Circa 6BC (Blomberg, New American Commentary),
As early as 12BC (Vardaman, who looks to Josephus mention of Jesus’ ministry as occurring circa AD 15-19).
Original estimate by Dionysius Exiguus in 525 AD to reset the calendar around the Advent was inaccurate. The present calendar is predicated on Jesus birth being Dec. 25th and his circumcision/presentation in the Temple fell on January 1st, which begins the anno dominus. This lines up with the early celebration of Christmas on Dec. 25th.
Herod the Great died in 4 BC, so Jesus had to be born prior to that.
The Star of Bethlehem is another possible way to date Jesus’ birth. The star was newly appeared at a specific time, travelled slowly, and moved from east to south. It was unusual or the Magi wouldn’t have come all the way from Persia to inquire about the birth of the King of the Jews. Magi were a priestly group in Persia, according to Herodotus (1:101) 6th C BC, associated with astronomy and astrology, which was a core educational subject in the ancient world (see Plato’s Republic, 529). Also Philo stated a belief that the stars offer “timely signs of coming events” because “the stars were made for signs” (ie. Genesis 1:14).
There is also a tradition that the Magi came from Arabia (Justin Martyr, AD 160). Clement of Rome (c. A.D. 96) considered frankincense and myrrh to have originated near Arabia. Magi visiting kings was a regular practice in the ancient world. There are numerous references in literature of the time. Ie. Tiridates, King of Armenia, led Magi to pay homage to Nero in AD 66.
Time for Journey:
It would have taken them 1-2 months for the journey. A fully loaded camel can travel 50 miles in a day comfortably. It is 900 miles from Babylon to Jerusalem, going around the Arabian desert, thus a journey of 18 days without stopping, which they surely did.
Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in 7 BC, a theory dating back to Masha’allah AD 8th century.
Star as a comet. Comet seen on it’s way toward earth, or moving away. Perihelion is the point at which the comet’s orbit is closest to the sun. So, could the Magi have seen a comet on the way toward perihelion, which led them to Jerusalem, then lost sight of it in the sun, which led them to inquire of Herod, and regained sight as the comet came back into view.
Dio Cassius, a Roman historian, reveals a comet appeared in 12 BC (Roman History 54-29) and seemed to stand over the city of Rome. This was likely Halley’s comet. This timing would agree with Vardaman’s unique earlier chronology of Jesus life (mentioned above)
AD 1303 Halley’s comet appeared and Giotto painted a nativity with it pointing to Mary and Jesus leading the Magi to the creche. If the tail of the comet is vertical, then it would appear to point toward something on earth. Origen (c. 2nd C. A.D. in Contra Celsum 1.58) states: “The star that was seen in the east we consider to be a new star… partaking of the nature of those celestial bodies which appear at times such as comets… If then at the commencement of new dynasties or on the occasion of other important events there arises a comet… why should it be a matter of wonder that at the birth of Him who was to introduce a new doctrine… a star should have arisen?”
Halley’s comet appeared on Aug. 26 of 12 BC for 56 days.
A comet appeared in 5 BC from March 9 – April 6
Another appeared in April of 4 B.C.
The 5 BC Comet
“In March/April… this particular comet would have been first seen rising in the East in the morning sky….. the Magi first saw the comet soon after perihelion… travelled to Jerusalem, a journey time of 1-2 months, then saw the comet in the south in the morning sky as they travelled from Jerusalem to Bethlehem.
The conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter in 7 BC could well have contributed to the expectation of the Magi that something portentous was about to occur. Saturn represented the divine father and Jupiter his son. The conjunction took place in the constellation Pisces which was associated with Israel. The conjunction happened three times in May, October and December of 7 B.C. The message they interpreted was this: “a Messiah-king will be born in Israel.” As if to provide more confirmation, Mars joined the conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter in 6 B.C. Mars represented war, so the coming king would be a mighty one.
If Jesus was born in March/April of 5 BC, then the Magi could have travelled to Jerusalem by the summer. If they spoke to Herod about the constellation of Jupiter and Saturn they had seen in 7 B.C., it would have caused him to err on the side of caution and kill all of the babies from two years and younger.
“Jesus would not have been born less than six weeks before the visit of the Magi… the most probable sequence of events in Matthew and Luke is: birth, visit of shepherds, presentation in Temple, return to Bethlehem to stay in house, visit of Magi.
Stable vs. House: Since Jesus was likely born in the stable attached to a house, the house being too full of guests for either comfort or privacy, the family may have simply moved into a guest room of the house some time after Jesus was born.
Jesus was born in March or April of 5 B.C., at earliest March 9th and latest May 4th. Birth around Passover: the census would have been spread over a long period, so Bethlehem being filled with people would fit the Passover time.
A.D. 5th century historian Orosius (Adv. Pag. VI.22.7, VII.2.16) indicates Caesar Augustus ordered a census be taken of each province primarily to prove allegiance to himself. “This is the earliest and most public acknowledgement which marked Christ as the first of all men and the Romans as lords of the world… since in this one name of Caesar all the peoples of the great nations took oath, and through participation in the census, were made part of one society.’
Birth of Jesus
Earliest mention of December 25 is in the Philocalian calendar representing Roman practice of the year A.D. 336, which states “natus Christus in Betleem Judeae.…during the consulship of (Augustus) Cæsar and Paulus. Our Lord Jesus Christ was born on the eighth before the calends of January (25 December), a Friday, the fourteenth day of the moon.”
Christmas occurs in a Roman calendar Chronographus Anni CCCLIV (A.D. 354), Sol Invictus was on that day but Christmas replaced it. However, since Mithraism and Sol Invictus was introduced after the birth of Jesus (no earlier than AD 90), it may well have been the other way around originally.