# What year was Jesus born?

#1

I have recently started reading the Ignatius study bible and in the notes of the gospel of Matthew it says “According to our current calendar, Jesus was born near the end of Herod’s reign, either between 6 and 4 b.c. or 3 and 2 b.c.” I was confused by this as I thought it would be zero starting from Jesus’s birth. If someone could explain it if possible that would be great. God bless

#2

For one, there’s really no ‘year zero’ in the Anno Domini (AD) or the Common Era (CE) system. 1 BC(E) is immediately followed by 1 AD/CE.

The thing is our modern Anno Domini (‘Year of our Lord’) system was first invented by a 6th century monk named Dionysius Exiguus (aka Dennis the Short).

In the early Middle Ages, the most important calculation (and thus one of the main motivations for the European study of mathematics) was the problem of when to celebrate Easter. After a period of controversy in the early Church, the first Council of Nicaea (AD 325) had finally decided that Easter would fall on the Sunday following the full moon that follows the spring equinox. Computus (Latin for computation) was the procedure for calculating this most important date, and the computations were set forth in documents known as Easter tables, which listed the dates of Easter for a given set of years.

At that time, Christians had no single way of reckoning calendar years. Some simply identified years by naming emperors or officials who held office in that year. Others reckoned years ab urbe condita (‘from the founding of the city’ of Rome or AUC, traditionally held to be 753 BC). In Egypt, the so-called ‘Era of Martyrs’ or the Diocletian system (which reckoned years starting from AD 284, the beginning of the reign of the emperor Diocletian, who instigated the last major persecution against Christians) was in vogue. Dionysius devised his system to replace the Diocletian system that had been used in an old Easter table; he did not want to preserve the memory of this emperor who had been a ruthless persecutor of Christians. In any case, the result of Dionysus’ calculations (1 BC-AD 1) is still off by a few years, though considering the difficulty of pinning definite dates back then, he still did a pretty good job.

(Note that it wasn’t Dionysus who invented the concept of ‘Before Christ’: that would be the venerable St. Bede, who lived two centuries after Dionysus. It was Bede who established the standard of not using a year zero and who was instrumental in popularizing Dionysus’ Anno Domini system.)

The BC/AD system gained in popularity in the 9th century after the Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne adopted the system for dating acts of government throughout Europe, though in practice, people were quicker to adopt the AD system more than the BC. Not everybody adopted it: in the East, the Anno Mundi system, which dates years from what was then believed to be the year the world was created, 5509 BC, was common, and in what is now Spain and Portugal, the ‘Spanish Era’ (which dates years starting from 38 BC, the beginning of the Pax Romana in Hispania) continued to be used until the 14th century. It was only by the 15th century that all of Western Europe had adopted the BC/AD system.

#3

We do not know for sure.

But it seems that when years were counted back to HIS birth, errors were made.

King Herod died in 4BC, so as he had called to kill all boy children less than two years old, our LORD could not have been born after 4BC, and 6BC is as good an estimate as any.

ICXC NIKA

#4

I got a hold of an astronomy program for my computer. You could use it to see what the night sky looked like from most cities from about 4000 BC to about 4500 AD. Punching in Jerusalem, 4 BC, and the view looking West, I found a conjunction of Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn appeared every 1,600 years, or thereabouts. One occurred in the third week of September, 4 BC. Not very scientific, but thought-provoking.

#5

This youtube.com/watch?v=ff-Gp194XUU provides some good analysis.

#6

John 8:57 paraphrased, Jesus was accused of preaching with authority even though he wasn’t yet 50. This occurred a year before he was crucified.

Assuming a late crucifixion date of April A.D. 36, let us postulate he would have been 47-49 at the time of his death.

This would give him a birth year of 12 B.C. to 10 B.C.

Herod would still be in power. Jesus would have been 8-10 when Josephus returned from Egypt, saw that Archelaus was also bad, and moved on to Nazareth, and 39-41 when he was baptized by John.

Oh, and Halley’s Comet made a pass in 12 B.C.

#7

If I said to a kid, “No, you’re not yet twenty, you can’t drink beer/smoke yet,” (I’m using the Japanese system here) it doesn’t necessarily follow that the kid has to be eighteen or nineteen years old. I could say the same thing to a twelve-year old or a ten year old just as I could say it to a teenager. The point being, “You’re too young to drink beer.” So, I don’t really see the statement “You’re not fifty years old yet” as literally meaning that Jesus must have been forty-nine or something. The ultimate point of the statement is “You’re not an old person; how can you claim to have seen Abraham who died centuries ago?”

Oh, and Halley’s Comet made a pass in 12 B.C.

I point this out often, but the attempt to identify the Star of Bethlehem with whatever grand astronomical phenomena that was seen at the time doesn’t really work (comets, supernovas, planetary conjunctions, whatever) if you go by a literal reading of the text. This ‘star’ doesn’t behave like any comet or supernova or planet: “Behold, the star that they had seen when it rose/in the east went before them until it stopped over the place where the child was [a variant reads: “until it stopped over the child”].” Comets have an advantage over supernovas in that they are literally seen to ‘move’, but this star, if we go by a literal reading, stopped to hover over the place in Bethlehem where the baby was, something AFAIK comets don’t do.

Plus, if this was a comet or a supernova you would have expected Herod and/or the Jews in Jerusalem to have easily seen it, but there’s no indication from Matthew that anyone other than the Magi saw this star.

Finally, the ancients generally feared comets rather than welcomed it: it wasn’t a good sign. It was an omen that foretold death and war (to use Halley’s Comet as an example, in 12 BC it supposedly foretold the death of Marcus Agrippa that year; Josephus also recorded Halley’s Comet being seen just around AD 66, the year the Jewish-Roman War started), not the birth of a new king. It’s true that Augustus tried to interpret the comet of 44 BC in a positive way (as the deified soul of Julius Caesar), but that was because the people believed the comet as a sign of Caesar’s death. That was the exception to the rule. So I think a comet would have hardly been interpreted as signalling the birth of a king of the Jews, which is how the Magi interpreted the star.

#8

Well, you’re entitled to your opinion.

Why would the age of fifty have any universal meaning to the Jews of that Era?

It is a perfectly reasonable interpretation- maybe too literal for those who like their Jesus young and with long flowing brown hair…

As for the comet, that’s your opinion. Not to be confrontation, but the Magi from the East came, in fact, from the East- the Parthian Empire almost certainly.

What the heck did they care about heavenly bodies and how they related to the Roman despots to the west whose culture they despised as being barbaric?

#9

Well, on one level, there was the low life expectancy among many people. Fifty doesn’t really mean anything today, but back then, many people did not make it past their thirties or mid-forties. Out of the babies that did not die during birth, a third would have died before they reached six; by sixteen around 60 percent of those live births would have died; 75 percent by twenty-six; 90 percent by forty-six. Only a select few reached their sixties. So fifty essentially means ‘elderly’.

Let’s transpose it to a modern context. Let’s say Bob claims that he met Julius Caesar. Jim says, “You’re not even old enough - you haven’t even reached eighty yet, and you’re claiming Julius Caesar saw you?” The point in the passage was, Abraham died centuries ago. How can Jesus, who apparently isn’t even that ‘elderly’ by their standards (whatever His actual age was at the time), then claim to have seen him?

It is a perfectly reasonable interpretation- maybe too literal for those who like their Jesus young and with long flowing brown hair…

Or frizzy, close-cropped hair. Or none.

As for the comet, that’s your opinion. Not to be confrontation, but the Magi from the East came, in fact, from the East- the Parthian Empire almost certainly.

What the heck did they care about heavenly bodies and how they related to the Roman despots to the west whose culture they despised as being barbaric?

Are you forgetting that Babylonian astronomy/astrology was the foundation of Greco-Roman astronomy/astrology? In fact, the Babylonian system was already history ever since the conquests of Alexander the Great. Under the Seleucids (who ruled Babylonia as part of their empire until the Parthians conquered it), native astronomy/astrology was revamped and became transformed into a system unmistakably Greek in its theories and philosophy. In other words, even if the Magi were Parthians, by the time of our story what they would have practiced was ‘Greek’ astrology/astronomy.

And it’s not like as if the Romans were the only ones who held negative perceptions of comets. Heck, the Chinese had an advanced astronomical/astrological science of their own but even they considered comets to be ill omens; as to what kind of omen it portends depends on the appearance of the comet (one means big harvest, followed by civil war; another means a revolt in the army, etc.) Pretty much the same with Indian astronomers/astrologers. (Speaking of which, Indian astronomers also adopted the Greek system ever since Alexander the Great came close to reaching India.) In fact, just about anything that was ‘out of the ordinary’ - eclipses, comets - was often seen as a sign that a king or some noble will die shortly or that some catastrophe like war or famine will follow soon.

#10

the biggest mistake in dating the birth of jesus is tracing the death of herod.

the documentary “start of bethlehem” is very convincing. i also agree with their reasoning that herod actually died on 1bc. and therefore, jesus would have been born on 3bc.

i am of the opinion according to the gospels that jesus was born on rosh hashana and circumcised on yom kippur of 3bc according to all the forensic evidence and secondary sources.

jesus died on 3pm before the sunset marking the day of passover of ad 33

#11

The actual date of birth of Jesus would be interesting to know but its not relevant to or has any impact on our faith and salvation.

#12

Not relevant, but interesting counts.

A few points:

Still don’t see why you are dancing around a literal interpretation of John 5:8. It’s not like we are reaching, here. You can have several different theories for age of Jesus when he was crucified, but late forties- based on the gospel of John- should be one of the main ones.

Philosophy didn’t start with the Greeks, and certainly not astronomy-astrology. At the time of Christ, Egypt had already been a civilized country for eight thousand years. Indications that civilization in Asia Minor go back nine thousand years based on recent Archeological discoveries. This probably holds true for much of the eastern world as well.

Comets would have been well known and well-described. As for their being ill omens- well, it depends on whose ox is being gored. A bad king and a bright comet might give the people hope- the Gods were going to take him away. A good thing!

Herod the Great died in the fall of 4 B.C., and no one of any standing thinks otherwise. This is based on mathematics and astronomy clues that we can read in Josephus (full lunar eclipse.)

Giving Jesus an age is difficult using information in the bible. One pathway is to use known historical characters from the New Testament, and trace their lives as described in the non-Christian sources, as well as fitting in known historic events. Hagan does this Year of the Passover, which I recommend .

#13

Apart from your first sentence I assume the rest of your post is addressed to someone else and not to me.

#14

While I for one am not fully convinced that He was almost 50, I can easily imagine a middle-aged LORD.

Born in 6BC, died in the most likely year of 33, he’d be almost 39 years old.

At or just beyond the prime of life. Someone still in His strength, but old enough to be considered wise.

I don’t think however, that the icon of a grayheaded LORD would ever catch on.

ICXC NIKA.

#15

Very true.

But we’re all friends here!

#16

I never claimed astronomy-astrology started with the Greeks. Read my last post. What I mean is that by the time of our story, Greek philosophy and Greek astronomy-astrology - the Greek way of explaining things - had spread into the areas where Greek influence was felt, especially the places where Alexander the Great and his generals (the Diadochi) had ruled and influenced the native sciences of those areas: Babylonia, Persia, India, Egypt. (Ironic, given that Greek astronomy/astrology was originally derived from the Babylonians and the Egyptians; the Greeks themselves believed astrology was more of an Egyptian science.)

In other words, there was almost really no ‘pure’ astronomy/astrology in the Old World back then: Egyptian, Babylonian and Indian astronomies had all more or less been influenced by and merged with the Greek system. Maybe the Chinese, but they were also becoming influenced by Indian astronomers at just around the same time (the Eastern Han dynasty, AD 25-220).

Comets would have been well known and well-described. As for their being ill omens- well, it depends on whose ox is being gored. A bad king and a bright comet might give the people hope- the Gods were going to take him away. A good thing!

Sure, the 12 BC appearance of Halley’s Comet was visible, but again, there’s really no indication just from the text that anyone other than the Magi saw the star. And the Magi were not searching for a doomed king, but a newborn king.

And the thing about comets is that they’re really pretty much the opposite of the thing we’re discussing in the other place (divine punishment): most of the time they are interpreted to foretell imminent deaths and/or disasters, usually those that happened within the same year or two. Just using Roman examples, Marcus Agrippa died in 12 BC; the Jewish-Roman War happened in the same year Halley’s Comet reappeared in AD 66; a comet was also supposedly seen just before Rome burned in AD 64. AD 54 - Claudius died after a comet supposedly appeared. Augustus didn’t live long after a comet thought to foretell his death appeared in the sky around AD 14, which to be fair wasn’t the first time a comet threatened him. (One appeared in AD 9; unexpectedly, people began talking about his death, which didn’t happen, although a disaster of sorts was eventually connected with it: three Roman legions were annihilated by Germanic tribes the same year.)

It’s not just Romans. A 2nd-century south Indian (Tamil) king, Yanaikkatsey Mantaran Cheral Irumporai, is said to have died just seven days after “a bright falling star with a leg erupting backward” appeared (maybe Halley’s Comet in AD 124?) And of course, there’s the famous appearance of Halley’s in 1066.

Just a marginal aside. Around 5 BC Chinese astronomers saw what they claimed to be “a comet (literally ‘broom-star’) with a tail”, but it didn’t really move for the seventy days when it was visible. So maybe it was not really a comet (granted the term ‘broom-star’ was applied to other things in the night sky that was bright, not just real comets).

#17

FWIW the Jewish High priesthood specialized in Astronomey and astrology, as did the Essenes.

Imagine how bright the night sky was back then with NO air pollution, and very few after-sunset lights.

People had a lot of time to kick back and look and chart and speculate about the stars, which were thought to be tiny windows into the divine heaven.

BTW, Halley’s Comet is said to lose 10% of its brilliance each pass around the sun. Think of how bright it was 25 passes ago.

#18

The observed brightness is also dependent upon its nearness to the Earth at perihelion.

ICXC NIKA

#19

We’re not talking about how bright Halley’s Comet (or any other heavenly body) was here, Steve. Correct me if I’m wrong, but you seem to work under the assumption that the star had to be visible/bright and that it was seen by people other than the Magi. But I must point out again that a plain reading of the text does not show that. Let’s review:

Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East [or: *at its rising], and have come to worship him.”

When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it is written by the prophet:

`And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will govern my people Israel.’"

Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star appeared; and he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.”

When they had heard the king they went their way; and lo, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy; and going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him.

This is actually what dooms modern searches for the Star of Bethlehem in my opinion, really: most people assume that it must have been a bright/prominent phenomenon when nowhere in the text is it really said or even necessarily indicated to be a bright or a prominent phenomenon in the sky. This assumption really unnecessarily limits the available possibilities more than one should. (And of course, this is assuming a naturalistic, explainable-by-science explanation for the star.)

I’ll go with analogies again. It’s kind of like trying to find a red ball in a junkyard. Now the only thing we know about the ball is that it is a ball, and that it is red. However, for some reason, others who look for the same ball tend to go beyond the description. One assumes that the ball must have been as large as a basketball, the other assumes that it must be spotted, the third guy thinks that it’s of a particular shade of red, say scarlet. But what if the ball turns out to be just a plain, ping-pong sized wine-red ball?

#20

I have a problem with the placement of the phrase “in the East”. It might be referring to the relative position of the wise men rather than the star. How could they follow a star, rising from the East, with their backs turned toward it? Since they came from the East, as the scripture says, a better translation might be, “For from the East we have seen his star …”

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