« Prev Chronology of the Life of Christ Next »

§16. Chronology of the Life of Christ.

See the Lit. in §14, p. 98, especially Browne, Wieseler, Zumpt, Andrews, and Keim

We briefly consider the chronological dates of the life of Christ.

I. The Year of the Nativity.—This must be ascertained by historical and chronological research, since there is no certain and harmonious tradition on the subject. Our Christians aera, which was introduced by the Roman abbot Dionysius Exiguus, in the sixth century, and came into general use two centuries later, during the reign of Charlemagne, puts the Nativity Dec. 25, 754 Anno Urbis, that is, after the founding of the city of Rome.104104    The fathers distinguish between the Nativity (γένεσις, Matt. 1:18) and the Incarnation (σάρκωσις) and identify the Incarnation with the Conception or Annunciation. Since the time of Charlemagne the two terms seem to have been used synonymously. See Ideler, Chronol., ii. 383, and Gieseler, i. 70 (4th Germ. ed.). Nearly all chronologers agree that this is wrong by at least four years. Christ was born a.u. 750 (or b.c. 4), if not earlier.

This is evident from the following chronological hints in the Gospels, as compared with and confirmed by Josephus and contemporary writers, and by astronomical calculations.

The Death of Herod.

(1) According to Matthew 2:1 (Comp. Luke 1:5, 26), Christ was born "in the days of king Herod" I. or the Great, who died, according to Josephus, at Jericho, a.u. 750, just before the Passover, being nearly seventy years of age, after a reign of thirty-seven years105105    Jos., Antiqu., xvii. 8,1: "Herod died ... having reigned since he had procured Antigonus to be slain [a.u. 717, or B.C. 37], thirty-four years, but since he had been declared king by the Romans [a.u. 714, or B.C. 40], thirty-seven." Comp. the same statement in Bell. Jud., i. 33, 8, and other passages. This date has been verified by the astronomical calculation of the eclipse of the moon, which took place March 13, a.u. 750, a few days before Herod’s death.106106    According to Josephus, Antiqu. xvii. 6, 4: "And that night there was an eclipse of the moon." It is worthy of note that Josephus mentions no other eclipse in any of his works. Allowing two months or more for the events between the birth of Christ and the murder of the Innocents by Herod, the Nativity must be put back at least to February or January, a.u. 750 (or b.c. 4), if not earlier.

Some infer from the slaughter of the male children in Bethlehem, "from two years old and under,"107107    Matt. 2:16: πάντας τοὺς παῖδος ... ἀπὸδιετοῦς καὶ κατωτέρω κατὰ τον̀ χρόνον ὃν ἠκρίβωσεν παρὰ τῶν μάγων. that Christ must have been born two years before Herod’s death; but he counted from the time when the star was first seen by the Magi (Matt. 2:7), and wished to make sure of his object. There is no good reason to doubt the fact itself, and the flight of the holy family to Egypt, which is inseparably connected with it. For, although the horrible deed is ignored by Josephus, it is in keeping with the well-known cruelty of Herod, who from jealousy murdered Hyrcanus, the grandfather of his favorite wife, Mariamne; then Mariamne herself, to whom he was passionately attached; her two sons, Alexander and Aristobulus, and, only five days before his death, his oldest son, Antipater; and who ordered all the nobles assembled around him in his last moments to be executed after his decease, so that at least his death might be attended by universal mourning. For such a monster the murder of one or two dozen infants in a little town108108    Tradition has here most absurdly swelled the number of Innocents to 20,000, as indicated on the massive column, which marks the spot of their supposed martyrdom in the Church of the Nativity at Bethlehem. XX M[artyres], i.e. martyrs, have become XX M[ilia], i.e. twenty thousands. was a very small matter, which might easily have been overlooked, or, owing to its connection with the Messiah, purposely ignored by the Jewish historian. But a confused remembrance of it is preserved in the anecdote related by Macrobius (a Roman grammarian and probably a heathen, about a.d. 410), that Augustus, on hearing of Herod’s murder of "boys under two years" and of his own son, remarked "that it was better to be Herod’s swine than his son."109109    Macrob., Sat., ii 4: "Augustus, cum audisset, inter pueros, quos in Syria Herodes, rex Judaeorum, intra bimatum [perhaps taken from Matt. 2:16, Vulg.: a bimatu et infra]jussit interfici, filium quoque eius occisum, ait: melius est Herodis porcum esse quam filium." It is a pun on the similar sounding Greek terms for sow and son (ὗς and υἱός). Kepler already quoted thispassage in confirmation of Matthew. The cruel persecution of Herod and the flight into Egypt were a significant sign of the experience of the early church, and a source of comfort in every period of martyrdom.

The Star of the Magi.

(2) Another chronological hint of Matthew 2:1–4, 9, which has been verified by astronomy, is the Star of the Wise Men, which appeared before the death of Herod, and which would naturally attract the attention of the astrological sages of the East, in connection with the expectation of the advent of a great king among the Jews. Such a belief naturally arose from Balaam’s prophecy of "the star that was to rise out of Jacob" (Num. 24:17), and from the Messianic prophecies of Isaiah and Daniel, and widely prevailed in the East since the dispersion of the Jews.110110    Tacitus (Hist., v. 13) and Suetonius (Vespas., c. 4) speak of a widespread expectation of that kind at the time of the Jewish war and before (Suetonius calls it a vetus et constans opinio), but falsely refer it to the Roman emperors Vespasianus and Titus. In this the heathen historians followed Josephus, who well knew and believed the Messianic hopes of his people (comp. Ant., iv. 6, 5; x. 10, 4; 11, 7), and yet was not ashamed basely to betray and pervert them, saying (Bell. Jud. vi. 5, 4): "What did the most to elevate the Jews in undertaking this war, was an ambiguous oracle that was found also in their sacred writings, how ’about that time, one from their country should become governor of the habitable earth.’ The Jews took this prediction to belong to themselves in particular, and many of the wise men were thereby deceived in their determination. Now, this oracle certainly denoted the goverment of Vespasian, who was appointed emperor in Judaea." Comp. Hausrath, N.T. Ztgesch., I. 173. The Messianic hopes continued long after the destruction of Jerusalem. The false Messiah, who led the rebellion under the reign of Hadrian (a.d. 135), called himself Bar-Cochba, i.e. "Son of the Star," and issued coins with a star, in allusion probably to Num. 24:17. When his real character was revealed, his name was turned into Bar-Cosiba, "Son of Falsehood."

The older interpretation of that star made it either a passing meteor, or a strictly miraculous phenomenon, which lies beyond astronomical calculation, and was perhaps visible to the Magi alone. But Providence usually works through natural agencies, and that God did so in this case is made at least very probable by a remarkable discovery in astronomy. The great and devout Kepler observed in the years 1603 and 1604 a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, which was made more rare and luminous by the addition of Mars in the month of March, 1604. In the autumn of the same year (Oct. 10) he observed near the planets Saturn, Jupiter and Mars a new (fixed) star of uncommon brilliancy, which appeared "in triumphal pomp, like, some all-powerful monarch on a visit to the metropolis of his realm." It was blazing and glittering "like the most beautiful and glorious torch ever seen when driven by a strong wind," and seemed to him to be "an exceedingly wonderful work of God."111111    In the beginning of his Bericht vom Geburtsjahr Christi (Opera, IV. 204) he describes this new star in these words: "Einungewöhnlicher, sehr heller und schöner Stern ... der wie die schönste, herrlichste Fackel so jemahl mit Augen gesehen worden, wenn sie von einem starken Wind getrieben wird, geflammet und gefunkelt, gerad neben den drey höchsten Planeten Saturno, Jove und Marte." He calls this phenomenon "ein überaus grosses Wunderwerk Gottes." A fuller description of the whole phenomenon he gives in his work De Stella Nova (Opera, II. 575 sqq. and 801 sqq., ed. Frisch). Upham (The Wise Men, N. Y. 1869, p. 145) says: "Tycho de Brahe had observed a similar wonder in the constellation Cassiopeia, on the night of the 11th of October, in the year 1572. These were not luminous bodies within our atmosphere; were not within, or near, the solar system; they were in the region of the fixed stars. Each grew more and more brilliant, till it shone like a planet. Then its lustre waned until it ceased to be visible,—the one in March, 1574, the other in February, 1606. The light was white, then yellow, then red, then dull, and so went out." On temporary stars, see Herschel’s Astronomy, Chap. XII. His genius perceived that this phenomenon must lead to the determination of the year of Christ’s birth, and by careful calculation he ascertained that a similar conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, with the later addition of Mars, and probably some, extraordinary star, took place repeatedly a.u. 747 and 748 in the sign of the Pisces.

It is worthy of note that Jewish astrologers ascribe a special signification to the conjunction of the planets Jupiter and Saturn in the sign of the Pisces, and connect it with the advent of the Messiah.112112    The learned Jewish Rabbi Abarbanel, in his Commentary on Daniel (called Ma’jne hajeshuah, i.e."Wells of Salvation,"Isa. 12:3), which was published 1547, more than fifty years before Kepler’s calculation, says that such a conjunction took place three years before the birth of Moses (a.m. 2365), and would reappear before the birth of the Messiah, a.m. 5224 (or a.d. 1463). Ideler and Wieseler conjecture that this astrological belief existed among the Jews already at the time of Christ.

The discovery of Kepler was almost forgotten till the nineteenth century, when it was independently confirmed by several eminent astronomers, Schubert of Petersburg, Ideler and Encke of Berlin, and Pritchard of London. It is pronounced by Pritchard to be "as certain as any celestial phenomenon of ancient date." It certainly makes the pilgrimage of the Magi to Jerusalem and Bethlehem more intelligible. "The star of astrology has thus become a torch of chronology" (as Ideler says), and an argument for the truthfulness of the first Gospel.113113    It has been so accepted by Dean Alford and others. See the note in 6th ed. of his Com. on Matt. 2:2 (1868), with the corrections furnished by Rev. C. Pritchard. McClellan (New Test., I, 402) assumes that the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn was premonitory and coincided with the conception of the birth of John the Baptist, Oct. 748, and that Kepler’s new star was Messiah’s star appearing a year later.

It is objected that Matthew seems to mean a single star (ἀστήρ, comp. Matt. 2:9) rather than a combination of stars (ἄστρον). Hence Dr. Wieseler supplements the calculation of Kepler and Ideler by calling to aid a single comet which appeared from February to April, a.u. 750, according to the Chinese astronomical tables, which Pingré and Humboldt acknowledge as historical. But this is rather far-fetched and hardly necessary; for that extraordinary star described by Kepler, or Jupiter at its most luminous appearance, as described by Pritchard, in that memorable conjunction, would sufficiently answer the description of a single star by Matthew, which must at all events not be pressed too literally; for the language of Scripture on the heavenly bodies is not scientific, but phenomenal and popular. God condescended to the astrological faith of the Magi, and probably made also an internal revelation to them before, as well as after the appearance of the star (comp. 2:12).

If we accept the result of these calculations of astronomers we are brought to within two years of the year of the Nativity, namely, between a.u. 748 (Kepler) and 750 (Wieseler). The difference arises, of course, from the uncertainty of the time of departure and the length of the journey of the Magi.

As this astronomical argument is often very carelessly and erroneously stated, and as the works of Kepler and Ideler are not easy of access, at least in America (I found them in the Astor Library), I may be permitted to state the case more at length. John Kepler wrote three treatises on the year of Christ’s birth, two in Latin (1606 and 1614), one in German (1613), in which he discusses with remarkable learning the various passages and facts bearing on that subject. They are reprinted in Dr. Ch. Frisch’s edition of his Opera Omnia (Frcf. et Erlang. 1858–’70, 8 vols.), vol. IV. pp. 175 sqq.; 201 sqq.; 279 sqq. His astronomical observations on the constellation which led him to this investigation are fully described in his treatises De Stella Nova in Pede Serpentarii (Opera, vol. II. 575 sqq.), and Phenomenon singulare seu Mercurius in Sole (ibid. II. 801 sqq.). Prof. Ideler, who was himself an astronomer and chronologist, in his Handbuch der mathemat. und technischen Chronologie (Berlin, 1826, vol. III. 400 sqq.), gives the following clear summary of Kepler’s and of his own observations:

"It is usually supposed that the star of the Magi was, if not a fiction of the imagination, some meteor which arose accidentally, or ad hoc. We will belong neither to the unbelievers nor the hyper-believers (weder zu den Ungläubigen noch zu den Uebergläubigen), and regard this starry phenomenon with Kepler to be real and well ascertainable by calculation, namely, as a conjunction of the Planets Jupiter and Saturn. That Matthew speaks only of a star (ἀστήρ), not a constellation (ἄστρον), need not trouble us, for the two words are not unfrequently confounded. The just named great astronomer, who was well acquainted with the astrology of his and former times, and who used it occasionally as a means for commending astronomy to the attention and respect of the laity, first conceived this idea when he observed the conjunction of the two planets mentioned at the close of the year 1603. It took place Dec. 17. In the spring following Mars joined their company, and in autumn 1604 still another star, one of those fixed star-like bodies (einer jener fixstern-artigen Körper) which grow to a considerable degree of brightness, and then gradually disappear without leaving a trace behind. This star stood near the two planets at the eastern foot of Serpentarius (Schlangenträger), and appeared when last seen as a star of the first magnitude with uncommon splendor. From month to month it waned in brightness, and at the end of 1605 was withdrawn from the eyes which at that time could not yet be aided by good optical instruments. Kepler wrote a special work on this Stella nova in pede Serpentarii (Prague, 1606), and there he first set forth the view that the star of the Magi consisted in a conjunction of Saturn, Jupiter and some other extraordinary star, the nature of which he does not explain more fully." Ideler then goes on to report (p. 404) that Kepler, with the imperfect tables at his disposal, discovered the same conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn a.u. 747 in June, August and December, in the sign of the Pisces; in the next year, February and March, Mars was added, and probably another extraordinary star, which must have excited the astrologers of Chaldaea to the highest degree. They probably saw the new star first, and then the constellation.

Dr. Münter, bishop of Seeland, in 1821 directed new attention to this remarkable discovery, and also to the rabbinical commentary of Abarbanel on Daniel, according to which the Jewish astrologers expected a conjunction of the planets Jupiter and Saturn in the sign of the Pisces before the advent of the Messiah, and asked the astronomers to reinvestigate this point. Since then Schubert of Petersburg (1823), Ideler and Encke of Berlin (1826 and 1830), and more recently Pritchard of London, have verified Kepler’s calculations.

Ideler describes the result of his calculation (vol. II. 405) thus: I have made the calculation with every care .... The results are sufficiently remarkable. Both planets [Jupiter and Saturn] came in conjunction for the first time a.u. 747, May 20, in the 20th degree of Pisces. They stood then on the heaven before sunrise and were only one degree apart. Jupiter passed Saturn to the north. In the middle of September both came in opposition to the sun at midnight in the south. The difference in longitude was one degree and a half. Both were retrograde and again approached each other. On the 27th of October a second conjunction took place in the sixteenth degree of the Pisces, and on the 12th of November, when Jupiter moved again eastward, a third in the fifteenth degree of the same sign. In the last two constellations also the difference in longitude was only about one degree, so that to a weak eye both planets might appear as one star. If the Jewish astrologers attached great expectations to conjunction of the two upper planets in the sign of the Pisces, this one must above all have appeared to them as most significant."

In his shorter Lehrbuch der Chronologie, which appeared Berlin 1831 in one vol., pp. 424–431, Ideler gives substantially the same account somewhat abridged, but with slight changes of the figures on the basis of a new calculation with still better tables made by the celebrated astronomer Encke, who puts the first conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn a.u. 747, May 29th, the second Sept. 30th, the third Dec. 5th. See the full table of Encke, p. 429.

We supplement this account by an extract from an article on the Star of the Wise Men by the Rev. Charles Pritchard, M.A., Hon. Secretary of the Royal Astronomical Society, who made a fresh calculation of the constellation in a.u. 747, from May to December, and published the results in Memoirs of Royal Ast. Society, vol. xxv., and in Smith’s "Bible Dictionary," p. 3108, Am. ed., where he says: "At that time [end of Sept., b.c. 7] there can be no doubt Jupiter would present to astronomers, especially in so clear an atmosphere, a magnificent spectacle. It was then at its most brilliant apparition, for it was at its nearest approach both to the sun and to the earth. Not far from it would be seen its duller and much less conspicuous companion, Saturn. This glorious spectacle continued almost unaltered for several days, when the planets again slowly separated, then came to a halt, when, by reassuming a direct motion, Jupiter again approached to a conjunction for a third time with Saturn, just as the Magi may be supposed to have entered the Holy City. And, to complete the fascination of the tale, about an hour and a half after sunset, the two planets might be seen from Jerusalem, hanging as it were in the meridian, and suspended over Bethlehem in the distance. These celestial phenomena thus described are, it will be seen, beyond the reach of question, and at the first impression they assuredly appear to fulfil the conditions of the Star of the Magi." If Pritchard, nevertheless, rejects the identity of the constellation with the single star of Matthew, it is because of a too literal understanding of Matthew’s language, that the star προῆγεν αὐτούςand ἐστάθη ἐπάνω, which would make it miraculous in either case.

The Fifteenth Year of Tiberius.

(3) Luke 3:1, 23, gives us an important and evidently careful indication of the reigning powers at the time when John the Baptist and Christ entered upon their public ministry, which, according to Levitical custom, was at the age of thirty.114114    Comp. Num. 4:3, 35, 39, 43, 47. John the Baptist began his ministry "in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius,"115115    In the new revision the passage, Luke 3:1, 2, is thus translated: "Now in the fifteenth year of the reign (ἡγεμονίας) of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor (ἡγεμονεύοντος) of Judaea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, in the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came unto John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness." The statement must have been quite intelligible to the educated readers of that time. and Jesus, who was only about six months younger than John (comp. Luke 1:5, 26), was baptized and began to teach when he was "about thirty years of age."116116    The different interpretations of αὐτὸς ἧν ἀρχόμενος ὡσεὶ ἐτῶν τριάκοντα do not alter the result much, but the ὡσεί leaves a margin for a few months more or less. Comp. McClellan, I. 404. Tiberius began to reign jointly with Augustus, as "collega imperii," a.u. 764 (or, at all events, in the beginning of 765), and independently, Aug. 19, a.u. 767 (a.d. 14); consequently, the fifteenth year of his reign was either a.u. 779, if we count from the joint reign (as Luke probably did, using the more general term ἡγεμονίαrather than μοναρχίαor βασιλεία117117    He uses the same term of Pontius Pilate (ἡγεμονεύοντος). Zumpt, l.c. p. 296, says: "Eigentlich verstanden, bezeichnet ἡγεμονία die Würde des militärischen Befehlshabers und des Regenten über die Provinzen. Hätte Lucas ’Augustus Kaiser’ (αὐτοκράτωρ) oder auch nur ’Herrscher’ (ἄρχων) gesagt, so würde man an eine Zählung von Tiberius’ Provincialverwaltung weniger denken können . or 782, if we reckon from the independent reign (as was the usual Roman method).118118    Different modes of counting were not unusual, regarding the early Roman emperors, and Herod I. See above, p. 112, Zumpt, l. c. 282 sqq., and Andrews, p. 27. Suetonius (Tib., 33) and Tacitus (Annal., vi. 51) say that Tiberius died in the 23d year of his reign, meaning his sole reign; but there are indications also of the other counting, at least in Egypt and the provinces, where the authority of Tiberius as the active emperor was more felt than in Rome. There are coins from Antioch in Syria of the date a.u. 765, with the head of Tiberius and the inscription, Καισαρ. Σεβαστος (Augustus). In favor of the computation from the colleagueship are Ussher, Bengel, Lardner, Greswell, Andrews, Zumpt, Wieseler, McClellan; in favor of the computation from the sole reign are Lightfoot, Ewald. Browne. Wieseler formerly held that Luke refers to the imprisonment, and not the beginning of the ministry, of John, but he changed his view; see his art. in Herzog’s " Encykl.,"xxi. 547.

Now, if we reckon back thirty years from a.u. 779 or 782, we come to a.u. 749 or 752 as the year of John’s birth, which preceded that of Christ about six months. The former date (749) is undoubtedly to be preferred, and agrees with Luke’s own statement that Christ was born under Herod (Luke 1:5, 26).119119    Andrews,l. c. p. 28, thus sums up his investigations upon this point: "We find three solutions of the chronological difficulties which the statements of Luke present: 1st. That the 15th year of Tiberius is to be reckoned from the death ot Augustus, and extends from August, 781, to August, 782. In this year the Baptist, whose labors began some time previous, was imprisoned; but the Lord’s ministry began in 780, before this imprisonment, and when he was about thirty years of age. 2d. That the 15th year is to be reckoned from the death of Augustus, but that the statement, the Lord was about thirty years of age, is to be taken in a large sense, and that he may have been of any age from thirty to thirty-five when he began he labors. 3d. That the 15th year is to be reckoned from the year when Tiberius was associated with Augustus in the empire, and is therefore the year 779. In this case the language, ’he was about thirty,’ may be strictly taken, and the statement, ’the word of God came unto John,’ may be referred to the beginning of his ministry."

Dionysius probably (for we have no certainty on the subject) calculated from the independent reign of Tiberius; but even that would not bring us to 754, and would involve Luke in contradiction with Matthew and with himself.120120    Hase (Gesch. Jesu, p. 209) strangely defends the Dionysian era, but sacrifices the date of Matthew, together with the whole history of the childhood of Jesus. Against the view of Keim see Schürer, p. 242.

The other dates in Luke 3:1 generally agree with this result, but are less definite. Pontius Pilate was ten years governor of Judaea, from a.d. 26 to 36. Herod Antipas was deposed by Caligula, a.d. 39. Philip, his brother, died a.d. 34. Consequently, Christ must have died before a.d. 34, at an age of thirty-three, if we allow three years for his public ministry.

The Census of Quirinius.

(4) The Census of Quirinius Luke 2:2.121121    See the literature till 1874 in Schürer, p. 262, who devotes 24 pages to this subject. The most important writers on the census of Quirinius are Huschke (a learned jurist, in 2 treatises, 1840 and 1847), Wieseler (1843 and 1869), and Zumpt (1854 and 1869). Comp, also the article "Taxing," by Dr. Plumptre, supplemented by Dr. Woolsey, in Smith’s "Bible Dictionary" (Hackett and Abbot’s ed.), IV. 3185, and J. B. McClellan, New Test., I. 392. Luke gives us another chronological date by the incidental remark that Christ was born about the time of that census or enrolment, which was ordered by Caesar Augustus, and which was "the first made when Quirinius (Cyrenius) was governor [enrolment] of Syria."122122    This is the proper meaning of the original (according to the last text of Tischendorf, Westcott and Hort, who with B D omit the article ) αὔτη ἀπογραφὴ πρώτη ἐγένετο ἡγεμονεύοντος τῆς Συρίας Κυρηνίου–β̈.–ͅβ̈ Vulg.:Haec descriptio prima facta est a praeside Syriae Cyrino.The English version, " this taxing was first made when,"is ungrammatical, and would require πρῶτον, or, πρῶτα instead of πρώτη. Luke either meant to say that there was no previous enrolment in Judea, or, more probably had in his mind a second enrolment made under Quirinius at his second governorship, which is noticed by him in Acts 5:37, and was well known to his readers. See below. Quirinius (Κυρήνιος) is the proper spelling (Strabo, Josephus, Tacitus, Justin M)—not Quirinus, which was also a Roman name; hence the confusion. (See Weiss, in the 6th ed. of Meyer on Luke, p. 286.) His full name was Publius Sulpicius Quirinius (Tacitus, Annal., iii 48; Suetonius, Tiber., 49). He was consul a.u. 742, at the head of an army in Africa, 747, and died in Rome, a.d. 21. Josephus speaks of him at the beginning of the 18th book of his Archael. See, a full account of him in Zumpt, pp. 43-71. He mentions this fact as the reason for the journey of Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem. The journey of Mary makes no difficulty, for (aside from the intrinsic propriety of his company for protection) all women over twelve years of age (and slaves also) were subject in the Roman empire to a head-tax, as well as men over fourteen) till the age of sixty-five.123123    Ulpian, quoted by Zumpt, Geburtsjahr Christi, p. 203 sq. There is some significance in the coincidence of the birth of the King of Israel with the deepest humiliation of Israel. and its incorporation in the great historical empire of Rome.

But the statement of Luke seems to be in direct conflict with the fact that the governorship and census of Quirinius began a.d. 6, i.e., ten years after the birth of Christ124124    Josephus, Antiqu., xvii. 13, 5; xviii. 1, 1. The census here referred to is evidently the same which Luke means in Acts 5:37: "After this man arose Judas the Galilaean in the days of the enrolment." Josephus calls him "Judas, a Gaulanite," because he was of Gamala in lower Gaulanitis; but in Ant., xx. 5, 2, and Bell. Jud., ii. 8, 1, he calls him likewise a Galilaean. In this case, then, Luke is entirely correct, and it is extremely improbable that a writer otherwise so well informed as Luke should have confounded two enrolments which were ten years apart. Hence many artificial interpretations.125125    The usual solution of the difficulty is to give πρώτη the sense of προτέρα before Quirinius was governor; as πρῶτός τινος is used (though not in connection with a participle) in the sense of prior to, John 1:15, 30; 15:18. So Ussher, Huschke, Tholuck, Wieseler, Caspari, Ewald. But this would have been more naturally and clearly expressed by πρίν or πρὸ τοῦ ἡγεμενεύειν (as in Luke 2:21; 12:15; Acts 23:15). Paulus, Ebrard, Lange, Godet, and others accentuate αυτή (ipsa) and explain: The decree of the census was issued at the time of Christ’s birth, but the so-called first census itself did not take place till the governorship of Quirinius (ten years later). Impossible on account of Lk 2:3, which reports the execution of the decree, Lk 2:1. Browne (p. 46) and others understand ἡγεμονεύειν in a wider sense, so as to include an extraordinary commission of Quirinius as legatus Caesaris. But this difficulty is now, if not entirely removed, at least greatly diminished by archaeological and philological research independent of theology. It has been proved almost to a demonstration by Bergmann, Mommsen, and especially by Zumpt, that Quirinius was twice governor of Syria—first, a.u. 750 to 753, or b.c. 4 to 1 (when there happens to be a gap in our list of governors of Syria), and again, a.u. 760–765 (a.d. 6–11). This double legation is based upon a passage in Tacitus,126126    Annal., iii. 48, as interpreted by A. W. Zumpt in a Latin dissertation: De Syria Romanorum provincia ab Caesare Augusto ad T. Vespasianum, in Comment. Epigraph., Berol. 1854, vol. ii. 88-125, and approved by Mommsen in Res gesstae divi Augusti, 121-124. Zumpt has developed his views more fully in Das Geburtsjahr Christi, 1869, pp. 1-90. Ussher, Sanclemente, Ideler (II. 397), and Browne (p. 46) had understood Tacitus in the same way. and confirmed by an old monumental inscription discovered between the Villa Hadriani and the Via Tiburtina.127127    First published at Florence, 1765, then by Sanclemente (De vulg. aerae Emendat. Rom. 1793), and more correctly by Bergmann and Mommsen: De inscriptione Latina, ad P. Sulpicium Quirinium referenda, Berol. 1851. Mommsen discussed it again in an appendix to Res gestae Augusti, Berol. 1865, pp. 111-126. The inscription is defective, and reads: "... Pro. Consul. Asiam. Provinciam. Op[tinuit legatus]. Divi. Augusti[i]terum i.e., again, a second time]. Syriam. Et. Ph[oenicem administravit, or, obtinuit]. The name is obliterated. Zumpt refers it to C. Sentius Saturninus (who preceded Quirinius, but is not known to have been twice governor of Syria), Bergmann, Mommsen, and Merivale to Quirinius (as was done by Sanclemente in 1793, and by Ideler, 1826). Nevertheless Mommsen denies any favorable bearing of the discovery on the solution of the difficulty in Luke, while Zumpt defends the substantial accuracy of the evangelist. Hence Luke might very properly call the census about the time of Christ’s birth "the first" (πρώτη) under Quirinius, to distinguish it from the second and better known, which he himself mentions in his second treatise on the history of the origin of Christianity (Acts 5:37). Perhaps the experience of Quirinius as the superintendent of the first census was the reason why he was sent to Syria a second time for the same purpose.

There still remain, however, three difficulties not easily solved: (a) Quirinius cannot have been governor of Syria before autumn a.u. 750 (b.c. 4), several months after Herod’s death (which occurred in March, 750), and consequently after Christ’s birth; for we know from coins that Quintilius Varus was governor from a.u. 748 to 750 (b.c. 6–4), and left his post after the death of Herod.128128    Josephus, Antiqu., xvii. 11, 1; Tacitus, Hist., v. 9: "post mortem Herodis ... Simo quidam regium nomen invaserat; is a Quintilio Vare obtinento Syriam punitus," etc. (b) A census during the first governorship of Quirinius is nowhere mentioned but in Luke. (c) A Syrian governor could not well carry out a census in Judaea during the lifetime of Herod, before it was made a Roman province (i.e., a.u. 759).

In reply to these objections we may say: (a) Luke did not intend to give an exact, but only an approximate chronological statement, and may have connected the census with the well-known name of Quirinius because be completed it, although it was begun under a previous administration. (b) Augustus ordered several census populi between a.u. 726 and 767, partly for taxation, partly for military and statistical purposes;129129    Three censuses, held a.u. 726, 748, and 767, are mentioned on the monument of Ancyra; one in Italy, 757, by Dion Cassius; others in Gaul are assigned to 727, 741, 767; Tertullian, who was a learned lawyer, speaks of one in Judaea under Sentius Saturninus, a.u. 749; and this would be the one which must be meant by Luke. See Gruter, Huschke, Zumpt, Plumptre, l. c. and, as a good statesman and financier, he himself prepared a rationarium or breviarium totius imperii, that is, a list of all the resources of the empire, which was read, after his death, in the Senate.130130    Suetonius, Aug. 28, 101; Tacitus, Annal., i. 11; Dio Cassius, lii. 30; Ivi. 33. The breviarium contained, according to Tacitus: "opes publicae quantum civium sociorumque in armis [which would include Herod], quot classes, regna, provinciae, tributa aut vectigalia, et necessitates ac largitiones. Quae cuncta sua manu perscripserat Augustus, addideratque consilium coërcendi intra terminos imperii, incertum metu anper invidiam" (c) Herod was only a tributary king (rex sosius), who could exercise no act of sovereignty without authority from the emperor. Judaea was subject to taxation from the time of Pompey, and it seems not to have ceased with the accession of Herod. Moreover, towards the end of his life he lost the favor of Augustus, who wrote him in anger that "whereas of old he had used him as his friend, he would now use him as his subject."131131    Joseph. Ant. xvi. 9, § 4. Comp. Marquardt, Röm. Staatsverwaltung, I.249.

It cannot, indeed, be proven by direct testimony of Josephus or the Roman historians, that Augustus issued a decree for a universal census, embracing all the Provinces ("that all the world," i.e., the Roman world, "should be taxed," Luke 2:1), but it is in itself by no means improbable, and was necessary to enable him to prepare his breviarium totius imperii.132132    Such a decree has been often inferred from the passages of Suetonius and Tacitus just quoted. The silence of Josephus is not very difficult to explain, for he does not profess to give a history of the empire, is nearly silent on the period from a.u. 750-760, and is not as impartial a historian as Luke, nor worthy of more credit. Cassiodorus (Variarum, iii. 52) and Suidas (s. v., ἀπογραφή) expressly assert the fact of a general census, and add several particulars which are not derived from Luke; e.g. Suidas says that Augustus elected twenty commissioners of high character and sent them to all parts of the empire to collect statistics of population as well as of property, and to return a portion to the national treasury. Hence Huschke, Wieseler, Zumpt, Plumptre, and McClellan accept their testimony as historically correct (while Schürer derives it simply from Luke, without being able to account for these particulars). Wieseler quotes also John Malala, the historian of Antioch, as saying, probablyon earlier authorities, that "Augustus, in the 39th year and 10th month of his reign [i.e. B.C. 5 or 6] issued a decree for a general registration throughout the empire." Julius Caesar had begun a measurement of the whole empire, and Augustus completed it. In the nature of the case, it would take several years to carry out such a decree, and its execution in the provinces would be modified according to national customs. Zumpt assumes that Sentius Saturninus,133133    Not to be confounded with L. Volusius Saturninus, who is known, from coins, to have been governor of Syria a.u. 758 (a.d. 4). who was sent as governor to Syria a.u. 746 (b.c. 9), and remained there till 749 (b.c. 6), began a census in Judaea with a view to substitute a head tax in money for the former customary tribute in produce; that his successor, Quintilius Varus (b.c. 6–4), continued it, and that Quirinius (b.c. 4) completed the census. This would explain the confident statement of Tertullian, which he must have derived from some good source, that enrolments were held under Augustus by Sentius Saturninus in Judaea.134134    Adv. Marc. iv. 19: "Sed et census constat actos sub Augusto tunc in Judaea per Sentium Saturninum, apud quos genus ejus inquirere potuissent." Another, but less probable view is that Quirinius was sent to the East as special commissioner for the census during the administration of his predecessor. In either case Luke might call the census "the first" under Quirinius, considering that he finished the census for personal taxation or registration according to the Jewish custom of family registers, and that afterwards he alone executed the second census for the taxation of property according to the Roman fashion.

The problem is not quite solved; but the establishment of the fact that Quirinius was prominently connected with the Roman government in the East about the time of the Nativity, is a considerable step towards the solution, and encourages the hope of a still better solution in the future.135135    Zumpt, the classical scholar and archaeologist, concludes (p. 223) that there is nothing in Luke’s account which does not receive, from modern research,"full historical probability" ("volle historische Wahrscheinlichkeit"); while Schürer, the theologian, still doubts (Matt. 28:17). Dr. Woolsey (s. v."Cyrenius," in "Smith’s Bible Dict.," Hackett and Abbot’s ed., p. 526), decides that "something is gained." In the art. "Taxing" he says that a registration of Judaea made under the direction of the president of Syria by Jewish officers would not greatly differ from a similar registration made by Herod, and need not have alarmed the Jews if carefully managed.

The Forty-Six Years of Building of Herod’s Temple.

(5) St. John, 2:20, furnishes us a date in the remark of the Jews, in the first year of Christ’s ministry: "Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou raise it up in three days?"

We learn from Josephus that Herod began the reconstruction of the temple in Jerusalem in the eighteenth year of his reign, i.e., a.u. 732, if we reckon from his appointment by the Romans (714), or a.u. 735, if we reckon from the death of Antigonus and the conquest of Jerusalem (717).136136    Antiqu. xv. 11, 1: "And now Herod, in the eighteenth year of his reign (ὀκτωκαιδεκάτον τῆσ Ἡρώδον βασιλείας ἐνιαυτοῦ) ... undertook a very great work, that is, to build of himself the temple of God, and to raise it to a most magnificent altitude, as esteeming it to be the most glorious of all his actions, as it really was, to bring it to perfection, and that this would be sufficient for an everlasting memorial of him." The latter is the correct view; otherwise Josephus would contradict himself, since, in another passage, he dates the building from the fifteenth year, of Herod’s reign.137137    Bell. Jud. I. 21, πεντεκαιδεκάτῳ ἔτει τῆς βασιλείας αὐτὸν δὲ τὸν ναὸς ἐπεσκεύασε Adding forty-six years to 735, we have the year a.u. 781 (a.d. 27) for the first year of Christ’s ministry; and deducting thirty and a half or thirty-one years from 781, we come back to a.u. 750 (b.c. 4) as the year of the Nativity.

The Time of the Crucifixion.

(6) Christ was crucified under the consulate of the two Gemini (i.e., C. Rubellius Geminus and C. Fufius Geminus), who were consuls a.u. 782 to 783 (a.d. 28 to 29). This statement is made by Tertullian, in connection with an elaborate calculation of the time of Christ’s birth and passion from the seventy weeks of Daniel.138138    Adv. Jud. c. 8: "Huius [Tiberii] quinto decimo anno imperii passus est Christus, annos habens quasi triginta, cum pateretur .... Quae passio huius exterminii intra tempora LXX hebdomadarum perfecta est sub Tiberio Caesare, Consulibus Rubellio Gemino Et Fufio Gemino, mense Martio, temporibus paschae, die VIII Kalendarum Aprilium, die prima azymorum, quo agnum occiderunt ad vesperam, sicuti a Moyse fuerat praeceptum." Lactantius(De Mort. Persec. 2; De Vera Sap. 10) and Augustine make the same statement (De Civit. Dei, I xviii. c. 54: "Mortuus est Christus duobus Geminis Consulibus, octavo Kalendas Aprilis "). Zumpt assigns much weight to this tradition, pp. 268 sqq. He may possibly have derived it from some public record in Rome. He erred in identifying the year of Christ’s passion with the first year of his ministry (the 15th year of Tiberius, Luke 3:1). Allowing, as we must, two or three years for his public ministry, and thirty-three years for his life, we reach the year 750 or 749 as the year of the Nativity.

Thus we arrive from these various incidental notices of three Evangelists, and the statement of Tertullian essentially at the same conclusion, which contributes its share towards establishing the credibility of the gospel history against the mythical theory. Yet in the absence of a precise date, and in view of uncertainties in calculation, there is still room for difference of opinion between the years a.u. 747 (b.c. 7), as the earliest, and a.u. 750 (b.c. 4), as the latest, possible date for the year of Christ’s birth. The French Benedictines, Sanclemente, Münter, Wurm, Ebrard, Jarvis, Alford, Jos. A. Alexander, Zumpt, Keim, decide for a.u. 747; Kepler (reckoning from the conjunction of Jupiter, Saturn and Mars in that year), Lardner, Ideler, Ewald, for 748; Petavius, Ussher, Tillemont, Browne, Angus, Robinson, Andrews, McClellan, for 749; Bengel, Wieseler, Lange, Lichtenstein, Anger, Greswell, Ellicott, Plumptre, Merivale, for 750.

II. The Day of the Nativity.—The only indication of the season of our Saviour’s birth is the fact that the Shepherds were watching their flocks in the field at that time, Luke 2:8. This fact points to any other season rather than winter, and is therefore not favorable to the traditional date, though not conclusive against it. The time of pasturing in Palestine (which has but two seasons, the dry and the wet, or summer and winter) begins, according to the Talmudists, in March, and lasts till November, when the herds are brought in from the fields, and kept under shelter till the close of February. But this refers chiefly to pastures in the wilderness, far away from towns and villages,139139    As in Switzerland the herds are driven to the mountain pastures in May and brought home in August or September. and admits of frequent exceptions in the close neighborhood of towns, according to the character of the season. A succession of bright days in December and January is of frequent occurrence in the East, as in Western countries. Tobler, an experienced traveller in the Holy Land, says that in Bethlehem the weather about Christmas is favorable to the feeding of flocks and often most beautiful. On the other hand strong and cold winds often prevail in April, and. explain the fire mentioned John 18:18.

No certain conclusion can be drawn from the journey of Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem, and to Egypt; nor from the journey of the Magi. As a rule February, is the best time for travelling in Egypt, March the best in the Sinaitic Peninsula, April and May, and next to it autumn, the best in Palestine; but necessity knows no rule.

The ancient tradition is of no account here, as it varied down to the fourth century. Clement of Alexandria relates that some regarded the 25th Pachon. (i.e. May 20), others the 24th or 25th Pharmuthi (April 19 or 20), as the day of Nativity.

(1) The traditional 25th of December is defended by Jerome, Chrysostom, Baronius, Lamy, Ussher, Petavius, Bengel (Ideler), Seyffarth and Jarvis. It has no historical authority beyond the fourth century, when the Christmas festival was introduced first in Rome (before a.d. 360), on the basis of several Roman festivals (the Saturnalia, Sigillaria, Juvenalia, Brumalia, or Dies natalis Invicti Solis), which were held in the latter part of December in commemoration of the golden age of liberty and equality, and in honor of the sun, who in the winter solstice is, as it were, born anew and begins his conquering march. This phenomenon in nature was regarded as an appropriate symbol of the appearance of the Sun of Righteousness dispelling the long night of sin and error. For the same reason the summer solstice (June 24) was afterwards selected for the festival of John the Baptist, as the fittest reminder of his own humble self-estimate that he must decrease, while Christ must increase (John 3:30). Accordingly the 25th of March was chosen for the commemoration of the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary, and the 24th of September for that of the conception of Elizabeth.140140    The latest learned advocate of the traditional date is John Brown McClellan, who tries to prove that Christ was born Dec. 25, a.u. 749 (B.C. 5). See his New Test., etc. vol. I. 390 sqq.

(2) The 6th of January has in its favor an older tradition (according to Epiphanius and Cassianus), and is sustained by Eusebius. It was celebrated in the East from the third century as the feast of the Epiphany, in commemoration of the Nativity as well as of Christ’s baptism, and afterwards of his manifestation to the Gentiles (represented by the Magi).

(3) Other writers have selected some day in February (Hug, Wieseler, Ellicott), or March (Paulus, Winer), or April (Greswell), or August (Lewin), or September (Lightfoot, who assumes, on chronological grounds, that Christ was born on the feast of Tabernacles, as he died on the Passover and sent the Spirit on Pentecost), or October (Newcome). Lardner puts the birth between the middle of August and the middle of November; Browne December 8; Lichtenstein in summer; Robinson leaves it altogether uncertain.

III. The Duration of Christ’s Life.—This is now generally confined to thirty-two or three years. The difference of one or two years arises from the different views on the length of his public ministry. Christ died and rose again in the full vigor of early manhood and so continues to live in the memory of the church. The decline and weakness of old age is inconsistent with his position as the Renovator and Saviour of mankind.

Irenaeus, otherwise (as a disciple of Polycarp, who was a disciple of St. John) the most trustworthy witness of apostolic traditions among the fathers, held the untenable opinion that Christ attained to the ripe age of forty or fifty years and taught over ten years (beginning with the thirtieth), and that he thus passed through all the stages of human life, to save and sanctify "old men" as well as "infants and children and boys and youths."141141    Adv. Haer. II. c. 22, § 4-6. He appeals for this view to tradition dating from St. John142142    This shows conclusively how uncertain patristic traditions are as to mere facts. and supports it by an unwarranted inference from the loose conjecture of the Jews when, surprised at the claim of Jesus to have existed before Abraham was born, they asked him: "Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham?"143143    John 8:57. Irenaeus reasons that the Jews made the nearest approach to the real age, either from mere observation or from knowledge of the public records, and thus concludes: "Christ did not therefore preach only for one year, nor did he suffer in the twelfth month of the year; for the period included between the thirtieth and the fiftieth year can never be regarded as one year, unless indeed, among their aeons [he speaks of the Gnostics] there be such long years assigned to those who sit in their ranks with Bythos in thePleroma." A similar inference from another passage, where the Jews speak of the "forty-six years" since the temple of Herod began to be constructed, while Christ spoke of the, temple his body (John 2:20), is of course still less conclusive.

IV. Duration of Christ’s Public Ministry.—It began with the baptism by John and ended with the crucifixion. About the length of the intervening time there are (besides the isolated and decidedly erroneous view of Irenaeus) three theories, allowing respectively one, two, or three years and a few months, and designated as the bipaschal, tripaschal, and quadripaschal schemes, according to the number of Passovers. The Synoptists mention only the last Passover during the public ministry of our Lord, at which he was crucified, but they intimate that he was in Judaea more than once.144144    Comp. Matt. 4:12; 23:37; Mark 1:14; Luke 4:14; 10:38; 13:34. John certainly mentions three Passovers, two of which (the first and the last) Christ did attend,145145    John 2:13, 23; 6:4; 11:55; 12:1; 13:1. The Passover mentioned 6:4 Christ did not attend, because the Jews sought to kill him (7:1; comp. 5:18). and perhaps a fourth, which he also attended.146146    John 5:1 if we read the article before ἑορτὴ τῶν Ἰουδίων. See below.

(1) The bipaschal scheme confines the public ministry to one year and a few weeks or months. This was first held by the Gnostic sect of the Valentinians (who connected it with their fancy about thirty aeons), and by several fathers, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian) and perhaps by Origen and Augustine (who express themselves doubtfully). The chief argument of the fathers and those harmonists who follow them, is derived from the prophecy of "the acceptable year of the Lord," as quoted by Christ,147147    Isa. 61:2; comp. Luke 4:14. and from the typical meaning of the paschal lamb, which must be of "one year" and without blemish.148148    Exod. 12:5. Far more important is the argument drawn by some modern critics from the silence of the synoptical Gospels concerning the other Passovers.149149    Keim, I. 130. But this silence is not in itself conclusive, and must yield to the positive testimony of John, which cannot be conformed to the bipaschal scheme.150150    Henry Browne who, in his Ordo Saeclorum (pp.80 sqq.), likewise defends the one year’s ministry, in part by astronomical calculations, is constrained to eliminate without any MSS. authority το ̀πάσχα from John 6:4, and to make the ἑορτή there mentioned to be the same as that in 7:2, so that John would give the feasts of one year only, in regular chronological order, namely, the Passover 2:13 in March, the Pentecost 5:1 in May, the Feast of Tabernacles 6:4; 7:2 in September, the Feast of Dedication 10:22 in December, the Passover of the Crucifixion in March. Moreover, it is simply impossible to crowd the events of Christ’s life, the training of the Twelve, and the development of the hostility of the Jews, into one short year.

(2) The choice therefore lies between the tripaschal and the quadripaschal schemes. The decision depends chiefly on the interpretation of the unnamed "feast of the Jews," John 5:1, whether it was a Passover, or another feast; and this again depends much (though not exclusively) on a difference of reading (the feast, or a feast).151151    The definite article before "feast, (ἡ ἑορτή ) which is supported by the Sinaitic MS. and adopted by Tischendorf (ed. viii.), favors the view that the feast was the Passover,the great feast of the Jews. The reading without the article, which has the weight of the more critical Vatican Ms, and is preferred by Lachmann, Tregelles, Westcott and Hort, and by the Revision of the E. V., favors the view that it was Pentecost, or Purim, or some other subordinate feast. (On the grammatical question comp. Thayer’s Winer, p. 125, and Moulton’s Winer, p. 155.) In all other passages John gives the name of the feast (τὸ πάσχα John 2:13; 6:4; 11:55; ἡ σκήνοπηγία 7:2; τὰ ἐγκαίνια 10:22). It is objected that Jesus would not be likely to attend the patriotic and secular feast of Purim, which was not a temple feast and required no journey to Jerusalem, while he omitted the next Passover (John 6:4) which was of divine appointment and much more solemn; but the objection is not conclusive, since he attended other minor festivals (John 7:2; 10:22) merely for the purpose of doing good. The parable of the barren fig-tree, which represents the Jewish people, has been used as an argument in favor of a three years’ ministry: "Behold, these three year I come seeking fruit on this fig-tree, and find none."152152    Luke 13:6-9.Bengel, Hengstenberg, Wieseler, Weizäcker, Alford Wordsworth, Andrews, McClellan. The three years are certainly significant; but according to Jewish reckoning two and a half years would be called three years. More remote is the reference to the prophetic announcement of Daniel 9:27: "And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week, and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease." The tripaschal theory is more easily reconciled with the synoptical Gospels, while the quadripaschal theory leaves more room for arranging the discourses and miracles of our Lord, and has been adopted by the majority of harmonists.153153    By Eusebius (H. E., I. 10), Theodoret (in Dan. ix.), Robinson, Andrew, , McClellan, Gardiner, and many others. On the other hand Jerome, Wieseler, and Tischendorf hold the tripaschal theory. Jerome says (on Isaiah 29, in Migne’s ed. of the Opera, IV. 330): "Scriptum est in Evangelio secundum Joannem, per tria Pascha Dominum venisse in Jerusalem, quae duos annos efficiunt."

But even if we extend the public ministry to three years, it presents a disproportion between duration and effect without a parallel in history and inexplicable on purely natural grounds. In the language of an impartial historian, "the simple record of three short years of active life has done more to regenerate and soften mankind than all the disquisitions of philosophers and all the exhortations of moralists. This has indeed been the wellspring of whatever is best and purest in the Christian life."154154    W. E. H. Lecky: History of European Morals from Augustus to Charlemagne (1869) vol. II. p. 9. He adds: "Amid all the sins and failings, amid all the priestcraft and persecution and fanaticism that have defaced the Church, it has preserved, in the character and example of its Founder, an enduring principle of regeneration."

V. The Date of the Lord’s Death.—The day of the week on which Christ suffered on the cross was a Friday,155155    Mark 15:42; Matt. 27:62; Luke 23:54; John 19:14. Friday is called Preparation-day (παρασκευή), because the meals for the Sabbath were prepared on the sixth day, as no fires were allowed to be kindled on the Sabbath (Ex. 16:5). during the week of the Passover, in the month of Nisan, which was the first of the twelve lunar months of the Jewish year, and included the vernal equinox. But the question is whether this Friday was the 14th, or the 15th of Nisan, that is, the day before the feast or the first day of the feast, which lasted a week. The Synoptical Gospels clearly decide for the 15th, for they all say (independently) that our Lord partook of the paschal supper on the legal day, called the "first day of unleavened bread,"156156    Matt. 26:17, 20; Mark 14:12; Luke 22:7, 15. Comp. John 18:9, 40. that is on the evening of the 14th, or rather at the beginning of the 15th (the paschal lambs being slain "between the two evenings," i.e. before and after sunset, between 3 and 5 p.m. of the 14th).157157   סיִבַּרְﬠהָ ויְבֵּ) could be taken to mean between the evening of the 14th and the evening of the 15th of Nisan, we should have twenty-four hours for the slaying and eating of the paschal lambs, and the whole difficulty between John and the Synoptists would disappear. We could easier conceive also the enormous number of 270,000 lambs which, according to the statement of Josephus, had to be sacrificed. But that interpretation is excluded by the fact that the same expression is used in the rules about the daily evening sacrifice (Ex. 29:39, 41; Num. 28:4). John, on the other hand, seems at first sight to point to the 14th, so that the death of our Lord would very nearly have coincided with the slaying of the paschal lamb.158158    John 13:1; 13:29; 18:28 19:14. But the three or four passages which look in that direction can, and on closer examination, must be harmonized with the Synoptical statement, which admits only of one natural interpretation.159159    John 13:1 "before the feast of the Passover" does not mean a day before (which would have been so expressed, comp, 12:1), but a short time before, and refers to the commencement of the 15th of Nisan. The passage, 13:29: "Buy what things we have need of for the feast," causes no difficulty if we remember that Jesus sat down with his disciples before the regular hour of the Passover (13:1), so that there was time yet for the necessary purchases. The passage on the contrary affords a strong argument against the supposition that the supper described by John took place a full day before the Passover; for then there would have been no need of such haste for purchases as the apostles understood Christ to mean when he said to Judas."That thou doest, do quickly" (13:27). In John 18:28 it is said that the Jews went not into the Praetorium of the heathen Pilate "that they might not be defiled, but might eat the Passover; " but this was said early in the morning, at about 3 A. M., when the regular paschal meal was not yet finished in the city; others take the word Passover "here in an unusual sense so as to embrace the chagigah ( חַגיגָה) or festive thank-offerings during the Passover week, especially on the fifteenth day of Nisan (comp. 2 Chr. 30:22); at all events it cannot apply to the paschal supper on the evening of the fifteenth of Nisan, for the defilement would have ceased after sunset, and could therefore have been no bar to eating the paschal supper (Lev. 15:1-18; 22:1-7). " The Preparation of the Passover,"ἡ παρασκευὴ τοῦ πάσχα, John 19:14, is not the day preceding the Passover (Passover Eve), but, as clearly in 19:31 and 42, the preparation day of the Passover week, i.e. the Paschal Friday; παρασκευή being the technical term for Friday as the preparation day for the Sabbath, the fore-Sabbath, προσάββατον, Mark 15:42 (comp. the German Sonnabend for Saturday, Sabbath-eve, etc.). For a fuller examination of the respective passages, see my edition of Lange on Matthew (pp. 454 sqq.), and on John (pp. 406, 415, 562, 569). Lightfoot, Wieseler, Lichtenstein, Hengstenberg, Ebrard (in the third ed. of his Kritik. 1868), Lange, Kirchner, Keil, Robinson, Andrews, Milligan, Plumptre and McClellan take the same view; while Lücke, Bleek, DeWette, Meyer, Ewald, Stier, Beyschlag, Greswell, Ellicott, Farrar, Mansel and Westcott maintain that Christ was crucified on the fourteenth of Nisan, and either assume a contradiction between John and the Synoptists (which in this case seems quite impossible), or transfer the paschal supper of Christ to the preceding day, contrary to law and custom. John himself clearly points to the fifteenth of Nisan as the day of the crucifixion, when he reports that the customary release of a prisoner " at the Passover"(ἐν τῷ πάσχα) was granted by Pilate on the day of crucifixion, John 18:39, 40. The critical and cautious Dr. Robinson says (Harmony, p. 222): " After repeated and calm consideration, there rests upon my own mind a clear conviction, that there is nothing in the language of John, or in the attendant circumstances, which upon fair interpretation requires or permits us to believe, that the beloved disciple either intended to correct, or has in fact corrected or contradicted, the explicit and unquestionable testimony of Matthew, Mark and Luke."Comp. also among the more recent discussions Mor. Kirchner: Die jüd. Passahfeier und Jesu letztes Mahl (Gotha, 1870); McClellan: N. Test. (1875), I. 473 sqq., 482 sqq.; Keil: Evang. des Matt. (Leipz. 1877), pp. 513 sqq. It seems strange, indeed, that, the Jewish priests should have matured their bloody counsel in the solemn night of the Passover, and urged a crucifixion on a great festival, but it agrees, with the satanic wickedness of their crime.160160    The answer to this objection is well presented by Dr. Robinson, Harmony p. 222, and Keil, Evang. des Matt., pp. 522 sqq. The Mishna prescribes that "on Sabbaths and festival days no trial or judgment may be held;" but on the other hand it contains directions and regulations for the meetings and actions of the Sanhedrin on the Sabbaths, and executions of criminals were purposely reserved to great festivals for the sake of stronger example. In our case, the Sanhedrin on the day after the crucifixion, which was a Sabbath and "a great day," applied to Pilate for a watch and caused the sepulchre to be sealed, Matt. 27:62 sq. Moreover it is on the other hand equally difficult to explain that they, together with the people, should have remained about the cross till late in the afternoon of the fourteenth, when, according to the law, they were to kill the paschal lamb and prepare for the feast; and that Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathaea, with the pious women, should have buried the body of Jesus and so incurred defilement at that solemn hour.

The view here advocated is strengthened by astronomical calculation, which shows that in a.d. 30 the probable year of the crucifixion, the 15th of Nisan actually fell on a Friday (April 7);and this was the case only once more between the years a.d. 28 and 36, except perhaps also in 33. Consequently Christ must have been Crucified a.d. 30.161161    See Wieseler, Chronol. Synopse, p. 446, and in Herzog, vol. XXI. 550; and especially the carefully prepared astronomical tables of new and full moons by Prof. Adams, in McClellan, I. 493, who devoutly exults in the result of the crucial test of astronomical calculation which makes the very heavens, after the roll of centuries, bear witness to the harmony of the Gospels.

To sum up the results, the following appear to us the most probable dates in the earthly life of our Lord:

Birth a.u. 750 (Jan.?) or 749 (Dec.?) b.c. 4 or 5.

Baptism a.u. 780 (Jan.?) a.d. 27.

Length of Public Ministry

(three years and three or

four months) a.u. 780–783 a.d. 27–30.

Crucifixion a.u. 783 (15th of Nisan) a.d. 30 (April 7)

« Prev Chronology of the Life of Christ Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection