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Date: Mon, 3 May 1999 23:12:20 -0600 <CALNDR-L@ECUMAIL7.ECU.EDU>
Sender: East Carolina University Calendar discussion List <CALNDR-L@ECUMAIL7.ECU.EDU>
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From: Lance Latham <rms@HILINE.NET>
Organization: HiLINE Internet Customer
Subject: Re: NOT the 2000th anniversary.


> >I'm working on a project which identifies December 25,1999
> as the 2000th anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ. This assumes that Christ was born in 2 BC. Could someone briefly summarize for me the best
> argument for this date?


No one thought to actually record Jesus' birth, of course. However, most authorities pick a spring or fall birth. I find the majority of them, and those with the most detailed reasoning, favoring a spring birth.

Lance replies: The entire question of Herodian chronology and the related 'birth of Christ' is doomed to be moot by the simple fact that the historical evidence is not adequate to support any single date for Herod's death. There are a multiplicity of dates suggested by scholars. An additional problem in this area is the questionable methodology used by some scholars, who skip from historical evidence to a reliance on Biblical scripture, then back again, to 'prove' whatever point they wish.

For those interested in investigating this epistemological quagmire, some suggested reading:

Pratt, "Yet Another Eclipse for Herod", The Planetarian, vol 19, n4, DEC 1990, pp 8-14. Essentially a silly argument for an eclipse on 29 DEC 1 BC, to produce more of a desired alignment with the traditional Christian epoch. This argument gives a 'birth of Christ' in 2 B.C.

Bernegger, "Affirmation of Herod's Death in 4 B.C.", Journal of theological studies, vol 34, 1983, pp526-531. A response to the W. E. Filmer paper, which questioned the Emil Schurer paper, accepted by historians for many years. Both are worth reading.

Edwards, "Herodian Chronology", Palestine Exploration Quarterly, vol 114, 1982, pp 29-42. This paper argues for death in 1 Nisan 2 B.C. in the ecclesiastical calendar, 1 Tishri 3 B.C. in the civil calendar.

Barnes, "The Date of Herod's Death", Journal of Theological Studies, vol 19, 1968, pp 204-209. Argues for Herod's death in December 5 B.C.

Filmer, "The Chronology of the reign of Herod the Great", Journal of Theological Studies, vol 17, 1966, pp 283-298. Argues for Herod's death in JAN 1 B.C. This paper was one of the first to question the traditional Schurer view, and is worth reading.

Sinnott, "Thoughts on the Star of Bethlehem", Sky & Telescope, vol 36, DEC 1968, pp 384-6. This paper looks at an interesting visual 'fusion' (conjunction) of Jupiter and Venus on 17 JUN 2 B.C. There are some interesting and possibly pertinent observations regarding the role of the constellation Leo.

In general, methodological problems emerge almost immediately with any reading of the supposedly relevant texts. The Josephus texts are written at two widely separated times, and contain internal contradictions, as well as discrepancies with historical evidence from other sources. Josephus was also writing for a Roman audience, and is known, in general, as one of the biggest kiss-asses in all of human literature.

As far as the Biblical record is concerned, the two relevant Gospels that discuss the 'birth of Christ' and the 'star' do not agree. The single known account of the star occurs in Matthew 2. It is actually quite vague - the number of Magi is never revealed, for example. The other Gospel, Luke, describes a 'birth of Christ' in terms which scholars generally conclude point to a date in 6 or 7 A.D. The Schurer account gives a date for Herod's death in March of 4 B.C. A 'birth of Christ' could have occurred as early as 11 B.C., by some accounts.

Owing to the state of the evidence, which is both inadequate for proof, and contradictory, the entire question of Herodian chronology, and the 'birth of Christ', is not a profitable one for investigation. It is certainly useful as an intellectual exercise - a kind of calendric calisthenics, if you will.


Lance Latham Resource Management Systems 5901 North 33rd Street McAllen, TX 78504-5055 (956) 618-2711 <> Home of "Standard C Date/Time Library", ISBN 0-87930-496-0