According to the Gospel record, ?Jesus was born before the death of Herod the Great...
at the time of a census or enrollment made in the territory of Herod in accordance
with a decree of Augustus when Quirinius..(also known as Cyrenius). was exercising authority in the Roman
province of Syria...?
And so it would seem logical to use these three historic men
? Augustus, Quirinius and Herod ? to triangulate the birth of Christ, right?
Not quite so simple. Firstly, in the nineteenth century, scholars found it fashionable
to call Quirinius a myth, since there was no record of his existence outside of
But Luke has once again been vindicated as a reliable historian by
the recent discovery that Publius Sulpicius Quirinius was in fact a historical figure
and indeed governor of Syria around the time of Christ?s birth. Still, scholars questioned
Luke?s accuracy, since the available evidence was that Quirinius? governorship
of Syria was from AD 6 onwards. New evidence has come to light, however,
showing that Quirinius served an earlier term as governor of Syria.
But one problem is still outstanding. Modern scholarly consensus holds that Herod
died in 4 BC . And since Matthew 2:1 tells us that ?Jesus was born... during the
time of King Herod ,? this pushes back Jesus? birth to well before 4 BC . Or does it?
Our modern calendar, which divides world history into BC (which stands for ?Before
Christ?) and AD (which stands for ?Anno Domini,? or ?The Year of Our Lord?),
is based on the calculations of a sixth century Ukrainian monk called Dionysius Exignus.
Dionysius calculated that the birth of Christ occurred in the Roman year 754. He
counted AD 1 (the inaugural year of Anno Domini) as commencing on January 1 of
the year following the birth of Christ.
Therefore, according to his reckoning, Jesus was born in 1 BC (there was no ?zero
year? since the concept of zero had not entered the West). How did Dionysius
come to this conclusion? He based his calculations on the historical records available
to him in the Vatican Library at Rome and on the record of Luke 3:1-2 .
Let?s now take a quick look at the evidence provided by early Christian writers. 3
Tertullian stated that Augustus began to rule 41 years before the birth of
Christ and died 15 years after. The date of Augustus? death is known to be
August 19, AD 14. This would place the birth of Jesus at 2 BC (since there is
no AD zero). He also asserted that Jesus was born 28 years after the death
of Cleopatra, once again placing the birth of Christ at 2 BC .
Irenaeus, born about a hundred years after Jesus, wrote: ?Our Lord was
born about the forty-first year of the reign of Augustus.? This doesn?t contradict
Tertullian?s 42 years, since Augustus? reign began in the autumn of 43
BC . This places the birth of Jesus in the autumn of 2 BC .
Eusebius, in the fourth century, wrote: ?It was the forty-second year of
the reign of Augustus and the twenty-eighth from the subjugation of Egypt
on the death of Antony and Cleopatra.? The 42nd year of Augustus spanned
between the autumn of 2 BC and the autumn of 1 BC . The ?subjugation of
Egypt? took place in the autumn of 30 BC . According to this reckoning,
therefore, the 28th year from the subjugation of Egypt spanned from the
autumn of 3 BC to the autumn of 2 BC . The only possible date for the birth of
Jesus that meets both requirements would be the autumn of 2 BC .
The evidence strongly points to 2 BC as the birth of Christ, making Dionysius out
in his calculations by just one year. But what about the fact that Herod supposedly
died in 4 BC ? Historians calculate this date because Josephus reports a lunar
eclipse occurring just before Herod?s death, and for some time, the only eclipse that
fitted the evidence was in March 13, 4 BC . Astronomical science, however, has
since determined that a lunar eclipse was visible in Jerusalem on January 9, 1 BC .
Combined with the testimony of early Christian historians, the weight of evidence
leans toward the autumn of 2 BC , which also corresponds with Luke?s assertion
that Christ was ?about thirty years old? ( Luke 3:23 ) in or just after ?the fifteenth
year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar? ( Luke 3:1 ), whose actual ascension to the