Is the “integral age” theory an apologetics myth? 9 things to know and share [Akin] do we celebrate Christmas on December 25th? Why is the Annunciation on March 25th?

According to some authors, it’s due to something called the “integral age” view that was common among ancient Jews.

But this idea itself might be a myth.

Here are 9 things to know and share . . .

1) What is the “integral age” view?

Supposedly, it is a belief that was common in ancient Judaism, and it held that prophets (and other holy men) died on the same day that they were born or—according to some accounts—the day they were conceived.

They thus lived their lives in whole or “integral” years (from the Latin integer = “whole”).

2) What does this have to do with the Annunciation and Christmas?

According to some early Christian authors, Jesus was crucified on March 25th.

If that were true, and if someone held the integral age view, then Jesus would have either been born or conceived on March 25th.

This would provide a rationale for why the Church celebrates the Annunciation of Jesus on March 25, and why it celebrates his birth on December 25th—nine months later.

3) Why is it relevant to apologetics?

If this is the rationale for the dates of Advent and Christmas then it would be clear that they weren’t picked because of pagan holidays. They were picked based on the day Christ was thought to have been crucified.

Thus, apologists sometimes cite the integral age theory.

4) Who said Jesus was crucified on March 25th?

Tertullian (c. A.D. 200) is frequently credited with saying this. He wrote that Jesus was crucified “in the month of March, at the times of the Passover, on the eighth day before the calends of April” (An Answer to the Jews 8).

On the Roman calendar, the calends were the first days of the month.

If Jesus was crucified eight days before the calends of April then he was crucified eight days before April 1st—in other words, on March 25th.

Tertullian seems to have been the earliest author to propose this date for the Crucifixion, though it was later picked up by other Christian authors.

5) Was Tertullian correct?

No.* Modern scholars have almost universally concluded that Tertullian was mistaken.

The reason is that the four Gospels agree that Jesus was crucified on a Friday at Passover during the reign of Pontius Pilate (after the 15th year of Tiberius Caesar; see Luke 3:1).

None of the Fridays at Passover during the relevant years fall on March 25th, so Tertullian was mistaken.

Still, if people thought that’s when he was crucified, and if they held to the integral age view, that would still provide a rationale for the Annunciation on March 25 and Christmas on December 25.

6) Did they hold the integral age theory?

This is where it gets interesting. I’ve been doing extensive searching, both online and off, and I can’t find any ancient Jewish source attesting this view.

I can find modern Christian sources talking about it (like the apologetic writings mentioned earlier), but not ancient Jewish ones.

I also don’t find mentions of this in the scholarly literature I’ve checked.

For example, I can’t find any mention of it in Jack Finegan’s outstanding *Hanbook of Biblical Chronology *(2nd ed.)—and I really would expect to see some reference to it there.

I searched my Verbum library, which is very large. Nothing.

So I started searching on Google.

7) What did you find on Google?

Google shows different people different results, but here’s what I got.

If you search on “integral age”, you get 6,200 results, but most of the top ones have nothing to do with our question. A lot of them seem to have to do with a New Age concept.

If you search for “integral age” prophets, you get 3,070 results, but the top results are almost all about Christmas.

That’s a danger sign.

If this is a well-attested Jewish view then why does it only seem to be bringing up results about Christmas. Could it be an apologetics myth?

I checked several of the results that came up, but none of them cited an ancient Jewish source (or even a scholarly source which would be expected to include a reference to an ancient one). The ones I checked just said it was a Jewish belief.

We might be able to force Jewish references to the surface if we eliminate “Christmas” from the search, so I then searched on “integral age” prophets –Christmas. I got 648 results.

Now the Annunciation held the top spot in the results Google showed me. So I pulled out the Annunciation, too, by searching on “integral age” prophets –Christmas –Annunciation. I got 619 results.

Some New Age references were back. And none of the links I checked provided any ancient Jewish or modern scholarly references.

This was bad.

The search results I was coming up with did not make it look like this was an ancient Jewish belief.

So I decided to include search terms for specific Jewish sources where you might expect such a belief to be mentioned—like the Mishnah, the Talmud, or in a [midrash](“"integral age%22 prophets -christmas -annunciation midrash”).

The results I got were, respectively, 1 hit, 70 hits, and 10 hits.

Many of these had the term Talmud or midrash struck out because Google was trying to show me additional results even though these terms were not present.

And none of the ones I checked cited an ancient Jewish or modern scholarly source.

8) Is the “integral age” theory just a Christian apologetics myth, then?

From what I’ve been able to find, it could well be.

That’s not to say it’s a modern one. It could have been an idea that some ancient Christians had about what Jews believed. I haven’t tried tracing how far back in Christian history the claim goes.

But I have tried finding it in ancient Jewish and modern scholarly sources and not come up with anything.

As a result, I don’t feel safe citing this argument in my own apologetics at this point, because I can’t back it up. It has the earmarks of an apologetics myth.

So I have a request: Can anybody provide a quotation from an ancient Jewish source that talks about this belief?

How about a modern scholarly source that cites an ancient source (Jewish or otherwise)?

I’d much appreciate anything anyone can come up with! I’d love to have an ancient source for this claim.

9) If it is a myth, what then?

If the integral age theory is a myth then it means we shouldn’t be using it when we talk about the dating of the Annunciation and Christmas.

Of course, if it is a myth, that doesn’t mean these two Christian holidays were ripoffs of pagan ones. That’s a whole different matter.

Also, the difficulty in finding actual ancient references to back up this common contemporary claim should serve as a caution and as an illustration of the value of checking one’s sources and testing their claims.

More… I blogged about the common apologetics claim that the dates of Christmas and the Annunciation were based on the idea that Jesus lived to an “integral age.”

In other words, that Jesus died on the anniversary of his birth or conception.

According to some authors, it was popularly believed among ancient Jews that prophets and other holy men died on their birthdays.

But my own research into the topic did not back this up.

I therefore asked if others could shed any light on the subject, and they did!

With the generous help of various individuals, mostly on Facebook, I’ve been able to get further information on this subject.

The origin of “integral age”

Jon Sorensen noted that the phrase “integral age” may have been coined by William J. Tighe in this article. Tighe writes:

At this point, we have to introduce a belief that seems to have been widespread in Judaism at the time of Christ, but which, as it is nowhere taught in the Bible, has completely fallen from the awareness of Christians. The idea is that of the “integral age” of the great Jewish prophets: the idea that the prophets of Israel died on the same dates as their birth or conception.

Tighe provides no documentation for the claim that the idea of integral age “seems to have been widespread in Judaism at the time of Christ,” though he correctly nots that it is nowhere taught in the Bible.

Duchene’s proposal

Sorensen also pointed out that a variation of the argument was used by Louis Duschene in his book Christian Worship: Its Origin and Evolution. You can read his discussion of it here, starting on page 263.

Duschene admits that no text from the correct time period states that this is the way the dates of Christmas and the Annunication were determined, and so he says that his theory must be put forward as a hypothesis, although one he thinks can be defended.

It should be noted that Duschene is discussing early Christian sources, not Jewish ones, and so he is not claiming that Christians got this idea from Jews of the period.

His proposal is also picked up by the Catholic Encyclopedia, which attributes the idea to a “popular instinct, demanding an exact number of years in a Divine life” (source). Again, such an instinct would have been on the part of Christians. It is not claimed that this was picked up from Jewish individuals of their day.

A good day to die

One contact pointed to a statement in the Jewish Encyclopedia, which states “It is a good omen to die with a smile on the face, or to die on one’s birthday” (source).

Unfortunately, the text is not clear on the origin of this claim (though it may be Tur Yoreh De’ah 353; I have not been able to locate an online source to check this).

The idea that it’s a good omen to die on one’s birthday, though, does not establish that it was an ancient Jewish belief that the prophets or other men of God typically did so.

Moses’ Birth/Death Day

Several contacts pointed to statements in the Babylonian Talmud that claim that Moses died on the his birthday.

This appears to be stated in at least three places (b. Rosh Hashanah 1 [1:1, VIII.3.X], b. Sotah 12b [1:8, III.38.Q], b. Kiddushin 39a [1:9, II:9:B])

The least informative of these is the reference in Sotah, which simply says that Moses was born and died on the seventh of the month of Adar but does not go into why.

The reference in Rosh Hashanah appears to say that Moses died on his hundred and twentieth birthday, and it may indicate that the same was true of the patriarch Abraham, though this is less clear.

Finally, an argument!

The clearest discussion is found in Kiddushin, where Moses is said to have was born on the seventh of Adar and that he died on his hundred and twentieth birthday.

This passage cites two texts in support of this. The first is a statement Moses makes when he is about to die:

And he said to them, “I am a hundred and twenty years old this day; I am no longer able to go out and come in. The LORD has said to me, ‘You shall not go over this Jordan” [Deut. 31:2].

The Talmud argues that if Moses was merely in his hundred and twentieth year, he would not need to say that he was that old “this day,” and it tries to find additional meaning in this statement.

It then proposes another biblical passage, where God is promising blessings on those who obey him, as an explanation:

None shall cast her young or be barren in your land; I will fulfill the number of your days [Ex. 23:26].

Bad exegesis

The argument that the Talmud is making is not exegetically sound. The text in Deuteronomy need not be taken as Moses referring to his birthday. The “this day” in his statement that he is a hundred and twenty years old may just be a way of underscoring the impressive age he has achieved.

Even less plausible is the interpretation of the passage in Exodus to mean that those who obey God will live in whole year units. Understood naturally, it just means that those who obey him won’t die young but will live a full life (all things being equal).

What is significant for our purposes, though, is not whether the argument is exegetically sound. What matters is the fact that the Talmud uses the argument to support the idea that Moses died on his birthday.

This provides at least the kernel of something that could be applied more broadly.

Was Moses thought to be unique?

We have already noted that Rosh Hashanah may apply this reasoning to Abraham, however this is unclear. In more recent times, it has been applied to David and perhaps other figures. However, the only person that the Talmud clearly applies this reasoning to is Moses.

Further, while the Talmud dates the claim that Moses was born and died on the seventh of Adar to the period between A.D. 10 and 220 (b. Kiddushin 1:9, II.9.A-B), the argument involving those who obey God living in whole year units may date to a few centuries later.

Apologetic implications

As a result of all this, we should be careful in claiming that there was a widespread belief in ancient Judaism that prophets or other holy men died on their birthdays. The matter is too uncertain for that.

The most that can safely be claimed is that some Jewish sages from approximately this period in history had the idea that some holy men (at least Moses) lived in whole year units and this may or may not have played a role in the thinking of early Christians in fixing certain feast days.

I want to say a special thank you to all who provided assistance in this matter. It helped me carry the issue further than I was able to on my own!

I’ll post any further updates to this page to keep it current.


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