Joseph McCabe (1867-1955) was one of the most prolific authors of all time. He was brought up as a Roman Catholic, worked on Latin documents, and made himself very well-informed about Christianity, but turned against it. But he was extremely naive about Jews; bear this in mind.

Click for Detailed notes on McCabe - scroll down for selections from A Rationalist Encyclopaedia (1948).

Here's the full A Rationalist Encyclopaedia (about 1.3 MBytes; Word format; includes notes on some of its limits)


J. McCabe, Rationalists Encyclopaedia

Literally the Mass celebrated on Christ's birthday, a word that first occurs in the eleventh century and is now applied to the day itself, December 25th.The birth-story, which is not in Mark, belongs to the later stratum of the Gospel legends and gives no indication of a date. The feast was, in fact, so thoroughly pagan that as late as 245 we find Origen protesting against the very idea of celebrating the birthday of Jesus as if he were an earthly king, and the date of birth was fixed by such fantastic calculations that almost every month of the year was selected in one or other part of the Church. The first undisputed reference to a celebration on December 25th - Christian scholars admit that references to it in the second and third centuries are spurious - occurs after the middle of the fourth century. From 360 to 450 the celebration spread from Rome to the leading cities, but the remoter Greeks and the Armenians clung to January 6th (Conybeare's Myth, Magic, and Morals, 1909, p. 176). There was no great festival and no general agreement about the date until the fifth century.
      Modern divines assign various strained reasons for the adoption of December 25th in a ludicrous attempt to obscure the fact that it was borrowed from rival religions - hence the long struggle against it - which they admit located the birth of their saviour-gods in mid-winter. The choice of December 25th was obviously part of the general policy of disarming the pagans and Mithraists when their cults were suppressed, and it began, significantly, at Rome. In pre-Christian times knowledge of astronomy and the calendar was so imperfect that the great nature-festivals, originally fixed at mid-winter, spring, mid-summer, and autumn, often got out of date, but even in Roman days the birth of a solar or a vegetation-god, saving the world from the darkness, discomfort, and sterility of winter, was widely celebrated at the winter solstice (December 21st) or just after it, when the day began to lengthen again. From very early times the Romans had celebrated their Saturnalia in honour of the old vegetation-god at that time with a great display of presents, candles, and dolls (probably a reminiscence of an earlier sacrifice of children). From the reign of the Emperor Aurelian (270-6), who introduced a solar cult of a high ethical character, December 25th was the outstanding day of their calendar and was officially described as "the Birthday of the Unconquered Sun." The coming of Mithraism from Persia confirmed the date. The Mithraic cave-temple was on the Vatican Hill, close to the Christian settlement, and the midnight celebration of the birth of the saviour-god, with blaze of candles and clouds of incense (as in the Catholic "midnight mass" to-day), would be familiar to every Christian. The Egyptian Isis and Horus also were greatly honoured at Rome, and we learn from Macrobius (Saturnalia, I, 18), who is confirmed by the Christian Paschal Chronicle (Migne, Greek Series, XCII, 384), that the Egyptians at this period celebrated the birthday of the sun-god Horus in midwinter, having (as Catholics now do) a tableau of a divine babe (the sun at its feeblest, or just reborn) in a manger and the mother beside it. Epiphanius further tells us (Adv. haer., LI) that in Alexandria there was a Temple of the Virgin (Koreion) in which, on the same date, the people, after praying all night, burst into rejoicing because Kore (the Virgin) had "given birth to the Eternal."
      Even the Teutonic barbarians, who are said to have been (after becoming Christians) the first to fix Christmas on December 25th, had a great mid-winter festival. It is absurd to look for other reasons for the Christian selection of the date. See Conybeare (above) and J. M. Robertson, Christianity and Mythology (1900, 163-197); and for Christmas customs C. A. Miles, Christmas (1912).


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