Saturday, May 23, 2009

Jesus must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet

1 Corinthians 15:


12But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.
20But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27For he "has put everything under his feet."c]">[c] Now when it says that "everything" has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. 28When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.
29Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them? 30And as for us, why do we endanger ourselves every hour? 31I die every day—I mean that, brothers—just as surely as I glory over you in Christ Jesus our Lord. 32If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus for merely human reasons, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised,
"Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die."d]">[d] 33Do not be misled: "Bad company corrupts good character." 34Come back to your senses as you ought, and stop sinning; for there are some who are ignorant of God—I say this to your shame.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Was Jesus Christ Really Born in Winter?

Damien F. Mackey

This is an astronomical chronology of the Life of Jesus Christ.
It is based on G. Mackinlay’s book:
“The Magi. How They Recognised Christ’s Star”.


Since the Scriptures were written for all nations and for all ages, their main essential truths reveal themselves in such distinct and unambiguous terms that men and women of good will, will always recognise them and embrace them. But when we seek for the full force and meaning of each particular passage of Scripture, within its proper context, we are grateful to those who, through careful scholarship and study of the ancient Near East, have brought us closer to the original times and circumstances of its authorship. For although, as said, the Bible has a universal application and relevance, it is very evident that it, written as it was by mainly Jewish (certainly Semitic) authors, primarily appeals and is intelligible to the middle eastern and Jewish cast of mind (cf. Romans 11:24).
Of course the human mind, in its fundamental nature and operations, does not differ from one person to the next; and that includes peoples as far removed as the East is from the West (Psalm 102:12). However there does appear to be, on average, a pronounced distinction in intellectual emphasis between the two: the eastern mind and the western. This interesting distinction is explained well by Professor Stalker (The Life of Jesus Christ, p. 65), who contrasts what we might call the more contemplative oriental cast of mind with the discursive, analytical western mind. “Our thinking and speaking when at their best”, he suggests, “are fluent, expansive, closely reasoned. The kind of discourse which we admire is one which takes up an important subject, divides it out into different branches, treats it fully under each of the heads, closely articulates part to part …”. By contrast, the oriental or Jewish mind, he says, “loves to brood long on a single point, to turn it round and round, to gather up all the truth about it into a focus, and pour it forth in a few pointed and memorable words. It is concise, epigrammatic, oracular”.
Whereas a western speaker’s discourse “is a systematic structure, or like a chain in which link is firmly knit to link”, according to Stalker, “an Oriental’s is like the sky at night, full of innumerable burning points shining forth from a dark background”. Because of this rather dramatic contrast between the application of the western and the eastern mind, the difficulty of translation, great in all cases, is especially great in translating from eastern to western languages. The methods of expression in eastern languages are much richer in metaphor and figure. And this is especially the case with the Hebrew language of the Jews, for the following reason given by M. Müller (as quoted by Mackinlay, op. cit., p. 51):

The strict monotheism of the Israelites discouraged the arts of the sculptor and artist, which flourished among the Egyptians, Babylonians and Greeks: there can be no doubt that the Hebrews possessed the artistic feeling, but the expression of it was chiefly confined to the use made of language; we find word-pictures, poetic images, metaphors and illustrations employed very freely in Scripture ….

Quite often, according to Müller, the Hebrew language makes use of a play on words “to fix attention”; enigmatical utterances occur, and at times statements are made purposely, “in a manner difficult to comprehend, as for instance in the case of the number of the beast” (Revelation 13:18).
In earlier times, as we know, books were written painstakingly, by hand. The thoughtful eastern reader meditated over his books; therefore immediate obviousness was not so much expected by him as it is now by us, from our less than subtle novels and periodicals. Unfortunately, however, our speed reading skills do not serve us well when applied to the profound and subtle Scriptures. For the hasty reader of Scripture, the obscure and hidden meanings will forever remain undiscovered. The Scriptures court the most thorough investigation, but it must be patient and reverent – not hasty and superficial: “Seek, and you shall find” (Matthew 7:7).
A classic illustration of this is to be found in the Gospel of St. John the Evangelist, himself a past master of subtlety and hidden meanings. In several passages in his Gospel, St. John makes tantalising reference to the birth-place of Jesus Christ, and to the dispute over it by his contemporaries, but without resolving that dispute. Being the last of the four evangelists to write his Gospel, however, John well knew that Matthew and Luke had already recorded the true birth-place of Christ. John, with typical irony, dramatically recalls the dilemma for the Jews on this issue, as in the following explanation by Mackinlay (pp. xiv-xv):

Who has not noticed the difficulty of Nathaniel, when he said, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46), and some of the multitude at the last Feast of Tabernacles, when they said, “What! doth Christ come out of Galilee? Hath not Scripture said that Christ cometh of the seed of David, and from Bethlehem, the village where David was?” (John 7:41, 42; Psalm 132:11; Mic. 5:2), and again, when the Pharisees said, “Search, and see that out of Galilee ariseth no prophet” (John 7:52)?.

The resolution ofwhich dilemma, found only amongst the Synoptics, is explained by Mackinlay as follows (p. xv):

We know, from the beginnings of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, that Christ was of David’s lineage, and that He was born at Bethlehem according to the prophecies; but there is no record whatever of the immediate explanation of the difficulty, either to Nathaniel, to the multitude, or to the Pharisees”.

Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727) drew attention to another most important distinctive feature of the ancient Jewish method of teaching and use of metaphor, which he had come to understand, when he pointed out that figurative language was generally used by the Jewish Rabbi while the circumstances to which the figure referred were actually occurring. Thus he said (Observations Upon the Prophecies of Daniel, as quoted by Mackinlay, p. 52):

I observe that Christ and his forerunner John [the Baptist] in their parabolic discourses were wont to allude to things present. The old prophets, when they would describe things emphatically, did not only draw parables from things which offered themselves, as from the rent of a garment (I Sam. 15:27, 28) … from the vessels of a potter (Jeremiah 18:3-6) … but also when such fit objects were wanting, they supplied them by their own actions, as by rending a garment (I Kings 11:30, 31); by shooting (II Kings 13:17-19), etc ….

And Christ, Newton added, being endowed with a more noble prophetic spirit than all the rest, excelled them also “in this kind of speaking”, turning into parables such things as offered themselves. Thus, on the occasion of the approaching harvest, He admonishes his disciples once and again of the spiritual harvest (John 4:35). Seeing the lilies of the field, He tells them not to be anxious about what to wear (Matthew 6:28). In allusion to the present season of fruits, He warns his disciples about knowing men by their fruits. In the time of the Passover, He bids his disciples ‘learn a parable from the fig tree; when his branch is yet tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is nigh’ (Matthew 24:32).

In the course of this article, other important examples of this distinctive pedagogical technique will be added to Newton’s list.

Yet another significant instance of the difference in our modern circumstances from those of ancient Israel and its environs, is that we are not now, as were the Hebrews of old, an agricultural people. Our sustenance comes to us at almost all seasons of the year from all parts of the world. We no longer speak for instance like the ancient author of II Samuel of the season from March to September as being “from the beginning of harvest until water was poured … from heaven” (II Samuel 21:10), or in any similar form of words suitable to our climate. Furthermore, the Hebrew farmers were regularly in touch with the great leaders of their nation; for, three times a year – “at the feast of unleavened bread [Passover], at the feast of weeks [Pentecost], and at the feast of booths [Tabernacles]” – all the men of the country were ordered to visit Jerusalem (Deuteronomy 16:16).
Even these three great feasts of the Hebrew calendar had, beside their deeper religious meaning, specific agricultural connotations. Thus “unleavened bread” was originally an agricultural festival of thanksgiving at the barley harvest; “weeks”, a one-day, end-of-harvest thanksgiving; and “Tabernacles”, an eight-day autumnal festival of thanksgiving for all the harvests (grain, fruits, grapes, olives). Mackinlay, speaking of the significance of these regular festive visits to Jerusalem by the Hebrew farmers says that “their national life was like the blood in the human body, which is circulated by the action of the heart backwards and forwards from the extremities to the lungs, where it is purified and strengthened” (p. 99).
This difference in matters agricultural between the Hebrews of old and ourselves at the present time, is deeply accentuated by the remarkable institution of the rest for the land on every seventh year, an arrangement without any parallel in our experience. It is not to be wondered at that the incidents and influence of this Sabbath Year have hardly attracted the attention of we moderns, as all the circumstances connected with it are so unfamiliar to us. However, since the notion of the Sabbath Year has a fairly significant bearing on our attempt to establish a reliable chronology of Our Lord’s life, it will be necessary for the reader to have at least some basic understanding of this again very distinctively Jewish concept.
As the observance of the seventh day of rest signified that the people of Israel belonged to God, so the ordinances of the seventh year showed that the land also was his (Leviticus 25:23). During the Sabbath Year the fields of the land of Israel were not tilled, but were left to lie fallow, in order to denote that they really belonged to God. The seventh year of leisure was a prolonged opportunity for the worship of God. It began with vast crowds of men, women and children, together with the strangers within their gates, assembling to hear the Law read by priests and Levites, when they were told that they could “hear … and learn to fear the Lord” their God (Deuteronomy 31:10-13). We shall, however, leave to Chapter Two of this article the fuller consideration of the Sabbath Year.
The observance of both Sabbaths – the weekly and the seven-yearly – had the primary purpose of giving honour to God; but man also was benefitted in each case. The weekly rest was healthy for body and mind (and soul), and the year of rest was beneficial to the land. Israel, it should be noted, was unlike Egypt, which was fertilised annually by the overflowings of the Nile. And so, if the fields had not been allowed to lie fallow at times, they would soon have become exhausted, and the crops would have been miserably poor and meagre.

A final distinction must be noted between the ancient Hebrew way of life and ours, and related to the Hebrews having been an agricultural people, as it too has a crucial bearing on our subject. It is the fact that the Hebrews of old, whose agricultural way of life necessitated that much of their day be spent in the open air, were thus far more sensitive to the motions of the heavenly bodies: the sun, the moon, the stars and the planets. By contrast we, with our crowded cities and artificial lighting, do not regard the sun and sunrise, for instance, nor the moon in its phases, nor the movements of the planets, with the same admiration and significance as did the ancients. Added to this is the fact that their sky was clearer than is ours, enabling for better visibility. And, from an observational point of view, the Near East was a region noted for its suitability in that regard.
The ancient Near Easterners were fascinated by the spectacle of sunrise. They commonly depicted the rising sun with wings, which calls to mind the famous verse of Malachi 4:2: “For you who fear my Name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in it wings”. Also Psalm 138:9 again associates wings with the rising sun, in the expression “wings of the morning”.
Mackinlay (p. 9) thinks that it must have been a common sight in the ancient Near East, in biblical times, “to see a few flat clouds or some mist low on the horizon at dawn in the Eastern sky, and when the Sun rose they must have caught some of its radiance, almost appearing to be a part of the luminary itself; a very natural poetic idea would call them wings to assist its upward flight”.
Another British writer J. Cumming, travelling through the Middle East at the turn of the century, testified to the magnificence of the spectacle of the sunrise in the Holy Land; a spectacle which in his opinion was far more grand and impressive than in Britain. He wrote (The Psalms, their Spiritual Teaching, pp. xix, 112):

Though I had seen the beauty of Sunrise in the Northern climes, I had never felt the truth of David’s language, till over the hills of Moab (in Transjordania) I saw, thrice in one week, the Sun rise, bursting up into view, with a giant’s strength and eagerness, from my window to the north of Jerusalem.

Our twentieth century habit of sitting up late at night, with consequent late rising in the morning, prevents many of us from being familiar with the beauties of daybreak, even when they are well displayed. City-dwellers, particularly, are out of tune with the motions of the sun and the other celestial orbs. For this reason, the frequent biblical references to sunrise do not come to us with so much force as they must have to the first readers, who frequently witnessed the breaking of the day. Scripture informs us of the great importance of the “lights of the firmament”; attributing to them a four-fold significance: “for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years”. (Genesis 1:14).
All four aspects will come under consideration in the following pages, as we endeavour to establish an accurate chronology of the major events of Our Lord’s life on earth.
Frequently in the Bible the waxing heavenly lights are employed as “signs” or similes for great men and women; whilst waning “lights” apparently represent those once great who had fallen from grace. The most important and striking simile, of course, is the use of the Sun as a symbol of Christ. There are many instances of such simile usage in Scripture; e.g. Isaiah 9:2 – “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light”; Malachi 4:2 – “The sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings”; Luke 1:78 – “When the day shall dawn upon us from on high”; John 1:9 – “The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world”.
Further similes of a celestial nature are to be found in the Old Testament. At seventeen years of age Joseph had a dream in which the sun, the moon and eleven stars, symbolising his father, his mother and his eleven brothers, bowed down to him (Genesis 37:9-10). On the darker side, Lucifer, once glorious, is symbolised by Isaiah as a fallen star (14:12), in poignant words reminiscent of those used to depict the demise of the once great king Saul an his companions: “How are the mighty fallen” (2 Samuel 1:25)!
Of great importance to us, as will become clear later on, is the rôle of the morning star – which we call Venus. The morning star is often used in Scripture as a sign of great significance. In the Book of Revelation (2:16), for instance, Our Lord actually likens himself to the morning star: “I am the root and the offspring of David, the bright morning star”.
“Morning Star” is also one of the titles that the Church attributes to the Blessed Virgin Mary (Litany of Loreto).
Finally, in connection with the grand simile of Our Lord, “The Light of the World” (John 8:12), to the Sun, is the very full and sustained scriptural figure of St. John the Baptist as the morning star, preceding the sun as a herald, and announcing the sunrise. Much will be said about this last figure in Chapter One, entitled “St. John the Baptist as Herald”.
Celebrated scriptural allusions to the Blessed Virgin May liken her to “the morning rising, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army [the host of stars] set in battle array” (Song of Solomon 6:10). In a later symbolic reference, this time in the New Testament, She is referred to as a “Woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars” (Revelation 12:1). The moon especially, also used as a symbol for Joseph’s mother (Old Testament), is regarded as being a most appropriate symbol for Our Lady. For She, like the moon, adapts the brilliant light of the Sun of Justice, Christ Our Lord, to our human weakness.
With the mention of Our Lady and her Divine Son, we now turn our attention to the very beginning of the New testament: the Incarnation and the Nativity. That the date of Our Lord’s Incarnation and Nativity – and consequently the chronology of his entire earthly life – is not yet firmly and precisely established by historians, was allowed for by John Paul II in his first encyclical letter, “Redemptor Hominis” (1979). The then Pope, looking forward with the Church to the Year 2000 AD as being the grand anniversary and the Jubilee of the Incarnation and Birth of Our Lord, made a point, however, of leaving it open for scholars to examine scientifically the chronological aspect of Our Lord’s life, so as to make “corrections” if necessary. Thus he wrote:

We are already approaching that date, which, without prejudice to all the corrections imposed by chronological exactitude, will recall and re-awaken in us in a special way our awareness of the key truth of Faith which Saint John expressed at the beginning of his Gospel: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).

John Paul’s timing in making this challenge to scholars to find an exact chronology of Our Lord’s life seems to be quite providential. For now, with the authenticity of the Infancy Narratives of the Gospels coming under heavy fire from hostile biblical critics the world over, it has become an urgent imperative for scholars to settle once and for all the matter of the reliability of the Gospels, particularly on this question of the infancy years. Unless precise dates for those early years of Our Lord’s life can be established in a convincing fashion, doubt about the historicity of the scriptural record will continue to flow unchecked from the pens of liberal-minded exegetes.
It seems that the joyful season of Christmas attracts the most bitter attacks on the veracity of the scriptural record, especially the account of Our Lord’ Nativity and the events surrounding it. In the Christmas of 1987, for instance, Catholic and Protestant clergymen alike seized the opportunity to pour scorn on the Gospel narratives, and to insert their own corrections. Thus Fr. Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, a then professor of the École Biblique in Jerusalem, on a stroll through Bethlehem, took the opportunity to question the historicity of the census recorded by St. Luke (2:1-2), and also to doubt aloud the reliability of the New Testament account that Christ was born in a stable at Bethlehem. In his opinion (as printed in Hobart’s The Mercury, 23/12/87, p. 16):

Luke has to reconcile two conflicting [sic] facts – Jesus was born in Bethlehem but the family was based in Nazareth.

A week later, in the same newspaper, the Rev. Thomas Maddock several times expressed his belief “that much of the Christmas story is highly suspect”, and he singled out as an example of this “the assertion that the shepherds sitting on the cold, frozen ground – in mid-winter – watching their sheep – in the impenetrable darkness – is really too much to believe …”.
But were these two clergymen being realistic; and just how closely have they read and understood the subtle texts of the Gospels on his subject?
In this article we shall attempt to answer the sorts of objections raised by critics such as these, by exploring the subtleties and deeper meanings of the Gospel accounts. It will be found that what St. Luke and the other Evangelists have recorded concerning the life of Jesus Christ is highly accurate right down to the tiniest detail. The Church has not erred by insisting that we believe in the historical truth and accuracy of the accounts of the four Evangelists. From the data with which they have equipped us, we can proceed to organise an extremely precise chronology for Our Lord’s life, from the Nativity unto his death on Calvary.

“He who conquers and who keeps my works until the end … I will give him the morning star” (Revelation 2:26 & 28).


Special thanks are due to Lieutenant-Colonel G. Mackinlay, without whose fine book, The Magi. How They Recognised Christ’s Star (1907), the inspiration to write this article most certainly would not have arisen.

Recognition must also go to Sir William Ramsay (Was Christ Born in Bethlehem?), whose satisfying solution to an old historical dilemma pertaining to St. Luke’s record of the census, ought to have endeared him to all sincere students of the Gospels.

Chapter One: St. John the Baptist as Herald

Our different standpoint from the ancients, in not generally regarding the sun and sunrise with the same admiration as they did, has resulted in some careless renderings of Scripture. In our art, for instance, Our Lord as “The Light of the World” is often represented carrying a lantern in his hand. Whilst this in itself is quite a beautiful image, it by no means manages to convey the impression that the Evangelist would have intended in this case. When Our Lord claimed this magnificent title for himself, it was at the end of the Feast of Tabernacles (John 7:2, 37; 8:12); a feast which reminded the Jews of their deliverance from Egypt, and of the portentous pillar of fire that went before them in the darkness, lighting up their way (see e.g. Nehemiah 9:12). To commemorate this miraculous event it was customary for the Jews to light large lamps in the Temple at the Feast of Tabernacles; and thus A. Edersheim was right in saying that Our Lord doubtlessly was alluding to those large and prominent lamps when he claimed to be “The Light of the World” (The Temple, pp. 281-285).
It is also clear from several passages of St. John’s Gospel (e.g. 8:12 & 9:5) that the title “The Light of the World” was represented symbolically by the figure of the Sun. For instance, in John 8:12 Our Lord speaks of “the light of life” in connection with “the light of the world” – and the sun, of course, is the sustainer of physical life. In John 11:5, he speaks of working “the works of Him who sent Me, while it is day; the night comes, when no man can work”. Also, in John 9:9, “the light of this world” clearly refers to the Sun (cf. John 12:35, 36, 46). And so, whilst our art has provided us with an inadequate image of “The Light of the World”, offering us only a dim light instead, there is no doubt that the Jews understood just what sort of image Our Lord was intending to convey to them. Accordingly, Mackinlay remarks (p. 17) that neither the greatness of the figure, nor the greatness of Our Lord’s claims, was lost on the Pharisees, “because their resentment and opposition were so strongly excited” by his words (John 8:13-59).
In Scriptural times, with early rising being the order of the day, sunrise was a familiar sight. We find that many events occurred early in the day. The Jewish morning sacrifice, for instance, took place before daybreak in the morning twilight; consequently many of the multitude (Luke 1:10) who prayed outside the Temple at the hour of incense must have left their homes while it was still dark. As this was a daily ritual, it explains why, when the Apostles were liberated from prison at night by the angel, and went to the Temple “just before daybreak” (Acts 5:21), they found people there already at that early hour.
Many other instances of early rising occur throughout the Bible. Joseph’s brothers were sent away “as soon as the morning was light’ (Genesis 44:3); Saul and Samuel rose early “about the break of dawn” (1 Samuel 9:26); while the virtuous woman in Proverbs (31:15) is described as rising early “while it is still night”. Our Lord himself rose in the morning “a great while before day” in order to pray (Mark 1:35). “At break of day” (John 8:2), He entered the Temple. “As soon as it was day, the assembly of the elders of the people was gathered together”, on the morning of the Crucifixion (Luke 22:66). At earliest dawn, Mary Magdalen went to the sepulchre very “early, while it was yet dark” (John 20:1). And so on.

Dependence on the Morning Star

From this habit of early rising, and from their need to gauge what time it was before the sun had risen, the Jews must have looked forward eagerly for the herald of dawn, what we call the planet Venus. This bright luminary was easily recognised by the Jews and by the eastern peoples generally, who knew it as the harbinger of the glorious sunrise. Mackinlay provides us with a further reason why the morning star was more necessary to these people of Israel and its environs by noting that the paths of both the sun and the morning star are inclined more steeply to the horizon in that part of the world: the result with the sun being to shorten the period of twilight before daybreak, “as the angular depression of the great luminary [i.e. the Sun] below the horizon is greater … at equal intervals of time before dawn” (p. 21). Hence the morning twilight in the regions around Israel “gives less warning of dawn” than in other regions, he says, “and the heralding of the Morning Star is more needed” there (p. 22).
The East moves slowly and even now (Mackinlay’s era) amongst the Bedouin the morning star is used for the purpose of heralding the dawn. Just as a sleepy westerner might ask, ‘Is it six o’clock yet?’; so the lazy Bedouin will ask, in reference to the planet Venus, ‘Has the Star risen?’ In this way the morning star became the figure for a herald. According to J. Newton-Wright, the Persians alluded to it as a well-known type of forerunner (his undated letter from Persia to G. Mackinlay); and in so doing they may well have been perpetuating the ancient Assyria idea, since the Assyrian name for the morning star was “Delebat”, meaning ‘She who proclaims” (Dr. Pinches, as quoted by Mackinlay, p. 23).
For those fortunate enough to have witnessed it in the Near East, the heralding of sunrise by the morning star is a scene of indescribable beauty there, where it can be seen in all its glory. W. Geil (A Yankee in Pigmy Land, p. 174), who had the good fortune of witnessing the sunrise in the region of Transjordania, attempted to describe what he had seen, but soon realised that it just beggared description: “When crossing the hot plains of the Jordan in the early morning I beheld the glory of the bright Morning Star, over the hills of Bashan, in the glow of the approaching sunrise! My vocabulary fails me!”

Simile of St. John the Baptist to the Morning Star

The figurative use of the morning star in reference to the Baptist is evident from the prophet Malachi’s description of the Christ’s forerunner: “My messenger, and he shall prepare the way before Me” (Malachi 3:1); because, as noted by Mackinlay (p. 39), “the same figure of speech is supported by Malachi 4:2, where the Christ is spoken of as the Sun of righteousness, who shall arise with healing in His wings”. That this definitely is the right association of scriptural ideas is shown by the reference made by Zechariah, the father of St. John the Baptist (Luke 1:76), to these two passages in the Old Testament. Thus, on the occasion of St. John’s circumcision, Zechariah prophesied of him: “You shall go before the face of the lord”, and, two verses later, he likens the coming of the Christ to “the Dayspring [or Sunrising] from on high”, which shall visit us.
We note further that this same passage from Malachi, with reference to the Baptist, was quoted also by Mark the Evangelist (1:2); by the angel of the Lord who had appeared to Zechariah before his son’s birth (Luke 1:17); by the Baptist himself (John 3:28); by Our Lord during his ministry (Matthew 11:10; Luke 7:27); and by the Apostle Paul at Antioch (Acts 13:24-25). These quotations are all the more remarkable because they were made at considerable intervals of time the one from the other. Our Lord used the words more than three decades after they had been spoken to Zechariah by the angel, announcing that Christ’s forerunner would be born. And St. Paul referred to the very same passage in the Book of Malachi some fourteen years after Our Lord had spoken them.
St. John the Evangelist wrote of the Baptist: “The same came for a witness, that he might bear witness to the Light, that all might believe through him. He was not the Light, but came that he might bear witness to the Light” (John 1:7, 8). Mackinlay, commenting on this passage (p. 41), says that “The Light par excellence is the Sun, and the Morning Star, which reflects its light, is not the light itself, but is a witness of the coming great luminary”. All four Evangelists record the Baptist as stating that the Christ would come after him: a statement in perfect harmony with the comparison of himself to the morning star (se e.g. Matthew 3:2; Mark 1:7; Luke 3:16 & John 1:15).
On three memorable occasions St. John the Baptist preceded and also testified to Our Lord: viz. some months before Jesus’ birth (Luke 1:41, 44); shortly before Jesus’ public ministry (Matthew 3:11); and by his violent death at the hands of Herod, about a year before the Crucifixion (Matthew 14:10). Alluding to the Baptist’s martyrdom, Our Lord said: “Even so shall the Son of Man also suffer” (Matthew 17:12, 13). The figure of St. John the Baptist as the morning star is therefore a most appropriate one.
Mackinlay, following through Isaac Newton’s principle that the Jewish teachers frequently made figurative allusions to things that were actually present, suggested (p. 56) that “other allusions” unspecified by Newton, “such, for instance, as the comparison of the Baptist to the shining of the Morning Star”, must also indicate that the object of reference was present. “We may reasonably conclude”, he added, “that the planet was then to be seen in the early morning before sunrise”. Mackinlay realised that if Newton’s principle really worked in this instance, it would enable him to “find an indication of the dates of the ministries of Christ and of John, and consequently of the crucifixion”.Making use of calculations made by expert astronomers at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, Mackinlay, himself a professional observer, drew up a chart recording the periods when Venus appeared as the morning star for the period AD 23-36 – “a period which covers all possible limits for the beginning and ending of Christ’s ministry”. One will need to refer to Mackinlay’s own chart reproducing the astronomical data that he had received.

… From Mackinlay’s diagram we learn that the morning star shines continuously on the average for about seven and a half lunar months at the end of each night, giving at least an hour’s notice of sunrise; but if we include the period when it is still visible, but gives shorter notice, the time of shining may be lengthened to about nine lunar months.
An eight years’ cycle containing five periods of the shining of the morning star - useful for practical purposes - exists between the apparent movements of the sun and Venus, correct to within a little over two days. The morning star is conventionally estimated (and I must here raise the consideration of the strong likelihood of the need for a revised AD time similar to that already recognised for BC time, which causes me to receive Mackinlay’s actual astronomical dates in relation to Jesus Christ with extreme caution) to have begun to shine at the vernal equinox, AD 25, and eight years afterwards, viz. in AD 33, it began again its period of shining at the same season of the year; and so, generally, at all years separated from each other by eight years, the shinings of the morning star were during the same months.

[I shall give alphabetical letters, rather than hard figures, for each of the dates from 23 – 36 AD, to allow for future revision. Thus A = 23 AD at one end, and M = 36, at the other].

From the historical data available, it is generally agreed that Our Lord’s Crucifixion occurred between the years AD 28 – 33 (conventional dating). Of necessity, then, the three and a half years’ ministry – at this stage we are taking the liberty of assuming that the public ministry of Our Lord lasted “the longer period” of between three and four years, leaving the consideration of “the shorter period” of less than three years to a later section – would have begun in one of the years AD 24-29 (conventional dating). We shall proceed now to examine passage in more detail those passages in the Gospels that refer to St. John the Baptist as the morning star.

(a) Beginning of the Baptist’s Ministry

At the very beginning of his ministry, St. John the Baptist referred to the prophecy in Malachi 3:1, in which he himself is likened to the morning star, when he said: “He who comes after me is mightier than I” (Matthew 3:2, etc.). Now, according to Newton’s principle of scriptural interpretation, that figures are taken from things actually present, the morning star would have been shining when the Baptist began his ministry; thus the witness in the sky, and the human messenger, each gave a prolonged heralding of the One who was to come.
If we refer to the Gospel of Matthew (3:8, 10 & 12), we find St. John the Baptist using three figures of speech at the beginning of his ministry:

1. “Now is the axe laid to the root of the trees” – presumably to mark the unfruitful trees to be cut down (see also Matthew 7:19).
2. “Every tree that does not bring forth good fruit is cut down …”.
3. “His winnowing fork is in his hand, an He will clear his threshing floor, and gather his wheat into the granary, but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire”.

As Mackinlay has noted (p. 60), these three figures used by St. John all refer to the time of harvest, which would have taken place within the month of the Passover, “as the place where John began his ministry was the deep depression ‘round about Jordan’ (Luke 3:3), where the harvest is far earlier than on the Judaean hills”. Now according to Mackinlay’s chart, the morning star was shining during the month after the Passover (April or May) only in the years AD 24, 25 and 27 (which I convert to B, C and E), in the period AD 24-29 [my B-G]. Hence we conclude that St. John the Baptist began his ministry in one of these three years.

(b) Beginning of Our Lord’s Ministry

The Baptist again bore witness just before the beginning of Our Lord’s public ministry, when he proclaimed to the people: “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, for He was before me’” (John 1:15); and he repeated that statement the next day (John 1:30) – again bearing out the simile of the morning star and the rising sun.
Mackinlay, analysing what time of year this was, is certain that it must have been a good deal later than the beginning of St. John’s own ministry; “probably at least four or five months, to allow time for the Baptist to be known and to attract public attention”, he says (p. 61). It could not have been earlier than the latter part of August, he goes on; and “it must also have been long before the following Passover”, for several events in Our Lord’s ministry “occurred before that date”. Mackinlay suggests that Our Lord most likely began his public ministry, “which we must date from the marriage in Cana of Galilee”, before November, “because there would have been leaves on the fig tree” when Nathanael cam from under it (John 1:47, 48) (pp. 61-62).
Our Lord approvingly called Nathanael “an Israelite indeed” (John 1:47). Unlike the hypocrites who loved to pray so as to be seen by men (Matthew 6:5), Nathanael had carefully hidden himself for quiet prayer under cover of his fig tree, and so he was greatly surprised that Our Lord had seen him there. In Scripture, the state of the vegetation of the fig tree is used to indicate the seasons of the year (see Matthew 24:32). We are informed that when the branch of the fig tree “becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near”. From the Song of Songs (2:13), we read of the season when “the fig tree puts forth her green figs”; and the fading of the leaf of the fig tree is mentioned in Isaiah 34:4.
From this scriptural detail, relating to seasons, Mackinlay is able to narrow even further the choice of years (from AD 24-29) [my B-H] for the beginning of the two ministries. “We must reject AD 24, for the morning star definitely was not shining between the months August to November of that year”, he writes (p. 63). This leaves us with only two options, viz. AD 25 and 27 [my C and E]. At this stage Mackinlay makes a further assumption – previously he had asked the reader to assume for the time being that “the shorter period’ choice for the length of Our Lord’s ministry be out aside – in relation to the date AD 27. Whilst admitting that AD 27 would fulfil the necessary conditions given above “if we suppose that Christ began His ministry within a month or six weeks from the time of John’s first appearance”; Mackinlay elected to put aside this date for reasons that would become apparent later on.
With him, we shall concentrate at present on AD 25, which admirably fulfils all the required conditions; but we shall return a bit further on to determine whether or not AD 27 is a likely candidate for the beginning of the two ministries.

(c) “He must increase, but I must decrease”.

The next reference to St. John the Baptist under the figure that we are considering is: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). According to F. Meyer, the Baptist “knew that he was not the Light, but sent to bear witness of it, not the Sun, but the Star that announces the dawn …” (Life and Light of Men, p. 42). St. John’s words may have foreshadowed his imprisonment as well, as Mackinlay thinks, for “they were uttered after the first Passover, which took place, according to the assumption which we have just made, in AD 26, but before the Baptist was cast into prison” (pp. 63-64). Consequently, he adds, we may assume that St. John the Baptist spoke these words about the beginning or the middle of April.
Meyer may not have been correct, however, in concluding his otherwise beautiful metaphor above by saying that “the Star”, which represents the Baptist, and which “announces the dawn”, also “wanes in the growing light” of the Sun. The waning of a celestial body appears to be the scriptural symbolism for the destruction of wickedness. The seeming annihilation of the stars caused by the rising of the sun, was an ancient figure of speech used to typify the triumph of good over the powers of darkness and evil. Mackinlay suggests that this may be the image intended by St,. Paul when he spoke of “The lawless one, whom the Lord shall bring to nought by the manifestation (in Greek, “shining forth”) of His coming” (II Thessalonians 2:8); and he adds that the figure of the rising sun extinguishing the light of the stars “is associated with conflict, punishment and judgment, which certainly did not represent the relationship between Christ and His forerunner John” (p. 65).
Undoubtedly, rather, the impression that the Evangelist was intending to convey in this instance was one of the morning star decreasing in the sense of its non-appearance in the sky at the end of each night, as the increasing power of the sun’s heat and light became manifest. The planet Venus moves further and further away from its position as morning star, and increases its angular distance on the other side of the sun as the evening star. According to Mackinlay, in the year 26 AD [my D] Venus began to appear as the evening star “shortly before midsummer” (p. 64).
Interestingly, Mackinlay’s chart indicates that it is the more probable explanation of the non-appearance of Venus in the sky at the end of the night as being the more appropriate figure to depict the decreasing of St. John the Baptist, which is fulfilled in the circumstance under consideration.

(d) The Imprisonment of St. John the Baptist.

It is likely, as W. Sanday has noted (Outlines from the Life of Christ, p. 49), that the imprisonment of the Baptist took place after the Passover, and before the harvest of AD 26 (John 4:35); and soon after St. John had stated that “He must increase, but I must decrease”. Sanday considered that the events surrounding the Passover (of John 2:13-4:45) did not occupy more than three or four weeks, and when Our Lord arrived in Galilee (see Matthew 4:12), the impression of his public acts at Jerusalem was still fresh. Sanday thought that his estimation of the date of the Baptist’s imprisonment was “somewhat strengthened by the fact that the Synoptic Gospels record no events after Christ’s Baptism and before John was delivered up, except the Temptation (Matthew 4:12; Mark 1:14 see also Luke 4:14); and because the Apostle Paul said that “as John was fulfilling his course, he said, ‘What do you suppose that I am? I am not He. No, but after me One is coming, the sandals of whose feet I am not worthy to untie’” (Acts 13:25)”.
These words tend to place the end of the Baptist’s career rather early, because the message here referred to was proclaimed by him when he announced the Messiah, in autumn of AD 25 (John 1:26, 27). Following Mackinlay (p. 64), we therefore estimate that St. John the Baptist was imprisoned about the middle or end of April, AD 26, when, as is apparent from Mackinlay’s chart, the morning star, appropriately, was not shining.

(e) “He was a burning and shining lamp”.

The next reference to St. John the Baptist under this simile is a very striking one. Our Lord speaks of him as “a burning and shining lamp; and you were willing to rejoice for a season in his light”. (John 5:35). Mackinlay has suggested that, because the definite article is used twice in the Greek version of this passage, “it therefore seems to indicate some particular light” (p. 67). Though St. John was in prison, Our Lord said of him at this time: “You sent to John, and both was and still is a witness to the truth” (John 5:33). Regarding the phrase “to rejoice for a season in his light”, Dr. Harpur tells of a custom in the East for travellers by night to sing songs at the rising of the morning star because it announces that the darkness and dangers of the night are coming to an end (as referred to by Mackinlay, p. 68).
In effect, then, Our Lord was saying that the disciples of the Baptist were willing to rejoice in the light of the herald of day, which shines only by reflecting the light of the coming sun; but should rejoice now ever more since the sun itself had arisen – since “the Light of the World” had actually come. This interpretation harmonises with Our Lord’s statement recorded a few verses on (John 5:39) that “you search the Scriptures … which bear witness of Me”; the inference again being – now that I have come, you ought to receive Me. All through this conversation, Mackinlay notes, “the subject is that of bearing witness” – by his own works; by the Father; by the Baptist; by the Scriptures and by Moses – “the whole pointing to the necessity of receiving the One to whom such abundant witness had been borne”.
The time when Our Lord made this particular statement about the Scriptures bearing witness to Him was just after the un-named feast of John 5:1, and before the Passover of John 6:4. It is often assumed, Mackinlay informs us, that this un-named feast was Passover – but some have opted for naming it the feast of Purim, fixed centuries earlier by the command of Queen Esther (Esther 9:32); or even the feast of Weeks at the beginning of June (p. 69). This does not affect our chronological scheme, however, for we learn from Mackinlay’s chart that the morning star was appropriately shining on each one of these feasts in AD 27.

(a) “My messenger … before Me”.

These words, comparing the Baptist to the morning star, as herald, were quoted by Our Lord with reference to Malachi 3:1, when the imprisoned Baptist had sent some of his disciples to ask of Jesus: “Are you He who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Matthew 11:3). “Rabbi”, they asked him, “He that was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you bore witness, here he is baptising, and all are going to him” (John 3:26). Is he the One?
When the Baptist was thrown into prison, his disciples must have been devastated. And Jesus himself must have been for them a complete puzzle. For one, the disciples of Jesus did not behave as did those of the Baptist. Whereas the latter’s disciples continued to fast as had been their habit, Christ’s disciples were not fasting even now. So they must have come to Our Lord in great perplexity, to ask the reason for this difference of behaviour (Matthew 9:14). But it is doubtful if their difficulties were cleared away at this stage.
When Jesus began performing his most wonderful cures upon the sick and the afflicted, and even raising the dead to life (Matthew 9:18-25; Luke 7:11-17), St. John the Baptist - who himself “did no sign” (John 10:41) - sent them back to ask Jesus whether or not he was the One to come. The prophet Malachi was most important with reference to St. John the Baptist. Both the angel of the Lord who had addressed his father Zechariah, and Zechariah himself, immediately afterwards, had declared that this highly favoured child had been prophesied in the words of Malachi. Moreover, Malachi had spoken of the Sun of righteousness rising with healing in his wings (Malachi 4:2).
The Baptist’s timing in sending his disciples to Our Lord at the peak of his miracle working was impeccable. He carefully chose the wording of the question to be asked of Jesus, consistently adhering to his rôle as forerunner in accordance with Malachi. John did not tell his disciples, for instance, to ask if Christ were the “King of the Jews”, the title that had been applied to him by the Magi, nor did he tell them to use any of the other names applied to the Christ by the prophets of the Old Testament. The Baptist on this occasion chose “He who is to come” in formulating his question for the benefit of his disciples.
Our Lord replied to the question by drawing the attention of John’ disciples to his abundant miracles of healing the sick, the blind, the lame, the lepers, the deaf, and of raising the dead to life (Matthew 11:4, 5). As Malachi had foretold, the Sun of righteousness would rise “with healing in his wings” (Malachi 4:2). Having answered John’s disciples, Jesus then added words that were aimed directly at them, but which also have a universal application: “Blessed is he who finds no occasion for stumbling in Me” (Matthew 11:6).
Despite his prodigious miracles and unfailing Charity, many had already been offended by Our Lord, and many more would be as his death drew closer. At first they had argued that the ascetical John, and Jesus, the one who was the friend of publican and sinners, could not both be right (Matthew 11:18, 19). Then they could not receive him because they said he was only a carpenter’s son (13:54, 58), and from the despised region of Galilee (John 7:41-42). The Pharisees found many reasons for being scandalised by him, not least of which was the fact that he had denounced them as hypocrites (Matthew 15:12). Even the well-prepared disciples of John the Baptist were stumbled ad confused.
But Our Lord’s blessing fell fully upon the Baptist, who had found no occasion for scandal in Him. He called Jesus “The Lamb of God” (John 1:29). Our Lord’s own praise for his forerunner knew no bounds, and was bestowed upon John without the least hint of criticism. And, as St. John’s disciples went away from Him, to tell their master what Jesus had said to them, Our Lord began to speak to the crowd about the Baptist in the most glowing terms. He graciously confirmed the statement made by the angel to Zechariah, and Zechariah’s subsequent prophecy about his son, saying that John fulfilled those words to Malachi 3:1: “My messenger [to prepare the way] before Me”. Our Lord added that: “among those that are born of women there is none greater than John” (Luke 7:28). What a consolation Our Lord’s words must have brought to St. John the Baptist during his months of dreary imprisonment, which were to end with a cruel death!
The people who heard Jesus speak these kind words apparently understood the praise given, for we are told that “they … justified God, being baptised with the baptism of John” (Luke 7:29). Our Lord, however, was not finished with loading his praise on the Baptist. Again He alluded to Malachi’s prophecy regarding him – this time under the figure of Elijah (cf. Malachi 45, 6; Matthew 11:14 and Luke 1:17) – and He concluded the subject by saying that, although He and his forerunner might have seemed in some cases even to have portrayed the opposite characteristics, “Yet Wisdom is justified by all her children” (Luke 7:35).
St. John the Baptist, too, was justified in all his words and actions, and subsequent events reveal that his followers were, before long, convinced that Jesus was truly the Messiah. For, when the much severer blow of their master’s murder fell upon them, they no longer showed signs of great perplexity, but did the very best thing that they could have done – “they went and told Jesus” (Matthew 14:12); apparently quite of their own accord.
It would be expected for the morning star to be shining when Our Lord made his statement about St. John the Baptist’s being the witness-bearer; and Mackinlay provides the following chronological considerations showing that this was indeed the case (pp. 77-78):

This quotation must have been made at harvest time because it was spoken after the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5, etc.), which almost certainly was at that season from its allusions to the filling of barns, to the lilies of the field, and to knowing men by their fruits (Matthew 6:26,28; 7:20). Also it was spoken before the plucking of the ears of corn (Matthew 12:1), which took place during the same Judaean harvest.

On which year was the quotation made, asks Mackinlay? who then answers by saying that: (p. 78):

We have deduced that John was cast into prison (Matt. 4:12) about April AD 26. The events of Mathew 4:12-25, containing as they do the stay at Capernaum, the call of Peter, Andrew, James and John, the travelling through all Galilee, and the healing of large numbers of sick, demand several months for their accomplishment. It must be concluded, therefore, that the Sermon on the Mount, the quotation from Malachi and the plucking of the ears of corn all occurred at the harvest of AD 27. It may be concluded also that the plucking of the ears of corn was in AD 27, because it was at the harvest before the death of St. John, which took place about Passover AD 28 (compare Matthew 12:1; 14:10, 14-21 with John 6:4-13).

If we refer back to Mackinlay’s chart, we shall see that the morning star was shining appropriately when Our Lord spoke this quotation from the Book of Malachi.

(b) The Death of St. John the Baptist.

Again from Mackinlay’s chart, we notice that the morning star appropriately was not shining at the death of St. John at Passover AD 28 (Matthew 14:10, 14-21; John 6:4-13); this being the last Passover before Our Lord’s Crucifixion. Mackinlay, as he had promised, returned to test whether or not AD 27 was a possible date for the commencement of Our Lord’s public ministry. His definite conclusion on the matter ran as follows:

If we had assumed AD 27 for the date of the beginning of the Ministry it would have involved the utterance referred to in (e), … and the quotation in (f), … being spoken in spring, AD 29, when the Morning Star was not shining; and the death of John would have occurred in spring, AD 30, when the Morning Star was shining – all three being inharmonious; we therefore definitely cast out AD 27 as a possible date for the beginning of the Lord’s Ministry.

(c) “The Light of the World”.

After the death of the Baptist, and before the Crucifixion, there came another period of the shining of the morning star during Our Lord’s Ministry in the second half of AD 28 (refer Mackinlay’s chart). At the feast of the Tabernacles (John 7:2), in the autumn of that year, Our Lord called himself “the Light of the World” (John 8:12; see also 9:5), when, according to Mackinlay (p. 79), “there can be no doubt He compared Himself to the Sun, which therefore carried on the figure of the Baptist being the Morning Star”.
The Jews apparently recognised the similitude, says Mackinlay, and their minds must have gone back to John the Baptist, when they addressed to Our Lord at this time (John 8:25, 53) the identical question that they had put to his herald some three years before: “Who are you?” (John 1:19). They even went so far as to say to Our Lord, “You bear witness to yourself; your witness is not true” (John 8:13); as if to remind Him that his herald was no longer alive to give his witness.

(d) The Feast of the Dedication of the Temple.

Glancing back at Mackinlay’s chart again, one notices that the morning star was visible still in early winter (i.e. in the northern hemisphere), at the beginning of December, AD 28, at the feast of the Dedication of the Temple (John 10:22). At that time there were still some echoes of the old question that the Jews had put to the Baptist – and doubtless a remembrance of his witness – when the Jews said to Jesus; “How long will you keep us in suspense? If your are the Christ, tell us plainly” (John 10:24).

(e) Visit to Bethabara.

Though the figure of the morning star is not alluded to on this occasion, the dead St. John the Baptist still witnessed at a time when the herald of day was shining, just after the feast of the Dedication of the Temple, when Our Lord went to Bethabara – the place where St. John had first begun baptising. While Our Lord was there, the people confessed that “Everything John said about this man was true. And many believed in Him there” (John 10:41, 42). The enthusiasm enkindled by the Baptist still burned.

(f) The Crucifixion.

But when we come to the last Passover, in the year AD 29, the herald of the dawn had just disappeared. Mackinlay shows (p. 81) that the disappearance of the planet Venus harmonises perfectly with the record of the complete isolation of Our Lord at his Crucifixion, given as follows:
(1) The disappearance of the witness John by death (Matthew 14:10).
(2) The forsaking of Our Lord by all his disciples (Matthew 26:56; Psalm 38:11; 49:20).
(3) The absence of any record of a ministry of angels, as after the Temptation (Matthew 4:11).
(4) The hiding of God’s face, when Christ uttered the cry: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46; Psalm 22:1).
(5) In nature, the Sun’ light failed (Luke 23:45).
(6) Being daytime, the Paschal Full Moon was, of course, below the horizon.

Mackinlay notes (pp. 81-82) that if we assume “the longer period” of a three and a half years’ ministry for Our Lord, beginning in autumn AD 25, and consequently necessitating a Passover AD 29 as being the date for the Crucifixion, “all references to the Baptist as the Morning Star harmonise with the actual shining or non-shining of the herald of dawn in the heavens”. Absolutely no other date which is historically possible [though see my earlier ABC, etc] will fulfil these harmonies, he adds (p. 82). Thus, as Mackinlay believed, we have obtained an almost independent confirmation of the date of AD 29 for the Crucifixion.
Mackinlay suggests that some readers may be inclined at first to consider the foregoing deductions to be fanciful, “because they involve a train of thought with which they are unfamiliar”. Some may wish that it had been stated plainly – the way the Jews demanded that Our Lord speak to them – in the New Testament, that the Baptist was to be compared to the morning star, which was to be shining when he was alluded to by that simile. But to these suggestions, Mackinlay answers: “then the subtle delicacy of the allusions would have been lost, the modes of expression would have approximated to our own, and the value of the special inference would have been altogether different in its nature” (pp. 82-83).
Reflection, and a fuller acquaintance with eastern (and especially with biblical) methods of expression, in which symbolism and figures of all kinds are employed quite freely, will assuredly prevent any thoughtful reader from hastily rejecting the conclusions that have been drawn so far. But this is not all. In a later chapter, further use will be made of these same lines of inference in helping us to ascertain the date of Our Lord’s Nativity. Also, in the next chapter, Mackinlay’s date of AD 29 [with whatever modification may need to be made to it] for the Crucifixion will be considerably strengthened, because, as will become apparent, the same result will be arrived at from a somewhat similar, but perhaps more obvious, line of inference. As Mackinlay concludes (p. 83): “Let us be glad if we can trace some of the many harmonies which lie just under the surface in the sacred Word, which only await our investigation and recognition”.
Chapter Two: “The Lord’s Year of Favour”

When God, through, his faithful servant Moses, called upon his people to “Remember the Sabbath Day” (Exodus 20:8, 10, 11), He was reminding them that this was no new commandment, but one dating from the beginning (see Genesis 2:1-2). During those long centuries of toil and slavery in Egypt, the Israelites had been unable to observe the sabbath day of rest, a custom unknown to the Egyptians. Moses was given the task of renovating the hearts and minds of God’s people through a searching program of reform; an essential part of which would be a return to the commandments and to the observance of the Sabbath day’s rest.
The Israelites were to be reminded every Sabbath day that they had been slaves in the land of Egypt, from whence the Lord their God had delivered them with a mighty hand – “by a pillar of cloud … in the day, and by a pillar of fire in the night” (Nehemiah 9:12) – therefore they were commanded to keep the sabbath day (Deuteronomy 5:14, 15). By its observance, the Israelites acknowledged that they belonged to God who had set them free. Consequently when Our Lord claimed that He was “Lord of the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:8), He asserted his Divinity.
This weekly rest was not the privilege of the few. Servants, foreigners, and even domestic animals, were meant to enjoy it as well (Exodus 20:10). The Israelites were intended to experience this weekly sabbath as a day of delight and refreshment; free from manual labours and ordinary duties, thus affording them time to worship God and to hear his word (Isaiah 58:13; Luke 4:16, 17). Likewise, the seventh year of leisure (Sabbath Year), when the fields were not tilled but were left to lie fallow, in order to denote that they belonged to God, was a prolonged opportunity for the people to worship God.
God had arranged Israel’s secular and sacred system into sevens of weeks, sevens of months, sevens of years, and, in respect of his Jubilee Year of Favour, He had extended the plan to seven sevens of years, to make forty-nine. For these groups of forty-nine years were seen as being defining periods, each succeeding the other, so that the first year of each forty-nine was known as the fiftieth, The Year of Jubilee. And in the fiftieth year, the year of Jubilee, all debts were cancelled and slaves set free. No wonder that there was jubilation!
According to numerous scholars (see e.g. 1975. The Holy Year, Bonechi – Ediz. “Il Turismo”, Roma, 1975), the origin of the term “Jubilee” can be traced back to the Hebrew yâbêl, which refers to the ram’s horn used once every fifty years in accordance with Mosaïc Law to announce a year of forgiveness and pardon for all debts contracted during the previous fifty year period. Catholicism has adopted this concept with the periodic celebration of the “Holy Year”, in which the emphasis is spiritual. The greatest of debts, according to the Catholic doctrine of reparation, is that of sin. The Holy Year is meant to remind sinners of their debts to God in this regard, but to fill them with a new confidence as well in the grace and power of God to forgive each and every kind of sin.
The first Christian Jubilee of 1300 AD came about spontaneously during a period of tormented religious events and political upheavals, “constituting a brief parenthesis of piety and rectitude amidst a time of troubles” (ibid., p. 3). It began with the Romans, and embodied their increasing need for sanctifying penitence and Charity, while at the same time representing Europe’s universal longing for a return to peace and spiritual brotherhood. Soon after Pope Boniface VIII proclaimed the Jubilee (“Antiquorum Habet Digna Fide Relatio”, 1300), whereby all who visited the basilicas of St. Peter’s and St. Paul’s would be granted full indulgence for sins, people from neighbouring states began flocking to Rome.
Even though the Pope had decreed that a Jubilee was to be celebrated once every hundred years, Pope Clement VI decided in 1343 that a hundred years between Jubilees was too long, and so he reduced the interval to fifty years. This was now the same duration as that between the old Jewish Jubilee years. This change by Pope Clement was also due apparently to the interest of the poet Francesco Petrarch, who immortalised his request in one of his poems: “Hoc unum post multa, praecor breviora recursu …” (quoted in 1975. The Holy Year, p. 15).
In our own approximate era, there have been Holy Years in 1950 – the year in which Pope Pius XII also defined as Dogma Our Lady’s bodily Assumption into Heaven at the conclusion of her earthly life; in 1975, proclaimed by Pope Paul VI; and in 1983/4, as proclaimed by Pope John Paul II. The latter also chose to call a Marian Year – an extended year – or special Jubilee for 1987/8, and, finally, he selected 2000 AD as “the year of great Jubilee” (encyclical “Redemptor Hominis”, I, 1).

New Beginnings
It is interesting to note that the day of Pentecost was for the Jews, and still is, the fiftieth day after the weekly sabbath that follows Passover. And from Passover to the Feast of Tabernacles is seven months. The Feast of Passover was held on the fourteenth day of the first month, and that of Tabernacles began on the fifteenth day of the seventh month (Leviticus 23:5, 39). There is no doubt, says G. Spall, “that the Creator wove this figure seven into the very fabric of human history when He first put humanity on to the loom of life” (“Sabbatic Years”, The Vineyard, Oct, 1985, p. 2). It is, he adds, as if we were standing back from an old carpet hanging on the wall. Being away from it, we can see the vast design; then the closer we approach, the more detail we can see: “Perhaps seventy times seven in years is the most notable feature of the pattern … and … each forty-nine has a pattern of sevens of years with intricate scrolls and whorls within it made up of sevens of months, and within them, sevens of weeks, and days”.
As the Feast of Tabernacles lasted only seven days (Deuteronomy 16:15) – followed by a closing festival on the eighth day (Numbers 29:35) – it does not quite keep up the parallel with the two sabbaths, according to Mackinlay, who explains that in order to do that “it should have lasted a month” (p. 92). Despite this, the idea of rest is definitely connected with this feast, for we read in Scripture that “on the first day shall be a solemn rest, and on the eighth day shall be a solemn rest” (Leviticus 23:39).
But here, as Mackinlay has observed (pp. 92-93), “a new idea is unfolded”; for, although this is the feast of the seventh month, the special day of rest is not the seventh, as in the Sabbath day and years, he explains, “but the first and the eighth are specially selected for that purpose”. In Scripture the number seven is essentially typical of completeness, he adds (p. 93), “therefore when an eighth period is mentioned, a new beginning is indicated”.
Thus, although this Feast of Tabernacles in the seventh month is the closing one of the great triad – Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles – when we come to look at the details we find indications that the days of beginnings are specially blessed. As Mackinlay noted, “this feast thus seems to link together the thankful close of one system, and it hints at the glad beginning of a new plan”. It looks backward thankfully and rejoices (Deuteronomy 16:15) at the in-gathering of the fruits of the earth, and celebrates the deliverance from Egyptian bondage (1 Kings 8:2, 16; Nehemiah 8:14). It also gives a bright glimpse of future possibilities of blessing, because the day after the seven days of the feast was to be observed in solemn fashion.
After the seven days which contained the Passover had been completed – i.e. on the following first day of the week – the sheaf of first-fruits was waved before the Lord (Leviticus 23:10, 11). This was a type of Christ the first-fruits, spoken about by St. Paul (1 Corinthians 15:20, 23), who rose from among the dead on the very early morning of that day. Hence Christians of the New Covenant observe this day – which we now call Sunday – instead of the old Jewish Sabbath.
After seven weeks of had been completed, counting from the day when the first-fruits were presented (Leviticus 23:11, 15, 16), came the feast of Weeks (Harvest) or Pentecost on the fiftieth day. Pentecost likewise was a time for rejoicing, and again the Jews recalled their deliverance from Egyptian bondage (Deuteronomy 16:11, 12). On that very day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended upon the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Apostles (Acts 1:14; & 2:1, 2), thereby fulfilling Our Lord’s recent promise to them that He would send the Counsellor (Comforter) from the Father (John 15:26).
After seven weeks of years had been completed, there came the year of Jubilee, on the fiftieth year. Besides abstinence from field labour, there was re-adjustment of property; every possession, except houses in towns, reverted to the original owner. Thus wealth was equalised and the national life returned to its normal balance; again was deliverance from Egyptian bondage remembered (Leviticus 25:10-55).
Is there any record in Scripture of the observance of a Jubilee Year?
No, according to Mackinlay (p. 98). Rabbi Wacholder claims that the year of the Bar Kochba revolt, AD 132/33 [conventional dating], happened to be the only Jubilee recorded in history (as cited by J. R. Church, Hidden Prophecies in the Psalms, p. 221). Deal refers to experts, contributors to Zondervan publications, who say that king Hezekiah (c. 700 BC) was healed in a Jubilee Year (From Spall, op. cit., p. 3). These claim that Isaiah (37:30) designated the year of the king’s recovery from sickness as a Jubilee Year.
But even the date of Hezekiah’s recovery, which is closely related to one of Sennacherib’s invasions of the west, is now strongly contested (e.g. by those who have followed, in modified fashion, I. Velikovsky’s revision of ancient history) And a lowering of the traditional date, 701 BC, may be necessary. There is also a certain amount of disagreement amongst scholars as to the historical dates of the various sabbath years, but here opinion differs by margins of no more than one year. There is one clear reference to a particular, observed sabbath in the First Book of Maccabees (6:49, 53). But whereas Mackinlay has fixed this event “from the autumn of BC 164 to the autumn of BC 163” (p. 101), Spall dates this event – viz, the fall of Beth-zur to Antiochus Epiphanes – “in the autumn of 163/162 BC … seventy-seven by seven years from Sennacherib.
According to Josephus (see Spall, op. cit., ibid.), the murder of Simon the Hasmonaean occurred in a sabbath year, usually dated at 135/134 BC. In the Sabbath year 41/42 AD apparently, king Agrippa publicly recited Deuteronomy. Twenty-eight years later, says Spall, in 70 AD, there occurred the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus, when the national customs of the Jews were crushed out under the iron heel of Rome. Along with other traditions, the observance of the sabbath year was swept away, and this only a very short time after the Gospels had been written. Certain deductions, therefore, which could have been quite apparent to the first readers of the New Testament, were soon overlooked by those who lived in the generations just afterwards. Thus the Gospel references to the sabbath year were generally overlooked by those who post-dated the destruction of Jerusalem.

Description of the Sabbath Year
Let us proceed to consider some scriptural references telling of the nature of the Sabbath Year:

Leviticus 25:21: An abundant harvest was promised on the sixth year.
Exodus 23:11; Leviticus 25:3-7: The seventh year was a sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a sabbath uno the Lord; the land was to lie fallow – no sowing, no pruning.
Leviticus 25:23: The observance of the Sabbath Year demonstrated that the land belonged to God.
Exodus 23:11; Leviticus 25:5-7: The harvest which grew of itself was for the poor, the stranger and the cattle.
Deuteronomy 15:1-3, 9: It was “the year of release” from debts.
Deuteronomy 31:10-13, Nehemiah 8:18: It began at the Feast of Tabernacles at which the Law was read out.
Leviticus 26:27, 3, 34, 43: Threatenings for non-observance.
11 Chronicles 36:21: Threats fulfilled.
Nehemiah 10:31 A seventh year observed.
Leviticus 25:22: Sowing to be resumed on the eighth year.

Akin to this observance of the Sabbath Year was the release of slaves at the end of six years of servitude, so as to be free for the seventh year (Exodus 21:22; Jeremiah 34:8, 14).

Dates of Sabbath Years Near the Crucifixion
There appear to be few further direct references to this ordinance of observing the Sabbath Year in the Scriptures; some examples being the weeks of years in Daniel 9:24-27 and the observance of years in Galatians 4:10. Also, as is generally agreed, the incident in the First Book of Maccabees occurred during a Sabbath Year. Mackinlay has placed this latter event, the occupation of Beth-zur by Antiochus Epiphanes, and the duration of the corresponding Sabbath Year, from the autumn of 164 BC to that of 163 BC. Spall has estimated the same Sabbath Year from 163-162 BC. [These conventional dates will need to be revised].
It is inferred from Josephus (“Antiquities”, Bk, 14, ch. 16) that the year in which Jerusalem was captured by Herod with the aid of the Romans, autumn 38 BC to autumn 37 BC, was a Sabbath Year. Also we learn from Jewish tradition that the year which immediately preceded the siege of Jerusalem of 70 AD by Titus, i.e. autumn 68 AD to autumn 69 AD (conventional dating), was again a Sabbath Year. Its occurrence would have prevented the Jews from storing sufficient grain for the garrison.
We also have the testimony of the Roman historian Tacitus (“Histories”, Bk. V, 4) about the Jews. Besides the observance of the weekly Sabbath, he states: “they [the Jews] are idle on every seventh year as being pleased with a lazy life”. We also read the following from Caesar’s decrees as recorded by Josephus (op. cit., Ch. X, 6): Caius Caesar, imperator the second time, hath ordained that all the country of the Jews … do pay a tribute yearly for the city of Jerusalem, excepting the seventh, which they call the Sabbatical year, because thereon they neither receive the fruits of their trees, nor do they sow their land”.
In light of the above calculations, we can conclude with Mackinlay (p. 103), in conventional terms only – using multiples of seven to estimate the intervening Sabbath Years – “that the year beginning autumn AD 26 was a sabbath”. This estimate is also observed by Professor G. Schiaparelli (who quotes Schürer); by Sir William Ramsay (St. Paul. The Traveller and the Roman Citizen, p. 192); by the Jewish rabbis (see Mackinlay, ibid., n. 1); and by Sir Isaac Newton (Observations Upon the Prophecies of Daniel, note on pp. 149 & 160). All of these authorities agree on a scale which names AD 26-27 a Sabbath Year.

[As mentioned earlier, though, our estimation of what was AD 26 my eventually need to be revised].

Beginning of Our Lord’ Ministry
This being so, Mackinlay says (p. 104), we may well expect to find some allusions in the Gospels to the teaching and incidents of the Sabbath Year, "as it must have had a very noticeable effect indeed on an agricultural people, who had little foreign trade". Each of the four Gospel narratives contains the most graphic touches, and they refer to events which all took place in one small country, in a short period of time. Consequently, we may expect to find "references to the proprietorship of the Lord, to rest from labours, and to deliverances", Mackinlay says; and to hear "of good news to the poor, perhaps of release t those in bonds, and to find that it was a year of exceptional opportunity for preaching". A Sabbath Year would seem to present a fitting opportunity for Our Lord to manifest Himself publicly, "and a claim to be Lord of the Sabbath would appropriately be made in that year". As the essential idea of the Sabbath indicates rest, it would be a fitting time to warn against anxiety and to teach lessons of repose and trust.
Tuning to outward circumstances, Mackinlay suggests (pp. 104-105) that we might expect to find as indication of a Sabbath Year, some reference to the paucity of the harvest, which grew of itself during the Sabbath Year: "the people having no work of tillage might assemble in large numbers to hear Christ’s teaching, and after the end of the year the resumption of sowing might be noticed as a mater of importance, and the special shortness of corn just before the first harvest following the year of rest might be incidentally alluded to".
We shall find that all these point are touched upon in the Gospel narratives with reference to the second year of Our Lord’s ministry, Mackinlay says (p. 105). He gives "fifteen allusions", which we shall run through, and which will carry us to the end of this chapter. Surely these "fifteen allusions are no mere co-incidences", he says, "but their combined testimony must be allowed to have very considerable weight in pointing to the full consistency of the Gospel narratives and to the year AD 29 as that of the Crucifixion". [Mackinlay’s calculations. He draws up another chart for these "fifteen allusions in relation to his AD chronology]
We can now proceed to examine in detail those texts that Mackinlay believed allude to the Sabbath Year at the beginning of Our Lord’s public ministry.

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me".
The reading of Isaiah 61:1, 2 by Our Lord at the synagogue in Nazareth is recorded in the Gospel of Luke in the following words (4:18, 19):
The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
because He has anointed Me to preach
good news to the poor.
He has sent Me to proclaim release to
the captives.
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are
to proclaim the Lord’s Year of favour.
Our Lord then closed the book and did not read the words that followed in Isaiah about "the day of vengeance of our God". These were not suitable to the occasion.
He proclaimed himself as Messiah to the woman by the well of Sychar in Samaria, and many believed in Him there (John 4:26, 39, 42); and He had performed several miracles (John 2:23), to show forth his gory since the Baptist had witnessed to him by the banks of the Jordan. But Jesus chose Nazareth – the place where he, for a generation, had absolutely fulfilled God’s standard of Love, in obedience to his Mother and St. Joseph, where every inhabitant had watched him, and could not but acknowledge that he always "pleased God" – as the place where he first publicly asserted his claims to be the One sent from God, and where he first publicly presented himself to his own nation as their Deliverer.
The passage that he selected from the Book of Isaiah was the announcement of "the Lord’s Year of favour". This harmonises so thoroughly with the proclamation of the Year of Release, that we may take it as being exceedingly probable that the sabbath day on which it was uttered was at the beginning of the Sabbath Year, Mackinlay’s autumn AD 26.
Mackinlay provides a chart (p. 108) showing the parallels between Our Lord’s words at Nazareth and the terms of the Sabbath Year:
Good news for the poor. Sabbath Year, Release from debts (Deut. 15:1-3); Reading at Nazareth (Luke 4:18), "He anointed Me to preach good news to the poor".
Release of captives. Sabbath Year, Slaves set free in the seventh year (Deut. 15:1-3); Reading at Nazareth (Luke 4:18), "Proclaim release to the captives". "Recovering of sight to the blind" (another form of expressing deliverance). "Send away free those whom tyranny has crushed".
A Year of favour. Sabbath Year, Opportunity to "hear and learn to fear the Lord" (Deut. 31:13); Reading at Nazareth (Luke 4:18), "To proclaim the Lord’s year of favour". The season of opportunity.

But his townspeople, instead of acknowledging Our Lord’s claims and accepting him as their Messiah, blazed up in a sudden anger and hatred. They hustled Jesus out of their synagogue, and out of the town of Nazareth itself, and they incited each other to silence his voice by casting him headlong over the cliff (Luke 4:29). But that voice still had much more work to do in making known the character and will of God the Father, so their attempt was frustrated. Jesus slipped away quietly to another district.
The chronological evidence that we possess fully allows for our placing of this reading in the synagogue at the beginning of the Sabbath Year, autumn AD 26 (Mackinlay’s estimate). Jesus had gone into Galilee when the Baptist had been delivered up (Matthew 4:12; John 4:43). Our Lord then travelled from synagogue to synagogue (Luke 4:15). The first place mentioned at which Jesus stayed was Cana (John 4:46), where he healed the son of a nobleman at distant Capernaum without his actually going there. Next we hear of him at Nazareth, where he himself alludes to this miraculous cure (Luke 4:23). He left Nazareth because the people tried to kill him there; and he then dwelt at Capernaum (Matthew 4:13; Luke 4:29-31).
The next recorded event of which we can give the date was the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), which took place at the early summer of the next year [Mackinlay’s AD 27], because it contain references to the lilies of the field, which bloom at that season.
From all this we can see that the reading in the synagogue took place between April AD 26, and April AD 27. It may well therefore have been at the intermediate time of autumn AD 26, when the Sabbath Year began, because the visit to Nazareth was both preceded and followed by long tours of healing and preaching (Luke 4:14, 15; Matthew 4:13, 23-25).
"The people … saw a great light".
With reference to this same period at Nazareth and Capernaum, Matthew (4:12-16) quotes another passage from Isaiah (9:1, 2). The words are as follows:
The land of Zebulon and the land of Naphtali,
toward the sea, across the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles –
the people who sat in darkness
have seen a great Light,
and for those who sat in the region
and shadow of death
light has dawned.
The latter part of this passage contains the thought that is expressed in Isaiah 42:6, 7: "I the Lord … have given you as a covenant to the people, for a Light to the Gentiles; to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness".
In these passages there is sustained the thought that was contained in the previous quotation, which Our Lord himself read – light is brought to those in darkness, liberty and release to those in spiritual bondage. And thus the ideas of the Sabbath Year are again brought before us.
The ‘Our Father’.
The general theme of the Sermon on the Mount, containing as it does the ‘Our Father’ - which seeks the coming kingdom, the forgiveness of our sins as we forgive those who have sinned against us, and deliverance from evil (Matthew 6:9-14), is in accord with the tone of the Sabbath Year. In this, the year of release, it may appear at first sight to be incongruous that Jesus had – a little previously in his Sermon – spoken of casting into prison (Matthew 5:25). But it should be noted that that utterance was a warning against a future captivity from which there will be no release; it gives point to Our Lord’s entreaty that in the year of opportunity, Israel should agree with the One who had become its enemy on account of their rebellion (Isaiah 43:10).
As we saw earlier, the Sermon on the Mount occurred about April AD 27 [Mackinlay’s reckoning], a little later than the middle of the Sabbath Year.
"Look at the Birds of the Air".
During the same Sermon, Our Lord repeatedly warned his listeners against anxiety (Matthew 6:19-34); a state of mind quite contrary to the tone of the Sabbath Year, which reminds of rest and trust in God (Psalm 37:7). It is remarkable, too, that a special cause for anxiety, which would be prominent in the minds of many of those around him, was definitely reproved when he told his listeners not to lay up treasure on earth, and when he exhorted them to trust that God would provide for them: "Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet the heavenly Father feeds them" (Matthew 6:26). These words would be directly appropriate to those whose barns were not well filled, and who might be anxious for the future; as, although the time of year for harvest had come, they would be unable to reap their fields and to store their grain in the Sabbath Year.
"The Harvest is Plentiful …".
The authorising of the twelve Apostles to cast our unclean spirits, and to heal every disease and infirmity, and the utterance of the words, "The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few" (Matthew 9:37; 10:1), took place before the incident of Our Lord and the twelve plucking and eating the ears of corn (Matthew 12:1), but after the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). We conclude, therefore, that all three events occurred in AD 27 [Mackinlay’s reckoning], during the protracted season for the harvest in Palestine.
The words: "The Harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few", spoken at what should have be harvest-time in a Sabbath Year, contain what Mackinlay calls (p. 112) "a figure by contrast"; because the crop that was un-sown, and that grew only of itself (Leviticus 25:5), "must naturally have been a very small one, but the numbers who laboured at it and partook of it, being the poor (Exodus 23:11) and the stranger (Leviticus 25:6), must of course have been considerable".
Mackinlay gives examples of other "contrasted figures" in the Gospels, in which figures "the advantage in the contrast is on the side of the spiritual power and blessing referred to" (p. 113). Thus, for instance, a contrasted figure is used by Our Lord when he spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well, saying: "Every one who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst" (John 4:13, 14). On another occasion, he said "Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died …. I am the living Bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this Bread, he will live for ever" (John 6:49, 51); and when he called himself the Light of the World (John 8:12), Our Lord contrasted himself with the light in he court of the Temple, and with the pillar of fire in the wilderness, which those lights typified.

(a) “My Yoke is Easy”.
During the Sabbath Year the fields were not tilled, and as a consequence the oxen then had little work to do. The yoke truly was easy and the burden light at this time. Circumstances such as these readily lent themselves to the deep spiritual lessons that Our Lord gave when he said: “Come to me, all you who labour and are heavy burdened, and I shall give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
Evidently it was still the Sabbath Year.

(b) Plucking the Ears of Corn.
It is true that according to Deuteronomy 23:25, a person might pluck the ears of corn in a neighbour’s field at any harvest, Mackinlay says (p. 114), “but it is difficult to see how travellers (such as the disciples) could be allowed to do so whenever they wished”. But then Mackinlay offers the explanation to this seeming peculiarity by saying that “in the Sabbath year, the harvest, which grew of itself, was legally for the use of the poor and the stranger … there is consequently a special probability that it was the Sabbath year when the disciples plucked the corn (Matthew 12:1)”.

(c) “Lord of the Sabbath”.
We have seen that Our Lord took advantage of a sabbath day at the beginning of a Sabbath Year to proclaim himself publicly at the synagogue in Nazareth, when he read the prophecy from Isaiah. Towards the latter part of the same year in the conversation that followed the incident of plucking and eating the corn, we find him again taking advantage of a Sabbath day to proclaim his authority, by stating that he is greater than the Temple, and is Lord even of the Sabbath itself (Matthew 12:8).
On the same day we find the Pharisees taking counsel against him, seeking how they might destroy him (Matthew 12:14). This incident towards the close of the Sabbath Year reminds us of the earlier attempt by the townspeople of Nazareth to take his life, at the beginning of the same Sabbath Year (Luke 4:28, 29).

(d) Hope of the Gentiles.
Matthew 4:12-16 finds its parallel in Matthew 12:15-21. In both cases we learn that Our Lord withdrew; on the first occasion, because St. John the Baptist had been delivered up to Herod, and on the second, because the Pharisees had taken counsel as to how they might destroy him (Matthew 12:14). Their opposition and blasphemy reached a crescendo (Matthew 12:24) when they charged him with employing Satanic power.
After the first withdrawal by Our Lord, St. Mathew quotes Isaiah 9 and 12, “a Light” of the Gentiles, with reference to the Christ; and again, after the second withdrawal, the Evangelist refers to Isaiah 42 in the same connection.
The passage in Matthew 12:18-21, quoted by the Evangelist with reference to Isaiah 42:1-4, runs as follows:

Behold, my servant whom I have chosen,
My Beloved in whom my soul is well pleased.
I will put my Spirit upon him,
And he shall proclaim justice to the
He will not contend or cry aloud,
nor will anyone hear his voice in
the streets;
He will not break the bruised reed
or quench a smouldering wick,
till he brings justice to victory;
and in his name will the Gentiles

According to Mackinlay (p. 116), the close of “the acceptable year of the Lord” – a year of special invitation to the Jewish nation, “marks a crisis”. The Jews had definitely and deliberately chosen to reject him, and from this time onwards they studiously began laying schemes to bring about his destruction.
The foregoing quotation from the Book of Isaiah marks what Mackinlay calls “the beginning of a new era”. After rejection by his own people, his blessing is now offered to all nations. Twice over in this passage from Isaiah, the Christ is described as being the Saviour of the Gentiles.
From the context of the Gospel, we learn that the quotation referred to a time after the harvest – which grew of itself (Matthew 12:1) – AD 27 by Mackinlay’s estimate – and before the parables on sowing, obviously at the time of sowing. It is more than likely, according to Mackinlay, “that the culmination of the national rejection [of the Messiah] occurred midway between the two seasons – just before Tabernacles, when the acceptable year closed”. The foregoing passage from Isaiah describes the new outlook, which opened on the dawn of a new era, at the beginning of a new week of years.

(e) Parables on Sowing.
Some two months after the Sabbath Year was over, and very soon after the beginning of the new week of years, the operation of sowing was again resumed after a two-year interval. We can picture for ourselves the interest and the attention aroused amongst an agricultural population under circumstances such as these.
What could be more appropriate for Our Lord, in introducing this idea about the new beginning with the Gentiles, than to refer to the operation of sowing, says Mackinlay (p. 117), “which must have been in the minds of all, and which was to be seen actually being carried out all over the country?”
Some have seen a figure of the new departure taken by Our Lord at this time in the words of St. Matthew (13:1), when Jesus went “out of the house” – symbolising the House of Israel – and sat by “the sea-side” – symbolising the nations (Revelation 17:15). In the Sabbath Year the Apostles were told: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:5, 6). But now a wider scope is taken, as is shown by the “whatsoever” of Matthew 12:50, irrespective of human birth, and also by the use of the words “the field is the world” (Matthew 13:38).
Now for the first time, in each of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew 13:11; Mark 4:11; Luke 8:10), the mysteries of the kingdom of Heaven are spoken of; and we note that the calling of the Church out from the Gentiles – who are “fellow heirs, members of the same Body” – is stated by St. Paul to be a specially great mystery – long hidden, but now revealed (Ephesians 3:1-10).
In harmony with this new outlook, we find, are all the four parables about sowing, viz:

(1) The Sower (Matthew 13:3-23).
(2) The mustard seed (Matthew 13:31, 32).
(3) The seed growing secretly (Mark 4:26-29); delivered at a time that was after the harvest [Mackinlay’s of AD 27] – plucking the ears of corn (Matthew 12:1) – and before the following Passover (Matthew 14:14-21; John 6:4-13).
(4) The good seed and the tares (Matthew 13:24-30).

There can be little reasonable doubt that the parables were uttered at the intermediate time of sowing; such persistent reference to it forces upon us the conviction that sowing was actually taking place at the time.
Trench was of this same opinion, that sowing really was going on when Our Lord spoke his parables about sowing, and thus he wrote (Notes on the Parables, p. 66): “Christ, lifting up His eyes, may have seen at no great distance a husbandman scattering his seed in the furrows, may have taken in, indeed, the whole scenery of the parable”. But the fact that it was the first sowing after the cessation in the Sabbath Year greatly adds point to the appropriateness of Our Lord’s timing in speaking these parables on sowing.

(f) Feeding the Five Thousand.
Patience is required between the times of sowing and reaping, and the nearer the time of harvest approached, the lower fell the stores of grain available for food. Despite the good harvest expected in the sixth year (Leviticus 25:21), it is easy to appreciate the fact that the poorer classes must have begun to feel the pinch as the months rolled on towards the first harvest after the Sabbath Year.
“What a harmony would exist”, Mackinlay exclaims (pp. 119-120), “if we could find that the great miracle of feeding the hungry five thousand men besides women and children took place at this time!” A very little search, he says (p. 12), gives abundant evidence that this was indeed the case, “for there was there grass” (Matthew 14:19), “green grass” according to Mark (6:39), “much grass” according to John (6:10), and the time of grass is a short period during the spring in Palestine. St. John the Evangelist in fact definitely settles for us the time of year (John 6:4) by recording that the Passover was at hand: the Passover, that is, before the Crucifixion.
Consequently we must conclude that the miracle of feeding the five thousand took place [in Mackinlay’s AD 28] only a few weeks before the first harvest after the Sabbath Year, when lack of food must have been experienced by many, and when therefore the need must have been particularly great. The conditions on this occasion harmonise also with those accompanying other miracles performed by Our Lord, when deliverance was given only after great extremities had been reached, e.g. healing the paralytic, who was carried by four men (Mark 2:3-12); exorcising the demoniac, whom the disciples had failed to cure just after the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:14-18); raising Jairus’ daughter (Luke 8:41-42; 49-56); and Lazarus (John 11:3-4; 14-44).
And of course there were many others.

(g) “You seek Me … because you ate …”.
The recognition of this time of want shows the greatness of the temptation to which the multitude had succumbed, and which caused Our Lord to say to them: “You seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves” (John 6:26).
Our Lord, continuing to speak on the same subject of lack of bread and its supply, fittingly described himself as being “the Bread of Life” (John 6:35). And he filled his followers with much spiritual food, as he expanded on this theme using figurative language to the best effect.

(h) “Let the Children first be fed”.
The words of Our Lord to the Syro-Phoenician woman, “Let the children first be fed” (Mark 7:27; see Matthew 15:26), were spoken shortly before his miracle of feeding the five thousand (Matthew 14:14-21), and before his miracle of feeding the four thousand (Matthew 15:32-38). An allusion to a shortness of supply, and to using resources sparingly, is implied quite clearly by Our Lord’s words. He might have said, for instance, “Let the children first be cured, or blessed’, but by using the word “filled” Our Lord surely adopted the mode of expression in harmony with the times. “What subtle delicacy there is in this allusion to an event connected with the Sabbath Year”, Mackinlay exclaims! (p. 122).

(i) Feeding the Four Thousand.
The miracle of feeding the four thousand took place somewhat later in the year, apparently, when the spring grass was dried up by the heat of early summer, for the multitude this time sat down “on the ground” (Matthew 15:35; Mark 8:6), not “on the grass”, as on the occasion of the other miracle. But Mackinlay estimates that these two miracles were separated one from the other by no more than a few weeks. They seem to have been nearly at the same time, he suggests, “as soon afterwards, when Christ as speaking of these two miracles, he linked them both together, when he asked his disciples if they remembered them (Matthew 16:9, 10)”. It therefore seems likely that, at the time of feeding the four thousand, harvest had already begun in the lower and warmer parts of the country, and thus the crowd was not as large as before, nor the need so great and widespread.
Even today, in wheat-producing areas, money tends to be scarce before harvest, and it is customary for some bosses to delay payment to their employees until the crop has been gathered. In out-of-the-way places, supplies of food may even run short at this time of the year; in India, the cultivators frequently mortgage their crops before they are ripe, and until the harvest comes large numbers suffer from deficiency of food and of other necessities. We can understand that the same state of want must have occurred in the early summer in ancient Palestine among the masses of the people.
But scarcity of food would be more pronounced still during the spring that occurred just after a Sabbath Year, when the supplies which the people could afford to carry with them were doubtlessly very small. We may say quite confidently that the fact of the people’s hunger harmonises with the whole atmosphere of the special season that we suppose it to be.

(j) The Last Supper.
The bread and wine used at the Last Supper [of Mackinlay’s AD 29], would have been made from the corn and grapes grown in the first year after the Sabbath Year [i.e. Mackinlay’s AD 28]; for older produce must have been consumed long previously, and the harvest [of his presumed AD 29] had not yet arrived.
Mackinlay speaks here of the “three harmonies of the New Covenant, each beginning after a complete period of seven, and each appropriate to the new dispensation which began after the old one” (p. 124). These “three harmonies” he gives as follows:

(1) The bread and wine at the Last Supper made from the produce of the year after the Sabbath Year.
(2) The Resurrection of Our Lord on the day after the Sabbath Day (Matthew 28:1).
(3) The descent of the Holy Spirit on the Church on the first day of the week, on the day after seven weeks of days had been completed, counting from the day of Resurrection, or day of bringing the sheaf of the wave offering of first-fruits (Leviticus 23:11, 15, 16; Acts 2:1, 2).

In taking a general view of the Sabbath Year in the Gospels, we find that, before it began, Our Lord had not attracted much public attention as a teacher; with perhaps the exception of his preaching to the Samaritans (John 4:39-42), there is no record to indicate that he reached any considerable number of people before that period began. But in the leisure of the Sabbath Year we hear of multitudes being with him at, and after, the Sermon on the Mount, and also on other occasions, notably when the crowd was so great that the only access to him was by making an opening in the roof in order to let down the sick man before him (Mark 2:24; Luke 5:19).
It is true that after the Sabbath Year was concluded multitudes still came, but the fact remans that it was during that period that the crowds first assembled to hear him; and it was in that year that Our Lord gave the great address of the Sermon on the Mount concerning the kingdom of Heaven. After the closure of the Sabbath Year, as we have already observed, his preaching began specifically to include the Gentiles as well.
Besides the assertion of his authority at the beginning, and towards the close, of the Sabbath Year, Our Lord also manifested that authority publicly and prominently on several intermediate occasions. Thus we read that during this period “the multitudes were astonished at his teaching: for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes” (Matthew 7:28, 29); and again, “Amazement came upon all, and they questioned amongst themselves, saying, “What is this word? A new teaching! For with authority and power he commands even the unclean spirits, and they come out”” (Luke 4:36; see also Matthew 5:28, 34, 39, 44; Mark 1:22, 27; John 5:27).

Should any think that the foregoing instances are forced allusions to the Sabbath Year, and that the examples such as have been given above are similar to other incidents that are scattered over the whole of Our Lord’s public ministry, it is instructive to test whether or not any other of those years of public ministry could have been a Sabbath Year. By so doing, one would soon find a complete failure for that year to echo anything of the special year of rest; a failure in regard to Our Lord’s words for that year, as well as in all the outward circumstances as described by the Evangelists.
To typify what is being said here, Sir Isaac Newton (referred to again by Mackinlay, p. 126), we find, imagined that Our Lord’s Crucifixion took place during AD 34, in a Sabbath Year. And, according to his principle that Our Lord referred to things present, Newton endeavoured to find allusions to the year of rest in Our Lord’s teachings. But the only instance that he could adduce was Our Lord’s statement, at the end of the last Feast of Tabernacles (John 7:2), when he said to the Jews: “If you abide in my word … the truth will make you free”. Newton supposed that they understood these words literally with regard to the custom of setting free those who were slaves, when they replied: “We are descendants of Abraham, and have never been in bondage to any one. How is it that you say, ‘You will be made free?’” (John 8:31-33).
This is the only passage in all the Gospels that Newton brings forward as being evidence by which he can claim to have found a supposed reference to the Sabbath Year. Though all may not agree with Newton that slaves were actually set free on the Sabbath Year – but rather after each one had completed six years in servitude – it cannot be denied that the idea of freedom and deliverance from bondage is quite in accord with the tone of the Sabbath Year.
But, as Mackinlay has noted (p. 127), this supposed reference to a Sabbath Year loses much of its value from the fact that these words were spoken on the occasion of the Feast of Tabernacles; for thankfulness for the freedom of the nation from Egyptian bondage was expressed by the Israelites at every Feast of Tabernacles, and, together with gratitude for the safe in-gathering of the fruits of the earth, it was the reason for the great joy always then manifested (Leviticus 23:40). The custom of living in booths during the Feast of Tabernacles (Leviticus 23:42), reminded the Israelites of their wandering in the wilderness after the Exodus. This period of forty years was in itself a time of privation and humiliation; but at the same time it recalled the previous deliverance from Egypt and so sounded a note of joy.
This miraculous deliverance was mentioned by Nehemiah in his prayer just after a Feast of Tabernacles, when he said: “You saw the affliction of our fathers in Egypt, and heard their cry at the Red Sea; and showed signs and wonders to pharaoh, and all his servants, and all the people of his land” (Nehemiah 9:9, 10. 18). King Solomon, several centuries before Nehemiah, also recalled the deliverance from Egyptian bondage at the Feast of Tabernacles, when he dedicated his Temple to God, and quoted the words referring to “the day that I brought forth my people Israel out of Egypt” (1 Kings 8:2, 16).
So the comparison to Egyptian bondage from which God led forth his people was appropriate to any Feast of Tabernacles, because Our Lord was speaking about the bondage of sin (John 8:34), from which He delivers all who are willing. Thus, in Mackinlay’s opinion (p. 128), there “seems to be little ground for supposing that He referred to the release of slaves in the Sabbath Year”. No reliance, therefore, can be placed on this solitary, supposed reference to an incident of the Sabbath Year, as Newton had wished to claim. Moreover Mackinlay was certain “that other attempts with any other year except the second” in Our Lord’s public ministry will be equally unsuccessful (p. 129, emphasis added).
Mackinlay adds the interesting note that in all probability the Sabbath Year that occurred during Our Lord’s ministry, contained an extra, intercalary, month. It would appear to be harmonious that “the Lord’s Year of Favour” should be graciously lengthened out, just as the special Jubilee of the Marian Year in 1987/1988 was set by then Pope John Paul II to extend for a full fourteen months (i.e. from Pentecost, June 7th, 1987, to Our Lady’s Assumption, August 15th, 1988).
All the harmonies that we have investigated in connection with the Sabbath Year thus indicate that AD 29 [Mackinlay’s estimate] was the year of the Crucifixion, and we have a confirmation of the correctness of the same conclusion drawn from harmonies connected with the morning star in the last chapter. Both these lines of inference were no doubt perfectly obvious to the first readers of the Gospels in Palestine, as great use was made of the morning star for the practical purposes of life, and the periods of its shining during its eight years’ cycle could be remembered quite easily. Also the dates of the various Sabbath Years must of necessity have been fixed in the minds of all the Jews, and the allusions to them would have been readily understood.
But we live in other times, and have quite other manners and customs; we do not make use of the planet Venus to foretell daybreak, and we have not had the observance of the Sabbath Year practically forced upon us by any periods of lack of bread. Consequently both of these scriptural harmonies have long been lost to sight. As one line of inference is connected with an almost perfect eight years’ cycle – i.e. the morning star - and the other with a perfect one of seven years – i. e. the Sabbath Year – both cycles will agree only once in 8x7, or in fifty-six years. We can see that our argument would have pointed to the same conclusion if the possible historic limits for the date of the Crucifixion had been a good deal greater than from AD 28-33.
Some may say that the harmonies to which we have referred are, to use Mackinlay’s words, “mere straws of little or no value” (p. 130), but, as he goes on to suggest, “even straws will indicate the direction of force, if all point the same way”. The value of each separate harmony may be small by itself; but the combined effect of the large number that we have examined cannot be considered as insignificant. When considered carefully, these harmonies we find attest the fact that the Evangelists were recording real-life events; and the deductions that we have drawn from the facts – some of which lie a little below the surface – contradict any possible supposition that the Gospel narratives are mere legendary stories, told long after the events that they describe.
The indirect references to the Sabbath Year evidently are those of writers who were familiar with that particular ordinance, as no explanation of it is given. Thus these references confirm the early date of the Gospels and negative the suggestion put forward by many critics that they were written as late as the second century AD, because the observance of the Sabbath Year was swept away by the Roman conquerors in AD 70, the year that they destroyed Jerusalem.

Chapter Three: “A Star … out of Jacob”

Let us now turn again to the method of inferences from harmonies, that we have used in the last two chapters, in order to determine, with greater precision than has been attained do far, the date of Our Lord’s Nativity. Despite Scaliger, who said that God alone, not man, can determine the true day of the Nativity (Scaliger, as quoted by Hales, Chron., Vol. 1, p. 199), we are prepared to accept a result arising clearly and consistently from the method of harmonies – should such a result be achieved – provided, of course, that the result does not clash with, or contradict, any well–established fact of history. And we can look upon this further application of the method of inferences from harmonies as being a further test of the reliability of this method of inference.
We shall investigate historical methods later on. [Actually the needed revision of late BC-early AD history, not yet effected, may be far more radical than earlier writers, like Mackinlay, could possibly have imagined. See other AMAIC articles on the revision of history and chronology, including now the beginnings of a revision of early Roman Imperial history]. As Mackinlay saw it, it was universally accepted that Our Lord’s Nativity could not have been earlier than the beginning of BC 10, or later than the end of BC 5. The date is today generally given as being somewhere between BC 7-6. In pursuing these new inferences now for the earlier part of Our Lord’s life, we once again follow our reliable guide Mackinlay who commences by establishing “the greater probability” of the following two facts:

(a) That the Nativity of Our Lord was at least five months after the beginning of a period of shining of the morning star, and,

(b) That the Nativity was at a Feast of Tabernacles (p. 140).

Firstly, we investigate Mackinlay’s reason for believing that our Lord’s Nativity was:

(a) Five months after a period of shining.
To begin with, we must consider what reason there is for supposing that the morning star was shining at all when Our Lord was born. In Malachi 3:1, as we have seen already, St. John the Baptist is referred to under the figure of the morning star, as the forerunner of the Christ. But the morning star itself may be called “My messenger who shall prepare the way before Me”. It is not unusual for inanimate objects thus to be spoken of in Scripture, for instance in Psalm 88:38 we have “the faithful witness in the sky”, and in Psalm 148:3 the sun, moon and stars of light are exhorted to praise God. Consequently, as Mackinlay has explained it (p. 141), “we can reasonably suppose that the Morning Star was shining at the Nativity”. Furthermore, he adds, if the morning star were the herald of the coming One, it is fitting to imagine that a somewhat prolonged notice should be given; for “it would be more dignified and stately for the one to precede the other by a considerable interval, than that both should come almost together”.
We shall find Mackinlay’s supposition of a prolonged heralding by the morning star borne out by the following inference. According to the principle of metaphors being taken from things present, we could infer that the morning star was actually shining when Our Lord (in Matthew 11:10), quoting Malachi 3:1, spoke of the Baptist as “My messenger … before My face”. Consistently following the same line of thought, we may reasonably infer that the morning star was also shining more than thirty years earlier when Zechariah quoted the same scriptural verse – i.e. Malachi 3:1 – at the circumcision of his son, John (Luke 1:76). Even had this appropriate passage not been quoted at the time, Mackinlay suggests (p. 142), “we might have inferred that the herald in the sky would harmoniously have been shining at the birth of the human herald”.
Mackinlay further suggests from his inference that both Our Lord and St. John were born when the morning star was shining, that “both must have been born during the same period of its shining”. [He shows this in his charts]. The Annunciation to Mary was made by the angel Gabriel in the sixth month after the announcement to Zechariah (Luke 1:13, 24, 26); and so it follows that the Baptist was born five to six months before Our Lord. Since Mackinlay’s charts indicate that the periods of shining are separated from each other by intervals of time greater than six months, then both Our Lord and his herald must have been born during the same period of shining.
Consequently Our Lord was born at least five months after the beginning of a period of shining of the morning star.
It will be noticed that some years in Mackinlay’s charts are omitted – this is due simply to lack of space – but no events recorded in the Gospels took place in these omitted years, nor were any of them enrolment (see below) or Sabbath years.
The chart contain both the time scales of seven and eight years as previously discussed – viz. the weeks of years and the octave of years of the cycle of the periods when the morning star was shining. For the sake of simplicity, the periods of the shinings of the evening star are omitted. Also, Mackinlay has inserted the cycle of the enrolments every fourteen years that were enforced by the Roman government throughout the settled areas of its empire. These enrolment years are indicated by ovals marking the years BC 8-7 (tentatively), and also AD 7-8, and AD 21-22. As the first of these enrolments, BC 8-7, was carried out in modified form in Palestine, the outline of the oval is lighter than are those of later years; these years began at about the vernal equinox.

(a) At a Feast of Tabernacles

The Law, we are told by St. Paul, has “a shadow of the good things to come” (Hebrews 10:1). The various ordinances and feasts of the Old Testament, if properly understood, are found, according to Mackinlay, “to refer to and foreshadow many events and doctrines of the New Testament” (p. 143). Again, A. Gordon remarks that: “Many speak slightingly of the types, but they are as accurate as mathematics; they fix the sequence of events in redemption as rigidly as the order of sunrise and noontide is fixed in the heavens” (The Ministry of the Spirit, p. 28). The deductions drawn from Gospel harmonies attest the truth of his statement.
We have already observed that the Sabbath Year began at the Feast of Tabernacles; the great feasts of Passover and Weeks following in due course. Our Lord’s death took place at the Passover (Matthew 27:50), probably, Mackinlay believes, “at the very hour when the paschal lambs were killed”. “Our Passover … has been sacrificed, even Christ” (1 Corinthians 5:7); the great Victim foretold during so many ages by the yearly shedding of blood at that feast. The first Passover at the Exodus was held on the anniversary of the day when the promise – accompanied by sacrifice – was given to Abraham, that his seed would inherit the land of Canaan (Exodus 12:41; Genesis 15:8-18).
Our Lord rose from the dead on the day after the Sabbath after the Passover (John 20:1); the day on which the sheaf of first fruits, promise of the future harvest, was waved before God (Leviticus 23:10, 11). Hence we are told by St. Paul that as “Christ the first-fruits” (1 Corinthians 15:20. 23) rose, so those who believe in him will also rise afterwards. This day was the anniversary of Israel’s crossing through the Red Sea or “Sea of Reeds’ (Exodus 12-14), and, as in the case of the Passover, it was also a date memorable in early history, being the day when the Ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat (Genesis 8:4). The month Nisan, which had been the seventh month, became the first at the Exodus (Exodus 12:2). Thus Our Lord’s Resurrection was heralded by two most beautiful and fitting types, occurring almost – possibly exactly – on the same day of the year; by the renewed earth emerging from the waters of the Flood, and by the redeemed people emerging from the waters of the “Sea of Reeds”.
The next great event of the Christian dispensation, the Descent of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1, 2), occurred at the Feast of Weeks – or Harvest – or Pentecost (Leviticus 23:15, 16). It was during this season that the Law had been given to Moses on Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:1, 10, 11). It is noteworthy, therefore, that the inauguration of the New Covenant took place on the anniversary of the establishment of the Old Covenant; showing that the dispensation of Law was superseded by that of the Holy Spirit (Hebrews 8:7; 2 Corinthians 3:6).
Accordingly, “since there is such manifest deign in the timing of Our Lord’s Death and Resurrection and of the descent of the Holy Spirit”, Mackinlay suggests that “the Nativity may well have occurred at the remaining great Feast of the Lord – at that of Tabernacles, which began the Sabbath Year” (p. 145). Having said this, Mackinlay proceeds to search for any harmonies that there may be between the characteristics of this Feast of Tabernacles and the events recorded in connection with the Nativity. As we have noticed previously, he says (p. 146), there were two great characteristics of the Feast of Tabernacles: 1. Great joy and 2. Living in booths (tents).

1. Great joy.
The Israelites were told at this feast, “You shall rejoice before the Lord your God” (Leviticus 23:40), and “You shall rejoice in your feast … you shall be altogether joyful” (Deuteronomy 16:14, 15). King Solomon dedicated his Temple on a Feast of Tabernacles, and the people afterwards were sent away “joyful and glad of heart” (1 Kings 8:2, 66; 2 Chronicles 7:10).
There was no public rejoicing at the Nativity of Our Lord, however; on the contrary, as Mackinlay notes, “shortly afterwards Herod was troubled and all Jerusalem with him” (Matthew 2:3)”. But though Our Lord was rejected by the majority, we find the characteristic joy of Tabernacles reflected in the expectant and spiritually-minded souls. Before the Nativity both the Virgin Mary and Elizabeth rejoiced in anticipation of it (Luke 1:38, 42, 44, 46, 47). At the Nativity an angel appeared to the shepherds and brought them good tidings of great joy; and then “suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest’.” The shepherds then came to the infant Saviour and returned “glorifying and praising God” (Luke 2:9-20).
Forty days after the Nativity, at the Purification, Simeon, who had been waiting a long time for the consolation of Israel, and the venerable Anna who was a constant worshipper, joined in with their notes of praise and gladness (Luke 2:22-38). And lastly the wise men from the East “rejoiced with exceeding great joy” when they saw the star indicating where the Saviour was, and they came into the house, saw the young Child with his Mother, and presented the gifts that they had brought (Matthew 2:9-11).

2. Living in Booths.
The command given to the Israelites concerning the observance of the Feast of Tabernacles was: “You shall dwell in booths for seven days” (Leviticus 23:42). We also read, “In the feast of the seventh month … all the congregation … made booths, and dwelt in the booths” (Nehemiah 8:14, 17).
According to Mackinlay (pp. 147-148), the living in booths finds a parallel in the language of the Apostle John, when he wrote concerning the Birth of Our Lord, “The Word became flesh, and tabernacled among us” (John 1:14); and Our Lord himself used a somewhat similar figure when he spoke of his body thus “Destroy this Temple, and in three days I shall raise it up” (John 2:19) – words misunderstood by his enemies and afterwards quoted against him (Matthew 26:61; 27:40).
It was at the Feast of Tabernacles that the glory of God filled the Temple that King Solomon had prepared for Him (2 Chronicles 5:3, 13, 14), and it would seem to have been at the beginning or first day of the feast, the fifteenth day of the month. Consequently, in Mackinlay’s opinion (p. 148) “it would appear to be harmonious that the Advent of the Lord Jesus in the body divinely prepared for him (Hebrews 10:5) should also take place at the same feast and most suitably on the first day of its celebration”.
It will be noticed that the glory of God did not cover the tent of meeting when the Israelites were in the wilderness, and did not fill the tabernacle, at the Feast of Tabernacles. But it did so on the first day of the first month of the second year after the departure from Egypt (Exodus 40:17, 34, 35). We must remember that there was no Feast of Tabernacles in the wilderness, nor was the Sabbath Year kept at this stage; but both of these ordinances were to be observed when the Israelites entered into the Promised Land (Exodus 34:22). No agricultural operations were carried out during the forty years of wandering in the wilderness.
As the Feast of Tabernacles inaugurated the Sabbath Year, Mackinlay judged (p. 149) that the glory of God filled the temple on the first day of the feast, “as that would be in harmony with what happened in the tabernacle in the wilderness when the glory of the Lord filled it on the first day of the only style of year then observed”. A. Edersheim, writing about the Feast of Tabernacles, says (The Temple, note on p. 272): “It is remarkable how many allusions to this feast occur in the writings of the prophets, as if its types were the goal of all their desires”.

Having come thus far, we are able - within Mackinlay’s context - to arrive at a still tentative, but very reasonable, conclusion: and this conclusion will later be strengthened very greatly, particularly when we look at the historical facts. Mackinlay at this stage analyses those years, BC 10-5, which are universally accepted as being the only possible ones for the date of Our Lord’s birth, to determine which of them fits the best (p. 150). Since it has been inferred that the Nativity occurred at a Feast of Tabernacles – probably on the first day – and that the morning star had been shining by then for at least five months, a glance at Mackinlay’s chart informs us that the only year within the possible historical limits that satisfies these conditions, in his context, is BC 8.
For we will notice that at the Feast of Tabernacles – say the autumnal equinox – of:

BC 10, the morning star was only just beginning its period.
BC 9, there was no morning star at all.
BC 8, the conditions are satisfied completely.
BC 7, there was no morning star at all.
BC 6, there was no morning star at all.
BC 5, the morning star had been shining only for about four months previously.

According to Mackinlay, the Feast of Tabernacles, BC 8, presents the further harmony that it was specially suited to the occasion, “as it was the first after a Sabbath year, and consequently a specially joyful one”. Thus, he says (pp. 150-151), even if we neglect the consideration of the Morning Star, we still have the Feast of Tabernacles BC 8 indicated for the date of the Nativity by the method of Gospel harmonies with the Sabbath year”.

The Identification of the “Star in the East”

We now come to the difficult and intricate matter of identifying the star that the Magi saw in the East, and that ultimately led them to the place where Christ, his Mother and Joseph were (Matthew 2:1-12). Much has been written about this famous incident, and there have been proposed many varying identifications for the star. It has at various times been identified as a comet; a new star; a conjunction of planets; a supernova. St. Augustine sometimes argued that it was a regular star of the heavens (e.g. in Serm. Epiph.), at other times that it was a new star appearing, for instance in the constellation Virgo (Contra Faustum, Bk. 2, ch. 5 a med.). St. Thomas Aquinas, following Chrysostom, was more inclined to the view that the star of the Nativity was not a regular part of the heavenly system; but was a newly-created star (Summ. Theol. IIIa, q. 36, a. 7). But he did allow for other opinions: viz. that it was an angel or a visible manifestation of the Holy Spirit. He also quoted Pope St. Leo (Serm. de Epiph, 31), who wrote that the star must have been more bright and beautiful than the other stars, for its appearance instantly convinced the Magi that it had an urgent and important meaning.
We know from Scripture that the heavenly bodies were invested by God with a fourfold function: “… for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years” (Genesis 1:14). The point of the “days and years” is obvious. The Hebrew word ‘moed’, translated as “seasons”, is used to indicate something fixed or appointed. When it is used of time, according to Ben Adam (Astrology, p. 49), “it is always a predetermined time – a time in which something predetermined is to happen”. It is never used in Scripture to denote any of the four seasons of the year. Already we have seen how God uses the various heavenly bodies for seasons in this sense, and for signs or symbols.
An understanding and study of God’s purpose and meaning in relation to the lights of the firmament is true astrology, as opposed to the divinely forbidden and foolish astrology that is fatalistic. Dr. E. Bullinger (Witness of the Stars, 1893) has shown that the constellations of the zodiac, when read in the correct (not popular) order, and with their original (not corrupted and later) designations, give us a condensed history of the fulfilment of the divine promise made in the Garden of the coming Deliverer, the seed of the Woman, and the crushing of the serpent’s head (Genesis 3:15). According to Bullinger, this truth of the witness of the stars is told in Psalm 19:1-4: “The heavens are proclaiming the glory of God; and the firmament shows forth the work of his hands .… No speech, no voice, no word is heard, yet their message goes out through all the earth, and their words to the utmost bounds of the habitable world”.
In the sign Virgo, where the true beginning lies for reading the circular zodiac (not in Aries, according modern belief) is the commencement of all prophecy in Genesis 3:15: “I will put enmity between you and the Woman, and between your seed and her seed. She shall crush your head, and you shall lie in wait for her heel”. Later prophecy identifies this Woman as being of the stock of Israel, the seed of Abraham, the line of David; and, further, She is to be a virgin: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Matthew’s inspired adaptation, in 1:23, of Isaiah 7:14).
The first constellation in Virgo is Coma, represented by a woman and child, and meaning “the desired”, or “the longed for”. We have the word used by the Holy Spirit in this very connection, in Haggai 2:7: “The DESIRE of all nations shall come”. Bullinger and others have suggested that it was in all probability the constellation of Coma in which “the Star of Bethlehem” appeared (op. cit., p. 36). He also recalls a traditional prophecy, well-known in the East, “carefully preserved and handed down, that a new star would appear in this sign [i.e. of Coma] when He whom it foretold should be born” (ibid., pp. 36-37).
This, he thought (ibid., p. 37), was doubtless referred to in the prophecy of Balaam the sorcerer, just prior to the entry of the Israelite host into the Promised Land; a prophecy “which would thus receive a double fulfilment, first of the literal “Star”, and also of the person to whom it referred”. Thus God spoke through Balaam (Numbers 24:17):
There shall come forth a star out of Jacob
And a sceptre shall rise out of Israel.

This two-fold repletion of an idea – where the two nouns in the first verse correspond effectively to the two nouns in the second verse (thus ‘star’ to ‘sceptre’, and ‘Jacob’ to ‘Israel’) – so characteristic of Hebrew and Canaanite literature, also points in this case to a two-fold fulfilment of the prophecy. These words were fulfilled in a minimised sense a millennium before Christ, during the reign of David, the sceptre of Israel, and descendant of Jacob. But the prophecy would not be properly and completely fulfilled until the time of the Incarnation and the Birth of the true Messiah, who would be known as the “Son of David”.
But, as Bullinger says (ibid., p. 31), “It is difficult to separate the Virgin and her Seed” in the prophecies. Therefore, the genius of Hebrew expression in allowing for a two-fold interpretation of this particular prophecy, opens the door for the fullest possible meaning to be deduced from these words. As the following words by Pope Pius XII (spoken to the crowds of Fatima on May 13, 1946) would imply, the words of the above prophecy, applicable to Our Lord, also have relationship to his Mother as Co-Redemptrix:

“Jesus is King throughout all eternity by nature and by right of conquest: through Him, with him, and subordinate to him, Mary is Queen by grace, by divine relationship, by right of conquest and by singular election”. (As quoted by Fr. Wm. Most, Mary in Our Life, p. 25).

Matthew (2:1-12) is the only Evangelist to narrate the incident of the star seen by the Magi, leading them to the Christ with his Mother, Mary, in David’s city of Bethlehem. What does Matthew tell us about this star? That the Magi had seen it in the East, calling it “His star”, and that it indicated that He was to be worshipped as King of the Jews (2:2). And, later, that Herod determined from the time when the star first appeared how old the Child was (2:7). Finally, Matthew narrates that the Magi were filled with joy when they saw the star, after their meeting with Herod, and that they followed the star which “went before them, till it came to rest over the place where the Child was” (2:10-11).
Two things are to be noted here. Contrary to popular belief, nowhere at all does Matthew say that the Magi followed the star from their own country to Judaea! He simply says that they saw the star in their own country, “in the East”, and that they came to Jerusalem to worship the King of the Jews. Once there in Jerusalem, they see the star and are filled with joy, and from Jerusalem they follow the star to Bethlehem, and to the very place where the Child is to be found. There the star comes to rest. From this last attestation some Bible-believing astronomers will assert that the star of Bethlehem was entirely miraculous, and was not a known heavenly body (star, planet, comet, nova, or conjunction).
Others have suggested that, because the Magi referred to the star as “His star”, it must have been a new star, created especially for the time of the Nativity. But before we propose our own suggested identification, certain conclusions by way of elimination can be reached already:

1. The star of Bethlehem could not have been a meteor or a meteorite; the life of one is too short.
2. Likewise, the star could not have been a comet or a nova without having attracted world-wide attention. Neither seems to have been present at the time of Our Lord’s Birth; although, according to J. Bjornstad and S. Johnson (Star Signs and Salvation in the Age of Aquarius, p. 60), “there may be an indication from Chinese records that a nova did appear around this time”. Nevertheless, while a comet would appear to move, a nova would not.
3. Perhaps the most popular identification of the star of Bethlehem – because this identification fits the dates proposed today as being most likely for the event of the Nativity – is that it was in fact a conjunction of two or more planets. Kepler (1571-1631) was the first astronomer to point out that three times in BC 7 there were conjunctions of the planets Jupiter and Saturn (now estimated at May 29, September 29, and December 4). These conjunctions occurred in the sign of Pisces (Bullinger, op, cit, p. 39). An event such as this is comparatively rare, happening only about once every one hundred and twenty-five years. A major objection to this particular conjunction, however, is that the two planets never seem to approach one another closer than twice the distance of the moon’s diameter; “therefore they could never have been viewed as a single star” (Bjornstad et al, ibid.). Obviously, then, the difficulty of the ‘star’s’ appearing to be standing over Bethlehem while the Magi were looking on, is a major obstacle to accepting this interpretation.
4. Similarly, early in BC 6, another conjunction – even more unusual – occurred: the conjunction of three planets. This phenomenon happens only about once every eight centuries. At this time Mars, Jupiter and Saturn appeared to approach one another very closely. (Some of the objections mentioned in no. 3 apply here also.

None of these conjunctions, however, occurred in the year BC 8 (Mackinlay’s tentative date for the Birth of Christ). Nor have we found any evidence to support Bullinger’s belief that “His star” - the “Sign of His coming forth from Bethlehem” (op. cit., p. 39) – was “a new star” that appeared in the constellation of Coma (in Virgo). Let us then return to our reliable guide, Mackinlay, to see if he has arrived at a more satisfactory identification of this “star” which would arise “out of Jacob”.
Mackinlay has rightly noted that “it appears to be a principle in miracles to use existing agents in a miraculous way, rather than to create fresh ones” (p. 151). This statement is borne out throughout the Scriptures; for instance, when Joshua wanted light, another sun was not created, but the light of the existing one was employed to the necessary effect (Joshua 10:12); and when Our Lord fed the multitudes, he did not specially create bread, but miraculously multiplied the existing stock. Also, at Fatima in 1917, God worked a miracle of the sun that already shone in the sky; it was not a miraculous new sun that danced above the crowds.
Mackinlay (quoting Alford’s Commentary on the New Testament) remarks that “the expression of the Magi, ‘we have seen his star’, does not seem to point to any miraculous appearance, but to something observed in the course of their watching of the heavens”. This seems natural and probable. Further, as we are told (according to Mackinlay) of a subsequent miraculous change in the star seen by the Magi, and after that again of divine information given to the Magi in a dream, it seems natural to suppose that no miracle at all had happened to the wise men prior to their arrival at Jerusalem, because we are not told of any divine interposition before that time.
Mackinlay also dismisses the suggestion that, because the Magi referred to ‘His star’, it must have been one specially sent for the occasion. This suggestion, he says (p. 152), “can have no weight, because when Christ was speaking of God the Father in the Sermon on the Mount He said, “He maketh His Sun to rise on the evil and the good” (Matthew 5:45). As the ordinary great luminary is certainly intended in this passage, it must follow that the expression “His Star” may refer to one of the well-now orbs of heaven”.
With reference to the suggestion by Kepler and other astronomers that the star of Bethlehem was a conjunction of planets, Mackinlay notes that “the appearances at conjunctions depend on the positions of two or more stars, and they are changing from night to night”. We have no account of “stars”, he adds (p. 153), “nor of any special alteration until the marvellous change when the single Star moved in front of the Magi and led them on their way from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, and no appearance at a conjunction of planets could explain that wondrous movement”.

What were the characteristics of the star seen by the Magi?

(1) Twice it was mentioned specially as being seen “in the East” (Matthew 2:2, 9), inferentially it was not also to be seen in the South and West as are the other stars.
(2) It had been visible for some considerable period; the wise men doubtlessly had seen it in their own country, from which the journey might involve weeks, possibly months, of travel. That it had appeared for some considerable time is inferred also from Herod’s question, as to “what time the star appeared” (Matthew 2:7), and from his subsequent action in fixing on the maximum age of the infants to be murdered “from two years old and under, according to the time which he had carefully learned of the wise men” (Matthew 2:16).

“What ordinary celestial body bears the characteristics we have just referred to”?, Mackinlay asks (p. 154). “Surely the reply must be the Morning Star, which is only seen in the East, and which shines continuously at the end of each night for a period of about nine lunar months in the latitude of Palestine, an object which the Magi must have observed over and over again in the course of their watching of the heavens”.
Modern writers, he adds, have failed to make this identification, most probably because of the very small importance that is now attached to the morning star. But, as we saw in Chapter One, the herald of dawn was a very familiar object indeed to the Easterners in biblical times. By imagining oneself in the position of an ancient Jew, it seems highly probable that any mention of a star in the East would suggest to the mind the most familiar of all stars, so often watched for before dawn, and seen only in the eastern quarter of the heavens.
Early Christian writers speak of this star’s “surpassing brightness” (see Bullinger , op. cit., p. 39). St. Ignatius of Antioch, of the C1st AD, says that “at the appearance of the Lord a star shone forth brighter than all the other stars”. Even these descriptions admirably fit the planet Venus. Professor A. Roy notes that “Venus, in fact, at its brightest, is very much brighter than Sirius. Apart from the Sun and Moon, there is no brighter object in the heavens. Of course, there are times when it is invisible – when it goes behind the Sun, for example – but Venus can be so bright at night that it can actually cause an object to throw a shadow. It can also be seen with the unaided eye during daylight. But of course, it is always a morning or an evening object. Because it is never seen far, angularwise, from the Sun” (“The Astronomical Basis of Egyptian Chronology”, SIS Review, Vol. VI, #’s 1-3, p. 55).
It is said that the morning star, or any other star for that matter, could not have moved from the East so as to go before the Magi to Bethlehem, until it came to rest over the place where the Child was. Firstly, nowhere does St. Matthew say that the star came from the East. As we shall discover further on, the Magi left their eastern home at a time when the morning star had – or was about to have – come to the end of its period of shining. What we should like to suggest is the following reconstruction:

The Magi had seen the morning star shining for its full period during that year of the Nativity, in the East. But they had to delay their trip to Jerusalem until the appropriate season for travelling arose, and after the necessary preparations had been made (more on this later).
They travelled westwards, in faith, leaving the diminishing morning star behind them.
They did not see the planet Venus again until after their interview with Herod. Since Herod “summoned the wise men secretly” (Matthew 2:7), it is fairly safe to say that it was night time. The star re-appeared now as the evening star, in the western sky.
This is all very appropriate. Our Lord’s Birth in the stable, heralded by the shining of the bright morning star, was a time of great joy. But by the time of the Magi’s arrival, when the Holy Family was by then dwelling in a “house” (Matthew 2:11) in Bethlehem, a sinister element had entered in. Herod and all Jerusalem with him were troubled at the news of the Magi, and soon Herod would order the murder of all the male children up to two years of age – according to Greswell (Dissertations Upon a Harmony of the Gospels Vol. 2, p. 36), the Jews reckoned that a child who had completed one month of his second year would be reckoned as being two years old. Though the Magi “rejoiced exceedingly with great joy” (Matthew 2:10) when they saw the star again, not aware of Herod’s treachery, its brightness appropriately by now was enshrouded by the darkness of night.

It was only then, at the re-appearance of the star this time in the western sky – as we think – that God may have effected a miracle upon it; causing it to go before the Magi. We have a modern C20th example of the Miracle of the Sun at Fatima (October 13, 1917). The sun began to spin and to hurtle towards the earth. In the case of the Magi, the evening star may also have appeared to have left its normal place in the sky, and to descend near to the earth (unless it was just simply a case of the Magi’s heading towards the Star and providentially coming upon the house where the Holy Family was now dwelling). In both cases, the miracle may have been seen only locally, not world-wide.
It would not be so surprising that the planet Venus should bow down in homage above the infant Saviour. Even the Patriarch Joseph dreamed that the sun, moon and stars bowed down before him; how much more for Jesus Christ!
If we accept Mackinlay’s conclusion arrived at from Gospel harmonies that the morning star was actually shining at the time of the Nativity, the probability that it was identical with the star in the East seen by the Magi is evidently increased greatly. It seems that we can no longer escape this identification of the star of Bethlehem with the planet Venus.

As before, we are taking it for granted that we need only to investigate (according to Mackinlay’s context) the period BC 10-5. We now accept that the star in the East and the planet Venus were the same. How shall we be helped in finding the date of the Nativity?
Whether we consider that the maximum age of the murdered infants was thirteen months or twenty-four months, each considerably exceeds the nine months’ period of shining of the morning star. But this is not surprising as, according to one commentator (“The Speaker’s Commentary on Matthew”, 2:16), “it is at least certain that a man of his [Herod’s] ferocious disposition would not hesitate to take the widest possible range of time, in order to accomplish his purpose more thoroughly”. Something of Herod’s savage, warped nature can be seen from the provisions that he made when his death drew near. W. Barclay tells (The Daily Study Bible, “Matthew”, p. 29) that Herod, when he was seventy, knew that he must die. He retired to Jericho, giving orders that a collection of the most distinguished citizens of Jerusalem should be arrested on trumped-up charges and imprisoned. And he ordered that the moment he died, they should all be killed. He said grimly that he as well aware that no one would mourn for his death, and that he was determined that some tears should be shed when he died.
Barclay goes on to say that it is clear how such a man would feel when news reached him that a child was born who was destined to be king. Herod was troubled, and Jerusalem was troubled, too, for Jerusalem well knew the steps that Herod would take to pin down this story and to eliminate this child. “Jerusalem knew Herod, and Jerusalem shivered as it waited for his inevitable reaction”.
There was in the world at this time a strange feeling of expectation of the coming of a king. Even the Roman historians (supposedly, and at least according to a conventional view of things) knew about this, it seems. Not so very much later than this, Suetonius could write, “There has spread over all the Orient an old and established belief, that it was fated at that time for men coming from Judaea to rule the world” (Life of Vespasian, 4:5). Tacitus tells of the same belief that “there was a firm persuasion … that at this very time the East was to grow powerful, and rulers coming from Judaea were to acquire a universal empire” (Histories, 5:13). The Jews themselves had the belief that “about that time one from their country should become governor of the habitable earth” (Josephus, Wars of the Jews, 6:5, 4). Later we shall advance some reasons as to why the King of the Jews was expected by various peoples precisely at this time.
Since the maximum age fixed by Herod was very high, we may conclude that the morning star had been shining for its full period, and that, by the time the Magi had reached Jerusalem it had well and truly disappeared from the eastern sky, and was shining as the evening star in the western sky.

The Magi would not travel in hot weather
Mackinlay provides another chart at this point.
The atmospheric conditions and the keenness of the observer’s vision would prevent one from giving the precise day in each month of the appearance and the disappearance of the morning star, but the chart is sufficiently exact for Mackinlay’s purposes.
A couple of months seems to be a reasonable estimate for the time occupied by the wise men on their journey, so Mackinlay thinks (p. 158), and it is probable that they would not travel in hot weather, “as caravan journeys to Palestine were not made at that season of the year”. Hence, in order to select the particular period of the shining of the morning star which contained the Nativity, he says, “we must select one whose termination fell between the end of December and April, in order to allow of a previous two months’ journey in cool weather”. Evidently (according to his chart), the periods of the morning star ending May, (his BC 9) and July (his BC 6), must be rejected, because the termination of the period of shining of the morning star is not contained in the period December to April – the cool season in the northern hemisphere – in either year. Also, the years BC 10, 7 and 5 must be rejected, because none of them contains a termination of a period of the morning star.
As Mackinlay concludes from this: “The period of shining ending December, BC 8, satisfies the conditions perfectly” (p. 159).

The Magi came only a few months after the Nativity
We may reason perhaps that the Magi could have arrived in May, BC 9 for that would have involved heat only at the very end of the journey, which could have been borne. We find, however, other reasons which negative this time for their arrival.
Lewin (as quoted by Mackinlay, ibid.) has shown that the Nativity must have been in hot weather, which ends in Palestine during October. Sheep are folded securely in winter at night for protection, as they will feed during the day at that season of the year; but in the summer and early autumn, sheep will not eat during the heat of the day, so they have to be left to graze in the open at night guarded by shepherds (Luke 2:8). Thus the Rev. Thomas Maddock, whom we met in our Introduction, was right insofar as he described as “really too much to believe” the assertion that the shepherds were sitting “on the cold, frozen ground – in mid-winter - watching their sheep”. But he was quite wrong in attributing this ridiculous image to St. Luke, and in casting aspersion on the reliability of St. Luke’s narrative of the Nativity of Our Lord.
If the Magi arrived in May (Mackinlay’s BC 9), the Nativity could not have been later than the middle of April, because the Purification – which was forty days after birth – (Leviticus 12:2-4; Luke 2:22) – came before the visit of the Magi, as the Holy Family fled to Egypt immediately after the wise men had seen them (Matthew 2:13, 14).
Spring weather in the uplands of Judaea is somewhat uncertain, but it is not hot before May, for Dr. Jessup of Beirut states (as quoted by Mackinlay, p. 160) that his son was snowed up for two days in Bethel on the 10th of April, in 1886. Hence the Nativity could not have occurred in the year BC 9, but if the Magi paid their visit in May of that year, the Nativity must have been sometime in the hot weather of the previous year, BC 10 (Mackinlay’s estimate), when the morning star was shining, i.e. between August and October.
Supposing then the Nativity to have been in October, BC 10, we have an interval of seven months between the Nativity and the Magi’s visit. This long period is most unlikely, according to Mackinlay (pp. 160-161), “as the wise men would doubtless come as soon as they could, and they would not have allowed the cold months suitable for travel to slip away”. Also if the Nativity were in BC 10, the heralding given by the morning star could not have been much more than two months, “which is not so stately or so suitable as the seven months possible, if the Nativity were in BC 8” (p. 161).
Hence Mackinlay concludes that this line of investigation indicates the autumn of BC 8 for the Nativity, for we have seen that it took place in hot weather; the Magi most probably made their journey in cool weather, and it is not unlikely that the Nativity and the arrival of the Magi were more than a very few months apart.

The Date of the Nativity Determined by Historical Methods
We have already concluded that Jesus Christ could not have been born on December 25th, the day in the year that we now observe for Him. It is not calculated according to the soli-lunar method of the Jews – as is our Easter – so even if at times it did agree with the Jewish anniversary, it could not generally be correct, as the 25th of December falls on different days of the lunar month in different years. Jewish anniversaries took place with relation to the same phase of the moon, as for instance the killing of the Passover and the first day of Tabernacles were each just about at full moon.
But the conclusive argument against December 25th is that of Lewin’s about the sheep being in the open. Historians agree that our present Christmas Day, December 25th, was not adopted as the birthday of Jesus Christ until after AD 300; that day had probably been devoted previously, as Sir Isaac Newton suggests (On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity, as referred to by Mackinlay pp. 162-163), to some form of Sun-worship connected with the winter solstice. When Christianity was made the state religion of the Roman world, the old winter festival received a Christian name.

(a) The Nativity was between BC 10 and BC 5 [Mackinlay’s context]
It is universally accepted by all who hold the Scriptures to be reliable that the Nativity could not have been before 10 BC, because, on any of the generally recorded dates for the Crucifixion, that would involve a considerably greater age than thirty years for when Our Lord began his ministry; and we are told by St. Luke (3:23) that He was then only “about thirty years of age”.
Joseph states (Antiquities, Bk. 17, ch, 6, 4) that when king Herod was in a dying state, he ordered the high-priest to be burned to death; he also records that this dreadful event was carried out, and that there was an eclipse of the moon on the same night. Josephus adds further that Herod died very soon afterwards, and just before the Passover [of BC 4]. This record is strongly confirmed, so Mackinlay thinks, by the fact that it has been calculated that an eclipse of the moon – about one fourteenth eclipsed – visible at Jerusalem, had actually occurred on the night of the 12th-13th of March, BC 4 at about 3 A.M., which was just four weeks before the following Passover.
Hence we may regard it as being practically certain, according to Mackinlay, that Herod died (Matthew 2:19) shortly before the 10th of April, which was the date of the Paschal full moon in the year BC 4. The Nativity must have taken place at least three and a half months before that date, according to Mackinlay’s assessment (p. 164), and “consequently not later than the end of the year BC 5”; because the Holy Family was at Bethlehem for forty days after the Nativity, they went up to Jerusalem for the Purification (Leviticus 12:2-4; Luke 2:22), returned to Bethlehem, received the visit of the Magi, departed into Egypt and remained there until Herod was dead (Matthew 2:11, 13, 15, 19) – “all of these events must have occupied more than three and a half months” .

(b) The special rule of Quirinius in Syria
It is well known from historical sources that the Roman enrolment in Syria was held in BC 8-7, and it is well established too that Sentius Saturninus ruled that county from BC 9 – a few scholars though prefer BC 8 – to BC 7, and that he was succeeded at once by Quinctilius Varus, who ruled until BC 4.
St. Luke, however, records that Quirinius was governor of Syria (Luke 2:2) at the time of the enrolment, when the Nativity occurred. This apparent discrepancy between the scriptural record and ordinary historical data presented an insuperable difficulty to commentators until Professor Sir William Ramsay managed to undo the knot and demonstrate the truth of St. Luke’s statement. Hostile critics had often called into question the historical reliability of St. Luke’s account of the census; and still do, apparently, as witness Fr. Jerome Murphy-O’Connor’s remark at Christmas 1987 (see our Introduction) on this very point. Critics such as these suppose that the Evangelist confused the enrolment at the Nativity with the next one, fourteen years later, when it is well known that Quirinius ruled in Syria in the ordinary manner.
The critics had no read St. Luke attentively, to find out exactly what he had said about the census – or perhaps they had noticed, but chose to brush aside his testimony. St. Luke clearly states that the enrolment at the time of the Nativity was the first: “This was the first enrolment, when Quirinius was governor of Syria” (Luke 2:2).
Quirinius undoubtedly twice ruled in Syria; the exact date of his first term of office is uncertain, but Ramsay brings evidence, chiefly from an inscription discovered during recent years, that it was a short term, contained within the period from [Mackinlay’s estimate] about BC 8 to BC 5 (Was Christ Born in Bethlehem?, pp. 149, 185, 237 & 241), when he was engaged as a direct envoy of the Emperor Augustus in waging war, for imperial purposes, against tribes on the borders of Syria. In virtue of his position, Quirinius would rank above the ordinary ruler, who carried on his usual duties in the internal government of the country at the same time, but subordinate to Quirinius. Professor Ramsay gives instances of similar arrangements in other periods of Roman history, and so he infers that this was the accepted procedure under the special circumstances of a frontier war.
From this imperial point of view, which St. Luke, a Greek, always took in his writings, Quirinius would be described as being the governor; from a provincial point of view the ordinary governor would be mentioned as ruling. Dating by the period of governing of the general-in-command of the frontier expedition would be more accurate than dating by the reign of the ordinary ruler, as the former only exercised his functions for the short time of the war’s duration.
Ramsay notes (ibid., pp. 229, 245) that the Greek word used in Luke 2:2, and translated as “was governor”, is most suitable to describe the special authority wielded by Quirinius at that time.

(c) Tertullian’s Testimony
Tertullian stated quite distinctly that the enrolment in Palestine during which the Nativity occurred was when Sentius Saturninus ruled in Syria (Tertullian, as referred to by Mackinlay p. 167). Saturninus is known to have governed from BC 9 (conventional dating) – possibly from BC8 to BC 7. Tertullian’s testimony, however, has generally been regarded as being untrustworthy, because it seemed to contradict St. Luke’s statement that the Nativity took place when Quirinius was governor of Syria.
In view, however, of the fact that, under the special circumstances prevailing at the time, it was quite in accord with Roman usage to describe both Quirinius and Saturninus as ruling – each in his own manner – at the same time, there is every reason to accept the testimony of Tertullian, that Saturninus really was the regular governor of Syria at the time of the Nativity.

(d) The First Enrolment was in BC 8
We have already alluded to the fourteen years’ cycle of the Roman enrolments; they began to attract attention when some of the actual documents which had been used for that purpose at the enrolments of AD 20 and subsequently, were found on some Egyptian rubbish heaps. Mackinlay tells that they are headed ‘apographe’, the very same Greek word used in Luke 2:1, 2 (p. 168).
Though, as Mackinlay further says, it cannot be certainly inferred from the wording of St. Luke (1:1, 2), that the enumeration in Palestine took place at the same time as that in Syria – spring BC 8 to spring BC 7 – “there is great probability that it was so”. A good administrator like Caesar Augustus would naturally desire to enrol all the subjects of his dominion during the same year, rather than in different years in different districts; as the former method would be far more useful for purposes of reference at any future time.
Although the method of the first enrolment in Palestine differed from the ordinary Roman procedure, it does not follow at all that it also differed from others with regard to the year in which it took place. “The prima facie supposition must be”, according to Mackinlay, (p. 169), “that the enrolments in Syria and Palestine took place in the same year, and there is no evidence against it”.
The usual Roman procedure was for each individual to register wherever he happened to live, and at any time of the given year; whereas at the first enrolment held in Palestine, each Jew was ordered to visit his own city, and a definite time evidently was fixed. Consequently, since in this case the choice of date was not left to individuals, the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph would not have had the same luxury as had the Magi of travelling in cool weather.
Ramsay further informs us that the state of affairs at this time, about BC 8 to 6, was as follows: King Herod exercised very great governmental power, though he was of course subordinate to the Emperor Augustus. The ruling of the country had not been assimilated to accord with the more settled portions of the Empire, and in the ordinary course of events it seems probable that no enrolment at all would have taken place in Palestine at that time. However, King Herod had waged war on some of the neighbouring tribes, without first having obtained the consent of Augustus, who was so angry at this independent action, that he stated that he would no longer treat Herod as a friend, but as a subject (Josephus, Antiquities, Bk. 16, ch. 9, 3).
A special envoy was sent by Herod to Rome; although the subject of his despatch is not known, it would seem probable that Augustus insisted on immediate compliance, in order to mark his displeasure and to assert hid authority; and that Herod, wishing to win back the Emperor’s favour, endeavoured to meet his master’s wishes as soon as possible. Herod doubtlessly had a very difficult task to perform in carrying out this Roman edict, hence we have a probable explanation of the special methods that he employed for the first Palestinian enrolment – “methods which must have been intended to make the new law palatable to the tribal patriotism and to the religious convictions of his turbulent subjects” (Mackinlay pp. 170-171, referring to Ramsay, op. cit.).
Since we have learned that the Nativity must have occurred before the end of October, as sheep were then in the open at night, and since the enrolment year began about April, we see that this line of investigation indicates that the Nativity took place between April and October, BC 8.
Sir William Ramsay states (according to Mackinlay, p. 171) that the day for the enrolment was evidently fixed beforehand by the authorities, who would naturally choose a time which would not interfere with the agricultural operations. The harvest and vintage, for instance, were not completed until August; the enrolment therefore would be after that date. Already we have seen that the Nativity must have occurred before the end of the hot weather, which finished in October. The operations of ploughing and sowing in the late autumn, and the difficulties of travel over the Judaean hills in winter, would also negate the choice of those seasons for the enumeration.

(e) The First Enrolment was at the Feast of Tabernacles
We recall that all male Israelites were ordered to be present at Jerusalem three times a year – at the Feasts of Passover, Harvest and Tabernacles – at spring, early summer and autumn respectively (Deuteronomy 16:16). Consequently, Jerusalem and its neighbourhood were crowded regularly three times a year, especially at longer feasts of Passover and Tabernacles. Bethlehem, being only six miles distant from the Judaean capital, must also have been crowded at each feast, and accordingly the city of David was provided with public accommodation for visitors (Luke 2:7).
Probably, as Mackinlay suggests (p. 172) the enrolment would not bring so many to Bethlehem as would the great feasts, “and as the visitors who came to enter their names belonged to the town, they would be sure to find relatives, with whom many of them would lodge”.
Hence it is difficult to imagine how the inn could have been full under such circumstances alone. But it is quite easy to understand the crowding if we suppose that the enumeration took place on one of the days of the Feast of Tabernacles – which falls just in the middle of the period indicated by Ramsay. Although other Jews would be enrolling themselves in their own towns on the census day, the feast would certainly bring numbers of non-Jewish tradesmen and others to Bethlehem, in view of the large numbers arriving at Jerusalem for the great feast. Mackinlay thinks that (p. 173) “it seems probable that the non-Jewish population of Palestine enrolled on any day in the year, according to the usual Roman plan”.
We have already concluded that the enrolment day was before August; the feasts of Passover and Harvest are therefore excluded. Those times are barred for other reasons also: for the Nativity could not have taken place at the Passover, as the weather then is cool, and sheep are folded at night. Neither could it have been at the Feast of Harvest, for in that case the Magi, who paid their visit at least forty days after the Nativity (since the Purification intervened) could not have arrived before the end of June – it is hardly likely that a caravan journey from the East would be timed to arrive at so hot a season of the year.
Although the Feast of Harvest was one of the three great feasts on the Jewish calendar, it apparently as not so important as Passover and Tabernacles; for, as Mackinlay notes (p. 174), in Ezekiel (45:21-25) the two greater feasts are alluded to in some detail, but the Feast of Harvest is not mentioned at all; it lasted only a day (Acts 2:1), and the people were busy at that time of year. Consequently the crowding could not have been so great at that time, as at the two other, longer feasts.
Mackinlay thinks that Herod would naturally have wished for the Jews to enrol willingly. By linking the enrolment with one of their visits to Jerusalem for religious purposes, there would be no fourth interruption of home routine during the year. The first day of the feast would be the best, as the Jews would not have had the opportunity to meet each other beforehand and complain about the order. The joyful Feast of Tabernacles would be by far the best one to select, for the people would then have gathered in all the harvest and vintage, and they would have been in a contented frame of mind.
As the Feast of Tabernacles lasted for seven days, with a solemn assembly on the eighth day, and as attendance at Jerusalem was not compulsory during the whole period (John 7:8), this arrangement could easily have been made by Herod.
The date of the enrolment day was also of course that of the Nativity.
We thus find that our three practically independent lines of investigation, which we may designate:-

(1) The method of Gospel harmonies;
(2) The physical method from the Star in the East, and
(3) The historical method;

all agree in indicating the autumn of BC 8 [Mackinlay’s estimate] as being the date of the Nativity, and two of these methods point out the Feast of Tabernacles - and most probably the first day of that feast, or the 20th of September according to Mackinlay’s reckoning – as being the very day of the Our Lord’s birth.

Chapter Four: “Cut off” … “In the midst of my days”

In endeavouring to fix the date of Our Lord’s Nativity and his Crucifixion, we have already referred to some of the major events in the Gospel narratives; and these we shall now proceed to examine in fuller details. These dates readily fall into their places, as most of them depend directly on either that of Our Lord’s birth, or that of his death.
Let us consider first of all those dates dependent on that of the Nativity, which we assume to have occurred on some day near the autumnal equinox of BC 8. These are the early Gospel events, the narrative of which – as recorded by the Evangelists – we now examine (Mackinlay has provide a chart to facilitate this).

(a) Announcement to Zechariah
The announcement by the angel to Zechariah, that his son John would be born in order to “turn many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God, and he shall go before his face in the spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:16, 17), referred to the prophecies in Malachi 3:1 and 4:2, 5, 6; and thus early notice was given of the future important heralding duties of the yet unborn prophet under the figure of the morning star. Mackinlay said (pp. 186-187) that this announcement “must have been given about or just after midsummer BC 9, for it was five to six months before” the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary (Luke 1:24-26). The Annunciation, in turn, “was some forty weeks or nine and a half lunar months before the Nativity” (p. 187).
Thus it is seen that the announcement of the birth of St. John the Baptist was in the Sabbath Year, while the birth itself occurred in the following year. Accordingly, Mackinlay commented that “it seems fitting that the prophet, who may be said to be the link between the two dispensations, should have been announced on the Sabbath year, which spoke of the old covenant, and that his birth took place on the first one of the new week of years, which may be said to have prefigured the new dispensation”. As neither John the Baptist nor Our Lord were yet born, we notice that, appropriately, the morning star was not shining.

(a) Annunciation to Mary
St. Paul urges the Colossians to let no one pass judgment on them (Colossians 2:16, 17) “with regard to a festival or a new Moon or a Sabbath. These”, he said “are only a shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ’. With Mackinlay’s help, we have seen how the feasts and Sabbaths were mere shadows; for the Feast of Passover refers to Christ our Passover (1 Corinthians 5:7), that of Harvest to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2:1, 2), and we have already had plenty to say - and we shall be saying yet more - about the Feast of Tabernacles. Finally, the Sabbath speaks of the rest which “remains … for the people of God” (Hebrews 4:9), and Our Lord applied to himself the title of “Lord of the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:8).
But, as Mackinlay asks (p. 188), in what way can a new Moon – which was observed as a holy day resembling the Sabbath (for burnt-offerings were offered [Nehemiah 10:33], and the sale of food was prohibited on each [Amos 8:5]) – be said to be a shadow of things to come, or of Christ? Is there any reply from Scripture?
As we saw, the Annunciation was forty weeks, or 280 days, before Our Lord’s birth; 280 days contain nine complete lunations with fourteen and a half days over. Counting backwards from the Nativity – which, we have concluded, was on the first day of the Feast of Tabernacles, the 20th September [BC 8, Mackinlay’s estimate] – we find that 280 days conducts us to about the middle of December, or to the first day of the ninth month of the previous year [BC 9]. According to Mackinlay, this was “a new Moon”. Thus, he concluded (p. 189), the Annunciation “may therefore well have been on the holy day of a new Moon”.
Further on we shall see, to, that Our Lord’s Baptism was very probably at a new moon. Mackinlay suggests here that the existence of harmonies such as these is just what we should expect, “for we are told at he very beginning of Scripture (Genesis 1:14) that the lights of the firmament of the heaven are to be for “signs” as well as for “seasons, and for days, and years”.
As the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary was in December, the season of the year for sowing in Palestine, Mackinlay thought that a pictorial representation of the Annunciation would “fittingly contain a figure of a sower engaged in his work as the evening sky first revealed the thin faint crescent of the new Moon, which marked the beginning of the Hebrew day and of the Hebrew month” (pp. 189-190). Moreover, as one finds from Mackinlay’s charts, December [of BC 9] was a specially important time of sowing, since it was the first after the cessation of the Sabbath Year (Leviticus 25:22). And so, “the ground, undisturbed for two years”, may be said – in the words of Mackinlay (p. 189) – “to have reverted to the condition of virgin soil”.
The wondrous Divine beginning on the first year of a week of years, Mackinlay added (p. 190), “would then be represented as figured in the heavens by the new Moon and on earth unconsciously by the sower – each signifying a new beginning”. If we are right in considering that the appearance of the moon was for a sign, “may there not be a fitness in the fact that Christ was born, as we have concluded, and also that He died, at a full moon?” In relation to this, Mackinlay quotes the words of St. Paul: “When the fullness of time came, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law” (Galatians 4:4 5).
We shall give inferences for supposing that the first manifestation of Our Lord’s glory (John 2:11); his first public assertion of himself (Luke 4:16-19); the first time when great blessing to the Gentiles was proclaimed through him (Matthew 12:18-21, 50); and the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:2), all took place also on, or near to, the first day of the same feast and consequently at, or near to, a full moon. “A certain fulness of time had come on each occasion” (p. 191).
Fittingly, according to Mackinlay, the morning star was not visible at the Annunciation.

(b) Pre-natal witness
When Elizabeth heard Our Lady at the Visitation, “the babe leaped in her womb” (Luke 1:41). Herself filled with the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth exclaimed with a loud cry: “Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb! And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the babe in my womb leaped for joy” (Luke 1:42-44). This silent, pre-natal witness of St. John the Baptist came within a few days of the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary.
Mackinlay suggests that, as St. John the Baptist was yet unborn “it was appropriate that the Morning Star should not yet be shining, but that it should be about to appear shortly” (as his chart shows to have actually been the case).

(c) Birth of St. John the Baptist
The Baptist’s birth (Luke 1:57) must have been during the month immediately following the Passover, since he was born five to six months before Our Lord (Luke 1:24-26). Accordingly, St. John was born at about the same season of the year as that at which he died, since we know that his death was close to Passover [AD 28], when the miracle of feeding the five thousand took place (Matthew 14:10, 14-21; John 6:4-13). Both his birth and his death occurred therefore at times of scarcity just before harvests; the scarcity being intensified further on each occasion – due to the fact that it was just after a Sabbath Year each time.
Mackinlay suggests (p. 192) that these evidently were “very appropriate and significant occasions for both the birth and death of the ascetic prophet who was said to come “neither eating nor drinking” (Matthew 11:18)”. The life of the Baptist, he added, “was just contained within five weeks of years, and he was literally taken away in the midst of his days” (see Psalms 90:10 and 102:24).
The reference of the angel (Luke 1:17) some months before to St. John as being one who “shall go before” the face of the Lord (Malachi 3:1) had evidently made a deep impression on Zechariah, since we find that, at the circumcision of his son, he again refers to the same Scripture (Luke 1:76); and he makes it perfectly clear – as we have noted previously – that the figure of the morning star is implied, because in the same sentence (verse 78) he speaks of the coming of Christ as the “Dayspring” (or “Sunrising”) “who shall visit us”.
As we already noted, too, the morning star, the herald in the sky, was appropriately shining when the human herald was born.

(d) Nativity of Our Lord
The harmony caused by the birth of Our Lord being at a Feast of Tabernacles is increased greatly – as we have seen – by the fact of its occurrence at a Feast of Tabernacles that was twelve months after the end of a Sabbath Year, as that must have been a specially joyful time. Then, all the fruits of the earth would have been safely gathered and stored, just after the period of hardship and want in the months immediately preceding the harvest. As Mackinlay has noted (p. 193), the contrast drawn between the characters of St. John the Baptist and Our Lord – “John came neither eating nor drinking …. The Son of Man came eating and drinking” (Matthew 11:18, 19) – “is parallel with the contrast between the conditions of the times at their respective births”. For St. John, “being five to six months older than Christ, was born at the time of want just before the much-needed harvest on the first year after the Sabbath”
We may notice a harmony between the births of the Baptist and Our Lord, and between the beginnings of their respective ministries. For St. John was born – as we saw – in the month after Passover [BC 8], and he began his ministry at about the same season, [AD 25]; Our Lord was born at the Feast of Tabernacles [BC 8], and we shall infer later that he was manifested publicly, and that he began his ministry at that same feast [AD 25].
At first sight it may look as if St. John the Baptist began his ministry later in the year than the anniversary of his birth, which we have concluded took place at a time of want before harvest. When he began his ministry his figures of speech refer to fruit-bearing, making useless tress to be cut down, and also to threshing (Matthew 3:8, 10,12). However, as Mackinlay explains (p. 194), the Baptist began to preach “in all the region about Jordan” (Luke 3:3) – “a deep natural depression in the earth where the harvest is naturally early, because the climate is subtropical; but the Baptist was born in the bleak hill country of Judaea (Luke 1:39, 57, 65), where all crops are much later”. Passover [AD 25], according to the Jewish calendar, fell about a week later in the season than in [BC 8]. Consequently, as Mackinlay concludes (pp. 194-195), “it is highly probable that the Baptist began both his life and his ministry in the first month after Passover”.

(e) Purification
The infant Christ was brought to the Temple by his mother and Joseph at the Purification (Luke 2:22), forty days after the Nativity (Leviticus 12:2-4). On that occasion the elderly Simeon and Anna worshipped and gave thanks. Holy Simeon (Luke 2:32) stated that the Christ-Child was “a Light for revelation to the Gentiles”, an appropriate intimation of the coming visit of the Magi from the East, Mackinlay thinks. These words, “a Light for revelation to the Gentiles”, appears to refer back also to certain passages of the prophet Isaiah. Thus in Isaiah 9:2 we have: “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great Light; they that dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, on them has Light shined”.
In Isaiah 49:6 – see also Acts 13:47 – “a Light to the Gentiles” is associated with salvation which reaches to the end of the earth. And, as the light of the sun reaches to the end of the earth more efficiently than any other, it seems evident that the Light in this case refers to the sun.
In Isaiah 60:2, 3, “darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you … nations shall come to thy light and kings to the brightness of thy rising”, the figure of the rising sun again, evidently, is intended. Thus the Messiah is spoken of even early in his life under the figure of the sun. We have noted previously that the Baptist was spoken of under the figure of the morning star, before his birth (Luke 1:16, 17), and on the later occasion just after his birth (Luke 1:76). On this second occasion, Our Lord was referred to as the coming sun, carrying on the similes previously used in Malachi 3:1 and 4:2 – “so consistent and persistent are the figures of Christ and the Baptist to the Sun and to the Morning Star respectively in so many different parts of the Scripture!” (p. 197).
The heralding star was visible still in the early morning sky at the Purification.

(f) Visit of the Magi
The visit of the Magi (Matthew 2:11) – as we saw – most probably took place towards the very end of the period of the morning star’s shining. On reference to Mackinlay’s charts we find, from the conclusion at which we have arrived, that the visit of the Magi was at about the latter part of December [BC 8]. Thus, according to Mackinlay, “at the age of three months” Our Lord escaped death at the hands of a cruel king, who ordered the destruction of all infant boys in Jesus’ neighbourhood; which reminds us of Moses who escaped “an exactly similar fate at just the same age” (Exodus 1:16; 2:2, 3, 6).
The crowding that occurred at the inn at the time of the Nativity was not likely to continue until the end of the forty days when Purification was made. And reference to the text of St. Matthew (2:11) reveals that the situation for the Holy Family had changed; for the Magi went into the house, there is no longer any menton of the manger, where the shepherds had found the Child (Luke 2:16) several weeks before.

(g) Flight to Egypt
The flight into Egypt (Matthew 2:13, 14) took place immediately after the departure of the Magi. Very appropriately, according to our interpretation, the morning star had by then well and truly disappeared, and, instead, the planet Venus was clothed in more sombre garb, as evening star. We have intimated that the morning star had already completed its period of shining.

(h) Slaughter of the Innocents
The slaughter of the innocents in Bethlehem (Mathew 2:16) took place at once, just after the departure of the Holy Family into Egypt, some three months after the Nativity.

(i) Death of Herod
According to reliable historical data already referred to, Herod’s death (Matthew 2:19) took place just before Passover BC 4 (conventional dating).
Some, like Farrar (The Life of Christ, p. 24), have imagined that Herod died very shortly after the murder of the Innocents, but Mackinlay thinks that there is no confirmation of this supposition. His inferences have pointed, on the contrary, to an interval of about three and a quarter years between the two events, and no evidence, he says, can be brought to contradict this estimate.

(j) Return from Egypt
The narrative seems to imply that the return of the Holy Family from Egypt did not take place immediately after the death of Herod (Matthew 2:15) – probably the situation did not alter suddenly – and that others beside Herod had sought the young Child’s life; for it was not until they were dead (Matthew 2:2) that an angel of the Lord appeared to St. Joseph in a dream warning him, so that he went to Nazareth in Galilee (Matthew 2:22, 23).
We are not told at which time of year the return took place. At first sight, Mackinlay say (pp. 200-201), the Feast of Tabernacles might appear to be suitable; as we have concluded that that was the time of year both of Our Lord’s entry into this world and – as we shall see further on – it was probably the season at which he entered into his public ministry. But as we find no manifestation whatever of joy at his return, but on the contrary only fear of Archelaus (Matthew 2:22), “that joyful season of the year seems unfitting, especially as no morning star was then shining – autumn [BC 4] – to herald Our Lord’s return” (p. 201).
But, he goes on to say, if we suppose that the Holy Family came back at about the following Feast of Passover, “the conditions appear to be more fitting”; the morning star was shining, and we have the harmony that the nation of Israel left Egypt at the same feast (Exodus 12:2, 37). That there is harmony between the two departures from Egypt is shown by the fact that God sent a message to Pharaoh in these words: “Israel is my son, my first-born” (Exodus 4:22); and the prophet Hosea wrote (11:1): “When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt” – words that certainly applied historically to the nation in the first instance, but which were afterwards quoted by St. Mathew (2:15) with reference to Our Lord’s return from the same country.
St. Matthew does not record for how long the exile of the Holy Family in Egypt continued. Ancient legends say that Jesus, Mary and Joseph remained absent from Palestine for two years (Farrar, op. cit., p. 20), but our inferences point to an absence of about four and a quarter years.

(k) “My Father’s Business”
Our Lord’s visit to the Temple of Jerusalem at twelve years of age (Luke 2:41-51) is the only recorded incident of his boyhood. It took place at Passover, the date of which we can calculate according to our assumption that his Nativity occurred at the Feast of Tabernacles [Mackinlay’s BC 8]. It must be remembered that in calculating periods from BC to AD, it is necessary to cast out one year. Thus, as Mackinlay explains (p. 202, n. 2), Passover [of BC 7], for instance, “is six and three quarter years before the beginning of the year AD 1, and Passover AD 6 is five and a quarter years afterwards”. The Passover during which Our Lord visited the Temple then, being the first Passover after he had become twelve years of age, must have been the Passover of AD 6 [Mackinlay’s estimation].
According to Mackinlay’s charts, this particular Passover of AD 6 was just twelve months before the beginning of the enrolment year [Mackinlay’s AD 7-8], when the enumeration was first carried out in Judaea in the regular Roman fashion; when the people were not sent to their own cities on any particular day, but were enrolled wherever they happened to be and at any time thy wished during the year. We know from Acts 5:37, and also from Josephus (see Mackinlay, p. 203), that the carrying out of this command produced riot and bloodshed. Therefore we can quite easily understand the fact that the crowds that assembled at Jerusalem for Passover [of AD 6] would be excited about the prospect of the well-known forthcoming great event of the next year.
Added to this reason for excitement would be their recollection of the fact that the late king Herod – as Mackinlay thinks – had doubtless taken advantage of the information gained from the former enrolment [BC 8] (carried out in a manner intended to appease Jewish susceptibilities), in order to verify the ages of the infants, an thus to ensure their murder at Bethlehem, which is a mere six miles distant from Jerusalem (Luke 2:1-3; Matthew 2:16-18).
Under these circumstances, Mackinlay suggests, it is easy to imagine that Mary and Joseph “might have been absorbed in discussing the coming troubles with their friends; and so they may have lost sight of the Lord Jesus more readily than would have been the case in a quieter and less disturbed year”.

(l) Death of Judas of Galilee
According to Act 5:37, Judas of Galilee perished at the enrolment which, as Josephus recorded (see Mackinlay, p. 204) was held during [Mackinlay’s estimated AD 7-8]. Probably this Judas, like his predecessor Theudas (Acts 5:36), gave “himself out to be somebody”, and more than likely he took advantage of the general Messianic expectation, and of the burning desire of the Jews for national freedom, to raise the standard of rebellion. Mackinlay makes the suggestion, too, that Judas perhaps may have appealed to “the fact that the Morning Star was shining at the Feast of Tabernacles on that year as a confirmation of his claims, although the planet had then only recently appeared as Herald of dawn”.

(m) “My Father worketh”
Mackinlay noted that if the “unnamed feast of John 5:1 were the Passover, as is supposed by many, there are several striking parallels between Christ’s visit to Jerusalem in that year, AD 27, and His visit in His boyhood, AD 6”. He gives the following parallels:

(1) Both were at a Passover in a Sabbath Year.
(2) Both were towards the middle of a period of shining of the morning star.
(3) On the earlier occasion, just after the Passover, the young Christ said: “Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?” (Luke 2:49); and on the later occasion, again soon after the feast, he said: “My father worketh even until now, and I work” (John 5:17) – words which represented a salient feature of his ministry, characteristic of the authoritative assertions of his Divinity, which he made so frequently in the Sabbath Year. These assertions brought about a crisis, as they evoked the deadly opposition of his enemies. Both of these statements made by Our Lord – in [Mackinlay’s estimated years of AD 6 and AD 27] – may be said, in the words of St. Paul, to proclaim his very reason for coming into the world: “To do Thy will, O God” (Hebrews 10:5&7).
Mackinlay has noted in passing (p. 205) that the three Sabbath Years that were connected with important known events in Our Lord’s life – viz. the Sabbath Years of [Mackinlay’s estimated] BC 10-9; AD 5-6 and 26-27 – “were each marked by containing a nearly complete period of the shining of the Morning Star”; whilst the other Sabbath Years included in his life, and of which no events are recorded – viz. the Sabbath Years of BC 3-2; AD 12-13 and 19-20 – “each contain a lesser part of the period of the shining of the same Star”.

The seven years’ cycle of the Sabbath Years and the eight years’ cycle of the morning star, aided by the fourteen years’ cycle of the Roman enrolments, have enabled Mackinlay, as he thinks, to date the early events of the Gospel narratives with considerable probability and accuracy.
We now turn our attention to the later years of Our Lord’s life on earth – the years of his public ministry – in which the events recorded are less scattered and more continuous. Using the same harmonies we shall endeavour to settle the important question of the duration of the public ministry of Our Lord.

The Length of Our Lord’s Ministry

The only reliable methods of finding out the length of Our Lord’s ministry, Mackinlay thinks, are to compare any references in the sacred texts with well-dated historical facts, and also to look carefully at any internal evidences or inferences that may bear on the question.
As Mackinlay points out, AD 29 is the generally accepted date of the Crucifixion, and this date appears to be accepted by those who nevertheless hold different estimates for the length of Our Lord’s ministry. Also, the harmonies that we have considered so far (following Mackinlay) all point to the same year for the Crucifixion, on the supposition of a ministry lasting from three to four years. If, on the other hand, we suppose a shorter ministry, of two to three years, says Mackinlay, we find that harmonies connected with the morning star [(e) to (k) in Mackinlay’s table] are fulfilled with the same date for the Crucifixion, but he thinks that there are failures for any other year historically possible (as may easily be seen by reference to Mackinlay’s table). And the references to the Sabbath Year in the Gospels are manifestly fulfilled only by the same date.
Therefore Mackinlay concluded that AD 29 for the date of the Crucifixion is the only one that needed to be considered, regardless of whether Our Lord’s ministry had lasted for three years and some months, or for two years and some months.
Professor Ramsay (op. cit., pp. 212, 221, 224) gives historical reasons for dating the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar – the year when, according to St. Luke (3:1), the Baptists began his ministry – to AD 25. Now, since St. John and Our Lord both began their public work before the same winter – for the former spoke of harvest time; the latter of sitting under a fig tree, which points to the probability of leaves – it follows that Our Lord also must have begun his testimony in the same year.
At the first Passover that occurred in Our Lord’s ministry, the Jews stated that Herod’s temple had been forty and six years in the making (John 2:20). Accordingly, Ramsay informs us that this would indicate the date of that Passover as being AD 26. Assuming therefore, as Mackinlay has done, that AD 29 was the date of the Crucifixion, he finds that both of these historical references agree in demanding that the length of Our Lord’s ministry must have been more than three years.
When we come to deduce the length of Our Lord’s ministry from the internal harmonies connected with the simile of St. John the Baptist as the morning star, we find that – because both long and short estimates generally agree in the chronology of the last two years – we do not get such full answers as we might have hoped for. Since the supposition of the long period of ministry assigns about a year and a half to the initial part of it, whilst that of the short period would compress that down to some three months or so, it is consequently only in the initial time that any different results will arise from these two suppositions. And the number of events that we can consider for our purposes during that period happen to be few.
Let us now, for the moment, assume a ministry between two and three years in length, and see if we can obtain satisfactory harmonies. By referring to Mackinlay’s table, we notice that if the ministries of the Baptist and of Our Lord both began during the same period of the shining of the morning star – as we have supposed to be suitable and fitting – then St. John could not have begun his ministry earlier than about the end of October [AD 26]. The reason for this is, as the chart shows, that the morning star did not begin its shining until this time. Supposing – which of course is not likely – that Our Lord was baptised near to the very beginning of St. John’s ministry, the forty days’ temptation would not have concluded until the very end of December [AD 26]. Consequently, as Mackinlay has noted (pp. 214-215), Our Lord could not have been proclaimed publicly (John 1:29, 36) before the beginning of AD 27: “Nor could He have been proclaimed later than the beginning of the following March, for both the marriage in Cana of Galilee and the short abiding in Capernaum (John 2:12) came before the following Passover [AD 27].
Under these circumstances we notice with regard to (a) of Mackinlay’s table:-

That as St. John the Baptist is now supposed to have begun his testimony not earlier than the end of October, his three references to harvest in Matthew 3:8, 10, 12, lose the harmony that they possessed under the suppositions of the longer ministry. According to the latter, it was actually harvest-time when the similes were spoken.

With regard to (b) of the table:-

The supposition of the shorter ministry necessitates that the coming to Our Lord of Andrew and Peter took place in the month of January or February, or perhaps in the very beginning of March [AD 27] – “a most unlikely time of year for Nathaniel to be under the fig-tree (John 1:48), as it has no leaves in winter” (p. 215).

With regard to (c) of the table:-

On the supposition of the shorter ministry, the words “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30) were uttered soon after Passover [AD 27], when the morning star was shining. The harmony in this case is satisfied only by supposing that the increase referred to the daily increase of the sun’s light at dawn, Mackinlay explains (p. 216), when the brightening sun decreases the light of the morning star; “but we concluded [previously] that this was not a satisfactory explanation” of the meaning intended by St. John’s words.

With regard to (d) of the table:-

The imprisonment of the Baptist took place just after the last utterance; on the supposition of the shorter ministry the morning star was then shining – “certainly a want of harmony”.

After this point, however, the two suppositions generally agree in their chronologies.
Thus we see that, in the four instances where the chronology differs under the two suppositions of length of ministry, there are at least three failures in harmony in the shorter period. On the other hand, as we saw previously, there are no failures under the longer supposition. Thus, although the number of instances under consideration is rather limited, the inference to be drawn in these cases is decidedly in favour of the longer ministry.

Harmonies Connected with the Sabbath Year
Apparently there are only two references to the Sabbath Year in the early part of Our Lord’s ministry when the chronologies of the longer and shorter periods differ.

With regard to (a) and (b) of Mackinlay’s relevant table:-

On the supposition of the shorter ministry, the reading by Our Lord in the synagogue at Nazareth (Luke 4:16-19), and the words quoted by St. Matthew (4:15, 16), could not have had reference – as previously supposed – to the beginning of the Sabbath Year. The reason for this is, as we have seen already, that the supposed shorter ministry of Our Lord could not have begun until about January [AD 27], when some four months of the Sabbath Year had already passed away. “It scarcely seems harmonious”, in Mackinlay’s opinion (p. 217), “that the seventh, the acceptable year of the Lord, should have been thus curtailed”.
On the other hand if – as seems probable – an intercalary month was added before Passover [AD 27], the Sabbath Year was not only contained in its entirety, on the supposition of the longer ministry, but the further harmony that the year was in fact lengthened out thus presents itself.
And so the inferences from the Sabbath Year - few though they may be – also favour the longer period of ministry. As we proceed we shall find other harmonies, which also support the supposition of the longer ministry, but which fail when applied to the shorter one.

The Feasts of Tabernacles

Arguing for the probability of there being “four feasts of Tabernacles” in Our Lord’s ministry, Mackinlay proceeds along the following lines (p. 218). Three Passovers, he says, are mentioned distinctly in the Gospel of St. John (2:23; 6:4; 13:1); and if we assume the un-named feast of John 5:1 also to have been a Passover, we have a total of four, which would necessitate a ministry of longer than three years. But, though this is very probably, he adds, “it cannot be certainly inferred from the wording of John 5:1”.
Four Feasts of Tabernacles – and consequently a ministry of over three years – may be inferred from the following considerations:-

(a) The Ministry began at a Feast of Tabernacles.
On the supposition of a three to four years’ ministry we have already shown that the public testimony began (John 2:1-11) after August and before November. According to Mackinlay (p. 219), a little further search reveals the fact that this beginning probably took place at the Feast of Tabernacles. “For if we examine the expression used a very few days before by John the Baptist, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!” (John 1:29), and the repetition of the first part of the sentence on the day following (John 1:36), we are reminded of the two goats on the day of Atonement. On the tenth day of the seventh month, Aaron took two he-goats, offering one for a sin offering and took the other one alive, laid both hands on his head, confessed over him all the transgressions of the people, even all their sins, and sent him away, bearing all Israel’s iniquity for Azazel (dismissal), by the hand of a fit person into the wilderness, into a solitary place, where the goat was released” (Leviticus 16:5-30).
May we not see a reference to Our Lord under the figure of the two goats, Mackinlay asks – “the Baptist speaking of Him as the scapegoat on one day and as the sin offering on the morrow?” It is true, he adds, that St. John spoke of Our Lord as the Lamb of God; “but as the Paschal lamb as to be taken from the sheep or from the goats (Exodus 12:5), it would appear that an allusion to Christ under the simile of these two goats may well have been made by the Baptist”.
If we follow the plan of supposing that illustrative language was used, when the event on which it was founded was actually occurring, we may conclude that the ceremonial connected with the day of Atonement was just taking place wen St. John the Baptist spoke, and that consequently the Feast of Tabernacles, which began on the fifteenth day of the seventh month (Leviticus 23:33, 34), was close at hand.
If this were so, according to Mackinlay (p. 220), “the joyful marriage of Cana in Galilee a few days afterwards would have been harmonious at the glad Feast of Tabernacles”. We are told, with reference to the first miracle which Our Lord then performed, that “this beginning of His signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested His glory” (John 2:11). We therefore date the beginning of Our Lord’s public ministry from this great event.
Mackinlay thinks that the “marriage feast in Cana may point to the future joyful marriage of the Lamb (Revelation 19:7), when the Tabernacle of God is with men (Revelation 21:2, 3), when Christ will again drink of the fruit of the vine, as at Cana (Matthew 26:29; Luke 22:18). There is to be a future glorious keeping of this feast at Jerusalem (Zechariah 14:16), and Tabernacles is also typical of the future day of great joy in store for the Christian (1 Peter 4:13). This feast has been thought to prefigure the millennial reign of Christ” (pp. 220-221; also referring to A. Habershon’s The Study of the Types).

(b) The Transfiguration was at a Feast of Tabernacles.
It is interesting to observe the different approaches to the time of the Transfiguration, as recorded by the two Jewish Synoptics, Matthew and Mark, on the one hand, and Luke, the Greek Synoptic, on the other. All three take as their starting-point Our Lord’s prediction at the feeding of the five thousand that there were “some standing here who will not taste death before they see” the Son of Man coming in his kingdom (Matthew 16:28; Mark 9:1; Luke 9:27). The words in quotation marks are identical in each account, but, whereas St. Matthew speaks of those “some” as seeing “the Son of Man coming in His Kingdom; St. Mark speaks of them seeing them seeing ”that the kingdom of God has come with power; and St. Luke, that they will see “the kingdom of God”. But, whereas Sts. Matthew and Mark identically, and in typically Jewish fashion, date the Transfiguration precisely from Our Lords prediction as, “And after six days” – that is on the seventh – St. Luke less precisely dates the glorious event as: “Now about eight days after these sayings’ (Matthew 17:1; Mark 9:2; Luke 9:28).
It has become fashionable amongst contemporary biblical critics to use Our Lord’s prediction of the imminent seeing of his kingdom by some present at the feeding of the five thousand, as an indication that Our Lord was not able to foresee the future in every case. Raymond Brown, for instance, had, in a chapter entitled “How Much Did Jesus Know?” (Jesus God and Man, p. 39), links these words of Our Lord to the Parousia – or Second Coming of Christ, and goes on to conclude that “Jesus did not now when the Parousia would take place” (ibid., p. 77). But Brown’s folly does not stop there. Speaking of what he sees as the general uncertainty among the Jews as to when the Parousia was likely to occur, Brown asks: “Would not this inability [supposedly, of Christ] to correct contemporary views on this question be the logical effect of ignorance?” (ibid., p. 78).
The Holy Spirit, however, in anticipation of such folly as shown by Brown and his colleagues, has had juxtaposed the account of the Transfiguration with Our Lord’s prediction about his kingdom being seen by “some” of those present. So that it follows immediately after that prediction in all three accounts. With Our Lord’s words still ringing in our ears, so to speak, we are immediately transported to the mountain-top – [Tabor?] – the scene of the Transfiguration. It is obvious to anyone with any sense for scriptural interpretation – but not to the “foolish and the blind” (Matthew 23:17) – that these two incidents, the words of Our Lord about his kingdom being seen by some, and then his kingdom being seen by Sts. Peter, James and John at the Transfiguration, are integrally connected.
But in case there is left over any doubt that this is the correct interpretation, St. Peter himself later, with al the authority he now held as head of the church – and shortly before his death (2 Peter 1:14) – deliberately selects key (or buzz) words from each of the Synoptic accounts of Our Lord’s prediction about his kingdom being seen by “some”, and uses those key words in his own account of the Transfiguration at which he was present with James and John. He says: “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Peter 1:16).
The word “coming” used here may refer back to Matthew phrase, “the Son of Man coming in his kingdom” (Matthew 16:28). The word “power”, to Mark’s phrase, “the kingdom of God has come with power” (Mark 9:1). And the word “majesty”, to Luke’s simple phrase, “the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:27). – which is also used by Matthew and Mark.
Peter, James and John, on the holy mountain, were indeed “eyewitnesses” of the conferment of majesty and kingship by God the Father upon his beloved Son. “For when he received honour and glory from God the Father and the voice was borne to him by the majestic Glory, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased’, we heard this voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain”. (2 Peter 1:17).
On this awesome occasion, which occurred not long before Our Lord’s Passion and Death, the Most Blessed Trinity was present. And Our Lord was shown to the three chief Apostles – one of whom would become his first Vicar on earth – in his full resurrected glory and majesty. The Old Testament was fully represented, as well, by the presence of Moses and Elijah, who were speaking with Our Lord “of his departure (‘exodus’), which he was to accomplish at Jerusalem” (Luke 9:31). Moses stood for the Law and Elijah for the Prophets.
Mackinlay notes (p. 221) that, as the words ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased’ when first uttered from heaven, were spoken of Our Lord at a time when he was soon to begin his public ministry, at a Feast of Tabernacles, “it seems reasonable to suppose that when the very same phrase was again uttered in the same miraculous manner at the Transfiguration, it was at the recurrence of the same feast”.
This idea, he adds, is strengthened by the words of St. Peter: ‘Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three tabernacles; one for thee, one for Moses, and one for Elijah’ (Luke 9:3). He did not know what he was saying in wishing to give equal honour to each; but, as Mackinlay realised (p. 222), “some train of thought must have been running through his mind, and if the Feast of Tabernacles were at hand he might naturally have thought of honouring each by making a tabernacle for each”.
It is interesting to note further, with Mackinlay, that when Peter refers back to the Transfiguration, in his Second Letter, towards the end of his life (1:17, 18), he had just previously used the figure of a tabernacle twice in reference to his own body (vv. 13, 14). Hence we conclude that the folly of Peter’s remark at the Transfiguration lay in his failure to understand that Our Lord ought to receive infinitely more honour than either Moses or Elijah; but in his riper years, when he recounted that transcendent event in his Second Letter, he pointedly omits any mention whatever of these two representatives of the Old Testament: Moses and Elijah.
A reference to tabernacles at the Transfiguration was not in itself foolish or wrong, however, but was in fact quite appropriate. Had it not been, Peter would naturally have avoided any reference to the same figure at the beginning of his description of the glorious vision in his Second Letter. Instead, he seems to rejoice in recalling even the actual phraseology that he had used at the Transfiguration; for besides his twice using the special word “tabernacle”, he also speaks of his own death as being his “exodus” (2 Peter 1:15) – the very word that is used in Luke’s Gospel account (9:31) of the Transfiguration with reference to the Death and departure of Our Lord himself.
Mackinlay has arranged some most compelling “points of resemblance” in the circumstances attending the utterances of the word, ‘This is my beloved Son’, at Our Lord’s Baptism on the one hand, and at his Transfiguration, on the other (p. 223-229):


(1) “Jesus … having been baptised and praying” (Luke 3:21).


(1) “As he was praying, the appearance of his countenance was altered” (Luke 9:29).


(2) “The heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and alighting on him” (Matthew 3:16).


(2) “His raiment became white and dazzling … they saw his glory … then came a cloud, and overshadowed them; and they feared as they entered into the cloud” (Luke 9:29, 32, 34).


(3) “A voice from heaven, saying, ‘This I my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased’” (Matthew 3:17).


(3) “A voice out of the cloud, saying, ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear him’” (Matthew 17:5).


(4) “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (Matthew 4:1).


(4) “Jesus said … ‘You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your Father’s desires’” (John 8:42, 44).


(5) Consecration to service as prophet or teacher (Deuteronomy 18:15).


(5) Consecration as Priest about to sacrifice himself (Hebrews 9:26). His coming Death was before Our Lord constantly about this time and onwards (Matthew 16:21).

Although the exact time of the year of the Transfiguration is not given in the Gospels, the context fully allows for it to have been at the beginning of the Feast of Tabernacles; for the glorious vision was after Passover [Mackinlay’s AD 28] (compare Matthew 14:14-21; John 6:4-13, with Matthew 17:2) – but before the visit to the borders of Judaea beyond Jordan (Matthew 19:1; John 10:40), which was probably about the beginning of January [AD 29].
The Feast of Tabernacles [AD 28] falls within this period.
Our Lord went to Jerusalem to this feast, which lasted for seven days, with an eighth day observed after it. As Mackinlay notes (p. 225): “We are pointedly told that He did not go at the beginning (John 7:8), but he waited until it was half over (John 7:14), and then went to Jerusalem”. The Transfiguration, therefore, may well have taken place on the first day of the feast. “This would be a harmonious time, as it was a day of solemn rest (Leviticus 23:29)” (p. 226).
As similar trains of thought ran through the conversations at the mountain of Transfiguration, and also at Jerusalem during the latter part of the Feast of Tabernacles, Mackinlay has suggested that the one event followed very closely after the other. “We find almost the same subjects discussed on the two occasions, but with what different audiences and surroundings!”

Comparing - with Mackinlay (p. 226-229) - the circumstances on each occasion, we find:-


(1) “His face shone as the sun” (Matthew 17:2. Compare also Acts 26:13; Revelation 1:16; 10:1).


(1) Jesus said, “I am the Light of the world” - i.e. the sun (John 8:12).


(2) “And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses” (Mark 9:4) – representatives of the Law and of the Prophets.


(2) “Did not Moses give you the Law?” (John 7:19). “The prophets are dead” (John 8:53).


(3) “Moses and Elijah … spoke of his departure (‘exodos’) which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem” (Luke 9:30, 31).


(3) “Jesus … said, ‘Yet a little while I am with you, and I go to Him who sent me. You will seek me and you will not find me; where I am you cannot come’” (John 7:33, 34). ‘When you have lifted up the Son of Man’ (John 8:28).


(4) “Peter said … ‘If you wish, I shall make here three tabernacles’” (Matthew 17:4).


(4) “Now the Jews’ Feast of Tabernacles was at hand …. About the middle of the feast Jesus went …. On the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood up” (John 7:2, 14, 37).


(5) “Peter said … ‘One for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah’; not knowing what he said” (Luke 9:33).


(5) “‘Are you greater than our father Abraham?’ … Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am’” (John 8:53, 58).


(6) “A voice out of the cloud, saying, ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased’” (Matthew 17:5).
(7) ‘Hear him’ (Matthew 17:5)


(6) “Jesus said, ‘I always do what is pleasing to him’ [the Father] (John 8:29).
(7) “The officers answered, ‘No man ever spoke like this man!’” (John 7:46).
‘I speak of what I have seen with my Father …. You cannot bear to hear my word’ (John 8:38, 43).


(8) [God the Father’s voice was prominent, and all the circumstances were awe-inspiring] (Matthew 17:5, 6).


(8) [Our Lord spoke of and magnified his Father] (John 7:17, 28, 29; 8:18, 19, 27-29, 38, 40, 42, 49, 54, 55).


(9) [God the Father witnessed to his Son in the voice from heaven] (Matthew 17:5).


(9) “Jesus said, ‘The Father who sent me bears witness to me’” (John 8:18).


(10) “Jesus commanded them, ‘Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead’” (Matthew 17:9).


(10) The disciples “kept silence and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen” (Luke 9:36). [This accounts for the silence of the disciples at the Feast of Tabernacles].

We have shown that, very probably, both Our Lord’s Baptism [Mackinlay’s AD 25] , and the Transfiguration [AD 28], took place the one near, the other at, a Feast of Tabernacles. It should also be noted that the words of the voice from heaven, on both occasions when God the Father expressed his satisfaction, were derived from those in Isaiah 42:1 – the word “Son” being substituted for “servant”.
Mackinlay mentions (p. 229) the further harmony that this same chapter of Isaiah – chapter 42 – is quoted again, or referred to, at the two intermediate Feasts of Tabernacles, which – as we have shown – occurred in [Mackinlay’s AD 26 and 27 respectively], on days beginning the Sabbath Year and the next week of years respectively. (Compare Matthew 4:15, 16 with Isaiah 9:2; 42:6, 7; and Matthew 12:18-21 with Isaiah 42:1-4).
In the naming of Our Lord as “a great light” in Matthew 4:16, we are reminded of a similar reference to him by Simeon (Luke 2:32), who called the infant Christ “a Light for revelation to the Gentiles”, in allusion to Isaiah 9:2 and 42:7. Simeon’s words were spoken a few weeks after Our Lord’s Nativity, which also occurred, most probably, at a Feast of Tabernacles. It is also in accord with Our Lord’s own proclamation of himself as “the Light of the World” at his last Feast of Tabernacles” (John 7:2, 37; 8:12).
We need not suppose that the references to Isaiah, chapters 9 and 42, referred only to the Feast of Tabernacles, but to the period in which they were included, Mackinlay explains (p. 230), “in order to demonstrate that Christ’s Ministry lasted between three and four years”. Hence, if we suppose his ministry to have lasted for this longer period, we have several striking harmonies connected with the quotation of Isaiah 9 and 42 with reference to four Feasts of Tabernacles. But if we suppose the shorter ministry, the harmonies are greatly decreased, because then there would be only two of those festivals. For we have deduced that, in the latter case, Our Lord’s ministry would have begun after the Feast of Tabernacles [AD 26].
After his Baptism Our Lord went straightaway into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil (Mark 1:12; Matthew 4:1). Consequently the pubic announcement by the Baptist, “Behold the Lamb of God!” (John 1:29, 36), must have come after both the Baptism and the Temptation.
If we assume, as Mackinlay thinks probable (p. 231), that Our Lord came to Bethabara, where the Baptist was (John 1:28), immediately after the Temptation, it follows that the new Moon was shining at the time of the Baptism – if the ministry began, as Mackinlay has concluded that it did, at the Feast of Tabernacles. “For, allowing four or five days from the day when Christ came to Bethabara (John 1:28) to the Feast of Tabernacles, it follows that the Baptism was forty-four or forty-five days before the feast, which was on the fifteenth day of the month (as a lunation is approximately twenty-nine and a half days), consequently the Baptism may well have been on the holy day of a new Moon” (pp. 231-232).
Hence we have the harmony that when the Holy Spirit endued Our Lord with special power to perform his public ministry, the new Moon was probably – as at the Annunciation – just appearing in the sky, announcing a new beginning. But on the assumption of the shorter ministry, however, it is manifestly impossible to make any inference that the new Moon was shining at Our Lord’s Baptism.
At the Nativity – which, as has we have concluded, took place at the Feast of Tabernacles – there was peace and rejoicing among men of good will. And there was also rejoicing amongst the heavenly host (see Luke 1:46-55; 2:14, 20, 28-38; Matthew 2:10). At Our Lord’s Baptism, which was little more than forty days before he worked his first miracle at Cana of Galilee, it is recorded that God the Father expressed his satisfaction in the voice from heaven. From this, Mackinlay concludes that (p. 223), “It thus appears to be harmonious that the birth of Christ and the beginning of His ministry” at Baptism were each “associated with the glad Feast of Tabernacles”.
But this harmony, he adds, could hardly have been so close on the supposition of the shorter ministry, for we have seen that St. John the Baptist could not have begun his career before the end of October. It would take some time for him to have attracted much attention; consequently Our Lord’s Baptism could scarcely have taken place before the beginning of December – more than two months after the Feast of Tabernacles.
Mackinlay further suggests (p. 235) that there is a harmony of fitness in three and a half years for the length of Our Lord’s ministry, “as it is a period frequently mentioned in Scripture - the half of a week of years (see Daniel 9:27); time, times and a half are also supposed to mean the same period (Daniel 12:7; Revelation 12:14), and the expression forty-two months (Revelation 11:2; 13:5) and 1260 days (Revelation 11:3; 12:6), under the old supposition that a year contains twelve months of thirty day each, are also thought to refer to the same period of three and a half years. But there is no corresponding recurrence in Scripture of a period of two years and two or three months” – which is the period of the assumed shorter ministry.
Professor J. Stalker (The Life of Jesus Christ, p. 47) divides the three years of Our Lord’s public ministry thus:-

(1) The year of obscurity.
(2) The year of public favour.
(3) The year of opposition.

But according to Mackinlay his ministry lasted for three and a half years; so he, following the same general plan as given by Stalker, has suggested that, more accurately, the years might be classified as follows:-

(1) The year of obscurity. Lasting from Our Lord’s Baptism (Luke 3:21) to just before the reading in the synagogue at Nazareth (Luke 4:16-19).
(2) The Sabbath Year, and beginning of opposition. From the reading at Nazareth to just before the quotation of Isaiah in Matthew 12:18-21.
(3) The year of the New outlook, and of increased opposition. From the quotation in Matthew 12:18-21 to just before the Transfiguration.
(4) The Year of Rejection and Death. “Taken away in the midst of my days” (Psalm 102:24). From the Transfiguration to the Crucifixion.

“In the Midst of My Days”
Mackinlay has noted that Our Lord’s Death “occurred also in the midst of the days of three other periods” (p. 238):-

(1) In the midst of the fourth year of his ministry.
(2) As his ministry lasted for three and a half years, Our Lord was “cut off” (Daniel 9:26) in the midst of a week of years.
(3) As he died at the Paschal full moon, he was taken away in the midst of a month.

The Ascension
The Ascension took place forty days (Acts 1:13) after the Resurrection, which was three days – or perhaps two according to our method of counting, but not that of the Jews – after the Crucifixion. The latter of course occurred at a full moon. It follows that Our Lord’s Ascension must have taken place as the moon in the following (i.e. the second) month was fast waning away; and so the disappearance of the moon from the heavens, in the ordinary course of nature, co-incided with the disappearance of Our Lord from this earth. This harmony is in accord with the new moons at the Annunciation, and Baptism, of Our Lord.

Chapter Five: “The Desire of the Nations”

Hark! A herald voice is calling:
‘Christ is near’, it seems to say,
‘cast away the dreams of darkness,
waken, children of the day!’

Wakened by the solemn warning
let the earth-bound soul arise;
Christ, her sun, all sloth dispelling
shines upon the morning skies.

Lo, the Lamb so long expected
comes with pardon down from heaven;
let us meet Him with repentance,
pray that we may be forgiven.

So when love comes forth in judgment,
Debt and doubts and wrongs to clear,
faithful may he find his servants
watching till the dawn appear.

The chief aim in this final chapter will be to try to consider how the Magi had known so precisely that the year in which they left the star in the East behind them, to journey to Judaea, was the year of his Birth. To understand this properly, we shall need to examine the meaning of the prophet Daniel’s important prophecy concerning the “anointed One” – Our Lord Jesus Christ – who would be “cut off” (Daniel 9:25-26). This, in turn, will necessitate a brief look at conventional Persian chronology, to test its accuracy in the light of Daniel’s “weeks of years”.

The News of the Nativity
When St. John the Baptist was born, five to six months before Our Lord’s Nativity, “all these things were talked about throughout all the hill country of Judaea” (Luke 1:65); and when the Christ-child was born the good news was announced, for “all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds had told them” (Luke 2:18); and again, forty days after the Nativity, at the Purification, Anna, when she saw the infant Christ, “spoke of him to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38).
As we have supposed, following Mackinlay, that the Magi did not arrive at Bethlehem until about three months after the Nativity, it may be thought perhaps that news of the Birth of Christ had reached them in their own country/countries and had induced them to start. But Mackinlay rejects such a suggestion, saying that “taking into account the slow rate of daily travel, the considerable distance of their country in the East, and the amount of time likely to be consumed in making arrangements for the expedition of men of some importance, there does not appear to have been time for the intelligence to have reached the Magi before they decided to make their start” (Mackinlay, pp. 242-243).
Of course there would have been plenty of time for the news of the Birth of Christ to have reached them en route; but it seems unlikely that they heard it even then; there is no hint of it in the Gospel narrative, and they themselves gave quite another reason for their journey when they arrived at Jerusalem: “We have seen His star in the East’ (Matthew 2:2). Mackinlay reckons that the fact that they went to the city of Jerusalem, and that they did not go at once to Bethlehem, “where doubtless the shepherds would have directed them, negatives the idea that they received the news from them”. Very probably those who had seen and worshipped the infant Saviour were afraid to tell men who were apparently in the confidence of the cruel Herod, he suggests (p. 243).
The Magi had naturally presumed that “He who has been born King of the Jews”, whose tar they had seen (Matthew 2:2), would be residing in the capital city of Jerusalem, from where the Judaean kings had normally ruled. Already we have concluded that what they saw in the East was the planet Venus, shining in its ordinary course as the Morning Star. But the question arises: How did they know which of its periods of shining indicated the Nativity?
Some have assumed that the Magi had a special Divine revelation, according to which they had been ordered to leave their own country and go to Jerusalem at that particular point in time. But nowhere are we told that this was the case, and so we ought to examine other possible sources of information before embracing such a conclusion. Since we are informed that afterwards an evidently miraculous movement was bestowed upon the star, and as after that again the Magi were warned miraculously in a dream not to return to Herod, it seems natural to suppose that at first they had no direct spiritual guidance.
Let us consider, therefore, what possible sources of information or suggestions were available to them.
the hopes of men, assuring them of the birth of a Saviour as the morning star assures us of the dawning of the day. And what she was for the human race she is for each of us who, seeking Christ, will, as the Magi did, always find him with Mary his Mother.
As St. Bernard said: Respice Stellam; respice Mariam – “Fix your eyes on the Star; fix your eyes on Mary”.
And we conclude with these beautiful words from John Paul II’s encyclical Redemptoris Mater: “… the Church has constantly been aware that Mary appeared on the horizon of salvation history before Christ …. Therefore … in this present period we wish to turn in a special way to Her, the one who in the “night” of the Advent expectation began to shine like a true “Morning Star” (Stella Matutina).For just as this star, together with the “dawn”, precedes the rising of the sun, so Mary from the time of her Immaculate Conception preceded the coming of the Saviour, the rising of the “Sun of Justice” in the history of the human race” (Ch. I #3, pp. 10-11)