In a 2010 article in BYU Studies, Professor Jeffrey R. Chadwick of BYU made the case that Jesus was born in December of 5 BC.Â In the most recent issue of BYU studies, professors Lincoln Blumel and Thomas Wayment review Chadwickâ€™s article and make the case that
â€œhis handling of certain ancient sources, including the Book of Mormon, was problematicâ€¦.We are convinced that the primary evidence does not allow one to pinpoint a year, let alone a month, for the birth of Christ with any degree of certitude.â€
One of the biggest problems with dating the birth of Christ is that the Gospels themselves donâ€™t agree.Â Mark and John say nothing about the birth of Christ, while Matthew and Luke give years that are off by a decade.Â Blumel and Wayment (B&W) discuss the problem.
â€œMatthew and Luke link the birth of Jesus with the tenure of Herod, who died in the spring of 4 BC.Â In many respects, the death of Herod provides a terminus post quem for Jesus birth, since according to Matthew 2:15, 19 and Luke 1:5, Herod was alive when Jesus was still a child.24 â€¦Combined with the evidence of Herodâ€™s death in the spring of 4 BC, it seems reasonable to conclude that the date of Jesusâ€™s birth should be pushed backÂ into the previous year, if not more, to account for Jesus being â€œtwo years old and under.â€
Luke tells us that a census was conducted, causing Mary and Joseph to return to Bethlehem.Â This census is problematic, becausae we have no record of a census occurring around 4 BC.Â Instead the census was closer to 6 or 7 AD with Cyrenius (also known as Quirinius) was governor.
â€œThe association of the birth of Jesus with the census, referred to as taxation in the KJV (Greek apographe), is considered by many scholars to be an erroneous statement by Luke.33Â Clearly a birth date under Herod the Great (before his death in 4 BC) that was also during the census of Cyrenius (AD 6 or 7) is not historically possible unless some further evidence is brought to light that would indicate an ealier census of which we are currently unaware or some other piece of evidence that would resolve the issue.34â€
B&W note that early church fathers had little to say outside the gospel accounts. These early fathers had little to say about theÂ birth of Christ (even though they may have had access to records no longer available.)Â B&W show that the earliest leaders did not agree with each other, and often gave approximations for the birth of Christ.Â They summarized their findings in the following table.
|Dates proposed by Various Early Christian Writers for the Birth of Christ|
|Irenaeus of Lyons||Forty-first year of the reign of Augustus, reckoning from either 44 or 43 BC||= 4 or 3 BC|
|Clement of Alexandria||Twenty-eighth year of Augustus, 24/25 Pharmuthi and Pachon 25, reckoning from 30 BC||= April 19 or 20, 2 BC and May 20, 2 BC|
|Tertullian of Carthage||Forty-first year of the empire of Augustus, reckoning from 43 BC||= 3 BC or possibly 2 BC|
|Julius Africanus||5500 years since creation||= 2 BC|
|Eusebius of Caesarea||Forty-second year of the reign of Augustus and th twenty-eighthÂ after the subjugation of Egypt/ third year of the 194 Olympiad||= 2 BC|
Chadwick used the Book of Mormon to make his case, but B&W note problems with this approach.Â They listed 8 reasons, but I will show the 4 that seemed most compelling to me.
- We cannot be certain of the number of months in a calendar year: eleven is the highest number of months mentioned in a single year (Alma 49:1).Â We are also uncertain on the number of days in a Nephite month.
- The Book of Mormon counts 600 years between Lehiâ€™s departure and the birth of Jesus, which according to our modern calendar occurred in less than 600 years.
- The Book of Mormon authors referred to time using recognizable terms: days, weeks, months, and years, but without any indication of how many days there were in a year or month, both of which are crucial to determining the use of a lunar calendar.
- The dates on the bottom of the page in the printed edition of the Book of Mormon are often approximations.Â Because certain datable events are mentioned (for instance, the first year of the reign of Zedekia in 597 BC), we realize that there are discrepancies between our calendar and theirs.
Chadwick also makes use of the death of Christ to back-calculate Christâ€™s birth, but that is problematic as well.Â The gospels differ on what day Christ was born, but that could be the result that Passover was not precisely known by the Jews.Â Because they operated on a lunar calendar, the new month had to occur on the date of the new moon.Â If the weather was cloudy, it was hard to know when a new month started, and ancient Jews were frequently off a day or two.Â Sometimes they celebrated Passover twice â€œso by celebrating it twice they would hope to get it right.â€72
The authors conclude that this problem is
â€œextraordinarily complex.Â To offer a compelling case regarding the date of Jesusâ€™s birth, one must exclude certain pieces of information as well as weightÂ some pieces of evidence as more important than others.Â While we appreciate Chadwickâ€™s attempt to untangle this Gordian knot, we ultimately feel that the argument that Jesus was born in December of 5 BC is flawed and does not adequately take account of all the diverse evidence.Â In all likelihood, the evidence supporting Jesusâ€™s birth probably cannot justify more than to say that Jesus was bornÂ before Herod â€œthe Greatâ€ passed away in the spring of 4 BC and probably not earlier than 6 BC, and that he died under the prefecture of Pontius Pilate.Â Am ambiguous solution is at times frustrating to many readers, but until further evidence comes forward, our current sources will permit only opinions beyond those boundaries.â€
What are your conclusions about the birth of Jesus?