34 thoughts on “All Knowledge is on the Internet: Jesus’s Birth Year”

  1. According to one historian whose name I don’t recall at the moment, Jesus never existed (tellingly, no Roman historical evidence that he was crucified, died, buried and removed from the cave). Therefore, year he was born is a meaningless question. Paul invented him (couldn’t use himself as the savior, needed a fictional character to satisfy all the requirements: agree with prophesy, perform miracles, die for our sins, betrayed by Judas, signs at his birth, signs at his death (again, no historical Roman evidence of signs of Jesus’ death), ascension, resurrection, etc. etc. etc.

  2. Sure; in fact, my own belief is that he was a group of people, collectively remembered as Jesus. There were tons of messiahs around the time. But for my purposes, that doesn’t matter. Yes, if you could look up the year, that would be great.

  3. Well, we know He died on Thursday, April 6th , 30 CE in the Julian calendar, and Luke 3:23 says that he started His ministry at about age 30. If His ministry was about 3 years as many suppose, then he was born in 3 BCE. However, Herod probably died in 4 BCE so that is probably the latest year Jesus could’ve been born.

    So, the answer is 4 BCE. Plus or Minus.

  4. Most scholars plump for 4-7 BC. Personally, I think the existence of a historical Jesus is about as well attested in non-Gospel documents as the life of a Galilean peasant could possibly be.

  5. What evergreen said. Reconciling Matthew, Luke, and history just ain’t doable. If you want to go with the census of Quirinus, that’s 6/7 AD. If you want Herod, you got to go before his death in 4 BC.

  6. Edited: Never mind. I think the above information seems about right in terms of birth.

    I’ve often thought his birth is much trickier than his death, as the conflation of his birth with Herod, or the census, or the ordering of the census, or whatever, is the kind of detail easily manipulatable by the shapers of historical memory.

    Anyway, I have various books in my office I can check on Friday.

  7. P.S. I currently lean toward the notion that there was a historical figure who inspired the stories. The manuscript that I would love to see–and most Christians wouldn’t–is the original text of Josephus’s account of Jesus.

  8. I dunno Will. Josephus is plenty far removed from events too. What I want is someone writing BEFORE they executed Jesus. “Dear Saul, this guy came to the temple today. Just another would-be prophet pissed off about the whole money-lending thing. He won’t last. Got a great deal on sheep’s head …”

    I teach a class on Jerusalem from antiquity to now. Sure to annoy anyone who still believes their myths when they enter.

  9. Oh, I didn’t mean Josephus was first-hand. I just want to know what was in the obviously edited bits. I’d also love some contemporary writings, but between the Christians and their enemies. odds are not good that anything else has survived. (I’d love to be wrong.)

  10. For those of you who believe in Shakespeare (only 400 years ago) what written records are there of his life before he became famous? Does the lack of records indicate that he is a myth? Where are the records about Cleopatra before she met Ceasar? Are all the people who aren’t written about before they are famous mythological?

  11. Real or mythical, let’s try to keep this one on track: I’m looking for as accurate a year as possible converted to our present calender. Do NOT make me pull this blog over.

  12. Aaaannnnnd here we are, stuck at the side of the information superhighway. ;)

    No one will turn blue if you pick a year from 4-7 BC. The reasons to pick any of those years over any other depend on questions of biblical exegesis which I doubt you want to get into.

  13. Well, since my sleep patterns are screwed anyway, I’d go for Joe Hoffman at the New Oxonian; he’s been fighting off the mythicists which is tricky to do if you don’t have dates for your non-mythic Jesus…

  14. I’ve read estimates that range anywhere from 7 BCE to 12 AD. There are a lot of variables in play. So I’d say anything +/-10 years around 0 AD is unlikely to raise a great deal of fuss from those that are both at least vaguely informed and not possessed of an axe to grind.

  15. I’d typed before seeing Evergreen’s answer; I can now go to sleep, secure in the knowledge that whatever it is has been fixed..

  16. “Thanks, evergreen. Of course, you know why I’m asking. :-) ”

    Somethin’ about a divine incarnation?… ;)

  17. Evergreen is right. With the sources we have, it is simply not possible to give an exact date, but the hypothesis that he was born in the last years of Herod’s reign is a bit more plausible than others. Köstenberger’s assurance about the dates he gives is rather informed by his Southern Baptist beliefs than by a careful approach to the historical sources, I’m afraid. So if “our best information” means “what the scientific community says in this matter”, I’d rather not rely on Köstenberger. A standard work is “The Historical Jesus: A Comprehensive Guide” by Annette Merz and Gerd Theissen, if you want to look it up for yourself.

  18. The real answer is, there is no real answer. Matthew and Luke are the only ones who give an account of the birth of Jesus. As stated above, they vary by a decade as to the birth year. Also, most serious Biblical scholars agree that Mark was written first at around 60AD, and many of them believe that Matthew, which was written before Luke, was actually based off of Mark, and that Luke was just a variation of Matthew.

    None of them are really eye witnesses to what happened, and other than the Quran, there really aren’t any other works from that time period which mention Jesus.

  19. An article from the BBC last December discussing the Star of Bethlehem mentions three candidates for that role: a comet in 5 BC, Halley’s Comet in 12 BC, or a new star in 4 BC.


    If you take the references to a star at the beginning of Matthew literally, combined with some of the factors others have mentioned, 4 or 5 BC seem like reasonable guesses.

  20. I’d go with 5 B.C. and the comet, since supposedly the thing moved and “Wise Men” followed it, and that afterwards, no mention of it is made. The Apostles, after all, didn’t point up at the sky and say, “See? That there is the star that marked the birth of the Messiah.”

    No mention of it is made after the supposed birth.

  21. “Wise men” is actually a mistranslation. It would more correctly read, “Wise guys.” Scholoars are currently debating whether this refers to mobsters or just smartasses.

    I made up some of that.

  22. Ha ha! Three wiseguys on camels played by DeNiro, Pesci and Liotta following a comet in the Levant. Mind you the Bible doesn’t actually say there were three. So you could also throw in Pacino and Sorvino as part of the desert entourage. Somebody should write a script or novella these personalities in mind. The dialoge would be gold (as well as frankincense and myrrh).

  23. It likely doesn’t matter, but the LDS church, who claim to have a monopoly on the historicity of the gospel, Jesus was born in 4 BC.

  24. Best guesstimate: Somewhere between Saturday, 11 September and Friday, 17 September, 2 B.C. Gregorian (proleptic) ≈ 13–19 September, 2 B.C. Julian (proleptic) ≈ 15–21 Tishrei, 3760 Jewish ≈ 1720948.5–1720954.5 SDN.

  25. My general approach is that if Randall Munroe has done the research then I don’t have to: http://what-if.xkcd.com/25/ … “there’s a lot of historical and theological debate over Jesus’s date of birth (‘4 BC’ seems to be the closest thing to a historical consensus date).”

  26. Yes, I agree. When it comes to unconventional question answering, he seems to be the king of the “good enough” estimate. There are usually details that I don’t completely agree with (I have my doubts that a baseball traveling .9 times the speed of light would create an explosion similar to an atomic bomb), but he has put more work into the questions than I am willing to, so I keep my mouth shut.

Leave a Reply