Thursday, January 21, 2016

Dating the birth of Jesus Christ

Copy of Raphael's The Virgin of the Rose
by Manuel Alfonseca Santana
I will not enter here into the nineteenth-century debate on the historical existence of Jesus Christ, for after 1926 historical criticism has unanimously accepted his existence, and the persistence of the idea that Jesus Christ did not exist is solely due to ignorance or anti-Christian bigotry.
In the previous post we saw that December 25 might actually have been the date of the birth of Christ, if we follow a tradition that dates back to Irenaeus. Traditionally, the main argument against that date was the unlikelihood of the shepherds being in the fields in winter, watching their flocks. However, other studies disagree with this statement.
The chronological system used today internationally is the Christian era. After the collapse and disintegration of the Western Roman Empire, the Roman era, which counted the years from the founding of Rome, remained in use for about two hundred years, but in the sixth century, the Scythian theologian Dionysius Exiguus introduced the custom of dating historical events from the birth of Christ. Dionisius calculated that Jesus must have been born around the year 754 AUC (Ab Urbe Condita, since the foundation of the town) and called this year 1 AD (Anno Domini, the year of the Lord). Later dates in the Roman era could easily be translated into the Christian era by subtracting 753 from the corresponding Roman date. As for the years before 754 AUC, in the new era they correspond to negative numbers and can be obtained by subtracting the Roman date from 754 and by adding the abbreviation BC (Before Christ). In this system, there is no year zero.
Since the French Revolution there have been several attempts to un-Christianize the Christian era. The first, the revolutionary calendar, broke with tradition and counted the years from 1792, but the attempt failed after just 13 years. Just now it would be very difficult to change all the historical dates, so atheists are trying to un-Christianize just the name of the era, which would be called the Common Era, with the new acronyms CE and BCE. I don’t feel bad about this, because this acronym can also be interpreted as follows: Christian Era and Before the Christian Era, so everyone is happy.
Unfortunately, the criteria used by Dionysius Exiguus to calculate the date of Christ's birth were not well founded. In the late nineteenth century, Emil Schürer asserted that Herod the Great must have died in 750 AUC, i.e. 4 BC. As the second chapter of the Gospel of Matthew says that Jesus was born during his reign, it must have happened before that date. Furthermore, in the massacre of the innocents, all children under two years old were killed, indicating that Jesus could have been that age before Herod’s death. For this reason, many modern historians are inclined to set his date of birth between 747 and 749 AUC. This has the curious and paradoxical consequence that Jesus Christ would have been born in the years 7 to 5 before Christ.
Using these dates, an article published in the journal Nature claimed that the star of Bethlehem could have been a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in the constellation Pisces. Pope Benedict XVI mentioned this theory in his book Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives.
The issue is complicated because not all historians agree on the date set by Schürer for the death of Herod. There are some who believe that this date should be delayed until the year 753 AUC (1 BC). In this case, Jesus could have been born a few years later than previously thought, although before the year 1 AD.
Basing on Revelation (12: 1-5), Joseph Dumond has proposed that Jesus was born on September 11, 3 BC (751 AUC). Let's see what the Apocalypse says:
1 Now a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman, robed with the sun, standing on the moon, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.
2 She was pregnant, and in labor, crying aloud in the pangs of childbirth...
5 The woman was delivered of a boy, the son who was to rule all the nations with an iron scepter, and the child was taken straight up to God and to his throne.
View of the sky on September 11, 3 B.C.
Why just this date? Look at the figure, which shows the appearance of the sky on September 11, 3 BC at 10:00 in the morning. This configuration was not repeated on successive or earlier days. You can clearly see the sun in the center of the Virgo constellation (a virgin, robed with the sun), and the moon, just under the feet of the constellation. The image highlights the eight brightest stars of the twelve surrounding the head of Virgo, which belong to the constellations of Leo and Virgo: nu, beta and omicron in Virgo; sigma, iota, theta, delta and beta in Leo. The other four, less bright, could be pi, chi, upsilon and phi in Virgo, two of which do not appear in the image.

At the top right of the image you can see the conjunction of Jupiter (the king planet) with the star Regulus (the little king), the brightest star (alpha) in the constellation Leo (Judah’s constellation). This combination could be a new candidate for the star of Bethlehem.
Impressive, isn’t it? Indeed, but for now this is a pure lucubration, with no other basis than its appeal to the reader’s imagination. Let everyone draw their own conclusions.

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Manuel Alfonseca

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