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When was Jesus Born?

In what year was Jesus born?

 

    This is an interesting question, which comes up quite often. For the answer I refer to the noted Catholic author/historian, Giuseppe Ricciotti, in his The Life of Christ, Bruce Publishing Co. 1947, pp. 155-156.  

    “One absolutely certain factor in determining the date of Jesus’ birth is that he was born before the death of Herod the Great, that is before the end of March or the beginning of April in 70 a.u.c.[i] or 4 B.C., for it is certain that Herod died at that time.  But how long before the death of Herod was Jesus born? Various considerations help us to narrow the possibilities before 750 a.u.c. 

    One is Herod’s order to put to the death all the children of Bethlehem “from two years old and under” (Mt. 2:16), for this supposes that the infant Jesus was certainly within those limits. Hence we may argue that Jesus was born much less than two years earlier, because it is altogether reasonable to assume that Herod would allow an extra generous margin in order to be certain of his victim. This two-year period, however, does not date back from the death of Herod but from the visit of the Magi who furnished him with the basis for his reckoning. On the other hand, when the Magi came they found Herod still in Jerusalem (Mt. 2L1ff.) whereas we know that the old king, seriously ill and steadily growing worse, moved to the warmer climate of Jericho before he died. We may justifiably surmise that this transfer of residence took place when the first cold of the winter of 749 a.u.c. set in, or four months before Herod’s death.

    “This gives us the following sequence: the birth of Jesus; the arrival of the Magi in Jerusalem; the decree to slaughter all babies two years old and under; Herod’s departure for Jericho; the death of Herod. To determine the time relation between the two extremes – the birth of Jesus and Herod’s death – we must reckon with the two years indicated in Herod’s decree, remembering that they represent much more time than was necessary for this purpose, and then we must consider the four months we have just indicated. There is, besides, the interval between the birth of Jesus and the visit of the Magi, and here we know only that it could not have been less than the forty days of the purification (Lk. 2:22 ff.), for Joseph would certainly not have presented the child in Jerusalem and exposed him to such serious peril if his death had already been decreed there. On the other hand, this interval may be considerably longer than forty days. In conclusion, reckoning backward from the date of Herod’s death, we may conclude that the margin of time allowed in the two years decreed by Herod balances the four months and the two intervals we have just mentioned with a little extra period of time left over. Hence Jesus was born a little less than two years before the death of Herod, that is, at the beginning of the year 748 0f Rome or 6 B.C.”

 

In what year was Jesus Crucified?

 

    This is also an interesting question, which comes up quite often. For the answer I refer to the noted Catholic historian, Giuseppe Ricciotti, in his The Life of Christ, Bruce Publishing Co. 1947, pp.161-173.  

    As to the death of Jesus, Ricciotti states: “All four Gospels explicitly and unanimously set the death of Jesus on a Friday (Mt. 27:62; Mk 15:42; Lk 23:54; Jn 19:31) during the Pasch. From John we learn that thi is the third Pasch in Jesus’ public life.

Now the month of Nisan, in which the Pasch was celebrated, began with the new moon, like the other months in the Hebrew lunar calendar; and the Pasch, celebrated on the fourteenth day of Nisan, coincided with the full moon. Here the field is wide open for astronomical research, to deter- mine what year of the Christian era best fulfills all the conditions we have noted.

The first of these is historical. If Jesus began his public life approximately between October 1, A.D. 27, and August 18, A.D. 29 (§ 175), and continued it for two years and some months, then his death could not have occurred before the year 29. On the other hand, Jesus could not have been put to death later than his thirty-seventh year. He began his public life when he was about, perhaps a little over, thirty (§ 176), and it lasted about two years and a half. Hence, even if we take the outside figure in reckoning with that "about thirty," Jesus could not have been more than thirty-seven at the end of his public life (34 + 2~ = 36 - or roundly 37). In any case, the object of our particular scrutiny will be the years between A.D. 28 to 34 which must include that in which Jesus died.

The second condition is based on the. apparent disagreement we have already noted (§ 163) between the Synoptics and John with regard to the date of Jesus' death; according to the former it would seem to have occurred on the fifteenth Nisan, according to John on the fourteenth. Hence, any astronomical calculations must consider both these dates.

The last condition is that the day in question must be a Friday, whether it was the fourteenth or the fifteenth Nisan.

If we accept the reckonings of the most authoritative modern astronomers we arrive at the following:

 

A.D. 28: the fourteenth Nisan fell on Tuesday, March 30, or Wednesday, April 28, or Thursday, April 29; the fifteenth Nisan fell on Wednesday, March 31, or Thursday, April 29, or Friday, April 30.

A.D. 29: the fourteenth Nisan fell on Saturday, March 19, or Monday, April 18.

the fifteenth Nisan fell on Sunday, March 20, or on Tuesday, April 19.

A.D. 30: the fourteenth Nisan fell on Friday, April 7, or on Saturday, May 6;

the fifteenth Nisan fell on Saturday, April 8, or on Sunday, May 7.

A.D. 31: the fourteenth Nisan fell on Tuesday, March 27, or on Wednesday, April 25;

the fifteenth Nisan fell on Wednesday, March 28, or on Thurs- day, April 26.

A.D. 32: the fourteenth Nisan fell on Monday, April 14, or Tuesday, May 13;

the fifteenth Nisan fell on Tuesday, April 15, or on Wednesday, May 14.

A.D. 33: the fourteenth Nisan fell on Friday, April 3, or on Sunday, May 3;

the fifteenth Nisan fell on Saturday, April 4, or on Monday, May 4.

A.D. 34: the fourteenth Nisan fell on Wednesday, March 24, or on Thurs- day, April 22;

the fifteenth Nisan fell on Thursday, March 25, or on Friday, April 23.

 

Since the day of Jesus' death was a Friday, we may discard the years 29, 31, and 32, in which neither the fourteenth nor the fifteenth Nisan fell on a Friday.

The year 28, though it contains a possible Friday, April 30 (15 Nisan), is also to be discarded because it is earlier than the historical conditions we have noted seem to warrant:

The year 34 also contains a possible Friday, April 23 (15 Nisan), but is equally to be discarded as too late. If Jesus died in 34, he would have been thirty-eight and a half or thirty-nine and a half years old, since he was born about two years before the death of Herod (§ 173), and hence he would have been thirty-six or thirty-seven years old at the beginning of his public life, which does not correspond too well with our information that he was "about thirty". Besides, if his public life began in the year 29 at the latest and lasted about two and one half years, then his death must have occurred before 34.

The year 33 satisfies the astronomical conditions but we eliminated it for the same historical reasons which cause us to discard 34. Though it makes Jesus' age one year less, it still does not seem very probable that a man of thirty-five or thirty-six would be considered "about thirty" at the beginning of his ministry, and it is still less likely that the latter lasted from 29 to 33.

The only year which remains, A.D. 30, also satisfies all the astronomical requirements and in addition dovetails with the other chronological data we have gathered up to this point. If Jesus was born about two years before the death of Herod, then he was truly "about thirty" at the beginning of his public life, being according to this count, thirty-two or thirty-three and, after two and a half years of public preaching, thirty-four and one half or thirty-five and one half years old. Finally his death occurred on a Friday

 

[i] From the year of the founding of the city of Rome. 

© 2004 – Victor R. Claveau

Part or all of this article may be reproduced without obtaining permission as long as the author is cited.

 

"O Christ, whose glory fills the heaven,

Our only hope, in mercy given;

Child of a Virgin meek and pure;

Son of the Highest evermore."
Roman Breviary Hymn Aeterna coeli gloria for Friday at Lauds. (5th cent.)

 

 

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