the very moment that Jesus cried out 'It is finished!' from His cross, in the Temple the priest's knife slew the Pascal lamb! 9
In the first Christian centuries, Church writers had dated an event either according to its years in an Emperor's reign or from the 'year of the Ascension' (or the ‘year of the Passion’). Later, after the Western Empire had fallen, Pope St. John I in 525, wished to replace the calendar which had been instituted by the persecuting tyrant Diocletian. He commissioned a learned monk named Dionysius Exiguus to calculate, exactly and officially, the Year of the Nativity. In the period of Pontius Pilate’s rule over Judaea, 779 – 789 AUC (26 – 36 AD), the Passover fell on the Sabbath twice: in 783 and 786 AUC (30 and 33 AD). As they assumed that St. Luke had been using the Roman calendar, the early Fathers had regarded 783 as too early. The 16 years between Tiberius’ accession (767 AUC) and 783 did not seem to provide enough time for the 15 years of Tiberius and the minimum three known Passovers of our Lord’s public Life.) They therefore accepted 786 as the Year of the Ascension. Earlier calculations had simply added 15 to 767 AUC to locate 'the fifteenth year of Tiberius' in 782 AUC (29 AD) and counted back the 'thirty years' of our Lord's then age to arrive at 752 AUC (2 BC). The Fathers St. Irenaeus, Tertullian and Eusebius all settled on 752 AUC as the year of our Lord’s Nativity. This is still preserved in today's Roman Martyrology reading for the Midnight Mass for Christmas which locates the nativity "in the 194th Olympiad (i.e. 4 - 1 BC), the 752nd year since the foundation of the City of Rome, the 42nd year of Augustus". (After the murder of Julius Caesar in 44 BC, Augustus (as Octavian) late in 43 BC had begun ruling with Antony and Lepidus as a member of the ‘Second Triumvirate’.) Likewise basing his calculations on 786 AUC as the year of the Ascension, Dionysius Exiguus simply counted His 33 years back inclusively to arrive at 754, the 1 AD we have today. 10
The trouble with all these Patristic calculations, of course, is that our Lord was born ‘in the days of King Herod ’. How do we know King Herod the Great had died in 4 BC? How had the Fathers believed he had died later? In 707 AUC (47 BC) Herod’s father Antipater, the minister of King Hyrcanus in Jerusalem, had helped rescue Julius Caesar trapped in Alexandria. Josephus tells us (Antiquities, 14.9.2) that at this time Herod was Governor of Galilee and as ‘being decidedly young’: 15 years old! Josephus elsewhere states (Jewish War, 1.33.1) that when he died, Herod was 69 (‘almost 70 years old ’). The Church Fathers thus believed King Herod the Great had died in about 760 AUC (7 AD). Josephus however also says (Antiquities, 17.14) that after his recognition as King of Judaea by the Senate ‘in the Consulate of Domitius and Pollio’ (40 BC), Herod had reigned for 37 years. This means that when Herod died 37 years later aged 69 it was not in 760 but in 750 AUC: 4 BC. In these years, a pre-Passover eclipse of the moon (referred to in Antiquities, 17.6.4 as preceding Herod’s death) occurred only in 750 AUC. Since the 16th century, therefore, scholars have routinely corrected Herod’s age in 707 AUC from a highly improbable ‘15’ to a far more probable ‘25’.
Published on Nov 29, 2011
Published on Nov 29, 2011
This survey of how the New Testament came to be written is also a chronicle of the first 40 years of the history of the Christian Church. It...