My Talk for Skeptics in the Pub, Cologne on the Star of Bethlehem

Along with the big Star of Bethlehem conference in Groningen, I was in Cologne before that to give a talk about the same subject to Skeptics in the Pub. That talk was also recorded and edited nicely by the folks there, and that is now up on YouTube. (Note: the intro is in German, but my talk is in English.)

Only downside with this was that I did not do my best to stay close to the microphone, and that means my voice goes in and out a fair bit. I’m used to talking with my voice picked up by different devices, so I’ll need to remember that for the future. Still, you can get all the contents of my talk reasonably well, and the presentation went really smoothly. Plus, great folks at SiTP Koeln. They had some really good questions, but it doesn’t look like the Q&A was recorded.

I also didn’t know this before I went there, but Cologne is the city were, allegedly, the bodies of the Three Kings/Magi are kept; the city’s coat of arms reflects this, and the cathedral with those bodies is a UNESCO site, and it is a lovely building. 2014-10-22 10.22.50

A bit of review of me and my talk can be found here and here (auf Deutch). Hopefully I can find an excuse and go again to this group.

Also, the holidays are approaching, so if your group needs a speaker on a timely subject, let me know.

Christmas and Sol Invictus? Perhaps Not…

In my prior post inaugurating my personal War on Christmas in my own fair and balanced way, I showed that there was no historical memory that Jesus was born on December 25. We really cannot say that any particular day was his birthday given our sources. However, we still have to wonder how did the various traditional dates come about?

Besides tradition, the most common argument was that the birth of Jesus corresponded with the date of the birth of Sol Invictus, though often people will say Mithras. The connection is fairly straight-forward: the celebration of Sol Invictus takes place on the winter solstice when the sun in lowest in the sky and the days are shortest, but then the days get longer and the sun higher. In essence, the sun is “born again”, and this was the birth of Sol. The cult with this god was popular, and the burgeoning Christian cult in the 4th century tried to co-opt the holiday in order to make conversion easier. Emperor Constantine is also part of the mix in most investigations. As such, at its roots Christmas is a very pagan holiday.

That’s the basic outline version of what most think is the origin of the Dec 25 birthday tradition for Jesus. Along the way there will be confusions of mixing in the celebrations of Saturnalia, a festival that was about a week long and ended on Dec 23, not the 25th. There are similarities with the festival of Saturn and the festival of Christ’s birth, but they do not overlap in time.

But ignoring this minor side-error, can we pin down this connection between the alleged date of Jesus’ birth and that of Sol Invictus?  Was Mithras’ day of birth celebrated on the winter solstice? Can we see the order of operations and determine who influenced who and when? And can I have a Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle?

Let’s start by taking a look at when Mithras is said to have been born. What is actually surprising is what isn’t said in our sources: Continue reading