Category Archives: Calendar Systems

St. Paul's Final Hurrah

Enrique Simonet, Painter
Enrique Simonet (1866-1927). The Beheading of Saint Paul

The matter of Paul’s death according to the third century Christian philosopher, Ammonius of Alexandria, and two other writers.

Ammonius was trying to dispel a misunderstanding of the Herod dynasty about the timelines of Christ and Paul. Both are interesting but the history he ascribes to Paul is especially intriguing.

The following translation has a little crossover of John Chrysostom and some influence by the eleventh century writer, Theophylacti of Bulgaria. It appears from a very informal look that most of this is penned by the hand of Ammonius.

The following is a rough translation provided by me:

Why is he freely given over to the Jews? It was both an entire region and a whole city. For this reason, Paul was threatened by it, being subjected to armed men, ““I stand at the tribunal of Caesar, where I ought to be tried.”(1)Acts 25:10 I wish to depart before him, to the King in Rome, and in that place to be judged. I summons you,” he says. It shows that he rightly called upon Caesar. Even if they had nothing terrible to put forward, yet these people of the region were fixated, for obvious reasons he departs for Caesar. So in the meantime while awaiting judgment, the plan devised against him by the Jews was meaningless.

Whether Agrippa came into the power of king and because of this was called a king, or that perhaps he was the king of the eastern regions, while Nero ruled the western regions and lived in Rome. For the name Caesar in Rome means king, as all the kings of Rome are to be commonly called by the name Caesar and insofar as much as kings — however, their designated names are definitely not to be equivocal ones.

Consequently, I say this, that no one ought to suppose from the general commonality of the name that the Lord was born under his kingship, and Paul died.

So the Lord was born during the times shown under Augustus Caesar and afterward died after 32 years(2) The Theophylacti Bulgariae text changes this to 33. MPG. Vol. 125. Col. 1123 under Tiberius Caesar. Paul died under Nero, 22 years after the death of the Lord. But rather Herod, as Agrippa, had come to the power of a king and, therefore, was called a king.(3)As taken from: Amonii Alexandrinii, Fragmenta in Acta Apostolorum, MPG. Vol. 85. col 1593: Catena in Acta SS. Apostolorum. J. A Cramer, S.T.P. Oxonii. 1838. Pg. 384 Theophylacti Bulgariae Archiep. Expositionis in Acta Tertius.Vol 125 Col. 1124.

If one can use the traditional date of 29 A.D. as the year of Christ’s crucifixion, which is arguably one of the more consistent year values in the life of Christ, then Paul died in 51 A.D under the rulership of Nero.

I haven’t studied the literary sources on Paul’s death outside of the texts used here. However, it is a very interesting reference.


For more information on the problem of dating Christ’s birth or the challenge of correlating ancient dating systems with modern calendars, see the full range of articles found at: Christian Calendar Systems.

References   [ + ]

The Adamic Calendar and the Life of Christ

A brief portrayal of the Adamic calendar especially as it relates to the birth and resurrection of Christ.

The Adamic calendar system was created from data found in the Old and New Testaments. These contain detailed genealogies that include lifespans. From these lifespans, religious institutions have calculated not only the origin of human history, but theoretically can pinpoint the creation of the earth.

Sometimes this system is known by its Latin name, Anno Mundi or AM in shortened form.

The most well known genealogical lists are found in the Books of Genesis, Matthew, and Luke. This is where the majority of calculations are made from.

A number of articles on this website have been dedicated to tracing the development of the western calendar system. The Adamic is one of the many ancient calendars used, but it wasn’t one of the best systems that existed. Neither can it be accurately relied upon, but since it was historically used, it must be investigated further.

This calendar method has enjoyed cyclical popularity. It never became a universal standard. It has been found in fourth, seventh, twelfth, and 16th century pieces of literature, especially among religious institutions or writers. The 16th century introduced a renaissance of the concept. This can be traced to James Ussher and his book, Annalium pars postierior.

The modern religious Jewish community still uses a form of the Adamic calendar albeit without the Christian symbols.

Roger Pearse has covered the Adamic calendar with his article: Does Eusebius Give a Date for the Creation in his Chronicle. Here he accurately reveals misinformation on the subject, including the coverage found at Wikipedia, and proceeds to correct the ancient Church record. Eusebius, and many early Church authorities, as Pearse substantiates, saw the genealogies as the beginnings of human history, not the history of the earth itself.

Pearse goes into great detail to win his case, but here are some additional thoughts. These ideas are from a slightly different angle. The Adamic calendar does not count so much to me in when the earth was created, but in aiding to identify when Christ was born or crucified.

The third century Christian chronographer, Julius Africanus, understood almost all the calendars in use during his time and explained how to convert them into Attican expressions. He believed the Attican Greek Olympiad calendar to be the most universal of all of them. But he, along with others also used the Adamic calendar too. He wrote:

“The period, then, to the advent of the Lord from Adam and the creation is 5531 years.”(1)Julius Africanus, Book III: The Extant Fragments of the Five Books of the Chronography of Julius Africanus, XVIII:4; Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol VI as found at

Now this date has no meaning unless it is relevant to some specific period of measurable time. Africanus gave the Battle of Actium as his reference point:

“The date of which event is the 11th year of the monarchy and empire of the Romans, and the 4th year of the 187th Olympiad. Altogether, from Adam 5472 years are reckoned.”(2) Julius Africanus, Book III: The Extant Fragments of the Five Books of the Chronography of Julius Africanus, XVIII:4; Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol VI as found at

Now to reconcile the Olympiad with the Adamic calendar takes some basic math. The Battle of Actium occurred on the 4th year of the 187th Olympiad according to Africanus. This falls on 29 BC. This is two years off the normal 31 BC date given for what was considered the actual date of battle but still we can use this for measurement. Now if basic math is applied, the outcome is 30 AD that Christ was crucified on.(3)5472-5531=59 years. 29 BC + 59 years = 30 AD but it could be 29 depending on when the year began. Either January 1st or the spring equinox. . The term used here advent is confusing, and I am assuming from his dating that it does not refer to His birth, but resurrection. This calculation becomes more important in understanding a Christian Arabic parchment below.

The Christian Arabic community in the 12th century carried on a similar tradition to that of Africanus. One manuscript reads:

“And from Alexander, son of Philip the Greek until the incarnation of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ–let there be adoration of the recollection of Him–three hundred and fifty years. And from our Lord the Christ–Let there be adoration at the recollection of Him–to this year, which is the intended era, a thousand one hundred and fifty-five years. And what is past of the years of the world to the end of this year are six thousand six hundred and eighty-three years. And from Adam until our Lord the Christ five thousand five hundred years.”(4)Studia Sinaitica, Vol. 12. London: Cambridge University Press. 1894-1907?. Pg. 21

The dates were set at the death of Alexander the Great and the passion of Christ, not at the beginning of the reign as the Romans did. The era of Alexander began at 323 BC. Add 350 to this and this results in 27 AD. This was the Arabic Christian’s supposed death and resurrection of Christ. But the Adamic calculation was perplexing “And from Adam until our Lord the Christ five thousand five hundred years”. It doesn’t use the terms ‘advent’ or ‘incarnation’ here, and it is 31 years shorter than Africanus’ account. The neglect of these terms and the significance of 31, which likely reflects the age of Christ, suggests a number of outcomes.

  • The author utilized the same Adamic calendar as Africanus, then the birth date of Christ would be 2 BC.

  • Or, the author intended to subtract 31 from the 27 AD calculation from the era of Alexander, then it would be 4 BC.

  • It also could be argued that the author had drawn from different traditions

The Adamic system had its detractors such as the Venerable Bede. He had a new computational system for the age of the earth and was accused of heresy.(5) Wikipedia on Bede; “For calendric purposes, Bede made a new calculation of the age of the world since the Creation. Due to his innovations in computing the age of the world, he was accused of heresy at the table of Bishop Wilfred, his chronology being contrary to accepted calculations. Once informed of the accusations of these “lewd rustics,” Bede refuted them in his Letter to Plegwin.” When he first wrote De Temporibus Liber, in AD 703 he was well aware of the sensitivities and sneaks in his position, “. . .Christ was born, having completed from Adam 3,952 years. Now there is another date of 5199”(6) De Temporibus Liber MPL vol. 90 Col. 290-292; my own translation ; the 3,952 being his position and 5199 the traditional one.

It also should be noted that the 8th century accepted date of Christ’s birth being 5199 years after the creation of the earth, is not consistent with Africanus’ 5531 reckoning. The 5199 was based on Eusebius’ calculations which became the entrenched position of the Church. Bede was well aware of this fact.

Bede’s AM 3,952 calculation was 1247 years different that Eusebius’. He followed the Hebrew Masoretic rather than the Greek Septuagint Bible on the ages of the Patriarchs for his hypothesis.(7), There are many who would argue that the Septuagint is based on a much earlier and more credible Hebrew version than the Masoretic text. This argument has many merits but is outside the realm of the research here. The difference between the Hebrew and the Greek adds up to 1376 years according to William Whitaker,(8) William Whitaker. A Disputation on the Holy Scriptures: Against the Papists. Trans. By William Fitzgerald. Cambridge: The University Press. 1853 (Original printing 1610). Pg. 121 which makes this a reasonable, but not exact certainty.

22 years later, Bede was more liberal in the use of his own dating. He still recognized the historic value in the Adamic system, but its importance is devalued going forward after the time of Christ.

In reference to time before Christ, the Adamic is still recognized. This can be found in De Temporum Ratione where he paralleled both systems in this writing. In it he wrote headers such as “A.M. Hebr. 3352. Sept. 4700”(9) MPL De Temporum Ratione. Vol. 90. pg. 533. , to describe a date in antiquity. The first date referring to the Hebrew tradition and the second one, abbreviated “Sept.” for the Greek Septuagint dates.

His calendar utilized the birth-year of Christ as being the dividing point. Any time recorded after the birth of Christ he still used the Hebrew system but abandoned the Septuagint dating one altogether. In the place of the Septuagint he used Chr. instead. For example, the year of Christ’s birth is marked as, “A.M. 3952. Chr. 1.””(10) Ibid MPL, pg. 545.

It is interesting that Bede begins the birth of Christ with the Chr. symbol. He does not use the AD one. It demonstrates that Dionysius Exiguus reckoning of Easter system, which eventually evolved into the AD calendar, had not not evolved or taken hold internationally yet. Chr. as Bede called it, may have been one of the precursors of the AD system becoming entrenched some 100 years later.

Also important to many calendar specialists, is the fact that he did not start with a zero date, but with the number one.

This is a general introduction to the Adamic Calendar system. There is much more to this topic than documented here. The research so far gives some clues to the precise birth year of Christ, but nothing substantial.

References   [ + ]

Bede on the Problem of 1 AD

“The Venerable Bede Translates John” by James Doyle Penrose (1862-1932)

The Venerable Bede on reconciling ancient calendars and how he thought our 2 B.C. should really be 1 A.D.

Bede convincingly argued that our present 1 A.D. was incorrect by three years. He uncovers the fuzzy Church logic between 550 and 650 A.D. that made this error and subsequently has caused calendar headaches ever since.

The Venerable Bede was an eighth century monk who made a decisive effort to collect all the calendar systems he knew about, whether historic or contemporary to his time, and reconcile them into one dating system. This endeavour sounds easy by today’s standards, but was a massive undertaking during his time.

If any discussion revolves around the development of the yearly calendar system, his writings should be consulted. This study focuses on his works as it relates to Christ’s birth but other pertinent dates fall in as well.

How did he arrive at this conclusion? He did it through comparing different calendar systems and then developing two new time systems – one of them closely parallels the A.D. system in use today.

De Temporibus Liber and De Temporum Ratione.

Bede greatly pondered about time systems and wrote two books on the subject: De Temporibus Liber which is known in English as the The Book of Times and De Temporum Ratione, On the Reckoning of Time.

De Temporibus Liber, the first publication completed in 703, acknowledged the traditional Anno Mundi medieval dating system. The Anno Mundi system was based on totalling the ages of all the patriarchs listed genealogically in the Greek Bible and that was how the age of the world was arrived at. He did attempt to correct the imperfections of this system, finding that the Septuagint (Greek Bible) dated the ages of the patriarchs considerably longer than the Hebrew version. Bede preferred the Hebrew dates over the Septuagint, though the Greek was the standard for measuring time. To argue or change such an equation would be controversial. In order not to be in dispute with Church authority, he entered a Hebrew date with the Greek as an alternative. For example: Continue reading Bede on the Problem of 1 AD

The Olympiad Calendar and the Birth Year of Christ

An explanation of the ancient Greek Olympiad system especially as it relates to the birth year of Christ.

This is part of an unfinished series on the problems and evolution of the calendar system and how it effects dating the year of Christ’s birth.

The ancient Greeks used Olympiads as their yearly dating system. The first Olympiad was conducted in 776 BC. It was calculated in four-year intervals.

For example the first Olympiad happened in 776 and the second occurred in 772 BC.

776 BC = Olympiad 1, not 0. Zero as a mathematical number in the Greco-Roman world was a later invention. Using a calculator without this knowledge to validate later dates can throw off any Olympiad by four years.

The four year interval is not specific enough for most historic purposes. Most modern readers want to know the exact year, not that it happened somewhere unspecified in the four year interval. Later writers tended to use an alpha system to demonstrate which of the four years the Olympiad meant, such as the 184a Olympiad, which would be the first year of the 184th Olympiad.

The first century Roman-Jewish historian, Josephus, sometimes used the regnal dating system. This system was popular in ancient times throughout the Mediterranean basin which defined time according to the birth and death dates of a great leader. However, Josephus was conscious of the fact that this was not accurate and combined it with Olympiads and then went a step further and aligned it with historic battles.

The following is an important example of his use of the Olympiad dating system. He wrote that Herod was first given his title as king by Rome on the 184th Olympiad,(1)Antiquities of the Jews: XIV:XVI:4 which translates anywhere between 44/43 and 41/40 BC.

Josephus is the closest historian to the time of Christ and his dates are rarely challenged. There are few other texts outside the Bible and Christian history available with the level of detail that he provides with regards to the Middle East during this time. One must keep in mind though that there are potential manuscript errors. There are many copies of Josephus’ writings with variants in dates and times, though these transcription errors do not directly affect the Herodian calendars, it does raise some suspicions.(2) William Whiston trans, The Works of Josephus. Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1982. “Dissertation V” p. 696

An alternative to Josephus is Julius Africanus. He was a second-century chronicler who gave a detailed account of histories related to the Olympiads. He may be the earliest Christian historian who tried to parallel Greek and Jewish histories according to some sort of timeframe. He critically attempted to establish the first Olympiad and use that as his basis. He believed that before the Olympiad system came into being, a timeline of any history from a Greek perspective could not accurately be deduced.(3) IBID, III.-The Extant Fragments of the Five Books of the Chronography of Julius Africanus. XIII:1

In the Africanus account available today, one can find a problem with the Olympiad calculation which was likely related to a transcription error. He wrote, “the 16th year of Tiberius Caesar, which was the second year of the 102d Olympiad”(4) Extant works of Julius Africanus found at tthp:// Fragment 18:2 This may be an error in the English translation or a typographic error. The Greek has not been checked. – this would make Tiberius’ reign, based on the 776 BC date, to be approximately 368 BC. Fortunately, the text mentions earlier in the same document regarding Tiberius 16th year as, “the 202d Olympiad”, which made it to be properly around 30 AD.(5) Extant works of Julius Africanus as found at tthp:// Fragment 16:3 .

The eighth-century British-Christian writer and scholastic monk, the Venerable Bede, used Olympiads among many others to define historic time periods, though our present manuscripts attributed to him may contain errors. He recorded the first Olympiad to Julius Caesar to be the 183rd Olympiad–20 years off.(6) See Bede, De Temporum Rationem, MPL, Vol. 90, pg. 538, especially the footnote b which discusses how Bede missed those 20 years.

Olympiads were not the dating system of preference by most of the ancient Christian writers and it was not accepted as a universal calendar. Its was a legacy system after the fourth-century AD. However, because of Josephus’ usage, it is an important clue, though not the ultimate one, for the birth year of Christ.

Josephus’ account does not directly address Christ’s birth in his copy, but one can correlate from Josephus’ dated chronology of the Herod family and the Biblical description roughly what year the birth was. For more details on exactly how Josephus and other historians dated these leaders, see:
A Chronology of the Herods

To read more, see the introductory article, What Year was Christ Born? or go to the series Christian Calendar System homepage for a listing of all the articles on the subject.

References   [ + ]

The Birth-Year of Christ and the History of Calendars: the Regnal System

One of the first systems used for measuring time in year epochs was the regnal system.

This system counted from the start reign of a leader and reset at the introduction of a new leader. It was widely used throughout the ancient Middle East and Mediterranean area and popularized by the Romans.

The Biblical author Luke used this system on at least two occasions: to describe the birth of Christ under the Governorship of Quirinius,(1) Luke 2:2 and Jesus’ baptism being in the 15th year of the reign of Tiberius.(2) Luke 3:1ff

This 15th year of Tiberius is critical in many computations, as this is the only solid evidence about the life of Christ that can be accurately measured.

This regnal system was used by the early Church historians, such as the third century Bishop, Eusebius of Caesarea, who claimed that Christ was born in the 42nd year of the reign of Caesar Augustus and the 28th year after the Battle of Actium.(3) Eusebius, Church History, Book III:V “It was in the forty-second year of the reign of Augustus and the twenty-eighth after the subjugation of Egypt and the death of Antony and Cleopatra, with whom the dynasty of the Ptolemies in Egypt came to an end, that our Saviour and Lord Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem of Judea, according to the prophecies which had been uttered concerning him. His birth took place during the first census, while Cyrenius was governor of Syria.” If one assumes that Eusebius’ dates are consistent with standard history, this would make Christ’s birth at 3 BC, or if we use a later Christian document called the Chronological Tables that used Eusebius’ account as the basis, it oddly changes the date to 1 BC/AD.

Clement of Alexandria also used the regnal system, “From Julius Caesar, therefore, to the death of Commodus, are two hundred and thirty-six years”.(4)< a href=""> Commodus, the Roman emporer in the late 2nd century was his reference point for determining the birth of Christ. Based on his calculations, the death of Commodus was 192 AD, which is consistent with history.(5)< a href=""> He then goes on to write, “From the birth of Christ, therefore, to the death of Commodus are, in all, a hundred and ninety-four years.”(6) IBID < a href=""> This would make Christ’s birth at 2 BC.

A later editor or Clement himself contradicted this date elsewhere. In another section he employed the reign of Augustus to date the birth of Christ stating “our Lord was born in the twenty-eighth year, when first the census was ordered to be taken in the reign of Augustus.”(7) IBID < a href=""> Clement does not indicate what he believed was the start date of Augustus’ reign. It was quite common for some at this time to date Augustus start by the historic war battle of Actium. This is commonly held to be at 31 BC. If Clement agreed with this date, then Christ’s birth would have been 3 BC. Perhaps the first date of 2 BC was common opinion during his era and 3 BC was the historic Church position.

Continue reading The Birth-Year of Christ and the History of Calendars: the Regnal System

References   [ + ]

A Chronology of the Herods: More Details

This article has been removed. The results have been added to the following article, The Chronology of the Herods.

A Chronology of the Herods

Charting the dates and lives of the Herods in relation to the birth of Christ and making sense of the differences between competing histories.

Herod the Great was a living character described by the Bible narrators in reference to the birth of Christ,(1) See Matthew chapter 2 therefore the reign dates of this leader and his family are of particular value.

Herod the Great
Herod the Great, founder of a family dynasty in the Middle East.

However, there are conflicting time-frames in the major historical sources; especially between the first century Jewish-Roman historian Josephus and a number of ancient church accounts. The goal of this work is to first define what exactly Josephus and the church authorities wrote on the subject, compare the dates, find any common patterns, and hopefully reconcile the differences.

The original writers of the Gospels never related time in relationship to the Herod dynasty. This was likely done on purpose because the Gospels were directed to a universal audience who wouldn’t know or even care about the Herod family. Neither did the christian writers want to refer them in relation to time because they were so cruel and barbarous. This action would be too honorific.

Josephus’ Account of the Herods

An 18th century woodcut portrait of Josephus

Here is a chart to visually demonstrate Josephus’ dating. An explanation and analysis is given afterwards:

Josephus’ First Century Account of the Herods
Name Start Date End Date Total Reign
Herod the Great 37 B.C. 3 B.C. 34 years
Archelaus 3 B.C. 7 A.D. 10 years
Philip 3 B.C. 34 A.D. 37 years
Herod the Tetrarch 3 B.C. 38 A.D. 41 years
Lysinias N/A 38 A.D. N/A
Agrippa I 39 A.D. 44 A.D. 5 years
Agrippa II Not Sure Not Sure

An explanation of Josephus’ calculations.

Josephus wrote the most detailed accounts of the Herods, starting with the rise of Herod the Great’s father, and then installation of Herod as the defacto leader of the Jews and about his later posterity. No other ancient manuscript available today contains the same amount of details as his does. He dated the inception of Herod with this statement:

“And thus did this man [Herod] receive the kingdom, having obtained it on the hundred and eighty-fourth Olympiad, when Caius Domitius Calvinus was consul the second time, and Caius Asinius Pollio [the first time]”(2) Flavius Josephus. Antiquities of the Jews. William Whiston trans. USA: Hendrickson Publishers. 1982. Book XIV:XIV:5, p. 366

The 184th Olympiad would traditionally date anywhere from 44/43 to 41/40 BC. However, the mentioning of Caius Domitius Calvinus and Caius Asinius Pollio, who were consuls together at Rome during the year of 40 BC only, strengthens Josephus command that Herod was installed at 40 BC.(3), and The Project Gutenberg EBook of Dio’s Rome, Vol. III, by Cassius Dio, [-15],

Josephus believed that the Romans and the Jews had two totally different concepts of measuring time and to rule out any uncertainty, he had to address both groups. He knew that the 40 BC installation date by Rome was not recognized by the Jewish people. It was common belief by the Jews that rulership only began with the death of their leader.

He remedied this problem by addressing both issues. Josephus claimed that Herod lived 37 years after the Romans had declared him king(4) William Whiston trans. AOJ Book VII:VIII:1, p. 366 and 34 years after the death of Antigonus, the last Jewish leader.

He documented the fall of Jerusalem and the death of Antigonus at 37 BC: “The destruction befell the city of Jerusalem when Marcus Agrippa and Caninius Gallus were consuls at Rome, on the hundred and eighty-fifth Olympiad, on the third month, on the solemnity of the fast”(5) William Whiston trans. AOJ Book XIV:XVI:4, p. 313 The politicized death of Antigonus was also documented with the fall of Jerusalem. The fast reference is unknown at this time as to what it means, though Josephus intended it for targeting a specific date. The Olympiad puts the destruction of Jerusalem anywhere between 40 and 36 BC but the mentioning of the consuls explicitly dated it at 37 BC.

Either way, whether 37 years from the instalment of Herod by Rome at 40 BC or 34 years from the death of Antigonus at 37 BC, it would place Herods death at 3 BC. This forces historians to place Christ’s birth before 3 BC and not 2 BC or later stated by many ancient christian writers.

Josephus wrote clearly about the dynasty of the Herods, the length of time each one served, when and the important politics that surrounded their offices.

“But in the tenth year of Archelaus’s government… [Caesar] banished him, and appointed Vienna, a city of Gaul, to be the place of his habitation.”(6) IBID Whiston, AOJ Book XVII:XIII:2, pg. 375

Archelaus reigned according to Josephus from approximately 3 BC to 7 AD.

He also stated that Archelaus was willed the whole Herodian empire, but due to his ruthlessness and an appeal to Caesar by some dignitaries, it was never completely fulfilled. Instead, Caesar decided that Archelaus would rule half of what Herod the Great occupied, “But for the other half, he divided it into two parts, and gave it to two other of Herod’s sons, to Philip and to Antipas, that Antipas who disputed with Archelaus for the whole kingdom.”(7) IBID Whiston, AOJ Book XVII:XI:4, pg. 373

Philip’s 37 year reign then was from approximately 3 BC to 34 AD. This was understood from the following: “…Philip, Herod’s brother,(8) What exactly he means here by “Herod’s brother” is not altogether clear, though I think it is referring to Herod Antipas. departed this life, in the twentieth year of the reign of Tiberius”.(9) IBID Whiston, AOJ Book XVIII:IV:6, pg. 381

Josephus did not give a clear end-date for Antipas, who was known by two other names: Herod, and Herod the Tetrarch. It is easy to suggest that Josephus believed the start to be 3 BC, and judging from some clues in his book, Antiquity of the Jews, Book XVIII:VII,(10) IBID Whiston, AOJ Book XVIII:VI:11: Josephus accounts that Agrippa left from Rome back to Judea in the 2nd year of Caligula. The events of Herod the Tetrarchs banishment occur shortly thereafter. AOJ Book XVIII:VII:1 suggests that it may likely have happened in the first or second year of Caligula, but it is not certain. his end rule to be the first or second year of Caligula, whom banished him and handed over the tetrarchy to a nephew, Agrippa. His reign likely lasted 41 years from 3 BC to 38 AD.

Herod Agrippa, grandson of Herod the Great, received fortune instead of prison bars at the death of Tiberius due to the rise of his friend Caligula to the throne. He initially received Philip’s and Lysinias’ tetrarchs in 38 or 39 AD, then acquired Herod the Tetrarch’s territory from Caligula, and finally granted the whole kingdom of Herod the Great by the emperor Claudius. Three years into the reign of Claudius, Agrippa died.(11) Inheriting Philips kingdom, IBID Whiston, AOJ Book XVIII:VI:4, pg. 363; Receiving Herod the Tetrarchs territory, AOJ XVIII:VII:2, pg. 388; Received the whole Kingdom through Claudius, XIX:V:1, pg. 409. Three years into the reign of Claudius, AOJ XIX:VII:2, pg. 412 and 413 This would make a five or six year rule from 38 or 39 AD to 44 AD.

The whole kingdom should naturally go to Agrippa’s son, Agrippa II, but was initially denied by the Emperor Claudius, due to Agrippa II’s young age.(12) IBID Whiston, AOJ XIX:VIII:2, pg. 412 and 413. Agrippa II was later given the Tetrarchy of Philip and a bit more(13) IBID Whiston, AOJ XX:VII:1, pg. 420 by Claudius, and his estate was minorly enlarged by Claudius’ successor Nero.(14) IBID Whiston, AOJ XX:VIII:4, pg. 421. Nero gave him a “certain part of Galilee, Tiberius and Taricheae, and ordered them to submit to his jurisdiction. He gave him also Julias, a city of Perea, with fourteen villages that lay about it”.

Josephus was very scant on information concerning Herod the Tetrarch and Lysinias. He does not give any information on how they received their respective tetrarchies, nor does he make any reference to Lysinias as being a relative of the Herod family.

The Christian Chronographies on the Herodian dates.

Turning now to the ancient christian chronologies. They all demonstrate later dates on Herod the Great and the majority of his posterity. These chronologies will be graphed, documented and compared to Josephus and will attempt to answer the question, why are they different?

The first impression concerning the difference is an internal theological influence. Julius Africanus, Tertullian, Eusebius, Jerome and later the Chronicon Paschale represent historical chronologies heavily influenced by the interpretation of an ancient Biblical prophecy found in the Book of Daniel.

An important exception is the Venerable Bede, the great 8th century chronographer and his portrait is covered in detail later on in this article.

Daniel was a Jewish prophet that lived around the 6th century BC. He had a dream about the future of Israel. God spoke to him and concluded that 70 weeks were required for the restoration of Israel to everlasting righteousness.(15) Daniel 9:24 The term 70 weeks is controversial and a ubiquitous meaning in scholarly, orthodox, or fundamentalist camps has never been established.

The ancient chronographers came up with various numbers to figure out the 70 weeks. Some calculated 475, while others have 483 or 490 years, depending on how they interpreted the vision. Whatever number they used became a basis for their calendar system. This influence can often be found in the various dating systems: whether the birth of Christ, the passion of Christ, the destruction of Jerusalem, or combination of these.

Many documents relating to historic events between 521 BC to 70 AD owe its existence to this.

Tertullian stretched some historical facts to make it work. For example his dating the first year of office for Darius the Great was dated at 437 BC rather than the recognized 521 BC.

From their concern on correlating this dream with actual timed events, one can find ancient publications highly focused on identifying the actual dates of the Herods with the life of Christ.

The chronological work of Julius Africanus never became authoritative due to perceived flaws in his Daniel calculations. Later Church writers did not reference Tertullian’s claims. The work of Eusebius, which is now only known to us from the liberal usage by Jerome, became the standard.

The Life of Herods According to Jerome

Jerome lived in Bethlehem during the fourth-century. He is considered a theological and historical literary giant. His writings combined elements of the sacred and vulgar, and also synthesized Greek, Hebrew and Latin works.

Jerome’s Fourth Century Chronological Table
Name Start Date End Date Total Reign
Herod the Great 33/32 B.C. 3/4 A.D. 36 years
Herod the Tetrarch
Agrippa I 37/38 A.D. 44/45 A.D. 7 years
Agrippa II 44/45 A.D. 70/71 A.D. 26 Years

A commentary on Jerome’s Herodian dynasty calculations.

One must realize that Jerome and many of the Church fathers were not so much concerned about historical correctness to dating accuracy of the Herods, but their main emphasis was to align Daniel’s prophecy within a historical framework.

Jerome argued that time period Daniel prophesied began from the rebuilding of the Temple at the 65th Olympiad or 520/519 BC, and ended at the last successive High Priest in Olympiad 186.4 (33/32 BC).

“The rule of the high priests comes to an end, and Herodes, a foreigner, became King of the Jews for 37 years.”(16) St. Jerome ( Hieronymus ): Chronological Tables

520 to 33 BC is 487 years. What the 487 signifies, and why the symbolic religious numbers of 490 or 483 were not used is not known.

According to Jerome, the first appointment of Herod by Augustus as King of Judea was a ceremonial recognition in 35 BC. Then in 33 BC, when Herod killed all the remnants of the Hyrcanian dynasty, he gained ultimate control, and was not only ceremonially King, but defacto. The term King of the Jews is then used as his title. I think here the significance by Jerome of the second 33/32 BC date is the emphasis on the destruction of the Hyrcanian dynasty and the fulfillment of Daniels prophecy.

In trying to match the Daniel prophecy with the incarnation of Christ, we learn Jerome and/or Eusebius believed that Herod the Great reigned 33/32 BC to 3/4 AD.

There is a dating problem between Jerome’s Chronological Tables and Josephus’ account. Both agree that Herod reigned 37 years but they disagree on the start date and whose death to go by. Josephus believed that Herod the Great’s reign began when he was appointed by Rome at 40 BC, and that Antigonus, the last bloodline Jewish King died at 37 BC. The Chronological Tables boldly state that the 37 years should begin 33/32 BC at the death of the last traditional Jewish High Priest called Hyrcanus. This was surprising to find a contradiction with Josephus, as Jerome and Eusebius were aware of his writings and even quoted him. For example, Jerome thought it important to pen the arrival of his books in his Chronological Tables, “In these days Flavius Josephus writes the twenty books of the Antiquities.”(17) He dated the time of publication at 93 AD Perhaps he simply did not agree with Josephus’ chronology, or the Josephus manuscript he read from was different than ours. It is odd why the ancient christian authors never acknowledged a difference in dating between the accounts.

The discrepancy between Josephus and Church accounts is puzzling.

The Chronicon Paschale

“Chronicon Paschale (the Paschal Chronicle), also called Chronicum Alexandrinum, Constantinopolitanum or Fasti Siculi) is the conventional name of a 7th-century Greek christian chronicle of the world. Its name comes from its system of chronology based on the christian paschal cycle; its Greek author named it Epitome of the ages from Adam the first man to the 20th year of the reign of the most August Heraclius.”(18)

Chronicon Paschale’s Seventh Century account of the Herods
Name Start Date End Date Total Reign
Herod the Great 34 B.C. 3 B.C. 37 years
Archelaus 4 A.D. 13 A.D. 9 years
Herod the Tetrarch 14 A.D. 42 A.D. 28 years
Agrippa I
Agrippa II

A commentary on Chronicon Paschale’s Herodian dynasty calculations.

The Chronicon Paschale discarded Jerome’s assertion that Daniel’s prophecy had ended at 33 BC with the death of the last Hyrcanian leader and instead it was at the death of the last Hasmonean priest, Alexander Jannaeus in 74 BC.

“The anointed leaders lasted from Cyrus the king of the Persians up until Janneaus Alexander, for 483 years, which is 69 “sevens” of years, which were foretold by Daniel in this way”.(19) See Olympiad 201.4

The first year of Augustus Caesar’s reign according to this table was 42 BC, therefore the start reign of Herod was 34 BC, if calculating from the start reign of Augustus, or 35/34 BC based on the Olympiads. “In the 8th year of Augustus Caesar, the Romans gave the kingdom of Judaea to Herodes the son of Antipar and of Cypris, an Arabian woman. Herodes killed Hyrcanus and bestowed the high priesthood not according to the traditional succession, but to some insignificant men.”(20) See Olympiad 186.2

It does succinctly state that in Olympiad 186.2 (35/34 BC), “In the 8th year of Augustus Caesar, the Romans gave the kingdom of Judaea to Herodes the son of Antipar and of Cypris, an Arabian woman. Herodes killed Hyrcanus and bestowed the high priesthood not according to the traditional succession, but to some insignificant men.”(21) See Olympiad 186.2 The first year of Augustus Caesar’s reign according to this table was 42 BC, therefore the start reign of Herod was 34 BC, if calculating from the start reign of Augustus, or 35 BC based on the Olympiads.

The Chronicon Paschale then follows with the statement, “Herodes was king of the Jews for 37 years. In his 35th year, Jesus Christ was born at Bethlehem in Judea”.(22) IBID See Olympiad 186.2 This passage had an earlier illustration that Herod was installed in the “8th year of Augustus Caesar”,(23) IBID which subtracted from 42 BC, according to the Chronicon Paschale, would make Herod the Great’s rule from 34 BC to 3 AD and the birth of Christ at 1 AD.

The Venerable Bede

Bede was an eighth-century monk who lived in the Kingdom of Northumbria (northern England, south-east Scotland). He had a comprehensive set of skills from music, astronomy, theology, to natural studies. He is best known for his Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis AnglorumThe Ecclesiastical History of the English People. He had a particular interest in calendar systems and is one of the best sources on the subject.

The Venerable Bede’s Late Seventh Century account of the Herods
Name Start Date End Date Total Reign
Herod the Great 35 B.C. 1 A.D. 36 years
Archelaus 1 A.D. 10 A.D. 9 years
Herod the Tetrarch 10 A.D. 34 A.D. 24 years
Agrippa I
Agrippa II

A commentary on the Venerable Bede’s Herodian dynasty calculations.

The Venerable Bede’s chronology of the Herods published in his De Tempore Ratione noted that Herod the Great received his title in 35 BC and reigned for 36 years:

“Lacking in the 11th year of Augustus a principle leader in Judaea, Herod has no relation to go with, since indeed is the son of Antipatri of Ascalon and of Cyprid of Arabia, he assumed the leadership of Judaea under the Romans, which he held fast for 36 years.” (24) Bede, De Temporum Ratione, MPL. Vol. 90, pg. 544. Translation is mine

The text here relates the difficulty that Herod had in becoming a recognized King, as he was not a Jew by lineage, and his title was forced upon the Jewish nation by Rome. One must note that there was no reference to the death of the high priest as a reference point similar to what previous christian authorities had done. Herod’s year of death was clarified by his statement, “In the 47th year of Augustus, Herod with a disease of intercuris(25) I am assuming here ‘intercuris acquae’ means infection, but can’t be sure. Can’t find a meaning for intercuris, and the copy I am working from is very faint, and I may have even misspelled it. water, and worms gushing all over the body, miserably and worthily died.”

He further wrote:

“. . .Archelaus, he reigned 9 years, that is, until the end of Augustus himself. But certainly at this time does not carry on beyond for the ferocity of the Jews against him in the accusations before Augustus, he was exiled to Vienna, a city of the Gauls and for the purpose of reducing the power of the kingship of the Jews, for the arrogance had to be subdued, tetrarchies were made for the four brothers instead of him; Herod, Antipar, Lysias(26) Most modern scholars believe Lysias, Tetrarch of Abiline, to be incorrect and exclude him from any official designation. and Philip, of which Philip and Herod who was first called Antipas, the tetrarchies were also allotted from the living Archelaus.”

This would make the time of Archelaus reign from 1 – 10 AD.

The text concerning the tetrarchy is confusing. Bede suggests that the tetrarchy, which literally means divided by four, was given immediately to the four brothers from Archelaus, but if one reads further, especially the last sentence, Philip and Herod Antipas (later known as Herod the Tetrarch) received their allotment sooner.

This contradicts Josephus. Josephus believed the area of Judea, including Jerusalem, became a Roman protectorate, never being restored to the Herods again. This is not included in Bede’s analysis.

Then Bede proceeded to state, “Herod the Tetrarch(27) Why Bede calls Antipas “Herod the Tetrarch” and not “Herod Antipas” as commonly used today, is not known. One can only surmise, but perhaps it is because Bede believed there were perceived gaps in the Herodian chronology and just to be safe, he leaves this title ambiguous. holds on as leader of the Jews for 24 years”.(28) IBID Bede, De Temporum Ratione This would make Herod the Tetrarch’s reign from 10 AD to 34 AD.

The dates given by Bede have been adjusted to correlate with his view that the Church’s conception of 1 AD was wrong and believed the real 1 AD started at our 2 BC. For more information see Bede on the Problem of 1 AD

Bede’s table in this article did not originally have this incorporated in the table and it has been updated.

Hippolyti Thebani

Hippolyti Thebani, otherwise known in English as Hippolyti of Thebes, is an elusive one to describe. The EJ Brill website describes him this way:

6th-9th century. Greece. Author of a universal chronicle (Χρονικόν) in Greek prose, which survives only in fragments. The only clues to the date of composition are doctrinal information apparently known to the author, which places him not earlier than the sixth century, and the manuscript tradition, which begins in the ninth. As he apparently was not familiar with Egyptian geography, we conclude that the Thebes in his toponym is Thebes in Greece (Boeotia).(29)

Hippolytus of Thebes early 11th Century account of the Herods
Name Start Date End Date Total Reign
Herod the Great
Herod the Tetrarch 4 A.D. 34 A.D. 30 years
Agrippa I 34 A.D. 41 A.D. 7 years
Agrippa II 41 A.D. 67 A.D. 26 years

A commentary on Hippolyti Thebani’s Herodian dynasty calculations.

“For in the fifteenth year of the year of Tiberius was the Divine crucifixion and the Creator of Life was made alive from the dead. And thus Antipas, the son of Herod reigned for 24 years [The Latin reads 23 years]. This is clearly the Herod who struck down the Forerunner [John the Baptist] and on the occasion of the passion of the divine in Jerusalem, he took audience and judged the Lord. And he reigned for another five years after the Creator of Life rose from the dead. He was sent into exile with Herodias to Vienne. After him Agrippas reigned, a descendant of Herod, the son of Aristoboulous, from Miriam, of the son of the first Herod. For this Agrippa, also of Herodian descent, is the one who put to death Jacob Zebedaiah. And he wished to put to death Peter the leader of the Apostles, in order that he would be accepted by the Jews. For he reigned seven years. And after him Agrippa II reigned, under whom Paul was judicially examined along with Festus, 26 years.”(30) MPG: Fragmenta, Vol. 117, Ch. IX, Col. 253

He based all his calculations on the emperorship of Tiberius Caesar, whom we know began his reign in AD 14. The crucifixion of Christ would then have happened at AD 29. This is a very tight date, as Jesus’ baptism was in the same year, based on the fact that the author Luke said He was baptized in the 15th year of Tiberius Caesar and the Apostle John wrote that lived on earth three passovers after this.(31) Some argue that the Book of John suggests three Passovers after Christ’s Baptism, Jn 2:13, Jn 6:4, Jn 11:55ff; This appears to be sound logic. Hippolyti then goes on to write that Herod Antipas reigned 24 years before the crucifixion, which would make the beginning of his reign at 4 or 5 AD. He adds that Antipas reigned 5 years after the crucifixion, which would make the end of his rule to be 34 AD, while most historians mark his end at 39 AD.

The start and end-date of Herod the Tetrarch has an 11-year discrepancy between Josephus and himself.

Hippolyti also left Archelaus totally out of his history. He may have rightly argued that his rulership was not important to his chronology and that Herod the Tetrarch was the central figure in the Biblical narrative.

But there is something unusual going on between the Greek and Latin parallel text in Migne Patrilogia. The Greek states that Antipas reigned 24 years before the crucifixion, and the Latin reads 23. Why? Was the Latin translator aware that there was some error or some history that we do not have today that he had to correct the text? Shouldn’t he have added years than decrease them? A reply to this question cannot be made as we do not have this alternate version available.(32) MPG: Fragmenta, Vol. 117, Ch. IX, Col. 253

But this problem may have just been a transcription error.

Agrippas I then reigned for seven years after him, which would make his rule from 34/35 to 41/42 AD. The chronology of seven years is correct with most historians, but many note his rule was from 37-44 AD not Hippolyti’s calculation as above,(33) For this portion of comparisons with standard historical dating of the Herods, I am referring to the dates given in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Vol. 2 pg. 695ff, “Herods” written by H.W. Hoehner. though it is very close.

Then after Agrippa I’s reign came Agrippa II, whom many historians tend to date his rulership to begin six years after the end of Agrippa I’s reign, 50-100 AD. The six-year lapse was explained by Josephus to be a time in waiting for the young Agrippa II, who was then only 17, to mature. The Romans reduced this region to a province during this interval.(34) William Whiston trans. AOJ Book XIX:IX:2, p. 413

Hippolyti doesn’t give a six-year interval at all and begins his reign directly after Agrippa I’s.

Hippolyti puts his reign from 41 to 67 AD. A total of 26 years compared to 50 years by many historians. The end date according to Hippolyti is likely according to Jewish, not Roman calculations. If using Josephus’ previous Jewish example where he dated Herod the Great’s reign from the fall of Jerusalem, then Agrippa II would be dated to end according to the fall of Jerusalem. Agrippa II lost his power when the revolt began in AD 67.

Dating According to a Lunar Eclipse.

Herod died shortly after an eclipse of the moon according to Josephus(35) William Whiston trans. The Works of Josephus, “The Antiquities of the Jews” Book XVII: VI:4, p. 365 and modern history has used this passage, along with Whiston’s commentary to define the death date of Herod. William Whiston, who translated Josephus into English and his edition is ubiquitous in the English world, boldly asserted:

This eclipse of the moon (which is the only eclipse of either of the luminaries mentioned by our Josephus in any of his writings) is of the greatest consequence for the determination of the time for the death of Herod and Antipater, and for the birth and entire chronology of Jesus Christ. It happened March 13th, in the year of the Julian period 4710, and the 4th year before the christian era. See its calculation by the rules of astronomy, at the end of the Astronomical Lectures, edit. Lat. p. 451, 452.” (36) This footnote in Whiston’s publication only appears in its entirety in the 1895 version used by Perseus. My 1982 version published by Hendrickson does not have it. The reference Flavius Josephus. The Works of Flavius Josephus. Translated by. William Whiston, A.M. Auburn and Buffalo. John E. Beardsley. 1895 is found at Perseus website.

Whiston attempted to champion a point not intended by Josephus. Josephus did not write about the eclipse as a date identifier but as a solemn sign of a significant event. Josephus’ dating by Olympiads and regnants are totally sufficient, making a lunar eclipse an unnecessary symbol for dating.

He tried to date the eclipse using information and technology from the 1700s and his conclusion today is questionable. The NASA Eclipse website has a listing of all the historic eclipses according to mathematical calculations. If these historical solar eclipses are correct then no eclipse would have been visible in either Rome, or in Israel. from 6 to 1 BC. The lunar eclipse used by Whiston therefore was incorrect and cannot be used as a valid reference point.

The math doesn’t make sense either. Josephus clearly stated that Herod lived until 3 BC. Whiston’s attempt to date Herod’s death at 4 BC is in contradiction to Josephus’ account himself.

For more information on the death of Herod and the lunar eclipse, the following links may be of help, The Lunar Eclipse of Josephus, and Yet Another Eclipse for Herod.

Jewish Sources

The assumption throughout this essay has been that Josephus and his copious use of Roman sources is the definitive guide to dating the year of the birth of Christ, and that christian tradition has based much of its dating presuppositions on faulty logic with the Daniel prophecy. However, Jewish tradition surprisingly supports the historic christian position.

Both the Talmud Babli and the much later Otzar Midrashim, which is a re-composition of midrashim texts, succinctly confirm this.

Abodah Zarah 9.1 (עבודה זרה ) reads:

מלכות פרס בפני הבית שלשים וארבע שנה מלכות יון בפני הבית מאה ושמונים שנה מלכות חשמונאי בפני הבית מאה ושלש מלכות בית הורדוס מאה

Persian rule lasted thirty-four years after the building of the Temple, Greece ruled one hundred eighty years during the existence of the Temple, the Hasmonean rule lasted one hundred three years during temple times, the House of Herod ruled one hundred three years. Thence onward, one should go on counting the years as from the Destruction of the Temple.(38)

Most importantly, the writer stated that the house of Herod reigned 103 years. This timeframe was found not only in Abodah Zarah, but also Otzar Midrashim The Diaspora Chapter 5, and again in Chapter 25. It appears that the different chapters have different authors as the details of other events do not remain consistent, but the dates of the Herod dynasty are the same. It was clear from both Abodah Zarah, and the Otzar Midrashim The Diaspora, that the dates were relevant to the destruction of the Temple. If one subtracts the 103 years of the dynasty of the Herodian dynasty from the modern accepted date of AD 70 of the destruction of the Second Temple by Titus and Vespasian, then King Herod’s rule would have begun in 33 BC. There are no records in the Talmud that give the length of Herod the Great’s rule, though if one adds either the traditional 34 or 37 year numbers for number of years Herod reigned, this would make Herod’s death at either 1 or 4 AD.

It can certainly be argued that this 103-year date was sheer conjecture from the Jewish sages, as good math was abandoned for an important theological statement relating to their perception of Daniel’s prophecy. It also could be argued that Abodah Zarah, being published in the sixth century or later, was contaminated by christian influences or forced to render the dates under severe Church censorship.(39)

Julius Eisenstein in his 1915 collection of minor midrashims called Otzar Midrashim (אוצר מדרשים) continued to leave the 103 year phrase with no change. If the concept of 103 years was forced, it would have been corrected or addressed by the time of Eisenstein’s work.

If one calculates up all the Herods together that Josephus documented, the sum adds up to 107 years – 4 years off from the Talmud.


The research so far has succeeded in one of its two aims. The first goal was to establish exactly what dates Josephus and the Church leaders selected in their chronologies.

It however fails to resolve why the two parties differ. The Church leaders knew and well-respected Josephus’ works, but on the issue of historically mapping the dates around the 80 or so years surrounding the birth of Christ, they differ considerably. None of the Church fathers make mention of the difference and try to resolve the disparity.

While examining these calendars, along with others not listed here, many, if not most, ancient histories have a 4–10 year discrepancy in their accounts. A comparison between the accounts demonstrate the 4–10 year window never appears in the same place. It is difficult to find any pattern.

One possibility is that the histories did not agree on how to convert older lunar-based accounts into their solar calendars. The exclusive lunar year was shorter by about 11 days a year. Over a 165 year period, the lunar calendar is off by 5 years. For example starting a history at 200 B.C. and tracing the history over a 165 year period, the solar date would be 35 B.C. and the lunar date would be 30 B.C.(40)Here’s the formula I used for this calculation based on 354.37 days per lunar year and 365.24 days per solar year. 165 (365.25)=x(354.37), x=170.06. 200-170=30 It may be that every account has reconciled the lunar-solar calendar problem at different points in their histories. This has not been confirmed but it is a possibility that has to be looked into further.

A second solution may be found in understanding the complete work of the medieval Church writing, Chronicon Paschale. The Chronicon Paschale has a historical record that dates epochs earlier than the time of Christ. It also includes a parallel Roman consular list. The comparing of the Chronicon’s consular list with a Roman-based one, especially the Fasti Consulares and the Varronian Chronology may uncover the difference between Josephus and other accounts.

A third alternative is based on a theological conflict. Many of the Church writers wrote a chronological history to align with a prophecy given by a prophet named Daniel in 580 BC that is slightly obscure but perceived to be fulfilled near the arrival or passion of Christ, the destruction of Jerusalem or a mixture of these and other elements. The Church fathers were not so much concerned about historical correctness regarding accuracy of the Herods, but their main emphasis was to align Daniel’s prophecy within a historical framework.

The attempt to explain the difference because of the theological influence of Daniel’s vision in christian writings appeared tenable, but the Talmud weakened such an argument.

Another answer is that of perspective. Maybe the ancient christian chronographers never recognized the Church’s authoritative stance that Christ only lived 30 years before His passion, and held onto the idea that it was 33 years. This would mean most ancient Christian chronologies understood 1 AD to be our 2 BC. This means that modern historians should always should calculate this variance in all their citations.

This problem of a 4 – 10 year variance in historical chronographies cannot be solved by doing a comparative literature study on the lives of the Herods. The answer is found somewhere else, but that somewhere still remains a mystery.

For more information:

  • The Venerable Bede on the Problem of 1 AD
  • For a full range of articles on Christian calendars, especially as it relates to the birth of Christ, see: Christian Calendar Systems
  • References   [ + ]

Dionysius Exiguus and the AD Calendar System

When the AD calendar system was created, by whom, and for what purpose.

The beginnings of the AD calendar system can be credited to Dionysius Exiguus. He was a sixth-century Scythian monk who lived in what is now known as Romania.

Ironically, his intent was not to create a new time-system, rather, it was expressly designed to allow all Churches throughout Christendom to celebrate Easter on the same day. Churches celebrating Easter on different days existed for centuries and was considered a major problem during his time.

In Dionysius’ description of a new calendar, he provided a graphic table, much similar to an Excel spreadsheet, with different reference systems to calculate Easter. Dionysius main concern was to fix the Easter rite correct for every year because the previous table was almost complete. The lunar cycle was of the utmost importance for calculating Easter and had to be correlated with the Julian calendar. In order to accomplish this, he had a 7-point system. Two of the more important ones to dating the birth of Christ were the indictions and the then accepted 19-year lunar cycle. The indictions were a 15-year cyclical taxation system first initiated by Julius Caesar in 48 B.C.(1)See Liber De Pascate Sive Cyclus Paschalis. MPL 67, as found at Documenta Catholica Omnia, Col. 494Ff

One of the intents of Dionysius’ dating system was to totally eliminate the name of the Emperor Diocletian in any reference to a time chart. The AD first meant “Anni Diocletiani” which related to the beginning of his reign at 284 AD. Diocletian’s laws, persecutions and punishments against the Christian community were severe. So great was his persecution that Dionysius did not believe it was right to associate the acronym AD with his name and changed it. The following is found in his work, Liber de Paschate Praefatio.

Verily the holy Cyril began the first cycle from the 143rd year of Diocletian and ended in the 247th year, rather than commence by the leader in the 248th year from the Tyrant, we did not wish to include in our circle the memory of an impious and persecutor, but we chose above to mark the time from the year of the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.(2)Liber de Pashcate Praefatio. My personal translation into English

The table devised by Dionysius began at 513 AD which was 229 years after the start reign of Diocletian. He marked the first 229 years as “Anno Diocletiani.” Then at 532 AD he changed the acronym to mean “Anni Domini nostri Jesu Christi.” His table ends at 626 AD with no reference to the reign of Diocletian.

It is not an easy read, as the variables he used are not contemporary ones.

The best place to start reading and understanding the Dionysius English text from especially a mathematical perspective is Michael Decker’s article, Nineteen Year Cycle of Dionysius. It is not the prettiest web page but full of important information.

For more information

References   [ + ]

What Year was Christ Born?

What year was Christ born? This may seem like a simple question but it is actually very complex.

It is not a problem of Biblical accuracy that the date is difficult to exactly come by but a problem of human dimensions.

The answer is found in understanding the ancient calendar systems along with their complex histories and reconciling them into a unified corpus. Along the way, one will see a picture of how our present calendar system came into being.

At the time of Christ’s birth, there was no universal time system. Actually, there have been well over 10 major time systems and many more regional ones used over the course of history to define Christ’s birth-year. The majority of these ancient systems are not the most accurate, consistent or in agreement with other calendars.

Here are a few of the more prominent ones which have had an influence on the calendar we use today.

The regnal time system. This is where time is calculated from the time a Roman leader took office. A good example can be found in Luke’s narrative of the birth of Christ ” In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) NIV. Another example can be found in the Bible as well. Jesus was baptized in the 15th year of the Emperor Tiberius. However, we don’t have accurate historical records when the census happened with Quirinius, and there is also invariably disagreements on when exactly a ruler began and ended his career such as gauging when the 15th year of Tiberius exactly occurred.

The popular first century historian Josephus avoided using this system exclusively and liked to use Olympiads associated with political events for his reckoning. An Olympiad is a time-system invented by the Greeks that ran in 4 year rotations. His political work on the middle-east is so detailed and close to the time of Christ, that it is the de-facto standard to dating the birth year.

He hardly wrote about Jesus and gave no time-frame when he did mention Christ. So many try to apply Christ’s birth-date according to the events of Herod’s life as illustrated by Josephus. This has its problems too.

Many of the Church Fathers preferred to date using the Adamic method, that is dating everything from what they believe was the creation of the world. This is sometimes called the Anno Mundi system or A.M. for short.

Then there is the Roman consular system which dates everything in relation to who were the consuls in Rome at the time. Problem is, not all the records consistently have these people dated.

Around 526 AD, the calendar system we use today had its origins. It was popularized by a monk named Dionysius Exiguus. He wanted to create a new time system that would no longer honour the wicked and cruel Roman emporer Diocletian. This was what the A.D. first stood for-Anno Diocletiani. He changed it to “Anni Domini nostri Jesu Christi” or A.D. for short.

See Dionysius Exiguus and the AD Calendar System for more info.

It was originally used for Easter calculations. It was not intended as a calendar system for daily living and was not accepted initially as a year time system either.

Many medieval Church Fathers preferred to date everything from the passion of Christ, but to the angst of the great 8th century theologian, the Venerable Bede, it was at least two years wrong.

Bede made a strong attempt using his skills in mathematics, astronomy, history, knowledge of regional calendars, and theology to reconcile the calendars into one cohesive system. At one point when he tried to publicly correct the Anno Mundi system, he got into a lot of controversy and was almost branded a heretic. In the end, he set a general basis with some minor variations for the calendar we have today.

He was one of the first authors to differentiate between before Christ and after in an A.D. type calendar system, though his abbreviations are not quite the same as ours.

See Bede on the Problem of 1 AD for more info.

As one delves even more deeper into the subject, it gets into astronomy, lunar phases, solstices, solar calculations and more. To make matters worse, since many of these calendars are based on lunar rather than solar, some years are 11 days shorter than others. So what they thought was March 21 may actually be March 10th or if the lunar calendar has been used for many years without any reconciliation with a solar one, it may be even more.

To top it off, not everyone was in agreement that the year started January 1st. Some thought it to start in March.

There are other calendars used such as the Roman indiction system (which operated on 15 year cycles), and Christian Arabs traced time from Alexander the Great. The Jews at one point, at least according to Bede, liked to use the 49 year Jubilee calendar system.

One must not forget the AUC method too. “Ad Urbe Condita”–from the founding of Rome. Annual times were calculated from the year that Rome was established.

“Modern historians use it much more frequently than the Romans themselves did.”(1)( Many contemporary writers use 753 AUC as the birth date of Christ. But there are debates with this one too as to what year one should begin dating from.

To top it all off, the mathematics was very primitive. The Romans didn’t use the numeral zero “0” in any calendar calculations. This modification came later. It makes this investigation all the more interesting.

Throughout all of these time systems there is a 2 to 5 to 10 year discrepancy that pops up in a different location with each system that effects accurately dating the birth-year. This is a challenge to figure out.

This is just an abbreviated form of the research done so far. The birth year of our Lord is an interesting journey into human time systems.

This is why this subject is looked into more detail than many others and is listed as a special project under the main menu. More posts will be coming…

References   [ + ]