Millennium already history?

Time line experts debate accuracy of Christ’s birthday.

Forget the Y2K computer meltdown, those restaurant reservations for New Years Eve of 1999 and the forthcoming church celebrations of the 2,000th anniversary of Christ’s birth.

The great millennial milestone has already happened. Just a few weeks ago. Or, it will occur a few weeks from now.

So say the calculations of certain specialists in the arcane field of biblical chronology. If they’re right , most modern scholars are wrong, and this is verily a Christmas to remember.

Obviously, this gets complicated, but take heart: The following will be a highly simplified account.

To begin, the year A.D. 1 isn’t the year A.D. 1. Everyone who looks at the data agrees that, strange as it seems, Jesus was born “Before Christ, “ not “Anno Domini.”

The man who split history into B.C. and A.D. on the basis of the first Christmas was (“Dionysius Exiguus (Dionysius the Little”) in A.D.525.

Great idea, but this Roman monk had two problems. First, he used no “zero year”, so he figured Jesus was born on December 25th of 1 B.C.—and on New Year’s Day of 1 B.C.(and New Years Day of A.D. 1 came one week later)-----.Second, Dionysius didn’t have much documentatary evidence to go on.

Modern-day historians have put the birth at around 5 B.C. The whole business pivots on when the homicidal King Herod “the Great’ died, because Matthew 2 and Luke 1:5 report that Herod was on his throne when Jesus was born. Due to considerations from Jesus’ own chronology, that was at the end of Herod’s reign.

The Herod dates are untangled in the 1998 edition of the “Handbook of biblical Chronology” (Hendrickson) by Jack Finegan, professor emeritus at California’s Pacific School of Religion and the leading authority in this field.

Historians think Herod died in 4 B.C., a belief derived partly from details in the “Jewish Antiquities” written by the first-century historian Josephus. One important clue is his report that Herod dies shortly before the annual Jewish Passover and shortly after a lunar eclipse—the only one noted in Josephus’ massive work.

Modern calculations show the Holy Land had a total lunar eclipse in 1 B.C. , and two total eclipses in 5 B.C., plus a partial eclipse in 4 B.C. So, to which one was Josephus referring? The conventional favorite among historians has been 4 B.C. But that theory is knocked down by another chronology maven, Ernest L. Martin, in “The Star That Astonished the World” published by his own Associates for Scriptural Knowledge in Portland, Oregon)

There were 29 days between the 4 B.C. Eclipse and Passover. Martin says there’s no way the many events Josephus depicted after Herod’s demise could be squeezed into 29 days. The same argument rules out one of the eclipses in 5 B.C., and Martin figures the other 5 B. C. eclipse is impossible because its seven-month gap from eclipse to Passover is too long. That leaves the 1 B. C. Eclipse, with a plausible gap of 12 ½ weeks.

But there has always been a big problem with the 1 B. C. date, involving the chronology of Philip, one of Herod’s sons and successors. Texts of the “Antiquities” in modern use say Philip died in the “20th year” of the Roman emperor Tiberius. That would put Herod’s death and Philip’s ascension at 4 B. C.

Enter David Beyer, a U.S. consultant and biblical hobbyist who gave an intriguing report to a 1995 convention of Bible scholars. He told of visiting the British Museum to examine all surviving copies of Josephus’ work. Turned out that not one of the two dozen oldest copies, dated to 1544 or earlier, said “20th year.” Beyer checked editions at the Library of Congress and found the same.

Most said “22nd year”, and on that basis Beyer rolled Herod’s death to early in 1 B.C. Jack Finegan endorses that date in his latest “Handbook” and thus puts Jesus’ birth at 2 B.C. or 3 B.C.

That’s not all. Ernest Martin thinks he can date Jesus’ birth to the exact day and hour. Martin reads Revelation 12:1-5 like an astronomical code referring to the constellation Virgo the virgin at a point when the sun crossed Virgo’s abdomen and the moon was at her feet.”Anyone in the first century would have understood that.” Martin remarks.

If so, the astronomical charts show Christ was born at twilight, between 6:15 p.m. and 7:45 p.m., on September 11, in 3 B.C.

Remember: there’s no zero year, so that would mean the 2,000th anniversary came three months ago. Or, if we follow Finegan, the great moment is most likely to be sometime in mid-winter, a few weeks from now.

By Richard N. Ostling
Associated Press

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