3

I was wondering what the earliest mention of this festival was and why the date was chosen because I’ve seen different explanations like some mention the earliest mention of this festival was the 4th century while other say it was in the 5th century. The earliest mention of the date I can find is from a 4th century text called by an extremely long title named “ De solstitia et aequinoctia conceptionis et nativitatis Domini Nostri Iesu Christi et Iohannis Baptistae (“On the solstice and equinox of the conception and birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ and John the Baptist”).

However, this text does not mention a festival or a celebration of this festival. The first mention of a celebration comes from St. Augustine of Hippo:

“We are going to celebrate St John’s Day, John the Baptist, the Lord's forerunner, the friend of the bridegroom, with complete chastity, with total sobriety…….'And so, brothers, as I said, we shall be celebrating tomorrow, in the Lord's name, the feast of Saint John the Baptist. In seven days’, time, that is on Saturday, we shall also be celebrating the birthday of the holy martyrs Peter and Paul.'- Hill, E., The Works of Saint Augustine. A Translation for the 21st Century, vol. III 8, Sermons 273-305A on the Saints (New York: New City Press, 1994). Sermon 279

So according to my research the earliest evidence of a festival goes back to the early 5th century it is possible that it goes back to the 4th century, but I can’t find anything unfortunately. Now onto the date on why June 24 was chosen I’ve heard 3 reasons:

  1. June 24th was chosen by a simple calculation of subtracting 6 months before Christmas and for symbolic reasons like for example John was understood to be preparing the way for Jesus (cf. John 3:30, "He must increase, but I must decrease"), just as the sun begins to diminish at the summer solstice and eventually increases after the winter solstice. Augustine draws this illustration in his sermon “Sermon 287”

  2. June 24th was chosen because the early church because it wanted to co-opt a pagan festival. There was a festival in North Africa and possibly in Rome as well called “dies lampadarum” or “day of torches” and was celebrated on June 24th. This festival celebrated Ceres’s search for her daughter Proserpine, while she was looking for her, she was using a torch. Some early Christian texts and some other texts implied or mentioned this festival.

  3. The early church chose this date because they had a belief that Zachariah aka John the Baptist father was the high priest, and when he was ministering, and he received the Archangel Gabriel annunciation to him on the Day of Atonement aka Yom Kippur. And the early church just added 9 months and got June 24 as the date St. John the Baptist's birth.

Here are some primary sources that I’ve read but they are from the 4th century:

John Chrysostom, Homily on the Day of the Birth of Our Savior Jesus Christ 4–5

On the Solstices and Equinoxes

Ambrose of Milan, Exposition on the Gospel According to Luke 1.22

Ephrem the Syrian, Commentary on the Diatessaron 1.29

Secondary sources I’ve read which argue that the story of St. John the Baptist’s conception happening on Yom Kippur dates possibly the 2nd century CE:

Stökl Ben Ezra, Daniel. “The Impact of Yom Kippur on Early Christianity: The Day of Atonement from Second Temple Judaism to the Fifth Century.” (Germany: Isd, 2003.) Pg. 250-255

Nothaft, Philipp E. “Early Christian Chronology and the Origins of the Christmas Date: A Defense of the ‘Calculation Theory’,” in Questions Liturgiques 94 (2013) Pg. 258-261

8
  • Is it possible for you to shorten this gospel?
    – Jos
    Commented Jun 21, 2023 at 6:11
  • 1
    Alright then I did. Is this more readable though? Commented Jun 21, 2023 at 6:47
  • 1
    The Annunciation (celebrated on March 25) is said to have taken place in the sixth month of Elizabeth's pregnancy. Why John is said to have been born on the 24th and not the 25th, I don't know! Commented Jun 21, 2023 at 16:44
  • 1
    I'm curious if you have any information on where you heard each of those 3 reasons? Who historically was making those arguements, and/or how far back they can be traced? The third one in particular smells like the kind of tortured post-hoc reasoning one sees a lot out of Christian believers in the late middle ages and modern period.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Jun 29, 2023 at 0:21
  • 1
    Kate Bunting points out that the Annunciation is said to have taken place at the sixth month of Elizabeth's pregnancy The Bible says this in Luke chapter 1. So, given that Christmas Day is Dec 25, The Annunciation to Mary was Mar 25, Elizabeth was 6 months pregnant so conceived in September meaning John was born in June. So suggestion 1 (6 months before Christmas) may be correct BUT not as you suggest for symbolic reasons but because of Elizabeth's pregnancy starting 6 months before Mary's.
    – davidlol
    Commented Jun 29, 2023 at 6:03

1 Answer 1

-1

Question Why was June 24th chosen for the date of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist?

Short Answer:

Astrology, paganism, precedence and genealogy/chronology as interpreted through the bible.

  • Astrology: June 24th was celebrated by the pre-Christian Romans as one of two solstices. The other Solstice occurs late December. Celebrated by the Romans on December 25.
  • Paganism: Both solstices were already popular late Roman holidays, when the empire adopted Christianity. Their popularity with Rome lead to their adoption/rebranding as Christian holidays.
  • Precedence: December 25th solstice Holiday was associated with several Roman Emperors and the Roman Army. The other solstice, also a popular holiday was associated with the poor. Naturally the former solstice would be associated with Jesus inarguable the most important figure in Christianity until the Reformation. Christmas.
  • Genealogy/Chronology: Having associated the one solstice for Jesus's birth, Christians named the other solstices which chronologically preceded it, for John the Baptist whose ministry preceded Jesus's ministry. John the Baptist, Jesus's most famous male relative, his cousin in the bible.

Answer:

The origin's of June 24th and many Christian Holidays extend back to pagan times, especially from the highly influential pagan Romans on early Christianity. 4th century CE, as stated in the original question, is when everything changed between pagan Romans and Christians. 4th century CE corresponds to when Christianity was legalized by Emperor Constantine the Great. Emperor Theodosius (392 CE) would famously outlaw paganism all together making Rome legally at least a Christian country. However, while Theodosius outlawed Pagan rituals; he left intact the Pagan Holidays. He did this because the Pagan segment of his empire remained influential, and this was a compromise reflecting their importance.

Nativity of St. John the Baptist? June 24th for the Romans was the feast of Fortuna, the goddess of luck. A very popular holiday among the plebeians/poor of Rome. Sacrifices on this day were given in order to attract prosperity in the coming year. June 24th was possible attributed to John the Baptist when the holiday was "Christianized" because it like Dec 25th, Jesus's Nativity, were both Solstices. Therefore related, as Jesus was related to John the Baptist. They were cousins (second cousins in the bible Luke Chapter 1). Pagan holidays were rebranded as Christian and attributed with Christian relevance in order that the Pagan's could still celebrate their popular holidays under Theodosius.

Christianity and Paganism (see Theodosius ) pagan Roman holidays which were brought into Christianity as the pagan Romans were "converted". When Emperor Theodosius outlawed the rituals of paganism in Rome 392 CE, he permitted their holiday celebrations to continue. It was pubic relations to retain popular pagan holidays after they were re-attributed to some Christian event or meaning.

Many Christian holidays today have roots in pagan holidays especially Roman ones.

based upon: Seven Pagan Holidays still Celebrated Today

  • Christmas(Romans celebrated Sol Invictus, the Unconquered Sun),
  • New Years (Romans Celebrated New Years same day since 153 BC when the Senate moved new years day to Jan 1st because of the Second Celtiberian War,

Why the consular year began on January 1 was due to the Second Celtiberian War. In 154 BC, there was rebellion in Spain. Quintus Fulvius Nobilior was designated consul for the following year but could not assume office until the Ides of March. Given the military situation, the Senate decreed January 1 to be the start of the new civil year, which permitted Nobilior to be inducted and depart with his legions

  • Halloween, Romans had many days dealing with reconnecting with the dead, one on Nov 2nd
  • Easter, it's a Hodge podge of several holidays.
    • The Jewish holiday Passover,
    • Easter get's its name from the German celebration of Eostre, the goddess of Spring. Easter Eggs and the bunnies were borrowed from Eostre, symbols of rebirth and fertility.
    • The Romans too had a kind of deprecated holiday on March 15th dealing with fertility and rebirth.
7
  • 2
    There were very many pagan Roman festicvals. The above answer does not meaningfully address or adequately explain why, of all these countless possible options, that particular day, and not any other, of the dozens of other available celebrations, was ultimately picked for marking that specific moment of the Christian calendar, which is basically what the main question is primarily about.
    – Lucian
    Commented Jun 28, 2023 at 18:05
  • @Lucian, Sol Invictus associated with Dec 25 was also associated with the Roman Emperors including Constantine, It was a bigger holiday and thus was attributed to Jesus. The related Solstice was associated with his most famous male relative John the Baptist. The relationship of the holidays framed by the relationship of the two important Christians (cousins). Not equinoxes because the Romans had no concept of when the Sun crossed the equator. Not Zodiacs because there are 12 Zodiac signs and thus they are less prestigious. Maybe?
    – JMS
    Commented Jun 28, 2023 at 19:52
  • The sun was not a major Greco-Roman (or even Indo-European) deity, since, unlike (ancient) Ra-worshiping Egyptians, the former did not live in an excruciating desert, whose excessive heat could kill a person. Their main deity was Zeus-Jupiter, whose star or planet bears his name, to this very day.
    – Lucian
    Commented Jun 28, 2023 at 20:01
  • @Lucian, Perhaps in the days of the Republic, Zeus and Jupiter and especially Mars said to be the divine father of Romulus. But in the 4th century CE Roman Emperors were all about survival. Once named Emperor their average life expectancy was about 2 years. The Sun Cult was the patron god of the Roman soldiers and became an official Roman religion in 274 along with the traditional Roman Cults. What made the Sun Cult, Sol Invictus especially influential was the membership even leadership of it by Roman Emperors. In this way they tried to secure the loyalty of the military.
    – JMS
    Commented Jun 28, 2023 at 20:31
  • Two more small remarks, concerning your next-to-last comment: Solstices and equinoxes are among the zodiac's twelve signs. The latter two are associated to the conceptions of John and Jesus.
    – Lucian
    Commented Jun 28, 2023 at 20:48

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.