Religion 101

Today is January 1, 2013, otherwise known as New Years Day. The beginning of a brand new year (as much of the world reckons time and date), today is the day we throw away our old 2012 calendars and open our new 2013 calendars. It’s also a day when some of us make “resolutions” to change our ways for the better in certain areas, or otherwise resolve to launch various sorts of fresh new starts.

According to the conventional Western or Gregorian calendar currently in common use, today is the beginning of 2013 A.D.  That “A.D.” specifier is an abbreviation for the Latin phrase Anno Domini, which means “In the Year of the Lord,” and which also reveals the specifically Christian origins of this particular system of marking time and counting years.

Read literally, 2013 A.D. (or A.D. 2013, e.g. “In the Year of the Lord 2013”) would seem to indicate that it has now been precisely 2013 years since the birth of Christ, which occasion serves to divide history, as a matter of widespread and longstanding convention, into two great epochs: A.D. for all years following that axial natal event, and B.C. (for “Before Christ”) for all years prior to it.

In other words, the presumption here is that Jesus Christ was born in what we today would regard, according to this particular calendar, as the year 1 A.D. (There’s no such thing as a “year zero”; the numbering of years proceeds immediately from 1 B.C. to 1 A.D., with no gap or break in between.)

However, that presumption is erroneous.

This particular method or system of counting, numbering, and labeling years as either B.C. or A.D. was not invented until centuries after the time of Christ. In the process of its adoption and organization, the intent was that it begin with the year in which Christ had been born, designating that as the pivotal year 1 A.D., and then counting both backward (B.C. years) and forward (A.D. years) from that.

However, modern scholars have since determined that the wrong year was identified as the year of Christ’s birth and subsequently adopted as the pivotal axis year upon which the entire B.C./A.D. framework hinges. In other words, as it turns out, Christ wasn’t actually born in what the calendar labels as the year 1 A.D., after all.

The Bible, of course, does not specify the exact year within which the birth of Jesus of Nazareth occurred. (As I explained in a previous blog entry, the Bible also does not indicate that he was born on December 25, either — or even during the winter season, for that matter.) Based upon scriptural clues and historical evidence, most modern biblical scholars today believe that Jesus was born a few years prior to the the traditional 1 A.D. date.

The relevant data may be too skimpy to make it possible to arrive at a precise answer, but the general scholarly consensus is that the historical Jesus was probably born somewhere between 4 and 7 B.C.

Not a big deal, really — just another of those interesting little factoids that may be common knowledge among scholars and clergy, but which seem to seldom trickle down into the shared pool of generally common knowledge, or to get much exposure among the majority of average ordinary layfolk.

And, of course, this entire system of counting and labeling years is not the only one around. It’s become the standard such system, even in secular usage, despite having religious origins. This particular calendric system was originally devised and established within a specifically Christian culture, and so was based upon a Christian religious framework. But other religious cultures have devised entirely separate and distinct calendric systems of their own.

So, for example — and as I went into much more detail elsewhere, in another previous blog entry — while today the Christian world (and much of the secular world, too) by convention regards the current year as 2013 A.D., according to the Hebrew or Jewish calendar we are currently in the year 5773 A.M. (Anno Mundi, “In the Year of the World,” or 5773 years since the traditional date of Creation).

By contrast, according to the Islamic calendar, we are currently in the year 1434 A.H. (Anno Hegirae, “In the Year of the Hijra,” the Hijra being Muhammad’s pivotal migration from Mecca to Medina which occurred in 622 A.D. on the Western or Gregorian calendar, but in 1 A.H. on the Muslim calendar).

Hindu, Buddhist, and various other sorts of religious calendars also exist, of course, each with their own characteristic ways of counting the years.

In any case… Happy New Year!