St. Paul's Final Hurrah

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 … Read more

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:

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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 and Jesus’ baptism being in the 15th year of the reign of Tiberius.2

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 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 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 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 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 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.

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