1 - JamesETalmage

John Pratt’s latest Meridian article “Jubilee Witness” on the 29 Jubilee periods from the crossing of the River Jordan to the birth day of Jesus Christ is another example of how new research into ancient calendars supports the traditional LDS birth date of Jesus on April 6, 1 BC.[1] Even though some other General Authorities and LDS scholars have not agreed with the inspiration he professed, Elder James E. Talmage’s powerful statements in the main text of Jesus the Christ, published in 1915, have made this date the default LDS date for Christ’s birth.

2 - Jesus the Christ“Jesus the Christ” : Elder James E. Talmage’s classic work on the life of Christ written in the Salt Lake Temple was published in 1915.

Elder Talmage states: “We believe April 6th to be the birthday of Jesus Christ as indicated in a revelation of the present dispensation already cited (D&C 20:1), in which that day is made without qualification the completion of the one thousand eight hundred and thirtieth year since the coming of the Lord in the flesh. This acceptance is admittedly based on faith in modern revelation, and in no wise is set forth as the result of chronological research or analysis. We believe that Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem of Judea, April 6, B.C. 1.”[2]

Prophets and Apostles Statements Since Elder Talmage

3 - Clark - Our Lord of the Gospels“Our Lord of the Gospels” : President J. Reuben Clark classic work on the life of Christ was published in 1954.

President J. Reuben Clark included this explanation of the birthday of Christ in the preface to his work “Our Lord of the Gospels” published in 1954 and used as a Sunday School lesson manual. He says that many scholars “fix the date of the Savior’s birth at the end of 5 b.c., or the beginning or early part of 4 b.c. …. I am not proposing any date as the true date. But in order to be as helpful to students as I could, I have taken as the date of the Savior’s birth the date now accepted by many scholars, -late 5 b.c. or early 4 b.c.”[3]

4 - Mortal Messiah V1“The Mortal Messiah” : Four of the volumes of Elder Bruce R. McConkie’s six volume Messiah series address the mortal life of Jesus Christ in this classic work published in 1980.

Elder Bruce R. McConkie agreed with President Clark and used a long footnote in his widely read book “The Mortal Messiah” (first published in 1980) for an extensive explanation of his views on the birth day of Jesus Christ. “We do not believe it is possible with the present state of our knowledge – including that which is known both in and out of the Church – to state with finality when the natal day of the Lord Jesus actually occurred. Elder James E. Talmage takes the view that he was born on April 6, 1 b.c., basing his conclusions on D&C 20:1. … [and here Elder McConkie quotes Edersheim’s work on the life of Christ] ‘The first and most certain date is that of the death of Herod the Great. Our Lord was born before the death of Herod, and, as we judge from the Gospel-history, very shortly before that event. Now the year of Herod’s death has been ascertained with, we may say, absolute certainty, as shortly before the Passover … about the 12th of April of the year 4 before Christ. … the birth of Christ could not have possibly occurred after the beginning of February 4 b.c.’ (Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah 2:704.)”[4]

5 - Spencer W. Kimball.JPG President Spencer W. Kimball commented on the birthday of Christ in General Conference on April 6, 1980.

President Spencer W. Kimball talked about the birth of Christ during the Sesquicentennial celebration of the organization of the Church during General Conference on April 6, 1980. He said: “My brothers and sisters, today we not only celebrate the Sesquicentennial of the organization of the Church, but also the greatest event in human history since the birth of Christ on this day 1,980 years ago. Today is Easter Sunday.”[5]

President Harold B. Lee made a similar statement on April 6, 1973, and “noted that that day was ‘the anniversary of the birth of the Savior’ and then quoted Doctrine and Covenants 20:1 as a reference.”[6]

Elder Talmage’s Statement Remains a Standard

The statements of the apostles and prophets on the subject of Christ’s birth day are certainly mixed. One reason Elder Talmage’s view remains a standard interpretation in the Church in my opinion is that the main statements not supporting his view were made many years after the publication of “Jesus the Christ.” Also, neither President Clark nor Elder McConkie included their criticism of Elder Talmage’s conclusion in the main text of their books, also on the life of Christ. I believe that the support for the traditional April 6, 1 BC date amid this lack of agreement also includes recognition of the special inspiration throughout Elder Talmage’s classic work on the life of Christ written by assignment from the First Presidency in the Salt Lake Temple, his reputation as a world renown scientist and scholar, plus that the work was endorsed and copyrighted by the President of the Church when it was published.[7]

With full knowledge of the issues involved shown in the text and his extensive footnotes, the status of Biblical scholarly research and their various proposed dates, Elder Talmage boldly proclaimed “based on faith in modern revelation” that “We believe that Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem of Judea, April 6, B.C. 1.” Not all of the prophets or apostles since that time have verified that same inspiration, but there is no doubt that Elder Talmage believed that he had received specific inspiration to interpret D&C 20:1 as indicating the exact birth date of Jesus Christ.

6 - Articles of Faith“Articles of Faith” : Elder James E. Talmage’s classic work on Joseph Smith’s statements on the beliefs of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Starting this statement with the words “we believe” is also significant because of Elder Talmage’s classic work “The Articles of Faith” published in 1899, shortly after his term as President of the University of Utah.

[8] Elder Talmage doubtless did not use that significant phrase “we believe” lightly in describing the birth date of Jesus Christ, knowing its impact as the subject and the verb of all but one of the 13 key statements of religious beliefs written by Joseph Smith.

Gateway to Ancient Calendars

Elder Talmage’s forceful statement plus support from modern Prophets for his declaration, I believe, keeps the birth day of Christ from being locked into a 4-6 BC time frame accepted by most scholars and also some other General Authorities. The April 6, 1 BC date remains a credible date for further research and investigation thanks to Elder Talmage, despite the consensus opinion that Herod the Great died in 4 BC.

The new theory of ancient calendars proposed by John Pratt and the witness of Christ found to be contained in these interlocking sacred dates now provides a new dimension to study the question of the birth date of Christ.

Quoting from John Pratt’s new “Jubilee Witness” article already cited: “My research has proposed that the birth of Jesus Christ occurred on the evening preceding Thu 6Apr 1BC. This date was not arrived at by depending on the testimony of any modern religious leaders or traditions. It was found by counting backwards from the better established date of the Resurrection on Sun 3 Apr AD 33, as well as using many other sacred calendars. It has already been proposed in an earlier article that Christ was born in a jubilee year in order to fulfill the symbolism of jubilee.”

With Frequent Lunar Eclipses, Why the One in 4 BC?

John Pratt also wrote a landmark article in 1990 for The Planetarian, which is the principal periodical for all the planetariums around the country.[9] The most popular show each year was at Christmas time about the Star of Bethlehem.

One of the key historical observations has been that Jesus was born before King Herod died and his death reportedly occurred shortly after a lunar eclipse-the only one mentioned in all of Josephus’ work. The eclipse of March, 4 BC, visible only to those who were up at midnight, has long been held to be a strong proof of Herod’s death date. Pratt argued that the eclipse has been misidentified and actually does not fit the historical record. Instead he proposed that the correct eclipse was a widely viewed one that occurred just after sunset, late in December, 1 B.C. He went on to show that all of the historic data can indeed be reconciled with a birth date for Christ on Passover in 1 B.C. (which happened to fall on April 6th that year). His article, “Yet Another Eclipse for Herod” is found here.

7 - herod eclipse 1 BC “The proposed eclipse visible in Jerusalem right at sunset. The lunar eclipse of Dec. 29, 1 B.C. as it would have been seen from Jericho rising in the east at an altitude of 3 about 20 minutes after sunset.”[10]

James E. Talmage: Importance of April 6, B.C. 1

I see this ongoing research into the actual birth day of Jesus Christ as modern ramifications that came from Elder James E. Talmage’s words written in the Salt Lake Temple declaring: “We believe that Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem of Judea, April 6, B.C. 1.”

[1]              John Pratt, “Jubilee Witness,” Meridian Magazine, October 17, 2012.           

[2]   James E. Talmage, Jesus the Christ : A Study of the Messiah and His Mission According to Holy Scriptures Both Ancient and Modern, 1915, p. 104, “copyright September 1915 by Joseph F. Smith, Trustee-in-trust for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, free ebook. 

[3]   Reuben Clark, Jr., Our Lord of the Gospels: A Harmony of the Gospels, Salt Lake City, Deseret Book, 1954, pp. vi-vii ,

[4]  Bruce R. McConkie, The Mortal Messiah, 4 vols., Salt Lake City, Deseret Book, 1980-1986, pp. 349-50. RPM Note: With various errors that Josephus has been shown to have made in his histories, it would seem to be hyperbole by Edersheim to claim “absolute certainty” on Herod’s death date. Compare this to the much better certainty of both the Hebrew calendar date and dates in the Babylonian Chronicles for the starting of the siege of Jerusalem in 589 BC.

[5]   Spencer W. Kimball, “Remarks and Dedication of the Fayette, New York, Buildings,” Ensign, May 1980, p. 54.  The author cannot understand how this remark can be taken any other way but that President Kimball agrees with Elder Talmage’s interpretation and supports April 6, 1 BC as the birthday of Christ. However, here is a common explanation given by scholars for President Kimball’s and other similar statements: “A significant number of later General Authorities, including Church Presidents Harold B. Lee, Spencer W. Kimball, and Gordon B. Hinckley, have commented on the April 6 date warmly and acceptingly but without explanation or greater specificity.”(page 8) “It would understandably appear that President Kimball’s attention was focused on the organization of the Church that day and hence solely on D&C 20:1.” (footnote 10) Jeffrey R. Chadwick, “Dating the Birth of Jesus Christ,” BYU Studies, December 2010. [emphasis added]

[6]   John P. Pratt, “Dating the First Easter,” Ensign, June, 1985, pp. 59-68.  Harold B. Lee’s quote from Ensign, July, 1973, p. 2.. RPM Note: Knowing of the extensive review, rewrite and approval process that John Pratt went through for several years (1982-1985) for this article to be approved for publication in the Ensign indicates to me significant support on the Ensign review committees for Elder Talmage’s proposed dates on the resurrection and birth of Christ.

[7]  Utah Historical Encyclopedia, “James Edward Talmage,” 1994, ed. Allan Kent Powell.  “James E. Talmage Teacher, Mining Geologist, Engineer, University President, Writer and Apostle” Brigham Young Academy / Brigham Young High School Alumni Association, 2012.  “I am convinced that Elder Talmage’s life and his outstanding accomplishments were influenced to a marked degree by his experiences that he received from Dr. Karl G. Maeser. In this respect, I sincerely exhort each of you to remember that there may be many other “James Talmages” in our student body.” (from President Ernest L. Wilkinson). See also: Joseph F. Smith, Charles W. Penrose, and James E. Talmage, “Tidings of Comfort and Joy’ from the First Presidency,” in Messages of the First Presidency, 4:347, December 18, 1915. Endorsement from First Presidency of Jesus the Christ.   See also: John R. Talmage, “Talmage Story: Life of James E. Talmage – Educator, Scientist, Apostle,” 2012.

[8] James E. Talmage, Articles of Faith: A Series of Lectures on the Principal Doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Written by Appointment and Published by the Church.

, 1899

[9]  John P. Pratt, “Yet Another Eclipse for Herod,” The Planetarium, vol 19, no. 4, Dec 1990, pp. 8-14. “So why did Josephus include Herod’s eclipse but no others? An obvious answer is that the eclipse was widely observed and then associated with the executions. If so, then the eclipse occurred in the early evening. Using this criterion, the eclipses of March 13, 4 B.C. and January 10, 1 B.C. are extremely unlikely because they both began the umbral phase more than six hours after sunset and hence would have only been seen by at most a few people. The eclipse of Sept 15, 5 B.C. began three hours after sunset, but that is also late.” [emphasis in original]

[10]   John P. Pratt, “Yet Another Eclipse for Herod,” op. cit.