims Herod died in 7 or 8 A.D. That is not at all possible given the wealth of information we have on Herod and his successors after his death, the events of the Roman empire, and the events of Israel in that time frame.

The Crucifixion

Marshall also claims that Jesus died on March 25th, a Friday (of course). But the only year in which Nisan 14 (preparation day of the Passover) fell on a Friday and on March 25th, from 1 A.D. all the way to 50 A.D. was the year 12 A.D. — an unsupportable date for the Crucifixion. In 33 A.D., the year Marshall gives for the Crucifixion, Nisan 14 fell on April 3rd, not March 25th. And in 33 A.D., March 25th fell on a Wednesday, not a Friday, and no Nisan 5, not 14.

So the date for the Crucifixion in Taylor Marshall’s chronology is Wednesday, Nisan 5, not Friday, Nisan 14. The 14th day of Nisan in the Jewish calendar is the preparation day of the Passover, when the Gospel of John states that Jesus died.

Day of Christ’s Birth

In a different post, Marshall cites Saint Hippolytus saying that Jesus was born on a Wednesday, on Dec. 25th. But in 1 B.C., Dec. 25th was a Saturday.

Dr. Marshall’s date for the birth of Christ is December 25th. While there is some support for this day, there are many factors to consider in proposing a date for the birth of Christ, and Marshall ignores almost all of them. He uses only the line of reasoning, called the “birthday discourse”, of St. John Chrysostom and a few statements from early Church fathers.

St. John begins with the timing of Zechariah’s service in the Temple, to determine the conception of John the Baptist soon after, and then 9 months forward to the birth of John the Baptist, and six more months to the birth of Jesus.

How do we know when Zechariah served in the Temple. Well, the Temple priests were divided into sections, and he was part “of the section of Abijah”, which is the eighth according to the Old Testament. But all the priestly courses were on duty at the Temple for each of the three great feasts: Passover, Feast of Weeks, Feast of Tabernacles.

{1:10} And the entire multitude of the people was praying outside, at the hour of incense.

Since Scripture says “the entire multitude of the people” were praying outside, this must have been one of the three great feasts. And the most likely feast of course would be the Feast of Tabernacles (as the other feasts would place the birth of Jesus in entirely the wrong season). Then, too, St. John Chrysostom tells us that Zechariah was serving at the Feast of Tabernacles.

Dr. Marshall places the birth of Christ in 1 BC. But the conception of John was a calendar year earlier, in 2 B.C., and the Feast of Tabernacles that year fell in early September (or early October, if Passover was delayed), not in late September as he claims.

So Marshall has repeatedly erred in his chronology by not checking to see if the date he has proposed is tenable in the corresponding year. This is an amateurish error, and it shows that he has not spent much time studying this subject area. Nisan 14 did not fall on March 25th in 33 A.D. And Dec. 25th did not fall on a Wednesday in 1 B.C. And the Feast of Tabernacles was in early September or early October, not late September.

Finally, we have the problem of the length of time from the birth of John to the birth of Jesus.

{1:24} Then, after those days, his wife Elizabeth conceived, and she hid herself for five months, saying:
{1:25} “For the Lord did this for me, at the time when he decided to take away my reproach among men.”
{1:26} Then, in the sixth month, the Angel Gabriel was sent by God, to a city of Galilee named Nazareth,

{1:36} And behold, your cousin Elizabeth has herself also conceived a son, in her old age. And this is the sixth month for her who is called barren.

“This is the sixth month” does not mean the completion of the sixth month, but the beginning of it. So we should add 5 or so months to the birth date for John. And that date is only approximated by the “birthday discourse”. We cannot assume that John’s birth was exactly 9 months after his conception, and we don’t have the exact date for his conception either.

So the birthday discourse will place the birth of Jesus anywhere from November to January, depending on the year and other factors. It is not an accurate enough method to determine that Jesus was born on any particular day of December. So the conclusion that Marshall presents is in no way supported by his own argument.

(By the way, Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich states, based on her visions from God, that Jesus was conceived on February 25th, and was born on November 25th.)

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

Please take a look at this list of my books and booklets, and see if any topic interests you.

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3 Responses to Errors in Taylor Marshall’s Dates for Christ’s Birth and Death

  1. Grindall says:

    Merry Christmas, Ron!

  2. Joshua says:

    Mr. Conte, I have a question that is unrelated to the topic, but I would deeply appreciate it if you wouldn’t mind responding to it. It has to do with a particular section of the Papal Bull “Cantate Domino” (which came out of the Council of Florence) that I find disconcerting. Here is an excerpt:

    “It firmly believes, professes, and teaches that the matter pertaining to the law of the Old Testament, of the Mosaic law, which are divided into ceremonies, sacred rites, sacrifices, and sacraments, because they were established to signify something in the future, although they were suited to the divine worship at that time, after our Lord’s coming had been signified by them, ceased, and the sacraments of the New Testament began; and that whoever, even after the passion, placed hope in these matters of the law and submitted himself to them as necessary for salvation, as if faith in Christ could not save without them, sinned mortally….”
    “…Therefore, it commands all who glory in the name of Christian, at whatever time, before or after baptism, TO CEASE ENTIRELY FROM CIRCUMCISION, since, whether or not one places hope in it, it cannot be observed at all without the loss of eternal salvation.” (emphasis added)

    I find this very troubling, as most Catholics in America (including myself) were circumcised shortly after birth, and circumcision is still widely practiced by Catholics in this country without any knowledge of the aforementioned Papal Bull. What are your thoughts on this? And what ought we, as faithful Catholics, to do? Thank you so much in advance.

    • Ron Conte says:

      Notice the wording: “hope in these matters of the law and submitted himself to them as necessary for salvation, as if faith in Christ could not save without them”. People who are circumcised for health reasons do not fall under that condemnation. They are not placing their hope for salvation in OT disciplines.

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