Questions From Readers
● I am enclosing a clipping from our Milwaukee Journal of January 10, 1957. It is a picture of Jordanian shepherds taking their flocks to pasture in the mountains near Jerusalem. This is a United Press photo and it would seem to discredit the argument about Christ’s birth not being in the wintertime.—B. B., United States.
Other letters making similar observations have also been received, saying that in view of the climate of Palestine the fact that sheep were out at night could not be taken as proof that Jesus could not have been born December 25. However, let it be noted that even though flocks may be taken out to pasture in Palestine during the rainy season, when the weather allows, yet this does not fit the conditions set at Luke 2:8, namely, that the shepherds were out keeping watch over their flocks by night; that is, had gone some distance away from the home sheepfold and were staying with the sheep out in the fields day and night. Such would not be true during the rainy season, when the weather was uncertain. Regarding this Dr. Clarke states:
“It was a custom among the Jews to send out their sheep to the deserts, about the passover, and bring them home at the commencement of the first rain: during the time they were out, the shepherds watched them night and day. As the passover occurred in the spring, and the first rain began early in the month of Marchesvan, which answers to part of our October and November, we find that the sheep were kept out in the open country during the whole of the summer. And as these shepherds had not yet brought home their flocks, it is a presumptive argument that October had not yet commenced, and that, consequently, our Lord was not born on the 25th of December, when no flocks were out in the fields; nor could he have been born later than September, as the flocks were still in the fields by night. On this very ground the nativity in December should be given up. The feeding of the flocks by night in the fields is a chronological fact, which casts considerable light upon this disputed point.” (Clarke’s Commentary, Vol. 5, page 370) McClintock and Strong’s Cyclopædia presents a similar argument and further observes that the census, not the taxing, “which made travelling necessary (Luke 2:2 sq.), would not have been ordered at this season.”—Vol. 4, page 877.
So the fact that sheep do graze in Palestine in winter months does not at all prove that Jesus could have been born in December, for it is also a matter of flocks and shepherds staying out night and day. Among the facts that help locate Jesus’ birth as being about October 1 are that John the Baptist’s father, being a priest of the course of Abijah, became father of him about six months before Jesus was born and that Jesus rendered the sacrifices of the old law covenant invalid by his death in the midst of the seventieth week, foretold in the prophecy at Daniel 9:24-27. For details see The Watchtower, 1954, pages 382, 383; “This Means Everlasting Life”, chapter 8.
● The chronological chart on page 364 of “New Heavens and a New Earth” shows that Noah preached some forty years. How can this be proved Scripturally? Does not Genesis 6:3 speak of a 120-year period?—E. J., United States.
We must be careful not to read into the Scriptures what they do not say or jump to a conclusion on the basis of one text alone. True, Genesis 6:3 indicates that at a certain time in man’s history God was giving that preflood world 120 more years. But it was not at that time that he gave Noah the information and told him to build the ark. How do we know?
Because Genesis 5:32 tells us that after Noah became five hundred years old and the flood was less than a hundred years away he first “became father to Shem, Ham and Japheth.” (NW) And not only that, but when God gave Noah the command to build the ark all these three sons were grown and married, Noah at that time having three daughters-in-law. (Gen. 6:18) By the time all three of his sons grew to manhood and married, according to the custom of those days, no doubt some fifty to sixty years passed. Since most likely his preaching began with his building of the ark it is reasonable to conclude that the length of his preaching was between forty and fifty years and not one hundred and twenty years.