The Calendar Is Not What It Seems

The Christian calendar has many interesting characteristics. It shows a fusion between Jewish, Roman and certain unique Christian characteristics.

Determining the date in the Christian calendar is based on the approximate amount of time it has been since the birth of Christ. Finding the date based on how long it has been since a particular event or certain natural patterns is not unique to Christianity. Many earlier civilizations used similar techniques. But the exact approach used by Christians was heavily influenced by the Jewish method. The Jews used a dating system based on the life of the Prophet Abraham. Abraham was one of the earliest of the “major” Judeo-Christian prophets, and is also one of the earliest to be based on real historical events. Since the Prophet Abraham lived around 2000 B.C., the current date would be around the year 4000 for the Jews, The Christians and Muslims used the same approach but in different context.

In the early Church, there was no definite dating system. Which calendar you used varied greatly depending on which region or period you lived in. Many Christians living within the vicinity of the Roman Empire either used the Jewish or Roman dating system. Then came a man named Dionysius Exiguus. Honored as a great scholar among most Christian groups, and even declared a saint in the Romanian Orthodox Church, he was born in Scythia Minor (now near the boarder between Romania and Bulgaria) around A.D. 470. He was known for taking many early Christian texts that had been originally written in Greek and translating them into Latin, which by now was the main liturgical language of the Church. In the early A.D. 500′s, he created a dating system based on the birth of Christ. At the time, a dating system invented by Roman Emperor Diocletian was widespread among many people, particularly in Europe. Since Diocletian was one of the emperors who persecuted Christians, many wanted to do away with that dating system once Christianity was legalized. Dionysius Exiguus then introduced a dating system based on the birth of Christ. By using both the Bible and inferences based on the historical and social circumstances surrounding the birth of Jesus, he was able to find the rough period of time in which Jesus was born. Also at the time,there was a widespread theory among Jews and early Christians that estimated the age of the earth, and that it would end at around the year 6000 (around A.D. 500). This method was also known as Anno Mundi (“The Year of the Earth”). When that date came to pass and the world did not end, Dionysius Exiguus was able to find out the relative distance between the time of Jesus and the era in which he lived according to the Anno Mundi years, and was then able to infer how many years had passed, again giving him a rough estimate as to the date of Jesus’s birth. The year of Jesus’s birth was labeled A.D. 1. Anything prior to the birth of Christ was known as B.C. (“Before Christ”), and anything during or after the life of Christ was known as A.D. (from the Latin term “Anno Domini,” meaning “In the year of our Lord”). The B.C. era is counting down to the birth of Christ (the number of years until the birth of Christ), thus the smaller numbered years come after the larger, while the A.D. era is counting the number of years since the birth of Christ, thus the larger number years come after the smaller.

This dating system was first used by British historian, scholar and monk St. Bede the Venerable in his book The Ecclesiastical History of the English Church and People (published around A.D. 731), and it was officially endorsed by the Church around the A.D. 800′s. Christians outside of Europe would use the “B.C./A.D.” system on top of using whatever dating system was native to that region. But in Europe, which had a predominantly Christian population, this was the primary dating system. It then spread to other parts of the world during the Age of Exploration, in which the Europeans made colonies in Asia, Africa and the Americas. This dating system became so overused in both religious and secular affairs by so many people, both Christians and non-Christians, that most people forgot its religious origins. But they can never be erased. Some people took offense at this dating system’s religious nature, so they created a substitute based on it. Instead of calling it
B.C., it was labeled “B.C.E.” (“Before the Common Era”), and instead of calling it A.D., it was labeled “C.E.” (“The Common Era”). The “B.C./A.D.” and the “B.C.E./C.E.” dating system are interchangeable. The only difference is one makes reference to Christ and the other does not.

Dionysius Exiguus’s B.C./A.D. dating system had been used for over 1,500 years, and has been officially approved by the Church for the last 1,200 years. Yet, this dating system (and many based on or influenced by it) are flawed. When Dionysius Exiguus created this dating system, he forgot to take into consideration that the Bible says that Jesus was born sometime towards the end of the reign of King Herod. We know, based on historical records of King Herod, that he died sometime between 7 B.C. and 5 B.C. Some scholars contend that Herod may have died as late as 4 B.C. So, the dating system is off by roughly 5 years. The year A.D. 1 should have been place roughly 5 years earlier, and the current date, if you take into account this mistake, is not 2013 but actually sometime between 2016 and 2020. By the time this mistake was noticed, the dating system had been used for so long and by so many people that changing the dating system, although only causing minor changes, would still be tedious and confusing. That is why according to some historical accounts (especially secular records), the date of Jesus is often cited as roughly 5 B.C.

Dionysius Exiguus

Dionysius Exiguus

calendar

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