When Was Jesus Born—B.C. or A.D.?

How the divide between B.C. and A.D. was calculated

mariotto-albertinelli-jesus

When was Jesus born? This predella panel from an altarpiece by Mariotto Albertinelli (1474–1515) depicts the newborn baby Jesus flanked by Joseph and Mary. In which year was Jesus born—B.C. or A.D.? The evidence suggests he was born in 4 B.C. or before. Photo: John G. Johnson Collection, 1917, courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

In which year was Jesus born?

While this is sometimes debated, the majority of New Testament scholars place Jesus’ birth in 4 B.C. or before. This is because most date the death of King Herod the Great to 4 B.C. Since Herod played a major role in the narrative of Jesus’ birth (see Matthew 2), Jesus would have had to be born before Herod died.

This begs the question: How could Jesus have been born in B.C.—“before Christ”?

The terms B.C. and A.D. stand for “before Christ” and “anno Domini,” which means “in the year of the Lord.” These terms are used to mark years in the Gregorian and Julian calendars—with the birth of Jesus as the event that divides history. In theory, all the years before Jesus’ birth receive the label B.C., and all those after his birth get A.D. If Jesus had been born in 1 A.D., these designations would be completely accurate.

However, as mentioned above, it seems most likely that Jesus was born in 4 B.C. or earlier. How then did the current division between B.C. and A.D. come to be?

Ben Witherington III of Asbury Theological Seminary examines the calendar division in his Biblical Views column “The Turn of the Christian Era: The Tale of Dionysius Exiguus,” published in the November/December 2017 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review. He identifies the monk Dionysius Exiguus, who lived during the fifth and sixth centuries A.D., as the originator of the B.C. and A.D. calendar (based on when he calculated Jesus was born):

Dionysius was born in Scythia Minor, which means somewhere in Romania or Bulgaria, and he lived from about 470 to 544 A.D. He was a learned monk who moved to Rome and became well known for translating many ecclesiastical canons from Greek into Latin, including the famous decrees from the Councils of Nicaea and Chalcedon. Ironically, he also wrote a treatise on elementary mathematics. I say ironically because what he is most famous for is the “Anno Domini” calculations that were used to number the years of both the Gregorian and the adjusted Julian calendars.

 


 
Interested in learning about the birth of Jesus? Learn more about the history of Christmas and the date of Jesus’ birth in the free eBook The First Christmas: The Story of Jesus’ Birth in History and Tradition.
 


 
Although we are not exactly sure how he came to this conclusion, Dionysius dated the consulship of Probius Junior, who was the Roman Consul at the time, to “525 years after ‘the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ’”—meaning 525 years after Jesus’ birth, that is, 525 A.D. Because of Dionysius’s calculations, a new calendar using B.C. and A.D. was born. The terms B.C.E (Before the Common Era) and C.E. (Common Era) also use this calendar.

Even though Dionysius Exiguus calculated his date for the year in which Jesus was born in the sixth century, it was not until the eighth century that it became widespread. This was thanks to the Venerable Bede of Durham, England, who used Dionysius’s date in his work Ecclesiastical History of the English People.

Learn more about when Jesus was born and Dionysius Exiguus’s calculations for B.C. and A.D. in Ben Witherington III’s Biblical Views column “The Turn of the Christian Era: The Tale of Dionysius Exiguus” in the November/December 2017 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

——————

BAS Library Members: Read the full Biblical Views column “The Turn of the Christian Era: The Tale of Dionysius Exiguus” by Ben Witherington III in the November/December 2017 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

Not a BAS Library member yet? Join the BAS Library today.
 


 

Related reading in Bible History Daily:

Herod’s Death, Jesus’ Birth and a Lunar Eclipse

Did Jesus Exist? Searching for Evidence Beyond the Bible: Lawrence Mykytiuk’s feature article from the January/February 2015 issue of BAR with voluminous endnotes

How December 25 Became Christmas: Andrew McGowan’s full article from the December 2002 issue of Bible Review

Christmas Stories in Christian Apocrypha by Tony Burke

Where Was Jesus Born?

Who Was Jesus’ Biological Father?

Why Did the Magi Bring Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh?
 


 

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  • MacReality says

    Why is this site still using the out-dated BC and AD?

    No reputable scholar has used these for at least 2 years.

  • Alan says

    BTW, “Herod” was a dynastic title like Caesar and Pharaoh. The “Herod” at the time of Christ’s birth was Herod Archelaus; he was deposed that same year (after the “slaughter of the innocents” in Bet Lechem) and died in exile in 18 CE. When did the “holy family” return from Egypt after Herod [Archelaus] died? When Yehoshu’a was 12 years old (18 CE – 6 CE = 12 years). Herod the Great had nothing to do with Christ’s birth; he was long dead. I even verified what the “star of Bet Lechem” was with our local planetarium and provided a screenshot with my research. The “wise men from the East” of the “sect” called The Way (HaDerech) lived in the desert wilderness of Qumran — 15 miles away as the crow flies.

    Yochanan studied there; see Luke 1:80. He wasn’t just roaming around aimlessly in the desert; he was “the voice crying out in the (desert) wilderness (of Qumran).” That phrase is employed in multiple DSS manuscripts as well as several verses in the Bible. Titus Flavius Josephus (né Yosef ben Matityahu), a self-described Pharisee, coined the derogatory term Essenes (=pious ones). He claimed to have studied at Qumran, but he lied!

    There was also a documented solar eclipse in Jerusalem (which requires a new moon) when Christ was crucified on Pesach (Passover) in 36 CE — just as the Scriptures state. That event occurred on 14 Abib on the third day of the week. His ministry was NOT 3-1/2 years in duration; Biblical “scholars” fail to recognize Pesach Sheni (Second Passover) as is documented in Torah; see Numbers 9:10-14. He died incarnate at age 29.

    BAS still refuses to approve my post containing my high-level research on this topic; it will forever be held hostage “awaiting moderation.” The truth is found in the Lucan account and corroborated with the calendar in the DSS. Readers will never get the whole truth from BAS (or their local church or synagogue). Elisheba (Elizabeth) was six months pregnant in the sixth month, and Tsekharya (Zecharias) was a Levite of the division of Abiyah (Abijah). Christ was born during the census of Quirinius in 6 CE — as is clearly stated in the Lucan account. Those three facts form the baseline; everything else is easy to deduce from 4Q319-4Q321.

    Shema Yisrael!

  • Alan says

    And, Peter, when we alleged “secularists” employ BCE/CE, it is because we refuse to perpetuate the lies of the RCC and especially that of Dionysius Exiguus, who created this bogus BC/AD year accounting as well as the Gregorian calendar and falsified Easter Tables. The Most High marks time through “weeks of years” or jubilees. Maybe you should research 4Q319 in addition to the calendrical documents in 4Q320 and 4Q321. Even the Samaritan vs. Masoretic versions of the Torah differ by a century by the time of Enoch — the seventh from Adam, so even Israelites don’t know with absolute certainty what the correct AM year is. Plus, they have followed the Babylonian calendar since the time of their captivity. Their fourth month is named after the Babylonian deity Tammuz (Du’uzu); that’s an abomination!

    • John says

      ” Their fourth month is named after the Babylonian deity Tammuz (Du’uzu); that’s an abomination!”
      The name of this month is not found in the Bible, it is only referred to as “the tenth month”……..and what do we have today…….months named after the gods Janus and Mars, and the goddess Juno, as well as for Julius and Augustus Caesar, yet they continued to be used by Christians.”………..also check out the days of the week

      • Alan says

        John, of course it’s not found in the Bible because it is not of God! The Most High named the first month Abib, and the latter were enumerated — just as He named the seventh day Shabbat, and the rest were enumerated. Regarding the Masoretic calendar being based on the Babylonian model, please refer to the following post I made on October 12, 2001:
        =======
        ***From Alan Schuetz in Baton Rouge, LA: Why would one even explore the 364-day solar year outlined by the Qumran calendar when the primarily lunar-based Masoretic calendar is observed by the modern Jewry? The answer becomes quite obvious when we examine etymologies (word origins).

        In “The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible,” Vol. 1 (A-C) [ISBN 0-310-33188-9] under the topic “calendar,” heading “IV. Calendar Systems,” subheading “Hebrew calendars and their derivatives,” section “2. Orthodox Jewish” on p. 690, the following is found:

        “The Jews had a luni-solar calendar on the Babylonian model, intercalating a second Adar and eventually standardizing seven intercalations in nineteen years, though the Mishnaic rules leave the final decision in the hands of the Sanhedrin. According to the tractate ‘Rosh hashshanah,’ great attention was paid to the observation of the new moon; but it was laid down that there could not be more than seven, nor fewer than five, thirty-day months in any year.”

        The interesting thing to note is that the Torah never includes *any* mention of Rosh Hashanah!!! It contains the Feast of the Blowing (of Trumpets or Shofar [Ram’s Horns]). It is *not* the “head of the year”, and there is no mention of a civil versus religious calendar in the entirety of the TaNaKh. God named His first month Abib and the other eleven were simply enumerated. Likewise, He named Shabbat (Sabbath) and enumerated the other six days of the week.

        In the same article on calendars in Zondervan, we find the following (compared for brevity):

        Names of the Months:

        Babylonian / Masoretic
        ——————————-
        Nisanu / Nisan
        Aiaru / Iyyar
        Simanu / Sivan
        Duzu / Tammuz
        Abu / Ab
        Ululu / Elul
        Tashritu / Tishri
        Arahsamnu / Marhesvan
        Kislimu / Kislev
        Tebetu / Tebeth
        Shabatu / Shebat
        Addaru / Adar

        The similarities are quite obvious. Regarding the Hebrew name Tammuz for the forth month… the Babylonian name for this deity was Du’uzu according to the etymology of the word “Tammuz” in “The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language,” Third Edition. With this piece of information, we can see how Duzu became Tammuz.

        The following are the word etymologies (origins) of the Hebrew months
        according to “… American Heritage …”:

        1. Hebrew nsn, from Akkadian nissanu, the first month of the year, from Sumerian nisag, first fruits.
        2. None provided, but the similarity to Aiaru is obvious.
        3. Hebrew swn, from Akkadian Simnu, the month Simanu.
        4. Hebrew Tammz, from Babylonian Du’uzu, the name of a god.
        5. Hebrew ‘b, from Canaanite ‘ab.
        6. Hebrew ‘Ell, from Akkadian ullu, ellu, the month Ululu (August/September).
        7. Hebrew tisr, from Akkadian tasrtu, the month Tashritu (September/October).
        8. Hebrew heswn, short for marheswn, October/November, from Akkadian arahsamnu.
        9. Hebrew kislw, from Akkadian kislimu, kisliwu.
        10. Hebrew tbt, from Akkadian tebtu, the month Tebetu (December/January).
        11. None provided, but the similarity to Shabatu is obvious.
        12. Hebrew ‘dr, from Akkadian adaru, a month of the Akkadian calendar corresponding to parts of February and March.

        According to “The Concise Columbia Encyclopedia,” Third Edition, under the topic “Akkadian:”

        “Akkadian (ekden), language belonging to the Semitic subfamily of the Hamito-Semitic family of languages. Also called Assyro-Babylonian, Akkadian was current in ancient Mesopotamia (now Iraq) from about 3000 B.C. until the time of Jesus.”

        From “… Zondervan …” Vol. 5 (Q-Z), under the topic “Tammuz” on p.595, we find the following:

        “In the Babylonian saga his death and visit to the underworld represents the annual wilting of vegetation in the scorching heat of summer. His return to earth, brought about by the descent of the mourning Ishtar into the nether world, represents the renewal of nature. The annual mourning rites for Tammuz took place on the second day of the fourth month (June/July), giving rise in post-Biblical times to the Jewish practice of naming their fourth month Tammuz. In Ezekiel’s time, a variation of this rite of mourning fond women weeping at the north gate of the Temple (Ezekiel 8:14).”

        Let’s examine that verse and the following for a moment:

        Ezekiel 8:14 Then He brought me to the entrance of the gate of the LORD’S house which [was] toward the north; and behold, women were sitting there weeping for Tammuz. 15 He said to me, “Do you see [this], son of man? Yet you will see still
        greater abominations than these.” (NASB)

        The Masoretic calendar cannot be of the God of Abraham and Moses; the naming of the fourth month after Tammuz — which is an abomination to our Lord — violates the Law as it was given to Moshe (Moses). Therefore, one must look elsewhere. The Qumran calendar is a better candidate because it does not violate any Scripture.
        ============
        Apparently, all the modern Biblical translators chose “new moon” over “new month” because of Masoretic practices regarding the sighting of the crescent following the “new moon” as the beginning of the month. This has absolutely no Biblical basis. The Septuagint employs “neomenia” (nu-epsilon-omicron-mu-eta-nu-iota-alpha), “noumenia” (nu-omicron-upsilon-mu-eta-nu-iota-alpha), and sometimes “men” (mu-eta-nu) according to “The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible,” Vol. 4 (M-P) on p.417 under the topic “new moon.” The Greek root word is “menas” (mu-eta-nu-alpha-sigma) meaning “month.”

        Likewise, the Hebrew “chodesh” (heth-daleth-shin) simply means “new/renew” in regard to a month. The Hebrew “yereach” (yod-resh-heth) literally means “moon.” Essentially, all the references to a “new moon” in the OT is actually “new month” –“chadash chodesh” (heth-daleth-shin heth-daleth-shin). “New moon” is a misnomer.

        According to the Langenscheidt “Standard Greek Dictionary,” the words/phrases used for “new moon” are “nea selene” (nu-epsilon-alpha sigma-epsilon-lambda-eta-nu-eta) and “chainourio pheggari” (chi-alpha-iota-nu-omicron-upsilon-rho-iota-omicron
        phi-epsilon-gamma-gamma-alpha-rho-iota). The first usage is confirmed by Zondervan (ibid.).

        The Word of God does not specify a “new moon” to mark new months as the Babylonians did (as well as countless other Oriental religions). The Masoretic calendar is based on this same 19-year lunar cycle. The community at Qumran — referred to as Essenes by others (that is, they did not refer to themselves as such) — used a solar based calendar. It certainly was in practice at the time of Christ. This community used a six-year cycle to designate the priestly courses (see 1 Chronicles 24:7-19 for the 24 courses). The reason for this cycle is that this solar calendar consisted of 52 weeks, and the lowest common multiple of 52 weeks evenly divisible by 24 weekly courses is 312 (52×6)…

        Colossians 2:16 Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day– (NASB)

        The word translated as “new moon” in this passage is “neomenia,” and it is the only occurrence in the NT… This is an incorrect translation; it should be “new month.” However, we should take this Scripture to heart and not judge anyone in regard to a festival or a new month or a Sabbath day…

  • Alan says

    Why won’t BAS print the truth? Yet, the drivel from these other posters is allowed. The Book of Luke and the calendar from the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) clearly state the month, day, day of the week, and year of Yochanan’s (John’s) conception as well as Yehoshu’a’s (Joshua’s) conception and birth. I provided the evidence how these two sources corroborate the following:

    * Yochanan was conceived on the 22nd day of the twelfth month on the first day of the week in 4 CE.

    * Yehoshu’a was conceived on the 22nd day of the sixth month on the first day of the week on the Feast of New Oil in 5 CE — exactly six months from Yochanan’s conception.

    * Yehoshu’a was born during the census of Quirinius on the 15th day of the third month on the first day of the week on the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot) in 6 CE — exactly 38 weeks from His conception. Sidebar: This is when the “sect” called The Way (HaDerech) in Acts and the DSS made new covenants. Christ’s birth ushered in the ultimate New Covenant! Josephus, a self-described Pharisee (and we know what Christ thought of them in the Eight Woes of Matthew 23), coined the derogatory term “Essenes” (=pious ones).

    Why is BAS afraid of the truth?

  • Peter says

    The excuse by the secularists for using the term “Common Era” is that it is more inclusive and internationally acceptable than “Before Christ” and “Anno Domini” which refer to one specific religion, but this is hypocrisy. To which culture is the the dating common? Not to Jews, not to Muslims, not to Hindus, not to Buddhists, not to Taoists, not to Shintoists, in fact only to Christians who have given to the world a dating system divided by the most important event in history – the Incarnation, God dwelling in a human form.
    So, far from respecting all peoples, these secularists are at one and the same time trying to remove Christ from world-wide consciousness and insulting all other religions, cultures, and peoples by imposing on them a Western system which they are expected to accept as “common.”

    • John says

      “…..the Incarnation, God dwelling in a human form.”
      Peter you should really study the Bible, then you would find out that the above statement is incorrect. Jesus Christ is the son of God and not just part of an unholy trinity, which teaches 1 + 1 + 1 = 1.
      John 1:18 says that no man has seen God, but, it was Jesus who has explained God and taught about his qualities, then John in verse 34 of the same chapter calls Jesus the son of God.
      Perhaps you could tell me where the word trinity is in God’s Word, because I have not been able to find it………perhaps that is why the trinity is a mystery!!!!
      Also John in the same chapter calls Jesus “the Lamb of God”………pointing out that Jesus would be the sacrificial lamb that offer his life as a ransom for all sinful mankind.
      If Jesus was God, who resurrected him on the third day after his death……..after all “God” was dead.

    • David says

      Thanks, I’m Jewish, not a secularist, and I don’t use the terms “year of our lord” or “before Christ”, since I don’t believe in either.

      I’m surprised no one has mentioned the fact that there was no year zero, since it resounds to this day in debates about whether centuries and millennia start on th 00 or 01 years.

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