Friday, October 02, 2009

ROBERT R. CARGILL wants Christians to give up the BC/AD dating terminology at Bible and Interpretation:
Why Christians Should Adopt the BCE/CE Dating System

By Robert R. Cargill
Center for the Digital Humanities,
Qumran Visualization Project


September 2009

I have heard every argument. I have read every justification. And I have spent far too much time on Wikipedia changing BCs and ADs back to BCEs and CEs. It is a centuries-old argument that some maintain is integral to one’s identity as a Christian. Despite the rise of science, Christians have used—and many times have insisted upon—the continued use of the labels “AD” and “BC” to designate calendrical years, and thereby portray human history as directly relative to the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. But in our modern world of scientific reason and religious plurality, the battle over whether or not to use the increasingly accepted international scientific standard of BCE (“Before Common Era”) and CE (“Common Era”) has not waned, but rather has intensified. However, it is time for this battle to end; Christians should leave behind the BC/AD labels and adopt the BCE/CE dating system for all calendrical references.

I can't say I've encountered anyone lately who defends the AD/BC system anymore, but presumably I don't move in the right circles. I completely agree with Robert, although I doubt that anyone who doesn't will be persuaded by his arguments.

Some other random thoughts. First, the objection to Xmas for Christmas (which I have heard) is particularly pathetic in that the X stands for the Greek letter Chi, which is the first letter of "Christ" in Greek and is just a convenient abbreviation. Second, the argument that Jesus must have been born by 4 BCE at the latest depends, as Robert notes, on the assumption that Matthew's story that connects Herod the Great with Jesus is historical, an assumption that warrants considerable skepticism. In fact, all we know is that Jesus was an adult around 30 CE. Luke says he was about 30 when he began his ministry (3:23). But John has Jesus' opponents say to him that "you are not yet fifty years old" (8:57), which strikes me as a little odd to say to a man in his early thirties and which may imply that John thought he was older. We just don't know when Jesus was born. Third, despite EU directives and the like, I'm not particularly sympathetic to the position that the decimal Metric system should be compulsory for all uses. It's much better than the Imperial system for scientific and engineering purposes, but the duodecimal Imperial system is better for other purposes such as cooking and sewing, which require thirds and quarters and such.

The main argument for the use of BCE/CE is that it gives us all a convenient secular system to use for secular historical purposes. But even this is a Eurocentric argument, in that it is still a convention based on an event important for Christians and requires, for example, Muslims to recalculate completely the dates in their own system. But it's an improvement over BC/AD.