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A skeptical argument, from this site, argues that Shepherds would not have been out in the fields with the sheep in late December. The argument runs like this:

Luke 2:8 states that when Jesus was born, shepherds were keeping watch over their flocks in the fields. According to the Talmud, flocks were put out to the pasture in March and returned to pens in early November. That would make Jesus birth sometime during late Spring, Summer, or early Fall. During late December, the flocks would have been penned up and would not require 24 hour monitoring by the shepherds

For those believing in a December 25th date for Jesus birth, would the main argument be that the sheep were being brought out so as to get an early start in the morning for temple sacrifices? Or, could there be exceptions for the Talmudic statement?

The skeptical article doesn't mention where in the Talmudic their statement comes from. I have not found it. However, in the Mishnah (Baba K, vii.7) found here, it states:

One may not raise small domesticated animals, i.e., sheep and goats, in settled areas of Eretz Yisrael, as they graze on people’s crops.

The Shepherds could have been raising sheep on their own land that they were working on. Perhaps their flocks were destined for temple sacrifices?

Bethlehem was an area for growing grapes. Perhaps sheep could have also been brought out in December to fertilize what was growing in the fields - such as grape vines which might also include lower leaf/branch pruning of those vines growing in the fields?

Note, this is a legitimate question for Christianity because of the historical implications impacting the tradition of celebrating Jesus' birth on December 25th. It also impacts the integrity of the various oral traditions related to the church fathers.

That is to say, is there any reason to not believe that the December 25th date is grounded in the oral tradition of Mary, the mother of Jesus, sharing the date of his conception and birth with the various members of the first century faith community?

The micro-climate in Bethlehem was likely similar to weather in California. Many ranchers leave their sheep outside in December. One might argue that the Talmud was not arguing a universal principle on this point. Being out in the cold was an occupational hazard for shepherds. In Genesis 31:34 Jacob is recorded as lamenting his shepherding job, "This was my situation. The heat consumed me in the daytime and cold at night, sleep fled from my eyes."

Here is the average temperature for Bethlehem:

The first month of the winter, December, is still a mild month in Bethlehem, West Bank, with temperature in the range of an average low of 7°C (44.6°F) and an average high of 14°C (57.2°F). In December, the average high-temperature drops, from a pleasant 20°C (68°F) in November, to a mild 14°C (57.2°F). See here.

According to Emeritus Professor Epstein, of Animal Breeding at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the most common sheep in Israel are the Awassi breed of sheep. They are often left in the open fields even during the evenings. The only exception would be when the temperatures in high altitudes are very low with snow on the mountains. See this article by Epstein.

The article also states:

Bedouin and fellahin shepherds know nothing of tent or house but live entirely in the open together with the flocks under their care. They are working 365 days a year, from 13 to 16 hours a day. Their work includes shepherding, watching at night…In Iraq, the principal lambing season of Awassi ewes is in November, and in Lebanon, the Syrian Arab Republic and Israel in December-January…

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    this might be more a history? question as it doesn't necessarily have to do with Christianity. (This seems to be asking why might've shepherds been out in winter, which isn't about Christianity)
    – depperm
    Commented Dec 22, 2021 at 16:53
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    The average night-time temperature in Jerusalem, Israel in December is stated to be 12.6C/55F, which would not be cold enough to exclude sheep (and shepherds) from the fields. The argument is not conclusive. Nor would custom exclude individuals who had reasons not to follow that custom. Note : I do not personally assert any time of year, but I just think this argument is not conclusive.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Dec 22, 2021 at 17:20
  • Nigel, thank you. I updated my question to reference the average temperature in Bethlehem. And for the thought (depperm) that my question belongs in the history section, it might very well fit in nicely there. But that's a subjective judgment. I got chastised once for posting a question in two different StackExchange sections at the same time. So, I'm not going to do that again!
    – Jess
    Commented Dec 22, 2021 at 19:01
  • Can a mod migrate this to history for you?
    – jaredad7
    Commented Dec 22, 2021 at 21:24
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    Is there a wide-spread belief that Jesus was actually born on Dec. 25th? It's the day to celebrate His birth, not the actual day of His birth (for which we don't really have good data). It is obviously symbolic (Jesus is the light, the light begins to noticeably return around Dec. 25th in the northern hemisphere). Commented Dec 22, 2021 at 23:03

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Temple sacrifices were conducted all year round which suggests that the shepherds would be out at night regardless of the time of year or the weather.

Historical evidence shows that unblemished lambs for sacrifice in the Jerusalem Temple were kept in the fields near Bethlehem during the winter months. The town of Bethlehem is situated about five miles southwest of Jerusalem in the hill country of Judah. The climate is mild, and rainfall is plentiful. Fertile fields, orchards, and vineyards surround the city.

The New International Version Study Bible points out that “the flocks reserved for temple sacrifice were kept in the fields near Bethlehem throughout the year”.

Luke’s gospel describes how angels bore the good news of the birth of the new born king to the shepherds in the fields. After the announcement, they left their flocks to worship him (Luke 2:8-16).

Joseph and Mary probably stayed in Bethlehem for the 40 days necessary to complete Mary’s purification. From Bethlehem, they could easily make the five-mile trip to Jerusalem for the sacrifice for Mary’s purification (Luke 2:22).

There is also a theory that the shelter in which Jesus was born was a place in the northern part of Bethlehem called Migdol Eder. This was a watchtower with a place underneath that shepherds used during the lambing season to shelter the newborn lambs that would later be used as sacrifices in the Jerusalem temple. The prophet Micah, who foretold Bethlehem as the place of the Messiah’s birth, also mentions Migdol Eder: “As for you, watchtower of the flock [Hebrew, Migdol Eder], stronghold of Daughter Zion, the former dominion will be restored to you; kingship will come to Daughter Jerusalem” (Micah 4:8). This theory is used to explain why, when the heralding angels gave the sign that the baby would be “wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger,” the shepherds seemed to know exactly where to look. And it would be apropos for the Messiah to be born in the same place where the sacrificial lambs were born. https://www.gotquestions.org/where-was-Jesus-born.html

Whether Jesus was born in December or conceived in December and born towards the end of September or born in the spring matters not. We are not told to celebrate his birth but to remember his death and resurrection until he comes again.

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This link, which I pasted from @GratefulDisciple here, (which incidentally is part of an answer to another of your questions) asserts that either a September or late December date are "equally plausible" according to the historical and biblical data that we have been given.

In the linked article, in the section outlining the defense of the December date, it is explained that ancient Jewish writings attest to shepherding in late December, as the weather was mild enough.

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Consider the literal meaning of the names of the months September (7th) , October (8th), November (9th) and December (10th). Assume that the addition of January and February to the Roman calendar did not find recognition till the late 1st century, AD. Also, forget the theory that 25th December was borrowed from Roman culture which celebrated the festival of Invincible Sun on that Day. So, the faithful once celebrated Christmas in the 10th month of the year (then December), which along with its name, subsequently got pushed to the 12th place !

Incidentally, as Jesus was undergoing the trial, Peter was sitting by the fire in the courtyard warming himself (Lk 22:55). Did that happen in the hot month of March/ April ? No way. Why would Peter risk getting caught , by sitting near the fire noticed by all ? Yes, it was cold, very cold.

Now, push both Christmas and Good Friday two months backwards. There you have the shepherds tending the flock in open in October and Peter sitting by the fire in January.

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  • The original Roman calendar consisted only of 10 months and of a year of 304 days. The remaining 61 1/4 days were apparently ignored, resulting in a gap during the winter season. The months bore the names Martius, Aprilis, Maius, Juniius, Quintilis, Sextilis, September, October, November, and December—the last six names correspond to the Latin words for the numbers 5 through 10. The Roman ruler Numa Pompilius is credited with adding January at the beginning and February at the end of the calendar to create the 12-month year. In 452 BC, February was moved between January and March. Commented Dec 28, 2021 at 7:05

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