Today is the anniversary of Jesus’ crucifixion. Okay, it probably really isn’t, and we don’t even know what year that happened, let alone the specific date. While Easter does sometimes fall this early, it’s rare. And if these first century dates for the beginning of Passover are accurate, it doesn’t look like Passover was ever that early around the time Jesus is generally thought to have died, either. But it is the date that the early church decided was both the day Jesus died and when he was conceived, which is why it’s the Feast of the Annunciation. This was when, according to Luke, the angel Gabriel told Mary she was pregnant with God’s child.
This fits with Jesus’ birth being on Christmas Day, but it’s not clear which date was decided on first. He is said by all four Gospels to have been crucified during Passover, which is in the spring, while the Bible gives no indication at all as to his birthdate, which suggests the death date came first. But why would he have been conceived on the same date he died? Christian writers, including Hippolytus, Tertullian, and Augustine, seem to have associated it with Jewish tradition that this was the case with all righteous prophets, but I don’t know where they got that idea. It is said in the Talmud that Moses died on his 120th birthday, but that’s just one prophet, albeit the most important one. I have seen that it’s also believed in Islam that Muhammad died on his birthday, although of course that was even later than these church calculations. And even if this did apply to other prophets, why would this have changed from birthday to conception day in this one case? Indeed, I’ve even heard it suggested that, if Jesus was born during Passover, that could explain why Bethlehem was so crowded at the time, as indicated in Luke. 25 March was also the new year during part of the Middle Ages, chosen to coincide with the Annunciation, although earlier cultures had also started the year around the vernal equinox with no reference to Jesus. It just kind of makes symbolic sense with the whole new life idea, at least in some climates. I believe the Roman new year was originally in March as well, back before January became a month. And well before that, Akitu was held in Mesopotamia around then.
It’s certainly been argued a lot as to whether the date of Christmas was chosen to coincide with a particular pagan holiday, but whether or not it was, I don’t think it was a coincidence that it’s on what was then considered the winter solstice, or the Annunciation and crucifixion on the equinox. This also applies to John the Baptist being born on 24 June, as Luke says the conception of Jesus happened when Elizabeth was six months pregnant, even though it isn’t exact to the day.
According to the Golden Legend, as I just recently learned from an old Apocrypals episode, 25 March was also the day of the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Eden, based on the idea that humanity would have fallen and been redeemed on the same date.
Thomas Cole really provides a stark contrast between Eden and the world outside.
It also gives it as the date of the creation of Adam, Cain’s murder of Abel, Melchizedek giving an offering to Abraham, Abraham trying to sacrifice Isaac, and the deaths of John the Baptist (which, by traditional dating, would not have been either his birthday or date of conception) and James, son of Zebedee. The parting of the Red Sea and the fall of Lucifer are also sometimes thrown into the mix. I’ve seen online that Pope Benedict XVI wrote that the attempted sacrifice of Isaac is associated with the date due to “Jewish tradition.” While it does appear to be quite common in Jewish tradition to assign undated events from scripture to important days in the calendar, this would of course be the Jewish calendar, not the Roman. Maybe he meant there was an association of the Akedah with Passover? What I’ve seen from some quick searching, however, ties the event with Rosh Hashanah instead, and that’s also when the creation of Adam is commemorated.
Some Christians who were intent on calculating particular dates that can’t be proven have also gone with fall creation dates. This includes the infamous Bishop James Ussher, who dated it to 23 October. The birth of Isaac and the angels announcing said birth are indeed both associated with the first day of Passover. I guess it took Abraham three month to impregnate his wife after the announcement.
25 March is also the day that the One Ring was destroyed in Mount Doom, which was very intentional on J.R.R. Tolkien’s part.
Picture by Jian Guo
And it’s the feast of St. Dismas, the repentant thief, who was crucified alongside Jesus.
So, yeah, it’s a pretty big day for significant events that we have no real way of dating.