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The Origins of the Christmas Date: Some Recent Trends in Historical Research


The article reviews recent and current developments in research on the origins of Christmas, which has traditionally crystallized around two competing approaches, known as the "History of Religions Theory" and the "Calculation Theory." This essay shall look at the history of these approaches and discuss their rationale and limitations, before turning to the challenges that have been brought against them by the recent work of Steven Hijmans and Hans Förster. It will be argued that their studies reveal the need for a more nuanced approach to the history of Christmas, which retains the aspect of inter-religious influence, but also pays some overdue attention to the importance of chronological thought in early Christian scholarship.

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C. P. E. Nothaft , “From Sukkot to Saturnalia: The Attack on Christmas in Sixteenth-Century Chronological Scholarship,” Journal of the History of Ideas 72 (2011): 503–22

André Wilmart , “Un sermon de Saint Optat pour la fête de Noël,” Revue des sciences religieuses 2 (1922): 271302

Alden A. Mosshammer , The Easter Computus and the Origins of the Christian Era (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008)

C. P. E. Nothaft , Dating the Passion: The Life of Jesus and the Emergence of Scientific Chronology (200–1600) (Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 2011)

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Church History
  • ISSN: 0009-6407
  • EISSN: 1755-2613
  • URL: /core/journals/church-history
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